The most exciting thing about travel sometimes is actually the mode of transport.
That was certainly the case today, which consisted of a couple of miles walking along the cliff tops, a helicopter journey to Suderoy, the southernmost island, a couple of miles walk to the nearest ‘town’ (village by any other country’s standards), a bus ride to another ‘town’ and a few miles walk to the cliffs, then another bus, and a 2-hour ferry back to Torshavn.
While the main islands are connected by a very good network of sub sea tunnels, bridges and ferries, a helicopter service is run at hugely subsidised rates for those islands that are more difficult to connect with. The catch being, that as a foreigner, you can only book one way, so have to patch together a return. This is a small price to pay for the chance to travel on a helicopter, especially given the stunning views of the islands.
The heliport is on the outskirts of town, and the walk along the cliffs to get to it was an experience in itself.
An elderly couple pulled up to feed their sheep at one point, and let Lauren give them a stroke.
We got to the heliport an hour before the flight (no one else turned up til 20-30 minutes before).
The ‘departure lounge’ was small and cosy, with everything you need including coffee, loos, heating and a hilarious safety video.
It was all incredibly informal. We didn’t need to show our tickets, but the man in charge had a laptop and checked our names. The postman arrived with a bag of post for the island, and someone else dropped off a few boxes of bananas. A washing machine was waiting, but for delivery to a different island.
The other passengers were an older Faroese guy, a young Faroese woman, three men from the Israeli embassy and their guide, and us.
There was great excitement among the foreigners as a helicopter flew past, but alas it was a Danish air force one, and kept on going.
About ten minutes later, and bang on time (of course!) our helicopter arrived – a big white one that hardly disturbed the air as it gracefully – and really slowly – descended onto the tiny helipad.
We were all taking pictures as the grumpy guy in charge urged us up the path to board. We were lucky enough to get Lauren a window seat, and I could easily see past her, so we were rewarded with excellent views.
After a few checks and communication with someone over the radio, the captain welcomed us aboard in Faorese and in perfect English, and the rotors started. It seemed to take forever (probably only 2 minutes!) before we felt the helicopter start to shift a bit and edge upwards. We rose slowly into the air, pretty vertically and then suddenly seemed to switch gears and veered right and raced over the edge of the cliffs and out to sea. My stomach actually dropped as the cliffs seemed to fall away below us, but Lauren was just gleefully filming everything and enjoying it.
It was fairly noisy and we all wore the regulation fluorescent ear protectors. I had given my phone to Lauren who filmed our take off and then took a million pictures throughout the 20-minute trip.
We flew low enough down to see the small tracks on some of the islands, and to make out individual dwellings (they were few and far between). The vast majority of the landscape was sea and very barren-looking moors. Some of the islands rose fairly high, and had frozen lakes amongst the bogs on top of the hills. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, which was a mixture of actual sunshine and cloud cover, with no rain. The tourist office had grimly warned us that ‘helicopters are not recommended at this time of year, especially for tourists’ due to weather conditions, but we just saw that as a challenge.
Down below, we passed one island that is inhabited by one family of sheep farmers – an elderly couple, two of their daughters and their children. The captain informed us with a certain amount of pride that there are 5 children living there, which is more than for many years. Lauren wondered how they did their schooling.
We then passed Litla Dimun, the only totally uninhabited island of the archipelago. You can see why its uninhabited, with steep cliffs rising straight out from the sea, and no shelter visible on the whole island. It is however inhabited by a lot of sheep.
Far too soon we were being told that we would be landing, and we smoothly descended towards Suderoy, seeming to land right on the sea as the helipad was on the edge of the cliffs, which we couldn’t see until the very last minute.
It was an absolutely exhilarating trip and made more fun by being a ‘bus service’ rather than a specifically laid on tour. I still can’t believe we managed it and in such good weather, and I hope its something Lauren remembers for the rest of her life, as she is very lucky to have had the opportunity.
Plus, the whole thing only cost about 50 dollars for both of us. Bargain. Well done all you Danish taxpayers!!
Of course, once we had landed and retrieved our bag, and exchanged a few words with the Israelis who were (due to VIP status I guess) allowed to fly back on the return leg, we were faced with making our way to the opposite side of the bay, where the ferry would (in the evening) return us to Torshavn. I wasn’t massively clear about what our plans were, but the forecast was as good as can be expected in the Faroes, we had good waterproof walking shoes, waterproof jackets and trousers, plus endless layers of warm weather gear – not to mention the ‘emergency food’, water and a packed lunch. Oh, and google maps on my phone 😊.
It was a couple of miles from the village where the helicopter landed to the next village, where there was a tourist information office, so we set off along the pretty deserted road, with the bay on one side, and steep mountains on the other. It was a lovely walk, and we stopped off to stroke some friendly sheep along the way.
Once we got to the village the excellent tourist information lady (who said we were the only actual tourists she’d seen all week) totally sorted us out. Although you know it’s a bad sign when the best thing the tourist office can recommend is getting a bus to somewhere else…..
We stocked up on (even more) emergency chocolate (just in case the 30 minute bus broke down) and jumped on a bus to the other end of the island. Well, at least its warm on the buses, and the view is always amazing…
We poddled about from one village to the next – at one point we were the only people on the bus, a regular occurrence so far on our trip – until we reached a high school, which must have been letting the kids out at lunchtime. It was quite a shock after all the colourful traditional houses, being a modern glass and concrete building set into the hillside. Pretty cool school.
Eventually we got to Vagur, another one-road village with a beautiful church, a supermarket and not much else. Again, we went to see the tourist office, the only other one on the island. Tourist offices seem to function as a multi-purpose service centre here – the one in Torshavn seems to be a bus stop as school kids hang out in the warmth (and jump on the free wifi) waiting for the free city bus, while the one in Vagur had a local library, a loo, a coffee machine, free wifi and an art exhibition… and obviously local people kept nipping in to use one or other of these.
The tourist lady was a bit stumped as to what we could do, but she did suggest we could eat our packed lunch there in the warmth, so we did just that. Lauren gave her one of our chocolate biscuits, and then when she went to buy a (4 euro) magnet, tourist lady gave it to her for free! I thought this was interesting as she had been perfectly pleasant but not exactly warm and yet this mirrors the behaviour of our ‘landlord’ at the place we are staying, who is pleasant but somewhat gruff and cold, and who plays the radio loudly at 7am so we will get up for breakfast, but who brought Lauren a teddy bear this morning. Maybe Faroese are more about actions than words, and nothing wrong with that.
After lunch and hopping on the wifi, we consulted a local map and planned a hike out to the nearby cliffs. Not too far, and all on good tracks, as it was already threatening to start descending into the pre-dark mid-afternoon gloom. It was a couple of hours’ walk, but rewarded by immense cliffs, spraying sea, and a view of possibly one of the coolest sites for a football pitch ever. Oh, and another of those sculptures you find randomly all around, which again hint at hidden depths to this on the surface quite reserved population.
Once we returned from our jaunt, we visited a café which is the only place in the village to meet. The young woman running the place had relocated there last month from Torshavn, and was finding the change from the ‘big city’ (“where there are Taxis”) to Vagur (where “there is nothing and people just watch Tv and go to bed”) hard. She was immensely critical of the island people, calling them dull, and saying that before the café opened this year, there had literally been no bar, no café, nothing and people also didn’t really socialise amongst themselves. I don’t know how true this is and how filtered through her frustration of not fitting in, but she was keen to talk, and we had an hour and a half to kill before the bus. Of course, it helped that she had a very beautiful little dog called the Faroese for ‘fluff ball’ and Lauren spent the time cuddling it. When she (the dog, not Lauren) led down on the black sheepskin rug she blended so well we couldn’t see it.
We had been told that the bus would stop if we stood by the side of the road anywhere in the village, but as this bus was the only chance to get to the ferry which would take us off this island (which was already feeling a little claustrophobic after an hour and a half of the café managers stories and many hours of darkness) I had said I wanted to walk ‘all the way’ to the official bus stop 5 minutes away. The manager insisted so much and was so adamant that this was pointless, and we had seen the efficiency and incredible to-the-minute punctuality of the rural buses that I agreed to hang out until the last minute then just walk outside in time for the bus. I’ll admit I was a bit on edge, and had images of spending the night in the café, but true to form, at exactly 17.30 the bus came round the bend, and the fluent English speaking (as usual) driver collected us and whisked us (and one other woman with a child) to the other end of the island for the ferry. He then insisted we stay in the bus where it was warm until the ferry arrived, as he would wait for all the passengers to get off anyway.
Once the ferry arrived, we walked onboard – there had been no way to buy a ticket, so I asked one of the staff and they said I should just go to the kiosk on deck 5 and purchase one. All very relaxed.
The ferry was a shocking 5 minutes late leaving, but made up time, as we chugged back the way we had flown that morning. Most people hung out in the café, and we had dinner on board as it had been an extremely long day. We were both utterly exhausted. We got back ‘home’ to Torshavn to be greeted with hail and lashing rain, and I didn’t fancy a 20-minute uphill walk in that, so we splashed out on a taxi. Yes, we are travelling on a budget, but not to the point of being miserable.
What a day. We are loving the Faroes. And not just for the exciting stuff like helicopter rides and ferries and awesome scenery, but also because its just such an alien place to us, everything is interesting. Like the fact that everyone cuts through the school playground at all times as the gates are permanently open. Or the fact that the church at the end of our road has a picture of Jesus surrounded by superheroes on its front. Or the very cool, almost cold way of communicating that doesn’t seem to mean people are actually unkind. The fact that kids Lauren’s age seem to roam unhindered around villages and towns and that people don’t lock their doors. The fact that the average income is over 100k USD a year, but the main economic activity is fishing and sheep. The massively over-engineered social infrastructure that hardly anyone seems to use. It’s all just strange to us, and that makes it really interesting.