Sunday, 11 August 2019

Iceland


Icelandic Experience


We spent a few enjoyable days in downtown Reykjavik. The marina is situated conveniently in the heart of the city next to Harpa Concert Hall and close to all amenities. One  of the very first things we did was to buy an Icelandic courtesy flag at the huge indoor flea market of Kolaportid. As we are continuously running out of books to read, we were pleasantly surprised when we visited the city library; there in the foyer was a rack with discarded books  - all in English and all free! We chose the twenty most interesting ones which should last us for the duration of our journey.     


The landscape and the very peculiar language (says a Finn!) notwithstanding, Iceland felt like a home away from home. The locals looked like Finns, many of the shops were the same we have in Finland, and in the grocery store, we finally found the two Nordic products Riitta in particular had been craving for: 


From Reykjavik, we continued to the archipelago of Vestmannaeyjar located off the south coast of Iceland, just a day’s sailing from the capital. Before arriving in Heimaey, we stopped to deep-sea fish near the island. It took us less than a minute to catch the perhaps a bit peculiar looking but oh, so delicious fish (species unknown) that we had for lunch! 


Vestmannaeyjar is a place shaped by volcanic activity. The archipelago’s youngest island, Surtsey, was formed by a volcanic eruption that took place at the bottom of the ocean, and emerged from the water in 1963. The island was granted protection by law and to this day, only scientists are allowed to set foot on the island. They have been able to monitor how life settles on a brand-new land from the very beginning, a rare opportunity for scientists in the present world.   


In 1973, a volcano erupted on the archipelago’s only inhabited island Heimaey without warning leading to the evacuation of the entire population by boat to mainland. Approximately one fifth of the town was destroyed before the lava flow was stopped by applying billions of litres of ice-cold sea water. 


While in Vestmannaeyjar, we finally made the acquaintance of the Atlantic puffin. This bird resembles the horned puffin, its Pacific counterpart, though their ranges do not overlap. Although all the three puffin species are beautiful, our absolute favourite is the tufted puffin, also resident of the Pacific, which has a stout black body, a massive red, orange and yellow bill, and long ivory-yellow head plumes or tufts. 


A distinct difference between the horned puffin and the Atlantic puffin is that, in summer, the horned puffin’s face is clearly white whereas the Atlantic puffin’s face is pale grey. In winter, the face of both species turn darker grey. Some birds, however, seem to be incapable of distinguishing summer from winter!


If we had stayed on the island a little bit longer, we could have taken part in Puffin Patrol: starting in August, when the pufflings i.e. baby puffins are leaving their nest normally late at night for the first time, they often get disorientated and fly towards the town instead of the ocean. Both children and adults go around the town and try to find the pufflings which are weighed, measured and examined at the Puffin Sanctuary. If the puffling is healthy the rescuer can then take the bird to the seashore and set it free. 


Rescuing pufflings would have been great but, alas, it was time to continue our voyage. For the following leg, we haven’t decided on any specific destination as we are trying to avoid the seemingly ubiquitous headwinds. We’ll go wherever the winds take us, within reason of course. Whether it’s Norway, Denmark or the Faroe Islands, we’ll find out within the next few days!


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