Saturday, January 23, 2016

Iceland Adventures: Westfjords - Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

Iceland Adventures – Westfjords –Hornstrandir Nature Preserve– 8/26/15 - 3 km

No early wake-up, no packing, no driving today.  What does one do on a Wednesday in the upper reaches of the Westfjords of Iceland? 

First, Cathy and I walked a whopping two blocks to a bakery for coffee and pastry as school kids whizzed past on their bikes.

Online Mike found an intriguing boat excursion to Hornstrandir Nature Reserve departing at 2:00 p.m.  A few hours to kill until then, so as Mike and Cathy walked to the harbor to pick up the tickets, and Kim and Paul went exploring…  welcome to Sharon’s “town day” in Ísafjörður!  I wandered through the retail sector and a couple of neighborhoods, past churches, a day care center, museums and apartment buildings.  Covered from end to end in about an hour.


Around town – clouds on the mountaintops

The harbor

Ísafjörður Culture House, Gamla Sjúkrahúsið (formerly a hospital) houses a museum, library and photo archives.  Sorry, only open from 1:00 to 6:00 p.m.  Retail stores also have abbreviated hours.

Seaman’s Monument

Life = bikes, baby pram and a front yard rock garden
Front door tableau
Ísafjarðarkirkja (church)

Grave marker in the adjoining cemetery.  Icelanders do not have family surnames that pass from generation to generation. Instead, last names follow a formula:  the father’s name plus, for a male, the suffix “son” and for a female, the suffix “döttír”.  In addition, there is a limited legal list of male and female names from which to choose a child’s first name.  How do they keep track of each other?  Read more about Icelandic names here.

Icelandic poppies in the cemetery

Woman walking with a guide dog

Postal carrier

An apartment building – and blue sky!

Mike and I had a quick pizza lunch at Hamraborg, then our gang joined up at the grocery store and made our way to the harbor for our afternoon adventure.  Once again the skies were predominantly cloudy with sketchy glimpses of blue. 
The wind was brisk and the boat ride across open water was bumpy and exciting! 

Hornstrandir in a nutshell:  The peninsula was once sparsely populated by fishermen and some farmers. Much of the land is still privately owned, but is now a strictly protected nature preserve.  Some owners spend summers there.  Landowners are not allowed to sell their property or houses and can only pass them down to family members. 

Our destination was Hesteyri, once an active fishing village when the area thrived on whaling and then on processing herring.  When the herring population diminished significantly in the 1940s, the people of Hesteyri made a joint decision to move away, and in 1952 the village stood totally abandoned.  Hesteyri’s church was disassembled and moved to another village.  A terrific blog post with lots more info about Hesteyri is here.  

Hikers and backpackers are welcome on Hornstradir, but there are no services for resupply so self-sufficiency is paramount. There are a few hostels.  There are also emergency huts in some locations with radios and heaters, but they are not meant for planned accommodations.  Trails are unmarked and fog is common, thus map and compass skills are necessary. Because of limited days in our itinerary, we chose the tourist option of a guided walk rather than the hardcore experience, a good decision given the blustery weather and predictions of an incoming storm.

As I said, the wind was strong and we couldn’t pull up to the dock.  Looks like we’re going to need a smaller boat!

Riding the Zodiac to the dock

An Arctic fox greeted us upon arrival

Arctic fox

Our Icelandic guide, even more adorable than the Arctic fox

Our walk took us a short distance along the shoreline and through a meadow

To the cemetery
River flowing down to Hesteyri
The white house in the center is the Doctor’s House for Hesteyri’s resident physician now serving as a hostel.  Under the category of “next visit” I will be sure to stay here. 

Coffee and cake at the Doctor’s House

 Wildflowers in abundance

The return boat ride was crowded because we had picked up half a dozen backpackers who were bailing out.  Scheduled pickups are easily canceled by the weather forecast and there would be no more boats for the next couple of days.  We met two charming young women from the Czech Republic who had been on Hornstrandir for two rainy days and had planned another three, but they were glad for the opportunity to escape.  [Our paths crossed again later in another part of Iceland.]

Back safe and dry in Ísafjörður, we found another incredible dining experience at Tjöruhúsið, an unassuming barn type building on a back street near the harbor.

Reservations are important but we showed up clueless and squeezed in.  Family style, all you can eat, sitting cheek to cheek on benches, the most incredible assortment of fresh seafood dishes I have ever eaten, beginning with fish soup and ending with regret at not being able to consume it all. 

Food comes out to the buffet table as it’s ready, and those in the know wait patiently for the cod cheeks.  This restaurant alone is reason enough to go to Iceland.  Another unforgettable day.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”  ~Ray Bradbury

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