Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Eating Whale

Hour 154

I am running to catch my flight to Oslo.

Hour 159

As we land in Bodø, I spy glaciated granite cliffs out the window and my heart skips a beat. I bail on my flight to Narvik, collect my bags and head out into the drizzle to catch a ferry to the Lofoten (lynx foot) Islands. Leaving the airport, I run into a nice couple I met on my first day in Norway who taught me a trick for converting Norwegian Kroners into US Dollars: add half to the number and then move the decimal over one spot (100 NOK = 100 + (100/2) = 150/10 = 15 USD). Genius.

Hour 162

Initially, I pass my time waiting for the boat in a marine supply store where I fall in love with a pair of huge red plastic mittens. I then wander into the local mall and am disappointed to see that Jane Eyre isn't playing at the movie theater until later that night. Finally, I make my way back to the ferry terminal, don my ear plugs and eye mask, and fall asleep on a ledge by the window.

Hour 165

The land/sea scape sliding by outside the ferry window is ridiculous. It's as if the Winds were flooded to tree line by the ocean, leaving only their jagged spine intact above the water. It's easy to imagine Viking longboats sailing forth from this stronghold.

Hour 168.5

I haul my bags up the ferry's impossibly steep ramp and see Harald, smiling and waving on the dock. We head to Kabelvåg where I find out we'll be inaugural guests in the beautiful, old house bought just days before by his friends, Seth and Maren. We climb the steps, duck in the door and I am reminded of the maritime interiors in the movie, Persuasion. Cello music and Django Reinhart fill the house.

It is quickly established (amid moving boxes and backpacks crammed full with gear) that it is a very small world. Yesterday, Maren almost bought a kayak from Lena. Seth helped drywall Melis and Joey's shower in Talkeetna and went to college with Adam Ü. He's skied with Matt Lloyd and John Fitzgerald in Jackson and when asked if he'd run into Weber while guiding last month, he mulls it over: "... dark haired guy, quiet, with a blond girlfriend?" Yes indeed (minus the quiet part). Andreas, who just did the first ski descent of Denali's South Face, is in the kitchen preparing a dinner of salmon cakes and apple crisp with his girlfriend. I am clearly outclassed, but among friends.

Hour 189

I enjoy a delicious dinner (thin slices of ham, eggs with fresh chives on whole grain toast, honey walnuts and gorgonzola) under the eves of an old fishing depot with a wonderful couple that Harald knows from Bodø. Both doctors, they are renovating this three story building in Henningsvær. Behind us, the Priest (a classic 5.10b multipitch) leans against the tallest point in the island chain, making me wonder what Evan would make of this place.

I have gone through a landfill's worth of Kleenex in the past 48 hours.

Hour 204

I get off the bus to go to the bathroom on my way south to Reine and emerge from the gas station to find that it has left without me. As I wait for the next one, I decide to go to Å instead.

Hour 205.5

We drive by an old farmhouse with sheep grazing on it's peaked, turf roof. Seriously?

The silhouette of a cormorant with it's wings spread seems to be emblematic around here and it gets me thinking that the image would make a killer family crest if you were into that kind of thing.

Hour 206

We pass through Reine and it blows my mind. It's like a submerged cathedral of rock, with a sunlit fishing village perched on islands at the entrance.

Hour 206.5

I am unimpressed by Å and return to Reine. I carry a hello from Anders to Sandro, who has already gone home for the day from his kayak shed. Seth gave me the number of a friend who runs a guide service/guesthouse in Reine. While Ule Christian is up north climbing for the weekend, his mother kindly opens up the house for me. It's smack dab in the middle of the bay with spectacular views of the mountains.

She shows me a bicycle I can use and I head off --feet barely reaching the pedals-- across two bridges to eat dinner in Hamnøy at a cozy pub. I order the minke whale and it's divine (local fishermen brought it in two weeks ago). Because my nose is completely socked in, I have to come up for air between mouthfuls. The family at a nearby table glare meaningfully at me every time I blow my nose. I turn to see if they are staring at something behind me, but no-- I have window curtains and an inoffensive burgundy wall to my back. Biking home slightly buzzed, I stop and chat with some Finnish men hanging their fishing lines off one of the bridges in hopes of catching something before the day is out. Oystercatchers skim over the water in pairs.

Hour 254

I wake up from a nap on a granite slab below a waterfall in an alpine meadow laced with wildflowers and forty minutes later have my toes dug into hot sand as I watch the surf roll in. Best day yet, minus getting caught in the bus vortex that is Leknes.

These islands remind me of my two favorite children's books, The Sailor Dog and Miss Rumphius-- funny to think how much they've influenced my taste over the years!

I walk in the door at 10:30pm to a post-beach barbecue wine soiree at Seth and Maren's. Five cups later I am happily curled up in bed.

Hour 270

Up at 5:30am to catch the ferry over to the mainland. Coming down the gangplank in Skutvik, I am immediately ushered onto a local bus despite some confusion on my part and told I cannot pay because the computer screen is broken. The driver and I then proceed to his home where he washes all the windows on the bus and signs for a bed frame that gets delivered. My confusion grows. I am dropped off to transfer buses having essentially no idea where I am, so I lie down and fall asleep in the sun for two hours. The next bus driver is running ten minutes late and acting for all the world like the white rabbit in Alice In Wonderland. As I unload my bags at the Tysfjord Touristcenter (the end game in this whole charade), I am left in a swirl of dust and exhaust as the bus pulls away, not having paid for the ride. So --all told-- I traveled about 250 km on land and by sea for around thirty dollars in one of the most expensive countries on earth. Entirely by accident.

No one from NOLS is around and the woman behind the desk at the lodge is surly and pleads ignorance on all fronts... I wonder if I've made some sort of colossal mistake such as getting my contract dates wrong. As I wait for something to happen which will confirm or dismiss my misgivings, I throw a load of laundry in the wash and bring a baguette with brie and salami down to the beach for a late breakfast in the grass.

I bought a detergent at the local convenience store because I recognized the word "colors" on the jug. Turns out I should have asked for some help translating the Norwegian label. As I hang my clothes --now a uniform and beguiling shade of purple-- on the line to dry, a Sami woman in ghoulish makeup (scarlet lipstick encircling her mouth, barely hanging onto her lips) weaves under my socks and peers up at me with a bleary smile. She winks and says, "See you later, Alligator!" before leaning into an invisible wind and tacking towards a utility closet. Turns out she is the center's cleaning lady, which explains a lot about the state of the facilities. She reminds me of characters on the streets of San Francisco.

Howie and Nick roll in from a day of shopping in Narvik in time to catch me reading a children's book about Vikings in bed. We move boxes of food into a basement room that reeks of fish, I get a tour of the place and am handed two folders of paperwork for my briefing tomorrow. The NOLS routine feels the same from Norway to Coyote Bay.

I'm here. [sharp intake of breath and a sing-song, "...mmmmm" which is all to say, yes]

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