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Nature’s beauty, fury evident on wind-swept Faeroe Islands
GJOGV, Faeroe Islands
It’s just after 9 p.m. when the magic begins. The late-setting sun breaks through purple rain clouds to drape the rugged island of Eysturoy in a golden shimmer. A perfect rainbow arches over Slaettaratindur, at 1,894 feet the highest mountain in these islands. Offshore, a wild ocean pushes ferocious swells against the Giant and the Witch, two spectacular rock pillars that protrude from the surf like craggy teeth.
All that’s missing from the storybook setting is a band of orcs or goblins crawling out from behind a rock, or a pipe-smoking hobbit emerging from one of the turf-roofed houses.
The “Lord of the Rings” analogy is never far away in the Faeroe Islands, a barren, wind-swept archipelago whose volcanic peaks shoot out of the Atlantic Ocean halfway between Iceland and Norway. Local legend even claims the ring of power is hidden here.
“The one who holds it gets lots of powers, but the one who holds it will also die because of it,” says Hans Jakub Mikkelsen, a hobby historian, recounting an ancient Faeroese saga.
Although easily accessible by plane from Britain or Scandinavia, the Faeroe Islands are remote enough to be spared mass tourism for now. You run into more sheep than people once you venture outside the sedate capital, Torshavn.
That’s a good thing. Anonymity has helped this semiautonomous Danish territory remain one of those rare places where you don’t have to worry about traffic, pollution or crime. Doors are left unlocked, and just seven of the 48,000 residents are in jail.
Shy but hospitable, the islanders trace their heritage to a less friendly bunch — the vikings, who started settling here in the eighth century. Ancient traditions live on, including the medieval chain dance, the reciting of ballads and a controversial slaughter of pilot whales.
The bloody spectacle occurs about six times a year when a school of pilot whales comes close enough to be driven ashore. Knife-wielding men butcher the whales to the silent approval of scores of curious onlookers and the horror of animal rights activists.
The brutal tradition seems hard to reconcile with the gentle character of the Faeroese, but then again, this is a land of stark contrasts.
Nature has carved a dramatic landscape from the basalt rock spewed out by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. Every winding turn of the well-kept roads offers majestic views over deep-green pastures, shimmering fjords or steep cliffs towering above the Atlantic swell.
Walk up to the edge, and the brute force of nature stares you right in the eye.
Take Slave’s Edge on the island of Vagar. Here, a high-lying lake spills over a rock wall and releases its excess water into the ocean in a 98-foot waterfall. The surf below roars menacingly as a horizontal wind lashes your face with rain.
The rocks start to feel slippery as you watch the hostile waves crash into the vertical wall. Not surprisingly, the Faeroese are looking for ways to generate electricity here.
“If you take the power of 1 kilometer (3,280 feet) off these cliffs, there is enough energy in those waves for one year of electricity consumption in the Faeroe Islands,” says Olavur Gregersen, the head of SeWave Ltd., a small Faeroese wave-energy company.
By Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Memories of a long brotherhood tempered in common struggle
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