Sunsets and sunrises have been extraordinarily lovely here due, unfortunately, to the poisonous sulfur dioxide cloud that's being emitted by our latest volcano and gently wafted over the southwest of the island by a calm breeze. Savor the irony of that for a moment, then consider whether that's not an exact metaphor for life in general...
Posted by Iceland Eyes on 10/10/2014
It's been a while since I posted last, and in that time I've been considering what to write to accompany this photo of a whaling harpoon, taken aboard Hvalur 9, a beautiful ship owned by Kristján Loftsson and the company his father started back in 1948, Hvalur hf. If you've been here and seen the four whaling ships that are usually docked at the Reykjavik harbor, (or seen this post from 2005) just imagine something a big larger but in the same style. Hvalur 9 and its crew, you see, hunt fin whales.
Right now, about 85% of you readers are feeling righteous indignation at the idea of whaling. I can't stop you from feeling that, or being overall offended that I might seem to be, if not hot for the idea of whaling, at least not so opposed to it either.
All I can say is this: I was commissioned to coordinate and interpret for a Japanese tv crew from TBS who were doing a piece on whaling in Iceland, giving me the opportunity to hear, and question and speak with, people from all sides of the issue here in Iceland, including the fisheries ministry with all its data and facts based on scientific sustainability research, whale-watching businesses owned in part by American NGO's (and unfortunately not 100% accurate with some of the facts they give at the end of their whale watching tours) and men who have been whaling for 50 or 60 years. I discovered that so much minke whale meat is eaten by tourists here in restaurants that it was sold out (even in stores) in late August, and that the sustainable hunting quotas placed by the government are never filled year after year (so much is based on weather.)
I also learned that stocks seem to be moving north of Iceland, possibly based on heavily intrusive, locust-like mackerel which are now found off our coasts, and which eat everything in sight, or maybe due to ocean temperatures. I learned that the quota for minke whale hunting is about 0.06% of the local stock around our Faxaflói waters, and about 0.005% of the fin whale stock between Greenland and Iceland. And that, in the case of fin whales, the entire animal is used for foodstuff and meal, including the fat layers which are made into a "fat bacon" in Japan. I ate both minke and fin, and found both to be absolutely delicious.
Ultimately, I learned that there is a kind of hysteria regarding whaling, where the animals are anthropomorphized into being something akin to sacred souls. In India cows are considered to be sacred souls, yet are subject to the most horrible factory farming techniques here in the west. I have cats that have personalities, yet cats are eaten in some parts of the world, and in others guinea pigs are roasted over spits and eaten on a stick, like a corn dog (and what's in a corn dog?) Yes, we screwed up in our advances into the industrial era by over-killing so many things and we need to right our wrongs, but I am absolutely more offended by an elephant's face being sliced off for precious ivory or, yes, by factory farming, than I am with the whale hunting done in our local seas.
Posted by Iceland Eyes on 9/13/2014
You might recognize this house if you've been reading Iceland Eyes for a while. It's the one my great-grandfather, Hans Beck, built, and where my grandmother (one of his 23 children) was born (click on the link to read more about its history).
I last wrote about in 2006 when it was still in disrepair, but now I'm happy to say it's been renovated to an amazingly fine degree by the National Museum of Iceland Historic Buildings Collection with funding from Alcoa, the aluminum company that has erected a smelter literally just across the street from the house, on a long thin plot of land that dips down from the road into the fjord below. Thankfully, the smelter is mostly hidden by the sloping landscape, and if you stand with your back to it you can almost imagine you're back in 1913 when my amma, Ásta Beck, was born.
And once again, one of the reasons I love blogging is that I just discovered this American Forests site detailing a reforestation project for the hillside behind the house, on Sómastaðafjall!
It was my mother, Ásthildur Brynjófsdóttir Roff's, birthday present to herself to go back to Reyðarfjörður with my father, my children and me and see what's been done with the old place. Though she was also born in the area, it was in the town proper, in an old corrugated-iron clad timber house named Tunga. We went there, and also in to Eskifjörður, and to the old Helgustaðir spar-stone mine which the SEEDS volunteer project worked on in 2009. They did a wonderful job of making the area visitor-friendly. Definitely visit their link to learn about spar-stone, or transparent calcite, which is littered all about the hillside mine area. And if you've seen the History Channel's Vikings series, you'll recall Ragnar using it the second episode to navigate to England!
We had a wonderful visit out east, and I HIGHLY recommend the region to travelers. It's one of the oldest settled areas in the country, with the second oldest geology. The people are kind, the landscape stunning, and the weather generally much better (or at least more specific) than in the south and west. It took me ten hours to drive home from Egilstaðir to Reykajvik in one shot, which I had to do, though I would of course recommend stopping and staying as much as possible along the way : )
Posted by Iceland Eyes on 8/19/2014
Happy birthday to Iceland Eyes!
Not only is this my 696th post, Iceland Eyes is now starting its 10th year of existence! As a matter of fact I just realized that my first-ever post was on August 8th, 2004, exactly a decade ago today!
Once again I need to thank you all for cheering me on these years. If you've been following along, you'll know how much has changed in that time, both personally and blog-wise. And I would have given up many times if I hadn't gotten the encouragement you've given so readily, so
þúsund þakkir, kæri vinir !
Let's aim for ten more!
Posted by Iceland Eyes on 8/08/2014
We've been away traveling quite a bit, and just got back into 101 from Seyðisfjörður, an absolute gem of a town with stunning waterfalls and craggy, intrepid mountains everywhere you look. We tented again and this time enjoyed warm, sunny and windless skies, which was welcomed after the dreary stuff we've had to accept in the capital region this summer (to be fair, of course, we are in the North Atlantic, just under the Arctic Circle, and this place is called Iceland...why do the locals always complain about the weather?)
On the day I took this shot, though, a thick fog settled into the valley and dropped rain, which meant a good opportunity to don our rain boots and go adventuring along the north side of the fjörður (fjord.) It's an especially quiet and eerie place, populated only by animals (as far as we could see) who seemed to literally own the land. The horses that came up to greet us seemed to be scrutinizing us for the whole herd, eventually giving us a green light to move along. Sheep were especially lazy about getting off of the road, and there was even a bit of trouble with a gaggle of calico-styled geese determined not to let us pass.
This house in particular was home to a peculiar pair of geese, chocolate brown in color with white throats (you can see one on the right-hand side of the photo.) I saw them from the road and couldn't figure out what kind of bird they were...too dark to be geese, but too big to be ducks. I fancied that maybe I'd discovered long-lost living members of the extinct Dodo bird, or Great Auk, family, and that Iceland could now be redeemed for having killed off the last of that grand, harmless species. I got out of the car, and once again got the feeling that I should have called ahead to announce my intended visit: the birds seemed non-plussed with me, and even a bit irritated at my trespass on to their property. But up close I saw that they were definitely geese, and that they seemed to guard over a family of the classic-grey variety. I asked to take a few photos, then politely said my goodbyes and moved along...
Posted by Iceland Eyes on 7/23/2014
We camped at Vík í Mýrdal last week, my son and I. I always have a tent and blankets and basic supplies in the trunk of my car so we can skip out of town with a moment's notice if the weather looks good, and last week, though it rained and rained in Reykjavik, the sun shown down on the south coast.
I had intended to put down stakes in Skógafoss but an evening's chilly wind had come up and the camping ground there is pretty unprotected. Plus it smelled like someone had just fertilized the whole region. So we jumped back into the car and zipped over to Vík, where we were lucky enough to find this excellent spot right next to a pyramid-shaped rock, which conveniently had a large metal loop driven into it that I used to anchor our tent (if you look closely you can see the line between them.) Yes, we escaped the smell, but here it was even windier, and the chill had turned to nighttime cold. It hardly bothered us, though, because we were out in nature, on an adventure, just the two of us!
Near midnight Óðinn climbed our rock and I snapped this shot. Soon we snuggled into our little blue home and got cozy, ready for rest. With nesting gulls on the little cliff above us, a gurgling nearby child-sized waterfall, and the crunched-plastic sound the wind made with our tent, it was hard, though, to finally get to sleep. It sounded like elves or spooks were trying to get into our tent the way the wind was whipping it around, and I realized that I was a bit scared! When I thought back to all the nights I've spent in tents out in the total wilds of the Sierra Nevada, where it's pitch-black outside and bears roam (and you'd better be damned sure you don't even have a bite of food in your tent or they'll come in and get it!) I laughed at my fear. The worst thing that could happen to us here was to maybe have a midge trapped inside our tent with us, or to have to listen to some late-night drunken singing from some other campers. I smiled at that, the sense of safety I feel here in Iceland, and soon fell fast asleep : )
Posted by Iceland Eyes on 6/25/2014
I just love this photo! I snapped it today out at Nauthólsvík, the white-sand beach here in Reykjavík (btw, read the post in that last link for a good journey down memory lane - I wrote it in 2007 about how amazing Iceland's economic growth was, and how much we deserved it! Haha!) which sits just below Perlan and the Öskjuhlíð forest (here's a good article from the Grapevine about this area.). A group of pre-schoolers were on a field trip to the beach, and this little dude was spreading his towel out at the top of the hillock above where we sat.
It ended up getting a bit chilly when the high, grey clouds from the east floated in front of the sun, but until then the 14°C temp kept me, at least, pretty happy. As always, I recommend visiting this outdoor marvel, especially if traveling here with kids (hint: there's a constructed hot pool on site for parents to relax and warm in ; )
Posted by Iceland Eyes on 6/11/2014