Horseback riding along Isfjorden
When I saw that I had an option to book a horseback riding tour in Longyearbyen, I had to book it. It was, actually, the first activity that I paid for. The idea of riding a horse along the shore of Isfjorden, 1 000 km away from the North pole is something you do not refuse, but run towards it and embrace it like a friend you did not see for a long time.
Such experiences should not be a luxury or a distant dream. We, who are nature enthusiasts, who thrive in being outside in the wilderness, care very little about the weather conditions as we know how to behave and adjust no matter what, and love animals, live for such moments. Even now, four years after, I still adore that morning and would repeat it literally anytime.
The ride was an hour and a half long and it was preceded and finalized with preparing the horse and returning it back to the stable. We rode along the coast near the airport, in Bjørndalen, along Isfjorden’s coast. The weather, the light, the late summer colors… All this contributed to this magical experience. The horse is of the icelandic breed, which means that it is very calm by nature and easy to handle.
When I looked through the window in the morning, I saw that it was snowing. I was extra excited because of the idea of riding a horse in such environment while it’s snowing. Like, can it be any better? But the weather changed drastically, the sun begun to shine and the whole area was very intensely colored and looked like it was a painting.
We were passing by the LYB camping area. I will never forget how “inadequate”, how “not true enough” and how “not hardcore enough” I felt while passing by the tents which were put up near the coast of Isfjorden, by the people who instead of a warm hostel bed and shower chose to sleep on permafrost in such a special place. I was jealous AF.
Sleeping outside would always be my first choice, but not at this place. It turned out that it was a good choice to switch the sleeping bag for a bed.
That night/early morning, a Dutch employee of that camp and who was sleeping in a tent, got killed by a polar bear.
Whoever decides to do ANYTHING beyond the safety rules is taking responsibility for his own life; I respect that choice. The Dutch guy did what he loved. No one sleeps this far north outside by the sea just because. I would do the exact same thing if it was safe. The bears rarely attack/kill people, though. The last person mauled by a polar bear in Svalbard died 9 years ago. That bear was severely starved; it managed to injure 4 and kill one person before it was shot.
The polar bears are hungry, as the icebergs and glaciers are reduced significantly and consequently the numbers of seals (polar bear’s primary food source) are dropping. They are forced to search for food beyond ice.
Those bears are not mindless monsters. It is forbidden to hunt and disturb them in their natural habitat. There is a level of respect you are due to provide for them.
But, if a bear is going towards you, and you have a rifle which you know how to use – you are supposed to use it. Those people who tried to defend the Dutch guy did the only thing they could – they fought the bear. Whoever thinks it is stupid/crazy/aggressive to fight for someone’s life should in case of a bear attack just stand like a stone and accept his own death.
The bear (3 yo, male) was found dead a couple of hundred meters away, in the airport parking lot. He was not supposed to die like that.