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Posts Tagged ‘Arctic Fox Center’

(I’m aiming for 15 Highlights)

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6 Arctic Fox Center in Suðavík

When we went in 2010 the Center was closed, but there was a fox kit outside in a play structure/enclosure being cute, fuzzy, long-legged, and adorable.  Going inside the Fox center was a must do on my list this time.  At the end of a long time trapped by the weather in Ísafjörður, we forayed out to Suðavík, only 15 minutes away, to visit the Fox Center.  Our hostess at the gisthus we were staying refused to take our room keys back because she thought we wouldn’t get far, but we had already packed all our stuff into the truck intended to check out.  This proved fortunate.   Most of the roads in the area were still closed and there was no way out of the Westfjords yet, but this stretch was supposed to be fine.  There were flurries across the road, but it wasn’t too bad driving at all.  We called and brought the beautiful Ester out of her cozy house to open up the Fox Center for us.  We talked at great length, looked at the museum, watched a movie over waffles, discussed the building of the Center and Frosty, the first fox we met in 2010.  When we left, the weather had turned and a slide had closed the road behind us, a half hour after we’d passed.  Luckily, we found another cozy guesthouse in Suðavík, promptly getting stuck there in the blizzard for another couple days.

IMGP14447 Horse roundup

Buried in a local paper with a feature on the sheep buried in the snow at Akureyri, there was a sidebar on wild horse roundups in the north of Iceland.  We’d never heard of such a thing, and there was one scheduled a few days away.  Far in the Northeast, we asked someone (Erlingur at Hotel Norðurljos) about it.  He called a friend and came back with instructions to the place, his friend’s name, who would be there, and to pass on that we “absolutely must go.  A horse roundup is not to be missed”.  So we went.  The horses were all driven from a field into a corral, and then the horses were sorted out by the owners and dragged through gates into holding pens and then shuttled away in horse trailers.  We were possibly the only tourists there and were wholly ignored, sitting up on the wall of the corral and petting the few horses who were calm enough to be interested in visiting.  It was a loud, dusty, active event.  It was clearly an all ages social to-do.

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The people were all yelling at the horses and each other, trying to cut horses out of the herd, grab them by the head and drag them into a corner.  They were checking chips in their ears with a reader.  There was much drinking and public urination and snuffing tobacco and laughing and lists on clipboards.   Although they were whinnying and biting each other, the horses were less frantic than one would expect.  At first crowded tightly in and then once horses were sorted out and there was more room, they got harder to grab, and would stampede together from one end to the other, knocking people over, bucking, stomping on feet.  Some horses were incredibly upset at being separated from others, trying to go through the same gate as their friends, sometimes managing it and then being forced out.  Colts at their first roundup looked sad, trying to keep track of their moms and crying at being separated from them, getting jostled and nipped by the big horses.

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8 Icelandic sweaters at the thrift store

There’s a wonderful thrift store in a certain city in Iceland that we found in 2010 and went back to this time.  It was exactly the same.  Messy, crowded, tended by the same no-nonsense lady who can’t or won’t speak a work of English.  I found fabulous things there last time that became wardrobe favourites and it was no different this time.  I cleaned up on clothes that were like nothing I’d seen before, even though I’d have to toss some of the clothes I’d brought to Iceland with me.  Icelanders take unique fashion to a whole new level.  Even their leftovers are awesome.  Then there were the sweaters.  We had been checking out Icelandic wool sweaters on everyone and for sale at various places in the country, as I wanted to get one this trip.  Sweaters have a vast variety, and H.W. had put a specific request in to the universe: “I want a sweater with a hood, black and grey, with a zipper”.  Hooded sweaters are not very common at all.  And there it was exactly, in that thrift store, only it was a women’s version, a lovely charcoal grey and a perfect fit for me.  They had a whole rack of sweaters, some of them just as nice as the ones for sale down the street for hundreds of dollars.  So I got the sweater H.W. had ordered, and he ended up with one with no hood or zipper.

IMGP95249 Reindeer

Ever since I saw a movie of reindeer running, I’ve wanted to go to Lapland and see the herds migrating.  I didn’t even know there were reindeer in Iceland until I read it somewhere on our way into the Eastfjörds.  I was very excited to see reindeer and promptly, the deer delivered.  Riding our bikes into Höfn, there was a family unit of deer in the field.  The next day there were more deer, closer, walking along the other side of a fence by the road.  They have such beautifully swooping antlers.  But that was nothing.  In the truck later near Reyðarfjörður, suddenly we noticed a hillside speckled with snowy patches- that were moving.  We turned around and parked to watch and take pictures, and there were over a hundred deer on the slope, involved in every kind of deer behaviour.  Most were lounging, some were agitating and rousting up the loungers, some were sneaking into others’ territory, some were bullying, some were grazing, some were headbutting their moms in the belly, some bulls were harassing the ladies, and there were a couple full scale clashes over territorial disputes.  It was a city of reindeer, there in full sight of the road, as if they knew it wasn’t hunting season quite yet.  The reindeer were introduced to Iceland for a meat crop that never took on, and now the wild population is limited to the Eastfjörds for some reason (climate?) and controlled by hunting.

IMGP844410 Flight to Grímsey

To officially visit the Arctic Circle in Iceland one has to ferry or fly to Grímsey and then walk a hundred yards north from the airport.  There’s a signpost there to take pictures by.  We booked cheap flights to the island, arrived at the airport far too early (we left again to get ice cream for breakfast and then went back), and when I checked in I was startled that not only did I not have to provide any ID, he didn’t even ask my name, just handed me the three boarding passes.  Then he took our day packs (checked luggage) and we went to sit in the sunbright waiting room.  We could see the plane, a Twin Otter, pull up, and we saw the same guy who’d checked us in stroll out to the plane with our backpacks on one arm and stick them in the luggage hold.  With a total of ten people in the waiting room, when someone came on the loudspeaker to announce the flight, Derek said, “I don’t know why he used the P.A., he could have just come in here and told us all”.  But of the ten people waiting, half of them were going someplace else!  Only one local kid and the three of us were getting on this plane to Grímsey, which made the checkin process make a bit more sense.  We boarded the plane after holding everyone up a minute to take a picture, the same guy who’s loaded our luggage shutting us in and then flagging out the plane.  It was a beautiful sunny day, and as we rose up and turned from takeoff, the snow and the grey cliff edges of the fjörds were beautiful as we headed towards the open ocean for Akureyri.  Then the window one seat in front of us plopped out onto the seat.  The outer pane was intact, but it was still funny, and H.W. deadpanned that hopefully that’s the only equipment malfunction on the trip.

At the other end, the airport was even smaller- one room with a desk in it, and the lady who unloaded our bags and handed them to us talked a mile an hour asking us where we’re staying, pointing out the two guesthouses on the island, and commanding us to go to the Arctic Circle point, which was there in sight.  We had to go there before we could get our certificates (signed by the pilot).  We obediently went over there, lingering and posing.  We were waiting for the plane to reload and depart again, as Derek wanted to try for the very difficult shot of us with the plane taking off in the background (he did it).  Then we were snacking, when the lady from the airport, having changed out of her uniform and locked up the airport, came walking across the field to bring us our certificates.  They were unexpectedly beautiful things, with our names done in calligraphy and yes, signed by the pilot.

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Although I still love sleeping outside, I was ready for a hot pool.

I woke up irritated by the wind battering on my tent.  The sound of it intruded on my dreams until I woke up resentfully, and found that it wasn’t my dreams; the worst gusts of wind were flattening my tent right down to my face.  At least that was unique enough to be interesting.

There was nothing for it but to get up and bag my feet. I was pretty pleased with myself for producing two plastic bags somehow out of my luggage, out of the depleted food supplies no doubt, and I bagged my feet and last dry socks against my sodden hikers.  It was fabulous, however brief.  They didn’t last.  The plastic breached and slowly my socks sponged up water, but it started the day out right.

Alone, I hiked past Hesteyri to the mysterious red brick smokestack we could see past the town, that turned out to be an old whaling station.  I didn’t see any evidence of whales; the carcasses were of big beached iron ovens with rusted bellies and gnarled straps and gears.  None of it made sense to me, but the scale was amazing and impressive.  There were huge warehouse floors, ovens, and the tower was startng to crumble.  Some walls and whole structures were intact, but the roofs were caved in and rotting, and I felt weirdly unadventurous and reluctant to go squeezing into cracks in tumbledown buildings or to go under moss-covered partial roofs.  I trust the manmade much less than natural crevasses and outcroppings.  The trail to the whaling station was varied by bridges and little waterfalls, but I’d brought no camera.

Back near camp I picked some blueberries for breakfast (muesli) and woke Derek.  The wind was bad.  My tent had gotten all wet inside while I was gone and I was bitter about it.  I packed it all and hiked it to the one unlocked boat shed in town, right by the dock.  I finished the complete inspection of the town by snooping on the remaining four houses.  Like all the others, they appeared to be furnished, well-used, and every one locked up tight.

While Derek packed I picked blueberries in the low hills behind the town.  The blueberries were rampant and endless.  The mist was bordering light rain, heavy and dark.  That kind of moisture in the air seems to permeate waterproof clothes.

The yellow shed we sheltered in

It leaks in at your wrists and seems to come inside you with your breath, so it’s impossible to feel really dry although you may not be wet.  At any rate, I was cold.  By the time Derek came to get me I had a big bag of berries and my hands were stiff and vein blue, uncannily like  a corpse.  We went to the dock and hid in the yellow unlocked shed.

Self portrait of waiting

We waited.  We made hot chocolate, we looked around the shed.  We waited.  I can still picture the meagre contents of that boat shed in my minds eye.  A mysterious tool with a snarl of cable, nails and buckets, rags and old sacks, shreds of rope on the ground, oars and worthless warped lumber stacked on the rafters.  We were too cold not to stand, so we stood, stomping and clapping and occasionally mustering enough energy to shout and jump around, which didn’t really help too much.  Occasionally we laughed with a moment of objective perspective of us, hiding in a boathouse.  Mostly we stood staring numbly out at the long dock pointing into the bay, listening and longing for the boat that was coming to get us to appear out of the fog in the bay.

The boat was two hours late.  No zodiac this time; it could pull right up to the end of the long dock built far out into the deep enough water.  It dropped off two guys that had more luggage than I would think possible.  Boxes and drybags and backpacks, all impressively packaged gear, piling and spilling all over the dock.  They were rushing around, tossing and grabbing and hustling their stuff around at a near run.  I was soporific with our long hypnotizing wait in the boathouse, and dazed by their pace and the quantity of their stuff.  Probably the equivalent of six of our backpacks for each of them.  They tersely responded to my conversational questions that they were staying on Hornstrandir for 10 days, and continued barking at each other in German (I think), and hustling their gear around.   In fact, by the time we were on board, they’d moved their giant colorful pile of gear to the end of the dock.  It’s still a mystery what they doing with all that stuff.  Obviously it wasn’t just ten days of food, so they must have been up to something specialized, but their gear didn’t give away what.

The boat was two hours late.  No zodiac this time; it could pull right up to the end of the long dock built far out into the deep enough water.  It dropped off two guys that had more luggage than I would think possible.  Boxes and drybags and backpacks, all impressively packaged gear, piling and spilling all over the dock.  They were rushing around, tossing and grabbing and hustling their stuff around at a near run.  I was soporific with our long hypnotizing wait in the boathouse, and dazed by their pace and the quantity of their stuff.  Probably the equivalent of six of our backpacks for each of them.  They tersely responded to my conversational questions that they were staying on Hornstrandir for 10 days, and continued barking at each other in German (I think), and hustling their gear around.   In fact, by the time we were on board, they’d moved their giant colorful pile of gear to the end of the dock.  It’s still a mystery what they doing with all that stuff.  Obviously it wasn’t just ten days of food, so they must have been up to something specialized, but their gear didn’t give away what.

The pilot was the same driver as before, so needless to say he completely ignored me and spoke only to my brother.  The sea was rough, which made it very fun.  The prow of the boat heaved up and crashed  down on each wave, rain pelted the windshield and it was wild and noisy.  I played at standing on one leg at a time as long as I could in the middle of the cabin.  No one noticed.  The driver rattled on and on about “shelter” and finding the “right path” for the least turbulence.  I suggested we could go faster, and was ignored.

Back on land, we shucked our wet backpacks into our car and drove directly to a gas station.  In the washroom mirror, my face was dirty and my skin coarse.  The weather was more clear immediately. Back in Ísafjörður, we went on a binge of erranding.  A pile of food at Bónus, then back to Gamla Bakaríið for pastries and bread.  I was on the hunt for some light, simple sneakers.  My hiking boots were the only closed shoes I’d brought and I thought I could get by with them everyday, but these days it seemed they never got a chance to dry out completely, and wet heavyhikers were getting tiresome.  There was an ideal thrift store upstairs from the Bónus, but we could only gaze wistfully at the treasure trove of chaos behind the glass, as it was closed that day of the week.

At Hafnarbúdin, I declined to pay $100 (on ütsala – sale) for a pair of cheaply made $30 shoes.  Such is Iceland.  Hopefully, you’ve brought you everything you need, lest you have to buy something there.

Next we discovered the best souvenir shop, the Viking (Víking?), a chain shop.  It was staffed by a remarkable woman with a surprising UK accent.  The prices were relatively reasonable too; by this time we were adjusted to the gaggingly high price levels in general in the country.  The only customers in an oasis of kitsch, handverk (crafts, did I need to explain?), and brilliantly designed woolens, we piled things on the counter and ticked off nearly our entire list of people to bring back gifts for.  Feeling very successful with a big yellow plastic bag, we carried on Vin Búðin (“the wine shop” – Icelanders are literalists).

A friendly staffer whose name I was delighted to see was Snorri, gave us the lowdown on Brennivín.  The green plastic bottle with the striking black and white label is considered Iceland’s signature spirit.  While we were purchasing several to try out and bring home,  Snorri told us that it was cheap, trashy liquor, flavoured with caraway, and that many people died of the drinking of it so it came to be called “black death”, and had been packaged at one time with only a skull and crossbones.  The tense was a little unclear.  It seemed more past, when in harder times gone by more people were “dying of drink”, while in the present, it is considered a low level choice, but unique to Iceland, therefore a source of pride.  Iceland’s bottom of the barrel booze, in other words.  Sold primarily to tourists, it seemed. There were also lots of local beers and cider for sale singly, so we loaded up with an assortment of creatively designed cans for the road.

With that bender of shopping complete, counterbalancing a few days outside of civilization, we drove on.  At Súðavík, we stopped at the Arctic Fox Center, which was tragically closed.  I’d been so looking forward to it.  They had an inviting cafe, too, and posters outside cheerfully explaining how polar bears sometimes make landfall in the Westfjörds after swimming from Greenland and get shot for their trouble.   In the yard, though, there was a large enclosure dusted with seagull feathers around a fox play structure with one fox puppy (I know, a kit) with a big brush tail.  He totally made the stop worth it, he was such a photogenic and entertaining little fellow, not cringing or shy at all.  We lingered, taking lots of photos trying to capture his ultra-quick pouncing and smiling at his antics.  He was such a wild being.  Very primal somehow, and outside of the human world, especially in his eyes.

Can you see the truck on the other side?

The road east of Ísafjörður and Suðavík stays low in elevation and follows the coast, “fjörded” like the teeth of a comb.  For several kilometers, you drive south, pointed inland, while across the narrow finger of water you can see the next car ahead of you about 10km, driving the opposite direction.  At the “bottom” of the bay, you make a short turn and then drive several kilometers towards the ocean and the North Pole, while across the water you can see the road you were just on and maybe a big truck, the next vehicle behind you.  At the tip of the fjord, you turn again and repeat.  There’s the same car on the other side, still about 10 km ahead.  Repeat.  Repeat.

As the afternoon faded, we drove past Hotel Reykjanes and then turned around for it, deciding it was late enough to stop.  It was a strange looking place, a conglomeration of white cubes in the middle of nowhere, but it was perfect.  The owners were sweet and generous, and we paid (quite low) camping fees to tent on the big lawn in front of the buildings.  I produced a giant bag of laundry, and got taken into the basement and told all about how there was a problem with the breaker and the husband was working on it.  His tools were scattered around.  No charge for the laundry!

Their big square hot pool was about the size of a community lap pool (50m!).  It had a deep end and everything, but it was hot, clean water.  It was the perfect temperature to lounge in indefinitely, especially after days of hiking.  All the space to myself, I rested and stretched while steam rose off the water while the sky gently changed colours getting ready for the sun to set.  My brother stalked the sunset with camera, and it delivered another wild one.

For the first time, I had wifi in my tent, which was such a novelty that I had to stay up to 1am on the internet.

For a whole whack of fuzzy little Arctic fox pictures, click here.

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