Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Heimaey–1973 Eruption Site, still Hot and Rocks!

By Jenn Summers

Day 1 on Heimaey

5B7C7108-001We woke up early and drove out to the southern coast to catch our ferry over to Vestmannaeyar. As we sailed across the short stretch of ocean we chugged past skyscraper cliffs made all the more dramatic by the swooping gulls. It wouldn’t be til later that we thought to look for puffins, which breed out on the cliff outcrops that shelter the harbor. We installed at a cute little hostel with a wooden-walled loft room on the third floor. We shared the whole house with just two Danes, friendly and self-contained. Nice thing about the island’s tiny status is the ability to walk EVERYWHERE. We walked down to the end of the island, small and quaint oft described as harboring “10,000 souls” or so. We headed d5B7C7262-001own to the end and ogled the seawater slicing its way through the basalt cliff faces to form a deep turquoise river...mildly breathtaking. Then trotted northward along the coast enjoying the natural sea arches, dead gull on the coast, and frightening precipices plunging into the sea. We were puffin-hunting, but came up short.

The hotel that also owns our hostel had it featured on their menu as an appetizer served with whale but we opted to not eat it because of some threats to its population due to overfishing. What we found instead was the fields of a local farmer’s sheep and a long Icelandic horse which we photographed to death. The sun never sets on Iceland so we ambled along until about 7 or so then returned across the island by road. En route was a construction crew arranging a large boulder in the yard of a house with a5B7C7514-001 spectacular coastal view. A kind tall Icelandic man with a professional film camera insisted we come over and explained the rock was being moved by a senator (who our driver Thor later described as an insane thief who is useless and smuggled into office thanks to his party connections) who believes the elves living in the rock saved his life. To thank them, he moved their threatened home - road building requires gravel - to the island (see the other post). They had an impressive (not) elf-speaking woman armed with a wool-stuffed basket and a jar of honey for the elves installing them there. We smiled and nodded through her explanation and spectacle then continued dumbfounded through the town. Dinner then bed.

Day 2: Conquer the Cliff

Conquer it we did. After breakfast during which we all wished a hearty nifty 50 to professor5B7C7535-001 Andersen, we trekked around the harbor to scale the cliff on the northern edge. The reek of drying fish invigorated us as did the cold air and the hopping lambs bleating fearfully as we walked several hundred meters from their perches far up the slopes. It took forever, but we did eventually reach the top, cracking jokes about what kind of elf might live in the particular rock we were clinging to. At first, the trail is nothing but sandy slopes surrounded by unfriendly rock by we cut across the switchback trail and got a beautiful view of the sea and wind weathered tan cliffs. Therapy has nothing on watching the gulls strafe and arch through the air, 5B7C7579-001steering along the wind vanes we are bind to with expert tilts of the tail. The panorama from the top which we reached leisurely over an hour and a half just blew me away - a grassy ridge pocked with birds and beauty. Ten thousand photos later we descended and walked over to Toppur Pizza, our favorite local place with pizza, burgers, and our newfound favorite - Skyr cake!. After our little meal we headed back over to the hostel then Sarah Hamilton and I walked out over the lava field formed in the recent eruption in 1973. It was quite impressive covered with Lupin, a purple fuzzy stalk flower we 5B7C8150-001were to learn later was invasive, introduced to prevent erosion; just further proof, beauty ha a price! We encountered the birthday boy but played it cool. Suresh had arranged for 2 cakes and a hilarious Roman candle of a birthday candle. We found an awesome beer mitten from icelandic wool at the shop across the street from our restaurant and everyone contributed to Goose’s initial purchase. After everyone had reassembled at the hostel for the celebration after our walk, we sang, drank Amarula (which we convinced Seth to buy) wine, and Tuborg classic beer. Andersen opened his present, we also got him dried fish and Drammur, chocolate covered salted licorice, both of which are traditional Icelandic fare. Everyone got pleasantly tipsy and the party dissolved into side games of Circle of Death while Suresh, Garihan and Seth disappeared until 6 am.

Day 3: Recovery and Bye to Haimaey

We woke up without any definite plan but with several hungover people so I wandered up the street to the hotel’s buffet breakfast. Sluggishly the backstory of Suresh’s expedition fleshed out: they climbed up to the crater from the ’73 eruption and spent the night catching footage of the sunset and rise (which are separated by a very brief period of a few hours). 5B7C8461-001

Their sojourn was warmed by the heat vents fueled by the angry magma boiling below our feet. We finally got everyone organized and ready to go by about 1130 then headed through a 5B7C8608-001backyard to the next street to get some sandwiches and pastries from the local bakery for eating on top of the crater. We walked along the neighborhood streets south toward the “Pompei of the North” which is an excavation site of a street of 5 or 6 of the 400 houses buried in the eruption. It was very interesting, about 20 meters deep ash and other material blown out of the crater - no lava at the point of the excavation. We then hiked back up towards the crater, which is the volcano Eldfell.5B7C8612-001 From the top is an incredible view; the walk up is bleak, crunching along on little balls of volcanic matter gravel that slides off the path down the steep slope clinking along like glass against their fellows. The vents at the top are indeed warm, a nice reprieve from the icy wind. After, we headed down the mountain, to the hostel, to the ferry, to the mainland, on the bus again with Thor. We parked in next to a very random waterfall pouring down from 60  meters up off the edge of a cliff. The cliff belongs to a nearly flat-topped mountain that launches itself out of an otherwise unassuming sandur plain, making the waterfall  stand out with its suddenness and 5B7C8656-001starkness.We continued along the road, stopped off at an amazing view of the glacier which had an unfortunate explosion underneath it in 2010. 5B7C8694-001We examined some ash along the road and then set off again, not stopping for a while until we reached an amazing fairytale like waterfall planted at the beginning of an epic hiking trail that extends all the way up onto the glacier. We just climbed out along the top and edge of the waterfall looking down at the slightly sheltered cove of the falls. Our final stop was the quaint fishing village of Vik - at the local restaurant we tried hombaked bread and the best lamb sandwiches you ever ate. Bed at the hostel, up on a hill, modernly furnished and a little crowded.

See the whole album here

Monday, May 21, 2012

Moving Elves at Vestmannaeyjar Island (Heimaey)

By Sarah Hamilton

While on the Vestmann Islands, we went on a group walk along the coast looking at the rock formations.  When we reached the end of the planned hike, most of us decided we wanted to continue on to look for a puffin colony on the other side of the island.  We walked along the cliffs overlooking the sea, running into sheep and getting the the chance to pet an Icelandic horse.
5B7C7495It became clear that the puffin colony was much farther away than we'd anticipated, and with the puffin site growing no larger, we eventually admitted defeat and turned back.  We crossed over to the road for our walk back and passed what we took to be construction.
A (mechanic) crane sat in the yard of a cute little log cabin, dangling ropes that were strapped to an enormous brown rock.  Men and a tractor pulled at the rock from below, making little progress in orienting it the way they seemed to want. 5B7C7509-001
We stood looking at the rock and the crane for so long that a man emerged from his car in the yard to speak with us. He told us that the rock had been brought here from Reykjavik at the request of the man who owned the house. The rock, which looked ordinary enough to untrained eyes, was actually the two-story home of a three generation elf family.  The elves had saved the owner of the home when he was in a car wreck.  In gratitude, the man had asked them to if he could move them to a lovely place by the sea. After all, the elves' rock home was marked to be destroyed to go under a road.
The man who owned the house had contacted a "seer", one who could see and speak with elves, who told him that the elves agreed, but only if their windows faced the sea, an admittedly spectacular view. The rock was currently in the process of being moved to face the sea.  We chuckled a bit in appreciation of his story, each of us figuring he was telling a tall tale to tourists, just waiting for him to break character and laugh along with us.
He did not.
5B7C7493Instead, he motioned a woman to get out of a car nearby. He told us to ask the woman if we were disturbing the elves. We asked the woman to relay the question.  I expected her to have no idea what we were talking about, or play along clumsily. Instead, she immediately said that we were not disturbing the elves. She gave us the exact same story that the man originally had.  We learned that she was the Seer, the one who negotiated with the elves, and she told us that the three generations of elves were eating honey in a nearby basket of wool. We peered into the basket, but as none of us were particularly specially sighted, we saw only wool.  The grandfather was very weak, said the Seer, and he, his children, and their three kids were all in the basket eating honey. They were 35 cm tall (they live under the wool in the picture above).
It was becoming clear that this was no joke.  We were not the only ones watching the rock placement.  All around us were men with cameras, including the man who had originally told us the story of the elves.  Some cameras were from the news, and a few were involved in doing a documentary on the man who owned the house, the new host to three generations of elves.
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We spoke with a young man from Greenland who told us that the owner of the house was in a fact an Icelandic Senator, Arni Johnsen. I asked the young man if he was quite serious about this, to which the young man seemed to take slight offense. Of course he was serious. Everyone was deadly serious about this elf relocation project.
Finally, the heavy rock was oriented correctly, windows toward the sea. Gently, slowly, the elf Seer woman brought the basket of wool to the door of the home and one-by-one placed the elves on their porch. The cameras surrounded her solemn ceremony. Though the elves did not allow anyone besides her to see them, we cheered when they were finally inside.
We went on our way with a promise of good weather from the elves, and were not disappointed in the next few days. We've also had some excellent luck since.
It could be chance, of course. There are rocks next to me now. They could be basalt.
But they would also make a lovely three story home for any elf family.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Day 2: Hydrothermal activities in Mid-Ocean Ridge on Land. Notes from Jenn Summers.

What Iceland lacks in trees, it makes up for in gale-force wind. The stout Icelandic horses (small and pony-like, but do NOT call them ponies - they don't like that haha) don't seem to mind it as much, galloping across the squishy carpet-grass with their pretty extra-long manes flowing and flapping in the wind. Lots of wind by the way.

We spent our first day at the home of a history professor named Dr. Thorleifur Fredrikson who kindly served us a welcome traditional Iceland breakfast. That means these tasty Icelandic donuts, smoked lamb, rye bread, raisin bread, and the extra-tasty Kyr which is similar to yogurt but it's made slightly differently. Think the comparison between ice cream and gelato with Kyr being the gelato. It was all very tasty. After, we headed off to a geothermally heated pool. An outdoor pool! With water slides! There was a lot of sprinting from the water slide to the hot tub. 

Now we're staying at a hostel in Reykjavik. We drove around today looking at a geothermal plant that supplies 200 megawatts of energy and all the hot water the capital needs. Purdy neat. They say it can be done the world over but they neglect the lack of infrastructure to transfer the energy, the small size of their country and population as an advantage, etc. They produce an excess of energy and that means they can sell it! To aluminum smelting companies that need oodles of energy! And use that excess for nifty things like heated streets and sidewalks and driveways in the capital that melt snow. And hour-long showers.

We visited a gorgeous waterfall called Gollfoss that is multi-tyered and flows along a canyon-like fissure. And then we went to watch geysers erupt which was really exciting but incredibly cold. All in all, Iceland is a really incredible country! Such amazing natural beauty and dramatic landscape mixed with freezing temperatures, light snow, WIND. Also, no idea what they're saying. Not even an inkling of Icelandic do I understand.  Lots of sheep means lots of really cool woolen stuff! But really cool means really expensive. We're talking 44000 Krona here. You do the math (125 Kronar = $1)

Funnily enough salad greens are imported here. They do, however, have the largest banana plantation in Europe here, albeit in a greenhouse. Anyways, I've decided to try and eat as locally as possible, meaning the plentiful lamb, cow, and REINDEER! Reindeer burgers? Delish. We ate at a surprisingly awesome gas station restaurant where the slaughter house was just across the street next to the actual field home of the lamb. How much more local could you get? However, I will remain vegan in the US of A with their hormone treatments and industrial farming :D btw - 

Day 2 in Pictures, Iceland 2012

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Day 1: A Warm Welcome to us in Iceland

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Our group at NY-JFK airport killing long hours

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Dr. Thorleifur Fredrikson and Mrs. Thora, our host and travel planner.

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Icelandic breakfast at Thorleifur’s house

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Walk along the shore on the way to the geothermally heated pool.

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A community pool, really awesome way to get introduced to Iceland.  We spent more than 3 hours here enjoying the rainy weather in hot outdoor pool with snow capped mountains in the distant background.

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After walking downtown, we settled for lunch at one of the popular restaurant in Reyjkavik.

We have a packed second day.  Come back and check daily.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Welcome to 2012 May-X Iceland Site

The fact that you are here means that you are interested in going to Iceland or learning more about this MayX program.  Please check back for more information and updates.
Please visit our booth tomorrow (Saturday, September 23) at the Study Away and International Education Fair at Furman. We will be present to answer any questions and to provide information regarding 2012 May Term travel program to Iceland.
Information Brochure can be obtained from the EES Website
There will be information sessions in October and November. Come back here for the specific dates.
Applications will be accepted until Mid-December.
Final selection will be made in early January.
More information on dates and study away can be found at Furman’s Study Away web site.