Ingøy is not as far north as you can go in Norway, but it is close. If you want to continue up from 71°05′N, then Spitzbergen is the only land you will come across between here and the North pole.
We went there because – again – we have friends in high places. Not close to the top of a mountain like in Rigi, Switzerland, but close to the top of the globe. Our friend with the house on Ingøy has been bragging about the place for years, so once we had made up our minds to travel the North of Norway we had no alternative. This was where our coastal trip would have to start!
The first one to get a culture shock on arrival was our Swiss car. It had been driving 3600 kilometers straight up from Bern, which was hard enough, but then it had to go thru the experience of being hauled into the air at the arrival at Ingøy. There is no bridge to drive from the ferry to the quay, so the only thing you can do with an automobile is to lift it ashore with a crane.
Once back with its four feet on dry land the car found itself in the local village. We still had a bit of driving to do however, because to be sure that he was remote enough our friend had bought a house some 6 kilometers away. The lowlands on the way were swampy, the highlands were bare and rocky and most of the road was of course unpaved. There is hardly any space to pass if you meet another car, but in the other hand, there are hardly any other cars around. And a car with foreign plates? Forget it, our Swiss Subaru soon became a local celebrity.
Over the course of the last six months we have crossed a lake to get to an off-road Elephant sanctuary in the outback of Laos, we have hired taxi boats to travel the coast of the Cambodian island of Koh Rong and we have walked in the footsteps of Captain Cook on Tahiti. Still, when it comes to being exotic, not much can be compared with Ingøy.
Beyond that fact, however, there are not many similarities. The Asian jungles were long gone when we got to 71 degrees Northern latitude. Up here the land is shaved for any vegetation larger than a broomstick. Whatever still grows there, has a big job clawing itself to the bedrock not to get washed away when the winter ocean winds come calling. But the more barren and windswept, the more impressive is the life you actually see; the white moss, the yellow and blue flowers, the soft green grass and the unripe red cloudberries.
One of the most remarkable plants is the «Norwegian angelica», in the mother tongue known as «kvann», a plant that was cultivated as a vegetable and medicinal plant by the Vikings one thousand years ago. Today hardly anybody knows what the slightly broccoli-looking thing is about, but to the northern warriors of year 1000 this would have been the main reason they could discover Iceland, Greenland and America without dying of scurvy.
We spent a week living the traditional Norwegian cabin-life with a water hose by the front door and an outdoor toilet. If you wanted a shower you go into the basement and throw a bucket of water over your head. The house was not built as a traditional «hytte», it was a family home put up when the Norwegian county of Finnmark was reconstructed after the Second World War. The reconstruction was needed because the entire area was burned by the Germans as part of their «scorched earth» strategy. The whole of Finnmark was set aflame and tens of thousands of people were evacuated to make life difficult for the invading Soviet Army – who by the way never invaded as far as west as Ingøy anyway.
So why do people live here in the first place? Like everywhere else on these harsh northern coasts people came for the fish. The sea can give you a prosperous life, but it can also wash it away in a split second. Two things were very much needed to get a good life in places such as Ingøy; hard work and a good piece of luck. 400 years back some 360 people lived here, making Ingøy one of the most important settlements in the entire region. Today the locals we talked to disagreed over whether the correct number was 21 or 22.
The only downside to our stay was that we spent our week mostly in a wet mist. The weather kept us indoors for most of the time, but it could not keep us from being breath taken by the beauty surrounding us. The contrast between the hard rocks and the soft moss, between the naked hills and the huge ocean, between the cold air that sweep the land and the warm colors that cover it. You might visit the tropic jungles and the large buzzing cities believing you have seen it all, but if you have not been to the arctic North you very much have not!