Day 40. Saturday 22 June.
A birthday missed but not forgotten. Apparently the England cricket team didn’t deliver the right present either – or perhaps they scrambled through? Haven’t heard a result as yet.
Focus today is North Cape, a 40 minute bus ride from the wharf at Honningsvag. We will stop there for 3.5 hours and there are a number of other excursions available: bird watching, fishing villages, and a mountain hike.
To be exact, North Cape is not quite the furthest north connected land point in Europe – the honour seemingly belongs to a headland a bit to the west, across a fjord from North Cape.
The tour guide later explaining that the connecting tunnel to Mageroy island meant that both were considered to be mainland. We will have to follow up on that: ‘The Englishman who Went up a Hill but Came down a Mountain’ sort of story?
The day looked dry and there was even sunshine (and so there should be for midsummer!), but we were taking no chances, so had some wet weather protection just in case. The guide was chatty and mostly clear enough but for a brief moment T thought she heard him referring to the crowds moving away, so we should expect a good time on the cape, despite there being several huge cruising ships docked. As we climbed higher, the view became more problematic, with the wind blasting and misty cloud racing low. Then T realised the pronunciation and the ‘crowd moving’ was ‘cloud moving’ and while it was certainly moving, it was increasing.
The wind chill factor was extreme: we were looking for that one person – there’s usually one – who was in a T-shirt, but today the closest was a young girl in a T-shirt and cardigan, dragging after her parents looking unimpressed, albeit quite fashionable. We did a mandatory and very quick tour around the outside features snapping some photos of the mist before scurrying inside to check out the indoor offerings that had been enthusiastically endorsed by our guide: the story of the sinking of the German Navy’s ‘Schaarnhorst’ in WW II, the ‘furtherest north’ Chapel, the Thailand King’s postal service and the film on the North Cape.
The ‘Schaarnhorst’ display was simple but an effective telling of the story, including of course the significant Norwegian input. The chapel was small and basic – appropriate for its use. We didn’t get to the Thai story, but the film, featuring the midnight sun, the landscape, the Aurora Borealis, the landscape, the industry, the landscape….was terrific.
So on to the bus for the return trip. The guide spoke most of the way about the Sami people, and some of the issues that they face. We’d been aware there were some historic and current issues because we’d watched the SBS series ‘Midnight Sun’ but were unaware that they hadn’t been recognised officially until 1990. The guide’s parents were Sami, and he noted that until recently there was a sort of shame in belonging, so much so that his parents and grandparents tried to hide their background, refusing to speak Sami and advising him to do the same. It sounded a bit like having convict ancestors in Australia, or an aboriginal heritage, until very recently. He was, however, one of the protesters in the 1980s fighting for change and cultural recognition, while his father was at the same time arguing to let things be. It seems that the difference in opinion didn’t lead to a family feud.
Back on board…….eventually.
We took advantage of the bright afternoon to venture into the hot tub on Deck 6 and we did need to regularly stand to cool the torsos. The rest of the afternoon passed with sunshine, wind and the ship dropping off and picking up cargo & passengers. The countryside is beautiful but bleak. We were intrigued by the small communities we passed by wondering, amongst other thoughts, what their social life was like with such geographic isolation.
The deliveries are quick, with a side-opening ramp and gangway and a forklift shifting back and forth (tyres, bags of cement, gas cylinders, pallets…). Kjollefjord is typical of the little ports along the way.
The wind turbines are a mixed environmental (save the world) blessing as birds get caught in the blades and the mobile homes are also mixed blessing as they impact the environment as well as the economy.
Into the evening and the water is a bit churny, as we are outside the protection of the islands. The crew point out another ‘church’ feature: two rock formations called ‘The Church’ and ‘The Chapel’. They apparently have special significance for ‘good luck’ for the fisher-people and the Sami. We were, unfortunately and usually, the last in the line to get a photograph, so missed out on the spectacular views that some others were able to get many shots of (yes, grumpy, irritated old man).
We sit by a big window, D with a beer, T with her unknitting (having decided that the single strand recycled yarn is probably not strong enough, and that 2 strands would be much safer…so a week of knitting becomes balls of yarn once again).
As we sat in the bistro area, D conducted another experiment, this time not involving beer. As people passed by he attempted to engage eye contact and then a nod and/or the Norwegian hello ‘hi’ (pronounced somewhere between ‘high’ and ‘hay’). Not sure how many wandered through, but he scored only one who maintained contact, smiled and replied ‘hi’, one who didn’t look away immediately and almost smiled, one who looked shocked, and everyone else whose gaze immediately slipped away, sometimes almost seeming embarrassed. D has discounted that it may just be him, but it is a possibility! It has been interesting that despite this reluctance to acknowledge, when people have been directly accosted they have been more than happy to engage and help.
We haven’t bought the full catering package, so tonight’s meal is the filled rolls from the breakfast buffet (with the Cassalero Diablo smuggled aboard) . We’re hardly starving! It’s been a slow boat ride to Kirkenes, with fabulous scenery and has provided a tiny insight into the culture of this seafaring people. And meeting Elizabeth, the English widow of a tea grower (the one D escorted on Day 1 of this cruise), an elderly solo traveller from Kinloch in Scotland, was an extra treat. Elizabeth has a daughter who emigrated (a good move) to west of Mackay (Qld) some years ago and Elizabeth had stories to tell from her visits there. And today, she spoke of her son who skied from Bergen to Kirkenes (4 months in winter), then kayaked back and wrote a book of his adventure. Elizabeth is happy to be doing the route with Hurtigruten.