Our next stop in Iceland is Isafjördur. It is a fairly large city (for here) with a population of around 4000 and is the defacto capital of the West Fjords. We sailed in between rugged hills of granite dropping straight down into the ocean. People live on the little bit of flat land they find right along the water’s edge in the midst of a grand wilderness. I can’t imagine what it must be like in the winter. Isolation no doubt. But again the people are open and friendly and ready with a smile and a polite hello.
Isafjördur was founded in 1569 as a salting station for fish. Proximity to the cod rich waters of the Greenland current made this the largest city in Iceland during the 18th century. Its name comes from the drift ice in the area and in spring it could close off the port for months. Today the icebergs are few, but it remains a strong spirited outpost. By the way, I learned that small little pieces of ice floating around in the waters are called “berglets”.
My tour takes me over and through the mountains to Flateyri which was originally a Norwegian whaling station. The tunnel now allows travel for most of the year and, to save money, parts of the tunnel are one way only! So there are pull-outs and you have to be careful.
Whaling waned here in Flateyri, but the fishing industry stayed strong until a huge avalanche in 1995 buried the town beneath a million tonnes of snow. Many lives were lost and many homes were destroyed. The Lutheran church was left in tact and they had a small concert for us there with local songs. The town, however, has never fully recovered. There is an antique book store/museum where they sell books by the pound and a cafe where they served us coffee & tea and some local pastries.
We also stopped at a ‘botanical garden’, where one hundred years ago a teacher came to this area and spent the rest of his life there. He created this little botanical garden oasis in the middle of nowhere and here we are one hundred years later, stopping to have a look. I bet he never dreamed what he created would still be here today.
My dear friend Susan Hodgson, who raised & showed Icelandic horses for many years, would not forgive me if i didn’t mention the Icelandic Horse. I learned from Susan long ago that one never refers to this horse as a pony! Here I learned it is better to insult an Icelander’s mother than to call the animal they are riding a “pony”. It has an entirely different genetic makeup having been bred in almost perfect isolation for over 1000 years. In AD982, the Althing (their parliament) passed a law forbidding the future import of any foreign horses. So the horses have evolved, and were bred expressly for the land and climate of Iceland. They are unfazed by high winds and snowstorms, and in winter they grow a long shaggy coat. Unique to this horse is their unusual fifth gait called the tölt. It keeps a reader stable while riding over an uneven terrain. Susan used to ride her horse at horse shows with a glass of champagne in one hand and never spill a drop, exhibiting just how smooth this gait can be. They are also well tempered and can live to be very old – I heard 40 years.
Still no northern lights. Or whales. Or seals.