TÓRSHAVN, Faroe Islands – Provided you’re not a schizophrenic sociopath, those little nagging voices should be heeded. For every so often there’s a nagging voice in my head goading me to head in a certain direction, usually defying common sense and logic. Often I am rewarded by following this advice, other times it’s folly and I end up sleeping under a bridge or worse.
It was a soggy Sunday in Tórshavn , the attractive capital of the Faroe Islands, that semi-independent group of islands that lie just north of Scotland but belong to Denmark. I’d spent the previous evening in an unmarked pub of dubious reputation where self-proclaimed metal musicians, boozy Bohemians and middle aged drunks whose lifestyle made them appear as octogenarians, welcomed me into their hovel of a beer joint. There was some initial awkwardness: I had to first assured them that I wasn’t “one of them;” them being crew members of the anti-whaling Sea Shepherd boat featured in some “reality” television show that I’d never seen but have seen lampooned on South Park.
So it had been a good evening though the following morning I was worse for wear. The protestant Faroes shut down at 2 p.m. on Sundays and there’s little to do save reflect on what one presumably learned during the sermon.
So add to the fact that a storm was blowing in and most businesses were shuttered, my options looked limited. A fierce wind, coupled with dark clouds had appeared on the horizon and I didn’t look forward to spending another night in a soggy tent in a deserted campground.
Not that this town is without charm and its inhabitants, the Faroese, had proved to be among the friendliest I’d ever encountered as a stranger. The previous day I’d nearly toppled from my bike when the bolt fastening the seat snapped as I was riding. With the broken piece in hand, I approached an older gentleman fixing a piece of garden machinery and asked about a hardware store or bike shop. He insisted in driving me around until we found a bike shop where the manager sawed me a new piece, didn’t charge me for it – and then when I did insist on buying something, told that cashier to give me the employee discount.
But as previously noted, Tórshavn was settling down for a rainy Sunday and I’d feel like fool if I didn’t get my lazy ass out of town and see the countryside. So I stopped by the ferry terminal to check schedules. I’d long ago lost the handy tourist guide and had no map. A youth with a duffel bag sat nearby. I struck up conversation and he allowed that the southern island – a two-hour ferry ride – was a good place, provided the weather was agreeable. I was resigned to be rained on but wanted some new surroundings in which to suffer in.
There was a ferry due to leave in about 45 minutes. That wouldn’t work. I’d have to break camp and the tent was about a mile away. I had the bicycle, but still… I wasted 10 or so hemming and hawing when that little voice started its nagging and a strange feeling of resolve overpowered me.
I pedaled as quickly as I could on studded winter tires and a badly mangled rear tire with broken spoke – repairs will wait for Denmark – toward camp.
Camp was broken in record time as I haphazardly stuffed the panniers with soggy dirty laundry and worn out gear. I kicked it into high gear and rounded the downhill curve that brought me to the quayside. The ferry was loading and I was able to wheel in just as the boatswain was finishing loading the cars. I collapsed into a booth on the sizable ferry as we steamed out of Tórshavn , destination: Tvøroyri.
The clouds had darkened, the sea roughened and the 300-something-foot-long ferry was tossed to and fro as we headed for the southern island of Suðuroy. We came into port and the wind had kicked up. Rain was falling heavily now as the ferry’s main front doors opened to belched forth a parade of cars and that sole cyclist in partially shredded raingear.
Fighting the wind and the rain I headed for Tvøroyri, the main town of about 1,500 people or so. A nasty headwind and persistent rain caused me to achieve that state that transcends wet. Only bicyclists know what I am talking about. The kind of wet that’s inside you; the type that can grow mildew in one’s being.
As I pedaled into the brightly painted town, I noted it was closed down and streets deserted as storm drains struggled to swallow the torrent. I asked a gaggle of teenagers if there was a hostel. Their English was limited but they pointed toward a whitewashed house. When I arrived it had been rented out completely. I carried on to a shop and explained my situation. Shoppers waited patiently in a queue as the clerk abandoned the till and found a number of a bed and breakfast. The conversation was in Faroese but I made out the word “foreigner” and likely “pathetically wet” though I’m not sure.
The accommodations were plusher than I could have imagined and surprisingly affordable. I was left alone with three small dogs and a pot of lamb stew as the proprietor and her sister – both in their late 70s – went off to a birthday party where they stayed out past 2 a.m.
After filing a freelance radio piece for some European news service, I wandered to the local pub. It was about 10 p.m. and completely deserted. “Am I too late or too early?” I asked the barmaid. She tittered. “Too early!” People don’t come out until 2 a.m., I was informed.
I returned a few hours later and indeed the place was hopping. Beer and akavit was bought for me and hilarity ensued.
Faroese, like the Icelandic, stay up late.
The following day the B&B owner and her 79-year-old chain-smoking sister took me on a driving tour around the island. The place was socked in by fog but I got a lot of photos of proud-looking sheep which I take to be the king of the jungle in the Faroes.
Upon my return the affable sister who lived in Tórshavn took me on a driving tour around the main island with her son and his Kenyan wife. I was treated to beer and snacks at their home before they took me to meet the gigantic M/V Norröna ferry which had just arrived and was disgorging a bewildered horde of passengers fresh from Denmark.
My three-day visit to the Faroes had run its course.