September 19th, 2011
Part of the reason why I came to Norway was because of its spectacular nature. I wrote something about it on every application and scholarship essay I prepared for the semester. And this past weekend I finally got out and experienced one of the things that I came here for.
The hiking trip was organized through the school and a company called Hiking in Norway, that is run by an amazing woman named Kristin Devor.
Friday morning we had to meet on campus at 9:00 to get into the vans and head out.
OF COURSE I just missed the train to get there in time, but I met up with a girl named Clara that was going on the trip too. She phoned ahead and told them we would be a few minutes late. We had never met before, but figured out that we were both going on the same trip due to the bags we had with us.
We got to campus and met up with our two guides and the rest of the group. Eighteen people in all. The two guides were Norwegian, and out of the students there was one Icelander, two Dutch, one Thai, one Italian, and a bunch of Germans. I was the only American. I have never been the only American before! It was very interesting. I felt like an ambassador or something. Being the only American also made me the only native English speaker. Again I felt totally stupid for not being bilingual, and wished for the first time in my life that I spoke German. Because there were so many of them, they spoke in German instead of English a lot. I can understand though. It must be very exhausting speaking in a foreign language all day long.
So here’s a picture of our guides in case you were wondering what Norwegians looked like:
Though they sure hopped around the mountains like a boss. Kristin even said she has bad knees, though you could never tell by the way she ran about. This is her:
Though born and raised in Oslo, she has crazy extensive experience with the Norwegian wilderness. She was extremely knowledgeable and gave us mini lessons about everything we saw.
Our other guide was Geiri, who was equally as awesome and is in the orange jacket here:
I must resign myself to the fact that I will never be as cool as them.
Back to the chronological story then. Getting into the vans, I was surprised to see someone I knew! Hellen, you may remember, was one of the people that joined our lost group after I got off the plane my first day here. To refresh your memory read this post. I had seen Hellen around a few times since then, but hadn’t hung out with her any. But she is really easy to talk to and it was really nice having someone I kind of knew on the trip.
Each van held nine people plus gear and bags, and were, I was surprised to see, made by Ford! Though they were unlike any Ford I had seen. Still, I was happy to see the familiar blue insignia shining back at me in the sun (yeah, we had sun!)
The ride was pretty long, but we had a few stops to stretch our legs and eat. Lunch was had at the warmest place in Norway. It can get up to 35 degrees celsius there (that’s 95 for you fahrenheit users). The picture above was taken at the highest point in the road we would drive on. The landscape at that altitude was devoid of trees and full of scrubby plants and rocks. It reminded me of New Mexico, actually (I know, I keep comparing everything here to the States. I really can’t help myself. Sorry.)
We were going to stop at an original stave church, but it was covered in plastic for restorations.
Other stops we made were to look at waterfalls, rivers, or remote cabins with some sort of significance. At each stop we had a little lesson from Kristin.
When Kristin was a young girl, they could fish for gigantic salmon out of this river. I mean really huge. But somehow, a parasite got in the water and started killing off all the salmon. It wasn’t harmful to humans, but very deadly for the poor fish. So the Norwegian government decided to poison the river to get rid of the parasite so it did not spread to other waterways and wipe out the entire country’s population of wild salmon. Unfortunately, poisoning the river meant a total kill, wiping out all living things in that river, including plants. There were some protests, but in the end the government won out and poisoned the water.
Years later, the salmon are coming back to the river. But so is the parasite. Kristin was unsure if they would do another kill, but people nearby told us that they were working on poisoning just the parasites this time. You can fish in the river, but it is mandatory to sterilize all the equipment before fishing elsewhere so the nasty little parasite doesn’t spread.
Further down the road, Kristin quizzed us on why in the world anyone would move to an isolated cabin like this of the side of a mountain. Sure, it looks romantic and all Thoroughian to us now, but life here was extremely difficult for people hundreds of years ago.
Cue a very condensed Norwegian history lesson!
So. Norway on a whole is not a very hospitable place, nature-wise. There is pretty much no flat land anywhere (I know this first hand) and very little can be farmed. Centuries ago, farmers had to spilt up there land amongst there sons for the inheritance. After a few generations of land dividing, the remaining plots were pretty small and useless. So when the population outgrew the land, poor people moved to remote hillsides like the one pictured above. There they could keep a few livestock animals, fish in the river, harvest wild grasses, and shoot wild game. It was a very hard existence, but it worked.
Then came the black death! Woo!
A lot of the population was wiped out by the plague. Which, by the way, probably wouldn’t have hit so hard if Norwegians didn’t insist on importing their grain. But since it didn’t grow well here they had to if they wanted bread that wasn’t made out of barley. The disease was spread by rats and the fleas that fed on grain after leaving their furry hosts. That is also the reason why the plague wiped out most of the wealthy and aristocratic class. They were the only ones who could afford to buy the grain. As the disease spread, a lot of farms (and sometimes entire towns) were left abandoned, letting the survivors spread out and settle on the arable land again. Bad for the people who died, but good for population control.
So Norway was good for a while until the population exceeded land space once again (it’s pesky that way). This time there was no plague, but a million fed-up Norwegians did leave the country. And where did they go? I’ll give you one guess.
The land of plenty where they could populate the midwest and influence the Minnesotan accent.
Even after this mass exodus Norway was still a poor country with too few resources to support the population. That is, until they struck oil, making everyone wealthy and inflating the economy so I have to pay twenty dollars for a paperback book. A paperback. Ahem.
So now you know the origins of the crazy little cabins in the mountains. Today they are used as vacation cabins or are inhabited by young couples that get sick of the city (because it’s so big and urban and all…).
These days the farmers are also kept alive by the support they receive from the government. This is one of the reasons why Norway doesn’t want to join the EU, because then they would not be allowed to offer such support and then might lose some of the farms.
On the way we also drove through a historic part of a small village with original buildings. The way was actually pedestrian only, but Kristin said to Geiri: “It’s illegal to drive there, but just follow me,” and away we went.
And then I made my triumphant return to the Sognefjord! Four days after I left it the first time…
We drove right up ONTO A FERRY and rode across the water, cutting out a lot of driving time. Of course I have heard of ferries taking cars, but I had never actually seen one, so I was pretty amped.
I could look at fjords forever.
After the ferry ride, we only had about an hour or two left before getting to the Fjærland valley, birthplace of Kristin’s mother and our home for the weekend.
Before getting to the cabins, we stopped by part of the glacier to ogle at it for a while and get more lessons.
Jostedalsbreen is the biggest glacier in continental Europe (there are bigger ones in Iceland, but since that is an island they don’t count). The glacier maintains it’s size due to the area’s snowfall, not because of low temperatures. Therefore, the ice melts and moves pretty quickly. The glacial arm above moves about two meters A DAY and feeds the lake below that then runs in a river all the way down to the fjord.
Kristin gave us all the interesting facts, as well as “dying stories” that were sort of intended to scare us into behaving properly around the glacier. There are plenty of stories about people falling into crevasses, getting lost in white-out storms, or who think it would be great fun to explore the small openings that the moving ice creates, only to get trapped inside when the ice decides to make it’s weekly collapse.
One of the more interesting stories starred Kaiser Wilhelm from Germany (if I remember the story correctly). The Fjærland valley was a popular tourist destination for wealthy foreigners. Many British and Germans, including the Kaiser, would sail their boats on up the fjord to come and look at the massive pile of ice. Wilhelm would have his soldiers carry him up the mountain in a chair so he could chill there in front of the glacier. Well, two of his soldiers decided that going back down on the same path was boring, and struck out to find an alternate way down. They succeeded in going down the mountain, but their dismembered body parts never made it back to Germany and are buried in the local churchyard.
Yes Kristin, we promise to stay on the path!!!
Best things about having guides is that they teach you so much and keep you from dying.
We stayed in the valley in family-owned camping huts with GRASS GROWING ON THE ROOFS.
There even was a tree on the one I stayed in. The group split up into several cabins, and I found myself in one with Hellen and four other German girls. It was super cozy, and I was absolutely thrilled with the situation I found myself in. I did have to haul my own sheets with me, but that turned out alright. It was nice having a bit of home to sleep in.
We had our own bathroom, kitchen, spectacular view, wifi (I had my ipod, but didn’t feel like using it to update the blog much, neener neener!), and even a TV! We watched some Norwegian shows that none of us could understand, but it was just nice to have a television on sometimes. The commercials were really funny. We only got three channels, but were able to watch the Norwegian versions of American Idol and Dancing with the Stars (I don’t even watch the American versions of these, bleh). I was amazed once again to see the American influence here. All of the songs the idols sang were American, as were many of the ones the stars danced to. Also, a few of the dance numbers were American themed. I remember one western one standing out and also one that featured costumes resembling Marilyn Monroe and an American GI, dancing to American swing.
I also learned that George Clooney often stars in European commercials.
I learn something new every day…
After settling in to our cabins, many of us took a walk while we waited for dinner.
Kristin made us a spectacular dinner (pasta, mmmm) and informed us of the next day’s procedures. One highlight of dinner was the Icelander telling us all about how she has fricken glaciers in her backyard, and how sporty and awesome everyone is in that country. Maybe I should go to Iceland next…
I wasn’t going to split up the posts, but it’s getting late and I want to go to bed. You’ll just have to wait for part two!