With Mykines already in sight, we went from the island of Streymoy to the island of Vagar through one of the Faroe's long (4.9km) convenient underwater tunnels. We skirted the runway of the international airport at Vagar. From its projection, we descend, in those, to sea level.
Like so many other villages spread across the intricate and jagged archipelago, Sorvágur hides in a cove that encloses a fjord.
Near the end of Bakkavegur road and at the edge of the village, we reach the last road stop on the journey: the small local port from which boats departed for the neighboring island of Mykines. We come across a multinational, chatty and, as is supposed in these Nordic lands of Europe, orderly queue.
Tindholmur, Drangarnir and the Packed Crossing aboard the “Jósup”
Of baptism "josup”, the boat turns out to be smaller than we expected. Even so, passengers adjust seamlessly to the aft and standing seats on the edges around the helmsman's cabin. We soon sailed along the Sorvagsfjordur.
When that gulf opens to the Atlantic, the man at the helm points the vessel to the southwest. It sails between the sinuous peninsula that delimits the fjord and the islet of Tindhólmur. We are crossing a special North Atlantic.
The Drangarnir cliff we skirted and Tindholmur itself jut from the seabed to the sky like exuberant sculptures of erosion and the millennia. In recent times, they are among the most publicized images of the archipelago.
Drangarnir, the one we passed first, is made up of two rock formations. The most prominent is a kind of surreal marine portico. It features a “needle hole” at the heart of a massive cliff with the top cut diagonally, as if by an ax of the gods.
As we move away from it, we see Tindholmur define itself with its five sharp peaks lined up atop a rocky, concave cliff that contrasts with the oblique, verdant slope opposite. More than graphic and photogenic, the islander is eccentric and majestic. In such an emblematic way that the people of the Faroe deign to name each of its peaks: Ytsti, Arni, Lítli, Breidi and Bogdi.
But it is not just geology that enhances Drangarnir and Tindholmur. The Faroese often say that "their islands don't have bad weather, what they have is a lot of weather." Right there, the harsh weather and the inevitable bravery of the sea perfectly illustrate this saying.
Southern Navigation and Mykines Far West Anchorage
No sooner have we left the fjord's funneled protection and stepped into the passage between the threshold of Vagar and Tindhólmur, the “josup” fights against powerful currents and waves that the failure of the wind and tides make capricious. Some passengers suffer the effects of the rocking force, which continues, relentlessly, until we line up with the south coast of Mykines and are sheltered from the mighty north.
We covered a good part of the 10km of the island's southern coast, along the foot of its rock cliffs which, at intervals, we see covered by a resilient summer grass.
An hour after leaving Sórvagur, the boat makes for a cove that is narrower than others we had passed. The improvised little port of Mykines and the homonymous village – the only one on the island – with its houses clustered above, in a grassy valley, are revealed.
Hundreds of birds installed in the crevices and niches of the surrounding cliffs welcome us with shrill shrieks of indignation.
As orderly as we had boarded, we disembarked. We climb a steep staircase. At the top, a young resident welcomes the outsiders and explains to them what they can and cannot do on the island.
The Amazing Trail to Mykinesholmur Lighthouse
Five trails were delineated, each with its own map color and characteristics. We knew in advance that number 5, the one that ran to the lighthouse at the tip of the sister island of Mykinesholmur and returned to the starting point, was the most popular. We wouldn't be long in confirming why.
We chose to save the visit to the village for the return. We turned our backs on him and climbed a long slope at the edge of meadows dotted with sheep. At its top, we reach the crest of that section of Mykines. This contrasting and vertiginous pattern was to be repeated for a good part of the walk.
Every time we ventured to peek north of that ridge, we came across upright chasms that, at their highest points, reached several hundred meters.
Nevertheless, as we had already seen elsewhere in the Faeroes, determined to reach the lush grass irrigated by the damp north wind, the sheep often challenged us. We saw them in all colors and shapes. Black, white, brown and mottled.
sheep and more sheep
Placid sheep, lambs and lambs. Huge sheep with territorial grimaces and curled horns to match. Many of the specimens had been shorn. Or, half-naked, they dropped the thick woolen cloak that protected them from the frigid winter. Among these sheep, several were trying to alleviate the itch caused by the (relative) summer heat by rubbing themselves against sharp rocks.
In the first moments on the island, we lost ourselves in that sheep and photogenic wonder of seeing so many sheep in photogenic movements and poses: on overhangs and grassy niches, some perched with the gray sea in the background, others against the covered sky that grayed the ocean .
Finally, we realized that we didn't have all the time in the world. We resumed the trail with only unavoidable stops to register the incredible views that we detected. Especially the valley that was left behind and the colorful houses that inhabited it.
Still in the ascending phase of the route, we deluded ourselves into thinking that the path that led to the lighthouse would follow, flat and smooth. A few dozen meters further on, the trail enters an even tighter grip on the crest. It reveals to us an unexpected frontal abyss. We looked for a sequel that didn't end our lives.
Finally, we found the wire to the trail, hidden in a kind of natural passage that erosion had forced into the cliff. A wooden gate and a wire fence protected them from a long, deadly fall. Simultaneously, they served as a portico and access corridor to a different area of the island, the stronghold full of seabirds responsible for the supreme fame of the lighthouse trail.
Another Vertiginous and Poultry Domain
On one of the previous days, we had participated in a tour of the Vestmanna cliffs, advertised as ideal for contemplating the picturesque puffins. Truth be told, for one reason or another, we didn't see in these undoubtedly impressive rocks a single specimen.
Such frustration caused the participants to come back to earth grumbling at the deception. Instead, from that corner onwards, we would share Mykines with the largest colony of puffins in the Faeroes.
We left this corridor once more to the south and grassy side of the island. From one moment to the next, we saw several colored heads peeking out at us from burrows open in the wet earth and hidden by leafy tufts. Off the trail, the isolated and hidden specimens turned into groups with nothing to hide, lined up on sloping ridges that peered down into inlets of the sea.
We approach the marine gorge that separates the main body of Mykines from the sub-island of Mykinesholmur. The nortada is inserted, furious, in this interval. Feast the landscape and puffins, seagulls, cormorants, hartebeests, rumps and guillemots.
In the Kingdom of Puffins
We sat for a moment in front of a cluster of puffins on a crest of the island that they used as a landing point. We appreciate them turning their heads this way and that suspiciously, like pre-programmed mechanical puppets. Taking off, dragged at great speed by the gale.
And, on their return, trying to align their clumsy braking with the profile of the slope and the space that the colony reserved for them. We laughed out loud each time their landings were aborted and, in distress, they were forced to make corrective approaches against the wind.
But, just like with the sheep, we remember that we couldn't live all afternoon with the adorable "puffins”. Accordingly, we cross the bridge that crosses the gorge and venture along an intermediate trail on the southern slope of Mykinesholmur. In spite of a fulminant mist seizing the island, we have again detected sheep in all their abundance and grace.
The Old Lighthouse of Mykineshóllmur Lost in the Mist
When we arrived at Mykines lighthouse, visibility was reduced to a mere few meters. lends more meaning to holmur placed in 1909 on the edge of the island as a warning for navigation. Nautical but not only. Before him, many catastrophes had already happened.
According to history, in 1595, about 50 ships from various parts of the archipelago were surprised by a massive storm and sank. All men fit for Mykines' work are believed to have perished. In 1607, the “walcheren“, a Dutch ship sank off the island and the residents stocked up with a good part of the goods that were on board.
As we pass the southern and lower end of Mykinesholmur, we come across a distorted sea, full of waves and ridges generated by powerful currents. We weren't even under a storm but this sight leaves us little doubt of what that North Atlantic was capable of.
In 1970, a Fokker F27 Friendship plane coming from Bergen, Norway and destined for Vagar airport found itself in bad weather. Crashed on Mykines. The captain and all passengers sitting on the left side of the plane died immediately.
Twenty-six others survived, although some with serious injuries. Three of those who had sustained only minor injuries were able to walk to the village and ask for help. The inhabitants came to the rescue at least until the arrival of a Danish patrol vessel.
In that same year, the light from the lighthouse was automated. Accordingly, the last resident (out of a historic high of 22) left Holm's hamlet for good.
Return to the Island in a hurry
On our side, we were in no way to be the protagonists of tragedies. We were worried about the prospect of the fog thickening even more and disguising the vertiginous hanging rails that had taken us there. As such, we hurried the return.
We went down to the village of Mykines, drenched in sweat but safe. Recovering our breath, we wander through its alleys, between traditional houses with peat and grass roofs and others with different architectures, including the church without a cross that blesses the tiny and long-descending community of the island.
We only came across the strangers we had arrived with by boat, several of them chatting at the local inn, Marit's House B&B.
At its peak of population in 1925 – when it formed one of the largest villages in the Faroe – Mykines housed 179 inhabitants. In 1940, there were still 170. From then on, little by little, the natives abandoned their retreat, surrendering to the more convenient life in other parts of the archipelago.
40 houses remain in the village. Only six of them are inhabited throughout the year. As is the case throughout the Faeroes, the island's nine inhabitants, resilient owners of the land, the island's many sheep and some equine use helicopters to get to and from the island and receive supplies and mail which continues to be distributed by Jancy, your trusty wallet.
Helicopters are especially useful during winter, when the sea is almost always too rough for safe journeys. But even in summer, storms that arrive without warning force the cancellation of boat crossings.
Treacherous weather often forces outsiders to stay on Mykines for days on end. Around seven in the afternoon, we saw the “josup” to dock once again on the island.
It was time to return to the capital Torshavn. As we boarded we couldn't shake the feeling of wanting to be held there for two, three, four days. One week. Whatever.