Some years ago, tired of sitting in front of a computer in an Oslo-based office, I decided to explore Norway. Those were innocent times where I had not been on a hyttetur yet, neither did I have a single Norwegian friend. So I took a map of Norway and checked a few pictures on the internet and decided that the Lofoten Islands looked stunning and remote enough. The plan was to buy a bicycle, put it on the plane and cycle up the Lofoten islands for a few days or weeks depending on how long the sun would be on my side. A stress-less Norwegian holiday far from the city-crowd, full of wild nature, matpakke and delicious fish meals made with the catch-from-the-day.
But then I looked closer, and realised there was an even more remote and sexy place to go to before the usual Lofoten trips: Røst. If you thought the main Lofoten islands were lost in the Norwegian Sea, just check out Røst on a map. See the Arctic circle? go North. See the chain of the Lofoten islands? You went too far, Røst is that small island South of Værøya. Also part of the traditional district of Lofot but much less touristy.
“Are you insane?” said my colleagues. “Don’t you want to have a real summer? Like with sun and heat? You’re supposed to go South in the summer, not North!”. But I am not Norwegian: anything from the midnight sun to seeing real seals which are not in a zoo are just amazing for me. Indeed, it isn’t exactly Syden, except for people from Tromsø or Kirkenes I guess, but it was pretty exotic to me…much more than Cannes or Nice that’s for sure. And because I am a lucky pig I actually got 2 and a half weeks of splendid weather.
It takes a little while to get there: Oslo-Bodø in a completely empty plane in July (they are on a beach getting skin cancer), and then a ferry ride to Røst with a very nice view of a fat Dutch family vomiting all their hot dogs. All the tourists including myself admiring the midnight sun: seeing for the first time of my life a sunset and a sunrise in the same half-hour is pretty cool.
As we arrive on Røst, I realise how remote this place actually is. I can’t imagine what a winter-storm looks like around here. It looks quite flat and dangerously uncovered in case of wild winds. I am thankful to myself not being crazy enough to have come here in the winter, and as the ferry opens its huge mouth to let the few “Røst passengers” out, I hop on my bicycle and start my search for the Kårøy Rorbucamping. It follows an unknown concept of “indoor camping” and it also happens to be one of the cheapest accommodation in town. Well, “town”.
I have no idea where this indoor camping is but I am not too worried, I have a bicycle to go around and this place is tiny. Strangely enough I cannot find it. I start asking around, and they all point to the sea. They probably didn’t understand my question. Eventually I see a little lady waving at me from another island and calling Louulloouuloouu (that’s me). She is the owner of the indoor camping and she is planning on taking me there…by boat.
What I had not understood is that this rorbucamping is on a small island next to Røst. So each time anyone wants to leave or get to the place again they need to row a boat for 10 to 15 minutes between the islands. “Oh I forgot my camera, I have to go back and get it” there you go, free training for my back. When the wind is not in your favor it can take ages as I found out later. The little lady even had to come and save me once when I had been rowing for at least 20 minutes against the wind, not able to get closer to the hostel. Oh well, this is part of the adventure right? It’s not like I had many other things to do during that holiday than rowing a boat to get to my hotel.
Arriving on the small island I realise that the whole place is covered with seagulls, the big and noisy type. They are sitting on their nests on every parcel of this place (roof, windows, tables etc.), screaming in a big choir of seagull chants. “Do they get tired at some point?” I ask the old lady. She starts laughing and replies “Of course not! There is daylight all the time, so they never sleep”. Oh god. I came here for peace and quiet and I end up sleeping with hundreds of screaming seagulls over my head. After thinking about it I realised this seems a bit strange, seagulls can’t stay awake for 4 months in a row just because night is not coming. They do look like stupid animals but still…
After asking myself why the hell did I want to come here in the first place, I just went with the flow (and earplugs) and got all busy with cycling on the island, sending a few postcards and chatting with the old lady who owned the indoor camping. I was even invited into their home after her husband saw me row back and forth to Røst. He told me full of respect that it had been years since he’d seen someone row like that. Wow, some kind of acknowledgment coming from an old Norwegian fisherman. I am so glad to see that my rowing talents are not going to waste. I might look like a penguin when I cross-country ski, but at least growing up in Marseille has taught me how to row with dignity!
There aren’t a million things to do on Røst, and that’s why it’s such a good place to be. I realised while being there that Røst is an “internationally recognised” spot to see birds so I seized this opportunity to go on a bird-safari: a fisherman took me and a few other tourists on a tour in the boat he uses for regular fishing.
I saw amazing stuff, such as puffins: a miniature and flying penguin with a yellow and red parrot’s beak that the fisherman taking us on the tour described as a “very tasty little animal that we aren’t allowed to eat anymore”. I also saw some other birds which I don’t remember the name which I had to wait some hours in complete silence to see fly or eat. And seals, lying lazily on the rocks.
Besides cycling, watching birds and rowing, I also spent some time to try to communicate with the Røstians (?). Not that easy, and there aren’t many tourists either. However the scenery of this place is amazing, mountains coming out of the sea and nature reserves where one must stay silent not to disturb the birds, little restaurants with amazing meals made of fresh fish and bacon and carrot purree. I must say it was almost hard to leave. “Almost” because I do need to meet some human beings sometime (more than two per day), and you can’t say the few fishermen on Røst were very chatty. I do need to thank the family from the rorbucamping though, because they are the first Norwegian family who let me into their home without knowing me.
So after a few days I took the only ferry that gets out of there and headed to Moskenes to discover the rest of the Lofoten islands with my bicycle. Planning on seeing white sand Arctic beaches and Viking ships. To be continued (with pictures hopefully).
Below, the Kårøy Rorbucamping (from their website http://www.karoy.no)