Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Denmark diary - day 8

Today we were out of the place by 8.20 am - as a reward for our early start, the fog actually lifted and gave us a view, and it’s true, from our window you can survey the entire town. Obviously the whole location would have seemed much more accessible initially if we’d had that perspective from the start. Anyway, we walked to the station and caught a bus to the little town of Sorvagur, basically retracing our steps out toward the airport, but again with everything shown off much more crisply today; for example we noticed how many little waterfalls punctuate the landscape, as if the entire rock face were bursting.

Shortly after 10 we caught a ferry to the island of Mykines, only 10 square km large, but with a little town of some twenty or thirty buildings, even including a tiny guest house. The water was a bit choppy and it seemed that the ferry may have had trouble making it into the harbour - looking at the rock face, it was hard to imagine there could ever be a harbour - but suddenly we were there, with a stone staircase stretching up in front of us out of the mist (which had well and truly returned in the course of our journey), and a group of locals there to meet the ship, which was carrying all kinds of cargo in addition to the twenty or so passengers. Later on we saw how (maybe literally) half the population came down to wait for the later ferry – I guess when you’re so dependent on a few sources of supply, every arrival is a major event.

We went to the one visible store, a little snack bar attached to the guest house, with a meagre but for our purposes adequate inventory – we purchased two thirds of the guy’s visible sandwich inventory, among other things. Then we embarked on the main Mykines attraction, a walk out to an old lighthouse (the westernmost structure in the Faroes), allowing great views of breeding grounds for puffins and gannets, and including a crossing of a little suspension bridge which one online commentator had described as an Indiana Jones-like experience. Actually, the bridge was entirely secure, so no problem there – other parts of the walk were a bit steep and slippery though. And although the mist hid the amazing views I expect we would have had otherwise, at least it cleared for the most spectacular section, standing on the bridge, looking into rock faces crammed with birds, and with more of them circling around us than you’d ever see outside a Hitchcock special effect. Along the way we saw probably thousands of puffins, often in masses on every available inch of space, just standing there as they do, as if watching and waiting, until they take off on another brave expedition.

We made it to the lighthouse where we ate our lunch, then we set back. We’d assumed we’d run into everyone else from the boat on the way back, but only a couple of them seemed to be walking that same route – strange, given that it’s the island’s star attraction, and that once the ferry left, we all had six hours or so to wait for the next one. Anyway, we continued across the peaks, passing more puffins, and more sheep, until we’d reached an extreme of the island that even they didn’t care about. We returned to the town, and by now the snack bar guy had put out a plate of waffles, so we bought some of those, and they were pretty darn good. A couple of people from the boat were merely occupied with their ereaders; others seemed to be forlornly circling the town.

Ally saw somewhere that the island has eleven permanent residents, supplemented by others in the summer – if the number was eleven as of today, then around half of them were gathered around an earth mover admiring a big hole. It’s quite a pretty town, although some of the buildings look rundown and are presumably unoccupied. We picked a nice vantage point and tried to speculate on how such an isolated place would actually work in practice (if nothing else, it has cellphone reception, which is more than I can say for the part of Wales where my parents live) – for example, a building near the harbour was identified as the electricity generator, but who would actually maintain it? How would food distribution work given the apparent absence of an all-purpose general store? I’m sure there are mundane answers to these and the dozens of other questions that came to mind, but at that moment it all seemed quite mysterious.

The mist lifted for a while and several visitors headed part way up the path to take in the view. We were content with what we'd already seen though. Unsurprisingly, everyone was at the harbour by the designated ferry arrival time of 5.05 pm. As I mentioned, many of the locals came down there too, and no surprise – there were four excited sheepdogs on board. They certainly didn’t seem to be new arrivals – maybe they’d all been on their annual check-up or something. Released from the boat, they went leaping up and down the stairs like medal winners, contrasting with a dog we’d seen a little earlier, shut inside one of the houses and mournfully sticking his nose under a hole in the bottom of a door. Anyway, the journey back was much calmer, and we were able this time to see where we were going (it is truly mysterious  how you’ll be looking at some forbidding natural formation that you assume has never been scaled by human civilization, and then you’ll look up and see sheep grazing at the top). We arrived back at Sorvagur, and the only glitch was that we had to wait forty minutes for the returning bus. So we walked around a bit – it seemed like another pleasant little community with a seaside vibe (lots of local kids wandering round with fishing rods). The bus eventually came and took us back and we enterprisingly did the big uphill walk to the hotel again, rather than take a cab. Of course, by now it was shrouded in fog again. And that was our day’s excursion – just about eleven and a half hours long. It was a gorgeous outing – I’d recommend it to anyone. Well, except for anyone who might not enjoy walking.

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