The Road through Norway, part II: Lofoten

Our arrival on the Lofoten Islands was not as glamorous as the one in Lyngen had been: instead of brilliant sunshine we were met with threatening dark skies. Long had we believed that we would make it all the way down to Oslo without a single drop of rain, and long had we not checked the forecast anymore. It was a minor reminder to that good old life lesson that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.


We woke up by the side of the E10 in fresh snow. Snow was still falling from the sky when we started driving again, and that snow soon turned into rain. As we drove further out the weather kept detoriorating, and under the motto “this is not a thru-hike” pj vetoed walking and camping under the circumstances. He did have a point: all higher ground was engulfed by clouds, so there was no point going up there just for the sake of it.

We could not do much those first two days on Lofoten. Terrain here is so steep that fresh snow, icy ground or wet rocks are not ideal conditions. We attempted getting up the peak Fløya, outside of Svolvær, but stranded at 240m where loose ice would have slid with us all the way back down again. So we drove on, heading west, hoping to find something we could do.

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In this way it took a little before I really started appreciating Lofoten. This time I did feel that being in the car made me miss out on all the fun, and the whole Svolvær area had a bit of a tourist trap allure around it.

The uncomfortable feeling I had changed in the little village of Unstad. Already shortly beyond Svolvær the drive became  incredibly spectacular but here, in this seemingly forgotten village by the end of the world, I realised these islands are truly special. That people still live here I find astonishing, and that there was a happy crowd of surfers running to the water even more. But it bears witness to how the people are, on the islands: they live simple, though they live good. No spoils, no craziness. They come across as tough, though they are honest, friendly, true. As we stood on the shore and watched some surfers play in the waves, I wished there were far more places like that.

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Driving without a purpose is sometimes the best thing that can happen, creating the opportunity to stumble upon places like this. Or to find unexpected things to do. Diving was not the first thing that popped into my mind when I thought northern Norway, yet as the opportunity arose I suddenly couldn’t resist it. And I did get certified for a reason, after all. PJ stayed on the dry, saving his money for a pair of new skis, and rather being on the land than in the cold below.

 

 

The dive was an incredible experience. It was the first time working with a dry suit for me and that took a lot of my focus. It was only me and the instructor, which was nice, as he was able to take his time to explain me everything and take it easy when we started going down. Even with the dry suit and the insulating suit beneath it I have never been that cold in my life (water temperature 4 degrees). It was amazing to glimpse what lives in those cold arctic waters. We went through a canyon at 19m of depth, bumping into krill, sea urchins, sea snails, a school of fish, soft coral and kelp. After 35 min my hands cramped together and I got problems operating my dry suit so I had to call it a day and we surfaced, back into the sun and into that sweet warm air.

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PJ waited for me to take a hot shower after which we put on our snow shoes once again and started walking towards Justadtinden. It was the only sunny day we had on the islands, so we had to make use of the opportunity while we had it. We had to pass on the peak one final time: again, it was too steep to head for it without an ice axe and crampons. For sure we will bring those items with us the next time.

So we came to a rim where the mountain ridge began and pitched the tent there, looking over cliffs and sharp peaks rising from fjords and bays. It was such a nice view, in all directions, of a land so pretty and strange that it seems to have been created in some animated movie. Soon enough we realised bad weather was coming in, in spite of the forecast that had predicted nothing but sunshine, so we dug in the tent a little bit deeper. The clouds came in rolling over the hills as the sun set and the sky moved with shapes and colours. We watched it in awe, until a cloud engulfed our mountain and we were left with only fog.

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Snow blowing in horizontally was our wake-up call the next morning, so there was nothing to do but to pack up and leave. We walked down and drove on, passed more old, humble and forgotten places along the evermore scenic way to Å. We wondered how it must be to live here, on these barren islands far away from the world.

Though the forecast kept predicting nothing but sun the rain never stopped. After a few months in the frozen winter world around Kiruna it was actually nice to smell the rain again, and flowing water in the creeks and the rivers, and the sea. It was nice to hear the sea birds argue, and to see so much movement and life, after the silent winter forests of Sweden. We both really appreciated Lofoten, even in all the wet. It is one of PJ’s favourite places in Norway. He talked about coming back in the summer, to hike all those peaks we had to miss out on. I talked about coming back in the winter, with a ski box on the roof of our car, to make tracks in all that untouched powder that we passed.

For the final night we set up camp outside of Reine, a place that is far too beautiful even if all the rain in the world seems to be falling from the sky. Early the next morning we took the ferry across to Bodø, leaving yet another place on our “to return to” list.

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