Foundation II - Day Six
Well, what can I say……. I haven’t engaged in tourist activities for decades and even then, it was with my parents as a child, but this was something out of the ordinary the whole crew decided to take part. We “parked” the ship on the main quay which looked as though a good pull on a rope or jump up and down would collapse the lot! We were early, so ahead of the mainstream of tourist boats. Various signs said to report to reception and vaguely indicated where that might be, so we sauntered up. Here we were met by two delightful young and hugely smiling Russian Tour Guides who were effervescing with joy to see us. We had to employ the services of one of them to take us around and show us everything in 2.5 hours, accompanied, of course, by a rifle for polar bear protection.
My initial thoughts were, wow, this is huge, stark, grim and somewhat foreboding.
The mine itself was established by Sweden in 1910, but later sold to the Soviet Union in 1927. Most of the miners were Ukrainian from the Donbas area and most of the administrators were from Volyn, in the Ukraine but everything was overseen by the Soviet Union, as was evidenced by the existence of a special, almost secret, KGB department within the main office building that recorded all the details of those employed at the mine. A sort of vetting service.
The Russian state-owned company Arktikugolran ran the mining operations until April 1998 but it closed as a result of many factors including, in 1996, the worst air disaster in Norwegian history when a chartered resupply aircraft going into Longyear Airport flew straight into the Operafjellet mountainside with the loss of 141 lives. A fire in the mine, which allegedly, is still smouldering, was another good reason but overall it was the uneconomic nature of the town which finally ceased mining on the 31st of March 1998 and the settlement closed with the last resident departing on the 10th of October, leaving Pyramiden as a ghost town. The same company, Arktikugolran, still operates the tourist operations and keeps a small but permanent presence there, today.
As we were guided around, you couldn't help but be awestruck at the detailed design of the buildings. The whole place was really designed to care for its inhabitants and had an air of happiness. It must have been like living on a really snazzy university campus. There were separate buildings for men, women and families. There was a community hub which included the most northerly swimming pool as well as the most northerly theatre in the world. Several schools, a library, gymnasium and restaurant all beautifully clad in wood, which of course doesn't exist this far north so would have to have been imported in. Huge efforts were made to make this a comfortable place in such an extraordinarily remote position. It was fascinating. You really felt as though you were going back into the Soviet Union with constant reminders of Lenin in the form of monuments, busts, photos, paintings and flags.
My final feelings were those of sadness at such a waste.
Our tourism bit over, we then got back on board the Linden, had a beautiful lunch and moved almost directly east to Adolfbukta, only some 8 nautical miles away with its spectacular Norenskiöldbreen dominating our vista.
Here, those who hadn’t climbed the rigging yet were going to have a go, including myself, which was great fun and gave us a completely different perspective of not only the vessel but also the awesome surroundings. We planned to go ashore and walk up the side of the glacier the next day and after a viewing of a viewing of Ian McCarthy’s marvellous film on his beloved Cornwall, went off to bed.
Start: Mimerbukta 78.65º N 16.38º E
Finish: AdolfBukta 78.66º N 16.87º E