Wednesday, March 16, 2011

99 Problems (But a Beach Ain´t One)

Today I took off work a little early because I have been working pretty hard and also I got done a bit early. It was a nice day out, especially compared to the last week. Wind was at a minimum and it was even warm enough to turn all of last night´s snow into wet slush. I love walking in slush. No no, you don´t understand...I LOVE slush. But I also own rubber boots so that makes a lot of difference.

So what to do in Vík on a semi-tropical day like today? Go to the beach, of course! Actually, I had to make a run to the post office (it costs 220ISK to send a postcard out of the country, by the way, so if you get a postcard from me, feel honored that I worked for about 45 minutes to pay for that stamp), so I took a couple of hours to walk around with my camera and look for birds.

These are fýll (not to be confused with the Icelandic word for elephant, which is fíll). They are medium-sized seabirds that live in Iceland all year 'round. In English, these birds are Northern Fulmars (Fulmaris glacialus). They are kind of special, even though they are very common. If you look very closely at my crummy photo, you can kind of see a little bump at the base of their beaks. That is a salt gland that they use to desalinate their bodies when they drink seawater. Petrels and shearwaters have these glands as well. They need them for their incredible long-distance flights over open water.

But fýll are usually seen hanging out on cliff shelves like in the photo above. They are monogamous and mate for life, so they tend to be seen in pairs if they are not flying around looking for food or surveying the territory.
And speaking of territory, the other thing that makes these birds special is their horrible, horrible defense mechanism. They make a rich, oily stew in the first part of their stomach (before the gizzard) that is used not only for feeding chicks, but for projectile vomiting on anything that gets too close. It´s so sticky that it can mat down the feathers of another bird and kill it. So I was pretty careful not to get too close as I was taking photos today.

The only other thing I know about these birds is that they have been a delicacy for years in this area. They are terrible at walking on land, and the babies are especially fat and cannot fly, so when they waddle down to the sea for their first swim, it is easy to come up behind them and hit them with a stick to kill them. I don´t know any specific recipes for fýll (and can´t find any online), but if it´s like other traditional Icelandic meals, it´s probably just boiled or baked with a little bit of salt, with potatoes on the side.

After annoying a bunch of fýll, I took a walk down to the beach and watched the waves rolling in for high tide. There were some tourists there for a few minutes, but they took photos and left me alone there on the soft black sand and the misty rain. 

Waves sounds like bedsheets snapping a clothesline in slow motion.
A view to the East
The name of these rock formations is Reynisdrangar. The highest part is 66 meters. They are made of basalt, but a legend says that they are trolls who were trying to drag a 3-masted ship to shore. When the sun came up, they all turned to stone.

What a lovely place to live.

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