What I really love about travelling solo is the way is makes you so much more approachable and forces you to seek out company and vasty increases the opportunities to meet new people than if you weren’t alone. It was during a solo trip to Tromsø in Arctic Norway in January last year that I was lucky enough to meet Nella who was visiting her friend Lauri.
Lauri is a Finnish fisherman and whale conservationist who runs whale sight seeing tours for tourist during the winter in Tromsø. He is also the kindest and most open hearted person I think I've ever met. Within hours of meeting he invited me to stay on his boat after I found myself without accommodation for the night. Lauri and Nella, a Finnish travel blogger and I soon became firm friends and vowed to stay in touch and visit the following year.
Fast forward a year and I'm writing this after having a very memorable week on board. We managed to find a week whereby Nella could fly in from Finland and I from London to visit Lauri in Tromsø and help him out with the whales tours whilst living on his boat.
For fishing towns like Tromsø, the heart beat of the town is the harbour. Being on the water not only paces you in the centre of town, but also offers the best views, whatever the weather. Every morning I’d wake up and look out the window of the boat to view the different shades of metallic grey in the sky and water, a blurred line in the distance of the steel coloured, perfectly flat water, against the back drop of craggy, snow covered white mountains and below the moving fluffy grey clouds. The minimalist bridge in this view that connects Tromsø to the mainland doesn't obstruct the view, it compliments it. The long length and height of the thin bridge is only noticeable by it subtile lights and the whole structure is not only practical, but gives perspective to the size of the channel and mountains.
Each morning and evening we'd eat together on the top deck, looking looking out across the channel and its ever changing shades of grey. Dinner was usually a delicious meal of fresh fish that Lauri had prepared. Our boat, Jacquelyne was built in 1967 and was Jackie Kennedy’s, the wife of American president JFK’s Boat. I actually slept in her original cabin!
Daily jobs on the boat included washing the windows, food shopping, making the homemade soup we served to guests at lunch, greeting and spending time with the guests and then cleaning up after they left. We also had to re fill the boat with water each day.
Our day started at 06:30 preparing for our guests and day ahead. We'd set sail at 08:30 for the fjords where we suspected the whales might be. Lauri knows the area and whales very well, in fact, the family of Orcas we saw every day he has known for 16 years. There is nothing he doesn't know about whales and he reacts with such excitement each time he sees them its as if he’s seeing them for the first time all over again.
It didn't matter how cold it was, whether it was raining or snowing (it rained most days) everyone would be outside scanning the dark grey waters for the instantly recognisable fin of an Orca whale. I'd never seen one before. Although we were working, it really didn't feel like work. It was so much fun meeting new people everyday and seeing their delight at spotting the whales.
The anticipation erupted into screeches of excitement in multiple languages that I didn’t need to understand to know what they could see when the first whale was spotted. It was magical to see families of Orcas and Dolphins swimming together. They'd breech the waters surface and then disappear again seconds later, cutting through the water without a drop of a splash. They had such grace for huge creatures.
Whales are so hard to photograph. You never know where they will appear and seconds later they're gone. But that's what makes it so exciting. We always kept a distance of 50-100 meters away from the Whales, they were in control and we respected their space. In the end, rather than try in vain to get good photographs I decided to just appreciate them with my eyes and keep the precious images in my memory. This also saved my hands from freezing!
After a long day at sea we spent our evenings in local restaurants and pubs, even watching Norway lose the European championships at Handball, their national sport with the locals. We enjoyed each other's company and working on the boat so much, we've decided to make it an annual reunion. We'll be back again next year and Nella and I have some adventures planned this year too so watch this space!
Some useful links: