Thursday, November 9, 2017
Norway - Part 5
After a night of rough seas I woke feeling lethargic with no appetite. At 7:08 am this morning we crossed the arctic circle, two degrees further north than we'd ever been!
What's this!? Actual sunlight? On our way to Bodo we passed this "Bird Island" temporarily illuminated by some sunshine. Announcements from the boat claimed there were 10,000 birds on the island. I saw zero birds. Click on the panoramic image to enlarge it.
Eventually, we docked in Bodo, pronounced "Boda". By some miracle it wasn't raining as we exited the ship. The miracle lasted about one minute before pelting rain resumed as we walked to the start of our next adventure - a nature tour of local waters in a rigid inflatable boat (RIB). Our regular clothing was completely unsuitable for the conditions we were about to endure. Fortunately, the RIB operators provided us with a complete set of gear, including a heavy waterproof bodysuit, hat, safety goggles, mittens, and a life jacket.
Then we waddled out to a dock and boarded the RIB. Sitting on the boat was like sitting on a horse or the round side of a barrel because the seats weren't like normal chairs. Each passenger could hold on to a sturdy, inverted u-shaped metal support in front of us. And, believe me, we needed to hold on!
Our pilot eased us away from the dock, told us to hang on, and announced, "Cruising speed, 30 knots!" Then he opened the throttle and, whoa! We blasted out into the open harbor with surprising speed and acceleration. It felt a little like the first hill on a roller coaster. If I was a little drowsy before, I was now fully alert!
After about 45 seconds our pilot/guide brought the boat to a stop and walked from the back to the front to address us. This guy was quite a character. He told us his name was Henry Johnson, but, in spite of his English sounding name, he was born on the remote offshore island he pointed to behind him. He had spent much of his life on boats in Bodo, and knew the local waters intimately. In addition, he had served in the military special forces. Henry was built like Hercules - tall, thick, carved from cinder blocks. He told us our life jackets would automatically inflate if we fell in the 45-degree water, but not to worry because we wouldn't last long in water that cold.
Henry returned to his pilot position behind us and took us out of the relatively quiet harbor into the open sea. Here there were small, but real, waves, maybe a couple feet high, which the RIB bounced over with occasional violent jolts. It took me about 5 minutes to adapt to the ride. The key was to absorb the bumps with leg muscles instead of an unprepared rigid tailbone. I could see how Henry tried to steer the boat to avoid crashing directly from a peak to a trough.
As we sped and jolted along Henry told us there was a NATO airbase at Bodo. We passed the tall antennas of a NATO listening post. During the Cold War Bodo was an important base relatively near Russia. Henry said Francis Gary Powers' U2 plane had taken off from Bodo before it was shot down.
After a substantial amount of jolting over rough water we turned into a calmer fjord and cruised up to some incredibly warped and folded rock layers.
It was difficult to get images free of heads!
Imagine the enormous strength of geologic forces required to bend rock layers like this.
While climbing into my waterproof gear I remembered to tuck my phone in an outer pocket. Once out in the boat, however, it was nearly impossible to get any pictures unless the boat was completely stopped. To get a picture I had to remove my mittens, reach into the side pocket, extract the phone, and operate it with numbing fingers. I could easily imagine fumbling the phone in the jouncing, speeding boat, losing my grip, and watching helplessly while it flipped up in the air and over the side into deep remote waters never to be seen again.
So I can only use words to describe some other things seen from the RIB. We saw five white-tailed sea eagles, three in flight, and two perched side by side atop a small island. We saw a salmon farm up close. In one circular enclosure the salmon were leaping up a foot or so into the air all over the enclosure. Henry told us an interesting fact. He said, at present prices, one salmon is worth the same as a barrel of (petroleum) oil!
At the end of our trip down the fjord we came to a place under a bridge where a strong tidal current from water traveling in two directions created a number of whirlpools. Our boat navigated among the whirlpools which were, at times, fairly intimidating. The whirlpools were around 10 meters or so in diameter, and it was kind of scary being only a few meters away from whirlpool centers where water was being pulled down in a swirl. For Henry, this was just another day at the office as he joked about losing a few tourists every year to the whirlpools. While approaching the whirlpools the Sun finally broke through some clouds. A magnificent rainbow arched across the sky behind the bridge. This would have made a spectacular picture, but there was no way I was going to risk fumbling my phone while the boat weaved among whirlpools. After the complete rainbow had vanished, the boat stopped long enough for me to capture a small remnant.
It was a long, flying trip at high speed back to the dock in Bodo with wind blasting my face the whole way. By the time we returned, all I could say was, "Wow! That woke me up!"
Exhilarated, we struggled out of our heavy waterproof gear, put our normal coats on again, walked back to our ship, and climbed aboard. We sailed two hours further north to the dock at Stamsund. There we got off the ship and onto a bus for the drive to our "Viking Feast". The feast took place at an accurately reconstructed Viking longhouse built on the site of a real ancient longhouse which existed from the years 750 to 1100. The ancient longhouse was discovered by archeologists working at the site. Reenactors, dressed in authentic period clothes recreated the Viking Yule ceremony for us.
Our reenactor/guide, Christian, invited us to take a trip back in time with him as he explained the details and context of the Yule ceremony during our bus journey. Since we shared the bus with a German tour group, the guide had to give his talk in double segments, first in German, then in English. I marveled at his language skill. His German and English were spoken flawlessly, precisely, and without hesitation.
Christian explained how dark it was at the time of the Yule ceremony, not only because there is no daylight at Yule time above the arctic circle (winter solstice), but also because indoor lighting like lamps, fires, and candles would be much dimmer than modern electric lights. It was, in fact, quite dark when we exited the bus and walked toward the longhouse. The Viking chieftain's wife held a torch to greet us at the door and welcome us inside. Once inside the chieftain's wife was asked to pose for some pictures. When one of our group showed the Viking host a picture on her phone, the reenactor stayed in character and said, "Ooohh! Where did you get that magic box?" I loved that response!
Soon we were all seated at long tables waiting for the ceremony to begin. Our table was next to the chieftain's table at the head of the long room. You can see it from the side and the front in the next two pictures.
Two drinks were placed before each guest, as you can see in the next view looking down the banquet hall. One glass held water and the other glass held mead.
Before the food was served various ceremonies took place conducted by a shaman and the Viking chieftain himself. The chieftain's wife beat a drum and chanted along with all the guests. I regret not having better pictures! It seems the reenactors were never facing my camera! In the next picture the chieftain is wiping sacrificial blood on a wooden carving of, probably, one of the ancient Viking gods while his wife, in the red garment, beats a drum and chants.
Soon our meal was served. It was lamb, turnips, carrots, barley, and bread with no gravy or special fancy sauce. I guess most people would describe it as plain, but I like plain. I enjoyed the food. We were given a knife and spoon, but no fork. I felt quite medieval spearing food with my knife instead of using a fork. During the meal we were entertained by music played on a flute-like instrument, a lute, and a mouth harp. There was also singing and dancing along with many "skolls" as we drank mead at each of the chieftain's toasts. I had never had mead before. It was sweet and very easy to sip. Before leaving we saw the other half of the longhouse shown in the pictures below.
While we enjoyed the Viking Feast our ship had sailed on to another port in Svolvaer a bit further north. We boarded there and continued overnight to our next destination, Tromso.
People say I'm crazy doing what I'm doing
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin
When I say that I'm o.k. well they look at me kind of strange
Surely you're not happy now you no longer play the game
People say I'm lazy dreaming my life away
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me
When I tell them that I'm doing fine watching shadows on the wall
Don't you miss the big time boy you're no longer on the ball
I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go