There but for the grace of cod

The last 3 days in Oslo were uneventful, filled with walks down the same trails I’d already made on my own the last few times I’d come, but with a travelling companion (TC), things were slightly different. More cheerful, certainly, considering the number of chocolate biscuits we bought.

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But the real thing – if that doesn’t sound terribly arrogant – began the moment we left for Bodø and onwards to Svolvaer. The small plane dipped right and I got my first glimpse of the small chain of islands that’s a jaw-dropping sight even from the air. Mountains plunge straight into the sea and on this rare, sunny winter’s day, it’s difficult to imagine the harsh conditions of the hardy fishermen who have lived their lives on the edge for centuries 68 degrees north of the Arctic Circle.

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It’s cod season now and boats go out by the hundreds – sailing past my hotel window – before the arse crack of dawn. The rorbuer (small fishing huts housing fishermen in the winter, some of which are refurbished to house tourists these days) and the hanging rows of dried cod on enormous triangular stands are testament to a fishing industry  hat hasn’t changed in decades – centuries even.

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A hurried check in at Hotel Vestfjord was followed by a hurried drive to Henningsvær, a town just about a half-hour from Svolvaer. It was an attempt to capture the last sunlight of the day, a wise choice in retrospect, seeing as we woke to snowy conditions that got progressively bleaker as the day wore on. It’s Easter week too and Norway is going on the snooze button for a few days; that knowledge is agonising enough to drive us to the supermarket and stock up for the meals we’d be preparing ourselves in the coming days.

The rest of Svolvaer apparently had the same idea.

The weather’s dreary yet the warmth of the people – both tourists and local – continue to surprise me, because years of travel still haven’t quite worn down the edge of cynicism and wary guardedness I have. We drove into snow deep enough that the car needed a boost from several hands. All of a sudden, several car loads of Italian skiers got out to volunteer for that job. It was over even before I’d time to process the panic I should have been feeling or the nightmarish situations in which we could have found ourselves.

There but for the grace…

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