Itchy Feet

Itchy feet. You can’t help it but you want to keep moving.  It’s been just over three years since I’ve posted here, and a lot has happened and you want to keep moving on, but it is now time to get going.  You can’t dwell in one place for too long, especially the Nordkapp car park, where unrecyclable meets the down right unappreciation for the environment.  We left you with a vision of near holiness that is the Arctic summer and the midnight sun and left ourselves with with a sense of bitter disappointment at the sheer lack of appreciation some of our fellow humans have for the soil on which we dwell.  So we are going on an another adventure, Oli and me, because we can, and because there’s lots to see and do on this wonderful planet of ours.  You can choose to sit at home in HD and surround sound and watch the world pass you by, or you can get out there and discover it for yourself.

We are going to Africa, a continent we have never been to before.  And we are going to Kenya on Safari, game watching in the traditional style, in tented camps, open to everything that wild Africa has to offer.  From the high plains around Mount Kenya to the Maasai Mara.  The migration is in full swing, so zebra and wildebeast are a given: we hope to see so much more though under the big African skies.  It will be remote; we are not going the normal tourist route, opting instead for a more compact, eco-friendly experience.  We’ve chosen a company that provides a tourism model that is kinder to the land and its inhabitants, mainly avoiding the big reserves, instead staying on established conservencies but within the same ecosystems.

We are embarking on another Big Blue adventure, but Big Blue will be staying at home!

 

New Safari at a Bargain Price: the Paka Kubwa Safari!

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North

Nordkapp is remote, rugged and unrelentingly beautiful. It’s beauty lies in its isolation and the sheer magnitude of its geography. You don’t get a feel for its scale as you approach from land as the road raises you gently through the hills. You arrive on a plateau some 300m above the sea; these are sheer cliffs of what look like carbonate rock. There is little soil and the grass is thin and weak. It is enough to support reindeer though.

I imagine if you approach this place from the sea it must resemble a huge, dark, petrified tree stump sticking out of the ocean, like some massive middle-Earth troll, shoving its bare shoulder against the northern wind and claiming a foothold in this lonely place.  We arrived early morning under bright sun and blue skies, the fog having lifted and surprisingly the place was alive with people.  There is a visitor centre here, a modern building that could be mistaken for a fast food restaurant.  And there is the car park…

The car park at Nordkapp is massive and when we arrived it was full of camper vans.  But it is a car park and not a camp site, but I don’t think many of the people staying there thought that it was.  There are no toilets or washing facilities; no electrical hook-up and no effective waste disposal system.  It was sad to see these travellers using it as a camp site though and not in a dignified, respectful way.  These people thought it was ok to just chuck their rubbish from their vehicles and leave it where it fell.  Admittedly, some of the more considerate campers bagged their trash before throwing it out.  Most just threw it out.  I saw one person empty the sceptic tank from their vehicle straight on to the grassy area behind; a full load of effluent!  How can that be right?

We made our pilgramage, nonetheless.  We had made it to the furthest point north on the European mainland, 71°10′21″N 25°47′04″E.   About 1,300 miles from the North Pole and almost 2,300 miles from home.  And ignoring the car park and the multitude of travellers here, there was was space to stop and contemplate the vastness of what lay beyond in the frozen north.  The cape has a serenity and stillness that you find in great cathedrals, only it is larger, more serene and stiller.  The wind, the crashing waves and the plaintive cry of the gulls are the choir; the hard, bare rock the message from the sermon.  I knelt at the cliff top, faced the sun and gave thanks for being in this place and for making this journey.

Going home

Our midnight sun adventure is almost over.  Yesterday we started the day in Malmö and ended in Rotterdam.  Big Blue says that was 635 miles on the road, fairly uncomplaining miles at that, apart from the madness of the German autobahns.  I say that is far too far for any one person to drive in a day.  It was absolutely exhausting.  Rotterdam is not a good place to camp so we checked in to an hotel for the night.  It was good to have a bed made up, a shower where you didn’t have to keep feeding coins or pressing the tap, and a breakfast prepared for you.  This was nice, but the Bastion at the Benelux Tunnel will soon be forgotten.  What will stay long in our memories are the camps where we pitched our tent: the wild Scandinavian forests, the enormous expanses of water, both river and lake, and of course, the midnight sun.  These are the things that make adventures.

It is a little early to reflect on the meaningfulness of our journey – we shall in a while – but it has been the most incredible of times and the experience has given us a wonderful insight in to ourselves, each other and this incredible planet on which we are sentient beings of beauty, marking our fleeting existence in words and deeds, challenging ourselves to be a special part of it.  We belong to something very, very special.

A change of plan

As you will have seen from Oli’s update, our scheduled sailing from Esbjerg has been cancelled, with DFDS offering us 7 or 9 July! We have managed to book on a ferry from the Hook to Harwich for Saturday afternoon, but it ha meant curtailing our midnight sun adventure and making a mad dash to the Netherlands. This wasn’t in the plan.

Just to update, we made it to Norkapp on Tuesday and left Wednesday. I shall update on that part of the trip when we get home. We have not been able to get online for two days so apologies for the gap in chronology. We were on our way down on Wednesday when we got the call about the cancellation so we decided to get as far south as quickly as possible. We are now in Malmo and it has been a huge drive over the last two days, about 1100 miles I’m guessing. We have about another 500 to go.

We need to be at the Hook of Holland by 13:00hrs on. Saturday, so it’s an early start tomorrow. Hopefully we can update you from somewhere in Germany or the Netherlands. Bon voyage!

DFDS Failways

DFDS Failways

The company that took us to Esbjerg fails miserably due to the fact that yesterday we found out that our ferry was canceled; it hit the side of the dock and it is in repair until the 7th of July. So at the camp site that I found yesterday was very good but the Internet didn’t even work so we where allowed to us one of the reception computers and booked a ferry from The Hook Of Holland to Harwich, and it is a day boat so we don’t need a cabin. We have had to cut our holiday short to get to The Hook Of Holland. At least DFDS Seaways refunds our money for the journey! Yesterday dad was driving and when DSDF Seaways called I picked up the phone and they wanted my dad but since he was driving they told me everything that happened, I was so shocked and then I told my dad and he said that man at one of the campsites was right because he said that a ferry hit a side of a dock in Harwich but we didn’t know that it was our ferry at that time. Also the good thing is that we are going in 2 extra counties!
All counties we’ve been to:
England
Denmark
Sweden
Finland
Norway
And the extra two
Germany
Holland

71˚ 10′ 21″

Last night ended with a session in the smoke house.  These are communal buildings found all over northern Scandinavia that offer shelter, warmth and a means of heating food and water.  They are small, basic wooden structures, not much bigger than a garden shed, usually hexagonal or circular in shape and charecterised by a fire pit in the center.  A hood and chimney takes the smoke out.  Our hut had a supply of seasoned birch and we got the fire going first time.

In our hut there were bench seats all round and these were draped with reindeer skins; it was an invitingly comfortable environment.  We got warmed and dry quite quickly as we mulled over the days events, reflecting on the wrong turn that took us along the beautiful pathway.  We washed and cleaned our teeth and slept a deep sleep in the snuggly confines of our cabin.  So much so that we slept through the six o’ clock alarm.

A rare treat of cooked breakfast – bacon and sausage – and we were on our way again.  The morning was warm and sunny and we left with hope that we would get a proper view of the midnight sun today.  Our route took us north-east along the E6 again and then when we got to Porsangenfyord we headed north on the E69.  This route, in the sunshine, has to be the most scenically  beautiful I have travelled.  The fjord water is crystal clear and as blue as the paint they use in swimming pools.  Across the water the mountains rise, in places vertically.  The vastness of the sky links land and water.

Looks like reindeer

The road twists and turns and descends in to deep valleys before rising in to the blue of the sky again.  At times it disappears in to dimly lit tunnels, eerily dank and disorienting; an unseen force seemed to pull Big Blue in towards the walls evoking thoughts of trolls and their magical powers for spiriting humans away.

We entered one such tunnel, the sun blazing behind us and several kilometers later we emerged in to a thick mist.  It was as if the trolls had draped a net curtain over the windscreen. Now you could no longer see the other side of the fjord.  We drove on in the subdued light of the low cloud.  One final tunnel took us below the sea and up to Nordkapp, the northernmost point on mainland Europe. Actually, I don’t think it is at we are really on an island.  But hey, 77˚ 21′ 10″, what’s in a number?

A simple mistake and a new perspective

We had bought a new tent for the trip.  It’s an Outwell Nevada, but that’s not really important and I don’t intend to review it, suffice to say, it’s an ok tent.  It lasted the night and it was blowing a hooley and tipping it down.  It’s a five person tent and althoughthere’s only the two of us I had planned to use the extra space as storage.  We could leave most of kit in the tent and go off exploring.  The original intention was to base camp at Pajala and then take the explorer tent, a stove, a few rations and the sleeping bags up to Nordkapp overnight.  That way, if we didn’t reach our destination we could bunk down in the back of Big Blue.  But plans change.

Oli and I had got bored with Pajala and the weather there and decided it was time to move on.  We packed early this morning, showered, breakfasted and we were on our way by eight, which is an achievement for us.  I think Oli is hitting those teen years when hours in bed are all that count (apart from computers!). Pajala is about 25km from the Finnish border and the intention was to hop over and travel north on the E8/E21 and then take route 93 to Alta and then on to Nordkapp.  In all, I reckoned it to be an eight hour drive, not including breaks, which we have achieved on a couple of occasions this trip.  We had navigated by map for every inch of the journey so far, mainly because I love maps and they tell you so much more than the anodyne sat nav with its monotone instructions.  They don’t make driving a pleasure.  But today I decided to switch on the artificial guide, just as a back up; I new that it was eight years out of date for this part of the world in any case, but at least it would indicate where we were.  Or so I thought.  No sooner had we approached the border then the map went blank.  Apparently, Land Rover don’t think Finland exists!

Still, we had the map and I had a good idea of where I was going: E8/E21, route 93 and then turn right at Alta for Nordkapp.  Couldn’t be simpler.  Except I was so engrossed in the magnificent scenery that I didn’t see the turning for route 93.  That was 200km from our starting point.  It wasn’t until we were 200km further along E8 that I bothered to check the map.  And discovered we were not where we were meant to be.  We should have been hitting Alta, but we were just north of Tromsø!  We we were both quite relaxed about this as we had been travelling through some scenic pathways, reminiscent of the Welsh mountains.  Some of the sheltered north facing slopes were still snow covered and the cloud descended low in to the valleys.  The drizzle kept away the mosquitos so we had the joy of a fairly clean windscreen too, to enjoy the view.

We picked up the E6 and travelled north east towards Alta, which was now 270km away.  What an amazing road this is. Admittedly, it would have been great to drive it in the big, sexy cat; that would have left me grinning for weeks.  But in Big Blue, at a sedate 90kmh it gave us every opportunity to to take in this breathtaking part of the world.  Driving along the fjords, with the clear, calm waters of the sea on our left and steeply sloping valley sides to our right, every inch of the way was beautiful.

We encountered reindeer herds, sheep and cows.  We have yet to come face to face with moose, but these are secretive, elusive creatures, so we’ve been told.  It has become a compulsion to find one.  We stopped at a Saami settlement and bought hand crafts. This community lived as a trading post, selling reindeer skins, pelts from polar foxes, hand made hunting knives and all manner of goods, all crafted from what was available, usually reindeer.  But what really struck me was the trader who sold us a knife, a bracelet and some dried reindeer meat, resplendent in his traditional clothing, was the fact that he completed his deals on a mobile phone! A real collision of cultures.

We arrived at Alta about 18:00hrs which meant we had been on the road for ten hours.  We thought about pressing on to Nordkapp, but we have ended up renting a log cabin for the night.  Neither of us had the stomach for pitching the tent in the rain. We have eaten well and now we are off to the smokehouse to dry out and warm up.

Night night xxx