The next morning when I wake up the clouds are still there. They seem to not have moved at all during the night. Shivering I break up camp and decide to descend mt. Ryten on the opposite side from the one I had climbed two days earlier. I have high hopes of finding a cup of coffee in the nearest village Fredvang. A meandering path leads me down the mountain and through the thick layer of mist. For a few minutes I can hardly see a thing. The silence is only disturbed by the occasional howling of the wind and rustling of the high grass that hangs over the narrow path. I’m wearing shorts and my legs and feet get wet by the dew. When I get below the clouds the tiny village comes into view, hidden in an armpit of a beautiful bay and surrounded by pastures and fields full of wild flowers. The early morning hour casts a mysterious haze over the scene. Not a soul wanders the empty streets this early on a Sunday morning and even the sheep that are out grazing in their pastures still look sleepy. Luckily the only café in the village is open. In fact it looks more like a strange mix between a church and the cafeteria of an elderly home than like a boisterous pub. The bare walls, high ceiling and scattered tables and chairs remind me of the parish hall in the village I’m from. The size of the place seems way too big compared to the handful of houses in the village. I’m the only client and strike up a conversation with the owner, a woman in her 40s with curly hair, while her teenage son plays his gameboy behind the bar. I compliment her on the coffee and receive a free refill in return. Before long the coffee kicks in and I retreat to the restroom. While in there I ponder the importance of places like this in the bigger context of my trip. The lack of any kind of facilities while wild camping means that I have to make the most of all the other services establishments along the road have to offer. The way I see it, for two euros I not only get a cup of coffee, but also use the toilet, wash my hands with soap, rinse my face, refill my water bottle, get warm, charge the battery of my camera and use the wifi to research my next move. Revived after 48 solitary hours on top of Mt. Ryten I say goodbye to the curly-haired lady, swing my pack over my shoulder and continue on my way.
There’s only one main road crossing the entire Lofoten archipelago and I follow it for a few days. Hitchhiking is easy here and both tourists and locals pick me up. I visit Nusfjord, a fishing village famous for being kept in its authentic state throughout the centuries. Prehistoric looking fish heads with sharp teeth decorate the port, a local delicacy. On my way back to the main road an Italian couple picks me up and while the woman drives the man tells me all about the elevator company he works for and, after finding out that I’m an architect, excitedly gives me his business card. “You can never have enough connections in this world”, he says with a wink. They drop me in Leknes, one of the biggest and ugliest towns of the archipelago I’ve seen so far. There is nothing to see and after my usual shopping of pita sandwiches, salami and chocolate I thumb to Henningsvær, a town spread across a few small rocky islands connected by the elegant slim bridges that are common in this mountainous land. The town has a football team that plays in the national division and plays on a pitch that just fits the tiny rock it sits upon. While I pass the pitch I wonder who recovers the balls that fall into the sea. The pitch is overlooked by a huge, threatening mountain that casts a shadow over the entire town. I find a restaurant that serves pizza and beer for ‘only’ €15, a bargain here, and decide to splurge and enjoy my first warm meal in several days. I have been living on the dry pita sandwiches for the past week because they’re cheap, better packaged and easier to carry than French baguettes. They’re not even half bad with Nutella, but after a week straight of three Nutella-pita-sandwich-meals a day my tastebuds make celebratory backflips just thinking about pizza. While I wait for the feast to be delivered to my table I kill the time by checking the budget application I use on my phone. Even with all my precautions and self restraint, with hitchhiking or walking every mile instead of taking the bus and with eating supermarket basics pretty much the entire time I still barely manage to stay on budget. Courtesy of the Scandinavian prices and numerous ferry crossings. After my lovely meal I find a small hill just outside of town where I lay my head and dream of my next meal. Burgers and fries perhaps?
My last week in Norway has started and I keep following the road north. Small villages succeed one another at a rapid pace and I visit a few of them whenever I get stranded closeby. Svolvær, the unofficial capital of the Lofoten is a disappointment and after a quick pitstop in the local coffee shop to avoid a rain shower I get out quickly. A friendly and incredibly talkative Dutchman lets me tag along on the ferry from Fiskebøl to Melbu. He keeps on rattling, telling 5 different stories at the same time switching back and forth between them in a seemingly random way, and before I know it I’ve left Lofoten and arrived at Vesterålen, an archipelago just like it although not as well-known by tourists. I manage to find a half second interval in the time my new Dutch friend needs to switch to yet another story to explain to him that I would like to get out of the car. I spend a night on a hill with a beautiful view close to Stokmarknes and make it to Andenes the next day, the northernmost point of the Vesterålen, famous for its whale sightings. Because of its proximity to the continental shelf and 1000m deep underwater canyon this is one of the best places in Europe to spot whales throughout the year. I spend two nights at a very basic but seaside camping ground to recover from the past five nights of wild camping. It is nice to stay in one place for a while, enjoying the luxury of a kitchen and toilet, the possibility to wash my clothes and to walk around without the weight of a dead body stuck to my back. Exiting the shower building where I’m reborn just a few minutes earlier I walk back to my tent that is pitched on a grassy sand dune overlooking the North Sea. In the distance a few sperm whale tails rise up out of the water while they prepare to dive to the depths of the canyon. What a great day indeed.
The island of Senja is the second biggest island of Norway and more than one of the Norwegians I’ve met on this trip described it to me as a ‘miniature Norway’. “All the best things of Norway crammed into a natural wonderland that will take your breath away.” My first afternoon on Senja involves rides with a silent Russian and a jolly Norwegian girl who, kind of perplexed, lets me out of the car in the middle of nowhere after I ask her to pull over because I had seen a beautiful view. As soon as she speeds off the sky darkens and big raindrops start falling. I refuse to get discouraged and randomly climb the nearest mountain. A few hours later the weather gets the better of me and soaked I return to the road and collect my backpack that I had hidden under a few bushes. There I am, a soaked, red-caped midget on the side of a lonely road against a background of green giants. Apparently I had been wrong in assuming that the next village was only 3 km away and the clouds don’t look like subsiding either. Just when I start to feel sorry for myself an unknown saviour pulls over without me even trying to get his attention. The magic of looking like a pile of misery in a red raincoat under the deafening sound of a thunderstorm I suppose… The friendly driver drops me at the only public place that is open in the next village, a bar/restaurant which also rents out holiday cottages. The place looks like a big and comfortable Alpine chalet, and is empty except for the owners, two bearded gentlemen playing chess next to a roaring fire. They jump up, look my wet and miserable person up and down, assess the situation correctly and with a hospitable hand gesture invite me to sit down next to them. They move over and offer me a comfy chair in front of the fire to dry my feet and lift my spirits, along with a shot of local brandy one of the men produces from behind the chess board. “Welcome to Medby!” he says with a wink while also pouring a shot for himself and his mate. They continue their game and I find a hiking guide of the island on the coffee table in front of me. Several hours later I am dry, have a concrete plan of what to do the next day and am offered a slice of the most delicious pizza I’ve ever tasted. Neither Detlev nor Andree (that were their names) had ever followed a culinary course but they were both big pizza enthusiasts and every night they sold the products of that enthusiasm to their customers. Their tactic of serving me a free slice to tease my appetite works and I let myself be seduced to buy a whole one shortly thereafter. I spend the entire afternoon and evening there next to the fire and eventually camp in the garden. Meanwhile the rain keeps pouring all night long.
I only have two days left on Senja and decide to spend them climbing Segla, a very dramatic mountain peak that I had seen in the hiking guide the night before. I set off to Fjordgård, a small village at the foot of the mountain. An electrician on the way to work, a Danish retired missionary and two hippie girls in a Volkswagen van (accompanied by three huge, smelly dogs who drive me to the edge of madness) drop me closeby. I walk the last few kilometres, crossing an eerie dark tunnel dug through the heart of the mountain that separates Fjordgård from the rest of the island. For 30 minutes the distant sound of running groundwater and dim light of sparsely placed torches are the only sensory stimuli I perceive, reverberating from the roughly carved tunnel walls. A bone chilling cold reminds me of the hundreds of meters of massive rock above me. Walking though dark deserted, single-lane tunnels is not fun. After what seems like an eternity and with a sigh of relief I am finally spat out into the sunlight and sit down for a couple of minutes, breathing heavily.
Mount Segla truly is a sight to behold, raising 639m from the sea. On the top I sit down and with my feet dangling over the edge of the cliff I think about the past month and my road trip through the north of Scandinavia. It would all come to an end the day after tomorrow when I would fly back to Belgium from Tromsø, the biggest city in this part of Norway. It had been quite the adventure, with ups and downs and thrills and sweat and and a lot of pita-Nutella-sandwiches. I’d met a whole bunch of people, all of them extravagant in their own way. I’d learnt a lot, about perseverance, patience and being alone. I’d talked in many different languages, or at least tried to do so. I’d sung, at the top of my lungs and at the top of mountains. I’d lost a few pounds and had learned to appreciate the small and easy things in life again. I was ready to go home.