The folks trying to sell campers a more comfortable night’s sleep did so a bit too loudly. The Swedes were adroit and a bit authoritarian. And the Japanese were wasteful, much to their hosts’ delight.
The community at Longyearbyen’s crowded campsite during Eclipse Week was frequently a study in polar opposites, starting with those braving the Arctic outdoors setting up their tents only a few hundred meters from the jets at the airport.
Longtime expedition experts competed for space with intrepid novices in common areas, and weather that was spectacular during the eclipse also inflicted hardships such as freezing and destroying the campsite’s water pipes the day before.
But for the most part, those trying to experience the eclipse on a budget nature and a few fellow campers.
“Overall most people were definitely quite courteous,” said Greg Goudey, who volunteered to help campsite attendant Juliane Opielka during the week.
“I would say there was at least a good 70- to 75 percent of the people had never been here before,” he said. “They were all that same type – as soon as you say ‘polar bear’ people have this fascination and this fear at the same time.”
“It was entertaining to hear their enthusiasm. It wasn’t annoying. It was cool.”
The experienced group leaders overcame some harsh conditions, including a near-hurricane-force blizzard while setting up camp before most of their clients arrived. But that kind of assertiveness of the leader of a Swedish group also caused some tension.
“He kind of came in and more or less took over the place while he was there,” Goudey said.
“It wasn’t in a way that was rude, but it was so in your face it was in a way everyone didn’t know to react.”
Another Swedish group – one decidedly lacking in Arctic experience – consisted of employees with the Hästens mattress factory, who tried to use the trip to pitch its product to campers uncomfortable on the frozen tundra. But while they were serious about selling slumber, others at the campsite said the company reps were a bit rowdy when it was actually time to go to sleep.
But one group who did deliver the gift of a good night’s rest – both during Eclipse Week and for future campers – was a Japanese delegation who brought five new four-person expedition-quality tents and donated them to the campsite when they departed. Goudey, who spent three nights in one of the tents, said they will be rented out to future campers who are either lacking or don’t want to carry their own.
“It was like luxury accommodations, although it was still cold,” he said.