Monday August 27, 2001
A few days ago we started on our driving tour. We discovered that an American family of 5 traveling for a year along with 3 fluffy new Icelandic sweaters CAN fit in a Toyota Corolla wagon without a luggage rack, but riding in it without fighting is difficult. We left Reykjavik late Saturday morning, heading northwest along the coast. In the mid-afternoon we arrived at Snaefellsness (sneye-full-sness) guesthouse, campground, and golf course just at the base of Snaefellsjökull glacier (a technically redundant phrase; jökull means "glacier"). The morning started out gorgeous, but deteriorated steadily on our 2.5 hour drive. Lynn and I have a panoramic view of the ocean and the glacier, or more accurately, the low clouds obscuring the glacier. The clouds eventually teased us by lifting just a little above the base of the glacier, and occasional flashes of orange and red were reflected by the base of the ice-sheet during the brilliant sunset. The kids did school in the afternoon and then played a little on the beach. They particularly liked the whale bones in front of the rooms. I was accompanied by a screeching tern during a short jog on the beach, and read later that the birds are notorious defenders of their territory and will commonly attack the head and shoulders of human intruders, sometimes producing substantial wounds. Oops... lucked out this time. We ate dinner at the guest house. There probably isn't any other place to eat within an hour's drive. The food was OK, but the real excitement was provided by Tom and Ann, who both barfed during the meal. Tom did a great one all over his plate in mid bite. I remember Geoff doing the same thing 9 years ago at a Guesthouse in Denmark when he was 4. Now that we have this out of the way, I'm sure that there will be no more barfing in the next 12 months! Smooth sailing from here on out (yeah right) .
At the end of our drive we were rewarded with some fresh air and dramatic views on the beach.
Sunset over the North Atlantic.
Tom and Ann seemed totally fine after emptying their stomachs at the dinner table in the guesthouse on the Snaefellsness peninsula, so I expect that it was some sort of conspiracy to test our ability to handle inconvenient and embarrassing situations. I also expect that there might be far more difficult events to deal with in the upcoming months. Sunday's "day 2" drive from Snaefellsness to Akureyri was probably the longest driving day. We needed about 3 hours to get from point A to point B, and spent an extra 2-3 hours on side trips to see things. We began with the side trip to see things, traveling around the Snaefellsness peninsula and looking off the cliffs. We made the kids crawl along the edge of the grass to look over the edge and down the 100 foot vertical walls. It still made us nervous to watch them dangling their heads over the edge. Watching the activity of the seabirds that nest in cliff-side nooks and crannies was the entertaining reward for crawling along and grass-staining their pants.
Looking back at last night's guest house as we start our day's drive.
Snaefellsness Glacier, on the Snaefellsness peninsula (atop Mt Snaefellsness?)
A little melting action...
It didn't much convincing to get the kids to crawl (not walk) to the edge of the cliffs for peak over the side.
The weather on Sunday was probably as nice as it ever gets here, a balmy 16c with a steady wind of only about 10-15mph, and very sunny. It was a little blustery now and then, but the wind cleared the air which served to enhance the marvelous coastal panoramas. The small concave ice cap of Snaefellsjökull was clearly visible as we proceeded around the peninsula, between the glacier and the cost. I tried my hand at lifting the "testing stones" along the beach at Djúpalon. The series of increasingly heavy stones were supposedly once used to determine the position of a prospective ship-hand. I am not at all proud of the results of this test. Apparently, I am not useless, but I am a weakling.
The testing rocks come with a user manual.
After testing our strength, went for a little stroll along the Djúpalon beach.
We encountered man-made arches and natural ones too.
The entire afternoon was spent completing the long section of the drive. We finally arrived in Akureyri, Iceland's second largest and most difficult to pronounce city a little after 5pm. It looks like a town of about 4-5000 people, with the most notable enterprises being a university and a small airstrip. Since it was late Sunday afternoon, there wasn't much to do except eat dinner and look in the windows of the closed shops. The guesthouse manager was only expecting 4 people so we had to protest a little bit in order to get 5 beds, which he eventually coughed up after Lynn showed that she could be just as testy as he could. But now that we are fed and settled, things feel quite serene. We noticed on a map that the arctic circle is only a few miles off the coast here, and I was just barely able to make it out with binoculars.
Finally arriving at Akureyri
Monday was a glorious morning, and the formerly grumpy guest house owner was somehow transformed into a humming, toe-tapping, and happy man by the American gospel music belting out of the radio in his dining room during breakfast. He had either decided that he would be appropriately paid for the 5-ness of our family, or that it didn't matter so much that it would spoil the morning. He cheerfully showed me how to call Reykjavik from our room to upload our web page. I later realized that he might have been so happy because of what he was able to charge for national phone calls. We spent most of the day on an excursion slightly inland to see the huge lake Mývatn. It is fairly shallow and crystal clear, and it is named after a type of fly (Midge Fly, in English) that breeds in the lake and surrounding rivers. On the way to the lake, we stopped to see the Gödafoss waterfall, so named because of the actions of the leader of the Icelandic governing assembly in something like the early 11th century. He stopped here to toss his various idols and statues of the Norse gods over the edge of the falls after presiding at a meeting during which it was decided that the country should adopt Christianity. The falls are thundering, powerful, and drop a good 15-20 meters. We all speculated as to whether the statues and idols had ever been fished out or whether they were still down there. Maybe Geraldo should check it out.
Lake Mývatn A helpful signpost explains the historical significance of Gödafoss,
which is a rather impressive waterfall.
We enjoyed scrambling over the rocks, and I have to admit that
it did cross my mind where the boundary lies between curiously adventuresome
and dangerously irresponsible. In Iceland, they apparently let people
figure that out for themselves.
When we arrived at the lake and got out of the car to stop for lunch, we were relieved to find out that the clouds of flies were not interested in biting or landing on humans, although they occasionally can't help flying up your nose, because after all, you are in the way. The lake is quite large albeit shallow, and there are many interesting and diverse natural phenomena (a.k.a. "things") around the perimeter. The bottom of the lake is coated with a layer of diatoms, and there is a large factory at the north end of the lake which extracts silicate products from the diatoms. I think that there is a little bit of controversy about how environmentally disruptive the diatom removal is and to what extent it should be regulated, but invoking the privilege of the transient visitor, I filed this issue under the convenient "not anything for me to do about it" category. In general the island of Iceland is a beautiful and unspoiled natural treasure. The people and their government seem well aware of the value and importance of this heritage, both for themselves and the rest of the entire world. Facilitating our full appreciation of this natural splendor, the glorious morning evolved into a perfect day, and we took several short hikes at different spots around the lake. The flies drive a thriving food chain and we saw many people fly fishing (many in Iceland is more than 3) and one of our guidebooks says that more varieties of ducks nest here than anywhere else. I'm not sure if the else means Iceland, Europe, or the entire planet Earth. We saw some fairly familiar waterfowl including swans, as well as some interesting shorebirds that I didn't recognize. I tried looking some up later, clumsily attempting to figure out how to use a bird book at the Guesthouse. Birding will not be my next hobby.
Our first glimpse of Lake Mývatn
There was a short walk through a pleasant Icelandic forest (some short trees) between the parking area and the lake.
Along the shore of Lake Mývatn
The surrounding landscape of Lake Mývatn is a vast expanse with an enormous variety of geographic features. Buttes, mesa's, bluffs, mountains, cinder cones, and craters of differing colors. Some are charcoal gray or even darker. Some are different and streaked shades of brown and yellow. Some are very close. Some aren't. Snow covers the tops of the largest, some are bare rock, and some wear patches of turf like badly fitting toupees. I started making up names for them like "Monstro", "Mud-Pie", "Jello-Mold", and even "Madonna's Bra" for a cinder cone. Geoff pitched in with "Mesa Verde" (B+ for today's Spanish grade). There has been recent volcanic activity just a few miles away from a small town on the lake, which was actually threatened by lava flows in the 1980's. All of this surrounds a dominant large volcano which itself last erupted in the 1700's. We drove out along the flanks of the big volcano to see some of the thermal features, and read that the local townspeople come out here to bake bread by sticking the dough which is wrapped in cardboard milk cartons into pits in the ground. They even occasionally roast meat in the naturally heated underground pits. Needless to say, it is considered rude to go digging around in someone else's oven, possibly ruining their dinner.
The thermal activity not far from Lake Mývatn
Low stress Icelandic traffic
We spent Monday night near Hüsavik, a large fishing and previously whaling (now whale watching) and fishing town on the North coast. We arrived in time for a late afternoon visit to the whaling center, which has a thorough scientific description of cetaceans in general, as well as a good history of whaling in Iceland. The topic of whaling is supposedly very controversial (I'm sure it truly is), but as the guidebooks point out, while the local population may resent the rest of the world setting policy regulating their livelihoods, they are just as happy to make money running whale watching charters as they are hunting the whales. The official government policy is reluctant co-operation with the IWC (International Whaling Commission) rules , but it maintains that whales are a renewable resource and if they are not endangered and exist in waters around Iceland, it should be allowed to practice whaling. I hope I got that correct, because while most material in the whaling center was very good, this last bit about whaling policy came from a poster which had not been proof-read carefully after translating to English (it was probably put up just a few months ago). There were sentences like "It is not Iceland's posion to be opposed to the IWC, and althouw Iceland is not and IWC member, it will recognice that the opinions of other world nations and coperation with them, along with the protecting the nature." Iceland did announce in 1999 that it would resume whaling "for scientific" purposes, but the taking of animals has been limited to a few sick or wounded. It seems at this point to be mostly political posturing and an assertion of sovereign rights. I think we'll probably go for whale-watching vs whale-hunting for our daily excursion tomorrow!
Hüsavik harbor , and another spectacular sunset
- Rolf 8/27/2021