It’s a stormy, weather-beaten Monday in Klaksvik, a small harbor town on the north-eastern island of Borðoy in the Faroese archipelago. After spending the morning stubbornly strolling through the mist and drizzle, which quickly turned into a blustery north-Atlantic squall, I finally gave up my hopes of hiking up and over the grassy slopes and took my rain-pelted, wind-pummeled self back home to Kinga and Ivan’s house on Traðagøta street. It’s a good day for writing, and as my return date to Anchorage approaches, my thoughts turn more and more towards my friends there and the places I love. Although it´s tempting to revise older writings on Alaska and bring them out into the light, I push myself to use the time at hand to recount recent experiences before their vibrant colors lose their luster. I watch the gusts blow the rain in every direction and sigh to learn that the forecast is the same until our ferry departs on Wednesday. I will have to come up with some way to either elude or simply endure the famously fickle Faroese weather before the next day and a half escapes me. The longer I page through the guidebook and gaze out the window into the wet gale, the more I commit myself to the idea that getting completely soaked and wind-whipped by walking hours in cold rain is probably an essential part of experiencing the Faroes, and one which I might be able to talk myself into by morning. In the meantime, here’s a story which took place on board the Norrøna, the ferry that transported me and my fellow passengers from Hirtshals, Denmark to Tórshavn, in the Faroes.
“The hot tubs are open,” read the placard standing next to the open door of Deck 7. “Ask for more information in the Sky Bar on Deck 8.” An image printed on the board of a group of friends happily ensconced in steaming water with the cold, north Atlantic ocean in the background turned my head. I first saw this on Saturday evening of the first day I spent on the Norrøna, and during my subsequent hours of exploration of the eight decks of the ferry, I finally came across the fabled tubs. There were three of these expansive, steaming bowls, tucked into three separate wooden stalls at the stern of the ship, with open views to the ocean on the starboard side. And they were all empty. I watched people sitting in deck chairs, sipping beers and cocktails in the Sky Bar, reading books, or pacing the decks, wrapped up in windproof jackets and shawls, or gazing out to sea as we cruised along at eighteen knots. Why wasn’t anyone in the hot tubs?
According to James Proctor, author of the guidebook Faroe Islands, “The new Norrøna is the last word in luxury: shopping arcade, bars, nightclub, sauna and solarium, swimming pool and fitness centre are all on board. Weighing in at a whopping 36,000 tonnes and measuring 164 meters in length and 30 meters wide, it can carry nearly 1,500 passengers and 800 cars with a service speed of 21 knots.”
Indeed. As the weather became colder and windier, I imagined how it would feel to be floating in the warmth of the water up to my neck, watching the waves and gulls on the wind, feeling the brisk sea breeze on my exposed skin. I wasn’t sure why it was necessary to ask for more information in the Sky Bar. It seemed clear enough how these things worked.
I did not pursue the hot tubs that evening. I walked the decks and felt the wind, watched the ocean, observed my fellow passengers, and mused over how to spend the next day. We would be arriving in Tórshavn at 10:30. Around 8 the guests would be asked to vacate their cabins. I went to my room and prepared a small bag to take to the pool and the sauna, but when went downstairs into the very belly of the ship, Deck 1, the pool had closed just minutes before, at 7:00. I decided to go to bed early and figure things out in the morning.
When I woke up in the dark of my windowless, miniature bunkhouse, there were two other people in the room, one on the bunk below and across from me, and the other on the top bunk next to mine. Both were still sleeping, as I could hear their slow and rhythmic breathing. These couchettes are the most affordable option for passengers and in similar style to a Mehrbettzimmer in a hostel, there are 6 bunk beds in pairs of two stacked into a room about 12′ by 8,’ with just a small entrance way and no furniture. It is, essentially, just a place to sleep.
As quietly as possible, I gathered the necessary items from my luggage, and left the room. In the women’s bathroom down the hall, I dressed in my swim suit, with a gold-colored silk skirt and a red camisole top over it. Since it is quite warm and comfortable inside the ship, I expected that this, along with my rain jacket, would be sufficient. It would probably be too thin for staying out on the decks, but I planned on venturing into the hot tubs or trying out the pool as soon as either opened. My only other outfits were either for hiking in cold weather or for cycling, as I had thrown away the work clothes I had ruined while painting in Pleigne. And both needed to be laundered after my last few days of travel. That would have to wait until I reached Klaskvik.
Most of the ship’s public areas, like the dining halls, cafes and shops, were still closed as I wandered around the decks during the early morning hours, so eventually I tried going out on Deck 8 and was surprised to find that the sun already shone down quite warmly, and there was almost no breeze. I felt quite comfortable in my light clothing, and took a seat in the sunshine on one of the black plastic outdoor sofas, which radiated heat the heat it had absorbed. The early-morning smokers and a few other sun-worshippers came out and took seats basking in the deck chairs or pacing the decks.
At some point in the morning, Oleg and Aleksandr, two cyclists I had met the day we boarded, joined me and we sat in conversation for most of the morning and met again for lunch, during which the conversation continued over a variety of topics– genetics, identity, origins, memory, neuroscience, cycling, our plans for the Faroe Island and Iceland, how we had each made our way from our various starting points through Denmark and to Hirtshals, even eastern European history and politics. Aleksandr was Polish and Oleg was Russian. All three of us had come by ferry for the purpose of cycling on the Faroe Islands and with the further purpose of cycling on Iceland, but each of us had a different itinerary, set of gear, schedule, and methods. English was our common language. But I will save the gist and flavor of these conversations for a later post, in which I would like to flesh out these individuals in more detail. For my purposes here it is only significant that my morning and early afternoon were spent among friends, and only after we had concluded our lunch together did I take my leave of them with the intent of investigating the hot tubs.
I left Deck 5 and headed directly to Deck 8, towards the stern and down the staircase to the stalls. I placed my small bag of essentials in a wooden cubby behind the steaming pool, removed my skirt and top and slipped quickly into the waters, which rose up around me in white vapor and dissipated instantly. The ocean, deep and dark blue, stretched out on the horizon, just over the white railing of the ship and the sunlight’s brilliance was slightly ameliorated by the ceiling of the stall. I breathed deep, slow breaths, and stared out to sea in the calm awareness of possessing a quiet luxury as other passengers strolled by and glanced in my direction. I wondered why the pools were so empty. People seemed interested, but they just walked by. I expected at any point that someone would join me. Why not?
And at some point a family walked by, all dressed for the water, holding white towels. They stopped in front of my pool, and I moved away from the steps, meeting their questioning gaze with an expression which I intended to seem neutral but friendly. I didn’t want to appear rude if they wanted to join me. But the man seemed the hesitate a moment before he spoke. Then he asked me in English, “Did you pay for this pool?”
“You have to pay?”
He made a motion of surprise. “Yes, you have to pay. We paid 200 kroners to reserve this pool.”
“Oh,” I immediately registered the implication of the placard, which had read, For more information, ask at the Sky Bar. Clearly that was were one obtained information about how much it cost to use the hot tubs. Why didn’t they just print the prices on the sign in the first place? What’s all the secrecy about? I realized I should disappear before someone complained.
“Well, I guess I’m leaving, then.” I shrugged with a surprised expression, and eased myself out of the water. I quickly wrapped my skirt around me, pulled on my top and jacket, and walked as leisurely as I could to the deck chairs at the stern of the ship, where I took a seat among the other passengers who were watching the churning 300-meter wake curl out in shades of blue and green and white in the trail of the ship. I just stole a hot tub, I thought to myself.