(this post was written a week ago; had no internet to post it)
The tourist leader approaches the ship staff, worn out and jaded at only 1pm. ‘I have fourteey,’ she says, holding up a giant toy flower. No one knows whether she means fourteen, or forty. Other groups have little Miffy dolls on sticks, or just a folded piece of paper. The ship staff member asks her for her ticket. She pulls it away. ‘I have already shown the other,’ she says, and starts counting her charges through. ‘Ich, ni, san, yon, go, rocku,’ she pushes their backpacks like they’re cargo. We all wait for them to come through, slightly peeved that forty people – it’s forty, we know now, because she went past ju yon ages ago – are sliding into the ship before us. The Australian girl is talking about Scottish accented English speaking Norwegians, and the fact that her mother works for her. It’s bedlam, and not quite what I imagined from the fjord boat tour we had planned today. Butters is like the cat that got the cream at being here in Flam, and the fjords. We got to the bus stop at 11.00 this morning, expecting to go on a bus tour to the white caves. It had been cancelled, because one of the massive tunnels had been closed after a truck caught fire in it a couple of weeks ago. This is the same tunnel that caused us to extend our trip from Bergen to Oslo by four and a half hours the other day, missing the football. The tour people didn’t tell us the tour was cancelled, but luckily for them, they offered us this Asian tourist packed fjord tour instead, which does the fjord bit twice. So no caves, but twice the fjord. Butters didn’t get the seats he wanted on the boat, but he’s alright about it. He’s walking around like a salmon upstream to get some good shots. I’m sitting here typing – which I feel guilty about, because everyone else is taking photos – and listening to Greg the American talk to Yan the Chinese undergraduate about his Norwegian purchases at that decibel level Americans seem to gravitate towards – loudspeaker. He’s bought some sunglasses with a picture of the Norwegian flag on them.
‘I can’t see the flag,’ he says over the inboard loudspeaker. ‘They’ve got a flag of Norway on them. Can you see the flag?’ he asks, putting them on for Yan. ‘I can’t see the flag at all when I look through them,’ he says, white hair against red skin. Soon, Yan leaves his bag under the seat and disappears.
Flam is a small town on the other side of a 25 kilometre tunnel, closer to Bergen than Oslo. In the evening, the sun goes down over the mountains three or four hours before it goes down in the real world. In the morning, you can follow the progression of the sun slowly and clearly as it fills the bowl of Flam across the hours. The mountains are hard to describe. Intimidating, they are pieces of rock that rise up out of the fjords as if threatened, and making themselves their full height against whatever it is they fear. A band of brothers bracing themselves against something from God, they have been frozen that way like trolls in the sunlight, tricked into staying this way forever. There would be little way, it seems, to climb them without picks and a rope. And Flam just sits there, as if being in amongst this kind of overwhelming phenomenon is natural. What it’s always done. Which it has, I suppose. I do my morning interval sprints through the town centre and the road that leads to our cabin. A mailbox in a snow-shielded group next to a steep road climb is black, with a white painted anarchist star on it. No one seems to be awake in the town, apart from a group of black clad Japanese tourist men who laugh at me and take photographs on tripods of my swinging legs.
Last night, after driving through mountains with the kind of roads you normally only sees on Top Gear, we arrived at our cabin with hours of daylight left in the valley. We made friends with the sheep that dangled huge cow bells and, unlike any sheep I’ve seen before, advanced on us individually to ask us what our business was. We stood for ages on recently mown farm paddocks and watched the water fall from the height of the Eureka tower down to the river below, to stream past us where we stood. .
The fjord, now, is showing off for us, revealing corners of snow covered mountain peak through sheer cliffs of rock. Villages with pointed red rooves look at us, grateful that the hordes of tourists are kept at bay in a vessel that slides through the fjord half a kilometre away.
The thing today is to find a place on the ship. Everything is insanely beautiful, and everything needs to be photographed, ten times over, by everyone. I think if we pooled our photos by wifi, or something, and we all had access to them at the end of the trip, we could just sit down and witness what it’s like to have a few hundred meters of rock overhanging you like it was and ice cream cone, gradually melting and about to fall off, smashing you into the water, submerging the boat like an apple in a barrel in the apple bob. Perhaps one person could be the designated picture taker, and the rest of us could just sit here and think about glaciers and Vikings.
‘These were all glaciers, once,’ says the American, to the new guy sitting next to him. New guy is from Korea, and makes a joke that he’s from the North. ‘They were glaciers, and then they were fjords.’ Some of the mountains are made of white rock, like the head of a statue in London frequented by pigeons. Some are covered in what looks like normal wood, green and earthen terrain. We turn from the large, sea fjord into a narrow fjord, and the shores close in. And all the time, everyone takes photos. It’s hard to take a bad photo, here, and there’s really no rush. There’s one guy in a black coat that seems to be able to get in the way of the few photos I do take. I’ll call him the black jacket photo nemesis.
Andrew is away too long, and a young Japanese mother steals his seat, and pretends she doesn’t see my glances. I let it go when her son comes at her and clearly fobs her off in Japanese. She’s got more on her plate than a lost chair.
We see the kayaks that we’ll be in tomorrow, paddling through the fjords as if we have a chance of getting anywhere. They look like tadpoles being paddled by common black ants down a torrent from a spilt cup of water. That’s what’s happening tomorrow. The next day, we’re getting a train up a 20k mountain and biking back down. I peer at the snow that has not melted throughout the entire winter on the top. I rub my fingers together, trying to remember what kind of travel insurance we have.
So long, triceps. Quadriceps, goodbye.