Monday, September 10, 2007

Falling in love with an island

Vestmannaeyar was my favorite place I visited in Iceland, which I realized one single magical day when the fog cleared and the sun shined and I hiked the entire way around the island along the coastline. The magic of the place was enhanced by a series of unlikely, fortuitous coincidences: I came passed by some sort of Scottish festival on the golf course, so the beginning of my hike was to the music of a lone piper (no, really);
I got to look inside puffin nests with a local scientist and a German TV crew in the afternoon; and at sunset watched a father and son invited me along to release a baby puffling to sea just as I was returning from my hike. No pictures or words can quite do justice to the joy I felt just to be in this beautiful place, but I feel I must try.

Here's what I wrote in my journal: "It was on Sunday that I decided I was in love in this island - it was a clear, sunny, perfect day after the whole week of rain and everything I did and everywhere I went felt charmed. A day that could be worth a whole two weeks here, I think. I could feel myself falling in love with the coastline and the waves and the rocky cliffs and beaches. I found myself thinking about coming back for a whole summer, thinking lightheartedly about the future...the way love makes everything in the world seem better and more lovely.... It was the kind of day that makes me want to write poetry or sing beautifully or recite prayers, but no poem or song or prayer can capture the beauty of this place or the elation I felt wandering the whole island all day."

My walk began in Herjolfsdalur, a valley on the north side of the island just to the west of town. The valley is the crater of a long-dormant volcano with steep sides - it was site of the first settlement on the island in the tenth century and remains the site of Heimaey's raucous annual festival celebrating Icelandic settlement.I then walked all along the cliffs on the west coast of the island, beginning from the golf course in Herjolfsdalur, with bagpipe music to accompany the baa-ing of sheep and the crashing of waves, and ending atop Stórhöfði at the south end of the island, just past the puffin nesting cliffs. Here is the view looking back on the coastline I walked:And the views from along the way:And then from the south of the island, I walked back, this time along the eastern coast:(Tilted columnar basalt! Have I mentioned that the geology here is also fantastic?)Here is a view of the main part of the island, looking north from the top of Stórhöfði:And from the ridge in the middle of the island, looking back south at Stórhöfði and the southern tip of the island.
Vestmannaeyar is a stunningly gorgeous place - I am truly in love. I hope to come back someday, but no matter what, I always will have this magical day.

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