We flew the next day to Bodø, a small town of 50 thousand people, which markets itself as the ‘gateway to Norway’s true north’. The city was still covered with a layer of ice, making walking quite challenging, so we spent about three hours until the ferry’s departure, circling around the central square and the small mall. I do not think there is any exciting activities that we missed while we stayed there. Life seems to be typical of a small town. The only strange thing for a southerner is how much people engage in outdoors activities given the extreme weather conditions.
As we we sailing away from the port in the afternoon, we had the chance to admire the beautiful landscape around the town. My impression remained unchanged: Norway is beautiful, but in winter time, Norway might be quite boring.
The Lofoten Islands
The Lofoten islands is a string of small islands, interconnected through bridges and to the main land at their northern side. It is known for a distinctive scenery with dramatic mountains and peaks, open sea and sheltered bays, beaches and untouched lands. the easiest way to approach from the south is to embark the ferry from Bodø to Moskenes, the southernmost island in the archipelago.
It was dark and cold when we arrived in Moskenes. I had organized for a taxi to take us to Reine, a short 10 minutes drive. When we arrived, everything was covered with a thick layer of slippery ice that put our balance skills to serious test. We checked in the Reine Rorbuer, the one and only housing option available in Reine. Rorbuer stand for fishermen cabins and refer to the architectural style and their location on water stilts. Their interior is large, clean and cozy, heated by electric radiators. Every cabin has a wooden patio over the sea water.
We went back to the hotel restaurant – and only restaurant in Reine – to get some much needed food. The dinner was fair, but my thoughts were with the northern lights, since that particular night the sky was clear.
After a short but nice dinner, based on cod, we walked back to the cabin and prepared my camera for the unlikely event of eying the lights. I set it up on the patio that we shared with the next cabin, where I met the French neighbor setting up his own camera, obviously for the same reason. I was trying to brag in French about the techniques necessary to photograph the northern lights when it hit me: The despicable French showed me some frames of the lights he had recorded thirty minutes before, while I was having dinner! I remained polite, while he was going over the painful details and I wanted to smash his camera. Needless to say that there were no more lights that night nor any on the next two nights we spent on the Islands. But Lofoten proved to be worthy of the trip, despite the lack of the elusive display of the northern lights.
The next day we woke up late amid gray skies and cold weather, not the ideal weather for walking. At this time of the year, Sunday is not the exactly right time to be in Reine. There is only one restaurant and one café and both were closed on Sundays. The only source of food was the gas station with an interesting choice of snacks and plastic food. If you are hungry and have no other choice, any plastic hamburger is a good hamburger.
Finally the weather got a bit better in the afternoon and we arranged for a rental car to tour the islands. The car rental office was ten minutes drive away from Reine, among thousands of drying cods. Note: If you haven’t smelled drying cod, then don’t. I bet that the smell can cause permanent damage to your nostrils.
We drove north, past the Moskenesøya island, stopping every now and then to admire and photograph some truly amazing landscapes. As the time passed, the light became increasingly interesting. We crossed the bridge to the island of Flakstadøya and then took a left to cross another bridge, to get back to Moskenesøya, past Fredvang community and towards an interesting fjord that I found on my lonely planet guide.
After ten minutes driving, the asphalt ended and I took a right on a narrow icy road. It crossed my mind that it might be a bit challenging to drive on the ice capped dirt road with a regular 2-wheel drive car, but I am naturally optimistic, so I moved on. After fifteen minutes driving on an increasingly difficult terrain, I finally decided to turn back and not to take any more chances. I successfully managed to turn the car around on the narrow road and happily took the return way back when, a minute later, the left front wheel started spinning uncontrollably on the thick ice and the Nissan came to a stop. I stayed calm. After one hour of intense physical activity, I finally figured out that there was no way I would get the car out of there with out external help. It was almost dark and very cold so I called the guy who rented the vehicle, who called a friend, who had a friend with a pickup truck that came to pull us out for 300 krona and a big thank you. Stupid tourists.
The next morning, we headed north along E10 the main and only road that traverses and connects the islands. On our way to the north it was partly sunny, creating a very interesting light for photography.
After three hours driving and stopping to admire and take pictures, we reached Henningsvær, a charming village with a small busy port, full of fishing vessels. Obviously fishing is a very hard job, especially in the North Sea, but apparently it must be very rewarding as well. The offices of the fish trading companies were furnished with minimalistic but expensive furniture and equipped with the latest i-macs.
Living here must be difficult, yet rewarding at the same time. The weather is obviously an issue, obscenely cold and windy for most of the year. The communities are small, far away from major city centers. On the other hand it seems like the locals have managed to have most of the comforts that one would enjoy in a much bigger city. I have always been drawn to the idea of retracting to such a remote place and organize my life around books, music and movies, but I am not sure for how long I could do it without getting utterly bored. Nowadays, technology would allow for a sufficiently fast digital connection with the world out there and make such a scenario quite interesting. My first choice would still be a Greek island, but Norway seems like a charming alternative for one winter. Maybe when I am ready to write a book, which seems to be the case for the vivid imagination of all those Scandinavian mystery novelists. Norway’s north should be one of the most helping places in the world to get inspiration on writing mystery and murder books. The combination of weather, landscape and isolation is a major boost for thinking the unthinkable.
Environment or Economy?
Drilling in the the Lofoten Islands was prohibited, but the estimated 1,3 billion barrels of oil in the area are hard to ignore, so this year the energy minister declared argued that the Lofoten islands “must at some point come into play”. Of course there was a lot of controversy on this statement from environmental organizations and political activists. This is the same dilemma that poor Ecuador is facing. I thought that rich countries can afford environmental protection but it seems that modern economic realities dictate otherwise. It is easy to take a stance in this case than in the case of Ecuador, but it seems that the issue is a lot more complicated that I used to think not too long ago. For sure it will be coming back time and again in the future, with more intense and for many places around the world.