One of the things that you just can’t escape when you’re living abroad is, no matter how much you love the country, or how great a group of friends you have – you will miss your family. And that’s why it was so nice to meet up with aunts and uncles recently in Akranes and Ísafjörður. Also because of my (and seemingly every foreigner’s) ongoing arguments with customs and their exorbitant postal charges I had to collect a load of goodies sent up from home. Exact inventory to remain undisclosed.
My uncle and god-father Dónal and his partner Clare were recently circumnavigating Iceland on “Lady Belle” when I got to meet up with them at Akranes. Having sailed from Ireland, to Scotland, the Faroes, then anti-clockwise around Iceland, the ultimate plan was to head back to Ireland via the Faroes again. But the weather hasn’t been that great this summer so far, which made for some crappy passages. All was told over dinner and gin. The gin being measured against the deck of the boat engraved on the glasses my Dad made. You have a choice of going to the waterline. Or having water on deck. I sank a lot of boats that night.
Before they headed to Reykjavík to wait out the weather, Clare and myself headed to the local pool (one of the cheapest I’ve been to). Clare has a professional interest in how Icelanders run their pools and laments she couldn’t implement some things in Ireland, like the shoes off, shower before bathing rules.
As I had the car I drove back via Hvalfjörður (whale fjord), a much longer drive than taking the tunnel but a beautifully scenic one. Here you pass a whaling station, still in use, but whales are not found in the fjord itself. There’s also some anecdotal evidence that the whales have figured out the boundaries of the whaling areas. As whale watching boats seem to find them in more abundance than the whaling ships. There are some beautiful waterfalls along the way.
After joining back up with Dónal and Clare in town I brought a couple of friends down to the boat, a mixture of past and present, and we headed uptown to show off Reykavík nightlife and try some Brennivín. My car has been acting up of late and the starter is dying. Again. Oh, the joys. I think Dónal must love mechanical problems, between taking the engine apart and diagnosing my car ailments, but the plan to head to the Golden Circle went ahead as the weather was so bad they couldn’t sail, and we decided to just keep an eye out for hills to help the car to start. In the space of a year, I’ve obviously become much more comfortable with the roads here as, when we were coming around the hairpin on top of a cliff before Hveragerði and I was pointing out places I was told to “keep your hands on the wheel!”.
We stopped off at Kerið on an utterly miserable day, to look at ‘a hole in the ground’, before dropping me off at work and having a quick lunch, and then Dónal and Clare would take the car and tour around the Golden Circle and look at water coming up from the ground (Geysir) and falling on the ground (Gullfoss). Which they enjoyed thoroughly, but I felt so bad for giving them such a helvitís vandermál of a car to do it in.
I had also been trying to meet up with my aunt and god-mother Máire and her husband Andrew, on the “Annabel J”. The problem in Iceland is that while distances might not seem so far, they are. And now I was car-less. Lucky to have a very generous aunty, I ended up flying to Ísafjörður, where they were waiting on good ice reports to head to Greenland to update Andrew’s Arctic pilot guide. This is what I was supposed to be doing last summer. Well ‘man plans and God laughs’ as they say. This was just a flying visit – literally, but I’m coming back up here at the end of the summer for a proper explore and hiking. It takes so long to get to the Westfjords, and so long to travel around, it’s not someplace you can really enjoy just speeding through. Having hired a car (because the bus wouldn’t get me there and I would still have to get to Selfoss to get the bus – just don’t ask) to drive to the airport to make the flight, which turned out to be delayed several times due to fog (which Máire was going to throw crisps at to get it to go away) and I could have just gotten the bus – anyway. The small plane makes a steep descent into the town. One in which you’re glad of the lack of fog. Anyway, in the end, I got there. And hitched into town in the back of a van, sitting on a tyre. Because that is perfectly normal.
After a trip to the pool (one of the few indoor pools here) and after stocking up on food, we headed off on Annabel J. Initially to head to one of the fjords by Hornstrandir but with a wall of fog in the way, we just tacked around the bay. The most important part of sailing is looking cool, or so I’m told. And apparently, we did because we sailed right out of the mooring. However, the problem with sailing is that it also required a lot of pulling of ropes. And moving. And “changing the dynamic”, which I’m told translates to “that fucking arsehole has changed his mind again”. Which severely put in on my sunbathing on deck. In a lopapeysa, because it’s still Iceland, and the Westfjords in particular. A wall of fog descended again, and the town surrounded by high mountains turned into an island.
The next day was beautiful with clear skies and actually hot! 19º is perfect for climbing hills, isn’t it? But after heading out of the town, passing the tourists from the cruise ships, a few wrong shortcuts, we had lunch with our feet in a cool stream up by the ski slopes, looking down over an amazing view.
Heading back to the boat, Máire ran into an Icelander working on a barge, and had a conversation that went something like this:
What are you doing in Iceland?
Well, we’re sailing here. And my niece came up for a few days. She’s living near Selfoss. She’s a photographer. Came here last summer hiking and stayed.
Oh I think I read about her in the newspaper.
Wait – what? What paper? When? What did they say? – If anyone knows the answers to these questions – please tell me!
Surprisingly or not, the flight was delayed on the way back. “Due to a culmination of events”. In other words, someone really had a bad day.
Why are there so few family photos? Well, I was told not to!