No other time in Norway have distances deluded me more than today. On the map, getting to the west end of Lofoten from my idyllic house by the Myrlandsfjorden seemed like a reasonable morning ride; but when I was about half the way I realized that the whole afternoon would slip out of my hands if I didn’t turn back, and besides I’d get wet, since the more I rode to the west, where the islands lean over the open Atlantic, the worse and cloudier the weather was getting.
On the other hand, strange though it may seem, that much beauty presently blunted my senses; all those bends of the road, all that stopping the motorcycle every few kilometres for taking photos, for walking to the corner of a path, to the tip of a promontory, the seashore or the end of a jetty, and better enjoying this stunning nature, turned out overloading my perception.
But in this wonerland you can’t travel fast. Just within Lofoten–these endless islands–a thorough and persevering tourist might spend a whole week traveling non-stop and unceasingly getting surprised. Not only one has to drive a lot of kilometres for making a short distance on the map (as happens too on the fiords of Iceland), but also the diverse and astonishing environment urge the visitor to make frequent stops that will inevitably hinder his progress. Besides, many Norwegian roads are in awful shape, full of unavoidable cross potholes and large hollows, where it’s only by miracle that Rosaura hasn’t got a flat tyre yet.
Very often this landscape reminds of Switzerland, except with salt water instead of fresh, with sea instead of lakes; but the look is similar: tall mountains steep over the water, pictoresque country wooden houses on the shores or green hills, snow and glaciers on the higher peaks, granite and thickets, woods, ferns, a cool and clear atmosphere.
By the way, as I traverse this country I realize clearer than ever how inadequate the argument, held by a friend of mine, would be here for not eating meat: because meat calories–he says–pollute more than vegetable ones. As if you could grow any crops here! Maybe such a point is valid for other countries, for the vast Oklahoma prairies or the flat San Joachim valley; but on this rocky and steep mountains, what else can you grow but livestok? Even the most scrupulous ecologist might, with blind eyes, eat any animals here slaughtered without stirring his conscience, because no friendlier the environment can be treated than in Norway; and the cattle that graze here, almost alien to barns or compound fodder, live in the best natural conditions one might demand.
With less than five thousand inhabitants, a massive fishing industry and an increasing tourism, Svolvaer is perhsps the most important town in Lofoten. By the time I arrive, the few streets leading to the harbour are full of people hanging around the shops or sitting at the terraces of the restaurants. The atmosphere is lively and merry under the bright sun of noon, which I enjoy sitting at a bench by the pier, after I’ve bought some supplies and got myself a beer.
Same as in Tromso, I’m surprised to see so many immigrants from different races here: blacks, indians, chinese, south americans, asians; a population that –inconsciously– I didn’t expect to find in such a nordic and cold country, so apparently far from the guilt-feelings conforming the migration policies in central Europe. These foreigners are unlikely illegal aliens–I deem, considering how distant Norwegian borders are from theirs. Later in the day, upon asking my landlord, he explains to me that most of them are presently political refugees; i.e., “political refugees”. Apparently Norway has a fairly big quota for asylum appliants.
A little further from Svolvaer there graciously rises, against the sea and the cliffs, the Vågan kirke (Vagan church), the largest wooden building north of Trondheim, sitting twelve hundred parishoners. Also known as the Lofoten cathedral, it was built in 1898, the same year when my country lost its last colonies and saw the downfall of its empire.
I still ride for a while to the west before giving up –for the said reasons– my aim of arriving to Moskenes, the archipelago’s westernmost tip. And that’s a thorn in the flesh I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of, since such a travel like this happens only once in a lifetime.
Back in my private Eden by Myrlandsfjorden, before dusk, I go exploring one of the steep slopes around the house, overgrown with furn and small trees. But what a venture it becomes! Not even the goats come here. The geologic-wise young terrain is very stony, full of loose boulders of all sizes densely covered by a layer of vegetation and moss that hide almost completely the ground. A false step, a trip of the foot, may mean–and has almost meant–a broken bone, if not the head split open.
This is one of the very few places I’ve been whereof it might be said to have never been trodden by a human, the more likely this statement the higher I climb, since the task becomes increasingly difficult and, most of all, futile: what’s the point for any man in clawing his way up here? Once more I recall Iceland: this mountains would be very much like those were they deprived of vegetation; and I wonder, why nothing grows on the hillsides of Iceland despite a milder climate, whereas here there’s aboundance of green? Maybe some kind and knowledgeable reader can enlighten me.
By the time I realize how risky this “walk” has become, I’m already in a mess real hard to get out of, mostly because–as usual–coming down is harder and more dangerous than going up. When I finally reach the path back again, I feel lucky not to have had a bad mishap.
And then –as sometimes happens to me on my countryside frolics– there come to my mind in turmoil, unexpected like soldiers coming up unseen trenches, one hundred memories of my golden childhood –oh, those days of yore!–, when my grandfather took me with him to his poor orchard in Extremadura or, yet earlier, to El Álamo, the ancient farmhouse, and I played carefree on those hills of my homeland, discovering life, exploring the slaty terrain, drawing on the slabs with some chip, which made a sound–¡oh!–so sedating, like a chalk on a blackboard; a worryless existence was mine then, not knowing of anxiety nor anguish, and even unawares of death itself; only looking around with eyes wide open, with that curiosity and concentration, that capacity for getting surprised, which is the exclusive privilege of children. All the time in the world for just perceiving and grasping. Oh, days of yore!
And suddenly–why now, why here?–another recollection: the memory of that girl who, knowingly or not, squandered forever my monolithic strength and took away–what?–perhaps the last of my inocence, surely the last of my hope.