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Posts Tagged ‘Höfn’

(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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Arctic Henge

1 Dinner at Hotel Norðurljos and the Arctic Henge

Because we had time, we went up the northeast corner of Iceland hardly any travellers check out,  cutting off the corner from Mývatn to Egilsstaðir on the Ring road.  There’s a great outdoor sundlaug north of Vopnafjörður, Langanes peninsula, and the northernmost tip of mainland Iceland, but still, it sees far fewer tourists.  In Raufarhöfn, there’s a project to change that- the Heimskautsgerði, or Arctic Henge, is partially constructed.  We arrived at dusk and found the giant columns of stone in the twilight much larger and impressive than I expected.  Just like Stonehenge, I was wondering how they built the center piece, with massive rocks leaning together and dependent on the last keystone at the top.  Hungry, we then wandered into the recommended Hotel Norðurljos for dinner.  The only customers there, our host Erlingur made us a truly exceptional meal (no menu, just a couple of verbal choices), talked with us at length, and then turned out to be one of the main incentives behind the Arctic Henge.  Hotel Norðurljos DessertHe brought out a scale model of the full project, talked about how they had done what they had so far, the other minds and skills at work on the project, the meaning and philosophy of the design, and the full vision of the completed ideal.  It is layered and deep and rooted in Icelandic mythology and poetry, and it will certainly be an un-missable attraction, one of Iceland’s great sights, when completed.  We studied the plan and talked about it for some time, and he explained how they had built the four legged central spire.   I could not have been more enchanted with the idea.  I hope work continues and it sees completion.

Arctic Henge Model

Arctic Henge Model

2 Secret hot pool at Mývatn.

No I’m not going to explain where it is.  Apparently the instructions of how to get there are on the internet already, and other tourists find it.  We had a friendly local tell us about this hot pool that the locals  keep to themselves, as they must- Mývatn area is inundated with flocks of loaded tour buses in the summer.  After saying that it’s closed to tourists, especially since one tourist broke a leg there, he then gave us exact (if arcane) instructions, saying you could find directions on the internet anyways, and if we could find it, we were entitled to be there, and besides if we encountered anyone, tell them he told us about it.  We followed his insider instructions in full night darkness (instructions like “walk along the fence until you see a rock on the other side…the fence curves a little and there’s a bit of a shrub…walk along the edge and look down into it until you see a board”), and we found it.  I memorized his words as he spoke, and I was going to find it.  The best part was the “it’s all straightforward from there”, referring to the technical scramble down the wet and icy crevasse down to the water.  I can sure believe someone broke a leg there, what I can’t believe is that he was extracted from the spot with a broken leg (“Icelanders do it blind drunk all the time, I don’t know how”).  The water was an ideal temperature- clear and clean and deep.  Crystal clear is a term often applied to water, but this water was so clear we could watch H.W. dive to his limit, about 50 feet, without finding the bottom, and I could still see his tattoos by headlamp, while stars from the Milky Way shone dimly overhead.   We even survived the climb out, and that night was possibly our best in Iceland.  In gratitude we tidied the place up and packed out a bag of garbage.

Herring Factory

3 Herring factory at Djúpavík.

The road north of Hólmavík on the east side of the Westfjords from Drangsnes terminating at Krossnes (both places with notable hot pool action), snakes along a minimally populated fjörded coast and through Djúpavík, a ghost town relic of the herring industry.  The three water tanks standing outside the factory have old heating coils in them, and are majestic, echoing concrete cylinders, astounding that they were formed with wood and poured by hand in the 1930’s.  H.W. especially was fascinated by the huge factory building, and naturally, with that much dedication, he found a way to slide into the inside.  I’m not going to describe that, either.  The place is deadly dangerous and there are tours of the factory in the summer, but be assured our entry point didn’t involve any doors, damage, or force.  There just happens to be a way in that really doesn’t look like a way in, so it has probably been overlooked.  Or else they don’t care too much, if you’re that determined to get inside.  The inside is a catacomb of multiple layers, floors full of ancient, rusted equipment, storage, and parts of it have been turned into museum and art exhibit space.  We tiptoed around for a long time, mesmerized by the abandoned infrastructure that became useless so suddenly when the herring schools failed to return.

4 Pool with kids at Höfn.

Swimming pools in Iceland are social spots, especially for children.  There are piles of bicycles outside, and the kids seem to all come to the pool after school, leaving just as suddenly before suppertime.  They play wildly, a dozen children with only a few adults around, splashing and running and leaping and shrieking with exuberance never seen or permitted in North American pools.  It works, because there are distinct kid areas and adult areas, so the kids play wildly without rules or restriction in their area, and behave in the hot pools, where the adults soak and chat.  Icelandic philosophy of ‘full freedom as long as it doesn’t impact others’ in full effect.   Amazingly, no one ever gets hurt.  We were minding our own business in the hot pool, but apparently the pair of foreigners aroused the kid’s curiousity.  As if on a signal, every child suddenly got up out of the kids side and filed deliberately into the hot pot we were sitting in, completely filling it.  There were about 18 kids, approx ages 8-13.  They rambunctiously hollered between themselves until one boy, who’d clearly been prearranged, possibly dared, to do it, turned to us and said “good morning”.  That brought a cascade of scorn down on him, which I could understand, of course.  They teased him for having said good morning, when it was nearly dark, and he defended that’s what Anglos say!  Then one astute little girl who’d noticed I’d responded to him in Icelandic, quietly and shyly asked if I spoke Icelandic.  I told her some, yes, I’ve been learning, and that was it.  All the heads swivelled and stared raptly at us, and question after question was shot at us in Icelandic and English.  “Can you understand what we’re talking about?” (in horror).  Yes, some.  Where are you from?  All the usual questions, and then, asking me to say word after word in Icelandic, their names, names of towns and places, pointing at things for me to name them in Icelandic, asking about my husband’s tattoos that announced he was Amerískur while I was Canadian, questions about movies and TV shows, laughing uproariously at my pronunciation and correcting it patiently, answering my questions of how to say stuff in Íslensk.  It was like a media scrum.  One of the boys routinely held his arms out and pushed back on his friends, “back it up, back it up”, doing crowd control, because they were literally pushing on us, crowding in with their little faces and rapid fire questions, all shouting at once.  “No, niður”.  It was kind of scary to have that much questioning attention turned on us,  my Icelandic was being severely tested, and it was adorable, too.  For some reason I found their voices vastly easier to understand, and it was easy and fun to talk with them.  I learned a lot, very quickly.  They were so shy to speak to us and bold with each other.  Eventually our novelty wore off, and they said goodbye and filed as one back out of the pool to resume chicken fighting in the big pool and dancing on the pool deck to Lady Gaga blasting from the loudspeaker.

Ísafjorður Theater

5 Watching Looper and Skyfall in Ísafjorður.

Ísafjorður has a wonderful old movie theatre.  The kind with a double pair of big wood entrance doors, and between the inner and the outer doors, there’s a ticket window on the side.  Pay your fare for lower or upper balcony (and get a seat assignment), then go through the inner doors and you’re looking at the screen and the back of the seats.  There’s a little kiosk on the left back corner selling popcorn and candy, but not fresh stuff- pre-made, in bags, which by the way tastes like Smartfood and is amazing.  The bathrooms are in the same big theatre room, and stairs go up to the balcony.  I love the institution of intermission.  No matter what is happening on screen (Intermission in Skyfall caught Javier Bardem with his mouth open mid-sentence in a very intense part), someone pushes pause, the screen freezes, and everyone rouses to reality momentarily to go pee, buy more popcorn, and stand, stretch, mill about, and chat.  It’s a great opportunity to talk about what’s happened so far and share your speculations about what happens next.  Intermission rocks, and this beautiful theatre is wonderful.  It doesn’t even play shows every night.  Possibly, the schedule may have influenced our decision to spend another night.

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