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Wild at heart

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Northern Norway, part 2

The Lyngen Alps, known as the Arctic Eldorado, is one of Norway’s wildest mountain chains, 70 kilometres southeast of Tromsø. Extreme sport skiers and mountaineers alike make pilgrimages to this non-commercial mountain region. Serendipity and kind locals lead me to legendary goat farmer, Bjoern Birkebaek.

"The mosquitoes are bothering the goats up at the summer farm. I’m herding them home at midnight, would you like to come along?" Birkebaek asks. "I really hope the goats haven’t climbed too high though."

In his wooden Nordland boat, the boyish farmer rows us across Jaegervatnet to his secluded farm. We pull the boat ashore. The Norwegian mountain goats come galloping, hearing Birkebaek’s voice. He talks to them in gentle and affectionate tones. "All animals must have love. It’s an incredible life living with animals," he smiles tenderly.

Shaggy, black, brown, and white goats surround us. They nibble at my anorak and eye me closely. Their horns make me nervous. Strangely it’s like being in a crowd of people; all very distinct personalities.

"There’s no milk, she’s empty!" I laugh falling over on the barn floor. The goat I’m (not) milking turns around and gives me a "well get on with it!" look. Milking mountain goats here, Birkebaek’s humour, the fairytale aspect of it all strikes me as hilariously funny.

Milking done, Birkebaek swings open the barn door. No need for herding, the goats simply follow him through the dense forest. They soon disappear. I’m alone on his rustic, hand-carved farm.

Store Jaegervasstind (1,545 m) beckons me. At 2 a.m. I wade through what feels like a palm jungle and climb to the foot of the mountain. The mosquitoes and black flies spoil the gilded idyll. I’m swallowing them and they’re splattering my notebook. Wind rustles through the trees like whispering schoolgirls. A chorus of cuckoo birds sing all hours. Thundering waterfalls pound the mountainside.

I’m relieved to see Birkebæk two days later. He tells me troll stories in a grandfatherly voice. I haven’t slept much so I laugh all the way back to his main farm. Then it’s goat cheese breakfast and catching the morning bus to Tromsø, then the Finnmark Plateau.

There are approximately 30 different types of mosquitoes in Norway, 20 of them found in northern Norway. They’ve all bitten me twice. The air is black with mosquitoes on Beskades, the stormy section of Finnmark Plateau. I’ve bussed it from Tromsø to Alta, and further to Gargia Fjellstue, 25 km south of Alta between Kautokeino. I’m hiking back the dusty dirt road down from Sautso Canyon, a common Finnmark Plateau mountain trip.

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