I drew the curtain on the bedroom window and saw a dangerous green mountain, a few wisps of brilliant white clouds circling its crest. I grabbed the camera to capture the moment.
I wouldn’t have needed to hurry. The view was the same for a week.
My wife and I just returned home from some time in the Faroe Islands. It’s one of those places that’s a certain amount of bother to get to, but that’s okay, because it’s kind of a fragile destination. About 50,000 people are spread over eighteen small islands, the kind of delicate ecological balance seen in a place where the weather is not your friend. A number of signs told visitors not to walk on the grass. It wasn’t in a grouchy-old-man way, but in a way that reminded people that every blade of grass was needed for the sheep and having tourists tromp it down was a threat to the livelihood of the farmers. You don’t believe me? One day we drove a one-way mountain road for five miles to get to a place called Muli, an abandoned village which has the distinction of being of being the last place in the Faroes to get electricity. You can trust me on this – there was nothing convenient about getting to Muli. We didn’t find other people, but we did find a hay field about the size of our lawn, which had been carefully mowed, raked, and hung on a fence to dry before it was baled. So, don’t walk on the grass, people.
We drove to different areas every day. While we didn’t hit all eighteen islands, I believe we spent time on each one we could visit without taking a ferry.
Our home base was in the basement apartment of a lovely home (thanks, Runa!) just outside Klaksvik. This put us in what they call the Northern Isles, which made me feel like I was in a fantasy world that somehow involved dragons.
No dragons encountered, but lots of sheep, and they do take their sheep seriously. When I read about driving in the Faroes, the only two tips were how to handle the one-way tunnels and a stern reminder that if you hit a sheep, you need to call the police.
When the stress of tunnels, cliffs, and sheep got to be too much, we’d park the car and stroll.
I’ve found that one of the benefits of being a writer is that I can start conversations with strangers and explain that it’s research, as opposed to just being nosy.
Luckily for me, people fall for it all the time.
As we walked along the harbor, we saw a group of teenage boys exiting an old sailing ship. We stopped to chat with the adult trailing behind. He told us the ship was a hundred years old, had been restored by a group of retired local fishermen, and was now used to teach the eighth and ninth grade students in the local school how to sail. For a high schooler in our area, it’d be like going to the bowling alley or the trap range, except there, you’re in an old boat in the middle of the North Atlantic.
A few blocks away, we spent an entrancing hour talking to a couple of guys who’d built an authentic replica of a village from the early days, including importing birch bark from Norway to use to waterproof the grass roofs. In the capitol of Torshavn, we had the guide at a living farm museum all to ourselves, because no one from the tour buses walks down the steep hill to listen to his fascinating stories. Two days later, we smiled at a couple of little kids who were on a Sunday stroll with their dad and found out he’s the guitar player from a really cool Faroese band.
Green mountains, rocky cliffs and tumbling waterfalls made for spectacular scenery, while friendly people and fascinating conversation made for an experience much warmer than the parkas we wore would indicate.
Copyright 2021 Brent Olson
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