Expedition 2019 Diaries

Day 11. The past.

Day 11. The past.

July 2, the expedition landed in the abandoned town of Pyramiden.

- There are many visitors in the mine from midday to 6 p.m. and polar bears do now want to contact people. – says Anna, a guide who has been working in Pyramiden for a year and whose contract is valid until November 2020.

They say it is quite easy to meet a polar bear in Pyramiden, so our first question was about this predator.

- We last saw a bear near the town a week ago. And it last entered the town in 2014. – adds Anna.

36 000 tourists visited Pyramiden in 2018, as many as Barentsburg. Timofei Rogozhin, director of the Arktikugol’s Arctic Tourist Centre believes that Pyramiden to be a rentable project. Tourism brings enough money for the reconstruction and development of the town. Pyramiden became a success in 1946 when 600 people arrived, mostly qualified miners from Donbass.

In 1993 most families left, the town school and kindergarten were closed. The mines and the town were abandoned in 1998. The reconstruction would take as much money as the rest of coal could provide.

The average age of today’s population is about 30-35. The oldest one is the hotel room maid, she is 60.

Who comes here? Denis, the guide says these are mostly foreign language teachers. There are an ornithologist are a freeride instructor, Pyramiden attracts people who speak foreign languages or possess special skills. Denis came from Kaliningrad, a Russian resort city:

- My friend sent me a job announcement from Pyramiden and asked if I was brave enough. I was.

Denis has been here for a month. In June, it was as warm as 20°C here.

- You were sunbathing and wearing tee-shirts?

- Yes, that was it.

- But today it is quite dull. It looks much like Stalker decorations.

- Well, it depends on the weather. With some sunshine, green grass and beautiful mountains, everything would seem different.

Today it was raining more or less heavily, especially when we were disembarking for the landing. It is supposed a good sign.

Timofei Rogozhin notes the special Pyramiden environment as well.

- We see Pyramiden as a historical monument of the socialist Arctic. This was the happier side of the soviet Arctic, people lived better here than in Barentsburg, especially in the 1970-1980s.

- What kind of tourism can be developed in Pyramiden?

- This place has beautiful natural landscapes and historic sites. We are developing special itineraries for those who are interested in nature and history.

- People are charmed with Pyramiden’s atmosphere within one or two days here. – says Timofei.

Our expedition spent here 5 hours. It was enough to walk on the traditional tourist itineraries and learn the town’s history. We visited the canteen, cultural centre, gym and cinema. We even watched a three-minute documentary about Pyramiden. Denis said that some evenings, local community assembles here to watch old soviet films. A small hangar near the cinema is full of films, there are thousands of them. In the repetition room, I saw a balalaika, a guitar and a piano “Krasny Oktyabr” (Red October) which resonates in empty halls and corridors.

We could not see the old swimming pool, which is under reconstruction, but visited the hotel where the local community live. Another building is being reconstructed for Arctic Tourist Centre’s employees. There is a souvenir shop and a restaurant where one can pay only in cash, but not in rubles.

- People usually think that Pyramiden is a dull and grey abandoned town as Pripyat or Chernobyl. We are reconstructing Pyramiden very carefully. It is a story about a happy past, but not future.

Timofei plans to develop event tourism in Pyramiden. He has several fantastic ideas, such as an art zone or a polygon for innovative technologies. He prefers applied science to academic one.

- Have you heard about downshifting? We are developing a sort of “upshifting”. Our customers should have a lot of money to go to the Arctic and get new knowledge or emotions. Nothing can be cheap here.

- It is like Tibet, but in the Arctic?

- Almost. Once, a Dutch music group came. They registered the sounds of nature and those of Pyramiden. Then they added symphonic orchestra, made an album and toured all over the world.

When I ask if people in Pyramiden and Barentsburg are different from those on the mainland, Timofei answers:

- An Arktikugol joke says that we were unable to succeed on the mainland, so we prosper here, on the isles.

I wonder if they really did not succeed. Yes, their projects are of no interest on the mainland, but they are in harmony with the contrast of Spitzbergen sceneries. Everything in the Arctic lives according to the rules of nature, and only humans have to create environment for themselves. I wrote this phrase down from the film we had watched in the local cinema. 50 years ago children attended school here, miners were going to their workplace, then to the canteen and finally back home. In the evening, they could go to the cafe. Now the miners’ home is inhabited by the seagulls, one can see nests on windows and roofs. Birds are conquering the human environment.

Does Pyramiden have any special atmosphere? Is it different from Pripyat or from a film about Zombies? Does it really associate with homesickness of a common motherland? Or is it dullness and emptiness?

After the excursion, I followed the group of geologists on top of a hill. I could see regular Pyramiden houses, a mountain river, Professor Molchanov in the sea. It was raining.

- When the weather is sunny, the town does not look abandoned. Is seems revived. – says Denis.

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Updated 26.08.2019