Saturday, June 29, 2013

66 Degrees North

66 Degrees north is what Iceland's latitude is on the globe, and there is an outdoor clothing line with that name. They certainly know cold here and how to dress for it. But I am pleased with all the merino wool from NZ I brought with me, and haven't had to invest in any of their non-merino, itchy variety. 

Today Wendy and I went whale watching just outside of Reykjavik. We didn't have to go too far before we came upon a bunch of minke whales, which we followed around for 2 hours. We bundled up in the provided red jumpsuits, which kept us toasty in the 40 degree weather ( at least it didn't rain). After the yellow rain suits of yesterday, the the red jumpsuits felt downright stylish. 

Minke whales come only in the summer, spending their summers in the balmy waters off West Africa. Unfortunately, some Icelanders started whaling a few years ago even though only about 5% of the population consumes whale meat. The rest is served to tourists. If the demand from tourists goes away, they won't be motivated to kill the whales. It's not a tradition or a traditional food in Iceland, like in some countries. So if you come to Iceland, don't eat whale meat! Go watch them in the wild, it's much more satisfying.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Of Horses and Women

Of Monsters and Men, the band that is all over the radio, is from Iceland. who knew??

But for us today it was about the Icelandic horses. The breed was originally brought with the Vikings from Norway around 870 A.D., and in the 10th century the country banned any further importation of horses, a ban that continues to this day. They don't vaccinate the horses, and the horses suffer from no diseases. They want to keep it that way. So much so that horses that leave Iceland for competitions cannot return.

The horses are on the small side, it not as small as ponies, and have a uniformly even temperament. The thing they are known for is their special gaits: the "flying gait" and the "tolt," a super smooth gait as fast a trot where only one hoof at a time leaves the ground. In the flying gait, all 4 hooves are off at once! The horses are not taught this, they just do it, and there are competitions just for these special gaits (some people breed Icelandic horses in other countries too). The tolt is so smooth you can carry a full glass of water ( or ale or champagne) without spilling a drop.

I loved the horses!
My horse, Gaurkur, kept nuzzling me while I tried to take photos. It was love at first sight!

Apparently there are also Icelandic sheepdogs to help with the herding - they look a lot like Shetland sheepdogs - but I haven't seen any yet. Sheep here outnumber people 4 to 1, so I suppose the people need all the help they can get! 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Far Reaches

I landed to grey drizzle and chilly wind in Reykjavik, Iceland. The terrain felt oddly famliar, with touches of Patagonia and Alaska coming to mind...other places that have harsh climates and few people. I also felt a bit of New Zealand in the apparent love of corrugated tin as a building material. 

A forty minute bus ride from the airport took us over a crumbly black lava landscape, marked by patches of purple lupine flowers, with the icy blue-grey of the North Atlantic Ocean a constant presence on the left.

I hadn't had much sleep on the plane as it was only 6 hours and 50 minutes flying between Denver and Reykjavik. It was in the mid-nineties in Denver and the airline informed us that some of us would be missing our bags when we landed since they had to off load luggage due to the heat. No one knew if they were going to be one of the unlucky ones. Fortunately, my bag arrived with me, and I was able to tap into my cold weather gear (hat gloves, raincoat), since it is absolutely freezing here! says 46 degrees but "feels like" 40. 

I ducked into the Phallogical Museum, which is conveniently right next to our hotel.  Lots of jars of formaldehyde with penises from every mammal in Iceland, including the whales (and one human). I didn't take any photos, being a bit queasy already from the travel, the sight of all the dead members just really put me off! I did snap this photo of the very phallic Hallgrimskirkja church, remarkable that it took more than 50 years to build as it was done by one man and his son. 

I'm now resting up and waiting for my friend Wendy to arrive from London. She should be fresh since its the same time zone and only a 3 hour flight.