Looking for Certainty in the Land of Maybe

///Looking for Certainty in the Land of Maybe

An American tour guide learns the lesson of ‘maybe’ and its prominent place in the culture and everyday life of the Faroese — and as the ‘maybe’ starts to make sense, things suddenly become more fun and more relaxing as well.

I’m standing with five other people in a hotel lobby in the heart of Tórshavn. The other people are part of a tour group I’d assembled as part of a podcast I do about the Faroe Islands. The members of the group are from the United States and Canada and they’ve never been to the Faroes before.

It’s the first morning of the tour, and already we’ve had to do some improvising. I had arranged for a prominent resident of Tórshavn to give us a walking tour of the capitol, but he had hurt his foot and wasn’t sure he’d be up for anything that involved walking. Undaunted, I contacted another friend with an encyclopedic knowledge of Tórshavn and he agreed to fill in at the last minute.

So as we wait in the lobby, it’s no surprise when my backup tour guide walks through the door. Moments later, however, the original tour guide also arrives, saying he figured his foot would hold up for a relatively short walk.

It was time, once again, to improvise. Our two guides combined their planned routes and soon we were winding through the narrow streets of Tinganes, being invited into strangers’ homes to admire Dutch tiles dating back to the 17th century, and hearing tales of the early history of Tórshavn. The walking tour started late, took twice as long as we had scheduled, had several unexpected turns, and was much more awesome than our original plan. In short, it was a perfect example of what it’s like in the Faroe Islands.

Just different

When the British occupied the Faroes during World War II, they gave it the nickname ‘The Land of Maybe,’ and the country has certainly earned that reputation. It comes from a time, not all that long ago, when transportation between villages often involved getting in a boat and rowing in sometimes strong currents, or hiking over a mountain peak. Combine that with the highly changeable weather in the Faroes and you’ve got a life with a lot of ‘maybes’ in it.

Are we going to the next village today? Maybe. Will it rain this afternoon? Maybe. Will the ferry make it to Fugloy today? Maybe.

While a majority of the population in the Faroes is now connected through a series of modern roads and tunnels, it’s still possible to find yourself stranded on Mykines for a day or two if the weather is too rough for the helicopter or ferry. This happens mostly in the winter, but it’s not unheard-of during the spring or summer.

The attitude of ‘maybe’ in the Faroe Islands is part of its charm. From the moment you get off the plane, you can feel some of your stress melt away. It’s that subtle part of your stress you don’t even know exists because it’s just built into life in a modern urban environment. And even if you’re in a hurry in the Faroe Islands, you’re still slowing down in subtle ways you don’t fully realize until you return home.

This casual style can, however, create a few problems when designing a tour of the Faroe Islands. Most visitors coming to a country for an organized tour expect to know the schedule for the day and to have a tour organizer who can answer simple questions like, “where are we headed next?” The tour we put together was originally supposed to work like that, but things just went differently.

Apart from the tour guide situation at the start of the tour, we had a farmer who was supposed to show us around a village who ended up heading into the nearby hills to cut hay because the weather had turned unexpectedly nice, and a local brewery that suddenly stopped offering tours because they needed all their employees to concentrate on making beer.

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More fun

To be fair, it wasn’t always like this. On Suðuroy, we met up with an amazing tour guide who showed us parts of the island we never would have seen otherwise. In the village of Fuglafjørður, our knowledgeable and charming guide was so much fun we insisted he join us for lunch. And the musicians who agreed to perform special shows for us were punctual and dependable in a way that artists rarely get credit for.

But the twists and turns in both weather and circumstance caused our group to rethink its approach to the tour. The solution was clear: go native, and embrace the ‘maybe.’ Each morning, we would announce our morning schedule like any good tour group would, but it would sound a little like this, “…and in the afternoon, we’ll talk to a guy who owns a fishing boat in Klaksvík… maybe, followed by dinner in Runavík… maybe.”

As a result of our new strategy, we were able to take a detour to a beautiful rock formation called Witch’s Finger when we saw the clouds start to part over Vágar. We were also able to accept a last-minute invitation to hear musician Stanley Samuelsen play a private concert for us in his grandfather’s house in Hósvík. We also could make the decision to just sit on the hillside by Gjógv and stare out at the awe-inspiring scene in front of us as the light from the sun crated changing patterns on the ocean in front of us, and the other islands across the channel.

It wasn’t always exactly what we had planned, but the tour became much more Faroese once we embraced the maybe. And in the end, the most cherished moments on the tour came from those moments where we took a ‘maybe’ detour into the unexpected. Did that make it more fun? Definitely.

Matthew Workman is a journalist and the publisher of the award-winning Faroe Islands Podcast.

2017-04-20T22:46:45+00:00 May 21st, 2015|Archive 2015|0 Comments

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