Lofoten Islands, Page 1: Life in Valhalla
Tromsų, Tuesday July 20, 12:30PM

The Trollfjord, from the Hurtigruten Harald Jarl

The Lofoten Islands are at the root of the enigma that has been giving me cause to think too much since my arrival in Norway. What I saw of Lofoten was tantamount to Valhalla - majestic fjords and humbling mountains, quiet fishing villages and yet all the comforts of modern life that I'd care to have. For a week, Lofoten was paradise.

But could I ever be happy there? I was only half-joking when I said to Espen that as long as I could have a warp-speed Internet connection piped into a home nestled in the mountains, I'd have everything I want.

As far as Lofoten-born-and-bred Mona is concerned, my impressions of her islands reveal my ''city boy'' upbringing. I assumed that someone growing up in Lofoten would feel isolated, somewhat sheltered, but also a little closer to the problems inherent in small-town life. As they say back home, all there is for a sixteen-year-old to do in small-town Ontario is drink, play cards, and fish!

Not so, says Mona. She claims that growing up in Lofoten as the eldest of four sisters was never boring; that there was always something to do to keep the imagination going and creativity high. The difference was that things to do weren't handed to them; the kids had to go out and make their own fun. She added football, hiking, skiing, windsurfing, diving, mountain climbing, and playing in marching bands to the list of things that she and her friends did all the time - even though she grew up in a village of some two hundred people. When I suggested that perhaps she and her friends were exceptionally capable of finding fun things to do, she smiled humbly and insisted that this wasn't the case.

Would she return there some day? Probably not. Lofoten, she claims, has all the amenities of modern life, but not some of the ''ordinary'' stuff that those of us from the city take for granted. Diverse, exotic foods and an abundance of employment opportunities came to her mind. There are very few jobs in Lofoten, she pointed out, that would even benefit from a University education. It seems ironic that the harder one works, the less likely one is to enjoy life in this piece of paradise.

I had a wonderful time this week, which is particularly remarkable given the organizational turbulence we experienced. Most of it, I am sure, spun out of the fact that Abelone, Liz-Iren and Espen were the only three in charge of 39 trainees. Other parts were cultural in origin: only a Norwegian would find bread and brown cheese an acceptable breakfast and lunch for three consecutive days. And the rest brewed in oversights and personality conflicts that aren't worth delving into.

If you'll forgive a lapse into pop culture, the best way I can describe this trip is to compare it to Jar Jar Binks, the computer-generated character of Star Wars fame. Both managed to be tremendous successes despite themselves. Both managed to maintain a high morale in the face of impossible odds, and - even though the bumbling occasionally caused the audience to roll their eyes in pain - both managed to have quite a lot of charm. And perhaps most importantly, the majority will never know how much work went into making either Jar Jar or Arctic Week a reality.

And so it is that I come away from this trip, exhausted and with more fond memories than I ever could imagine might be packed into nine days. If there's one thing that can surely be said about our guides, it is that their planning was ambitious. I know from my experience organizing a Model Parliament that maintaining order and organizing activities is a challenge for a 26-person team, let alone a threesome. Their action-packed schedule was to have us skipping across northern Norway using everything from ocean liners to five-kilometer hikes, stopping along the way to climb mountains, go deep-sea rafting, and demolish 40 crates of beer under the midnight sun.

Well, the 42 of us managed to do these things and so much more, and these pages represent my meager attempt to capture the essence of our Lofoten experience. Unlike most of the pages in my diary, I would be very happy to add to them the stories, thoughts and photographs of the others who attended the trip. Please contact me if you can help!

The view from half-way up Skotnes Mountain

And now, after a 13-hour bus ride through the coastal mountains, I find myself back in Tromsų again. While the slogan, ''Have you ever wished that the sun would never go down?'' appropriately plugged Arctic Week, in this, my seventh week under the midnight sun, I find myself asking instead, ''Have you ever wished that the sun would just bloody well set?'' But never mind that - let me take you back nine days and nine sunny nights to where this all began.

Click here to continue to Page 2: The Offensive Foreigners Set Sail