We dedicate this chapter to the TV series of the 90´s with the same name ( Northern Exposure ) that probably awoke my interest for the northern latitudes. The series was about a young doctor, originally from New York, that was destined to a little town in Alaska and the subsequent cultural shock, adventures and misadventures.
Here we are, up in the North. Even if when it comes to the true North, everybody claims to have it, each of them with a slightly different geographical qualification. All of them above parallel 71. We don’t get to set foot in each of them, but quite some significant ones.
The first one we reach after a long drive through the Nordkyn Peninsula. The views along the road are kind of where a lunar landscape meets the Scottish highlands. With mighty rocks, little wild rivers and lakes. But no whisky or astronauts that we are aware of. Just the undulated road that takes your body to most northern latitudes and your mind to secret statuses of solitude and clarity.
At the end of the road, that the asphalt has not reached, when we have the feeling to be approaching the end of the world, is the Slettnes lighthouse (710 05´ 22¨), most northern lighthouse in the European continent mainland. At a point where officially is never summer. The moment we arrive is not an exception. It´s misty and a bit rainy. Nevertheless we venture to a hike in a path that follows the coastline and reach amazing beaches of white sands and turquoise waters. We also find a herd of reindeers that contemplate the ocean from the grassy top of a cliff, undisturbed. We hear the seals singing in the wind, but do not find them in any of the corners of the sheer coastline.
The next day, with a clearer sky, we head back half way through the peninsula, to the little town of Kjollefjord, surrounded by astonishingly beautiful cliffs and fish drying racks. The water of the fjord is metallic flat today, painted with different shades of blue that provide a delightful contrast to the colourful fishing boats.
The sky fully clears out at some point in the evening and we get to experience the amazing midnight sun at a beach along the way where we have set camp for the night. The white night. The experience is fully surreal, like the colours of the clouds of the sky, like the impossible line of the horizon.
We also start to realise that the drives are quite long here, printing Polaris tires on windy roads that contour the fjords or cross the foggy mountains, homes of the clouds it seems. It seems not possible to talk about drive stretches shorter than 200 Km between meaningful destinations. The windows of Polaris provide continuos projections of gigantic cliffs, turquoise waters, sparse wooden cottages, white sandy beaches, sometimes covered with algae, drying fish racks, reindeers crossing the rocks or nibbling some veggies on the beach, tundra, small islands just off shore and very now and then a little settlement or village (the really big ones may reach up to 3.000 inhabitants or so).
Like this, we reach the beautiful Mageroya island, which is connected to the mainland by an underwater tunnel and that has emerged to fame, since it´s home to Cape Nord, which is known worldwide by being the most northern point of the European continent. Now, the truth is, it is not.
First we have the fact that it´s on an island. The real northernmost point of the European mainland is Kinnarodden (710 8´ 2¨), which we neared at the Nordkyn Peninsula.
If you oversee the fact that the North Cape is on an island, since you can drive there through the tunnel, it is still not the northernmost point. This geographical honor is awarded to Knivskjelodden (710 12´ 2¨), which is only 3 Km away, but much harder to pronounce and to reach. There are no roads getting there, so if you want to get there by land you have to do it the old fashion way, on foot. It´s an arduous 18 Km hike through the mostly bare inhospitality of the tundra, made of rocky or muddy ups and downs that, when we did it was mostly thoroughly adorned by a thick layer of clouds and constantly serenaded by howling winds. Impenitent howling winds. The effort is rewarded by the view of a (I dare to say), quite ugly obelisk, that marks the point. You also have the honour to sign in a book that is kept inside a metal box, where all intrepid explorers that made it there sign, and a gorgeous view of cape North. That, and your personal sense of pride.
So why is the North Cape (71º 10´ 21¨) the one getting the fame and the glory of being the most northern point if the continent? Well, it is the most northern point that can be reached by a road, so that visitors can make it there comfortably, if they wish, without a stain of mud in their shoes. The place is also quite amazing though and for different reasons. First, it is on top of a spectacular cliff and surrounded by others of the kind.
Second because they charge a 29 Euro toll per person to get there (unless you arrive after 1am, then apparently you can sneak in for free). Third because of the very disappointing souvenir shop, where we do not even manage to find a decent T-Shirt to take home as a reminder of the occasion. And last because of the surreal amount of people that gather there to contemplate the midnight sun. It is truly astonishing when one arrives unaware to the parking at 2 pm and finds already more than 50 camper vans lined up for the occasion, with its nomad inhabitants displaying chairs, tables, wine and snacks everywhere. It´s like a multinational congregation of some new cult to the sun. And then as the afternoon progresses and we near the evening, busloads of people get offloaded and further invade the place, that sounds like the tower of Babel.
The midnight sun was gorgeous though.