Sunday, July 17, 2011

Iceland Chronicles - Part V (Hirsey)

We woke up to a cloudy day. The fjord was covered with a thick cloud base that hid the top of the mountains around us.

As we organized for breakfast, the clouds slowly dispersed, and the sun came out every now and then. After breakfast, we set out to the Herring Museum which was just next to where we were parked (literarily a one minute walk).

The museum contained a small "ship yard" that had two large fishing vessels and few life boats setup as though they were in the harbour. We could climb on them and look at the inside of the boats, and also saw movies about the life at sea.

The next building was a herring processing facility. A nice example of industrial steam factory. The herring were cooked, pressed, and then the oil was separated for packing as fish oil, while the mashed up solids were dried, ground, and packed as "fish meal" that was used as animal food and fertilizer. I can't say it was pretty, but the SteamPunk aura was interesting.

The third building in the museum showed the working station of "herring girls" that cleaned, salted, and packed the fish as they were offloaded from the boats. It also showed how carpenters built barrels for storing salted fish. The most interesting part was the set of templates for marking the barrels.

After looking at the museum, we visited the local information stop, which was also the library and part of the "radhus" (municipality building). It was not too informative, although the person there was very nice. We learned that the clockwork/silversmithing museum opens late on Sunday, and so saved ourselves the two blocks walk to find that out. We did go to the Icelandic Folk Music museum, where we saw Icelandic string instruments and even got try and play on some of them.

About noon time, we got on the road, and again drove through three tunnels, and south to the town of Arskogssandur. The main interest in this town is a smallish harbor with a ferry to the island of Hirsey. This is the second largest island off the shores of Iceland, and has on it a small village. It is known as a bird sanctuary due to the lack of predators on the island.

We arrived few minutes before the ferry arrived, and joined the few people that waited on the dock. The ferry arrived and out of it came out a whole crowd of people, many with luggages, bags, sacks, dogs, and kids in car seats. We waited until they all unloaded, and then paid the attendant and boarded the ferry. The trip over to the island was short and uneventful.

On the island we were met by the local "Taxi". A tractor with a wooden structure on its back that few people can sit on. Next to it was a sign advertising a tractor tour around the island.

We set on foot to find the hiking trail that loops around the south part of the island. The trail left off at the end of the town's single long street. It started by going through a young forest (clearly planted in the recent years). We then got to a top of a small hill that was covered with bog - grass, moss, and flowers. The hill was overlooking a marshland, and across the fjord, snow capped mountains.

We saw many arctic terns, which as usual (we already got used to them) flying frantically back and forth. We also spotted few other birds, including the gray ptarmigan, which reminded me of quail. As we reached the top of the highest hill, we split up, with girls taking the shorter road back to town, while the boys took a 2.5km detour on the longer trail.

This part started with a very narrow trail along the grassy area. Both Roy and me got to know the calls of the different birds, and started getting better spotting them.

Further along the trail, we got to an area with many arctic terns. This was clearly nesting ground, and we were warned in advance that these birds will attack anyone who they see approaching their nests. We continued hoping that the nests are not too close to the trail. At some point one of the birds took a sharp dive at Roy, who was in the lead. It came sufficiently close that Roy decided not to check whether the next one will be a warning shot as well or a real attack. We set off in a trot, until we estimated that we were in a safe distance.

The second time we were attacked we followed the same pattern, and run down the trail. This time Roy noticed a small bird ahead of us on the trail. Initially we thought this was a ptarmigan, who tend to bled in with the grass. The bird, however, did not take off, but rather started running down the trail before us. It took us a minute or two to realize that we were chasing a young tern (which was pretty large but different colors), and that as long as we do that the angry buzz from above (by now many birds joined the melee) will not subside.

We stopped and hoped that the young bird will continue. The terns swooped and cried around a spot ahead of us on the trail. After a while their activity was reduced, and we decide to brave it. As we continued we spotted the youngester hiding about a meter from the trail. We set off to build a distance from it, and indeed that was the end of the tern harassment.

In retrospect, the terns did not physically touch us, but their diving attacks were convincing enough for us not to test their resolve. I wonder what happens with predators that are set to get dinner.

The trail reached the end of a small bluff overlooking the shore. The were interesting rock formations and nice views from there.

We then continued along a trail that climbed back to the hill and down to the town. We passed next to old structures that were used for drying fish. On some of them few fish skeletons still hang about.

We found the girls in the village only store which also served as a coffee house.

We got on the next ferry, which also filled up with many people with packages. Apparently there was some weekend event on the island, and most of the people we saw on the island were weekend visitors.
We drove down the fjord for 30km to Akureryi, and main city (with 17,000 residents) of the north coast. Here we found a nice camp ground in the middle of the city, and walked by foot to the city centre. After some debate we selected a nice restaurant. The meal was pleasant and nice, although as usual in Iceland, very expensive.

When we got to sleep, we saw amazing sunset sky (around 11:30 pm).

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