Coasting Through West Sweden's Koster Islands - Page 3

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Ursholmen lighthouse outpost in the Koster Islands, West Sweden
Lighthouse-keepers' lodging on Ursholmen in the Koster Islands, West Sweden (Mikael Almse/West Sweden Tourist Board)

Quite apart from its recent designation as the country's newest national park, Koster is simply a lovely, relaxing place to unwind. Quiet gravel roads thread the interior, free of all motor vehicles save the occasional flakmoppe (hybrid motorbike-tricycle contraptions that are easy to anticipate as they putter loudly over the nearest rise); hiking trails wind through the forested interior and spill out onto untouched coves and dramatic vistas. It's a place where time almost does grind to a happy halt as you adjust to island time.

Koster's parkland status resulted from over a decade of consultation and debate, much of it contentious as longtime island residents, particularly area fisherman, came to terms with what protected habitat status would mean for their livelihoods. But as with many things here, the Swedish have a remarkable aptitude for compromise and pragmatic solutions. There are no gates, fees, or signposts to tell you you're entering a marine national park. The land and its human, cultural history are intermeshed as closely as the beach running into the ocean.

The captain of the boat during my lobster safari, a burly third-generation fisherman called Pierre, encapsulated this pragmatic connection to the land in describing his grandfather's hatred of lobster. "He was poor and in those days grew up eating nothing but lobster," he chuckled garrulously. "It was so easy to catch." Today, with more restrictive lobster, as well as other fishing, quotas in place, I didn't detect any hostility in these recollections. Pierre's livelihood now depends not only on the undersea bounty of the waters surrounding his home, but also the flow of tourists that these same waters attract. As if to underscore this symbiotic relationship, I later ran into Pierre DJing a scrum of locals and tourists at the Hotell Ekenäs bar. He raised his glass to me, a broad grin smeared across his thickly-stubbled face. It was hard not to conclude at that precise moment that the new living arrangements were working for all concerned.

As a visitor, of course, it's unlikely you'll see much beyond the archetypical Scandinavian hospitality and friendliness. That group of aforementioned Stockholm school chums had negotiated a ride on Pierre's lobster-safari charter in order to have him drop them for an afternoon on Ursholmen, a craggy lighthouse outpost that marks Sweden's westernmost point. This arresting cluster of weathered granite outcroppings is the place where the continent finally surrenders to the open sea. My fellow passengers thought nothing of inviting a complete stranger to join them on their weekend picnic at the hideaway where they'd discovered cliff-jumping, swimming, and sailing as teenagers. While Pierre completed the rounds of his collection of lobster pots, we snacked on a delicious feast of fresh crabs, oysters, and wine, sharing stories that made everything feel that much closer despite the distance between our real lives.

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