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The Soutpiel Safari
9th May 2017
Day 9 Tromso to Stramsund

To make up for yesterday's expedition being cancelled, we did two today! 
Harstad to Sortland - a bus trip through the most stunning alpine scenery in the part called Vesterålen, along narrow little roads which had to have laybyes every so often to let vehicles pass. We started off with a visit to Trondnes Church, beautiful site on the cliff overlooking the bay. The bells were ringing as we arrived, in a separate belfry as the architects were concerned the movement would disturb the original wooden walls and fall on the congregants! Now a beautiful stone church, with walls some 5' thick, and we were invited to join in a special service to "greet the morn" - couple of prayers, we all sang a hymn in a multitude of languages, a quick Bible reading, and then we all wandered over to the museum next door. Much of old Viking artefacts and history and description of the old way of life, very good.

We passed one fairly flat section, where a local farmer has made millions out of strawberry tunnels - Strawberry fields forever ! He brings in seasonal workers, many Poles who come for 2-3 years before returning home with enough money to build own houses - different scale of economies!

We criss-crossed several bridges across several small lakes, with the water getting less salty as it got further away from the sea. Mussels abounded under one bridge, where tide comes in and mixes salt with fresh streams - if I'd had a bucket I'd have been down picking them!
Many of the little villages have salmon farms, a source of potential wealth but also huge problems, as the salmon become infested with salmon lice requiring harsh chemical and antibiotic treatments. What do we eat??

Until the fairly recent oil discoveries, the Norwegians generally were very poor: Egbert informs us that only Ireland had more emigrants than Norway! Only 2 generations ago a father would go off fishing for many months, leaving his wife with maybe 7/8 kids, 2 cows, 5 sheep to cope with over the hard winter. Not an easy life.

We trundled up and down the Troll Berge and our guide had umpteen troll stories to tell - most of them were in German however so I didn't catch them. He kept telling us about some troll who had been turned to stone, with his goat, an pointing it out, but I could never work out which of the umpteen peaks around us he was talking about! It was a tad irritating: he would tell a long story in German, every German on the bus would roar with laughter, then he'd tell the story again in English in half the time but obviously sans the punchline as they were never funny - or is that just the difference in humour?

He did make us laugh though when he told us of going ice fishing as a young boy- religiously drilled a hole in the ice, dropped in his line and hooked a big one - but the hole he had drilled was too small to pull 10kg cod out!

We arrived in Stamsund to find the ship had not. Consternation(!), as the bus had to turn around smartly and get us off so he could catch the return ferry! But 15 minutes late she arrived and we were aboard just in time for lunch.

This afternoon's aft deck session was how to carve up a huge cod for sushi - great fun, and once again very interesting. Although this time John didn't do any carving or kissing of the cod!

We spent about 90 minutes travelling through the most beautiful sound, the Raftsundet: high walls, lots of ice and snow, stunning environment. As the blurb given out each day by the tour leader Egbert says: "the most beautiful part of the world's most beautiful sea voyage" and for once I'd probably agree with his hyperbole!

1830 and we were in Svolvaer but instead of the bus leaving at one minute past docking time, we were given an extension of 15 minutes to finish our dinner! Another great bus ride through the countryside, this time through the Lofoten Islands. Dozens, if not hundreds of little islands, very different scenery from this morning, much rockier coastline, more little chunks of islands in the inlets, more farming and even more fishing! 

We seemed to pass acres of drying cod, huge fields of cod heads drying to send to Africa, mainly Nigeria, and sky high A-frame racks loaded with cod bodies. The first two weeks these are covered with nets to stop the seagulls, but then they become so dry not even the seagulls are interested! But apparently the Nigerians buy the heads by the ship full, and the Portuguese national dish is a soup made from salted cod from Norway - who'd have guessed? 

We stopped at a delightful little fishing village with a very sheltered harbour - I could see John planning where to lay up the next boat for the winter season! Quick walk around (a photo stop, as the guide called it) and we were back in the bus again, off over another bridge, down another unbelievably narrow road. The snow has all but vanished except of the high hills now, and there are clumps of green pine every now and then. But the strangest of all is the grass in the fields - at first I thought it was smal lichen covered boulders, but a stop to feel determined it was just clumps of grass, bent over with the weight of the winter snow into little brown balls all over the field. Very peculiar.

By two-thirds of the way through however we decided two tours in one day was one too many: John was nodding off, I was getting irritated with the big British army type complaining about everything, and we were both cold.  One of the problems with a bus tour is you're forever putting on/taking off clothes - too hot in the bus, too cold outside!

Delighted to see the MS Vesterålen docked alongside in Stamsund when we returned, we were in our bunks within minutes! 

Tomorrow's another day.

Next: Day 10, Bodo to Rovik
Previous: Day 8 Mehamn to Tromso

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