Journal archives for July 2014

July 23, 2014

Our Icelandic Binge

We've just finished a week touring Iceland. We had a few day's in a car out of Reykjavik, and the took a boat tour clockwise around.

I'd been a bit wary of the plan to come here, acceding at first largely in respect for the wishes of some dear friends. Unexpectedly, in the runup to leaving I was impressed by the uniformity of positive experiences/impressions people--friends, correspondents and more than a few casual acquaintances who heard us speak of it-- so I thought it best to be more optimistic. An uphill battle, as I wanted to see insects on our vacation: so this effort was hamstrung from the start. Whatever it's virtues, these northern destinations are not places you'll see many butterflies. But there are many compensations.

As a visitor, it is a very cheerful country to visit. So high a proportion of the friendly Icelanders speak english, and with such a charming accent. It's very easy to poke around anywhere. It is perhaps the world's most perfect guilt- free paradise for white people: clean, egalitarian and progressive in all of their arrangements. A sharp downside is the expense of everything. A lunch of burgers with 'hamburger-sauce' (catsup), fries and a soda in a rural roadside cafe costs 60$ for two; with Aretha Franklin on the box thrown in for atmospherics. For a splurge you can get Puffin or a Minke steak. Best value: excellent fish-n-chips from a roach-coach made with fresh codfish. Vegans have a hard time; the more so because the large bulk of the vegetable are jetted in-- so in this country not the eco-choice.

In most categories, it doesn't take long to complete your survey of plants and animals. We are here in high-summer, so flowering plants are at their peak. I was able to photograph about 50 species in visiting spots around the island; and at that time was staring to find anything new. Not a problem at all in a short visit, especially considering the astonishing beauty of the settings you encounter at every turn. The animals are pitifully few; and not enough for the fingers of one hand if you exclude the introduced varieties: mice, rats, minks,sheep, reindeer and those beautiful horses. We were favored, in Hornstrandir, to see an Arctic Fox.

Birds are a big draw; although there too there are not a host of varieties. this is compensated to a degree by their numbers and accessibility. Many of our companions were birders with huge lenses put to effective use. Even without, you can get close views of tame puffins and kittiwakes. The Arctic terns literally have to be beaten off with a stick (thoughtfully provided if you visit Vigur Island). If you keep your nerve you'll get marvelous close-action shots as they very persistently try to peck your eyes out.

I regretted my ignorances of mosses. The heaving fields of lava rock are of special interest. I understand this place is a paradise of mosses, and I'm sorry I can't say much more than they are so very gorgeous. If we come back I'll do better.

We paid a small fortune to sail around the island, stopping where conditions permitted to raft ashore. We did see lots of whales this way; but not much more than you can access in a day boat off Monterey. And frequently, weather or shore conditions will frustrate your ambitions. My advice would be to take a few weeks to drive around, and across, Iceland. You'll want some kind of jeep-like option, and it would cost you, but you'd be very pleased. Budget a ton of money, and you'll not regret the spending.

Posted on July 23, 2014 19:41 by icosahedron icosahedron | 0 comments | Leave a comment