Perhaps if I could name one aspect which I really grateful for living literally across the equator is its consistency. It is indeed a terrific place to see the sun rises and sets at both when the clock hits 6. It is either sunny, cloudy, or rainy. Nothing else. Never in my life, I experience the temperature drops below 20 degrees (re Celsius). Despite living in the lap of comfort, for once in my life, I want to experience just one day living outside this steadiness. Whether it’s the duration of the daylight, the temperature, or just to be present in the midst of the unknown; far from the humid, mosquito-infested rainforest my skin comfortable with.
It all came to reality when I plunged into the Arctic Circle as a part of my impromptu birthday trip to Norway last November. Geographically, it is located so far north, even Alaska isn’t that north like Honningsvåg as I initially thought. Honningsvåg is just a bit more to reach the North Pole. It is indeed the gate to the North Pole.
Honningsvåg is a city located in the municipality of Nordkapp in Finnmark county. It took me more or less than 3 hours to reach that city from Alta Airport with an intercity bus that costs me around £50 (yes, it did cost a lot to get around in such a remote place). It was noon when I hop into the bus that day, with a tube of Pringles in my hand that I bought from Oslo (alas, I couldn’t find anything at Alta Airport. Not even a McDonald’s. Turns out there isn’t any single fast-food chain restaurant there). Despite the fact that I was there during the exact middle of the day, the sky didn’t seem to cooperate by showing what exactly I used to see every 5 PM in Jakarta.
I finally set my foot in Honningsvåg when the bus stops just near the town hall across the church. It was pitch black already, despite only 4 PM, with lights only coming from the sidewalk lamps. Nonetheless, I booked a room via Airbnb already and had internet connection from my UK phone number so I won’t have to bother worrying about getting lost. It’s a small, cosy, typical Scandinavian room located uphill that I can reach with a small walk down the road where the church is.
I decided to call it a day and work on my then upcoming thesis from my room for the rest of the night. Beforehand, I discovered that there is a Joker (Norwegian supermarket chain) around 3 minutes from my place that I decided to take a walk despite the risk being drenched in the rain (imagine battling with the rain when it’s around 0 degrees). It was a homey type of supermarket. Various produce (especially canned food, because it’s Norway) humbly stacked on the stainless steel racks. On the other hand, fresh fishes and other sea products displayed proudly inside freezers, which ultimately caught my attention. Where else in this world that you can get fresh salmon for only approximately £1?
When I headed to pay for the groceries, the clerk gave me a long glance at myself before proceeding to complete the transaction process. I was wondering if people in Honningsvåg never really meet someone from tropical countries like myself? Or perhaps he was just admiring my melanin-packed skin? God only knows.
I quickly ran back home and had a simply fried soy sauce salmon for dinner. Accompanied with some few episodes of Indonesian fan-subbed Doraemon series, I wrote some few iterations for my thesis. Glad to be productive even though my body didn’t agree to be so. I guess it’s all because the internet connection was light-speed that time, reaching as fast as 5 MB/s. Fast enough to stream, browse, and download some torrented films for further uses simultaneously. I quickly fell asleep once I felt (extremely) satisfied with my thesis writing progress.
I woke up at 9 the next day. It’s always been considered late for waking up during this time, but not when you’re in Honningsvåg. When I glanced to the cold grim world of the outside, it was the same darkness I saw last night. I didn’t need to be in a rush for my plan to see the sunrise as the sun will not show up until it’s around 10.30 AM. I slowly got up from the bed and head for a morning warm shower. I have always been a late-night shower person rather than a morning shower, but I guess in Honningsvåg, things can easily be turned upside down with no apparent reasons.
Feeling refreshed, I got ready with 3 layers of clothing and head outside. It was 3 degree outside. A typical November in Northern Norway, before the temperature plummets into something below the freezing point later on the same month. The air was extremely crisp. I had the mind that it must be a privilege to live in such a place (especially as someone suffering from asthma as I do). The small river near the house that I walked past chimed its tranquil rhythm, breaking the silence of Honningsvåg morning. For the first time ever, I felt extremely comfortable being present in such a situation.
I walked longer to a row of houses. The houses in Finnmark are completely different from the rest of Norway, as I observed and as I read during my visit to the Folk Museum at Oslo. They typically use vertical sidings for its exterior wall and metal or steel materials for the roof (thank you The Sims for this knowledge), perhaps simply for the sake of keeping everyone inside warm. There are no sidewalks in Honningsvåg, and I think it’s fair enough, as cars are incredibly rare to pass the roads in the city.
I continued my journey to the waterfront area of Honningsvåg by walking down the Sjøgata road. It was the first time during that day I finally saw another human presence in this so-called solitary city. They’re mostly fishermen either getting ready for their catch or finishing their jobs already and call it a day (I can’t really recall what they did during that time). Despite living in such grim polar environment, people waved good morning greetings to each other, including me. Perhaps that’s the only thing that at the very least could warm them up, eh?
The harbour was packed with boats and ships, mostly owned by the fishermen. I once read that you can go on crab fishing nearby with the help of the locals; something that perhaps I could do for the next visit here (typing this as I cross my finger). I wasn’t lucky enough to encounter a giant, luxurious cruise ship, which regularly stops at Honningsvåg harbour for a short period of time. It wasn’t a problem though, as seeing the magnificent spectacle of Honningsvåg marina satisfied me enough.
The area also the site where Nordkapp museum is located. I was in a tight schedule (and me being an amateur strategist) that time due to I have to be at the pier for the sunrise, so I omitted the museum visit for the next visit to Honningsvåg (can I get an amen for that?). Without further ado, I walked for the pier to welcome the super late sun in the north. The time was 10.30 AM.
When the sun is finally high enough, I saw the fjords surrounding the cities turning into red, something similar to the canyons of Arizona. The most outstanding sight that I saw that day is the hill just behind the city was shimmering, followed by the chirps of birds and the sea water beautifully reflecting the city like a giant enchanted mirror that will take you to the other world. Indeed, it’s otherworldly. I was there for the whole 20 minutes. The longest ever I found myself being in a meditative state.
On the way back home to start packing my bags and catch the next bus back to Alta, I unconsciously took my phone out and picked up a song from Spotify. It’s Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’. I blasted out the sound of the music through my earphone and skipped a bit to match the rhythm of the song with my footsteps.
Conceivably, indeed, heaven is manifested into diverse places on earth. It is wrapped underneath something called “the unknown”, waiting to be discovered. I spent 24 years of my life in search of happiness and satisfaction, and I am overjoyed to finally know that the way to achieve that is to discover more places and to banish the fear of the unknown.
As I look back to see Honningsvåg for the last time before leaving, it was sunset despite being only noon. The daylight could be incredibly short during the beginning of the winter, and it will gradually getting shorter and shorter until it’s Polar Night, the time where the sun will not show up for some period. This is how people used to live in Arctic Circle. It’s absolutely unpredictable, far from what I used to live in for the first 23 years of my life.
Cheers for more spontaneous trips and being incredibly insane when it comes to travelling.