Monday, May 23, 2011
Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar)
I took a trip last week and took my chances in getting to a ferry that would shuttle me and two visiting friends to the Westman Islands off the south coast of Iceland. We arrived just in the nick of time. It was totally worth it, and completely breathtaking!
A short ferry ride brings you from the south coast of Iceland to the big island of Heimaey, in the chain of the Westman Islands, or Vestmannaeyjar. I say a short ride, but that's if the weather is good, if there's not too much silt in the bay from shifting sands, and if the ferry is leaving from Herjolfur. Otherwise it could take you 2.5 hours. Luckily it was one of the most beautiful days I've seen in the whole time I've been here. Less than a half hour later we arrived in our seemingly exotic location. My friends and I both exclaiming how tropical the cliffs looked. But there are also sheep grazing on the tops of those precarious peaks!
The view from our room at the guesthouse had a mountain top on one side and two volcano cones on the other. Wild.
We took a walk around town, which has a sizeable 4000 people on it, including shops, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, everything a city needs. It would probably be more inhabitants were it not for the remote-ness of the place, previous volcano that pushed a lot of people away, and the relative closeness to Reykjavík, where all the kids are likely to escape. We saw the most stunning location for a soccer field ever- how distracting to play here with such landscape in the background! Not that I could ever EVER attempt sports, but if I did, I would blame all my bad plays on the scenery.
We then hiked up the main volcano! It was one of the strangest experiences I've had. The 'path' was little more than a slightly flattened area of lava stones. I think the volcano had cooled since a few years ago (when you could still feel the heat radiating) but I didn't want to go all the way to the tip for some unrealistic fear that the soil might be thin and I fall down into a magma-filled portal to hell (obviously). And there was high wind and blowing dust. That's a better excuse. It looked like Mars up there!
Luckily the last eruption was in 1979...though it was quite dramatic. The island gained about 25% more landmass from the volcano, and created a tranquil bay for boats, and fortunately everyone was evacuated safely and not a single loss of life. It's still very easy to see the new volcanic area versus the old farmland areas.
But even in the most inhospitable-looking locations, sometimes there's a little life.
And, after the hike down the volcano, and several glasses of water later (all the volcanic dust makes one thirsty!), it was time to cue the beautiful sunset.