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.

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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.

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Awkward!

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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.

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Just for you, Hannah.

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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.

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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.

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

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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:

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

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

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

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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.

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Rauðasandur

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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.

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

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

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Icelandic pastoral

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

fimmtudagur: íslenska, pepperoni, forseti íslands?

Halló again dear readers (wow that sounds very Jane Eyre – points to anyone who understands that reference),

I just got off the phone with mamma mín.  Today is my parents’ anniversary.  Til hamingju for 37 years of marriage!  For anyone who might be curious and isn’t in Washington, my dad is recovering very well from his surgery.  He’s off the pain meds, is walking around the neighborhood, and is sleeping better.  Good to hear!

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að vinna: to work

My first day of work was rather overwhelming, as you can imagine, so I made sure I took a notebook to work with me yesterday so I could write down words to know, questions I have, things to remember, etc.  Hopefully it’ll help me learn and also help me remember things to blog about.

Work went well today.  Nine hours is a long time, and just like yesterday, my brain was getting a bit tired of learning in the afternoon, but it was okay.  My coworkers are wonderfully kind and mostly the customers are very understanding.  I don’t think I did anything too strange or mortifying today, although it was moderately embarrassing when I thought a customer wanted tobacco or candy and all she really wanted was a receipt.  úbs  🙂

My boss (also the owner of the store and the baker) speaks pretty much zero English, so we don’t really talk much.  I don’t know if it’s the language barrier or something else, but I find him a bit intimidating.  Every once in awhile, though, we’ll talk, and it’s fun to see how he gets excited when I actually understand him.  Like today, I walked into the back and he was hanging up some keys.  I pointed and said, ‘lykill’?  His answer was a bit longer than já or nei, but as soon as I heard the word ‘ruslið’ I understood – he had just come back from taking the garbage out.  When you’re learning a new language even those little moments are worth celebrating!

I think the most difficult thing at work is still the money.  It’s hard enough to get used to buying things with a different currency, but it’s even harder to count change correctly!  Different language, numbers with different genders, big numbers (an average purchase costs maybe 2300 kronur)… add mental math onto that and you have one confused me.  Luckily there is a calculator by the cash register and I quickly got over my pride and started using it.  Sorry, Dad – my mental math skills are not up to snuff when I’m under pressure!  I did however do a much better job saying the numbers today.  It is a pretty big effort, but since I’m more accustomed to other aspects of the job I decided I had to really try today.  People usually give me an amused (but pleased, I think) look when I say prices.  If you don’t know anything about Icelandic, here’s an example of why it’s so freakin’ hard.  If your purchase adds up to 2334 ISK, I would say, ‘tvö þusund, þrjú húndruð, þrjátíu og fjögur.’  And even as I type that I’m not entirely sure that it’s correct.

One reason numbers are difficult in Icelandic is that the numbers 1-4 have three forms – masculine, feminine, and neuter.  I could be wrong, but I think when you’re counting you use the masculine forms, but when you’re saying numbers like prices you use the neuter.  It’s all very confusing.  So confusing, in fact, that our Icelandic teacher told us a story about a girl who came to Iceland from abroad to be an au pair, and when she went to the market to buy groceries she would order 5 of everything (fimm) because it was easier than figuring out the numbers 1-4.  Our teacher told us that was a bad idea, but I don’t know… at some points today it seemed pretty appealing.

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I went to the kaffihús for lunch today… ég borðaði panina með kjúkling, pepperoni, ost, og hvítlauksósu… or something like that.  FYI, Icelandic national obsessions include genealogy, black licorice, candy in general, leggings, and pepperoni.  Seriously, they put pepperoni on everything.  It’s strange.  But tasty.

If I didn’t already mention it, Patreksfjörður has a very small population (600-700), so I’ve seen several people three days in a row now at the store.  I talked to my German friend again this morning.  He’s been living here since October and is working on a memoir.  I told him if there’s an English translation I’d love to read it.  I also saw this younger guy again today.  Yesterday he was asking one of my coworkers about me and they must have mentioned the Snorri Program by name because today he suddenly said in English, ‘So I got curious about you and looked up the Snorri Program.  Who are you related to here?’  Yep, apparently I’m an oddity and the word is spreading.  But that’s okay… I’m advertising the Snorri Program  🙂

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Forseti Islands?

The grocery store where I’m working has a wall by the front door where people can put up posters.  Most of them are listing things ’til sölu’ (for sale), but some are advertising places or events.  My first day I noticed a poster announcing that Þóra Arnórsdóttir, one of the presidential candidates (the election is this Saturday if you didn’t know), was coming to Patreskfjörður for some sort of town hall meeting tonight.  So on my lunch break I called my host mom and managed to tell her that I was going to walk to the Sjóræningjahúsið (pirate house – seriously) for the meeting.  If you missed the picture of it I posted yesterday, go check it out.  It looks like a dump on the outside, but I was surprised to find that it’s quite nice on the inside.  They have a bunch of information for tourists, displays about pirates (which I didn’t have time to look at today – I’ll probably go back and then post about it later), a book exchange (Lopez people – it’s just like the take it or leave it!  makes me feel at home!), and a little coffee shop.  I ordered a vanilla latte (side note: if you think Starbucks is expensive, try ordering kaffi here.  It’s ridiculous – I paid 510 ISK for a 12 oz. latte today, which is like almost $5.  The only good news is that you’re pretty much guaranteed to get good strong coffee anywhere in Iceland.  None of that watered down crap.  Oh, here’s another side note: á íslensku, ‘krap’ means ‘slush,’ and it also applies to a slushie drink.  ‘I’d like a large krap please.’)

I sat down, perused the book exchange (found a copy of Makbeð by Mr. William Shakespeare), and waited.  There was a guy pacing around who I kept staring at because he has come into the store a few times and he looks so much like my cousin Ben.  Remember him – we’ll come back to him in a few minutes.

Þóra, her husband Svavar, and their ADORABLE baby finally arrived.  She apologized for being late, but if there was an interesting explanation I didn’t understand it.  She and Svavar both immediately began making the rounds greeting everyone and shaking hands.  Svavar came over to me first and shook my hand and I think I had used up all my Icelandic for the day because I think all I said was ‘Hæ, ég heiti Julie.’  Awkward.  Þóra came over and I said hæ to her too.

Before you get too excited, let me tell you that right when I got to the pirate house I pulled out my camera and saw that the battery was dead.  So I didn’t get any pictures.  But I don’t think you need photographic proof – I mean, I’m creative, but there’s no way I could make up a town hall meeting with a presidential candidate at a pirate museum.

(Oh wait, here’s some photographic proof.  Okay, you can’t see me, because I was sitting next to Svavar, who took the picture on his fancy dancy iPhone, but anyway.)

Of course I understood next to nothing of what Þóra said (although more than I would have understood even a couple weeks ago), but I was definitely impressed by her demeanor.  She seemed very laid-back, kind, but professional, if that’s even the right word.  I did catch words here and there, so I know she was talking about the Alþingi, about IceSave, about the kirkja (church), and about Evropa (Europe – maybe something about joining the EU?).  There was an older woman in attendance who Þóra talked to for several minutes at the beginning, and then near the end she was pointing at her and telling a story.  Something about how Þóra and her husband were driving in this area once, and I think that lady helped them out somehow… or I could have completely misunderstood.  Who knows.  It sounded like a good story though.

After the meeting, I was getting up to leave, and Mr. Looks-Like-My-Cousin-Ben came over and said something to me in Icelandic.  I very gracefully said, ‘huhhhh?’ and he mercifully switched to English.  He recognized me from Albína and was very curious to know how I ended up at a political meeting where I can’t even understand what’s going on.  My answer was pretty simple – I’ll never learn if I don’t listen to the language in a real setting, and there’s nothing else to do in this town!  😉

We chatted for awhile and I found out his name is Brynjólfur (didn’t get it until I made him spell it for me).  He’s going to the Háskóli Islands but is working here for the summer (something to do with local government, I think).  He’s a poly-sci major so is very into politics.  He didn’t seem to hold it against me too much when I said I kind of hate politics.  Well, at least in the US I do.  Here it seems much more civilized.  We talked about handball (I just today learned what it is).  He loves handball and is of course rooting for the Icelandic team at the Olympics this summer.  He doesn’t want the sport to become popular in the States or other big places though because then Iceland might have some real competition  😉

Anyway, it was nice to talk to someone about my age (and in English!).  He said he doesn’t know too many people here and gets rather bored, so we might do something next week.  Who knows.  Hopefully he didn’t notice that I was staring at him.  If/when I see him again I might have to explain the whole cousin Ben thing.

I had to take a break from writing this blog a little while ago because my host parents came in and wanted to see more of my pictures.  They were kind of shocked that I didn’t enjoy eating svið and hákarl and harðfiskur.  Funniest of all was the fact that Sæmundur thought Mahtob (my cat) is ‘falleg’ (beautiful), but he definitely didn’t think Finn is fallegur.  I don’t know exactly what he said, but I heard ‘ekki’ several times.  Fyrirgefðu, systir mín.  I really did try to defend him.

Well it’s late and I must be up tomorrow klukkan korter í sjö (6:45).  Ugh.  I’m excited for the weekend, although I might not get to sleep in… my host family wants to take me somewhere.  Depending on the weather, some options are: Flatey (island south of here; some of my ancestors lived there or on a nearby island); Isafjörður (the largest town in the Westfjords); Rauðisandur (uhhh I don’t really know but I’m assuming there is sand and it’s red); or Látrabjarg (tall cliffs, lots of birds, westernmost point of Europe).  Hopefully at least one of them will work out!  It would be great to see more of the area.

Góða nótt!