Thursday, June 28, 2012

Iceland – Day 2: Reykjavik to Suðureyri, Vestur-Isafjardarsysla.

Adjusting to time zones that are more than 2 or 3 hours distant always seems to be a nightmare.  The adjustment to Icelandic time (Denver + 6 hours) was no exception.  Even with a 5 hour nap on Tuesday afternoon, neither Zack nor I was ready to face the daylight of another day.  Instead of waking at 8AM when I had the alarm set for we instead awoke at 10AM.  At that point we had already missed breakfast at the hotel, so after checking out our first task was to find some place to get some food.

We found a small little café off one of the main streets of Reykjavik.  Not being familiar with the food we choose a monstrous sized pastry and split it between the two of us.  It was tasty and filling.  It tasted the same as any kind of pastry you might find in a bakery in the United States.

After eating we quickly set our GPS for the town of Suðureyri in the Western Fjords of Iceland and we were off.  The first leg of our trip took us along the ring road to the north of Reykjavik.  Our first amazing encounter of the day was with a deep tunnel that ran under one of the many inlets from the Atlantic Ocean.  This tunnel was unlike any other tunnel I have ever been in as it seemed to go on forever and it dived to a very great depth under the ground.  I am sure we must have gone down for at least 200-300 feet before we reached the bottom of the tunnel.  Talk about a feel if you were claustrophobic! 

After this tunnel we wove along the coast for a good way.  We stopped in several small fishing towns along the way to admire the beauty of the ocean and the town itself.  After about 45 minutes of driving the ring road turned more inland and we lost sight of the coast.  Short after this we came upon our first adventure of the day – a series of extinct volcanoes that had covered the land in great depths of lava some 3000 years ago. 

This being such an interesting sight, we had to stop and investigate.  After finding a place to park, we got out to have a closer look at these 2 volcanoes.  Discovering that there was a path that allowed you to climb to the smaller volcano we set out to conquer the peak.  These volcanoes are located near the town called Bifrost and the one we climbed is called Grábrók.  The lava fields that extend in almost all direction from these volcanoes are now covered in plant growth and already show signs that the rock is beginning to break down.  It was very amazing to look at the vegetation covering and see how it was acting to break the rock into soil.

Right near Grábrók is a small university in the town of Bifrost.  Given it was already 2:00PM, we stopped there and found a café at the university.  They were offering one dish for lunch – a lamb stew.  It was amazing!  Of course Zack wasn’t particularly interested in it but he at least ate some.  I loved it!

Shortly after leaving Bifrost we departed the ring road and headed into the Western Fjords.  Our drive through the Fjords occupied the next 7 hours of our day and we didn’t arrive at our destination in Suðureyri until 9:00PM. 

It is very hard to describe the drive through the Fjords.  Just when we thought we had seen everything another spectacular sight would come into view.  Some of the most dramatic sights were of waterfalls plunging down hundreds of feet from the steep cliffs above to raging rivers that lead a short distance to the coast. 

The road system through the unbelievably rough terrain of the Fjords was remarkable.  In most of the Western Fjords district the roads are smooth paved two lane roads.  In some portions that roads are merely gravel roads.  However even for the gravel roads, they are relatively smooth and you can maintain a speed of close to 100 kilometers per hour on these roads without any problem.  Despite the quality of the roads I had no desire to speed as I wanted to capture every image in my minds eye as everything was so beautiful.  On top of that I stopped dozens upon dozens of times to take pictures of the beautiful sights we saw.

We stopped at three different gigantic waterfalls and walked to the base of them.  Each was unique and special in its very own way.  But all of them were dramatic and we could have easily spent hours upon hours at each one.

As the afternoon and evening wore on, we found the terrain becoming rougher and rougher and the roads becoming more and more deserted.  Before we made the final descent into the fjords in which Suðureyri is located, we burrowed through a tall mountain range between 2 fjords.  The tunnel is long enough and impressive enough to be mentioned in Wikipedia with the following quote: “The town of Ísafjörður is connected by road and a recent 5.4 km (3 mi) road tunnel to Bolungarvík which lies 15 km to the northwest, and to the small town of Súðavík to the east. The partly one-lane Vestfjarðagöng (Vestfirðir Tunnel), completed in 1996, leads to the small towns of Flateyri and Suðureyri, and to the western parts of the Westfjords.”

Arriving in Suðureyri it was truly like we had reached the end of the world.  There should have been a sign at the western end of town saying “you have reached the end – time to turnaround”.  I say that not as a negative comment upon the town but as something positive.  The town is very bucolic, happy and quiet.  We had several discussions with the staff in the hotel in which we were staying.  It seemed that all of them had sought out Suðureyri for the quiet and the peace of nature in this beautiful place.  It is truly a warm, welcoming town in which you could lose yourself.

Granted Suðureyri doesn’t have much of nightlife or much of a social life for outsiders.  But for those who call it home it seems like a happy place in which everyone pitches in to keep the town beautiful and alive.  (We witnessed a group of teenagers going through the town on Thursday morning cleaning up the streets and putting down salt to kill weeds that grew in the cracks of sidewalks.)

The physical location of the town makes it a wonderful location for fishing.  Given its place on the far western side of Iceland, fisherman calling Suðureyri home can quickly reach some of the prime fishing grounds between Iceland and Greenland.  Though only a small town, it provides enough fishing activity that it is home to it’s own fish processing plant.

One of the more unusual things we noticed about Suðureyri was the smell of fish that hung in the air.  Until we had time to walk the streets I didn’t realize what was causing the smell.  Upon closer examination, strange looking out building were actually fish “curing” buildings.  Each one of them was filled with hundreds upon hundreds of fish that were slowly drying in the ocean air.  Though the smell was a bit overpowering it was certainly interesting to see.

A few miscellaneous facts about Suðureyri tell the story of life there.  First – there are only about 300 full-time residents.  So that town is very small.  Additionally, Suðureyri is the town in Iceland that remains in the darkness the longest in the Icelandic winter.  Due to its position at the base of a very steep and rugged mountain, the winter sun is not seen in the town until February 2.  It goes without direct sunlight for the longest period of time of any town in Iceland.  Though it is a quiet and peaceful town – the lack of sun light would kick my butt.

All-in-all our first full day in Iceland was more than I could have imagined!  The sights we saw and the things we experienced were beyond anything I had hoped.  Each of the coming days I am sure will fill us with more wonderment and surprise.  Iceland is a beautiful place that is remarkable in all of its characteristics.

(For pictures from June 27th, please look at this album on Facebook.  Even if you aren't a Facebook member you should be able to see these pictures.)

From chilly Husavik, Iceland – thanks and peace to all! ~ J.

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