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Bornholm Island, Denmark

The old fishing town of Vang, on the Danish island of Bornholm, is essentially a bend in the road- and the road ends shortly after the houses do. We’d been dropped off in the middle of a field outside of town by a well-meaning bus driver, only to find that the address we’d scribbled down for climbing beta was in fact for a random and deserted farmhouse.

One can get a good sense of their relationship while co-carrying a duffle through 3km of nettles; we thought it was mostly funny.

After pitching our tent and spending one night in the storm of the century, we discovered 1) a fishing hytte, perfect for brewing tea under a roof in the morning, and 2) an active quarry south of town with a lot of rock and a few bolted routes. We met a guy there named Dan who somehow already knew we were camping on the edge of town and cooking in the hytte– apparently word travels fast in Vang. He told us the whole place is about to become some sort of sports destination. I think that eliminating the running tractors and bewildered tourists would detract from the Vang experience, but I’m no expert. The beautiful rock, ocean views and funny, balancey routes speak for themselves.

Next we went North to explore sea cliffs. As someone relatively new to climbing, I was struck by how a solitary bolt in a slab of rock could feel like a missive from some long-lost friend. Among the masses of other tourists tottering around almot-too-cute historical sites, these little bits of metal gave us what felt like an exclusive peek into the island’s gritty granite soul.

Between climbs we spent most of our time rambling through the sort of woods where the appearance of a troll or fairy would not have been the least bit surprising. Hans Christian Andersen is from Denmark after all- it wasn’t hard to see the source of his inspiration.

Gigantic orange slugs were plentiful and slanted wooden gates separated the properties, which were strung together with well-beaten trails. One of the things that really impressed me about Bornholm was the omnipresence of bike paths; there was at least one dirt cyclevej to get you anywhere you wanted to go, and most of the other dirtbags we encountered were traveling by bike.

We talked about country music over grilled veggies (a delicacy!) with some Danish bike adventurers, and a few nights later we met some Poles who were nice enough, but who hinted through the language barrier that we’d somehow stolen all the hot water for showers, despite their having showered before us.

All we could do was shrug apologetically.

At this point we’d relocated from Vang to a farmhouse near a town called Allinge, which was much bigger and featured not one but two grocery stores! The farmhouse provided a nice mowed lawn for tents and an outbuilding nextdoor with three toilets, a shower, and sinks for hands and for dishes. It was a sort of camping hostel run on the honor system; cold showers: free, hot showers: 20krone. Natureplatts: 20krone per night per person. Deposit payment in the mailbox on your way out.

I just had one question: Who takes a cold shower??

We spent two nights there in ultimate luxury for the equivalent of 20 USD, and while it felt unbelievably good to scrub six days of grime off our bodies and to use (gasp!) real toilets, the coolest thing about the farmhouse was more evidence of people like us come before.

In the communal cooking shed, we found these photos of a nearby quarry, with routes drawn in and named. Helmets adorned the walls and antique, rock-cleaning crowbars hung by the door. We found ourselves checking out the forearms of the house owner as he ambled out to his tractor in the morning, completely ignoring us; could he be our mystery pal, the route-setter?

We’d never know. But we did go play in the quarry, which featured, again, some beautiful solid granite and fun climbing. Again an active tractor barred the entrance, and again we found a trickle of tourists peering curiously down from the tops of the pitches.

After a particularly trying day on a spider-infested, sulfurous quarry wall elsewhere on the island (the only bad rock we ever encountered) we attempted to recoup back at the farmhouse by playing board games and drinking hot chocolate- our best impression of normal humans. Unfortunately relaxation fails to hold either of our attention for long, so we found ourselves back at our go-to quarry in the late afternoon, hoping to redeem our last day on the rocks of Bornholm. 

I was exhausted by mid-climb, scared and generally over groping rocks for the day. Things began to dissolve into a minor tantrum on my end of the rope while CJ waited patiently on belay in the fast-weakening light. The whole thing was similar to the duffel bag situation as far as relationship tests, but eventually I got fed up enough to claw my way up the rest of the climb. I’m sure it wasn’t pretty, but as the edges and definition of the rock faded I had to resort to climbing by feel, which illogically lent me confidence.

I anchored in at the top with bats circling my head, then lowered back to earth through the dim purple air, decidedly more at peace with myself than I ever would have been after playing Danish judo all afternoon.

We shuttled the duffle back into town at dawn the next morning, savored a few last, sublime pastries, then caught a ferry back to the mainland. The fact that we were back in Copenhagen in under four hours is a testament to the efficiency of the Scandinavian public transit system- but the city nearly overloaded our little country mouse brains.

After attempting to shop and getting saucer-eyed, we ended up taking a nap on the grass in the vast city park, then visiting the (incredibly) free national art museum. We capped off the day with a little (ok, a lot) of all-you-can eat Chinese buffet, which provided a foreshadowing taste of home- MSG is apparently the same the world over.

This is literally the only picture I managed to take in Copenhagen, and it’s of algae.

Now I’m back in the land of the free and the home of the brave. My legs are so riddled with scrapes and spider bites that shaving them is pretty much pointless, but the memories of this surreal trip have me floating.

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