August 13, 2012
ABOARD THE MS NORDLYS – I am no longer an Arctic Circle virgin.
Just as ships in South America used to make you walk the plank when you first crossed the Equator, there is a ceremony up here given by Njord, the ruler of the Seven Seas, to mark our very first crossing of the Arctic circle. Ours will take place tomorrow because we are all dividing up and leaving the ship to go off on a variety of excursions today.
But — ceremony or not — I crossed it this morning at eighteen minutes and one second after 7 o’clock, when our ship passed a metal globe set up on a tiny rock island known as a “skerrie.”
It was very exciting but, to be honest, I didn’t feel a thing.
If it’s supposed to be suddenly colder now that we’re in Arctic waters, it’s not. We are fortunate travelers to this Land of the Midnight Sun, which has also become a noontime sun that sparkles and shines on our dry days at sea, driving the temperature into the low 70’s.
The gentle Gulf Stream is following us up the Norwegian coast. We’re very lucky to have such good weather, however. Even in summer around here the days can be raw, wet and gray.
The Hurtigruten ships, originally used as mail boats, now stop at 34 different ports with travelers from all over the world, as well as mail and freight (and, on one voyage, an occupied coffin). Capt. Bruland says that sailing through Norway’s narrow fjords “especially in winter, is a very real challenge” and when winds come from the north, it is much more difficult to enter the ports.
On these recent days, however, it has been a piece of cake for Capt. Bruland to slip into berth, and we pulled smoothly into the town of Bode at noon today, just in time to walk over to the Saltstraumen RIB company for another exhilarating cruise expedition. This one was a ride on a RIB, or “rigid inflatable boat.” Zipped into warm waterproof space-age suits, we zoomed over the surface of the fjord with a guide driving our boat in and out of low-hanging clouds at speeds up to a teeth-chattering 35 knots per hour.
The air is clean, pure and lovely to breathe up here just 40 miles or so from the Swedish border. It feels as if we’ve entered one of those rooms in a health spa that pumps in extra oxygen and makes your lungs open up with gratitude.
The landscape around us as we crossed the fjord was very different from that of the Geiranger a few days ago. There were mountains in the background, but closer to the water and the land looked as if it has been ground down by a huge electric sander. The glaciers have done their work over millions of years.
Small red or white wooden cottages snuggle into the landscape. They are weekend homes of people who drive out from Bode for R&R, interspersed with smaller and humbler rorbuers or traditional fishermen’s houses.
This is an important cod fishing area and we pass a fish farm in the water on our way to see soaring sea eagles. The codfish is traditionally dried outdoors in the sea air and exported as “stockfish,” which locals say tastes much better than it smells.
This evening our ship docks at the Lofoten islands, which are dotted with small picturesque fishing villages. The front yards of the rorbuers are lined with racks for drying stockfish.
We thought the land above the Arctic Circle might be desolate. It is not. It’s as picturesque and full of life as the rest of this stunning country.
Photos by Timothy Leland