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Svalbard and farting sled dogs

Imagine this: you’re sitting in a dog sled, sliding comfortably and silently through the powder white snow surrounded by a gorgeous mountain landscape. Seems idyllic, and that’s how the brochures sell them. But when you’re on the sled, it’s a different story. Whether you’re sitting in the sled or standing on it, the odour of dog fart wafts past you at high speed, and doesn’t seem to go away. Some experienced dogs actually manage drop a few poop nuggets while they run, and you try not to squeal with your mouth open. Your eyes start to water, and you’re wondering what you got yourself into as you zoom past the (beautiful) landscape at a dangerous 50km/h.

Sliding through the silent landscape

Most people imagine sled dogs to be cute, fluffy dogs who love nothing more than mush on command. However, real working sled dogs are wiry and lean – a product of running around the Arctic for 12 hours nonstop if you let them. All they want to do is run. The moment you harness the dogs to the sled, you have to put a brake on them – otherwise the dog and your sled would be miles away faster than you can say “F***”.

Excitable dogs

Needless to say, learning to brake is the most important element of sledding – without it, you’ll be dragged through snow, stones and ice upside down. It’s not like they know where to run to – the lead handler usually has to stop and point the dogs to the right direction.

The real fun in mushing is going over little streams, across holes in the snow or up and down steep inclines. There’s little chance of injury, as you’re surrounded by fluffy white snow and dressed in a puffy overall. Unless you encounter a polar bear looking for fast food.

Adorable Husky puppy!

What most people don’t realise about the dogs is that they don’t ever get washed (so you can smell them before you see them). Even so, these dogs do crave affection and enjoy a good rubdown after a run. If you’re lucky, you get to go to a puppy farm to play with tiny, fluffy, blue-eyed Husky puppies before they turn into huge, stinky, excitable sled dogs.

With just 45kms of roads in Svalbard, the only ways around the back country are by boats, snowmobiles and of course, dog sleds. Local mushers can take you into the adjoining valleys for half-day trips, past glaciers and herds of grazing reindeer. You’ll ride in pairs – one driving and one sitting – and learn how to “mush” on the fly. The landscape – with glaciers and snowy mountains – is amazing, and with hardly a visitor for miles around, the trip truly makes you feel like you’re riding in the final frontier.

Svalbard, the northernmost of Norway
Located 1,000km north of Norway, this once no-man’s-land now has the trappings of a modern city, minus the crowds. With more than 40 nationalities among its 2,000 residents, it’s definitely the Arctic’s most cosmopolitan place.

Nothing but pure scenery the whole way

Longyearbyen is the unofficial capital, where you can get everything from reindeer tom yum to Wifi access. In summer, it experiences the midnight sun and is home to Arctic creatures like reindeer and Arctic foxes that can be seen wandering around town. Most visitors come to spot the elusive polar bear (stuffed bears can be found pretty easily), walruses and seals – all of which can sometimes be seen on ice floes near the airport.


A (cold) Barrentsburg scene

A boat ride (or sled excursion) away is the Russian coal mining town of Barrentsburg, home to 400+ residents. Those with a fascination for all things Soviet (dreary buildings, stone-faced Russians, etc) will find this settlement  – with its snowed-in buildings and soot-covered streets – a kooky gem. Don’t bother drinking at the bar – they only accept e-roubles.

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