Expedition 2019 Diaries

Day 9. Nomades

Day 9. Nomades

A place that is hard to reach and hard to leave.

Victor Hugo

The first landing of the expedition took part on Sunday, June 30, in Barentsburg.

- Jump into the plane, we’ll go to see Barentsburg on Spitzbergen.

- I agreed, I saw it and within a week packed my bags to go to Barentzburg. I have been here since March. I am staying until October. – says Elene Zhichkina, captain of the boat Cirkul and scuba diver.

It seemed the longest week of her life. It was her brother’s friend, Timofei Rogozhin, director the Arctic Tourism Centre who offered her to go to Barentsburg. She could have gone to Egypt as a diving instructor, but she chose the Arctic.

- Who comes here? – Asked I.

- Mad people. Just like me. – Elena answers.

Elena is an engineer in Oslo where she has been living for 24 years. Her children have grown up and left home. She felt lonely without them.

- I like Oslo. It takes 20 minutes to get to the airport and you can go wherever you want.

Coalmines in Barentsburg are still functioning. 90 000 tons are exported to Germany and the UK, 30 000 provide for the needs of the Barentsburg community. Barentsburg is home to 450 people, among whom 70 children. There is a school and a kindergarten for them.

You can get internet access and even sometimes wi-fi Barentsburg. Since there is a good refrigerator, some fruit and vegetables are brought from the mainland.

- It is good here. Look, in the Arctic, you wake up in the morning, look in the window and see the Sea. It’s great.

She insisted on an apartment facing the sea or she would go back to Oslo. She makes her coffee in a kettle and just plans to buy a coffee-machine. But does it really matter?

It happens that people call her and say, “Lena, we need you”. She takes her motorboat and rushes to help them, no matter what weather it is. She brings people from one shore to another, she takes a specialist to Pyramiden to repair the generators. It is called technical tour.

- I work in Barentsburg 16 hours a day and rarely have days off. Each day, about a hundred tourists visit Barentsburg. So, we are expanding the tourist office. 10 persons worked here in 2015. In 2016, we were 30. Now we are 111.

- There are no special tourist seasons. – says Sergey Chernikov, tourist coordination manager of the Arctic Tourism Centre. Tourists come all the year round.

Sergey was born and brought up in a working community in Moscow, so, he gets easily offended when people think that Barentsburg is only a mining community.

- People are wrong to think that we are in the middle of nowhere and have nothing to do. – says Denis Kosarev, a local guide. – They are surprised to hear that we have a gym, a sauna and a bar. Denis who has been in Barentsburg since June has not had an idle evening yet. He graduated from the Ponor State University with a diploma of specialist in Regional studies, then worked a schoolteacher and finally left for the Arctic.

- I don’t know what I will do when I come back to the main land. No career plans yet. – He adds and thinks of staying in Barentsburg for a longer time.

– Because it’s cool here. – says Elena as she pours tea into cups.

Her father specialized in oceanology, he made maps of ice conditions on Spitzbergen. So, it is partly true that she followed her father’s steps. Barentsburg is for her a part of Russia. Everything is different for her here. She has been speaking Norwegian for 24 years and now it is unusual to speak Russian.

- Spitzbergen stole my heart. – says Elena as she sits comfortably on the window of her apartment. Her son is going to visit her in August. Her daughter is a student and has no time for travelling.

Each person has their own reasons to be on Spitzbergen. Sergey Chernikov does not want to live on the mainland. The mainland associates for him with Moscow or any other big city. In this small village that has only one street, he participates in everything that happens. He speaks about the bar Krasny Medved (“Red bear”) where the members of our expedition assemble one after another. Sergey ordered tea, and I took orange juice. We pay in Norwegian krones.

- When they started the bar, there was nothing but white walls and mirrors. Nothing to attract people. We painted the bar ourselves. And now the Norwegians say this bar is the greatest on Spitzbergen. I also painted the post-office. And made the stairs in the local museum. I really take part in everything.

Sergey does not like the hustle and bustle of Moscow. People are always in a hurry and they do not know what for, it is a lost generation. He does not understand the values of modern society.

- What are your values then?

- Honesty and work. – He says. – When you work to get results and not just spend time.

Sergey has been in Barentsburg since December 2015. He says people are really nice here. Elena adds:

- People are different on Spitzbergen. We are a small community and a very united one. We will always help each other in need.

- For example?

- For example, one girl wanted to cook borsch but the only ingredient she had was a pan. Her neighbors provided her with the rest.

- Well, and in more complicated situations?

- Once a ship crashed when it was mooring. 10 persons were seriously injured and 20 persons got minor injuries. We helped with the translation because our doctors do not speak English. The medical aid was free. We also gave them food.

Sergey says, that is because of the small community where everybody knows each other.

- Do you want your children to grow here? – I ask him.

- I haven’t thought about it. I want to find my home. Here in the Arctic, I understood that home is not a place but people.

- Are you a nomad?

- I am. My ancestors in the 11th century were nomads in Mongolia.

During one of his short holidays, Sergey traveled to Mongolia. A tattoo on his left arm describes everyday life of people in Greenland. His right arm is tattooed with the patron of the sea.

- You should understand that this is not a romantic place. It is severe and makes you discover what you are capable of.

The two main Barentsburg events are Miner Day and the first sun after the polar night. The community also celebrates the New Year. The New Year tree is brought from the mainland and placed on the central square facing the canteen. By the way, the canteen dishes and low prices made me nostalgic of my soviet childhood.

People who have been living here since their childhood are not numerous. Some come to see how it looks, work in the Arctic Tourism Centre because it is expensive to travel as a tourist. But idle voyagers do not stay long.

- It is a rule on Spitzbergen always to keep the keys in your car. At any moment, you can see a polar bear and you’ll have to leave immediately. – Elena adds.

In November, she is going to leave. But she already wants to come back. Why?

- Because it’s cool here. – She repeats.


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Updated 26.08.2019