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Somewhere Between Scotland and Iceland

Our rental car waited for us in the parking lot at the exit of the airport at Vágar—unlocked. The keys had been left inside along with a handful of supplies for the road: bottles of waters and chewing gum. Leaving valuable items, such as cars and houses, unlocked, seems to be the norm on the Faroe Islands. But for us, city kids, this unexpected gesture of trust and goodwill was a clear indicator that we had left the realm of the familiar behind. The Faroe Islands consist of 18 islands that dramatically tower up in the middle of the Atlantic, somewhere between Scotland and Iceland. The gloomy islands would serve as the perfect backdrop for your next binge-worthy Nordic Noir crime series, but with fewer than 50,000 inhabitants, it’s no surprise that the islands are advertised as a crime-free destination. Everybody kinda knows everybody and you kinda can’t get away anyway.

Our trip to the Faroe Islands was a pretty random project. The islands had somehow appeared on our respective travel radars and when my mate and I realised that our calendars could be aligned early October 2017, we decided to just book those flights and go. No set plan, no pre-defined sights to be checked off the list, no expectations. Just the need for a small adventure, to get away from the ordinary humdrum for a couple of days, to experience something different and perhaps catch a wave or two along the way.

The Faroe Islands are known as the islands of sheep, which is how the islands got their name in the first place. But they’re also the islands of a thousand waterfalls and windy, narrow roads etched between steep cliffs and volcanic mountains, ever-changing climate, deep fjords and dried fish and farmed salmon. The cute, multicoloured, wooden houses that pop up here and there form a quaint antithesis to the harsh, barren landscape. The landscape is more of an ocean scape—you’re never far from the water and it’s the kind of water you don’t want to mess with, being powerful and raw even when it’s calm. Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard once proclaimed that “real adventure is defined best as a journey from which you may not come back alive, and certainly not as the same person.”

The landscape is more of an ocean scape—you’re never far from the water and it’s the kind of water you don’t want to mess with, being powerful and raw even when it’s calm.

Modern inventions such as subsea tunnels, helicopters and an impressive road network have made the Faroe Islands fairly easy and safe to tour. But nature here is gnarly and it still gets real out there. The local guys at Útiliv, the only surf/skate shop on the Faroes, who so kindly hooked me up with all the necessary surf gear for my cold water surf adventure, told us tales of sudden death that served as a kind reminder that around here, the elements rule. There was the geologist who skipped on a slippery hillside and never made it back to the land of the living and there was the case of quicksand like mud found in one particular part of the islands that can suck you right into the ground, never to be seen again. And there was the tourist that we bumped into, who, posing in front of the almighty ocean, got surprised by a wave and got washed into the sea; luckily, he made it back to shore relatively unscathed.

Our trip, fortunately, was smooth sailing. And we got lucky. We arrived in the capital of Tórshavn on a Thursday and by Friday, the crazy storm swell that had ravaged the islands had dropped enough to produce surfable conditions. We arrived at the picturesque village of Tjørnuvik on the island of Streymoy, also called the main island, and were met with 4–5 foot waves. Not a soul out there. The waves were mostly closing out with the occasional big set coming through, but on the right-hand side, there was a peaky wedge with a fairly hollow right. Definitely rideable.

Over the next few days, Tjørnuvik would become our home break and we settled into a nice routine—slow morning with coffee and porridge and two-hour surf sessions, followed by grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch and afternoon explorations of the surroundings. Air and water temperatures lingered roughly around 8 degrees Celsius. To be frank, there was a whole lot of waiting going on in our own little, private line-up, and we probably disappointed the odd tourist who occasionally would pass through and would stop to watch us have a go. But hey, we had fun.

We hiked to a bunch of waterfalls and walked through tiny, old villages with grass-thatched roofs and couldn’t help but wonder what life must have been like out here before the tunnels and helicopters and wifi and cars.

We surfed in deep blue water, as clean and clear as can be, and had the waves all to ourselves. In general, we usually found ourselves by ourselves. From time to time, we’d happen upon a few locals going around doing their business (to name a few observed activities: working the potato patches, manning sheep down the hills, transporting sheep cadavers or taking the dog out for a Sunday stroll) and every now and then we’d see a handful of fellow travellers. It would have been great to learn more about local living and the kind of culture that is bred in a place like this, so dependent on nature, sea miles away from everything else. And it would have been great to say hi to the famous puffins, but we’re leaving all of that for next time. We were bummed to miss out on the qualifying match for the World Cup between the Faroe Islands and Latvia (score of the game: 0-0) and the Northern lights. But we got a beautiful sunrise instead that turned the fjord pinky-red like a juicy grapefruit. We hiked to a bunch of waterfalls and walked through tiny, old villages with grass-thatched roofs and couldn’t help but wonder what life must have been like out here before the tunnels and helicopters and wifi and cars. We met a Russian sailor and talked Danish colonisation and climate change with a theatre actor from Greenland and ate the tastiest salmon ever. We had sunshine, rain, intense wind, fog and hail. We drove through three islands, passed many churches and countless sheep. By Monday, the ocean was flat and it was time to take off.

Sometimes, you don’t need to travel to the other side of the world to experience something radically different and sometimes four days do the trick. There’s something about transplanting your body onto a family of rocks in the middle of the sea that provides immediate relief from social media induced FOMO and something grounding, borderline soul soothing about the rain and wind bashing your face. We left the Faroe Islands rejuvenated with a couple of more waves under our belt and more questions than answers. Where do the sheep sleep at night? Where do you buy booze? And does that little spot on the way to the airport work on a bigger swell?


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