Volunteering – Life On Lofoten

As the ferry crept closer to the dock, the fog that had plagued the entire 3 hour journey from bodø began to wisp away, revealing the long stretch of mountains known as the Lofoten islands, in all its glory. the jagged, snow capped peaks hid behind the misty cloud above, down below, the crashing ocean waves pelted the island perimeter which stretched as far wide as the eye could see. I glued my face to the window of the sternum, pressing my face further against the foggy glass to get a better view of the ferry preparing to dock in the humble fishing village of moskenes, on the southern tip of lofoten. I was excited to step foot into the wall of mountains confronting me, eager to experience the glorious nature that awaits.

I landed a wonderful job helping transform an old retirement home into a modern vibrant hostel. The volunteer position was advertised on workaway.info, The hostel is ideally placed on the middle of the main road of lofoten islands. The idea of the hostel was to create a place for young travellers, a somewhat community hub that brought together like minded travellers and young locals who shared a common love for life out in the nature, and what a place to do it! Owned and run by Guri and Arne, two absolute legends who work well together and treat all the volunteers and workers with tremendous respect. Arne brings a cool calm methodical approach to the project, detailing each and every step in his vision with a precise attention to detail, clearly a well travelled man with many interesting stories to tell. Guri is the energy and enthusiasm of the project. The people person who is making sure everyone is having a good time and organising all the behind the scenes stuff, along with fun activities to keep the many volunteers entertained.

The ferry grinded to a halt and we made our way down the gangway to begin the adventure onto lofoten islands. From the moment I was confronted by this wall of mountains I knew I was in for a special experience on these magical islands. Something about spending time out in the nature brings out the best in people, as the word suggests, it’s a natural feeling, to be hiking outdoors, surrounded by nature and wild animals. A primitive state that compliments the senses, fresh air on the skin, the scent of the shrub and sound of the ocean waves lapping against the rocks. Lofoten has the best of it all. Dramatically steep mountains with jagged peaks that reach high up into the clouds and drop suddenly, often directly into the open expanses of the wide deep ocean, or trailing off at the base, to form tranquil idealic crystal clear white sandy beaches that you’d expect to find somewhere close to the equator instead of above the Arctic circle. Being in the vicinity of This type of tremendous scenery is a special feeling and I was looking forward to what the next month had in store.

When I arrived the crew were busy jamming the car with surf equipment. It was an awkward time for introductions, a long day of work was done, tools were down and the waves were pumping at unstad, the popular local surf beach. Having spent my childhood in the ocean but never stood vertical on a board I didn’t fully understand the sudden rush and eagerness to catch a wave, yet.

Unstad, home to the northern most surf school on the planet, is the most popular destination in lofoten for beginner and experienced surfers alike. Fall and winter provide the biggest and best swells with potential surf during spring, and the occasional wave in the summer. The drive into the humble village is a site worth the trip alone. Non surfers can hike the mountainous terrain with various hiking options available. To the right an easy 7km path that is relatively flat leads along the coastline towards the picturesque fishing town of Eggum. Head to the left of Unstad and you can hike up and along the ridgeline for a terrific birds eye view of the surfers below. A 3-4 hour trip from pinnacle to pinnacle and back, or follow the path in a loop leading back to Unstad. 

The evening sun was attempting to set over the horizon, concentrating it’s gaze firmly on the squinting surfers who were busy stretching, attaching ankle ropes and surveying the potential surf-ability of the waves while standing on the white sandy beach, protected by the 180 degree cliff face surrounding the beach, trailing at either side into a rocky shoreline which curved out of site to form part of the lofoten perimeter. Waves were consistent and at a perfect height for a beginner, to hone my new craft. Catching a wave became second nature, standing on the board however, a more difficult task to master. Regardless, It was a joy to be out in the water, simply laying on the board, paddling around beyond the break, or sitting there, rocking in unisen with the waves, was a fantastic sensation, a meditative state of mind where you could easily feel relaxed and content, and watch thoughts drift blissfully away on the endless expanse of water. 

It was warm enough to camp exposed on the beach. The sun had now drifted away beyond the cliffs, still perched above the horizon and with enough glare to light up the night sky and warm enough to warrant simply curling up into my sleeping bag exposed to the night sky with a thin mat underneath. It would be a brief night’s sleep anyway, once the morning waves arrived which they did just hours later, shaken awake by Rosie, who’d been monitoring me, monitoring the waves all morning. A quick coffee and a stretch and it was time to give it another crack, paddling out and ignoring the protests of my aching body. 

During my two month stay I got to meet so many interesting people, many young creatives, moving to Lofoten for different reasons, but with a common interest that mostly involved the stunning nature, endless adventure opportunities, and a sense of awe, inspiration, and small town community vibes that often comes with living the island life. Alot of nature loving people, who take great care in looking after our environment, physically active people who enjoy life in the outdoors with all the fun, challenging, and adrenaline seeking activities on offer. There’s something special about the lofoten islands that has to be experienced to be understood. It was hard to leave that place but i am determined to return.

A new day a new adventure. With infinite amount of hiking options, beaches with beginner waves, plenty of climbable walls, and a kayak in the backyard, furu hostel was a non stop rollercoaster ride of activities. Weather is volatile on these islands. I’ve experienced all seasons in one day but this was more like all seasons every twenty minutes. It would be naive to expect tropical conditions in the far north, therefore weather played a huge part in activity planning. any clear skied day above ten degrees was celebrated. Shorts off, flip flops on. An added bonus to all the fun activities was the midnight sun.

The midnight sun is a term used to describe the bizarre phenomenon that takes place in the Arctic regions for about two months in the summer. During this time, Lofoten, due to its northern geographic location and its steep mountains, a breath-taking display of scenery can be viewed from atop one of lofotens many peaks, making midnight hiking popular amongst our group and a chance to get pole position for optimal viewing pleasure. Behind the mountains, across the ocean and spread wide over the horizon is a sharp mix of brilliant colours. Purples oranges and pinks brightly dominate a fading dark blue and the colours become mixed, and mirrored on mountain faces throughout the islands. The sun hovers for hours perched on the edge of the horizon making the beautiful sunset an easy view to savour. Sunset colours are at their brilliant best and can last 5 hours making The potential to sit on the peak till morning a tempting one. The usual signals sent to the body when darkness approaches are simply not getting through here. to the eyes, it’s bright up on the mountain, it’s too early to shut off and fall asleep, even at 4am nobody is tired until someone checks the time and realises we probably should go to bed after  walking four hours at midnight.

The energy enducing capabilities of the midnight sun can be overestimated. a feeling of unstoppableness when it’s light all the time was our downfall after pushing it one too many days without adequate sleep. Caffeine fuelled bodies were pushed to their limit but ultimately crashed if the sleep deprived brain is not given enough rest. Sunny days are rare in the northern mountains. Therefore, a breakthrough in cloud coverage had to be seized. I was lucky to experience a full week of such weather very early during my visit. Hiking, surfing, running, climbing and of course working too were the main ingredients crammed repeatedly while the warmer weather was apon us. It was pure fun filled adrenaline out in spectacular nature. Unfortunately the body just simply can’t cope without sleep. One week, After one too many sleepless nights I remember falling asleep briefly while my paint brush was submerged in a dark green paint that threatened on emptying its contents on Jan’s freshly varnished floor. Thankfully my eyelids sprung open, avoiding disaster at just the right time. I wiped the brush clean and promptly jumped into bed for a nap.

FURU Hostel opens in March 2020 and I’m already excited to visit when it’s up and running. Many changes occured over the month I worked their and many more would have since then. 

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