Tuesday, April 26, 2011

West Fjords, Part 1

I went on a three-night trip to the West Fjords of Iceland, and it was indeed full of fjords! But also a lot of other majestic, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes curious things. I thought I'd share some stories and photos about it.

We drove up to the West Fjords thinking that we'd take a drive all along the coast, up from the south section, cut through the west side and see the big waterfall there, and then over to Ísafjörður on the north, with the excuse of having the 'Aldrei fór ég Suður' rock festival to see. Then we'd head back eastward, over the north part of the fjords and back again. It didn't quite work out that way though.

On the way the road was rough going. Unpaved roads, lots of potholes, some intense climbs through the mountains! But some unbelieveable views, too. Rows of waterfalls, calm fjords with blue mountains covered in snow. Then other times, purple-y plants and red rocks, changing to snow-covered deserts that you couldn't even tell the difference between snow and sky. I can see how people might need this antarctic-looking emergency hut.

We reached the cut-through pass only to find that the road that had been open a few days prior was now closed to snow, and there is no other road that will connect between the two parts of the fjords, you have to go all the way around. So with some last-minute phone calls, we found a place to sleep for the night a change of plans.

Thankfully, this was kind of a fun and funny experience! The owner of the farm/guesthouse we stayed at was talking on the phone with us while herding some sheep around. The whole family was visiting, so we shared the space with some cute rugrats. The ocean was steps away, and I haven't had an oceanfront bedroom view like this in a long time. The milk offered to us was straight from the cows on the property.

The next morning we were not defeated so we went back along the rocky coast to where we could cross, and then on to the northern part of the fjord roads. We stopped in Holmavík for food, but while there we were lucky to find the Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery open!

This was a peculiar place indeed. Iceland has actually had a long history with witchcraft, but all the witches accused were men (except for one woman). The owner of the museum was a quirky guy who gave us free coffee, and I had tea made from Icelandic moss (tastes better than it sounds).

We saw the exhibits including the 'necropants', a replica of what would have been a a real skin of a human body that a sorcerer would step into, feet and legs and genitals and all, and presumably receive special powers and abundant wealth. I won't include an image here, it's not great for the kids. We also saw runes, a stone used for Viking beheadings, and read a lot of great facts about strange rituals of olde times. And then it was so nice outside that we got to sit out on a stone table and eat a picnic lunch! I made a chow-down panorama.

The weather report called for gross rain and wind (we'll get that later, don't worry), but today it was warm and sunny, and made for a quick and much more pleasant drive. This side of the fjords has the biggest 'town' on it, Ísafjörður, with 2500 people, so the roads are quite well-kept. Still dangerously close to plunging into the ocean, or be caught in a rock slide on the other side, but still very well-maintained.

We arrived in Ísafjörður, which indeed feels like a booming metropolis after driving for several hours past hardly a building or two along the way. There's a grocery store! In fact, there's more than one! There's a swimming pool and museum, library, and a small airport. The mountains of the fjord are so close you could almost taste the snow on their caps...or something delightful like that.

I'll leave this post at about the half-way point, en route to our sleeping place for the next two nights in Flateyri, a small town near Ísafjörður. Which to get to you have to drive through a one-lane tunnel, about 4km long. But, here's the dramatic catch: the tunnel is not one-way. You have to pull off to the side in strategically-marked pull-off points to let the other direction pass you. One of the strangest and most unusual experiences ever: driving down a dark, dripping, seemingly endless one-lane tunnel through a mountain and having a car come straight toward you. We stopped our car and waited for another to drive by in the other direction, and I recorded the eerie buildup of sound of the passing vehicle.

Even weirder is that the tunnel splits in two different directions, right in the middle of the tunnel. Just a simple turn is all it takes, no lane divider, no extra stoplights, still one-car wide, just a sign illuminated in the dark saying: turn right for Suðereyri.

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