a short trip to Greenland and Iceland

Tan Wee Cheng, Singapore/London


Map of Iceland

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Northeast Iceland & Reykjavik: Having a Rotten Shark for Dinner After a Whale-watching Fiasco

Sent: 15 August 2001

WeeCheng has a rotten shark for dinner after a whale watching fiasco

Iceland is a geography teacher's dream but a natural disaster rescue team's nightmare.  A land that stood on the American-Eurasian fault-line, Iceland has just about anything a geography bluff is interested in, from old and new volcanoes, geysers and hot springs, to icebergs, glaciers and the Arctic Circle. OK, the line only crosses Icelandic territory at an island named Grimsey, which gives Air Iceland the excuse of running day tours for tourists who want to cross the line and receive a certificate to frame on the wall - contrary to his usual practices, your author has kindly restrained himself from this activity this time.  The underground heat, volcano and all not only give the whole country a cheap source of power (which also means lots of hot water bath everywhere, which is great if you get used to that all pervasive sulphur smell); but also means numerous tourist attractions where tour guides show off their knowledge on what happens when sudden lava flows cover a cold swampy ground (strange & cute volcano-like craters called pseudo-craters are formed) or when seawater algae mixes with silica-mud in the lava (- they become a pond of bluish-looking chemical waste water that the Icelanders market as the Blue Lagoon to get tourists who would otherwise not pay to swim in).  Everywhere they get tourists to see hot water emerging from nowhere (great if you need a hot water bath in the desert but please take note of the temperature) and boiling mud where the mad cook eggs or make bread (why can't you do it at home?).  Of course, the downsides of sitting between the Americas and Europe are lots of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, sudden glacial floods, and Americans who do short stopover breaks on their way to Europe for holidays. 


Lake Myvatn on stamp Lake Myvatn
Krafla & its geological wonders
Want to boil an egg here ? Volcanic-power station Lava
Mt Viti and its volcanic crater Continental rift near Krafla Another view of Lake Myvatn
Asbyrgi - looks like gigantic man-made walls Jokulsargljufur - Glacier River Scenary naer Husavik, with racks drying fish in the background

I spent three days of wanderings round the Northeast of Iceland visiting numerous strange geological formations resulting permutations of volcanic lava combining with floods / cold water / hot water / soft rock / hard rock / ice / snow (delete as appropriate).  Lots of spectacular landscapes including lakes, rivers, black desert and Europe's largest and tallest waterfalls.  This is indeed a land of sheer natural beauty, one that is almost pristine and empty.  After all, there are only 280,000 people living in an area of 103,000 sq km. 

On Friday morning, I decided to try my luck with whale watching in the tiny town of Husavik, northern Iceland.  Hopping onto an oak made boat, I found myself in a rocking floating bowl on the rough waters of the Arctic Ocean. Here, free from the safe shelter of icebergs as in the waters off Greenland, the boat swayed like a cradle shaken by a lunatic.  I found my stomach rising to my throat and rushed quickly to the bow, where entrance to the toilet was located.  Unfortunately, at the critical moment, the inevitable happened - my inner volcano erupted like Mt Etna and the gory contents of my breakfast - oh, including those wonderful salmon slices on nice Icelandic bread - landed across the ground, like lava on the Icelandic plains.  It took me a few moments to regain my composure, clean myself, and sheepishly apologizing to the crew.  Well, the rest of the whale watch was most uneventful.  No humpbacks, no water spurting whales.  Just a few fins exposed above water.  I have seen more of a whale on the seal hunt in Greenland, and although that whale spotting was pretty much unplanned and unintended – and as a result, no photos taken.

I deserted the boat in a rush upon its return to harbour, and managed to catch the next bus to Akureyri, where I secured a flight to Reykjavik, well ahead of my original schedule.  I decided that I had enough of wild landscapes and wanted a bit of wining and dining, as well as pseudo-metropolitan nightlife - pseudo-metropolitan because that is as much as you get in a capital city with only 170,000 people.  OK, that's not a fair comment, as Reykjavik is indeed well-equipped for a great nighthawk despite its size.  Possibly on a per capita basis, this city has more international restaurants, bars and clubs than most cities in the world.   

Whale watching!

Wee-Cheng the gastronomical adventurer had yet another foray into the brave new world of exotic dishes.  This time, I asked for hakarl, shark meat buried in sand for six months to a year to ensure sufficient decomposition, and was supposed to smell like stool.  A traditional Icelandic delicacy that mad foreigners like me love to try.  Indeed, the waitress said, ahh, it seems that foreigners love the hakarl better than we do.  I was served a small quarter-matchbox cube of it.  I couldn't seem to smell what I was supposed to be expecting, either because my nose had become insensitive after the whale watch, or that the restaurant has tried its best in moderating the smell for foreigners.  OK, there was a faint smell, but it's nothing compared to that famous Southeast Asian king of fruits called durian.  

Blue Lagoon The lava fields near Blue Lagoon Geyser

After dinner, I set off to explore the nightlife of Reykjavik, but discovered an empty town with no one but foreigners hanging around waiting for something to happen.  Well, eating and drinking in Reykjavik is expensive and most Icelanders would stay at home to have their dinner, and then come out really late at night.  Suddenly, close to midnight, Reykjavik came alive again, with lots of youngsters wandering around and enormous traffic congestion.  The city of the midnight sun is also the city of midnight traffic jams!  I hanged around a few bars and dancing till the wee hours with some Vietnamese-Icelandic girls in a downtown club - boat people arrivals in the 1970's/1980's (- amazing how a tropical people adapt to this northern land).  I emerged from the club as the sun rises early at 3+am, in a Reykjavik full of drunk teenagers and more traffic congestion.  

Gullfoss Gulfoss: Another view Pingvellir

The next two days was spent visiting more geysers, waterfalls and craters, plus a dip into that chemical waste known as the Blue Lagoon - oh yes, I surely glow in the dark now.  Hopped by a museum, another wild night in a club, and then a last attempt to find puffin meat in a fish market.  Well, I did find the puffin meat but wisely decided that I would probably spoil the meat by attempting to cook it.  It's best keeping good memories where they are supposed to be.

OK, so that's all to this exciting trip.  More next time.

 Further Thoughts on Iceland

Back to Greenland is Ice and Iceland is Green Homepage

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