Open letter to intrepid novices hoping to visit during the March 20 total solar eclipse

svalbard in guardian

The following is a comment I posted at The Guardian’s website Sunday in response to an article they wrote about visiting during the March 20 total solar eclipse. It makes absolutely no mention of the insanity that will reign – suggesting a place to stay at for £90 a night, for example – so I figured trying to set their readers straight (and ours, if we had any, was worth a try).

Those planning to visit during the eclipse are going to be in for major sticker and culture shock if they try to make plans based on this article. I edit a local newspaper and coming here with no guaranteed place to stay – IF you can find a flight – is literally hazardous to your health since you could easily freeze to death or get eaten by a polar bear (that’s not meant to be funny, as an ill-fated student expedition from the UK back in 2011 can attest).

Every room in town was booked years ago and the going rate for private cabins and apartments (small ones) is 20,000 kroner a night (estimating that’s about £1,500/$2,500 USD, but exchange rates have been fluctuating a lot lately). Those looking for listings will probably have the most luck checking the usual popular homestay websites. Flight are also booked for the week surrounding the eclipse, so you’ll likely need to arrive well before and depart a few days after – if you’re lucky. The easiest bet may be a package tour if you can still find one: while the initial price tag may seem heart-stopping, it begins to look a lot more reasonable when you learn the expense and complexity of doing it on your own.

Finally, Longyearbyen will be packed way, way beyond its functioning capacity: pack as much of your own food as possible, don’t expect to make a quick run to the store or a grab a quick snack in any cafe, and above all do not be a part of The Problem (ignorance about taking precautions in the extreme environment, treating the locals – especially kids – like zoo animals to be gawked at, wandering uninvited into people’s homes too see how the locals live, etc.).

All that said, just the energy of the event – to say nothing of the eclipse itself – will make it one of the most memorable moments in a community filled with an incredible number of ones you won’t find anywhere else. But since one uninformed person can wreck a trip for a whole lot of people, hopefully informing even a few people about the realities of being here during the eclipse will ensure more folks get the most for their very high sums of money.

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As an addendum to the above, it turns out a Ukrainian man was hospitalized with frostbite the same day this article was published after trying to camp out with only a sleeping bag and inadequate clothes (the overnight temperature was about -25C in town and almost certainty colder near the base of the glacier where he attempted to stay). Also, like many others needing assistance/rescue, he was also unaware of other dangers such as polar bears.

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