Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Rain, Sheep, And A Solar Eclipse

Rain, Sheep, And A Solar Eclipse

            The Faroe Islands. The what!? Where!?!?
            First, you'll have to recall the grade-school Geography term 'archipelago' then look for one north of Scotland, about halfway between Iceland and Norway. This small country governs itself but is under rule by the Kingdom of Denmark, just like Greenland. Comprised of eighteen islands, the population of the Faroes is only slightly higher than that of Hackensack.
            In popular culture, the Faroes has been the target of Whale Wars because of its centuries-long tradition of whaling, called the grind (the 'i' is short). Say the words 'Sea Shepherd' to a local and be prepared to receive a severe scowling. Also, careful with that link, as some of the facts have been skewed and/or exaggerated.

            This beautiful country- part of Scandinavia- is rich with history, though nobody knows for sure of its first inhabitants. A common theory is that the islands were occupied by Irish monks before the Vikings came into play. Like Icelandic, the Faroese language contains words and letters from Old Norse though they are often pronounced differently.
            For a little of that rich history, the Faroe Islands' first official rulers and colonizers were the Norwegians. Denmark then seized Norway, eventually lost it, but kept the Faroes anyway. The Danes willingly ceded the islands to Britain during World War II; not because they were beaten by them, rather the Danes didn't have the resources to prevent Nazi Germany from setting up a stronghold in the Faroes, which would have given them a great geographic advantage. The British built an airport (still the country's only) and promptly returned domain to Denmark after the war.

            Back to the more-recent past, I first heard about the Faroes when I started listening to Týr (pronounced Too-errrr), a non-screamy metal band whose songs are mostly rooted in Norse mythology. Because this is what I do, I then researched the country, saw some stunning imagery, and named it my new #1 destination. It's not the easiest nor least-expensive country to visit but putting a trip together is well-worth the effort. On March 20, 2015, a total solar eclipse was to take place above the Faroes and also Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago. I thought this would be a grand occasion to make my dream come true so I planned out a trip and off I went.
            Random Faroese fact- No place on any island is more than three miles away from the Atlantic Ocean.

            "You're going to Scandinavia in March? Won't it be really cold???"
            Many people asked me this prior to my trip, to which I replied that because of the Gulf Stream, the climate is pretty temperate. (I'm a travel nerd; this is how I respond to people.) In fact, the northeast's March was colder and snowier than lower Scandinavia, which is more than 20º latitude north!
            Sentences like 'Eitt mál er als ikki nóg mikið!' had me intimidated before my trip but the Faroese speak English very well (often better than many Americans). Many were also eager to teach me some of their sayings, if only to laugh at my sad linguistic attempts.

            After five days in wonderful Iceland, I was greeted at Vágar Airport (on the Faroese island of the same name) by rain and wind. These two would barely leave my company for the next week but they did not make the trip any less amazing. The elements are no match against a thirst for adventure and proper raingear.
            To be honest, the islands look fairly similar to each other- mountains, cliffs, a sort-of beige grass- but they're all spectacular with unique villages and distinct views. It is not difficult to decide what to do in the Faroes- just lace up your hiking shoes, pick an island, and get there via car, bus, ferry, and/or helicopter! Or, if you're a sheep enthusiast, look in pretty much any direction and your cup shall runneth over with wooly goodness.

            In the days leading up to the eclipse, I spoke with many locals and travelers who each had their own theory and plan to best view it. My station was Tórshavn, the capital city, but many were going to attempt trekking west or north for a slightly better chance of seeing the eclipse. The odds were not much greater in those areas so I decided to stay put and hope for the best.
            Random nerdy solar eclipse fact- The ratio of our Sun's diameter versus the Moon's is exactly proportionate to its distance from Earth versus that of the Moon. This very fortunate phenomenon allows the Moon's disk to precisely overlap the Sun's during totality.
            Of course that Friday morning was cloudy, windy, and rainy, but that would not sway the good mood of the gathered crowd. The blue sky behind every broken patch of clouds was a source of hope and applause. The rain let up just as the eclipse began and we could see it through the thin clouds (with solar viewing glasses, of course). The clouds dispersed for much of the first half-coverage, which was really great. Overcast set in and we were not able to see totality, when the disk of the Moon fully covers the Sun. This was disappointing but there was an upside- complete darkness set in. I expected totality to look like dusk but it was more like midnight. Check out this video I did not create for an idea of a pitch-black morning. Amazing.

            After the Moon passed, skies cleared for much of the second half-coverage and about an hour afterward (again, of course). I was bummed having not seen totality but sharing that massive shadow with hundreds of strangers was an experience I will never forget, possibly even better than if things had gone according to plan.
            I always encourage people to travel and my new-found love for the Faroe Islands will have me promoting the country to no end. The pristine nature of the Faroes should be seen by all who can appreciate it while showing the beautiful country the respect it deserves.
            Góða ferð!!!

Nope, not terrifying at all...

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