Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Hvítisandur


Hvítisandur (the white sands of Holt)
Foggy morning
It’s quite foggy this morning but I am hopeful that it will burn off eventually. After taking my time in the hostel and making my own breakfast, I hop on Roadrunner for a tour. First I just want to cycle around the rest of the road here and check out the numerous abandoned farms. They are quite photogenic in the fog. 
 
Betanía

Then I’m back on the main road for a short stretch before I turn off on road 625 towards the church Holt. After a quick stop there to peek inside, I head on to the white sands, which is my main destination for the day. I have to bike through kría (arctic tern) breeding grounds and am grateful I am wearing a helmet as they swoop and attack my head. At the beach, the fog is thick and eerie. I inspect the pier first that juts quite far out into the water and spy a family of ducks waddling along the beach. A grin spreads across my face. This is really beautiful in the fog, a special place, and no other people in sight. 

Another abandoned house


Looking out at the pier
The fog lifts as I walk along the beach. It’s strange to see the contrasting black stones peppering the white sand, accented by copious piles of duck poop. It’s not easy to find a clear spot to spread my beach towel (this is just a metaphor of course, I really only have a thin, body-length plastic sheet that I use for picnics and napping when I hike or bike). I can’t sit for long though, as the wind picks up and it gets a bit chilly. Nonetheless I spend quite a long time at the beach. It reminds me of the white sands of Florida that I remember as a child and imagine there should be children playing here. I’m sure it would be a lot of fun making sandcastles here. 
Quack, quack!

I bike a bit further down the gravel road but only to Harðardalsnaust where I stop for another short break at an abandoned building. The weather isn’t any nicer here. The fog is hanging thick in this part of the fjord and the wind is cold. The skies look much friendlier in the valley where I came from, so I head back early without inspecting the whole road as planned. 
Evening horseride

After a walk along the beach near the hostel, I return for dinner and a short rest before heading out for a long evening walk into Korpudalur. I return just as the sun is disappearing behind the mountain after 10pm and by now the sky is blue again. Out in the fjord where I biked today, the fog still hangs thick.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Crazy woman



I need to get away for a couple of days and decide on a short bike trip to Korpudalur, which is only about 20 km from Ísafjörður but in that short stretch lies a slight problem: a beautiful mountain pass (push, push) with a 6 km long tunnel at the top. I can think of more pleasant (and safer) things to do than biking through a narrow, mostly one-way tunnel but it’s the only way to get out of town in this direction, as the public bus won’t allow bicycles. To make it more exciting, I travel at peak traffic time on a weekday when a large cruise ship is in town, with numerous busses ferrying the passengers to exciting day trips. Crazy as at sounds, biking through this tunnel is truly on my bucket list, and since nothing is more certain than death and my bucket list is long, I’d better get to it. 

The day is hot and sunny with no wind. I just have a light wind jacket on over my t-shirt. 45 minutes after leaving home, I am standing before the entrance to the tunnel. I actually biked all the way without having to push, but I am soaked with sweat. I turn on all the little lights I have, strapped to my helmet and gear and hope they are sufficient to prevent me from being flattened like a frog under a semi. I never travel by bike at night, so my experience with sufficient lighting is appropriately inadequate. As a newborn biking tunnel baby, I enter the vortex and quickly realize I made a few significant mistakes. 


I still have my sunglasses on and it’s impossible and very unsafe to stop for any length of time. I fumble them from my nose with one hand and shove them in an empty pocket without swerving. By now the first few cars have passed and they are incredibly loud, not to mention the plume of exhaust they leave in my face. My lungs will certainly be black if I make it out alive. At least the tunnel is flat and the road in excellent condition. Since I mainly bike on unpaved roads, I’m not used to travelling at such high speeds. It’s quite fun. Except for the fact that at the halfway point, the tunnel becomes one-way and the oncoming traffic has priority. Every time I see headlights in the distance I have to pull over and wait until it passes, thus increasing the time spent in these gassy fumes. It’s a cheap high at least, if the carbon monoxide doesn’t kill me first. 

The tunnel cuts through the mountain and numerous waterfalls, meaning the walls of the tunnel are dripping with water in spots. Oh, and it’s cold, damn cold. And I’m soaked with cold sweat and wearing nothing but a t-shirt and windbreaker and no gloves and I can see my breath. And slowly, on top of the noxious fumes, I’m freezing to death. But after 30 minutes I finally emerge into the bright sun at the top of the pass, and it’s all downhill from here. I stop to turn off my lights and breeze down the hill, and once I turn off the main road where traffic is instantly non-existent, I stop at the first opportunity and bask in the sun to warm up.
I survived and it’s not something I ever need to do again. Except I need to bike home in a couple of days, and I will then tackle the job as an experienced tunnel traveler.

So here I am in Korpudalur and after checking into the hostel (I’m greeted with “oh you’re the crazy woman alone on your bike!”), I take a first look at the area with my wheels. I had actually planned on doing some hiking, but discover a faint trail leading deep into the valley (Hestdalur) and off I go on my bike. Oh it’s so fun! Mountain biking at its best. Only a faint trail, overgrown with long grass, deep ditches here and there and lots of mud and numerous rivers to cross. I am able to go around 3km into the valley before the trail is just too difficult. I leave my bike and explore a bit on foot, before settling down in the grass for a long nap. This is one of the best rewards after some hard exercise.  

In the evening after an enjoyable dinner in the sun on the porch of the hostel, I head into the other valley (Korpudalur) with my bike. This trail is more difficult and I have to abandon my bike already after just one kilometer. But this trail is well-marked and I follow it a bit. But there is fog rolling in and it’s getting late, so I don’t want to go too far. The low-lying fog was hovering in the fjord all day. Occasionally the wind would blow a few wisps into the valley but for the most part it stayed away. But as the air cools off now at night, it’s certain to sneak into the valley. It’s been a fine day though, and I am content as my head hits the pillow.






Sunday, July 17, 2016

Afmælishátið í Ísafjarðarbæ


Midnight
Open water swimming
This weekend the municipality of Ísafjarðarbær – which today consists of the town of Ísafjörður and the smaller villages of Suðureyri, Hnífsdalur, Þingeyri and Flateyri – is celebrating its 150-year anniversary with a whopper of a festival.  
Remains of the shrimp feast
It is combined on the same weekend with the annual Runners’ Festival “Hlaupahátíð”, which includes various running events (45k, 24k, 10k and fun-runs),  open water swimming (500m, 1500m) and a mountain bike race (55 km). This event in itself is packed full of excitement, but topped with the anniversary, it’s really a special weekend that I don’t want to miss.  

Cute kids in national costumes
The fun begins even well before the weekend, with Svavar Knútur performing already on Wednesday together with Kristjána Stefáns in his hometown of Flateyri and I am a joyful witness. Although the show begins quite late at 10pm, the night is so clear and beautiful that it‘s almost a shame to sit indoors in a stuffy bar. But the venue is packed and the mixed crowd of Germans and Icelanders creates a warm atmosphere. Driving home after midnight, the sun illuminates only the highest peaks of the mountains reflected in the calm water, painting the fjord in a yellow afterglow. 

The President & Mayor


Beautiful!

On Thursday, Ólöf Arnalds and Lára Rúnars perform at the avalanche wall in Flateyri, but I unfortunately miss this event due to the disadvantage of not having a car. On Friday afternoon, the serious fun begins with all kinds of events, including a shrimp feast, circus acrobatics, and other events for young and old. The evening is rounded off with free live music at various locations.

But Saturday is the big day, beginning at 10am with is a historical walk around town. At noon well over 150 ladies in the traditional Icelandic costume (Þjóðbúningurinn) gather in front of the library to strut their stuff. There is even a national costume authority in existence since 2001 to preserve the correct techniques of making them and instruct people how to make their own. One of the more entertaining aspects is the hat that is worn by some women, in particular the spaðafaldur which I feel resembles a small gardening tool. I guess the regulating authority isn’t responsible for shoes, since the most modern creations can be seen peeking out from under the costumes. The children are particularly adorable in costume and on their best behavior for all the photographs. 

Very pretty in the national dress
Good live music

The excitement then shifts to the town square Silfurtorg, with speeches from the mayor and President of Iceland, who is originally from here, and a parade with music. There are more fun and games for the kids in the afternoon, the opening of an exhibition at the museum, and the cafes are flooded with people enjoying coffee and cake. 

At 9pm there is live music outdoors in front of the bank and the weather couldn’t be better for it. Two cover bands warm up the crowd and bring plenty of townsfolk to their feet, and a modern band of youngsters caps things off later in the night. In between, people are relishing a late night snack of pizza or hotdogs, ice cream and cotton candy and even I succumb to the pressure of feeding on junk food in the middle of the night. At midnight there is a perfect sunset over the ocean and the day is over for me, but for those who feel like partying longer, there is more live music at three different venues in town.