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Wild at heart, Northern Norway, part 1



Wild at heart

Northern Norway, part 1

SOUTH TVERRFJORD, northern Norway- Flying fish splash back in the glassy still fjord. Sea eagles perch on jagged cliffs. Aboard our fishing boat, we spray the water with pellets feeding 80,000 waiting salmon.

Henning and Frank pour me cups of fishermen’s muddy, black coffee. I can’t stay awake. My eyelids are as heavy as bricks – too many seasickness pills again. Another typical day salmon farming in South Tverrfjord, Troms, Norway.

I’m criss-crossing northern Norway collecting Midnight Sun stories. It’s a wild ride – living, laughing (and crying), walking a mile in the shoes of Arctic people. We wind along the fjord road; passing store/post office, ferry dock and grazing goats. We visit elderly ladies and a British choirmaster.

And everyone tells me the same wartime story – The Embracing Couple. Fleeing the Germans, they escaped into the mountains and hid in a remote cave. When the war ended, a local boat came to rescue them. The couple were found, frozen together in a heartbreaking, last embrace.

Wild, beautiful, tragically romantic? Northern Norwegians are characters, every last one I meet. Characters straight out of a Knut Hamsun novel or a Monty Python movie. I’ve met fishermen, farmers, adventurers, artists, entrepreneurs… even a German chef named Ringo.

The landscape shapes people born, bred and living here it seems. For instance, many mountain people seem shy, kind, solid-as-a-rock, deep, soulful thinkers. Sea people seem moody like the sea; passionate, spontaneous, charismatic charmers.

Northern Norway is Norwegian Sea, Barents Sea, islands, fjords, mountains, forests, stone deserts, coast, frozen tundra… So maybe Northern Norwegians are a dramatic, frothy blend shaped by it all. "Vesteraalen is the sea, and the meeting of waves with mountain, heaven and horizon," writes Lars Saabye Christensen, in The Other Side of Blue.

The Vesteraalen Islands, Norway’s lush, green mountain islands, lie north of the Lofoten Islands. I meet Ole Petter Bergland, a dead ringer for a skinny Ernest Hemingway. He has eccentric charm and quirky humour. He is the "Safari Man" of Vesteraalen. Deep in the valley of Forfjord, Bergland his sheep farmer cousin Kristin and I hike through swampy marsh and start ascending. The mountain ridge eventually comes into view. Kristin and I straddle the gravelly ridge on our stomachs exchanging looks of sheer panic.

"Ole Petter, I thought you said the ridge was 10 metres wide!"

"Yes, 10 metres wide on average ," he smiles.

It’s only a false top. The real mountain ridge lies much higher up.

I lose it on a narrow mountain ledge. I freeze against the mountain face. I’m terrified to move or look down. Stones loosen under my boots and skip down the mountainside. The falling scenes in Cliffhanger and Vertical Limit flash through my mind.