A Fitting End to a Brief Visit in Norway

Bocas Marina
Bocas del Toro, Panama

Ole Paints the Roof

The first week of June was our last week in Norway, and lucky for us, the weather turned sunny long enough for Ole to coat the roof of the house, which was rusty and in serious need of attention. As he often said this visit, “now it looks like people live here, instead of just sheep.”

During the week we managed to visit many folks on the island for dinner, including Lyder and his family, Liv at her new cabin, and Wenche and Odd Kaare (distant cousins of Ole). A couple of different versions of moose stew demonstrated to me that I love that meat – rich and sweet.

Seagull Eggs for Breakfast

An odd culinary experience was a first (for me) tasting of seagull eggs for breakfast, courtesy of Wenche and Odd-Kaare. When you think about it, folks who live on an island this remote are accustomed to taking advantage of every single opportunity to gather food – from fishing to berry picking to nest raiding. I must say that while it definitely was an egg, the texture and color were more intense, and the idea was a bit weird to me. Just gave me pause to consider where my food comes from. As an American, I’m used to my food coming from Safeway wrapped in plastic. Here, you see it alive and frolicking before you exercise your “top of the food chain” predatory rights.

Scouts Camping Next Door

Another exciting addition to our last week was the arrival of about 50 10-year-old Boy Scouts from the local community, as well as their chaperones. They’re camping just between us and the road in several enormous canvas teepees, and are here to learn some of the local traditions that internet-game-playing TV-watching 10-year-olds just don’t seem to know how to do any more: how to find, catch, and clean fish; how to tie knots (so your boat doesn’t drift away); how to spit-roast a lamb; and other boy scout stuff.

Rodoy Music School Concert Cast

Lyder invited us to a local concert given by the community’s music school on our final Saturday afternoon. The community may have close to 2,500 people, scattered among the mainland and several little islands – and the music school, of which Lyder is the director, has about 80 students. Forty or so students between 8 and 15 years old gathered on Saturday, June 6, to share their accomplishments with about 200 proud parents and interested locals. Ole and I were thoroughly impressed with the professionalism and skill the kids showed, and were delighted to see some truly talented kids. While a few kids played solo keyboard or guitar pieces, there were several groups with drums, keyboard, rhythm, bass and lead guitar, as well as soloists and backup vocals. We realize that Norway is VERY expensive, with a tax rate of about 50%. But seeing the quality of music education, the state of the art equipment, and the ferry system putting on an extra boat to transport the audience from several islands (in other words, tax dollars at work), we might want to give some thought to quality arts education in the US. Though it’s not the best picture, here is the cast doing their final bow.

Enjoying a Wild Night with Raymond, Britt, Wenche, and Odd-Kaare

After the concert, we walked across to Britt and Raymond’s cabin for an evening snack and were joined by Wenche and her husband Odd Kaare. We laughed, ate, and drank until they spoke English and I spoke Norwegian. Amazing what a little lubrication can do! At the end of a lovely evening, we walked back home and enjoyed the sun peeking around the Rodoy “lion” at 2:30 in the morning. Spectacular to watch the sun go sideways across the sky instead of up and over. In this part of the world, the sun comes up around June 1 and sets again sometime in early July. Hard to believe until you’ve seen it – and it makes getting to sleep at night very interesting!

We packed and closed up the house to leave on Monday, June 8, to fly to Oslo for an overnight. Petter took the train from Lillehammer to join us for dinner and a very short visit. Then Tuesday morning, the itinerary was Oslo/Amsterdam/Panama City, where we stayed a couple of days to get some business done on the house project. We were able to get back to Emma Jo in time for cocktail hour on June 11. It was sure good to see everyone, and to find the boat so well taken-care-of by Brian. The cats were thrilled to see us, circling our feet and smelling the suitcases to see what we might have brought them! It’s good to be home.

May in the Med…and Norway

May 1, the port of call was Cagliari, Sardinia. We opted to head to town for a walk, and found ourselves in the midst of an annual Mayday tradition that goes back 352 years in Cagliari – the Festival of Sant’ Efisio – the first of which (352 years ago) was said to have been responsible for the end of the plague in Sardinia. The inhabitants of the island decorate oxcarts with representations of regional plenty (fruits, breads, flowers, grains, baskets, pottery) and village-specific costumes, and form a parade around the town of Cagliari, which ends with a 4-day procession of the Saint to a village up the coast and back to his place in the Cathedral. It was one of those “National Geographic” moments that we’ll savor for a long while.

May 2 found us at Civitavecchia, the port city of Rome. Expensive as it is, I talked Dale and Linda into joining the “deluxe” 10-1/2 hour excursion – the same one that Suzanne and I did last summer. In reality, if you’re only going to be in Rome a short time, seeing the biggies is, I think, the most important thing to do. That having been said, though, we didn’t take into consideration that in Europe, May 1 is a holiday. The Vatican was closed on Saturday, and would be closed again on Monday, so who knows how many hundred thousand people were in line outside on this particular Sunday – and inside St. Peter’s Basilica, it was a madhouse of a crowd, so much so that the guide was told to keep our group moving. Dale just held his camera up over the crowds and kept snapping pictures – don’t know if he got any good ones. But seeing the vastness of St. Peter’s, the majesty of the Sistine Chapel, and major historic ruins on every streetcorner was worth it. Here they are at Trevi Fountain, wishing their way back to Rome!

Livorno was the port call on May 3, so we just booked a shuttle bus to take in Pisa and Florence on our own. I know I wrote about it in last summer’s entries, but the place is mythical. Not just art, but GREAT art everywhere — and a wonderfully walkable old quarter that just begs for picture after picture. To top it all off, there was a bit of a national market going on in the main square, with food, wine, and craft exhibits from all over Italy. Just had to grab a few pictures, taste a few samples, and wish like crazy I could spend a few months here…

Cannes was the fourth port day in a row, and as we were visually and physically overwhelmed from three straight great days, we opted to take the water taxi in and just stroll, looking for a place for lunch. Ole was able to get free for a few hours so he joined us. Cannes was getting ready for the film festival, with tents being erected all over the marina, yachts pulling in, and in general, the town getting spiffed up. Looking for a bathroom, we wandered into the casino at the exhibition center, where Linda promptly won 60 Euros on a slot machine, but, seeing as how she doesn’t read French, couldn’t figure out why the cashier only gave her 4 Euros. My rusty French interpreter skills were called upon (never thought I had the language skill to argue casino winnings!), all was set right, so we wandered over toward the market for lunch — moules frites! Haven’t had those since we were in Pornichet!

Ladder for the Sherry-Sipping Mouse

Boy, were we happy to have a sea day! Then we called at Cadiz, and took a tour over to Jerez for the sherry tasting and a glimpse of the Royal Spanish Riding School. We went to the school first, and as it was a Thursday, there was no scheduled show. Instead, we got a private tour of the stables, a peek into the rehearsal where we were fortunate enough to be able to see a few horses dancing, and a chance to walk through the exhibit of riding costumes and an elaborately poured taste of sherry. It was a bit disappointing, as our look at the rehearsal was so short. But it all got better at Gonzalez/Byass, home of Tio Pepe sherry. I enjoyed that tour so much last summer, I thought it might be fun to share it with Dale and Linda. This time I learned something, though, I hadn’t seen last time I was there – there is a legend about mice who live under the casks taking a liking to sweet sherry. Apparently a workman saw a mouse lapping up a spill, so every day he left a little snack and a glass of sweet sherry for the mice – but had to build them a ladder to get to the glass. Don’t believe me? Here you go.

We had two cold and rainy sea days back to Southampton, where Dale and Linda left to spend ten days in London, and Ole signed off the ship May 9. While we were aboard, we discussed our bi-annual Norway trip, and as he had heard some bad news about an elderly aunt and cousin, we opted to go immediately to Norway instead of back to Panama.

We arrived in Oslo on Saturday, then took the train to Halden to visit Andreas in his little flat. After a nice two-day visit, we flew from Oslo to Bodo, then took the high-speed boat up to Gjaeroy. As much as we cursed the work back in the summer of 2007, when we arrived we were glad we had done it. The fence Ole and Petter built then has kept most of the sheep out, and after just a couple of days of good weather, Ole had the last 50 meters finished.  And the brush we cleared two years ago hasn’t dared come back!

We’ve never been here together this early in the year, and the weather has been outstanding for 66 degrees North/13 degrees East. Daytimes in the high 60’s with clear blue skies, little to no wind, and a sun that slides sideways around the sky, dipping below the horizon for just about two hours each night. The weather allowed us to work a little, fish a little, and generally enjoy life in this part of the world.

May 17th is Norway’s Independence Day, and a very big deal for everyone. We joined the celebration at the church, then the parade to the school for a day of eating, games, and stories. After watching the 17th of May Parade in Ballard and Poulsbo (Washington) and comparing it to what happens in little towns all over Norway, it’s quite a different holiday in the home country. First of all, the parade is not something you watch – it’s something you join. Second, the festivities are more for the children than anyone else, with ice cream, games, and stories geared to teach the children their history. And third, it’s a chance for women to show off their bunad, the local costume many girls get for confirmation at age 15. What impressed me about being with the residents of this little island this time, though, was that many of the 76 local people approached me to speak English – that didn’t happen when I started coming here 20 years ago.

Picnic on the Beach, May 18, 2009

The 18th was so fine and fair, we went with the little 14-foot skiff (4 hp motor) around to a bay for our traditional outdoor picnic – complete with driftwood fire and shirtless sunbathing – it must have been all of 78 degrees!

The next visit was a sad one. Ole’s last surviving aunt, Marit, died the day before we arrived back in Norway, and the 19th of May we gathered with Ole’s family for her funeral, in nearby Tjongsfjord. After the funeral, we opted to stay a few days with his cousin Aud and her husband Eilif, at their summer cottage in Velanfjord. As always, we thoroughly enjoyed their company, the view, and fine conversation. This time it included time indoors around the woodstove, as the weather turned too cold to spend much time down by the boathouse.

Ole has asked me several times if I would consider spending more time here. I must confess, it’s beautiful. But when the wind shifts north, it’s easy to remember we’re on the Arctic Circle – and as we’re offshore, on an island, we’re the first land any wind from the west hits – and that usually brings rain. If we were to spend more time here, we definitely need to invest in some infrastructure – communication, internet connection, satellite tv or radio – as well as upgrade the house, which hasn’t seen much upgrading in its 50 year history. All of this to tell you that the weather shifted, and we’ve had almost a week of blustery, rainy weather, which makes it a bit difficult to get out and do any yard work, much less travel across the fjord for an internet connection and groceries! Frankly, we’ve had better infrastructure on Emma Jo!

Speaking of internet connections and infrastructure – while we’re here, we cannot get connected from the house, much less the island. We need to travel across the fjord about 15 minutes to, of all things, a guesthouse/inn called Klokkergaarden, run by an ambitious and capable young woman named Malin – who transformed a former parsonage turned sheep barn into a charming tourist destination here in Rodoy Community – much to the surprise of the older local residents who said it couldn’t be done. She’s been the subject of many business articles in the Norwegian Press, up to and including a nomination for Norwegian Businesswoman of the Year. When we’re here, we try to get over at least once for a meal and a chat, bringing the computer with us – and Malin is kind enough to let us check email.

Another wonderful visit was with Ole’s cousin Lyder and his family (see pictures above) for a dinner of moose stew and some lovely companionship with his wife, Solgunn and their children Gunnar Haakon, Anne Marie, and Ole Kaspar, who’s a bundle of three-year-old energy. We were treated to a musical serenade of a song Lyder wrote to commemorate this island (Gjaeroy), and will be travelling next weekend to see a concert put on by the local school children and organized by Lyder, their music teacher.

We’re hoping the weather turns back to at least partly cloudy, so that Ole can finish coating the roof of the house and repairing some fascia boards to keep the place tight and dry until our next visit. One can only hope!

From a Birthday Party in Guatemala to Mending Fences in Norway

Hacienda Tijax
Rio Dulce, Guatemala

With Ole’s 10 on/10 off schedule, we really have to cram life into a compressed schedule, and July was no exception.

For the Fourth of July we were invited to “Calamity Jane’s” birthday at the Crow Bar. Jane and her husband, Roy, have a Beebee trawler called Steel Magnolia, and they came down here from Houston about a year ago. His boat is written up in the December 2006 issue of Passagemaker Magazine. A former newspaper owner, Roy has retired to manage the Crow Bar with Jane and run the Rio Dulce’s online newsmagazine Rio Dulce Chisme Vindicator. Crow Bar Marina has its own cast of characters, who were all on hand for barbecue and rum.

The next celebration was the birthday of 7-year-old Gaia, who has been cruising with her family for 3 years. Originally from France, they have cruised South Africa and South America, and are now embarking on the Caribbean. We commandeered the palapa by the swimming pool, and had a no-kidding French potluck, with crepes, quiche, and tartes.

Eugenio takes a swing

Eugenio takes a swing

The third celebration was Eugene’s 50th birthday. Eugene is the owner of Hacienda Tijax, and was kind enough to invite us up to his house for a barbecue. Friends of his, as well as specialty foods, arrived from all over Guatemala.

Then, on July 9, we left the Rio for our biennial trip to Norway a year late. Not easy – 6 hours on a bus to Guatemala City, an overnight, then Houston/Newark/Oslo/Bodo and an overnight, then a 4 hour ferry ride. When we arrived, we found that three years of vacancy on the property had taken its toll – all of the sheep fencing was down and the sheep were partying all over the place. We had always had a “live and let live” policy with the weeds – but after three years, found they were actually birch trees. So we spent three and a half weeks in hard labor, cutting and burning brush, re-fencing the property (by hand – no power tools here), interrupted only occasionally by a visit to the relatives or a trip out to fish for fresh cod and sei. The best part, though, was cool days and gorgeous midnight sun.