"" Writer's Wanderings: Iceland - Exploring the West

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Iceland - Exploring the West

The plan was to head west from Flokalundur and circle around a peninsula that had a point with a huge cliff that was famous for lots of birds including puffins. While it wasn't a real sunny day, it was certainly a lot drier than the day before had been. There would also be a long gravel road to travel today so Bob was already planning for another car washing experience later in the day upon our return.

Our first encounter on the road would be a common road hazard, sheep. Out away from the major cities, the sheep roam free and in some areas it is hard to imagine how in the world they can manage to hang on to the steep hillsides. This morning it was obvious that sometimes they took the easy way out and used the road way to get from one place to another. We happened upon this group of sheep who couldn't get off the road to get out of our way because there was a sheer drop on the side. They ran along, their wooly backsides bouncing up and down until they found a spot where they could finally climb down. It was funny watching them run--reminded me of a Halloween wig one of my kids had that bounced on his head as he ran down the sidewalk.

I don't know where Bob got all his information about places to stop but he found some unusual ones including the oldest steel ship in Iceland that had been beached years ago. It had been built in 1912 in Norway and beached in 1981. Its original purpose was for whaling but when that became restricted, it became a fishing vessel. The steel hull was more appropriate for getting through the ice at the end or beginning of a season. When it had outlived its usefulness its owners decided that rather than scuttle it they would run it aground and now it is a favorite spot for photographers.

Eventually our road turned to gravel and not just gravel but huge pot holes. Bob weaved from one side of the road to the other trying to avoid them but there were lots of spots where they were unavoidable. It slowed us down and threatened to give us whiplash as we bounced in and out from one to the other. When we reached Hnjotur and saw a restaurant sign, we were ready for our morning coffee break.

The place was actually a cafe with a museum of collectibles that came from the owner of the farm it was built on. The owner was especially interested in aviation and an out building held other exhibits having to to with planes. In front of it were several plane carcasses including a US Navy plane. We didn't explore the museums. There was a fee and we weren't in the museum mood. The coffee was excellent though, the facilities clean and once we were done with our rest break, we continued on with the hope that our cafe hostess was right. The first part of the road was the worst.

The point of the peninsula had a lighthouse and what is said to be a 14 km long cliff called Latrabjarg, where the sea birds come to nest in the breeding season. The wind was whipping around. I couldn't tell if there was a misty rain or if it was just the sea water being carried by the winds but it did seem a little wet. I wondered what the weather was like when the men hung on the side of the cliffs collecting eggs. The practice of egg collecting only happens once in a while now. It stopped somewhere around the 1950s.

A path led up to the top of the cliff and we could see where the birds had made nests in the crevices of the rocks. Of course we had already learned that the puffins breeding season had ended in August but nothing I could find told me where they went when the season was over. When I finally had some time I discovered that scientists aren't really sure exactly where they go except out to sea. They have tried tracking them but haven't been entirely successful. They do seem to think that the winter months are spent out in the open ocean feeding on fish of course. Apparently they are very buoyant and hardy.

After our picture taking, we started back down the gravel road to return to the main asphalt road and circle around to our hotel in Flokalundur. At least on the trip back we knew a little more of what to expect and when it would end.

We found a little town where we could get some lunch. There was a bit of road construction going on and apparently this guy was the "flagger" to be sure you slowed down for the construction area.

Whenever we passed someone on the road who was pulled off we always wondered what they were taking pictures of. You had to be careful though because sometimes a guy would look like he was taking a picture of something when actually he was just relieving himself. As we came down the road at one spot we noticed a car stopped on the other side and a woman watching her companion who was down the road a ways taking a picture of something.

We slowed and asked what he was taking a picture of and she hesitated for a moment. I was afraid we'd embarrassed her but then I realized she was searching for the English words. "Arctic fox," she said and pointed. Just at that time the fox decided to scamper across the road. We pulled over and I hopped out with my camera. I tried to get a couple shots down the side of the road where he seemed to be eating something.

Quickly I yelled to Bob to grab my other lens from the glove compartment and I did one of the fastest lens changes I've ever done. I was rewarded with some great shots especially when he moved away from the pile of rocks he was in. He didn't seem intimidated by us. Maybe I should have been worried but I was too excited to think about it until later. I never did figure out what he was eating. What an amazing encounter! It was the last thing I would have expected to see out in the open like that.

We went on our way counting out all the different animals we'd seen already: the reindeer, the whale, seals, swans, and now an Arctic fox. Amazing.

Back at our hotel, it was decision time. Did I want to try out the hot spring or not? We walked over to it to see if it was crowded. There were a few couples in it but it looked like they were about to get out. We walked back, borrowed the robes and towels and changed into bathing suits. No way were we walking back though. We drove.

By the time we got there a family of three and three young men who were from India were in the hot spring. We eased our way into the warm water. It wasn't cloudy like the Myvatn Nature Bath but it was a bit algae covered so you had to be careful climbing over the rocks. The family left a little after we got there and we had a nice talk with the young men. We helped each other get pictures and then after about a half hour decided that was enough of an experience. It was time to go. I expected it to be icy cold getting out but surprisingly it wasn't too bad and the robes kept us warm all the way to the car. It was a fun experience.

After dinner we scoped out the possibilities of where we might view the Northern Lights but when a light rain started we gave up the idea of going out again. Besides, the prediction for the location where we would be on Tuesday night was looking good. Maybe I could get some more pictures.

Northern Lights rather than sugarplums were dancing in my head as I went to sleep.


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