Birds and Red Sand: A Day at Látrabjarg og Rauðisandur

It’s a grey, cloudy, but surprisingly warm day on the fjord.  My host parents (and most of the rest of the town) are at a funeral, so I’m on my own for the afternoon, which means I’m at my beloved Stúkuhúsið ready to catch up on my blog.  Now that I’ve finished writing about Saturday’s trip to Flatey, it’s time to catch up on last Sunday, when we embarked upon another all-day excursion, this time to Látrabjarg and Rauðisandur.

 >>>

I was tired after a week of work and the all-day trip on Saturday, so I slept in on Sunday and we got a bit of a late start.  We picked up Brynjólfur, got some sandwiches (my host dad made Brynjólfur translate all the names, even though I definitely know the difference between rækja and skinka), and headed out.  We stopped at a museum somewhere along the way.  If I understood correctly, the entirety of the museum’s holdings were collected by one man.  If someone hoards junk and food purchased with coupons, we mock them on TV, but if someone hoards historical artifacts, we name museums after them.  Double standard, eh?

The museum had all sorts of stuff from the area dating back at least a couple hundred years: tools, furniture, kitchen equipment, knit work.  Everything was labeled in Icelandic, of course, and most things also had a label with English, French, German, and Swedish translations. Unfortunately many of the English translations were incredibly awkward (kroftré: to hang meat on to be smoked) or missing entirely.

>>>

Awkward!

>>>

There were so many things to look at that it was a bit overwhelming, but I took in as much as I could and it was interesting nonetheless.  I only took a few pictures, mostly of knit work to show Hannah.

>>>

Just for you, Hannah.

>>>

They also had a display of artifacts that belonged to the man the museum is named after.  I guess he was a hermit for most of his life, made all his clothes and furniture himself, and always wore a certain hat.  So everyone was eager for me to see the hat.  I guess I forgot to take a picture, but I promise, it really wasn’t all that exciting.  Green and grey, patched, tattered.  Well-loved.

I enjoyed looking at some Icelandic sheet music.  I may have only understood some of the words, but if I could have sat down at a piano and played through them, I think I would have understood the essence of the song just as well as any Icelander.  My host dad seemed a bit perplexed as to why I was spending so much time trying to read the music and some poems and books they had on display.  I had to ask Brynjólfur to explain to him that I am drawn to the written word, no matter what language it is.  If there is something to read, I’ll try to read it.  That’s just the way I am.

>>>

Látrabjarg: A Bird Nerd’s Paradise

After the museum, we continued on until we got to Látrabjarg, a haven for bird enthusiasts and also the westernmost-point in Europe (my host dad really wanted to make sure I understood this).  There were some wonderful signs (er, pictograms, my Canadian friends!) in the parking area explaining the dangers of walking too close to the edge of the sheer cliffs.

>>>

A helpful little pictogram depicting the fate of overenthusiastic bird nerds.

>>>

I think people of any nationality can get the point.

We walked partway up the hill, found some rocks to sit on, and enjoyed our simple little samlokas.  Sæmundur and Hrafnhildur stayed behind while Brynjólfur and I walked up to the viewpoint.  It was a bit cloudy, but I guess on a clear day you can easily see Greenland in the distance.  What you can see – and hear – on any day are the thousands of birds that call Látrabjarg home.  The puffins are the cutest and most recognizable, of course, but there are also northern gannets, razorbills, and guillemots (at least according to Wikipedia – you didn’t actually think I would know this, did you?).  There were dozens of bird-crazy tourists with their gigantic cameras lying flat on their bellies at the edge of the cliff and taking photos, but I kept a safe distance.  Still, I got a couple good photos:

>>>

Halló puffin! I promise I like you better like this than on my plate.

>>>

See the tiny tiny specks atop the cliff? Those are people.

>>>

It’s like a high-occupancy apartment building for birds.

>>>

The sound was at least as impressive as the view.  I took a video and will post it on Facebook when I have time.  When I’d seen enough birds, I lied down in the grass (a safe distance from the edge, I promise) and watched the Icelandic clouds in the Icelandic sky.  I think I could have easily taken a nap right then and there.  But alas, we had another stop: Rauðasandur.

>>>

Rauðasandur

>>>

The road down to Rauðisandur is better described by the Icelandic word óvegur (un-road).  It is dry and gravelly, with windy switchbacks and no guardrail.  In other words, it’s a bit terrifying, and I wonder if it’s even open in the winter.  As you drive down into what I would best describe as a valley, you can see two spits of reddish orange sand reaching out toward each other from opposite sides of the bay.  We happened to be there at high tide, which means there was much less sand than usual, but it was still impressive.

We stopped at a little kaffihús along the waterfront, sat on the deck and ate flatbrauð with some sort of smoked fish, súkkulaðikaka (chocolate cake), and kaffi.

>>>

‘kaffi’ might just be the best meal of the day

>>>

The view was incredible, and photos absolutely do not do it justice.

>>>

Icelandic pastoral

>>>

Behind us was the sheer, rocky cliff of the mountain, and situated in the mountain’s shadow was a little village with a farm and of course a kirkja (church).  In front of us, the rocky shoreline gave way to an expanse of red sand, and beyond it the open water.  To the left, a waterfall trickled down from the mountains, and in the distance you could see Snæfellsness glacier.

Elisabet, the daughter of my boss at Albína, was working at the kaffihús, and the two other people there are siblings of another lady who works at Albína.  Even if you drive a couple towns over, you still run into the same families.

On the deck they had jars of sand from places around the world.  The sand from Rauðisandur was very coarse compared to, say, Florida sand.

>>>

>>>

>>>

Sadly, they didn’t have any Washington sand.  Perhaps I’ll have to collect some and bring it back next time I come to Iceland.

After we ate, we drove down toward the sand.  Hrafnhildur and Sæmundur once again stayed behind, but Brynjólfur and I forged a little stream, walked through the grass, and started trekking across the sand.

>>>

>>>

>>>

It felt looser than the sand at home and was kind of difficult to walk across, but I was determined to walk all the way to the water.  Even at high tide, though, the sand just keeps going and going.  If you blocked out the ocean and the mountains around it, it could easily pass as a desert, I think.

>>>

>>>

>>>

Close up, the sand really does look reddish-orange (from a distance it’s more peachy), and it is very coarse compared to the sand in Washington and Oregon.

>>>

>>>

The sand mounds a bit and then slopes down to the water, so you have to walk quite a distance before you can even see the ocean.  It finally came into view, and I pulled off my shoes and socks and went for a little arctic wade.

>>>

>>>

>>>

It was surprisingly warm, really.  Well, not exactly warm, but no colder than the Pacific around the San Juans, I would say.

>>>

>>>

Brynja says Rauðisandur is her favorite place in Iceland and she insists it’s much more impressive at low tide.  There’s actually a music festival there this weekend, featuring dozens of Icelandic artists (the only ones I recognized were Snorri Helgason and Lay Low), but unfortunately the tickets were sold out.  Too bad.  That might have made up for missing the free Of Monsters and Men concert in Reykjavík today.

On the way back to the car, I had to stop and write a little shout-out to my fellow Snorris in the sand.

>>>

>>>

>>>

I didn’t grow up on the water, but we visited Lopez every year when I was a kid, and I’ve called it home for nearly two years, so I felt right at home being at the beach.  Grind the sand a little finer, exchange Snæfellsnes for Mt. Rainier, and it would pretty much be Washington.  Really, though, I think I can easily say that Rauðisandur is one of my favorite places I’ve been in Iceland.

Covered in sand, legs sore from the walk, we finally made it back to the car.  We had been gone for quite awhile, but thankfully, Sæmundur and Hrafnhildur didn’t seem to mind.  I made sure Brynjólfur told them it was one of my favorite places, so I think that helped!

Before we headed back up the mountain, we stopped by a little glacial stream and Sæmundur showed me the salmon swimming.

>>>

>>>

Another long day, but I had enough energy left to go for a short walk.  The evening light turned the fjord beautiful colors.  Unfortunately, the air was filled with these nasty little bugs that seem to enjoy flying directly into one’s face, so I had to give up on my original idea of sitting by the water.  Still, I snapped a few lovely photos.

>>>

>>>

Have I mentioned that this is a beautiful little corner of the world?

4 thoughts on “Birds and Red Sand: A Day at Látrabjarg og Rauðisandur

  1. Hannah

    My favorite part is the sign with the person falling off the cliff. That made me laugh. Also, I miss you. Oh, and are you going to bring home some sand?

    1. Nei, I am not going to bring home any sand. Well, not intentionally anyway. I don’t have any little bottles or anything, and even if I did I probably won’t have room in my suitcases… I’ve bought too many books… :-/

  2. Pingback: Íslenk Tónlist: Day of Icelandic Music « Iceland Bound

  3. Pingback: Snæfellsnes | Iceland Bound

Thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s