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						Lögberg-Heimskringla , • Föstudagur 17.  mars  1995  •  25
lceland - Mother
Natute 's Panorama
usual gaits of the walk, trot and gallop,
the tölt (also called the rack or running
walk) and the pace. The special gaits are
natural and in-born characteristics of
this breed of horse. The tölt is spectacu-
lar to watch and the rhythmic sound
generated by three horses speeding
around the track in the tölt is something
I won't forget. This gait is so smooth you
can carry a fiill glass of beer without
spilling a drop.
Akureyri, with a population of
14,000 is called the "Jewel of the
North". The Gulf stream flows clock-
wise around the island and at this far
north point, it meets the cold stream just
south of the Arctic Circle. Consequently
the city is fogged in at least 267 days of
the year. This is the heart of the co-oper-
ative movement in Iceland. There is an
excellent harbour here ánd the fishing
industry flourishes creating 95% of the
jobs in the area.
Driving inland to Lake Mývatn, we
follow the Laxá River, a famous fishing
area where Prince Charles comes to físh.
Over 75 species of migrant birds nest in
this area although only 20 species live
here permanently.
Near the lake volcanic explosions
have created weird upright formations
of lava caused when the hot rocks hit
the water. There is a large geothermal
field and a steam powered electric gen-
erating station has been erected here.
There have been at least 15 earthquakes
and in 1984 a 10 kilometre fissure
opened revealing boiling lava. This is 20
feet wide at some points and quite spec-
tacular to view. Below the rift there are
caves with deep pools of hot water.
Climbing down into these caves is quite
dangerous as one lady from the French
bus unhappily discovered. She fell back-
ward into a cave luckily avoiding the
boiling hot water but injuring her back.
With so many tourists travelling around
Iceland they are going to need to set up
precautionary measures. Many of the
points we visited were quite dangerous
and there was a noticeable lack of warn-
ing signs or roped off areas.
Leaving Akureyri in dense morning
fog, we drove up into the mountains to
find the sun shining and a million dollar
view of distant glaciers. We travelled up
the Tjörnes Peninsula to see three mil-
lion year old fossils in the high cliffs.
There were layer upon layer of sea shells
in the rocks indicating the rise and fall
of the ocean beds and mountains as the
island was forming.
The horseshoe shaped canyon at
Ásbyrgi has 90-metre cliffs where many
species of birds were nesting. This area
was formed by sinking land during
earthquakes. One interesting bird here is
the fulmer which Spews fish oil at you
when frightened. Quite tasty when pick-
led but better to avoid it in flight. The
tern is a very aggressive bird which
would attack if it felt its nest threatened.
Our road leaves the delta and takes
us back up into the mountains to a point
where we hear the roar of mighty
Dettifoss Falls. This powerful glacial
river surges over a huge expanse of arid
plain and deposits millions of tonnes of
sand in the ocean. It has been estimated
at 120 tonnes per hour — no wonder the
coastline of Iceland changes every year.
This interior highland plateau had been
arable land at one time but volcanic
(poisonous) ash from eruptions had
killed all the vegetation and driveri the
farmers to a mass exodus to Canada and
other places. The last farmer left in 1946
and We visited his farm where the typical
sod and rock buildings still stood.
Ironically, the area was now lovely and
green near a good fishing lake and a
stream beside the farm. Independent
People, a novel written by H. Laxness, is
worthwhile reading to understand the
terrible hardships endured by these
Icelandic farmers in the early 1900s.
Our overnight stop was Hotel Edda in
Eiðar, another boarding school, near
Lögurinn Lake and the best forest in
Iceland. A great job of reforestation was
being done here with the help of an
experimental farm. An evening of out-
door entertainment by an Icelandic
danc'e and drama group was enjoyable
though we were hard pressed to under-
stand the poetry.
The road to Borgarfjörður Eystri was
twisty and rough with insecure shale
banks on one side and a 431 metre cliff
overlooking the sea ori the other side. It's
no wonder there had been a cross placed
at a particularly bad corner in 1300 with
the inscription "Kneel and pray to God
for a safe journey". The famous painter
Kjarval was born in this area and we vis-
ited a church graced by one of his paint-
ings of "Christ on the Mount", hanging
over the altar. The bishop had refused to
bless this painting because the artist had
used a famous Icelandic view of "the
doors" (a mountain) in the background.
Heading south along the rugged and
varied coasdine of the eastern fjords, we
reached Almannaskarð, offering a strik-
ing view of Vatnajökull Glacier. We
stopped at Nesjaskóli, Hornafjörður
area, the most important fishing port on
the south. Following the Cod Wars with
Britain, a 200 mile limit was set. This
plus a quota system seems to be bringing
a renewal of the fishing industry. If a fish-
erman buys a new trawler, he must sink
the old one because if you sell, your fish-
ing quota goes with the vessel. Subsidies
are a hotly debated subject because there
is no government help in Iceland, mak-
ing it difficult for them to compete inter-
nationally. If they find the size of the fish
is getting smaller, there will be limited
fishing and closure in some areas causing
more hardship. They estimate 100,000
tonnes of cod are lost to the seals every
year and there are also 40,000 whales in
this vicinity of the Gulf Stream. This rich
fishing zone has an estimated yield of
3500 kilos of fish from one square mile
but still the danger of over fishing looms.
The original fishermen came about
their trade accidentally. In the old days
the rich farmers would send their ten-
ants out to catch fish for them. If a man
didn't own land, he wasn't allowed to
marry. Hence a great many left the farms
and settled at the coast making fishing
their livelihood This is a dangerous busi-
ness as there has been 342 "offers to the
sea" since 1923.
We made an interesting visit to a
sheep farmer named Högni whose side-
line was smoking shark meat. In his
smokehouse were 30 inch slabs, of
shark, some 6 inches thick, which would
hang to dry for a month and then be
shipped to Japan. Shark meat, washed
down with Brennivín, a potent liquor
made from potatoes and cumin (40%
proof), was considered a real treat.
Surprisingly, the largest glaciers in
Iceland are in the Southeast. At Lake
Jökullón, we had an opportunity to take
a boat trip among floating icebergs bro-
ken off a "finger" of Vatnajökull. Viewed
up close, these icebergs were varied in
colour, texture and density. They
ranged from dirty embedded silt to crys-
tal clear or cobalt blue in all shapés and
sizes. There is only a small portion visi-
ble above the waterline and they some-
times flip over as they melt so it could
be a risky proposition being nearby. We
were followed by a young boy in a small
boat — no doubt ready to send for help
if needed.
While the "finger" of the glacier was
at least 30 metres thick, it was dwarfed
by the actual glacier. These glaciers can
move as much as 50 feet a day so
though the caves beckoned, our guide
said it was unwise to venture into them.
when it is quiet you can listen to the
sounds a glacier makes — grinding,
creaking and sometimes booming.
Indeed, glaciers are the most efficient
sculptors in the country. If a volcano
beneath the glacier heats up, it creates a
flood. Then 200,000 metres of water a
second can pour out of the glacier
washing away anything in its path and
causing the ocean to rise. There can
even be pools of hot wateron a glacier.
Skaftafell National Park is a beauti-
ful green oasis beneath the towering
Öræfajökull, the highest peak in
Iceland at 2119 metres.- Vast stretches
of black sand formed by the huge glacial
rivers form the coastline on the journey
to Kirkjubæjarklaustur. This road was
the final link in the highway which cir-
cles Iceland.
We crossed the vast Eldhraun Lava
Fields and Mýrdalssandur, an extensive
sandy desert, to Dyrhólaey Headland a
nature reserve and bird sanctuary.
The Eldhraun area was the site of
the 1783 volcanic eruption from Mt.
Katla. Many earthquakes had preceded
this event and on June lst, thick. clouds
of ash rose and the river turned to a
glowing lava stream covering 465
square kilometres. Thousands of people
died and a whole village was wiped out
from the poisonous nitrogen and sul-
phur gas. The acid killed all vegetation
and 50% of the animals. This volcano
erupted again in 1918 and it is believed
that another eruption is eminent, but
the villagers still remain. Earthquakes
and the smell of sulphur will be warn-
ings and evacuation plans are in place.
Our bus driver lives in the village and
told us there is no insurance against a
natural disaster. We wondered why
anyone would stay under the circum-
The final day of our 2,340 kilometre
journey took us to Skagafoss where
you can climb the mountain and walk
behind the falls. We went on through
fertile farming land to a large thermal
field where, amongst the gurgling mud
pots, is the Great Geyser which has
erupted since antiquity but now has
itspipe blocked by siliceous deposits. It
can be forced to erupt by injecting soap
into the pipe. A new geyser called
Strokkur spouts to a height of 30 metres
at ten minute intervals.
There are nearly 100 steaming aper-
tures scattered over a surface scarcely
more than two square miles in extent
and not a sign of warning for the
unwary tourist. You certainly had to
keep your eyes on the ground.
We visited our last and most spectac-
ular waterfall, Gullfoss. This mighty
two-tiered cataract thunders 32 metres
over a fault in a gorge 2.5 km. in length
and 70m deep. A bid to harness this
splendíd waterfall was (thankfully)
turned down by the government.
We couldn't leave Iceland without a
visit to the "Blue Lagoon," an offspring
from the geothermal power station in
Svartsengi. This station provides elec-
tricity and hot water in a pure and nat-
ural manner by using the energy of
geothermal water which lies at depths
of over 1000 metres. After the water has
served its primary purpose it flows
through the Blue Lagoon keeping it
fresh and warm. The lagoon has a salt
concentration equal to that of the sea
with silica mud (goqd for facials) on the
bottom. With hot steam blowing over
the bright blue water, where weird rock
formations emerged and heads bobbing
here and there it looked like a picture
from Dantes Inferno. Undaunted, we
plunged into the steaming water and
emerged 30 minutes later relaxed and
The eyening before our departure,
we were invited to attend a service at
• Bessastaðakirkja, an old Lutheran
Church south of the city. The minister
had served a parish in North Dakota
and was known by several of our group.
Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the president of
Iceland, attended the service. Following
refreshments provided by the excellent
choir, we were pleased to meet and
chat with this beautiful and charming
lady. She embodies the character of the
Icelandic people who are guided by a
strong work ethic and a high awareness
of their cultural identity.
We flew home with a feeling of kin-
ship for these people who had struggled
for so many years for the good life and
were willing to share theír spectacular
land with strangers and relatives alike.
Canada is all the better for having a
touch of Iceland dotted throughout her
Special Charter to
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