Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Iceland Chronicles - Part VII (Husavik)

The dense fog last night made us worry that today will be cloudy. Our worries were for naught as we woke up on a nice sunny day. We even had breakfast on the table outside.

During the trip few days the door to the caravan (the main door when not using the car front doors) was causing problems. It was hard to open the latch, and sometime harder to close the door. Its condition gotten worse, so that at some point we thought to stop using it. Last night we decided that it was enough and emailed the car rental company. They called us this morning and suggested we visit the garage at Husavik. They did not have a name for it and just said it was next to the harbor.

We drove the 20km to Husavik, and saw that it was a fairly large town (in Icelandic standards). We passed what might be a garage, but it was no where near the harbor. We continued until we saw signs for whale watching tours and the Information Center. We parked the RV, and went to check the options for whale watching. The next available tour was in 25 minutes at 11am, and we decided to go for it. I paid and Yael and the kids went to the car to grab warmer cloths. Few minutes later the lady at ticket office said that they decided to cancel the 11 o'clock tour (I guess they were not enough participants), and so we will go on the 12 o'clock one.

We had an hour to spend, and so went to the Whale Museum next door (co-located with the Information Center). This was a nice museum with a display of whale skelatons, ilustrations on their evolution and adaptation to their unique life style. The more interesting parts was about the tradition of whale hunting in Iceland, and accounts of the whaling industry. It is pretty amazing to see the chart of numbers of estimated populations of different whale species before commercial hunting and today.

When Iceland was settled in 10th century, there were large populations of whales visiting the fjords to feed. The common way of hunting them was to throw a spear at the whale. The spear was built so that it was stuck under the whale's skin and caused a wound that does not heal. The whale would eventually die but this would take long time. Some of them would wash on shore, and then bounty would be shared between the hunter and the land owner. (If a whale dies of natural causes and washes on shore, it belongs to the land owner.) These rules were set up quite early in Icelandic history to avoid deadly clashes over whale carcasses.

To ensure their rights, the spears had the names of their owners engraved into them. One story in the museum was about an icelandic captain that was wintering in Greenland when a whale washed to shore. He proved that the spear belonged to a fellow in his home village, and his behalf took half the spoils from the whale. This allowed him and his men to survive the winter. When he returned to the village he paid the hunter his dues.

A bit before noon we went to the dock to await the boat. It was a wooden boat, that was originally built for fishing and whale hunting.

As boarded we were given water/wind-proof overall to wear. My family decided that this looked ridiculous and so decided to keep to the cloths we brought with us. I am less sensitive about fashion, and opted for practicality. After the donning the overall, I was warm and didn't worry about the cold wind for the rest of the tour.

We had a guide on the boat who talked with load speaker. She had good English and told us various facts and stories, and tried to fill the time while we were searching for whales.

Our luck was such that we only saw Minke whale. This is relatively small and shy whale, that does not like to come close to boats, and moreover does not spout or flukes (meaning spray water when exhaling and lifting the tail when diving). Thus, it only shows a smallish fin and a bit of its back when it comes up for air. As such the trip was disappointing, and at some point too long.

After 2.5 hours on the sea, we returned to port. The nice sunny day was now cloudy and much colder. We checked with the information as to the location of the garage and drove there to see about the door. One mechanic did know English, and said that the car company owner called them. They would take a look, but only at 4 after their "coffee break". Since it was only a bit after 3, we went to do some grocery shopping. 

Around 4 I left Yael and the kids in a coffee house near the harbor, and went to the garage. Two mechanics disassembled the door from its hinges, fixed them, greezed them and reassembled. They tried to fix the locking mechanism but said they cannot as it is defective. After 45 minutes, they said I can go. I thanked them and went to collect the family. I joined them at a cafe run by an older couple and their daughter. They had an amazing number of Agatha Christie paperback novels lined on a top shelf all around the room. The kids had hot chocolate I had a glass of coffee and we had two cakes. The place was charming but the cake was not so great and the service was somewhat misshapen.

From Huasvik we drove to Asbyrgi. This the entrance to the Icelandic "grand canyon". The gorge was created by a river flowing from the big icecap on the southern part of the Iceland. At this stage the river is a fierce one. We went for a hike in a part of the gorge that forms a large horseshoe shape. The bottom was wooded by small trees and it was a nice surprise to walk in a forest. At the end of the trail there was a pond with ducks. The vertical cliffs surrounding us was home to many nesting sea birds, whose cries we could hear from a long way off.

We stayed the night at the campsite at the base of the gorge. This was a very well organized facility, with hot showers and places to dry wet cloths. The showers are coin operated. And so, we "bought" 24 coins of 50 ISK for 4 showers.Initially the 5 minute duration of the shower seemed a bit too short, but in the end it was one of the nicest showers we had here.

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