Thursday, June 11, 2015

Arctic Circle and Honningsvag

We crossed the Arctic Circle 66°30' quite unceremoniously at 6:30 AM. Ceremonies were reserved for that afternoon in the atrium of the ship, traditional ceremony with Neptune,  etc. There are no markers on the surface of the Arctic Ocean indicating our position unlike a sign I remember seeing on a road somewhere near Ahmedabad, India that we were crossing the tropic of Cancer (23°30').
Next morning we sailed past North Cape, which is the northernmost point in Europe. From this point in Arctic  Ocean the North Pole is only 1,200 miles away.  We were officially in the region of the world known as the land of the midnight sun. At this latitude, 71°N, the sun does not set for two months. Although we were there during the right month, the skys  were quite cloudy so we couldn't see the sun but the nights were quite bright. We could not experience the northern lights  or aurora borealis because it was cloudy and too bright! We arrived at Honningsvag, the northernmost town in Europe at 11AM.  Honningsvag has a population  of 2,500, which doubled with the arrival of our ship. A small lesson in geography: How can people survive in such northerly locations? The answer is Gulf Stream. This ocean current of relatively warm waters flows from the Gulf of Mexico to North Cape via the entire West coast of Europe. That is why Alesund, for example, has low temperatures of only 20° and highs of 50° F. This is why there are all these towns dotting the West coast of Norway. However as you go inland the temperatures drop dramatically and -40° is not uncommon. All these coastal towns are surrounded by majestic snow clad mountains. Norwegians play on those mountains so no wonder they do so well in Winter Olympics. Almost all of these towns are connected by roads all the way to Oslo, which is at the Southeast end of the country. There are many local passenger ships connecting these coastal towns also. If you are wondering, fishing remains the primary industry for most of these towns and villages. Global warming, or climate change as it is euphemistically called, is already having an effect of weakening the Gulf Stream. What will happen to Norway is anybody's guess. When you are in a place like Honningsvag you hear a lot of things like the northernmost city in Europe or the northernmost traffic circle in the world.
We also took excursions to two fishing villages with population of 21 and 70. One of the villages had all the fishing equipment, nets and such, as community property.  They also consider their daily catch as community catch.  It turns out that many Norwegians spend two months of winter, when the sun does not rise, in Canary Islands as their favorite destination.
Norway has abundance of water and plenty of hydroelectric plants. All the towns we visited use electric power for heating their homes because electricity is cheap.
Just like the native Americans there are native people called Samis who have inhabited these areas since stone age. There are about 100,000 Samis who live in Lapland region, which encompasses parts of Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway. About 30,000 of them live in the Northern part of Norway county called Finnmark. Many of them live a nomadic life and do reindeer herding.

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