Thursday, April 28, 2011

Trout Fishing in Iceland

When I think of trout fishing, I immediately think of delicate poles and lures, and the cold, small streams in the northwest United States described in so many of Richard Brautigan's novels. It's safe to say that I have a very romanticized view of the sport, even though I've never participated, so when I had the opportunity to go trout fishing on the family farm here in South Iceland, I was very excited. I think I have a romanticized view of fishing in general. When I was a teenager, I got really into it and went dock fishing in Florida frequently, but I never caught anything with my own pole. Still, the point of fishing, at least to me, is largely based on not catching anything, but about patience and stillness and maybe learning to tie neat little knots. It's fun to just sit next to the water doing basically nothing, almost fearful of that burst of energy that might snag itself upon my line. Almost hoping that it doesn't happen. But perhaps that attitude is why I was never able to catch anything. I was content without the reward.
Obviously, this was not a recreational fishing trip.We were net fishing and hoping to catch many trout that would be smoked with a heavy layer of dill and served at our breakfast here at the hostel.
The Botn farm is located 60km east of Vík and the property is almost the size of Luxembourg, although almost all of it is covered in three layers of lava formations called Eldhraun, created over the last few hundred years by Katla's eruptions.
I'd driven past Eldhraun last year and stopped to take some photos of the surreal landscape. At the time it was one of the strangest things I'd ever seen, looking more like an underwater landscape. One thing I didn't do last year was walk on it, so I was very surprised that the moss covering the lava mounds was extremely thick and cushioned. It feels like walking on memory foam and you can sink your fingers deep into it and still not touch rock.

There is also an abundance of bird life at Botnar, including two types of loons that live on the lakes nested in deep trenches between walls of lava stones. One of these lakes was where we were fishing. In the evening just before sunset, Þráinn, Æsa, their daughter Katla, and I went out in a little skiff and Æsa dropped the nets.

Þráinn and Æsa launching the boat.

We didn't pull them up until the next morning, of course, but before we went back to the house we got to try talking to loons (no answer) and saw a rare geological formation that looks like the lava is laying an egg.

 First thing in the morning, I got news that a friend mine passed away over the weekend from a hit and run bicycle accident. I was completely wrecked by the news and I'm still not doing very well, so the entire day was filled with on again, off again crying. I was offered the car to take back to to Norður-Vík but I thought it would be better to distract myself, so I went back out on the boat to pull in the nets. I actually did feel pretty good pulling in about 40 or 50 fish, even though my help probably wasn't really all that helpful. I hoisted in the nets against the wind and Æsa and Þráinn untangled the trout and occasionally bashed one of them against the side of the boat to kill it. I tried this once and it was not difficult, although I was ignorant about where exactly to hit it's head and probably caused it some unnecessary unpleasantness. 

This one is a little too small

So that's trout fishing in Iceland. Quite satisfying to actually catch something. Who knew?

Monday, April 18, 2011


I took a more extended break from working in Vík this week. My friend, Skarpi, invited me along with him to visit the farm where he grew up near Borgarnes. The name of the place is Litla-Brekka, which means a small hill. I caught a ride into Reykjavik in the morning and had a lot of time to kill, so on impulse I went to the Blue Lagoon. I hadn't ever really wanted to go there, but I figured why not? It's about a 45 minute bus ride from the BSÍ bus station through a large lava field near the international airport, and when you buy a bus ticket, you get an entry ticket to the pool for a slightly lesser price. It's still a pretty big rip-off, though.
I suppose it was worth it to visit the place just to see what all the hype is about. But it's really not that great. Maybe it would have been more fun to go with someone instead of alone. It's sort of notorious as being a place where people go to have sex in public. The water is an eerie blue color, and it's thick with silica that makes it look like milk. Once you put anything under the water, it disappears, so you can imagine how it's perfect for getting away with things even a few inches under the surface.

I could only manage to swim around for an hour before I couldn't see the point anymore. It's not to say that the place is totally lame. It's very beautiful, and if you're not used to being able to swim outside when it's snowing, then it's really cool. There are boxes of silica that you can smear over your face and body and it feels nice. The water is also partially sea-water, and for some reason it is easier to float in than, say, the Gulf of Mexico. I'm glad I went, just to say that I did it, but I wouldn't recommend for tourists to waste a day on it. There are a lot of other amazing things to do than float around in a sperm bath listening to British people chattering about shampoo. But that's marketing for you.

I met up with Skarpi around 3 in the afternoon. Borgarnes is about an hour away, and the farm just beyond it. We met his very cheerful and charming uncle who is amazingly more DIY than Æsa (but he does have a lot more resources available). Since they have a working farm in addition to the guesthouse and lodge, they can provide a lot more homemade benefits to guests. There are horses, sheep, chickens, and a salmon river. The family has owned a giant piece of property there for a really long time, and Skarpi is directly descended from one of the most famous vikings who lives there. So that's cool. It was also really interesting to see where an Icelander grew up. Normally when people take you on their childhood tours, it's hard to stay captivated by their experiences, but this was completely different. I'm romanticizing the hell out of it, of course, but to be in a remote place, surrounded by steep mountains, a frigid sea, and enough space to feel completely alone...well, it's beautiful. I can't begin to compare my childhood experiences with the outdoors to a place like this. Plus, these people work. And it's hard work that doesn't always have the benefits of modern convenience.

Skarpi intended on taking us both on the ATV for a tour around the farm, but we only managed to explore the old barn. I think we got a pretty good ride in, but a few seconds after I asked if he had ever gotten the quad stuck anywhere, he told me that no, it was pretty much impossible. And then we hit some quicksand disguised as a rock path. In the series of photos that I took, you can see the progress of it sinking all the way down to the chassis, where it thankfully stopped.

So we were forced to abandon it. Skarpi put in a good effort trying to get it out, but his uncle would have to pull it out some other time. Oh well. It's nice that they are such an easy-going group of people. Perhaps having so much space to be alone contributes to that charming attitude.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Reykjavik Overnight

I took a trip to Reykjavik overnight just to get out of Vík for a second. It was a pretty good time Saturday night. The highlight being free beer for a birthday party, and free Jager Bombs from a record-setting event involving 170 shots and a domino effect.
On Sunday when I had to drive back, the weather completely went to hell. There was a gale warning with gusts of wind around 20m/s that shattered several windows in the city. There was even a very rare strike of lightning, which was accidentally caught on video.
I ran into a friend at a fun new restaurant called the Laundromat (which is also the only laundromat in Iceland, boasting three washing machines!) and we spent the day braving the wind, rain, and hail. After I bought a coffee and a big, delicious hamburger, of course.
A sign in the very child-friendly Laundromat
The best solution to a terrible weather day in Iceland is to go to the pool. We chose a really nice one in Seltjarnarnes, which is the rich part of Reykjavik, which is obvious from the facilities. The only thing we could have asked for was not to have the wind constantly splashing freezing rainwater in our faces, but it's hard to complain when you have a steam room, swimming lanes, a fabulous twisty slide, and at least four hot pots at your disposal. All for 400kr.

Seltjarnarnes is a lovely area with a few points that jut out into the sea. The road that leads to the pool is choked with birds, who were all huddled down facing the wind so as not to blow away. The birds that attempted to fly were thrown around like crumpled napkins, and it was quite comical to watch them. One of the more interesting sights was an entire flock of songbirds taking flight, and turning into a confused mass of black feathers that looked more like soot caught in a dust storm than anything alive. Another effect of the wind was that salts from incoming waves were pushed backwards up into the air and caught vibrant swatches of rainbows that lasted for several seconds before being swallowed again by the water.

Lighthouse in Seltjarnarnes, with people trying to run from the wind.
Swans bracing against the wind.

I avoided driving back until after 20:00, when the weather was supposed to calm down a little bit, but still managed to hit some nasty sleet, snow, hail, and wind on the way back and didn't get in until after 23:00. It must have followed me, because the wind seems to have found it's home in Vík today and it's quite miserable.

A happy thought is that not far away in Reykjavik are patches of blooming crocus flowers, which is an exciting nod towards Spring.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


I was supposed to go to the dentist today but the chair was we had svið for lunch instead.
 As you might have guessed, svið is boiled sheep head. Served with potatoes and butter. To be fair, I only ate some of this. I don't really like the taste of the skin, and the top portion is mostly skin and bones. But the dark meat is delicious. I'll try the bottom jaw later and let you know how it is.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Gold, Basalt, and Wool

I've been pretty busy lately, and too tired/lazy to update this blog, so here's a quickie just to let you know I haven't forgot about it.

It's not as if I work nonstop all day, but essentially, I am on duty from 7:00 to 22:00, plus I live in the hostel as well, so if anyone wants anything at any time, I have to help because there is no one else here. But soon another girl is arriving so maybe it won't be quite like that after she gets here. One of the great things about working all of these days is that I have saved up ten days off as of this week. That's very good news.

I had a mini day off the other day. I got up at 7 to make breakfast and cleaned most of the buffet with help from an Italian girl named Valentina who used to work here. She was staying for ten days and it was nice to have her around. The day was so beautiful that we managed to catch a ride with Æsa's dad to nearby Skógar, where the tall waterfall, Skógafoss is located. There is also a great folk museum called Skógasafn. Valentina and I went to the museum first, and it was really interesting. It was completely crammed full of found artifacts collected by the funny, charming, and knowledgeable Þórður Tómasson.
I was very drawn to the various wooden carvings like special eating bowls with lids and animal toys, including the most delightful alligators I have ever seen. (Why there are alligator carvings in Iceland, I have no idea). But I soon became infatuated with this handle called Þrassi's Ring.

The story is that a gold treasure was hidden in a chest under Skógafoss around 900AD by the first settler of Skógar, Þrassi Þórolfsson. Many attempts were made to retrieve it over the years, but no one has ever been successful because it's so heavy. This ring is supposedly a handle of the chest, which came off when a rope was tied to it to try to pull it out of the water. But it broke off and the chest fell back into the depths. It was used as a handle to the church door until 1890.

I get excited over stories about treasure and monsters and anything legendary, but this story appeals to me because there is physical evidence sitting right there. I mean yeah, supposedly this is the handle off of a treasure chest, but it's a lot more convincing than just a story with no handle at all. I am 100% positive that there is gold under that waterfall. In fact, I danced around when we were on top of it, urging Valentina to dive in with me, and asking what we would do with all of our wealth when we emerged as wet and freezing heroes.
I couldn't get her to do it, but I did take off my overshirts and stand in a tank top while near enough to the falls to get completely soaked. So I felt like I accomplished something.

The pot of gold really IS at the end of the rainbow!

After a few hours, Gisli came and picked us up, and was generous enough to drive us to see the lighthouse at Dyrhólaey, plus to a wonderful natural basalt bridge where waves crashed up around us, and to Reynisfjalli, which is composed of humongous basalt columns that form when lava cools very slowly. The entire cliff looked like a crystal palace. We also ran very quickly through a break in the waves to see a cave on the other side, which was a bit scary.

Æsa was kind enough to not count our day of adventure as a day off, which is good because I think I exhausted myself enough that I felt I had worked overtime. It was a very full day. Next week I'm looking forward to spending a weekend with my friend Skarpi. We are taking a weekend trip somewhere out west.

In other news, Æsa has been bugging me to post this, so here is a puffin that I made. I also made a little dead fish for it to eat, but it's not in the picture.

Maybe someone will buy it :-)