A whale before breakfast

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Thu 3 Jun 2010 14:32
Thursday Lunchtime

That's right, your actual Humpback Whale was fishing in the fjord this morning and we could sit and watch from the deck of Saxon Blue before having our breakfast. I think this was our reward for staying put for a few days and getting into the swing of Iceland.

So, to recap: Greg left us early on Tuesday morning. We packed him into a minibus that I think had been arranged just for his benefit but it was hard to tell as the competition for "World's least talkative man" is hotting up with the bus driver making a play for the top spot. Just as he set off, a huge ferry arrived in port. The Norrona sails from here to Denmark via Torshavn on the Faroes. She's a massive, seaworthy vessel and stays in port for a few days. This is the only ferry port in the Eastern part of Iceland so the ferry makes a big difference to the local economy and is the reason that there is a Customs man here.

I picked up a great leaflet from the Tourist Information at the ferry port with details of all the historic houses in town so I spent the morning walking around and reading about the place. It was a tiny Icelandic farmstead for most of history and then grew during the first Herring Boom in the early 20th Century and the Norwegians imported a pre-fabricated town. During the boom, they were packing 70,000 barrels of Herring a year just caught in the Fjord! Iceland's history is very strange. There is the Viking period when the whole island was settled and the sagas were written. Then there is the modern period from about 1800 but there doesn't seem to be anything in between. I asked some locals about it and they have the same impression.

I'd also picked up a map of walks so spent the afternoon walking up the valley on my own while Andrea did art stuff. One side of the valley was pretty and sunny, the other was wild and wet. There were massive divots cut into the thin grass by boulders that had crashed down from the mountains above. I was crossing yet another deep-cut stream and thought to myself that I wouldn't have been that suprised to see a Troll. The whole country is so wild and unmediated, it feels like it was only finished last week and people are an afterthought. I can see why they have all these legends. They don't seem so unlikely here.

On Wednesday, we all decided to go for a walk together and I'd spotted a likely looking track that started at the top of the valley outside town. We got a taxi to the start and I got a bit worried by the time we got out as the road I wanted to start at the end of was actually a dirt track and still covered in snow. The taxi driver asked if I had a mobile phone and then gave me his card, telling me he was the mountain rescue guy as well. Hmm... We set off up the road but it soon became clear that we were well out of our league and the track disappeared beneath snow drifts. The temperature was only just above freezing and we decided that it was best to choose another walk.

Pausing only to eat a massive pack-up we set off down the river in the valley back towards the town. This walk was still pretty challenging but absolutely beautiful. There are 25 waterfalls in the valley and we walked past most of them. As the path gets lower, the plants change from moss and spiky grass at the top to scrubby willow trees at the bottom. As the tributary streams come together, the waterfalls get larger and louder with thundering spray and permanent rainbows in the spray. We were completely knackered by the time we got back to town. Andrea and I headed straight for the art bistro for a drink - Kali had shot off hours before to leave us oldies to our slow pace.

I was too tired to go out for dinner so we headed back to Saxon Blue for some leftover curry and a shower. This perked me up enough to invite our hosts over for an after-dinner glass of champagne. We had a lovely evening chatting about Iceland, Art, Land Rovers, Boats and living with old houses. They brought their young daughter and baby son over with them and we had a great time with them all. The girl clearly thinks that Kali is the coolest woman she's ever met. The guy, Christophe is clearly very smart and works internationally as an artist. Andrea has since looked him up online and discovered that he's a bit of a superstar. Doesn't surprise me, really. He comes across as an achiever.

We watched the Ferry depart and then Andrea and I headed to bed. As we were getting in, we could hear Kali talking to a young woman on the dock about the boat and who sailed on her. While we were sleeping, Kali spent the night with the woman and her friends talking about travel and Iceland and all sorts. I think Kali is now a local celebrity. She got all kinds of recommendations of places to visit so we're going to try them out over the next few weeks.

So that brings us back to this morning. Andrea went out for a run and I was clearing up the boat waiting for her to get back to have breakfast together. Kali was telling me about her evening's adventures and that the locals had told her about a Humpback in the fjord. Andrea jumped down into the cockpit shouting "There's a whale" and, sure enough, so there was. It was surfacing, blowing and then diving again happy as could be. It can't have been more than half a mile away. Occasionally, it sounded so we could see its flukes with the white underside that's characteristic of the species. I got some pictures so I'll try to upload them later on. It was truly surprising and I'm still stunned that such a huge creature would come right into the fjord but it's pretty deep so why not? I was wondering whether we'd actually see a whale and here we are with a close encounter and we're not even in the Arctic yet.

Last night we discussed whether to get underway again today and decided to stay and explore a bit more. The whale seems to be our reward for making the right choice. It would be easy in this cruising to just keep going and visit lots of different places but see nothing. Spending a bit of time staying still is the way to go. We've met people, learned about the place from them and had time to really see a bit of it in depth.

These small places are hard to fathom on first aquaintance. They seem so isolated that I find it hard to understand why people would live here. After a bit of time, though, the good points come through. They're subtle but persuasive. I find myself now wondering why anyone would live anywhere bigger. Andrea makes a good point about the intense relationships and lack of privacy in a small place being oppressive if you're not a conformist for whatever reason. I think that could be true but it seems that these out-of-the-way places attract their fair share of non-conformists who are content to just let each other get on with it. Certainly Seydisfjord has its art scene and seems pretty liberal minded.

It's certainly making me think and Iceland is really getting under my skin.


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