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Cycling around Iceland

Heading south

sunny 15 °C

Heading South....

Leaving Egilsstadir was actually quite upsetting... after a few days in this cheeky little town I felt quite attatched. I believe it was a mix of the warm hospitality shown by the locals and a chilled out atmosphere to this adilic little town. Anyway we were heading to Höfn only 246k away. The route 1 here ran between the south eastern fjords, and there was a noticably bad stretch of road which we were to look out for. Its amazing that on the main highway through a country in europe you can actually come across road like this. The road wasn't by any means Nepalie standards, where every bump throughs you out of your bus seat, and leaves you scrambling around in embaracement. No, these roads stretched through amazing fjord landscapes with rocks, sand and pebbles all over the road. Not even a good tyre tred was left by passing vehicles to allow an easier cycling path for the weary traveller. Yes, yes, yes.... I should shut up about the roads and just get on with it... its like the wind, it grinds you down. You can't cycle fast over this surface. As we had already had one inner tube blown out in the northern fjords we were taking no chances, and taking our ride with extra cautioun. We tried to hitch for a while, but with no luck we plodded on in our general slow fasion. The weather wasn't great and the clouds were decending down upon us, it didn't look good. So after maybe travelling 60k we decided to call it a day, and settle down for the night in a random field which looked softer than the rest of the surroundings, but turned out to be just as pompus and irritating as the hard ground all around us! Not a great first nights sleep. It only added to the annoyance, which the road had already caused us. Brighter things were to come.
The next day however was much better. After finally leaving the gravel road and returning to the beautiful asphelt surface everything seemed to get better. The sun was out and shinning bright, the wind was down, and the scenery was stunning. It was rather dreamy. Cycling past mountains and mountains on the way to the coast was beautiful, I kept thinking to myself, and the same question came up...... 'why didn't they film any of "Lord of the rings" here?' The landscape was rugged and wild, and empty up untill meeting the small town of Breiðdalsvík. There wasn't much going on in the small town, however it made a brilliant stop for some food, and an hour or so to relax and take in the mornings views, and the ever pending ones which were all around us. The bay was amazing. I feel that we were lucky to witness this bay area on such a calm day. I have a feeling that we should have tried to camp around there and taken the rest of the day off. However we dragged ourselves onwards to Djúpivogur.
Djúpivogur is also a fantastic little settlement. It is located near the island of Papey, which it is believed, was the settlement of Irish monks before the Norse conqueres came. The island is named after Papar, which is apparently from Latin and Old Irish meaning 'Father' or 'Pope'. The town itself seemed to revolve around the fishing industry, like many towns in Iceland. It was quaint and still. There wasn't all that much going on though. It was a brilliant place for a coffee and book, and an early-ish night.
The next days ride to Höfn was much the same as the last with the addition of wind. The views were spectacualar, the sun was out and the lack of hills helped awefully. It wasn't a hard cycle to get down to Höfn. The wind wasn't that bad for once, and we were all in good fetle. Stafafell was beautiful. It was a marking point that we weren't that far from Höfn. This picked up the moral of the group and pushed us on to complete this leg of our journey. we couldn't wait to hit some form of bigger civilisation for a few days or a day atleast. We hadn't muched our way through all of our provisions but we were needy of more pasta, rice and beans at this point. Our staple diet, oh the joys of cycling food. Baked beans and rice for dinner again tonight haha, why not throw in some chilli flakes to change it up a little bit. However, the views of the mountains around here were impecable, and would essentially make any food worth eatting. At this point I did feel really lucky to be here and just spend some time doing nothing! It was ace.
On arrival in Höfn, we realsied that we were a few days too late for the July Lobster Festival (Humarhátíð). Apparently it is amazing. We heard that the locals stand out on the streets, just cooking up lobster and giving it away to passing people. The streets were still lined with banners and cartoons of giant lobsters. It looked like a town with a hangover from one hell of a party. It was annoying that we had missed it but you can't do everything now can you?! On first apearance, ignoring banners and giant 'man eatting' lobsters, the town seemed nice. Nothing special but a pretty little coastal town with a nice harbour area and relaxed atmospher about it. This was to be home for the next few days, a place to rest the legs and relax. Lovley.

Icelandic lesson......... Nature (Náttúra).....

Forest - skógur
Sea - sjó
Mountain - fjall
Pond - Tjörnin
Glacier - jökull
Beach - fjara
Volcano - eldfjall
Lake - vatn
River - fljót
Waterfall - foss
Fjord - fjörður

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Posted by tchgate 11:47 Archived in Iceland Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Whaling is failing in Iceland!

cycling around Iceland!

sunny

Whaling is failing in Iceland...


Whaling in Iceland dates back into the depths of Norse history and culture. No industrial sized action was then in place, rather conflicts between families or clans over beached whale carcasses was the main quarrel. Narwhals were especially hunted for there unicorn horn like spiral tooth. The practice of whaling in Iceland began only with 'spear-drift whaling', and continued mainly in traditional form until the the late 19Th century. Spear drift whaling was striking a whale with a marked spear, hoping later to find the beached carcass and share it up between the whalers families. The Icelandic word for 'beached whale' and 'jackpot' is exactly the same - "hvalreki"!! The modern ways of industrial whaling were not created by Icelandic people, rather the methods were brought into the country by companies of other nations, mainly Norwegian. Today however, Iceland, Norway and Japan are still fishing for whales. Apparently prior to 1914 Icelanders didn't fish for Minke whales, as they believed that they were sent by the gods as protectors. Iceland is still however involved in industrial whaling under an objection to a moratorium which was set in place by the International Whaling Commission in 1986.

Whaling is probably the number one controversial conversation that has been surrounding Iceland for the last few years now. Is it good for the economy? Is it socially accepted?? If it does continue should it be controlled by an international governing body such as the IWC, giving harsher quotas? Isn't it more understandable to show off the elegance and beauty of Whales for profitable gain, rather than systematically destroy one of the more dwindling population of our oceans?! Stop now, or continue?!

The main thought about whaling which I received from most Icelandic people and fellow travellers, was that it is wrong and should be stopped as soon as possible! However, there are always a few people that don't mind, or don't notice what is going on. Whether they choose to shun the idea of diminishing or extinct populations of whales, or whether they just don't know what is actually going on. I spoke to some guys, that told me "whales aren't extinct or anything", they went on to explain that Icelanders have needed the jobs that whaling offers and also that it is a profitable and understandable organisation.
Surely it is more profitable and environmentally friendly (and therefore 'understandable') to exploit the tourism industry! Whale watching is one of the biggest attractions in Iceland and operates out of many ports all over the country. Husavik (north Iceland) and Reykjavik (South west), are the main tourist hot-spots for whale watching. They charge between 45euros and 55euros for adults, and 20euros for children. Some tours offering under 7's trips for free. Surely watching the grace of these aquatic mammals is far more financially suitable to the country of Iceland than fishing for the giants.
Iceland's image as a credible country, whom upholds a certain level of responsibility for the management of natural resources, has been somewhat tarnished by whaling. Increasing the numbers of tourists travelling to Iceland for whale watching and other tours will surely create and secure a long lasting and more sustainable future for Ireland's economy, rather than Whaling. There are presently organisations such as Greenpeace, whom are asking for people to boycott travel to the major Whaling countries, such as Iceland, Norway and Japan. Assumably this is to show the countries that the mammals are far more profitable as living creatures, then steaks or kebabs.
If whaling is allowed to continue, then surely stricter quotas must be internationally agreed upon for each and every country, and eventually be presented and overseen by an international governing body such the International Whaling Commission. At the 62ND ICW meeting last month in Agadir, Morocco, new and harsher quotas were put on indigenous whaling groups in Greenland, decreasing numbers of all whales allowed to be hunted by them. This shows some movement in the correct direction. I hope and believe that it is a matter time until the Icelandic government passes laws to ban whaling within their waters.
Surely fishermen of whales hold enough information on the where abouts and actions of whales, that they could be more use aiding scientists. Many fishermen I spoke to said that it was a way of life, and at the moment with the economic downturn it was the way they paid the bills. They seemed numb to the fact of diminishing numbers of whales, and didn't really talk heavily with me on the subject.
I believe that if more time and money is put into advertising Iceland as the adventure capital of Europe, that it could be, then the whole problem of whaling could be turned on its head, with more tourism and educational trips been run from all over Iceland. To me its a no brain-er! I very much hope that you agree.
A diving and snorkeling experience is offered by a company called Arctic Sharks, working out of the Reykjavik area. They are apparently the leading company offering various different dives, from ship wrecks and a unique dive between the continental Eurasian, and North American plates, to seal dives, puffin dives and even James Bond propulsion dives. Check them out at www.arcticsharks.com. Its companies like this that keep surprising me about Iceland. I honestly hadn't heard a thing about many of these companies until I got here, or until I stumbled across a leaflet in a hostel or tourist information shop. I have a passionate belief that this country really has more to offer than tourist giants like New Zealand. There is a brilliant wild feeling to the country. There is sooo much to discover here and much more to be done in the next decade to turn it around into a powerhouse of the future.

As far as whaling goes, I don't think that it's going to be stopped in the near future, although we can all hope. However I believe and hope that when they finally realise the benefits of having an abundance of these amazing mammals around Iceland, surely then things will change.

Fingers crossed!

Posted by tchgate 11:26 Archived in Iceland Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Cycling Around Iceland

Icelandic Lock Ness in Egilsstadir

sunny

Icelandic Lock Ness in Egilsstadir.....

Upon first viewing of the title of this article you could wander what I'm on about?! A Scottish lock in Iceland?! Well... not really the lake or a lock, more of whats in the lake.... In north eastern Iceland there is a town known as Egilsstadir. It is a young town formed in 1947 by the national government, and is one of the main trade posts for the east of Iceland. It actually has quite a nice little vibe to the place. Sat on the edge of Lagarfljót Lake (one of Iceland's deepest lakes), and surrounded by mountains it is hard to imagine how this cute little town could have its tranquility questioned. Apart from maybe when Holland are playing football in the world cup...!? Anyhow... if you read a little more into Lagarfljót Lake, you will learn of a mysterious creature living in the depths. Known to some as 'Lagarfljótsormur' or to others as 'Lagarfljotsormurinn', or simply to you and me as Icelandic worm monster. This lake cryptid can apparently rival the Scottish Lock Ness Monster and apparently is much older than wee Nessie!!!
The origins of this lake cryptid date back to olden days when folke magic was common practice. As the story goes, a milk maid situated nearby the lake, allowed her magic to get a little out of hand. When trying for riches, she placed a golden ring and a small snail or worm into a box together. When opening the box on a second viewing, it was hard not to notice that the snail/worm had now grown to the size of the box. On this notion, she threw the wiered snail/worm into the lake, where it continued to grow. The first recorded sighting of the creature was in 1345, when local farmers noticed humps moving across the water. With no recorded visual footage of this giant worm, it is hard to say if its ledgend is as mighty as Nessie's, however more sightings keep coming up with new stories, adding to the allusive nature of the mythical cryptid.
While we scammbled around the shore of the lake there actually was an almost chilling fealing (not the wind for once), but something else. The colour of the lake is a kind of 'chalky white', apparently caused by siltation. This visibly poor water adds to the imagination. While looking out and pondering over the idea of another sighting of the creature, I once again felt like a child in Iceland, left to think about strange goings on in beautiful places.
The next tale I learnt of was of 'The Dragon of the east'. The dragon of the east is one of four Icelandic guardians described in an old story by a Danish magician, sent to Iceland by King Harold of Denmark prior to his invasion of Iceland. It is said that the magician took the form of a whale and swam to Iceland, as to appear not to stand out. When approaching Vopnafjörður (fjord of weapons), the magician was met by a huge dragon and many other reptiles and lizards and worms. The hills were filled with spirits and the magician was pushed away. He then went north to Eyjafjörður (Fjord of Isles), where he was approached by a bird sooooo massive that its wing span covered the fjord. Once again the magician was scared away by the huge bird and many other birds of all various sizes. This time he swam west and south to Breiðafjörður (Wide Fjord), where this time he was approached by giant bull, whom joined by spirits waded into the sea and destroyed yet more efforts for the magician to get onto land. Finally the magician approached Víkarsskeið (The Sands of Vikar), on the Reykjanes Peninsula, where this time he was met by a huge rock giant. Apparently his head was higher than the mountains. The dejected magician, fearing as if he would never land on Iceland returned back to Denmark to share with his king the information. Apparently due to these four spirits and a little help from their friends, they ended the intentions for invasion by King Harold of Denmark.
Anyway, enough of folk stories and Icelandic ledgend more on Egilsstadir. The town has recently gained a new campsite which has great facilities and is in awesome walking distance from the 'new' sports bar and cafe to hit the Egilsstadir scene. The sports cafe seemed to be a central hang out for most of the youthful Icelandics in the area. On Saturday they ran a great deal which was two beers for 700ISK between 8-11pm. As the night rocked on and the crowd got bigger this little place could have done with more of a music theme, rather than MTV on large screen... however, the locals were great and made us feel very welcome. What else made us stay for days? Apart from the hang over and..... oh yeh, the all you can eat buffet in the cafe just next to campsite. After cooking your own food on a camping stove for a few weeks, any kind of 'all you can eat' buffet sounds brilliant. We did rather over indulge on more than one occasion at the lunch buffet. The rest of our time spent in Egilsstadir was either exploring the abundance of lovely views from all around the city, or relaxing in the local swimming pool.
I would say that Egilsstadir is worth a visit. It is close to so many attractions in the north east of Iceland, and is also home to its own mystical serpant, not many towns can boast such features! We eventually managed to move on from Egilsstadir, heading towards Höfn í Hornafirð, and its lure of lobster.

Icelandic lesson..... around town!

Church - Kirkjan
Post Office - pósthús
Hospital - sjúkrahús
Book shop - Bókin verslun
Coffee shop (cafe) - kaffihús
Airport - Flugvöllur
Swimming pool -Sundlaug
Supermarket - stórmarkaður

Posted by tchgate 12:26 Archived in Iceland Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Cycling Around Iceland

Life on Mars...

semi-overcast

Life on Mars...!

Setting off from Akureyri was a little sad for all of our party. With a few days of rest and much needed party, we had really connected with this city, and had a great time there with the locals and the rest of the travelling community. As we jumped back onto our bikes and set of once again, back onto route 1 the view of the city made for a fantastic picturesque back drop. It really was a great little town. However.... the Icelandic weather was back upto it's old tricks. The blue skies were out in force but so was the bloody wind. We tackled the first few hills with no effort at all and travelled pretty quickly about 6-7 miles out of town. This is when the fun started. We were straight into task 1 of the Icelandic fun house! A huge mountain pass..... with a ridiculously loose gravel road. No chance we were getting up this hill without pushing... and a mighty effort it would have to be as well. Beating the flies from our eyes and the sun from our faces we finally made top after about an hour of pushing and diving out of the way of huge lorries. God be on our side at this point.... because the ride back down the hill was amazing, and the road was back to the usual smooth surface. Awesome!

Our daily target for the day was to make it to 'Goðafoss' (Waterfalls of the Gods). The falls are only about 50km from Akureyri and would make for a good cycle to ease the legs and bottom back into the saddle. After stopping for lunch, an hour or so after we left the city we soon pushed on and made some great ground. Tour buses were heading towards us in great numbers and heading back to Akureyri. this was a good sign, we didn't want to experience the waterfall with 200 other photo crazy tourists. Sure enough on arrival at Goðafoss we shared the falls with only one other couple. We had the falls pretty much all to ourselves. Ace! They were fantastic from every angle. we skipped over little streams towards the edge, to get some better snaps and just sat around for a little while just soaking in the surroundings!

The story behind Goðafoss (Waterfalls of the Gods) is a really nice little story. Around the year 999-1000 the leader of the Alþingi, Þorgeir, chose to convert Iceland into a Christian state. After making his decision he threw his statues of the Norse Gods into the waterfalls. There is an illustration of this event on one of the stain glass windows, in the church in Akureyri.

We woke up early in the morning on the campsite next-door to the falls. The beauty had been taken away already by crowds of bus tourists packing the area like puffins on a rock. One bus load of people would turn up for 10mins and then leave and then another would arrive. As I sat there watching the early morning surge, I felt slightly privileged and lucky to have experienced the magic of the falls with only my friends, and the spirit of the falls. A smile came over me, it was a great feeling.

The weather was once again sunny sunny sunny. Hot summer, hot, hot summer! The cycle began in classic fashion with a great up hill assault and an amazing rewarding view back over the Goðafoss, and surrounding mountain ranges. We cycled along the top of the pass, heading into a slight head wind, but nothing too brutal until these nesting birds decided to swoop down at us every 20meters. They would squawk, talk and try to kamikaze us every so often. They really were nasty little bastards! haha. A hill soon came up... heading in the right direction... down! We picked up some great speed and managed to get away from the birds. The views and feeling of the area around the town of Laugar was really nice and peaceful. Cycling was easy and relaxing.

After about 2 hours of cycling we reached the Mývatn national park area. As we topped a hill the amazing lake came into our view. It looked so blue. We couldn't wait to get down there and cycle around it to our next destination Reykjahlið. Mývatn translates to Midge lake, and is supposed to be over run with little black midge flies. All the travel books and blogs suggest that you should buy a bee keeping mask to keep them off of your face, but states also they won't bite you. It was really funny to see all of the tourists with these fantastically dorky head dresses on! It made for great comedy, as there wasn't that many flies around at all. As we made it towards the far side of the lake, the lava fields real beauty came into play. Unfamiliar territory ran for miles on one side and views back over the lake were just jaw dropping. It's hard to describe anywhere else like it... that I have been before. I would say it is a total must.

On arrival in Reykjahlið we signed into the slightly expensive campsite and decided to chill out in the sun for the afternoon. It was rare for it to be sooo nice. The following day brought adventures to natural thermal caves. Two of the caves having water around 40-50 degrees! We later found another much cooler cave, but with a challenge to both get into and get out of. I would highly recommend trying to find these caves and relaxing if possible in the hot hot water!

With the past few days bad weather we decided to try and hitch to Egilsstaðir. With no luck on our side we decided to take the SBA northbound bus for around 4000ISK per person and 2000ISK extra to take our bikes. The bus was actually a really nice way to travel in this country. it gave us a rest and also allowed to take in the beauty of our surroundings while not huffing and puffing uncontrollably up a hill. It was comfortable and not not overly expensive.

The Marshian like countryside of the Mývatn national park is well worth a visit. There something here for everyone. From climbing mountains to inner craters, to relaxing in natural caves or european spa's!

Icelandic lesson Months of the year....

January = Janúar

February = Febúar

March = Mars

April = April

May = Mai

June = Júni

July = Júli

August = Ágúst

September = September

October = Október

November = Nóvember

December = Desember

Posted by tchgate 11:40 Archived in Iceland Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Cycling Around Iceland

Akureyri city special....

sunny

Akureyri Special....!
Where's hot and where's not......

Akureyri is a great little city nestled in the mountains in northern Iceland. It is considered the capital of the north and is also know as the biggest city outside of the capital region. With a population of around 17,500 it is a rather generous offering to call it a city.. but it defiantly lives up to all the expectations. Anything is possible from this great port city. A thought crossed our mind to fly Copenhagen for a week off... but when we started looking around this city, it has rather more to offer than one first thinks!
There was no clear reference made of Akureyri until 1562. The towns name relates to cultivation 'akur', but the growth of the town was tightly related to trading and exporatation of agricultural products. Danish merchants traditionally handled the trade here, as Iceland was still under the Danish crown.
Akureyri has many interesting hiking areas and trails with picturesque views over snow capped mountains, or back down towards the darling harbour. The central city itself is cute and compact, with possibly the main feature on the eye been the generously sized church, which actually holds part of one stained glass window from Coventry England. The window was removed from the cathedral in Coventry in 1943 to save it from air attacks during the second world war, and has stayed in Akureyri ever since.
During the end of June, Akureyri hosts 'The Arctic Open', on the northern most 18 hole gold course in the world. The crowds weren't bustling into Akureyri to see this manic event but the reports of the event were good. The tournament is played under the midnight sun every summer.
The central swimming pool is a must when visiting Akureyri. The outdoor Sundlaug Akureyrar is one of the most well known and most visited pools in the country. The door tax is 450ISk, which almost nothing when considering the facilities it offers. To mention, 2 heated hot pools, steam room, jet shower, swimming pools and water slides. You can spend all day in the pool if you wish or can handle it. This was great value for money, as for anywhere else in Europe the name Turkish bath always puts up the price of things. In England we would pay much more for these facilities. Great value for money and well worth a visit!!
Popular days trips from Akureyri are Grímsey Island (which is the only actual part of Iceland to dip its head into the arctic circle), boats depart from Dalvík, or planes from Akureyri. Lake Mývatn is a very popular day trip with very close proximity to some Iceland and europe's biggest waterfalls. Goðafoss, Dettifoss and many more. Some of the area around Mývatn is literally like been on mars and then 10 minutes further down the road you could feel like your in Thailand. It is like nowhere on earth. Húsavík is also an extremely popular destination from Akureyri, because it is the capital for whale watching tours. It is also supposed to be a very beautiful town with many great attractions.
During the day Akureyri is a slightly lazy city. A relaxed sort of feeling suits the sea air. At night however on our way into town between 1am and 2am... the party was only just getting started. The selection of late night bars/clubs is definitely limited, however there is still a great atmosphere here in this town and the locals are extremely friendly and make you feel more than at home! The places we found were 'happening' were Cafe Akureyr (with live music on a Thursday night and drinks offers), and Cafe Amour (located towards the end of the main street Kaupvagnstræti). We were even invited back to some random house party to party the morning away and carry on drinking Icelandic style. Prepare yourself for long hard drinking, with some of these crazy guys and even grazier chicks. Don't be scared though... they do't bite!
The city really is a beautiful place. It reminds me a lot of Queenstown in New Zealand. Throughout the week the local buses are free to everyone, but on weekend they don't run... you can't really argue though. It's well worth sitting on the local buses and having a look at some of the beautiful houses that lay around the city, and the lovely views and angles that can be obtained from all over the city of every different angle. We had perfect weather while we here and stayed with some amazing Polish girls through couch surfing, which maybe made it better. The central campsite did house us for two nights and was also more than comfortable.
I feel though with the amazing surrounding, more things could be offered to lure the tourist backpacker money in Iceland. Akureyri will play a big part in this draw or flow. Sky diving would be fantastic and other crazy adventurous activities would be a plus. White water rafting is already available and extensive Polar horse riding schools are dotted all over the country. I just feel there was that slight thing missing.

Icelandic lesson..... weather conditions (Veður)...

  • Sunny = Sólríka
  • Rain = rigning
  • Cloud = ský
  • Wind = vindur
  • Storm = Stormur
  • Mist = mistur
  • Fog = Þoka

Posted by tchgate 10:32 Archived in Iceland Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

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