Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Husavik to Egilsstadir

The first order of business in Husavik was to join a whale watching tour. Whale watching is THE thing to do in Husavik. There are many tour providers, but supposedly one of the best is North Sailing. That is the one our tour operator booked us with. Their ships are beautiful. A bit vintage looking. The one we took was a traditional Icelandic oak boat. For their longer trips they also have two traditional tall ships.

There was a very chatty Italian tour group that got on the boat at the same time as us. They were all very energetic, almost rambunctious. So it was a real gong show when we were all picking through all the cold weather coveralls that the company provided. They were basically like snowsuits but for trips out to sea. They were a huge pain to get on, but once it was on, it was very welcome. Because it got bloody cold out there later.

Off we went. The boat was rather small, comparatively. And the ocean was pretty rough. I was a bit concerned about Sarah's ability to handle the rocking, as she is prone to motion sickness. She was okay, but by the end of the trip 3 hours later, one woman was leaning over the side hurling into the ocean. Sarah said she saw another man near the bow doing the same.

The tour itself was very productive. We first saw a humpback whale that was coming up and diving quite frequently. It was also showing off its fluke dramatically on its way back down. After watching it for awhile, we moved on to a minke whale. S/he was also seen quite frequently but when minke's dive, they don't show off their flukes. They only arch their back so you do see their dorsal surface quite clearly. Finally, the highlight of the tour was seeing the white-beaked dolphins. They were beautiful and extraordinarily playful. They were swimming very quickly next to the boat and jumping right out of the water one by one. Gorgeous.

When we got back to harbour, Sarah had to eat something, lest she lose her breakfast soon. We had a great little lunch at a harbour restaurant and then headed over to the grocery store. Sarah had heard about these sweets that Icelanders love, called Rijs Buff. They are these chocolate coated rice crisps with a goopy marshmallow filling. The guy who wrote about them online said that they should come with a warning for addiction. And he was right. They really should come with that warning. We've already blown through two boxes and bought three to bring home with us.

Then came the navigation screw up of the trip. We were heading to an area that contains Asbyrgi Canyon and Dettifoss waterfall. The was one other spot the tour agent had highlighted called Austurdalur. I saw the turnoff to that and started heading down this really rough gravel road. After about 10 km, I saw a sign pointing to Dettifoss and thought, "Hey, I'll go that way instead. I was going to go there anyways." What followed was 40 km of horrendous gravel road that was only wide enough for one vehicle. So you had to pull over if someone was coming in the other direction. I remember thinking, "This is ridiculous! It's the biggest waterfall in Europe! How can it not be paved?"

When I finally came upon it, I realized it's because I took the "back road". If I had gone only 2 km past the original turnoff I took, I first would've come upon Asbyrgi Canyon, which I never was able to see because of my error. And at Asbyrgi, I would've seen a sign pointing me to Dettifoss. Down the main national highway. The PAVED national highway, that has room for TWO cars. ARGH!!! Man I was pissed off. Oh well, water under the bridge.

So we hiked to Dettifoss. It is really big. Like I cannot state how big it really is. It is 330 ft wide and drops 150 ft. The water volume flowing over it is 193 000 litres per second. That is a lot of water. It all comes from the Vatnajokull glacier, the largest glacier in Iceland and, in fact, the largest glacier in all of Europe. It completely dominates the entire southeast of the country. It is 8100 square kilometers and takes up 8% of the land area of the country. For comparison purposes, that is larger than all of Prince Edward Island. It's damn big. Past Dettifoss is its smaller neighbour, Selfoss. It was also gorgeous. But by the end, we were absolutely drenched. Not only was it pouring rain, but the mist from the waterfalls was inundating.

Finally, on the way to our hotel, we saw another waterfall called Hengifoss. Sarah decided not to hike to it as she was too cold and soaking wet. I took the quick hike and it was worth it. Beautiful.

One quick note. Around the country I've seen multiple foreign license plates in Iceland. Which made no sense at first glance. Iceland is an island in the middle of the North Atlantic. But I'd seen Dutch, German, Spanish, French, and even Italian license plates. Turns out there is a ferry that travels from Denmark to Iceland. It is run by a Danish shipping company and carries 800 cars and up to 1500 people. You leave Hirtshals in Denmark at 11:30 am and you arrive in Seydisfjordur in Iceland at 8:30 am two days later, with a quick stop in the Faroe Islands. And apparently it's pretty popular among mainland Europeans.

Oh, one other thing. We drove through this interminable fog in the mountain passes. And we did it again, voluntarily, to get to a little fishing village called Seydisfjordur, to eat at a restaurant called Skaftfell Bistro. They make really different pizzas. I had a reindeer pizza with reindeer meat, caramelized onions, and blue cheese. It was unbelievable.

Oh yeah, one more. I swear this is the last.

The last two hotels we've stayed at have been part of the Icelandic Farm Holidays Association. This is a group of farm families that have expanded their farm into a full fledged hotel. And they aren't like little quaint guesthouses. These are full on hotels, with high end dining rooms and modern, fully equipped rooms. The attraction of them is that they're family run, the service is very personal, and you are supporting their family farm. I think it has become a way to fill the off season for the sheep farmers in Iceland, although that is just a guess. It works well for them. The sheep mostly just graze in the summer and that is when all the tourists are here. We've had great experiences at the two farm hotels so far. You can actually do self-drive tours much like we are doing, but organized through the Icelandic Farm Holidays Association.

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