Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ship's Log: Day 10

October 15

We arrived at Ny-London, an uninhabited former settlement which is the sight of a mine started by a British miner, Ernest Richard Mansfield in the early 1900s. He thought that he would be able to quarry for marble and make a fortune.

Ny-London Industry
The marble was under the permafrost so when he brought it back to the UK it all cracked. This was not his first failed endeavor. He had tried to mine for gold as well which didn't pan out.

Ny-London Marble Quarry
The whole group went ashore after breakfast. After debarking from the Zodiacs we climbed up a steep, rocky embankment. We followed some stone paths (laid by Mansfield's crew) that led to abandoned quarry equipment and huts. Eventually, some of the group decided to head back to the Noorderlicht. Katja and I opted to stay on land and film another of her performances. It was a cold day and the stone paths were treacherous with ice. After filming, we skated our way back toward the site where the Zodiac would pick us up. We met up with some others who had stayed behind to work. One by one, we sat on our butts and slid down the steep embankment onto the narrow stretch of beach. As I was waiting my turn my feet went out from under me and I started sliding away from the Zodiac and toward a rocky drop to the sea. Jan yelled out, "Grab her!" With amazing loyalty, dexterity, and super human strength, Katja reached out and caught my sleeve, dragging me away from the precipice and back to safety!


In the afternoon we motored down Kongsfjorden and docked at Ny-Ålesund. Ny-Ålesund is the world's furthest north settlement, populated by 27 international scientists. At present, Norway, The Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom, France, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea and People's Republic of China all maintain research stations at Ny-Ålesund, although not all are inhabited year-round.It's the home of the world's northernmost post office. After a week aboard the Noorderlich it was strange to be around other people and a society other than the one onboard ship.

Ny-Ålesund Post Office
Jan said that we can buy phone cards and call home. After being completely cut off from civilization for ten days it felt strange to be able to finally contact the "real world." Katja and I walked up to the one tourist shop that said they were out of phone cards and that there was no internet access either. What ever hesitation we might have felt disappeared at the thought that we wouldn't be able to call home! Jan saw our distress and suggested we try the information office. They had three cards left! We each bought one. Jan had shown us the pay phone, which was a plywood box on the dock. It had the phone inside and a broken window which let the outside in. Katja and I were both relieved to learn that this public phone wasn't our only option -- we could use the phone in the information center after hours (so I could talk to Bob when he was awake and alert, rather than waking him at 4am).

Dirigible launch tower for the Amundsen-Ellsworth-Nobile dirigible expedition
Jan took a few of us for a guided tour of the town. We saw the mooring tower where Roald Amundsen began the first flight over the Arctic.

Amundsen Memorial
We next visited a small graveyard for miners killed in a mine explosion and a memorial for the Italian who accompanied Amundsen.

Ny-Ålesund Public Bathroom
We walked a little further out of "town" to a camp ground. The scientists keep tourists well out of their way by requiring all visitors to overnight at this campsite. There was a toilet on a bridge with a "direct deposit" system into a stream far below. The campers were also expected to collect their drinking water at the point where this stream met the fjord. Not very welcoming!

Jan spoke with the scientist/technician at the German station and asked if he would give the whole group a tour in the evening. We had a fantastic inside look at the life and work of the German scientists who were studying atmospheric light refractions and weather changes. They sent up a daily weather balloon and had a beam of light that shot up into the atmosphere. It reminded me of the memorial beams of light that mark the location of the twin towers every September 11th in NYC. After the tour, the German scientist joined us back at the ship for dessert and drinks. Katja and I snuck off to the information center's phone and each called home. It was SOOOOO GREAT to talk to Bob!!! I can't believe how much I've missed his voice!!!

Once back at the ship, everyone including the scientist was in good spirits ... from lots of spirits. At about 2:30am I decided to head down to my bunk ... just when the dance party was hitting full swing.

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