Hitchhiking, Fish Museums and Cinnamon Rolls: A week in the Arctic

I reached down and placed my hand along the edge of the tattered luggage wheel, the plastic already hot to the touch from rotating violently along the gravel road.  It was Sunday evening and the last bus had already gone through town, forcing me to start a long 10km walk to the next village with all of my things.  I was about 20 minutes down the road when one of the black wheels tore from the bottom of my roller luggage and wobbled around the corner off the shoulder of the road.  I had already been out hiking most of the day today, and with fewer and fewer passing cars going by, hitching a ride to save my sore feet wasn’t looking promising.  I was unhappy about the prospect of yet another walk, but at least I had the stunning view of Lofoten Islands to keep me preoccupied as I slowly made my way to Reine.  My former quad, now tri-wheeled suitcase rumbling behind me as I gazed over the serene landscape that lay ahead of me.

Lofoten Island Fishing Houses
Thankfully, because it was summer in Norway I wasn’t chasing daylight.  The Midnight Sun is a temptress of nature, each year for several weeks in June and July, the sun seems to defy gravity, floating above the horizon and then like a rubber ball, bouncing back up into the sky again.  When the clouds roll through it creates a moody scene,  but when the 24 hour daylight is in full effect on a clear day, it is a magical time that is other worldly.

lofoten islands Reine
I’m in the 68th parallel north, to give you a better idea on where this is in case you’ve forgotten your history lesson on latitudinal lines, it’s the Arctic Circle.  Growing up I envisioned explorers here, ice collecting on their faces as they drudged through a blizzard providing limited visibility in front of them.  I was equally inspired when I found a picture of Reine a few years ago on Instagram and plotted for my week in the Lofoten Islands.
Lofoten appeared like a fairy tale, it’s dramatic coastline dotted with crimson painted fishing huts immediately became ingrained in my mind.  When I had the opportunity to visit Scandinavia over the summer, I knew I would make it up to this region no matter how far out of the way.  Now, as I dragged my broken suitcase behind me, it felt like this was maybe further out than I anticipated.

Å Fishing Village

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I had lost track of time earlier that day and came back to Å to gather my things and head to Reine, the next town over.  And no, you aren’t reading that wrong, the town is just one letter and it took me about 100 tries to figure out how to say it.  Want to know my trick?  It’s pronounced “awe”, as in “I am in awe of how beautiful Å is”.  That’s the curse of a full day of light, time has a way of hanging around while simultaneously slipping away from you.  Å is the southernmost fishing village on the archipelago and was famous for it’s stockfishing.  The practice was new to me, but a time old tradition, taking A-framed wooden racks along the coast and drying them with the cold air as a preservation method.  It’s common enough that the Norwegian Fishing Village Museum is located in Å  and to really get your nose into the history, you can stay in the Rorbuer, on the second floor of the museum.  The smell of the dried cod is masked by the sweet & sugary aroma that wafts from the neighboring bakery.

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A Jehovah’s Witnesses

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I salivated thinking of the cinnamon buns that I was leaving behind, coming round the corner without seeing a car for the last 30 minutes my spirits were dimming.  A small shop was on the left hand side of the road, I figured I should double check that the bus route was over for the night, in case by some small miracle there would be a way for me to get to Reine sooner.  It turned out I did in fact miss the last bus, so I left the store realizing my next best bet would be thumbing a ride.  I propped up my busted suitcase and hung around down the street from the store waiting for a friendly local to come pick me up.  A van with a Norwegian family pulled off to the side of the road, the mother with a sweet smile explained they were in the store, heard I was stranded and offered to drive me into town.

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It turns out they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, camping in their RV for a family vacation.  We talked about our families, respective countries and I was surprised that religion didn’t completely take over our conversation.  I thought about the irony that an extremely Christian family was the ones who came through and saved me when I was hoping, dare I say praying for someone to help me.  We quickly got to Reine and I grabbed my broken suitcase, exchanged emails and said my goodbyes.  We’ve actually kept in touch, her emailing me about her two children and me sharing about my recent travels.

Kindness, it’s a major theme that I’ve come to appreciate since I’ve been traveling.  In a time when, especially in America, there are too many messages of hate, fear and violence in our media, it is always refreshing to encounter love, random acts of kindness and pure good in our world.  I have to take moments like these in my travels and keep them in the front of my memory, so I can come from a place of positivity when I’m in a strange place, meeting new people or experiencing different cultures.  A place where we don’t jump to conclusions and give everyone a chance.  These interactions with strangers turned friends are the experiences I love sharing with people who question traveling alone, being a women solo traveler or thinking the world is too dangerous to explore and learn from.

Lofoten Island Dog
The world is not a scary, dangerous place! Don’t believe me? Ask this guy…