Thursday, July 30, 2009

From Norðurfjorður...

My time in Norðurfjorður turned into a 3 day experience waiting out fog, rain, and wind. It was made all the better on Sunday, July 5 when in the early evening of my 2nd day, following a 5-10 minute conversation about kayaking, a complete stranger invited me to dinner at his aunt´s house. "Yes. I´d love to - Thank you. What´s your name?" "Geir." "Nice to meet you. I´m Margaret." "That´s my aunt´s name." (The second woman with whom I spend any decent time with in Iceland and they are both named Margaret.)

We had salmon they had personally caught in the fjord the day before! (and potatoes and salad) and then ice cream! (I swear the ice cream in Iceland is creamier than most of that in the States.) (Can you tell, for those of you who don´t know me, that I am a bit obsessed with food? This is true on a regular basis (Feel free to ask anyone who´s eaten more than two meals with me...), but of course this appreciation is enhanced when on a venture such as this and when my regular diet consists of pasta, pasta, and pasta. I also eat meticulously, extremely slowly, and a lot... Let me just say right now, thank you to all the Icelanders who have tolerated me continuing to sit at their kitchen/dining room table long after everyone else is done and for allowing me to nearly eat them out of house and home.)

Dinner was full of wonderful conversation and really my first in depth exchange about how life is and was in Iceland and what the possible future holds. Afterwards, Geir drove me around a little giving me a personal tour, including a rock that had traveled here from Greenland on ice flows, a site where witches were burned in a narrow passage between steep rocks leading out to sea, edible plants and flowers, and lots of personal family history as his extremely large extended family has very deep roots in the area. The next day I was invited to dinner again (Thank you!) and Gier and I played soccer (yay!) and again went driving, but this time on my first real 4x4 Icelandic jeep track experience. Road surfaces vary greatly in Iceland and the West Fjords have a reputation for particularly bad roads. Nearly everyone in Iceland that I´ve seen also has 4x4 capabilities and are fearless in where they go. There are no obstacles! Land, rivers, sidewalks... Iceland doesn´t need any amusement parks because a simple drive can turn into a roller coaster ride or, as this road was, one of those rides where they jerk you around, the seat moving in 8 different directions. And occassionally there are cliffs on one side and sea on the other and many, many waterfalls along the way, creating both scenery and drama. How do you turn around on a one lane track like this!?! Very, very carefully... And luckily we didn´t meet any cars coming from the opposite direction.

Tuesday, July 7, I once again set out by kayak, my sights set on the tip of the Skagi peninsula, a 40-50km crossing. There was hardly any wind and the sky was an ever changing Rennaisance painting. As I neared land, I somehow felt like I was in a different country. I had left the mountainous region of the West Fjords, found lower lying land, but a coastline of cliffs and rocky beaches that looked like they were nearly vertical. They looked like impossible places to land. The basalt formations and various rock gardens provided endless variation. It was along here that I had one of my more extensive encounters with animals. (They´ve been surprisingly and disappointingly very limited.) I saw as many as 7-8 seal heads peeking out at me at a time and they would follow me and pop up here and there, splashing as they went. Of course the camera failed! (It often simply decides to not turn on and most of the time that it does turn on (not very often), one touch of the zoom button and it turns off. Very, very frustrating, Pentax W60!)

I made it across approximately 10 miles of land at the tip of the peninsula and saw no good place to land. It had been a very full day of paddling and there was another crossing of 20+ miles ahead or the option of turning south into Skagafjorður. But would I have better landing opportunities in either direction, I could not tell from my map. I was for the first time in really unknown territory where nobody had told me anything about the land or what to expect. Luckily after I turned around the tip of lighthouse at Skagata, there was a small lagoon hiding behind some rocks and some flat greenery. Lots of rocks and a far reaching low tide required that I wade 60-80 meters to pull Tiger to land.

I awoke the next morning unable to see across the small lagoon, unable to see the lighthouse, unable to see much of anything because of... the dense fog. And here I had just waited 3 days in Njordurfjordur partly to avoid fog. Forget it! I´m paddling! (I also have more room for error because the Trollskagi peninsula juts further north.) Three minutes from launching and I cannot see land. I´m in a bubble with water on all sides and repeatedly find it incredible that I have no sense of direction whatsoever. With no reference point at all, I could look to my left or right, face forward in the direction which I thought I was headed and be 60 degrees off from where I thought I was. This is also where I learned how valuable it is to have a kayaking compass. I´m traveling with only a mountaineering compass which is 2 feet in front of me in my chart case. With a kayaking compass I can usually stay within 5 degrees easily. Here, I was all over the place, concentrating immensely, and finding it difficult to stay within 10 or even 20 degrees. It´s one thing to use this in an emergency situation, but if you choose to paddle in fog, it´s worth spending the extra money on a compass meant for kayaking!

All in all, this was a very odd day. I had the fog with me the majority of the day, but I also had a patch of blue sky directly above me for most of the day. About an hour away from land, suddenly from 60-80 meters away, a black and white bird (unseen by me before) perpendicular to me comes sqauking and charging at me out of the fog, flapping it´s wings, nearly walking on the water. No other birds in sight. Then it continued to follow me and squak around. It would dive for 10-30 seconds and continue the harrassment upon surfacing. Very bizarre. I´m far from land, nowhere near eggs. Eider ducks and their young run away and "duck" into the water. And for the last few weeks I´ve been paddling by thousands of birds and most of them take no notice of me and let me get 5-10 feet away before diving or flying away. Not too long after this, I see my first dolphins! Two-three swim across my bow. Then I see my first dead bird just floating there fully intact in the water. And then less dramatic, but more of this black and white bird behavior, but now I am able to see more of them and it does look like they are concerned about their young. Another dead bird...

Then the wind started to pick up. But it remained foggy. Stronger wind and from the side. What!? Really difficult to keep my heading while I keep getting weather cocked despite my constant full sweep on one side and the tiring edge (no skeg help)... Then I finally see land. And the blue patch that´s been following above my head starts to grow. I realize the land is an island, Malmey, and I´m farther south than I want to be. The bay continues to clear, I can see the magnificent scenery, and it looks like it´s going to be a gorgeous afternoon and evening. I adjust my heading, set out for a new point and after an hour, things are disappearing again. Please point, don´t you too disappear... The endless tease... Everything but that point disappears again and I thankfully have more visibility than that morning to find a camping spot around the lighthouse at Sraumnes.

The next day was clear and a much shorter paddler to Siglufjorður. I stopped there because I was curious to see the place and I was greatly craving ice cream. When I arrived around 6:30pm, I hadn´t been paddling very long and there wasn´t much wind so I was in debate about whether I continue paddling that evening or wait till the morning. Within minutes of landing, a truck pulls up and an Icelander greets me. A paddler from Reykjavik with a summer/winter house in the fjord, he saw me paddle by his house and drove down to the beach to meet me. He says I can use the internet at his house and drives me to the supermarket. At his house I am introduced to his familly and invited to stay for pizza! A look at the forecast tells me the wind is not scheduled to pick up until Saturday so I decide I'll depart in the morning and enjoy wonderful company while eating pizza for hours on end.

I depart Friday morning in no wind and there is little throughout the day. My camping spot is Rauðunafir, meaning red bay, a beautiful beach with red cliffs on one side and a waterfall on the other. Saturday morning the wind has picked up and is an unfortunate north wind during my crossing straight east to Husavik. This bay has so many whales that many whale watching trips from Husavik guarantee you´ll see a whale. Someone I met later who went on one of these trips said he literally saw hundreds of whales. I had two sitings of one. And I saw another dolphin cross my bow. That´s it!! I haven´t seen anymore whales since (except the one that ended up on my plate - a different story...) It took me a surprisingly long time to get to the harbor at Husavik because of the cross wind, but I found a spot at the end of the sand beach where I hoped I could stash the kayak for a few days. A look around town, an ice cream cone, a shower and hottub dip at the pool, and I realize I´m eager to begin my inland journey. It´s also an absolutely beautiful day, the sun is shining, and it´s warm enough that I can wear a tank top. Yay for it being warmer and drier in the north! (The North and East are supposed to have the best weather in the country.) I pack up and that evening I´m walking the main road out of town north, hoping to catch a ride to Asbyrgi, the northern tip of Jokulsargljufur National Park.

1 comment:

  1. I have enjoy reading your Kayak tour...
    My friend Geir..