Lost Continent Discovered

In our jaded age, an increasingly rare pleasure is the thrill of discovering something new - like maybe a nifty restaurant in your own neighborhood that you had overlooked for years, or a piece of classical music that stirs you.

I sometimes wish I were living 100 years ago, when the world was a much bigger place, with many more exotic and hard-to-reach corners. Good old pulpy stories like Allen Quatermain, Lost Horizon, or Terry and the Pirates can't take place in the modern world; everything is too familiar and too interconnected. In those days you could almost believe there might be an uncharted island somewhere inhabited by dinosaurs and an enormous gorilla.

In the mid 1930's the pulp writer William L. Chester published a series of wilderness adventure stories about the hero Kioga, sort of a pseudo-Tarzan, who inhabited an uncharted land called Nato-wa, north of the Arctic Circle. Imagine my surprise to learn (just yesterday!) that there is in fact an inhabited landmass close to the North Pole, called Svalbard. When I found it on the globe, I went whoa. It is the farthest-north permanently inhabited location on Earth. This instantly made it onto my list of "must-see" places.

This is the lost continent. Okay, okay, both "lost" and "continent" are exaggerations. But - although officially discovered in 1589, it's new to me. And it's big enough to keep me busy for the all the time I might be able to spend there.

What does Svalbard have to offer? Well, for one thing, it gives you a chance to combine adventure with relative comfort. It's practically the North Pole, and offers plenty of arctic-type scenery such polar bears, walruses, and glaciers. Check out this bit of local color (courtesy of Wikipedia): Since polar bears are common on Svalbard and hunt humans on occasion, people need to take precautions when outside the settlements: this includes carrying a rifle. Nevertheless, the law protects polar bears, forbidding anyone to harm or disturb them unless it is necessary to avert personal injury. At the same time, they have a tourist bureau. They have commercial air service. They have hotels. They even have ATM's.

One slightly spooky but interesting landmark: Svalbard is home to an underground doomsday vault holding samples of all kinds of crop seeds in case the crops are wiped out by some kind of plague.

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