Sunday, July 11, 2010

The North Cape, Norway

The North Cape claims to be the northernmost point of land in Europe. But is it? Like most other records, it is claimed by others and in this case, Knivskjellodden and Cape Nordkinn. In reality, the North Cape and Knivskjellodden are in the island of Mageroya, while the later, in the European Continental landmass proper. You decide.

To get there, I landed at Honningsvag that claims to be the northern most city in Europe. Then I headed north to the North Cape and made a stop at an indigenous people trading post, the Lapponian Camp, where there was a “Teepee.”

It happens that the Sami, the indigenous people of the Nordic countries, use this type of shelter called a Lavvu. What jumped to my mind was the similarity of the Lavvu to the Teepee of the North American Plain Indians. I propose that design similarities were the result of both cultures being nomadic, in need of portable shelters that could be easily set-up, dismantled and transported. They depended in migratory animals for their survival; the reindeer being to the Sami what the buffalo was to the Plain Indians.

Once at the North Cape, the landscape was barren with steep cliffs down to the rocky shore. One could be at any other place in the world at similar latitudes and could not notice any thing naturally peculiar about this place. Points of interest here were recently created by man for the benefit of tourists, who bring income to the area in excess of the traditional fishing industry. As one arrives, the large North Cape Center building with shopping stores, restaurant and museum is the dominant structure. There is a Thai Room in memory of King Chulalongkorn who visited in 1907; I least I have something in common with royalty, the curiosity to travel.

There are seven round monuments that look to me as giant old greek coins. They are called the “Children of the World Monument” and each of was designed by a child from a different country who visited there as guests of the Norwegian government in 1988. They are to promote peace, happiness, friendship, etc.

There is also a statue of a woman with a boy pointing south (according to my bearings) and she may be saying “Go South Young Man.” where is sunny and warm.

While walking by the cliffs I noticed a carving on a rock that looked to me as an insect. It was just there, no marker or fence to protect it; I am sure that I am not the only one that has seen it. I just photographed it and did not think about until I got home. I was intrigued by this lithograph and emailed the image to the North Cape Center. Surprisingly, Khristian, the service manager at the Center, was kind enough to respond and said that it was called a “rune.” Runes are a type of writing derived from ancient italic alphabets. It is tough that it was introduced by returning Germanic mercenary soldiers that served in the Roman Imperial Army. So what I tough was a representation of an insect is a group of rune letters. Would like to know what it says, anyone out there can translate it for me?

It is time to depart for new latitudes and after a last photo of the Cape, I return to Honningsvag, where at the port, I ran into a group extreme explorers fitted in space suits to conquer the “Finis Terrae.”

Friday, July 2, 2010

Lofoten Islands, Norway.

After a while, new places do not look so different from others in the world. The Lofoten Islands reminded me of Iceland, Alaska, and southern Argentina as well as Chile. It is all location and in this case being close to the Artic or Antarctic Circle. It seems that the weather dictates the landscape as well as the building construction. Most buildings are painted red or other vivid colors; and these are mostly built of corrugated metal sheets or wood. And of course, the major historical source of wealth is the fisheries. In the case of these islands as in Iceland, cod fish.

The islands are one of those places that as Patagonia, Torres de Paine, and East Africa, I would like to return time and time again. These islands are scarcely populated with beautiful land and seascapes, picturesque fishing villages and old churches, small farms and not environmentally spoiled. And the weather is perfect; it changes every fifteen minutes—imagine the photo opportunities. I was here in mid-June and it was cold!!!

I had lunch one day at the Maren Anna Restaurant in the fishing village of Sorvagen and was named after a fishing boat that moored at its pier. It has a prominent sign stating that it was close but it was not, I assume that it has recently opened for the tourist season starting in June. It also has rooms for rent. It has a buffet line and I explored the local delicacies, one in particular was intriguing, cod tongues. I rather say that I preferred the wonderful smoked salmon also available as well as reindeer stew and potatoes, I wonder what people ate before the Spaniards brought the potato from Peru to the old world?

Below the bridge over the small creek that provides access to the restaurant, I saw this old rusted cast iron turbine, so down I went to take a closer look, I found that it was used to generate electricity and was first put in use in 1916 to generate electricity for the fishing processing operations in Sorvangen. If you take a closer look, there is a metal plate in the turbine with the following information: Model #177, VAPLANS MEK, Verkstads A.B., 19-NALDEN-09.

Next to the restaurant there is a pier still along with storage buildings in use today for fisheries operations and as nesting for black footed kittiwakes. These birds are quite oblivious to the presence of humans and quite noisy. According to the locals the restaurant was originally a cod liver oil factory and then a cannery

Driving down the chain of islands that have been recently connected by a series of bridges and tunnels, I passed a larger fishing village, Reine. It is located in a cove with a wonderful range of mountains as a background; one of those photogenic places in the world that everyone passing by has photographed. Don’t believe me? Just google Reine and see how many similar images as the one above you will find.

There are lots of fishing villages as you meander along the narrow roads, some are abandoned and others are still in use. And then there is A, a preserved fishing village which is now the Cod Museum in Sorvagen. It is a wonderful place and cod is still processed and hung in racks for drying. For more information go to:
And there is nesting colony of black-footed kittiwakes in the steep rock cliff right next to the piers. Since I was there in June, the birds were just fighting for nesting space.

The Lofoten Islands have a long history of human habitation who earned a living out of the cod fisheries and up to this day, is the major exported of dried codfish to Europe and
Africa. So far, the cod population is not threatened with decline as in New England and the Maritime provinces of Canada and not the subject to cod wars as those that has regularly taken place between Iceland and Britain. The Lofoten fishermen has diversified and developed extensive salmon farms, just as it has been done off the coast of Chile and Scotland. But fishing today is not the major income of these islands. Tourists like me, are their major catch, generating more income than the traditional fishing industry.