There is nothing more criminal than waste, and there’s nothing worse than wasting time. With that at the forefront, Norway was soon wrapped up in a calming night at Kannesteinen Rock. Followed by a warm reunion on the Atlantic Ocean Road with dear biking friends, Mel and Greg. After which, we reached our trip’s first official milestone: Nordkapp! The North Cape of our ‘Cape to Cape’ expedition on The Mega Transect.
Why the sense of urgency for what’s typically a time-rich, itinerant life on the road? Budget blown in Norway notwithstanding, a polyp the size of a plump sweet corn kernel had sprouted on the tip of Jason’s tongue. Maddening every waking second, it left Jason little choice but to have it whipped off before the thing burgeoned to a full-blown corn-on-the-cob.
Always time for taking in the local wildlife, Norway
I like watching birds as much as I like people watching but wouldn’t call myself an obsessive twitcher. Unlike Jason’s, my skills in identification are nothing to write home about – but sitting for an hour with the binoculars watching these incredible creatures swoop and glide above or peck their way across the seashore is one of the most rewarding ways I know to experience the natural world.
Puffins, the main event at dusk one evening we hoped, are robust little sea parrots with oversized brightly coloured triangular beaks. Amazingly, they can bob around in some of the roughest seas on the planet, completely unfazed for months at a time before returning to the same network of hillside burrows to nest underground.
At the place we saw a handful of these auks going about their business, I huffed and puffed up to the cliff face like an old train. After settling on a rock bearing a good vantage point, a four-year old German boy turns to his dad, cocks his head and asks emphatically, “Papa, so what do the birds like to do here?”
European brown bears, Finland
Right on the edge of the Finnish Russian border, Karhu-Kuusamo Oy comprises a couple that offers bear watching out of a place called Kuusamo, the northernmost part of Finland. Protected from hunting, a magnificent number of brown bears dwell in the forest at Kuntilampi. Incredible – who knew these beasts resided on the continent?
Only pointed out to us through happenstance of bumping into Theo and Bee (The Indie Projects) in an empty car park having just crossed the Swedish border. Like us, they’re a British couple who live on the road, albeit their lifestyle resumed in a cosy Sprinter van complete with Gingery, their, ahem, well fed ginger cat. Lording over one and all, this cat should run for Gingery President of the Ginger Cat Foundation for the Incurably Ginger. I can’t deny in the chilly wind presiding over us all, I had terrible van envy.
Just a four-hour detour up to the border from our southbound location and a nervous detachment with 120 Euros per person later, we set aside a late afternoon through sunset in the hopes of encountering a sleuth of European brown bears.
But only after rescuing an Indian family of five whose hire car became royally stuck in a muddy ditch near the allocated bear-watch parking. Brilliantly, that’s the second time on the trip to date we’ve deployed the winch to relieve some car-going tourists in a spot of bother.
Baited by a guy I deemed more of a bear whisperer using his quad bike supplies, the guide returned to us in the hide. Casually, he happened to mention some of the bears’ somewhat disgruntled temperaments by his tardy time keeping. Oops. That’d be us assisting the dude and his damsels in the ditch. Scattering bear love around the forest floor – after honey that is – with juicy scraps of salmon.
Situated inside a warm and comfortable hide with big windows on three sides, cameras were soon set in prime shooting position through portholes. Trigger happy fingers poised. As with all wildlife experiences, no guarantees were promised. Nevertheless, it was tricky to stay prepared for scant sightings or none at all.
Lo and behold, a couple of large lone males rocked up within five minutes of our session. “L-u-c-k-y” was a weak term, we’d won the jackpot. Apparently, wolverines occasionally make appearances too. Next up, an ever-cautious mother crested the hilly path with four cubs sidling alongside. More older males followed, some bolder junveniles as well. All were surprisingly comfortable in close proximity to one another, while we feasted on our eyes on watching the bears bathe in the water, practice their tree-climbing skills but mostly chow down their fillet of fish.
With absolute and unfaltering ease, a huge male stood straight up on his powerful hind legs to become the size of a house. He’d spotted a salmon piece speared on a sharp branch, hung above his natural posture. Its shoulder blades gliding like pistons under its fur. The bear’s unblinking eyes were locked on its entrée, main and dessert. Unburdened, flexible and incredibly effortless. Barely believing our luck (forgive the pun) in seeing 16 big browns over the course of a few hours; they were like flies around overripe mangoes. When nature becomes this limitless, joy is my constant companion.
Nordkapp (North Cape)
Admittedly, the last 500 miles northbound were a mixed bag of what mostly felt like killing Norwegian Krone on diesel for the sake of a photograph. Tempered at least when we retracted all thoughts of regret once we descended on the country’s beautiful, bleak roads to the top. Hurrah, some drama in the skies at last!…be careful what you wish for. Norway, it seemed, had one last hand to play before she’d let us leave.
A heavy drizzle was set to stay for the long haul, it’d mean a night hunkered down in the double cab which coupled with the gusting winds, dictated battening down the hatches. Why risk our home, the rooftop tent faring hopelessly in wind force gales? A landscape of blind-wrapped fog engulfed our surroundings, swallowing us whole. It was gone midnight when the Krone-laden kiosk closed – demanding a 50 pounds entrance fee to lay eyes on Nordkapp’s globe. Out we emerged in the wee hours of cloaked darkness.
Raindrops bounced angrily off my umbrella as if they were trying to punch through the fabric. Taking the phone snap in my mind’s eye, I registered the prospect as wishing to catalogue the trip as much as for posterity. In reality, it involved pinning our location and activating the GPS to pick our way over the flat but obscured few hundred yards to the globe, so bad was the fog. When you’re on unfamiliar terrain, it’s just sensible to take directions.
Comical really, sleep drunk and getting almost lost during what should have entailed making a quick beeline to a landmark that’s impossible to miss. Utterly adrift, the North Cape had seemed so close, yet we were clawing through a thick fog in who knows which direction. Laughter rolled leisurely out of my mouth, like the great banks of mist that spilled opaquely over the landscape.
Not exactly a momentous occasion when the globe emerged at Nordkapp but neither was it totally anti-climatic. Jason just stood there brewing like a coffeepot. I distinctly recall him betraying no sadness when it came to parting from the place. High winds prevailed, driving rain lashed down, cobwebs more than the mind blown. A low-voltage moment akin to, ‘Oh good, now that’s done let’s make a sharp exit and put the kettle on’.
UK pit stop
Chinks of happiness fully restored, the minor operation back on English turf resulted in the normal proportions of a Jason I know, love and recognise. The alien growth had begun to rule the life in his mouth, and I’m really not growing things out of all proportion. “Your tongue looks like yours again, does it feel better now the sweetcorn’s gone?” He gave an approving nod. Jason’s equivalent of running round naked doing a happy dance.
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