Eclipse Book Excerpt 5 of 6

In anticipation of Monday’s total eclipse, this week we’ve got a series of excerpts from the Svalbard chapter of Out in the Cold, in which we traveled up to 800 miles from the North Pole in search of totality in March, 2015. Get a copy of the whole book for yourself, or order the unabridged audiobook.

MEANWHILE DOWN BELOW

As the eclipse approached Svalbard began to fret:

Svalbard eclipse prompts warnings

January 22, 2015

Authorities on Norway’s Arctic archipelago of Svalbard are bracing for an onslaught of tourists in connection with the solar eclipse on March 20. That’s prompted them to issue warnings to the public, in an effort to avoid over-capacity.

“Since Longyearbyen (the main settlement on Svalbard) is a small town, we can have problems when so many people gather,” the local sheriff wrote in the warning posted on Svalbard’s public sector website.

Tourism agency VisitSvalbard reported that all hotels and other forms of lodging have been fully booked for several years on and around March 20. Now authorities are warning that there also is limited capacity in Longyearbyen’s few local restaurants and cafés, that no warming tents will be available to ward off the chill of the Arctic night, and that anyone venturing outside the city limits of Longyearbyen must have protection against polar bears.

So worried were the authorities that the hospital didn’t schedule appointments in the days around the eclipse. The town laid in extra food supplies and with characteristic Norwegian efficiency, the Red Cross had tents up and ready.

All hotels sold out a year before and they reckoned island population would swell to 3,500 or 4,000, or maybe more if you account for those who rented vacation homes or friends who came to stay with friends.

On eclipse day a dozen charter and private flights flew in for the eclipse and then out the same day, and authorities worried that a weather change could prevent those same-day visitors from departing when the whole town was already full.

In the event, the weather didn’t change and Longyearbyen handled things with good humor. We all tramped up and down their normally sovereign daily paths, most people wearing appropriate gear, and I think, just five weeks since the first sunrise of the year, the clerks and barkeeps were mostly happy to see all the strangers.

Until the eclipse actually crossed the sky it seemed as if local people downplayed its significance. Maybe they just didn’t think about it much, mainly marveling at the arrival of visitors from far away. I think they thought we were nuts.

Some said they hadn’t planned anything special, or hadn’t given it much thought. Maybe they thought they already lived in a place of wonder. Mostly, I think, the few who stayed at work wished they had taken a day off.

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