adventure tour, day 2: vestmannaeyjar

Ferðaáætlun, dagur 2: Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands)

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On Day 2, we packed up, thanked Ásta for her gracious hospitality, said goodbye to Brúnaland, and drove to Landeyjahöfn to catch the ferry Herjólfur to the Westman Islands (our van was in the ‘XL-Bílar’ lane).  Apparently this harbor was only constructed in 2010; before that, the primary gateway to the islands was through Þorlákshöfn, about 100 km west.  The old route took nearly 3 hours; the current route, only 30 minutes.

The Westman Islands are an archipelago off the southwest coast of Iceland.  Heimaey (‘home island’), with a population near 5,000, is the only inhabited island.

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The ferry, Herjólfur, docked at Landeyjahöfn

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Sumarhús?

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On a clear day you have a beautiful view of Eyjafjallajökull throughout the ferry ride.  Before you reach Heimaey, you pass a number of much smaller islands.  One or two of them had single homes on them, which I’m assuming are private summer homes.  Doesn’t look like the easiest place to get to, though.

When you near Heimaey, the boat is suddenly overshadowed by cliffs on one side, and just when you’re thinking the island looks completely empty, you round a corner and see a sprawling town (well, okay, sprawling by Icelandic standards).  I was surprised by the size and also by the smell – a rather unpleasant combination of fish and bird droppings, I believe.

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Heimaey harbour

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We checked into Hreiðrið Guesthouse and then Kent took us on a little van tour.  We drove past Herjólfsdalur, the valley where the Þjóðhátíð festival takes place every August.  Þjóðhátíð is a long weekend of music, merriment, and sometimes more, since Ásta Sól says there’s generally a noticeable upswing in Iceland’s birth rate every May.

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Party central every August

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We continued south to Stórhöfði, a weather station and viewpoint on the south end of the island.  Eyjafjallajökull looms from the north, and the water to the south is dotted with other islands, including Surtsey, the newest island on earth.  It was created by a submarine volcanic eruption in the 1960s and is the second-largest island in the archipelago, although due to erosion it is only half the size it once was.

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meira eyjar

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Surtsey is the one in the background on the right, with the low, long spit on one side.

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The next stop was Eldfell.  Anyone with an interest in Iceland probably knows that the eruption of Eldfell in 1973 forced the evacuation of Heimaey and ultimately increased the island’s land mass by about 2 square kilometers.  The lava flow threatened to cut off the harbor, which would have made Heimaey completely uninhabitable, but with some strategy and some luck, they were able to divert the lava flow and the harbor is actually better protected now than it was before the eruption.

There is a sort of path up the mountain, but the rocks are large and loose so it’s rather slow going, similar to the resistance you feel when walking up a sand dune.  Still, it was completely worth it for the view.

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Red

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Sadly, my camera malfunctioned and I seem to have lost about 25 photos I took at the top.  I do have a few, though, and everyone else in the group was snapping away so hopefully I’ll be able to steal some more shots.

We tumbled and slid back down the mountain, returned to the guesthouse for lunch, and then had free time the rest of the afternoon.  Most people went swimming, but I decided to go for a solitary walk.  First I noticed a soccer game and watched for awhile, then I walked ‘downtown.’  Unfortunately hardly anything was open (it was Sunday), so I just wandered around for awhile.  I was surprised by how urban the town is.  Okay, maybe suburban would be a more appropriate term, but really, I guess I expected it to be more countrified and quaint, when in reality it almost looked like a small section of Reykjavík, minus the city’s wonderful charms, had been picked up and plunked down on Heimaey.

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Ohhh so this is what the lögreglumenn do all day!

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alltaf fiskar á íslandi

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Neighbors: the university and the liquor store

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I failed to find a kaffihús or other place to hang out, so I bought a few snacks at a grocery store and went back to the guesthouse for a nap.  In the afternoon, my host mom Hrafnhildur called me to say halló so I chatted with her a bit in what I would call Eng-landic or Ice-lish.  Whatever it was, it was enough to effectively communicate, and when I got off the phone, Jolene said something like, ‘Holy shit!  You frickin’ speak Icelandic!’  That’s definitely an exaggeration, but it really is amazing how much we can communicate with my limited Icelandic and her limited English.

For dinner we enjoyed a barbecue in the courtyard between our two guesthouses.  After dinner, a bunch of us stayed outside and chatted.  Jolene showed off her impressive magnetic forehead talent:

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Amöndu is rendered speechless (but not expressionless) by Jolene’s talent

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We talked and laughed while the sun sank below the hills and turned the evening light pink, no one wanting to be the first to leave and break that magical midnight sun spell.  But eventually we realized we should get some sleep, so we all found our ways to our little puffin-bordered rooms and slept.

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góða nótt

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íslenskur lundinn

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á morgun: Geysir, Gullfoss, Kjölur, Hofsós

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