My arse is duly frozen, but I have made it back in one piece from the frozen wastes of Spitzbergen.
It was a humbling experience in many ways; a tribute to the human spirit encapsulated in amazing tales of survival against all odds, a testament to human stupidity and vanity as captured by the most amazing attempts to be the first to reach the north pole, and an eyeopener as to how human greed can destroy everything it touches. It has literally touched my life, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious?
But the most interesting thing that I noticed was the way in which the modern human – especially the men – react when you take away their toys…
Many could not bear to be parted from their technological crutches, using their iPhones to take pictures even though they had excellent cameras around their necks. iPads were being used for playing games in the boring moments. Texts were being written just so they could be queued up and sent when ‘civilisation’ returned.
The picture above is a modern hut in use by a bunch of Polish scientists at Hyttavika in Eastern Svalbard. They have just spend several weeks there studying geology in the area. The inside is remarkable in that whilst it is amazingly cozy, there are absolutely no home comforts to speak of and it is staggeringly compact. And this is a modern hut, so just think what it was like 200 years ago trying to survive the Arctic winter. This is modern technology up here!
I spent ten days in the high arctic. As I write this I have absolutely no idea whatsoever what has been going on in the outside world. There is no internet connection, no mobile phone signal and we did not see another ship or living sole for 6 days on the trot. Up here you are on your own and you are totally cut off.
This focuses the mind. It makes you realize what is really important. You do not want to break an ankle here, or get attacked by a bear, or squashed by a walrus – they’re aggressive buggers! – or get charged by a reindeer.
And I am not exaggerating. We had armed guards with high powered rifles watching for bears. One day, we encountered 5…
In many ways, I was sorry when we had to leave, but what really made me laugh was the sigh of relief on the faces of many of my fellow passengers when the phones came back on! They just couldn’t wait to text and phone people for no apparent reason other than to reassure themselves that their comfort blankets were once again working.
When I read the stories of the intrepid – if somewhat foolhardy – arctic explorers it does indeed make me reflect on just how hooked we have become on things that, at the end of the day, are really quite irrelevant…