Living in the Arctic
Knowledge and experience characterise all PolarQuest expedition leaders and guides. Several of them have been commuting between the Arctic and the Antarctic for many years, but they have also lived in some of the most remote corners of the world. One of them is our guide Christian Engelke, who lived in Svalbard for several years. We asked him to tell us about it!
How come you lived in Svalbard?
I had read about the possibility to study at the Universiy centre UNIS and got really hooked on the idea. So I just applied and was initially an undergraduate student for one year.
For how long did you live in Svalbard?
Altogether I have lived for about 3 years on Spitsbergen between 2008 and 2012. First as a bachelor's student and later I wrote my Master thesis and started guiding tourists in the vicinity, as well.
What’s it like to live in Svalbard during the dark winter months? What do people do in the evenings and at weekends?
Actually the dark period is very interesting, even if this sounds odd for people that have not gone through it. After the intense summer everything slows down a bit and people are enjoying the things they did not have time for during the busy summer. Good meals, music, social events, concerts... Still, I find it important to stay active and go out. One can go skiing with the modern headlamps even in the darkest time of year,explore ice caves in the glacier, and there are also many indoor sports at "Svalbardhallen". In addition, it is not always as dark as people would believe. If the full-moon is up and it is clear the light reflections on the snow can make the polar night surprisingly bright.
Did you ever see a polar bear in Longyearbyen?
No, I never saw a bear in town, even if it happens once in a while. In fact, the first year on Svalbard I did not see any polar bears at all, although I spent a lot of time out in the field. When I was on a snowmobile trip to a certain location people would see bears the day after or the day before I was there. We even had a polar bear visiting Longyearbyen while I was living there, but I was then on a trip out of town to the east coast where one can often see bears (but we did not). My friends started joking about it. "Just bring Christian on your trip, then you do not need a gun!"
Do you have a favourite spot in Svalbard?
This is a hard question, as I specifically love the contrast between the different places in Svalbard. Every expedition day is different. The ragged mountains of the northwest, the polar desert in Nordaustland, the pack ice and the bird cliffs. If I have to choose it might be Karl XII island, a tiny but steep island in the middle of nowhere, often close to the pack ice and with a great view of the Seven Islands and Nordaustland.
Any “must sees” in Longyearbyen?
I like both the normal museum and the relatively new Airship museum as they really give a feel to the exploration and trappers' history of the high north. If time allows there are many nice hikes into Adventdalen and on the numerous mountains round town. Never hike without a rifle!
Since 1999, we have taken travellers on once-in-a-lifetime trips to Svalbard. From May to September our three small expedition ships, carrying only 12 and 51 passengers, explore this magnificent Arctic archipelago. Unpredictability and flexibility are the main keywords when you travel with PolarQuest as the exact route depends on weather, ice conditions and wildlife encounters. Sometimes you might be woken up in the middle of the night if a polar bear has been spotted on the ice.