Saturday, October 14, 2017

Misty magic of the Faroe Islands

I once read a quote from Dalai Lama that perfectly expressed how I feel about travel: “Once a year go somewhere you have never been before.” It’s inspiring to know such a laudable person shares my life philosophy—at least on this point.
A fishing village nestled on the coast of the Faroe Islands
Last summer, I managed to visit several places I had never been before, but among the most unusual was Faroe Islands, a collection of 18 small islands (17 inhabited) in the North Atlantic.

The history of the Faroes began when Irish monks came more than 200 years before Norse settlers arrived in 850 A.D. Vikings later drove them out, and Norwegians ruled until Denmark took over.
The Faroe Islands are still part of Denmark, although the islands became autonomous in 1948 after World War II. Cultural and financial connections to Denmark are strong. For example, every citizen receives an annual stipend from the Danish government, and they use Danish coins but have their own paper bills.
Ancient volcanic activity left its mark on the landscape of Faroe Islands
I was amazed at how green and lush the countryside was. At first glance, that is. As we drove north from the capital city of Torshavn, the landscape revealed its volcanic origins. Created 65 million years ago from tremendous upheavals, the islands are marked by deep crevices, giant clefts, and rough ridges. No trees grow in the inhospitable rock, which makes the soil almost impossible to cultivate. In fact, the only crop is grass, which is dried and bundled into hay to feed livestock, mostly sheep (Faroe means “sheep,” which outnumber people here).

Deep clefts on the mountain side make the land mostly unusable.
No volcanic activity has been recorded in modern times, however, so I felt safe. The day was chilly, windy, and foggy (normal, in other words). Because of the rugged terrain and blustery winters, numerous tunnels have been cut through the mountains—two also go under the sea—to provide year-round passage.

If you’re getting the picture that the Faroe Islands are a difficult place to live, you are right. Often young people leave the islands to study and work—and many (especially women) don’t come back.
A squiggly road traverses the mountain on its way to the village.
But I was delighted to experience tunnels, seaside villages, and vast expanses of green grassy pastures. On the way to the island of Eystuoy, we drove up a mountain along a thoroughly squiggedly road until we came to a viewpoint overlooking a beautiful view of the ocean—a postcard perfect scene of cloud-shrouded hillside guarding a remote fishing settlement.
Fishing for cod, haddock, and mackerel and salmon farming (the ring)
are important to the economy of the Faroe Islands.
The fish industry is the economic mainstay of the Faroe Islands, and that includes salmon farming which has grown to 40% of the total export value. Fortunately, fishing can be done year round because the Gulf Stream rims the Faroe Islands and keeps the climate milder than you might expect from its northern oceanic location.
Gorgeous cliffs at the village of Eioi on the island of Eystuoy.
Our journey continued on to Eioi, a tiny village with only 30 permanent inhabitants. Eioi means “cliff,” which is appropriate since tall, craggy cliffs guard a very narrow channel into open water. In recent years, people have begun to build summer houses here. Call them tourists, if you like, but they respect tradition and maintain the custom of using grass for roofs, a good means of insulation.

Grass roofs utilize a commodity that is native to the islands.
Throughout our travels from Torshavn, tiny clusters of homes dotted the coastline, while sparkling waterfalls tumbled down hillsides on their way to the ocean. Knowing that the idyllic setting belies the adverse living condition of the Faroe Islands, I cherish the memories of hazy mist drifting over verdant hillsides even more.
Waterfalls take a circuitous path down the mountains.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

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