The comfort zone

Copenhagen’s sheen has stayed fresh for a few years now and really shows no quick sign of abating, which is primarily the reason TC and I chose to end our 2-week jaunt there…once again. To visit our favourite haunts, walk our favourite streets and simply take in the stylish and sophisticated Danish interior and furniture design that continues keep my mouth dropping open.

We finally went back to Hösttried out The Olive Bar & Kitchen and then walked straight back into Cafe Alma in Islands Brygge like bosses of the place. We ate, drank and essentially, stayed merry. And drunk, in TC’s case.

I don’t have much else to say, except for how 3 days (or 2.5 days really) would never quite be enough here.

Psst. A secret? New Norm actually sells the kitchenware that Höst uses and even shares some of their recipes – which I obviously can’t even begin to recreate.

Ear Barotrauma

I never thought it’d happen again, but it did.

The weather forecast on the day we left Leknes was godawful. Gale winds in the night before, scheduled to continue during the very period we were supposed to take off. I made harried phone calls to Wideroe as well as Leknes airport, only to be met by blasé confidence that their planes run in spite of wind.

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So we went by faith. And strangely enough, there was a moderate breeze when we drove ourselves to Leknes airport for the final (3) legs to Copenhagen. Relief about the weather however, soon turned to excruciating pain when the pressure in my inner left ear refused to equalise and the horror of it dawned on me that I had to sit through it to 3 hour-long connections from the remote north of Norway to the bustling city of Copenhagen.

By the time we had dinner, the pain was reduced to temporary deafness with an alarming bubbling sound in the ear, which made me briefly wonder if my eardrum was ruptured – which also led to a short burst of panic about being able to dive in the near future.

2 decongestant-pills later, the clogged nose and ear did feel better.

Thank God.

The social network in a BnB

Being in a Bed and Breakfast includes a (not so) hidden social element that tends to make me rather alarmed and way out of my element, considering I’m someone who just isn’t comfortable in social groups for an extended period of time. Strangely, it feels akin to someone trying to reintegrate into society after long periods of isolation (or imprisonment), just less drastically so.

Anna Gerd Lind’s guesthouse a few kilometres off the small town of Leknes is such a place, where guests (or strangers, depending on how you see it) interact and sit in living spaces freely shared by her family. It is strange to live in someone’s home like you’re an invited guests – until you realise you’re in fact, a paying one.

The day we arrived was dreary and rainy (with a fierce storm at night), cooping all of us in, including 2 toddlers who ran amok. I was beginning to have visions of a small town murder mystery by then, but thankfully the skies cleared for a short while, which allowed us to drive to Offersøy to climb a ridged hill and recharge in the peace and quiet.

 

There are moments where I inevitably tire of (forced?) conversation yet find it difficult to extricate myself from one. But I always learn a lot about people whose lifestyles differ so drastically from mine, inevitably trying to see myself in their shoes – and failing miserably at it. AG’s daughter is a licensed reindeer slaughterer whose partner is half-Sami. Having been a heavy vehicle driver for a while, making Sami knives has since become her calling. There are three other guests who are staying the same time we are: a thin, tall Belgian who craves the outdoors like a drug and an elderly American couple who have hit it off fabulously.

I’m not entirely certain if I’m supposed to learn anything from all the interactions I have on holiday, as interesting as they can get. Because I find myself looking forward to the small, cramped space of a hotel room where the space is mine again.

Longer and more winding roads

What I’ve learned from this very short time in Lofoten is that the weather is extremely unpredictable, even for March and apparently, the Norwegian weather service. We’ve had good weather, followed by bleak, miserable snow.

Rinse and repeat.

There were only small, short walks that we did because of it and with our pseudo hiking poles, looked as though we knew what we were doing. A short hike up Tjeldbergtinden – thanks to a lovely employee at the Avis/Budget car rental – yielded precious views of Svolvaer and clearing skies worked wonders for photography.

I was grateful, nonetheless, more so when the road to Reine cleared for a gorgeous drive down southwest. Yet what was supposed to be a mere 2-hour-ish journey took up nearly the whole day because we stopped multiple times off the national tourist road (also known as the E10) to gawk at the landscape, even walking up a bridge which I’m not sure we were supposed to. A random turn off led to Haukland, a gentle walk around a mountain filled with Norwegian families enjoying their holiday by the beach and its crystal-clear waters.

We reached Reine finally after a series of twisty roads, checked in quickly and got going again, hoping to catch the rest of the sunny day up until the end of the road. The coastline is dotted with Rorbuer, or rather, cabins painted in red fish-oil paint built on long poles that go straight into the water, originally used to house fishermen and their fish storage.

The Easter break meant we were on our own and that was when a series of things started to go wrong at Eliassen Rorbuer. The hot water ran out quickly despite my army-style shower and the rest of the night was spent boiling water by the pots and kettle to refill a pail of lukewarm water so that TC could take a proper shower. The fuses blew in the morning before breakfast, killing the heating along with the cooker hood. Several switches were still working however, which meant some matter of improvisation that ended up with moving the oven to the floor near the shoes and cooking bacon, eggs and our bread there.

Which set off the shrill smoke alarm that we disabled after donning ear plugs by yanking out the damn battery.

My irate (early) phone call to the reception was met with an apologetic response that nothing would be fixed until she gets in at 9 am, and hopefully with an electrician in tow.

What was there to do but wait, on a dreary Good Friday?

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.

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…

Too much sun, too little action

Day 4: We walked for about 45 minutes to the sand bank towards the tail end of Dhigurah (which actually means ‘long island’ in Dhivehi) and found a little slice of paradise there. I frolicked in the water, took some bad selfies which I later deleted and looked at the neighbouring atoll with water villas in tourist envy.

Snorkelling after lunch just a couple of hundred metres from the hotel was surprising and strange after doing dives. But the coral beds were more alive with fish that I’d initially assumed. We said goodbye to the beach, tried to wash off the sand – which turned out to be a fruitless effort – and trudged back.

In an odd burst of emotion, TC actually confessed that a longer stay would have been better, whereas I was happy enough with what we’d gotten. But that’s also because I’m rather antsy about our domestic transfer arrangements which aren’t exactly fixed yet – the product of a ‘relaxed island life’ perhaps. From what we’ve been told so far, it’ll be a 6-hour wait at Male International Airport before we get onto our flight back at 12:55pm, which means our day will most likely start at 4am and end at 10pm. It wasn’t what we were told initially and these shifting plans are aggravating.

After dinner, I begged Irish once again to take me to the shops for pieces of cheap chocolate cake that helped get rid of the remainder of the Maldivian Rufiyaas that I needed to spend. With snacks and chocolate, TC and I were happy once again.

Day 5: We dragged ourselves out of bed at the arse-crack of dawn, as expected. The transfers went without a hitch and then found ourselves at a semi-private room in the Airport Hotel cafe with only cold water and some fruits given to us for breakfast. Making our way to the half-baked and incredibly Thai-Express at the airport was half a mistake. Wolfing down chilli-laden dishes pretty much guaranteed a stomachache (which it did) but we were desperate for some salt in our food after a morning filled with only sugary snacks.

Still, we promised ourselves to return someday, with hopefully more money to spend on a larger and more exciting place.

 

Taking a load off

Day 3 of diving: Similar to day 2, with the same sort of fish, with more plankton in murky, soupy water that’s so deceptively blue under the sun’s rays. But every time there’s at least some kind of unusual sea creature to make up for it and there were some rays, turtles and large schools of fish that made me gawk.

After paying tourist prices for a measly amount of snacks, I turned in desperation to Irish, a lovely Filipina lady running the spa next door for help. Perky, tiny and a social dynamo, Irish simply packs a punch. Having lived in the Maldives since she was 14, Irish has worked in several resorts before settling in Dhigurah because it is simply ‘the most beautiful place’ she has ever seen.

Consequently, TC and I got an impromptu insider’s guide to the local islands and Maldives in particular while we prowled the shops for food and trundled through the bustling sandy streets at 8:30 p.m. – and paid local prices for them. In that short 45 minutes, I learned more about the Maldivian developing economy, attitudes towards religion and women, the social strata and the education system than I would ever have after a few days here on my own.

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We gave her pizza-flavoured tortilla with a whole lot more of gratitude than she can ever imagine.

*Leg update: Now blistering and itchy. Ugly as hell and still in the midst of praying that it won’t scar at all.