By TD Fuego
“Can you please stop as soon as you find a convenient place?” I said to my friend Kay.
“What for?” he asked. “There is nothing special to see.”
“Just stop where you can,” I replied.
After an overnight stop in a hytte1, this was the second day of our drive along the Oslo-Trondheim road that follows the Dovrefjell mountain range in south-central Norway. I had read in my primary school geography book that this was the land of mountains, lakes and waterfalls. How true it was!
The previous day, we had left Mysen, a small town south of Oslo, where Kay had settled with his wife and small daughter. Only an hour into our journey, we came across a navy-blue lake, with mountains as backdrop. For most of that day and the remainder of the week, we would be travelling along roads that either followed the contours of a pristine lake or a lazy, meandering river—most of them walled by snow-capped mountains.
“What now?” Kay enquired, switching off the engine.
“We contemplate,” I said laconically.
So, we got out of the car. His wife, Mila, took out the thermos flask and poured us a hot coffee, which was very welcome in the chill of the morning. As we sat down on the parapet to savour our cups, I explained to them that this mountain range was so vast that my humble little mind would not remember any of it. So, I wanted to capture and imprint a little fraction in my memory. And, although it has been over 30 years since we were there, I can still see that lake, the shape of the steep, snow-capped mountains and the waterfall tumbling down from high up to merge into the lake beneath—all bathed in a dreamlike hazy, morning sunshine.
Whilst I knew then that we were in the middle of something big, it was not till much later that I learnt of the impressive size of the Dovre Mountains. After extending an incredible 100 miles from east to west, they veer north to stretch for another 40 miles. 140 miles! That is 3.50 times the length of Mauritius. I do not know many peaks there are in the whole of the range, but they must number in their hundreds. The higher ones, of which Snohetta is the highest at 7.50k feet, seemed to slowly pierce the morning mist and touch the blue sky above. Anyway, without that vital stop, it would have been impossible for me to remember any of it the following week, never mind 34 years later.
“This is paradise on earth!” I exclaimed.
“Wonderful, fantastic!” said our wives in unison.
“It is indeed,” agreed Kay, usually not one to show too much excitement about anything.
We were standing on the edge of Geirangerfjord, in the middle of Norwegian fjord country, which stretches some 310 miles from the port of Stavanger in the south to Andalsnes in the north-east. As with many of the lochs in Scotland, Norwegian fjords can easily be mistaken for huge lakes. However, they are in fact the sea coming inland, like a large, elongated bay as it were. On our voyage, we came across quite a few of these, but none so beautiful as Geiranger, which is situated half way on the coastline (obviously) between the port of Bergen in the west and the town of Trondheim in the north.
Geiranger is one of the largest and deepest fjords to be found anywhere in the world, with its deep-blue crystal clear water and with typical fjord landscape and scenery. The sides are lined with sheer rock walls that can rise up nearly a mile in height. Like most fjords, it is littered with several waterfalls of different sizes. The most impressive of these are the Bridal Veil, the Suitor and the Seven Sisters. Fir trees and other vegetation clinging on to the sides of the snow-peaked mountains add to the fairytale magic of this typical fjord landscape.
We had reached the Fjord from its southern side, having driven all day along the road from Bergen which also took in Trollstigen peak, a vertiginous climb up a narrow grit road with dozens of hairpin bends—the like of which I have not seen anywhere else in the world. I must admit that I prayed frantically as Kay took the bends one by one. But, though a bit mad, he is a good driver, as befits an ex-REME man; and delivered us safely to the top which, when we arrived, was covered by a small glacier that had begun to melt and trickle into the brook that would eventually empty itself into the Fjord.
After a short break and a picnic on Trollstigen, we drove on to the Fjord. When we reached the quay, a ferry was already boarding. So, we did not have to wait long before we were chugging along this most impressive stretch of water. Dusk was just falling by the time we got to Geiranger village. We pitched camp for the night in one of those ubiquitous hyttes.
It had been one of those wonderful days that you do not wish to end. It is little wonder that Geirangerford was to be classified later as UNESCO World Heritage site of outstanding beauty.
The Kon-Tiki Musuem
After a week in the mountains and fjords, we retuned to Mysen. It was now time to visit Oslo, the capital. So, next day we boarded the small train, determined to include in our trip the Kon-Tiki museum, which is to be found on the outskirts of the city. We reached the famous building by hitching a ride on a small ferry boat across the bay from the train station.
The Museum takes its name from the balsa wood raft that the intrepid explorer and scientist Thor Heyerdahl (TH) had used in 1947 to cross 4.30k miles of the Pacific, from Peru to Polynesia. TH wanted to prove his theory–arrived at after staying for one year on Fatu Hiva island where he had gone on honeymoon in 1936–that the original Polynesians settlers had come from Peru using such crafts. Islanders’ legends of ancestors coming from the East and the existence of sweet potato (a native of South America) on the island convinced him of the origins for the inhabitants.
Ultimately, TH spent 50 years of his life studying the peoples of South America and the Pacific. These studies, coupled with other investigations and observations that included DNA evidence, led him to believe that the whole of mankind was related. This, he postulated, was the result of primitive people crossing the oceans using primitive crafts in their search for cultural and trade exchange; and conquest! On another famous voyage undertaken in 1970, he demonstrated all this was possible by crossing 4k miles from the coast of Morocco to Barbados in Ra II, a boat that was built using papyrus reeds.
TH studied and wrote extensively on the subject of his predilection: that there was indeed travel, cultural and trade exchange between the continents and some parts of the Pacific Ocean. Though contemporary scientists remained skeptical about his postulations, there is no doubt he was regarded as a heavyweight in such matters. Indeed, in 1977, asteroid 4473 — discovered by Nikolai C Cherykh — was named in his honour. Born in Norway of upper middle class parents in 1914, the great man died in Italy in 2002.
The Kingdom of Norway shares the western half of the Scandinavian Peninsula with Sweden, from whom it received its independence in 1905 through a peaceful transition. Its length stretches all the way from the Arctic Circle to the temperate zone of Europe. It is also known as the “Land of the midnight sun.” This is due to the fact that, in summer, the sun never sets below the horizon in the north. As a result, the rest of the country has some 20 hours of sunlight.
With a size measuring 148k square miles and a population of only 4.5m (Mauritius is 787 sq miles and population 1.3m), Norway is one of the least populated countries of the world. With its abundance in natural resources that include petrol and natural gas, it is able to provide a comprehensive welfare system for its people. At US$84k per capita income (PCI), it beats even the USA where PCI is US$47k. Ours is USD7k.
As impressive as they may be, it is not the statistics that impressed me the most. Rather, it was the warmth of the people. Whilst Kay and Mila were at work, we investigated every nook of Mysen and its neighbourhood. Wherever we went, we were warmly greeted. In spite of the language barrier, we managed to get through. In the Norona hotel where we lunched one day, they refused to take our money when they found out that we were friends of Kay.
During our stay, many an evening was spent with Kay’s friends and, whenever we were invited to their homes, there was always plenty of kaffe og kake2 on the table. The first time, I drank 13 cups of coffee because, unknown to me, tradition decrees that a guest’s cup must never remain empty for long; and I kept emptying mine lest it gets cold. Only when I stopped drinking that the hostess stopped topping me up. Thank God for small cups!
Looking back 34 years later, it was one of the best holidays I have ever had in my life and Norway remains the most wonderful, beautiful country I have had the privilege of visiting. No doubt, the warm, unfettered welcome of its people enhances the fond memories that I have of the place.
1 Log cabin
2 Coffee and cake
“Ok sir, your wish is my command,” he said as he pulled into a lay-by next to a turquoise-blue lake.
* Published in print edition on 20 May 2011