Vanquished in Vágar, The Land of Maybe (Faroe Islands)

The weather in the Faroe Islands is at best, unpredictable. When the British occupied these islands during the second World War, they nicknamed them "The Land of Maybe" (the English language is one of the things I love best about the British). They based themselves out of Skansin, the old fort in the port of Tórshavn, the capital city located on the island of Streymoy. Skansin was built in 1580 to protect against pirate raids, then expanded in 1780 and upgraded over the years till the clever, but deadly, British came with their two 5.5 inch guns. Skansin literally means "the jump".  As for Faroese, it is a bit like Icelandic through the looking glass. I feel like I should understand it, and sometimes I do, but the words sound completly bent. 

Some old Danish cannons.

Here is a bird because Peace. A Plover of some kind I believe.

Here is a bird because Peace. A Plover of some kind I believe.

My second day in the Faroe Islands began with a windy, rainy, mostly zero visibility trip to Vágar (pronounced "vowar"), the island west from Streymoy. The driest and best part of the journey was through Vágatunnilin, the nearly 5km sea tunnel which connects the two islands. It was completed in 2002 and cost 240 million Danish kronur. Riding through it is a prolonged, hypnotic pulse of sodium lamps and white lines. It is an amazing feat of engineering and human effort.

And because I love lights, I looked up which ones were put into it.

I arrived at my hotel across from Vágar airport exhausted. But I decided to take a walk down to Sørvagur, rather than ride, to scope things out. Photographing from foot is much more flexible than photographing from a motorcycle, and half the faff.  Boy was it worth it.

I made the decision to photograph the Faroes infrared because the land felt eerie and dark to me, very unlike the shiny pictures I have seen posted on Instagram. If you are curious about infrared photography I suggest visiting They did the conversion on my OMD ED5MI and make the filters I use too.

What that means is, they removed the infrared filter on the camera sensor, allowing infrared light to expose an image. Then I filter the lens of the camera with one of several nanometer filters, in this case a 590nm, which blocks most of the visible light (but not all) and allows infrared to pass to the sensor.

Then using both Lightroom and Photoshop, I work on the image to get it to look as I want it to. More or less. For me, it's early days and I'm still learning how to control the image. This feels a bit like that game where you cross your hands and arms into a knot, and try to lift the finger of a hand when pointed to.  But I am getting there. Each image is a new idea of what infrared can look like.

I never gave much thought to wind socks until I came here on a small 250cc motorcycle. Here is a picture of a windsock at the Vágar airport on a relatively calm day. Walking out to take this picture the penny finally dropped (another great British saying). This must be what the stripes are about: windspeed! Afterwards, warm and safe in my hotel, I looked it up and of course, each stripe represents 3 knots of wind speed in relationship to objects 10m above the ground. I also learned about the Beaufort wind force scale. I needed to.

The next day I awoke to the wheeze, moans and flaps of wind outside my window. I had breakfast and assessed the situation outside. The wind was strong. I seemed like much more than the 10m/s winds my app was indicating (1 m/s = roughly 2 knots so 20 knots). I needed to get to the island of Savoy to my next night's accommodation, which would mean a one hour drive, a ferry and another 15 minute drive. To confirm beyond any doubt that the winds were untenable, I decided to take the bike on a run without my bags, which essentially act as a sail in winds. If it was bad bare, it would be awful with my gear loaded on.

One of the roads I would face going back to Tórshavn. In good conditions, a dream come true. In bad, possibly the end of the dream.

I did a nearly sideways sprint down to the bridge and back. The crosswinds knocked me half a lane over, like I was a paper bag. "Fuck the drive" I thought as I pulled the bike into the hotel parking lot, heart pounding. I was feeling exhausted not to mention weary of being blown off a cliff in what I later learned from the airport, were 16 m/s winds with 24 m/s gusts. I also had this woozy feeling like I was drugged, beyond exhaustion. At the time I could not place what it was. Two days later I would learn that it was onset strep throat. I was stranded on Vágar and needed to come up with an exit strategy.

As I sat in the lobby of Hotel Vágar I wondered what to do, who to call? I met a local musician on my first day who had told me about Ove, the Danish man who owned the local Harley Dealership.  I googled the website and called Ove. He answered merrily and I explained my fatigue, the winds, etc. In what I can only imagine was fellow biker love and plain human generosity, he called around to his friends. One of whom, Gunnar, ran a trucking business for the ferry company and was making a trip to the airport that day anyhow.

Kristian Blak, composer and musician in his home in Tórshavn.


Ove, owner of the smallest Harley Davidson dealership in the world, Chief Master Sergeant in the Danish Airforce, Bombsquad.

Ove, owner of the smallest Harley Davidson dealership in the world, Chief Master Sergeant in the Danish Airforce, Bombsquad.

It would take some time, but eventually two of Gunnar's men came, retrieved me and the bike, and delivered us in a semitruck to the port in Gamlarætt. I had a one hour wait and was grateful for the small shipping container waiting room. It could have been worse. I took the ferry to Sandoy but left the bike at the port against a wall, for storms were coming, and took the last bus to Hotel Skálavík.

The redness ain't from lovin'.

The redness ain't from lovin'.

Strep culture.

I awoke the next morning with glands more swollen than I can ever remember having. The skin around them was red too. I didn't move from bed for a full day, only to have breakfast and dinner. The following morning, I awoke with the same glands, no improvement, and knew it was time for medical intervention. Luckily British citizens are covered in the Faroe Islands for health insurance as are citizens of Scandinavia. One phone call and a genuine plea later, the local doctor agreed to see me straight away. The same bus driver who took me two nights ago drove me to the doctor's office. 

There I received excellent and quick medical care, a swab, and a few minutes later the result. Strep. I got a prescription for penicillin and then the doctor himself, taking pity on my desperation to make the next ferry and get back to my hotel in Tórshavan ASAP, drove me, at speed, to the ferry port in Skopun. I ran out of the car onto my bike and got onto the ferry with no time to spare. One crewman, who recognised me from the journey over, helped me tie the bike in quickly and I went above deck. Even on this thirty minute ferry ride, I got nauseous.

See these containers? They are not for Chinese food. 

From the port in Gamlarætt, it was a rainy and somewhat windy, fifteen minute drive to the pharmacy to fill the prescription and then a five minute dash to the hotel. I took a sauna as soon as I arrived and went to bed. There I stayed for two more days.

Even if I had been well, September is not the ideal time to ride a motorcycle in the Faroe Islands. I am gutted I did not get more chances to ride there because man, it is stunning. I will just have to go back. Who's coming with?

The view towards Sørvágur and the roads along the fjords.