Tag Archives: Elin’s travels

Torbjoern’s story continues – with my trip to Norway to meet him in June 2011.

I did mention a while ago that I had plans to visit my home country this summer. A good  friend was willing to join me and we flew over to Norway in the middle of June. We stayed with my cousin Aase and Gunnar, outside Bergen, for 9 days and had a wonderful time. The weather was pleasant most of the week so we had a chance to see and experience a lot during this all too brief stay.

One of the reasons I wanted to go was to meet Torbjoern Oevsttun who is the only one still alive of the seven from Nesttun (the so-called Nesttun-boys) who were arrested in 1941 when the Germans unravelled the Kristian Stein organisation they all worked for during the early part of  WWII. For nearly four long years they were sent from camp to camp in Germany, but the ‘boys’ stayed together. He had stories to tell from that period, and it meant a lot to me being able to see him and have a  chat and hear about my own dad (who died in 1991). When the prisoners were freed by the American army in April 1945 they had to remain in Dachau for several weeks  because everything was so chaotic in Germany.

As I have said in an earlier write-up – Torbjoern was ordered to work in the sewing-room while imprisoned, and he became quite a competent tailor – under the guidance of a Belgian expert who was a ladies dressmaker!

May 17 is the Norwegian Constitution Day, always celebrated in great patriotic style. Of course it was of greater than ever significance for the Norwegians to make the most of such a day when peace came at last. Torbjoern and his mate Arne set to and made a wonderful banner in the red, white and blue of the Norwegian flag. This banner was brought back to Norway and is  kept in a war museum outside Bergen. Telavåg is the name of this place.

Torbjoern is now 91 years old, but a fit,  good-looking and active man, except for poor eyesight. Here are some pictures taken during our visit to Telavåg Museum, and Torbjoern is pictured standing next to the banner he made. It is a well-kept and nice piece of work which I believe will last for many, many years. It is preserved  under a glass frame.

 This is Torbjoern and Elin outside the museum. He looks wonderful for his age.

At this point I want to tell a brief story about Telavåg and why it became an important and unforgettable place during the war-years and afterwards: On the 26th of April 1942 two high-ranking Gestapo officers were shot by two Norwegian agents, who had come over from the Shetland Islands in Scotland. One of the agents, Arne Vaerum, was also killed during the shoot-out that took place in one of the 66 houses in this little fishing village where they  were hiding. Telavåg is located on the fjord-inlet close to the  North Sea. Because of this location it was an ideal place, for people fleeing the Nazis, to come and hope to find transport to Scotland and freedom. The Germans were aware of this and kept their eyes open for any activity. Someone must have informed the head office in Bergen because officers were sent to investigate.

The Germans retaliated in a most horrendous fashion. They took all the males in the village, between the ages of 16-60, prisoners. They were sent to a concentration camp in Germany, where many of them died. All the women and children were interned at a big school near Bergen or a place in Hardanger for two years, and the entire village was burnt to the ground. There was nothing left of a once prosperous fishing village.

We went to Telavåg in late June this year and saw a really gripping and frightening documentary about this terrible event, where both film and still pictures had been used. It was narrated in Norwegian with English subtitles. The museum walls are full of pictures of many brave men who risked their own lives in order to save others. Can you imagine rowing and sailing in open boats across the often wild North Sea? It shows human beings can cope with a lot when our lives depend on it and the situation is desperate.

Telavåg twins with the city of Darmstadt in Germany and some years ago the people of this city donated an engraved stone written in Norwegian and German, where they ask, on behalf of the German people, to be forgiven for this outrages revenge in Telavåg:                   

  Torbjoern and Gunnar by the war memorial.  

The village has been rebuilt and extended after the war. It looks like a happy and well cared for place; rugged and a bit wild I guess, but the Norwegians are a hardy race (used to be anyway!)

I remember my parents talking about Telavåg when I was young, and the rebuilding of it some years later. But for me it was a first visit and an unforgettable one.

I want to say a warm thank-you to Torbjoern for this memorable meeting. I also want to say thank-you to  Aase and Gunnar for being such wonderful hosts.  It was much appreciated. We saw  fjords, waterfalls, high mountains and peaceful valleys. We visited with friends and family members and were made to feel very welcome and wanted.

  Telavåg                                                          

Bali to Barrier Reef continued: Triton Bay, Karang Island and onwards towards Thursday Island – 1996

We left the interesting and friendly Banda Islands and headed for Triton Bay on Tuesday 26th of November. It was a lovely sunny morning as it often was during the cruise.  One of the lecturers gave an illustrated talk about the area we were approaching. Triton Bay is an unusual scenic group of small mushroom-shaped islands with steep cliffs covered with jungle foliage. The shallow bay  is a haven for birds and fish – birds like Hornbills, Cockatoos and Birds-of-Paradise.                                                        As soon as the Caledonian Star dropped anchor the zodiacs were lowered and off we went – all 120 passengers – to explore these fascinating islands. We set off in convoy but soon lost touch with other boats as we found all kinds of interesting plants and birds to admire on shore. We didn’t actually set foot on land, but there were signs of life. Several times we passed small fishing huts and dug-out canoes. Our ‘driver’ stopped from time to time to give us a chance to  just sit there and absorb the jungle sounds and the unusual place it was, without the noise of the engine. I have never been anywhere I felt so relaxed and in awe – it was like entering a different world. Triton Bay lies on the Indonesian side of New Guinea, named Irian Jaya,and  it reminded me of the  fabulous exploration films we see on TV when the experts go in search of the world’s least visited spots. All the passengers were quite excitable that evening as we gathered on deck for a barbecue dinner, and watched the sun set over the ocean. It would have been great to see more native fishermen and people, but that was not to be. It is very humid in this part of the world, but the rain is warm and comes in short, sharp bursts.

Wednesday 27 November: Our next, and last, stop before leaving Indonesia was an island named Karang. This little uninhabited island lies within the Aru archipelago, and the islands are spread across the  sea between Timor and Irian Jaya.  We went ashore in the usual zodiacs, watched by fishermen and pearl fishers! It was not expected to find people there, but it was an added bonus I felt, although I thought (we all did really) that the men looked rather hostile. 

When we came ashore we found there were three boats which had come from Buton, near Sulawesi in order to catch sharks. They remove the fins and tails, which we could see drying onboard their ships. These would then be taken to a trading centre and exported to Hong Kong. Their journey took 10 days and they remained in these waters for a month. It is a journey only undertaken once a year. The little boats didn’t look very sturdy for these, sometimes, wild seas, and they didn’t bring much water or food. A tough life!

The pearl-divers came from Aru and was part of a fleet of five – the same man owned all the ships. They were fishing for oysters which were brought to a farm for cultivated pearls. It takes about two years for a pearl to grow inside the shell. They normally catch 100 a day. The oysters are kept in wire cages alongside the side of the ship – to prevent the shells from damage.

The men seemed to find these ‘odd-looking’ old people from the west peculiar! They kept looking and laughing at us and shaking their heads – as if they wondered why we suddenly appeared.

This is a close-up of their rather flimsy boat and the shark fins and tails drying.

 

Sandy beaches everywhere. Just perfect to walk barefoot and feel the warm sand under your feet.                    

During the evening there was a cocktail party, hosted by the Captain. A jolly time was had by all. As the sun set we caught a last glimpse of Indonesian islands before heading for the Barrier Reef and Thursday Island.

Bali to Barrier Reef. Kakabia and Banda Islands

On the 23rd of November 1996 the Caledonian Star dropped anchor off the little Kakabia island. It was time to fit in a cruise around this interesting island, and a fleet of small black zodiac, seating about eight people, began the tour. It was a hot and humid day but the rain stayed away. Overhead we saw a frigate bird in all its glory, looking fit and healthy. We felt quite privileged being there and having a knowledgable expert in the boat with us. He knew all about the birds and wildlife in these waters.

Red-footed boobies were spotted on the island. We went ashore for a rather brief visit before heading back to the ship, lunch and a snorkel session for those interested (I was – and saw lots of brilliant coloured fish). It was a wonderful experience. I am no strong swimmer, but we all wore life vests  and simply floated on top of the water admiring the brilliant under-water life we don’t even realise is there.

The next day was spent at sea – just relaxing by the little deck-pool, eating and drinking and chatting with newfound friends. Very pleasant indeed.

On Monday 25th of November we dropped anchor off the Banda islands, in the Banda sea. The Gunung Api volcano overshadows Banda and has erupted many times. The latest eruption took place in 1988. We all gathered on deck as we approached Bandaneria. This is where the majority of the population live, and the active volcano is only 650 metres away! There are ten small attractive island which make up the 60 square km archipelago. The sea here is very deep, more than 6500 meters of ocean water.

We felt very honoured indeed as we approached shore and were met by traditional war canoes. They circled our ship several times. It was a wonderful welcome. Theses colourful little boats and  singing and happy-looking crew seemed glad to see us. Not many visitors come this far. (I really wonder if that has changed now, all these years later?) Little boys dived from the boats and were so at home it the water I felt quite envious.

We went ashore for a guided tour. The oldest couple onboard were presented with gifts, consisting of spices grown on the island. A brass band (not very good!) played for us. Their only ‘properly presented’ tune was ‘Onwards Christian Soldiers’.But it was a great experience. The band followed us around town, and played the same tune over and over again.

 Ron and I walked around the market and chatted with some of the locals, The children were lovely and eager to be photographed.  The parents didn’t mind at least to have their children’s photos taken.   The market was scruffy and the fish on sale full of flies, but people looked fit enough.  The climate here is hot and humid all the year round.

These isolated islands were discovered by the Dutch in 1512  when they went in search of spices. They found an abundance of nutmeg and mace growing there which brought great profits to those who were able to control production and trade. Now a days they hope that tourism and fishing can stop people from leaving. The islands have great potential and will hopefully benefit by  increased tourist trade and the excellent fishing and diving facilities.

An exotic holiday in 1996 – Bali to Barrier Reef – continued – from Medang to Komodo Island.

It was early morning when  we dropped anchor near the tiny Medang Island. I don’t think they were used to having many visitors because people flocked onto the beach when we came ashore in the little zodiacs. Young children came swimming towards us, stark naked, and the young girls had their faces pained white with some kind of rice paint. Medang had, at that time, a population of 1300 of mixed origin. These villagers were all muslims. There was a mosque on the island and one school with four teachers. Chickens and goats were the main source of meat, and coconuts were an essential ingredient of their lives. We saw television masts in various places and  realised they were not totally isolated. The main activity on the island was the collection of Agar-Agar. This algor algae was collected by boat, brought ashore, dried on the beach and split into piles by colour. It was sold to local traders who again sold to companies producing pharmaceutical gel-caps.

I sometimes wonder what it is like there now – I bet many of the children have gone elsewhere and life is very different. It seemed such a remote island, but the modern world is catching up with everybody these days. For us it was a fascinating stopover, and the children were keen to show the visitors their homes and beach – all white and sandy and pristine.

We left Medang and sailed to a nearby  island named Satonda. It is un-inhabited and there is a brackish lake there which was formed in 1815 when the nearby Tambora volcano on Sumbawa island exploded. The lake is said to have ‘rejuvinating’ powers, and will take ten years off a person’s age. Well, you can imagine we all wanted to have a go, but were sorely disappointed – we looked just as old after the swim as we did before!!

 Something rather extraordinarily happened just before the tropical darkness descended . We were anchored  near Satonda Island and looked towards land, and saw a large colony of fruit bats (flying foxes) taking off from the island. They have a wing span of 5.6 feet. They roost here during the day and fly across to the nearby Sumbawa island  where they feast on the fruit trees. These bats are reddish-brown in colour and are said to be not true bats, but primates that have developed the ability to fly. Their sense of smell and eye sight are well-developed, and they use sonar to navigate and hunt their prey.

After a swim or snorkel in the warm blue waters, it was time to meet the captain and crew during the evening’s cocktail party, and a chance to dress up and ‘look pretty’.

Friday 22nd of November: This was the main highlight for many of the passengers! We arrived at Komodo Island – famed for its giant beasts – the Komodo Dragons! This monitor lizard can grow up to eight feet in length, is exceedingly ferocious and will eat anything it can get hold of. This particular type is found only on Komodo and a near-by island. Their main preys are deer, goats  and ground nesting birds. But they are known to eat a straying person or two as well! People live in a few small villages on the island and have to be on the look-out because the Dragons come very close to their houses looking for food – and a small straying child!

A native guide came to the ship and led the 45 minute walk to the viewing platform, where we could safely observe the dragons. It was a very hot and humid morning, I remember. We saw interesting birds and nervous-looking deer as we trotted along. Poor things, they come at the top of the dragon’s gourmet menu. What a precarious existence. The viewing platform has been erected for the visiting tourists, and a small lake created in order to attract the Rusa deer, which the dragons prefer to eat. The way it is done is to bite the deer with their bacterial-filled mouth. This will poison the poor creatures and they die a slow and horrible death. That’s when the dragons come to enjoy their dinner! Not a very endearing animal I must say, but it was a fascinating visit. The guide carried a ‘forked tool’ in case a straying dragon came across our path. No-one appeared, fortunately, but we did see the tail end of some as they rested in a hole (lair) under a shady tree.

 After a delicious lunch onboard some of us went snorkelling in the afternoon. The sea was lovely, warm and blue. It was a great place to see the coral reef and the colourful fish beneath us. Next stop: Kakabia Island.

This is Komodo Island as seen from the ship.