Where in the World Are You, Tom Haines?

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  08.03.07 | 1:00 PM ET


The subject of our latest nearly up-to-the-minute interview with a traveler somewhere in the world: Tom Haines, travel writer at the Boston Globe. His response landed in our inbox this morning.

World Hum: Where in the world are you?

Right now, at the harbor in Vardo, an island town a mile or so offshore at the far northern edge of Norway. It’s the end of the road—E75—which begins in Greece.

What are you doing there?

I’m here on assignment for the Boston Globe with photographer Essdras Suarez, and we spent a night on Hornoya, another island a 20-minute tug ride from this harbor.

Hornoya is home to a lighthouse and more than 10,000 nesting seabirds. On Hornoya, watching the high summer drama of life for puffins and guillemots, kittiwakes and cormorants. Big stuff happening actually, as the guillemot chicks are fledging, or jumping off the cliffs to head out to sea. Problem is, they can’t yet fly. So the jump ends with a soft landing on beds of island greenery, or hard—on the rocks. They tend to shake it off either way, though, and soon are waddling 50 feet or so to the edge of the Arctic Ocean, where their dads are crying out for them.

The puffins and friends are just one part, though, of a look at life at this edge of Europe. Third part of a series that so far has landed in Romania and Turkey. Here we’re hanging out with scientists and miscellaneous locals to see how nature and the life settled in it are changing these days. It will all go toward a package for the Globe in a few weeks.

What do you see around you?

Right now, in Vardo, it’s the busy time of day, as the coastal steamer just blared into port. The port is long and narrow and lined with colorful buildings and shacks, most of which now sit empty, as the fishing industry has more or less collapsed for little towns like this. Vardo is said to be the only town in continental Europe to experience an Arctic climate, and last night the fog rolled in thick.

Got a pic?

This, of the harbor, comes compliments of Essdras.


What did you have for dinner last night, and where?

Pizza. With shrimp, green pepper and scallion. It was about as bad as it sounds. The dough, too, was pre-frozen. So it’s a kind of cobbler has no shoes in much of coastal Norway, which is to say the sea is full of cod, haddock and near here, king crab, but in most towns the few dining options serve hamburgers, pizza and other such stuff. (Fish is now mostly caught on big trawlers and shipped off to China and other parts of the warmer world for processing.) I did have a good reindeer burger at a cafe near the boglands of Neiden the other day, though.

What music are you listening to these days?

Nothing. Don’t travel with an iPod or anything, and up here it’s all about the sounds of nature. In the cottage we’re in tonight, kittiwakes are perched just out the window and coming and going with their loud calls all the time. The steamer horn. The wind. The other day I was talking with a farmer in the Pasvik Valley, just on the border with Russia. At some point we got to the subject of winter—when the sun does not break the horizon for weeks and temperatures are often sub-zero—and I commented on how rough that must be. Her eyes lit up: “Oh no,” she said. “It is beautiful. The stars. The northern lights. The snow. And perfectly quiet.”

What are you reading?

Absurdistan, by Gary Shteyngart. It is a cutting, comic commentary. It features protagonist Misha Borisovich Vainberg, “age thirty, a grossly overweight man with small, deeply set blue eyes, a pretty Jewish beak that brings to mind the most distinguished breed of parrot, and lips so delicate you would want to wipe them with the naked back of your hand.”

What did you experience in the last 24 hours that you’d recommend?

Stood in the tundra just south of Vardo and watched an eagle owl fly low in search of prey. Fog had lifted a bit, the 11 p.m. sunset blazed—literally, as the cliche comes from somewhere—over a low ridge, a cool breeze dropped the temperature from a midday high near 65 down into the 40s. The tundra is tree free in this part, so I could stand and watch the owl cruise a mile or more south—always just a few feet off the ground—then angle back. When I left, after 10 minutes or so, the owl was still without dinner.

Where in the world are you headed next?

In the next two days, nowhere, happily. The idea is to kick around Vardo with fishermen and families, go to church and the sea. Then, happily again, it’s back to see my family on the Vardo-Tromso-Oslo-London-Boston-Ipswich line.

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