Monday, June 26, 2006
PART 2: ICESCAPADES!
<-- Hofn town, VatnaJokull Glacier background
The Sun’s up at midnight!
Icescapades: No such word in the dictionary but sounds about right. An escapade in Iceland. Sure I’d been to Iceland before, landing at Reykjavik, near the main City of the same name, Capital of Iceland. My previous visit was a brief two day affair and I did not get beyond the little city. I would categorize it as the cleanest, neatest and prettiest city compared to any other and I’ve been around to compare. Normal ferry flight includes a landing at either Rey or at the nearby Airport of Keflavik with longer runways and better handling facilities.
It was summer that time as it was now, June 2001. Don’t be fooled, summer here does not mean tee shirt and shorts kind of weather for the likes of you and me, although for the pale Icelanders, this is as balmy as it gets. The best part is that the Sun stays up all day and all night during summer. I remember the previous landing I made at Rey around 0100 in the morning and the sun was still up. I remember the Loftleider Hotel on the Airport has rooms with no windows looking out and many hotels in Iceland, I was told, had windows looking into the passageways inside. That’s because it is tough to sleep with the Sun up all the time during summer and the sun down all winter! The same goes for most of Northern Europe, Northern Canada, and Russia et al. I was somewhat familiar with his, but my poor co-pilot, I’ll call him copi; boy did he have a tough time sleeping.
A brief weather description. Temperature between 10 and 12 degrees Celsius at the warmest. Longest length of sunshine 24 Hrs 00 Minutes. Length of Day: 21 Hrs 03 Minutes. All real data. You get the picture.
Hofn? What’s there to stop for?
To begin at the beginning, after sloshing around in the chemical that was supposed to sanitize our boots, Customs Iceland came over and stamped out passports and asked where were going. I told him that it was going to be Keflavik next after re-fuelling and depending on the weather, go across the drink to Eastern Greenland. Customs chap told me it was too bad that we’d had to sit out the weather in Keflavik because the weather was very poor between Kef and Kulusuk (Eastern Greenland) and we should expect a couple of days delay, what with our primitive instruments, lack of weather radar, nothing to say about the de-icing system that we did not have in the first place.
Customs second guy mentioned that it would have been worth staying here in Hofn for a couple of days and slipped in a piece of information that they had the largest glacier in Europe. And that we could visit it too. OK, I don’t need any more incentive. Kef is nice but jut plain, boring, flat and we’d be holed up in the Hotel with nothing to do, here’s a better alternative. “Saar, lets stay here and visit the glacier”, said my co-pilot. The weather was fine in Hofn, perfect for an outing. That’s what we did and let me tell you, this was the best decision I had made all through this trip, except for the one I made to shut up and not throw tantrums when we facing Gen Mushy guns on the tarmac at Karachi, sneaking into Pakistan without a transponder, as they accused, trying to fly low and low over Pasni and Gwadar (Naval Air Stations). That’s another story and I’ll come to that some time.
Back to the Iceland story. So, we moored the plane and went off to town in a cab and the cab guy also said that he was a travel guide and that he operated one of those big wheeled, high sitting All Terrain Vehicles that did the tours of the sulfur springs, volcanic areas with lava flows and all that. Sold, we told him, come back and pick us up in an hour. He dropped us off in the Hotel, this one had windows, real large ones in every room and due to our sudden arrival, they could manage a double room and copi and I had to share the same. Fine by me, just watch out for the loud snoring, I told the first mate.
Cabby came back and picked us up and said we’d have a long drive of a couple of hours to get to the glacier located at a place called Vatna Jorkull. He started talking, nice chap with the gift of the gab and a mean streak to him which will come out soon. Hofn, he said, meant harbor. They were seafaring people, what else and probably descended from the Vikings. They’ve got the looks and I can’t contest that. The drive was among the most scenic ones I have ever taken. Picture this, lush green fields, neat farm houses and Icelandic horses running around. The horses are really beautiful with long manes that hang down their shoulders like a long haired girl, with the hair swirling in the wind. Real beauties, these horses and same goes for the local girls!
We came up on a clearing and cabby stopped the car. He said he had a surprise for us. We followed him lamely, hands deep in our jacket pocket to keep off the chill and came up on a depression in the ground. The depression had matted dry grass and contained two largish grey-brown colored eggs! Before I could draw in my breath at this wonderful sight, I spied cabby taking off in the direction of the car while copi and I gazed. Next thing I know is that I hear a high pitched shrill scream; I look up and see a large bird diving at me. A whack on the head with its wings and I was on the ground, looking to scramble away. The first bird was joined by its mate in the aerial attack. Copi had run to the car meanwhile and locked himself up.
I am a nature lover, animal freak and so on, that made me bring out my camera from my jacket pocket and while the bird was diving, I took a photograph! I have saved all this, including the eggs and the bird diving and the entire trip on film and I hope to get these published soon. Anyways, back to the birds, I managed to evade anymore of the hits and made it back to the car with grass all over me. Cabby was laughing and thought it was very funny. Indeed, I had fun and copi’s face had turned white. The birds, I was told, come from the spitfire family (what a name!) and they are seabirds, like sea eagles. I’d be better off not messing around with them. Apparently mama and papa bird guard their eggs and jointly raise their young.
My Names Bond, James Bond
We reached a water body; a large lake formed by the melting glacier, with large and small ice pieces floating by, turns into a stream and empties itself into the cold Atlantic. This is the famous glacier lake, made more famous by the James Bond movie “A View to a kill” starring Roger Moore as 007 and Grace Jones, who comes up in a mini submarine in the glacier lake, chasing Bond with obvious intent to kill him. Roger Moore stayed in Hofn during the shoot and this gets mentioned to everyone who makes it to the VatnaJokull glacier. While we were there, we could see pieces of the glacier break and fall into the lake with a loud splash.
There were little ducks in the water near us, with ducklings. I picked up a piece of ice to chew on and copi borrowed my camera, took my picture eating ice, tripped on a small rock and lost control. The camera went out of his hands and fell on another piece of rock. Tough things these Nikons, it cracked a bit near the film counter window and not much else happened to it, lucky me, didn’t want to loose photos of the spits diving at me trying to make a hole in my head. Copi dropped my camera twice on this trip and I had to bandage it after the final one with brown duct tape. A small shack with a wooden patio served some excellent coffee and with the warming sunshine, we basked around like fur seals for a while before heading back to town. That night copi could not sleep, even with the curtains drawn, there were minor gaps through which sunlight filtered through and that kept him awake. Kept me awake too, with all his tossing and turning through the night, no scope for me to snore. He had the blanket over his head as well and when I asked him, he said “I can’t sleep during daytime saar”. Daytime indeed, it was 0300 AM.
The next day we spent wandering around, looking for something non-Icelandic to eat. With all due respects, Icelandic food is very funny to taste and takes getting used to (to put it mildly). Copi thought he’d die if he had to stay here longer. His last statement after last evening’s dinner had been “Saar, everything I put in I feel like puking out”. Although a fish and meat lover, there wasn’t anything on the buffet spread last night that he could stand. He stuck to breads and butter and a bit of soup and only a little bit of that. I managed to sample everything but did not enjoy any of it, not even the desert. We found, in the town of this size, we can’t have anything else other than Icelandic.
If you thought McDonalds, Pizza hut are all over the World, forget it, I’ll show you places where they have not even heard of such things. Indian food? Forget it, this is one the many places they had never seen an Indian before until copi and I landed up. Went to a Bank, changed some money to some more funny ones and hearing that the weather may clear up over the Greenland area in the next day or so, we decided to fly to Keflavik to better food and copi’s survival.