Park the car at Trudeau International in Montreal. Run to ditch the bag and pass thru security. Send a quick email to remind my family to feed Bear, the big old dog that I’ve inherited. Then it’s 7 hours to Oslo overnight. The sun is just rising as we land. Four more hours until the next flight – just not enough time to head downtown or get a day room to catch up on some badly needed sleep. So just glancing views of a Norway airport until the next 2-hour leg way up to Alta.
19:00 local time. Cold. Dark. We get off the plane out the back door, down the gangplank, and onto the freezing tarmac. The dimly lit airport is shutting down already. The short row of taxis take off with their passengers and a few of us for new ones. Finally, I hail a combi (or van) and I invite a man and his daughter (I hope) to share the ride. “Sentrum,” I tell the driver. The others say nothing. “The Rica Hotel.”
No conversation. At the hotel, I dig in my pocket for some Norwegian Krone. It’s 120 NOK (about $20 CDN). I pay. I look to the man to chip in. Completely vacant stare. I stare back. (crickets) What the hell, I tell myself. Time for something warm and a snack before hitting the sheets. 22 hours so far and a short night before I left. But wait! My credit card doesn’t work. Cash? Luckily I made certain to have enough. I register, make my way to the room, hit the chips and juice. Conk out before my socks are off.
Morning in Alta comes at 10:00, and even then the sun is barely visible over the mountains that ring this city that shares a latitude with Mermansk and Archangel. In Canadian terms, think Igloolik, Nunavut, or Pangnirtung, Baffin Island. It’s right up there. Yet, as I find out during my midday walkabout, the fjord is open throughout the year and even small fishing boats head out when the weather permits thanks to the warming influence of the Gulf Stream.
The homes look similar to those in southern Canada. The vehicles too. Everything is familiar except the language. I pick up some Norwegian. “Taak” is thank you. “Tusen taak” is a thousand thank yous. Hello. Excuse me? Where’s the toilet? I nail it within the first few hours. Of course, sign language helps too.
It seems like everyone walks, everywhere. Bossekop is about 2 or 3 kms from Sentrum (which if you haven’t figured yet mean downtown). It’s Saturday and people are all over. I even spot bicycles and cyclists. I feel so at home here and not at all in foreign land, except for the language. Then the differences appear. I notice that some people are different, such as this woman with the crafts shop, or that man with reindeer hides. They dress differently. And – blow me down – they seem to acti differently too. Subtle differences that I cannot quite put my finger on.
I won’t know until later that I have met some Saami. And they will change the way I see things here, and elsewhere, in ways I am only now beginning to understand.