Water and Rocks: Now Featuring Eagles!

Yesterday was a day of false advertising. It worked out okay in the end–great, even–but more than once I stepped outside of the moment with a quizzically raised brow and asked the world “really?”

It began with a circuit of Svolvaer’s electrifying downtown…as dead at 9 am on a workday as it was at 5 pm the day before. Where are all the people in this place? It’s a neat town, with no sign of economic turmoil, mass heroin addiction or urban blight of any kind. Why is no one about?

Svolvaer’s downtown and port. Svolvaer is, I believe, Norwegian for “snoozeville.”

At least the tourist information office opened as scheduled at 10. Whew. After booking a boat trip to Trollfjord–the area’s “must-do” activity–with the lone remaining company running tours this late in the season, I asked the kindly older tourist information staffer if she could recommend a nice walk for the three and a half hours I had before the boat.

Without hesitation, she showed me on an area map how to get to Tjeldbergtinden, a “little bump” from which I would be afforded wonderful views, and it was such an easy walk! Well, sign me up. She told me it would take me 15 minutes to walk to the trailhead, and then perhaps another 45 minutes up and back.

“You will have plenty of time,” she added. “I did this in 30 minutes yesterday, and I was not running.”

Never believe little old ladies giving hiking information.

The way I see it, either I misunderstood, or her English was not as flawless as it seemed–or she neglected to mention that she has a jetpack.

At the trailhead

It took me almost half an hour to walk through the suburbs and find the trailhead, at least as she described it (I looked online at Wundermap later and saw there was another, easier route mostly on gravel road). The trail itself was obvious enough once I found it, but it was also all wet rock and mud on a consistently steep incline. This was my first actual hike since I was in Tasmania last November, so I wasn’t exactly physically ready for it.

Of course I slogged on, determined, I suppose, not to be outdone by a little old lady (a very trim, very fit-looking little old lady, now that I think of it…). And the views, once I got out of the forest, were fair enough.

Looking down at Svolvaer from the trail

And then the sky turned black. Weather rolled in faster than a little old lady racing up a mountain and all turned to mist and cloud and rain.

Another view. Note the dark clouds moving in from the east (right). Within five minutes the spot where I’d been standing was thick with fog.

I’m not sure how far up I was supposed to go. I’d reached a ridge that continued to lead upward a fair way to a rocky peak, much more to the south than the Tjeldbergtinden marked on the map. With the weather worsening and time ticking away (I’d spent an hour climbing), I decided to turn around and head back down.

By the time I got back to my converted fish warehouse hotel and wiped off at least some of the mud (up to my knees and all over my hands and jacket where I crab-walked down the more slippery bits), I had a scant ten minutes to get to my Trollfjord boat.

The boat motors were running, and once I was aboard, along with a German tourist and an elderly American couple, we were off, five minutes ahead of schedule and without a soul asking to see my ticket. Okay.

Abandoned fish warehouse just waiting to be turned into an affordable but slightly creepy unstaffed hotel, north end of Svolvaer harbor

The skies had cleared again, and the wind off the waves, though a bit chilly,  was welcome after my sweaty, rainy aborted Tjeldbergtinden excursion.

Water! Rocks!

We puttered between skerries and islets and larger islands with more formidable peaks for about an hour.

Something about the shape of this island made me think “Jurassic Park–the Arctic version” (yes, I am still well above the Arctic Circle. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, the Lofoten Islands enjoy the “greatest positive average temperature anomaly in the world” compared with places at a similar latitude. Take that, Greenland and Alaska!)

Hey, how about some more rocks with a little water?

I just love the shapes of these mountains. Apparently they are a mere 10,000 years old. Awww, they’re just babies! No wonder they’re so cute!

Okay, just put up with a couple more photos…these mountains are seriously the stuff my dreams are made of, as well as my books. When imagining the mountain kingdom of Khankhadda, setting for The War’s End and its sequel The Guardian, this is what I saw.

Welcome to Khankhadda

This too:

I loved the way the light was playing across the mountains, which I tried to capture with my rinky-dink point-and-shoot.

Then the boat motors mysteriously cut out. Two deckhands emerged and began fishing, pulling up two or three coalfish for each cast (they had three hooks on each line).

Fishing for eagle bait, catching about two dozen coalfish in ten minutes or so

I asked what they were going to do with the fish.

Don’t let the comely deckhands distract you. There are still cool rocks and water to look at.

“Eagles!” One of them told me. “We feed to eagles! This is eagle safari, no?”

Uhm…is it? I don’t know. I signed up for a trip through the Trollfjord, allegedly the most beautiful in the Lofotens, and so narrow that the famous Hurtigruten ferry cannot enter it. Or so I had heard.

Did I get on the wrong boat?

No, it turned out I was on the right boat, all right, but that the Trollfjord excursion doubled as a sea eagle safari and was sold as a separate trip for tourists on the Hurtigruten coastal ferry, who would be joining us shortly.

Oh. Okay.

Hurtigruten! Dead ahead!

Minutes later, the monstrous Hurtigruten came bearing down on us, opening a side hatch and disgorging three dozen elderly German tourists who immediately began jostling and complaining and generally being group tourists.

If nothing else, the Hurtigruten (Norwegian for, I believe, “really big boat”) gives a sense of scale to the mountains dwarfing it. Note side hatch opening midships to disgorge the Turistgruppe.

(Note: my problem is not with other tourists–the lone German guy on the boat with me was fine, for example. But there is a terrible herd mentality that seems to take over groups of tourists, who never seem to be really enjoying themselves or taking in their surroundings because they’re too busy pushing and shoving and trying to get a better camera angle than the guy next to them.)

While the Turistgruppe was anschlussing the deck, the deckhands began throwing bread in the air and into the water, luring a multitude of gulls who began, well, acting like group tourists, pushing each other out of the way for a morsel.

Sometimes my cheap camera and half-assed skills with it come through. I like the way the light hits the gulls’ wings in this shot.

The gulls lure the sea eagles, one of the deckhands told me. The eagles don’t eat the gulls, but the smaller birds’ movements attract their interest, since they know it could mean there is food to be had.

Another unexpectedly clear shot of a Gull in Motion.

Sure enough, amid the cloud of white wings and yellow beaks, a larger, dark brown bird with massive wings appeared, spiralling down toward us.

Helloooooo, handsome. Total luck taking this shot.

And that was when the deckhand injected the fish.

She inserted a large, empty hypodermic needle into one of the fish she’d caught (the fist had all died a slow, sad, flopping-about death in a plastic bin while we waited for the Hurtigruten) and inflated it with air. Then she tossed the fish into the water, where it floated.

An ambitious gull saw it, grabbed it and tried, unsuccessfully, to take off again. It surrendered to gravity and dropped the fish–or maybe it realized what was heading toward it and just got the hell out of the way.

VrrrrrrroooooOOOOM!

The eagle swooped down, grabbed the fish and flew away with an amazing show of strength and precision.

Another eagle showed up. Another fish got puffed and tossed. Another Wildlife in Action moment. And another. And another.

I loved seeing the eagles with the mountainous backdrop. Permit me an indulgence, but one of the main characters in The War’s End is extremely fond of the mountain eagles, which are sacred to her people, and there are several scenes involving eagles soaring over rugged mountains so, yeah, I got a little swoony over this.

While it was fantastic to see all these sea eagles nabbing fish with, well, with the ease of shooting fish in a barrel, I couldn’t help but wonder how the eagles hunt when there is no one tossing them bloated dead fish. I mean, I don’t know of many fish who hang out motionless at the surface.

While I wondered and the eagles faux-hunted and more dead fish got injected, our boat was heading into the Trollfjord. And the Hurtigruten was following it.

Trollfjord

Now, I had read a few things about the Trollfjord: it’s jaw-dropping gorgeous, it’s incredibly narrow and dramatic and the Hurtigruten most definitely cannot squeeze into it.

Well.

Does this fjord make me look fat? Hurtigruten easily fitting into the Trollfjord

As fjords go, the Trollfjord is pretty. But all fjords are pretty. It was not particularly spectacular, nor did it seem as narrow as the Naeroyfjord I saw south of here several years ago. And the freakin’ Hurtigruten most definitely fits. The big ship came with us all the way to the end of the fjord, then had the cajones to show off by doing a 360 while our smaller boat circled it in a weird kind of boat tango performance.

How close did we get to the Hurtigruten? This close:

Sheesh.

After the boat shenanigans were over, the Hurtigruten continued on to Svolvaer and we stopped to feed more eagles.

The eagle has landed!

I actually managed to capture the moment of the strike on this short video. All the action happens pretty much in the first three seconds, so be ready.

Here’s another shot, moments after the eagle picked up the fish:

As we dawdled feeding eagles, the skies blackened again (it’s impressive how fast bad weather rolls in here…considerably faster than even Isla Navarina in sub-antarctic Chile or Iceland). White-capped swells smacked us about on the last leg back to Svolvaer, causing a frequent chorus of “OOOhhhhhoooOOOOOHhhhhh!” from the Turistgruppe.

You may recognize those rocks from an earlier photo in this post…just shows you how fast the weather changes here.

Back in my hotel room, as night fell I found myself frequently irked by what I thought was the club adjacent to the hotel, located in another converted fish warehouse.

“Man, that is some really bad techno they’re playing!” I hurumphed to myself.

At about midnight I realized it wasn’t the club. It was the howling wind and driving rain mingling with the percussive sounds of massive tires tied to the dock on which the hotel sits banging about.

Oh. It’s weathertechno. That’s cool.

Two quick notes: I’m moving on from Svolvaer tomorrow and am not sure what my internet access will be like, though I hope to have time to post about today’s visit to the fascinating Lofoten Wartime Museum before I get on the bus tomorrow. If I don’t get to post for a while, though, rest assured I’m fine and have not drowned/froze to death/been waylaid by trolls.

And also: seagulls poop the prettiest violet color. Just in case you ever wondered.

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