Sunday, 16 November 2008


Humans adapt. I now think that the sweet, salty and bitter mixture of licorice is okay. The itchiness of the wool sweater is oblivious to the wearer who needs warmth and protection from the wind. But seasickness? Seasickness is the result of the body not being able to adapt...and is almost inevitable when going (and coming back from) Vestmannaeyjar.

I was talking to a girl who lives on the third floor on Thursday night and I asked her what her plans for the weekend were. "I'm going to the Westman Islands."
For a split second my mind weighed the pros and cons of spending yet another weekend in bed trying to sleep and then waking up and doing pitiful amounts of reading for school and have that be the weekend, or travelling to a desolate place in the middle of winter. "Can I come along?"

The people I went with are all in the same program - they're studying to become teachers, all live on the third floor, and will be leaving Iceland in about 2 weeks, all Scandinavians, one from Denmark, Sweden, Finland. I love how I'm meeting these people and breaking down stereotypes that I have of people - all Swedes are blonde, Danes love Danishes, the Finnish come from Thunder Bay. In total there were four of us.

The Westman Islands are a group of islands off the south coast of the main land. The largest one is Heimaey. In 1973 part of it got covered from a volcanic eruption. They call it 'Pompeii of the North' but personally I think it's pretty lame compared to the real Pompeii. To get there from Reykjavik, you can a) fly b) take a bus for 45 minutes and then a ferry that takes 2h45m. We did the latter.

I'm not usually seasick, and I didn't become seasick this time, but I truly felt like it. The waves of the North Atlantic are definitely not where cruise ships usually sail. I was planning to travel by Ferry from east Iceland to Norway at the end of my stay in the spring, but once the Westman Island ferry got moving all thoughts of that were obliterated. I like the sea and the thought of ship travel. But all I did was spend 2h30m lying down, because the moment I sat up the swaying would get to me immediately. But coming in was amazing. The huge mountain-rocks looked just like they were carved out of wood.

Anyway, we arrived and our resident advisor from the dorm had recommended to us a guesthouse just up the road. When we were about to go in, a woman came out and said, "Did you have any reservation?" We said no, not expecting we needed one, "Oh, then it's not you I'm expecting," and pointed to a group of four behind us. For the next 30 minutes we walked around town looking for accommodation. All the hostels were full, which really surprised us. At this time of year? We finally found an empty hostel at the 'edge' of town. Even the owner of the hostel (it was really just a house) found it weird that there were tourists now. So why were all the other hostels full?

Thankfully you can walk the whole town in any direction in 10 minutes. It's that small. I was so angry that there was no one out walking - everyone had cars, even though the town was tiny! I have no idea why they have cars there. L later observed that they have no stop lights, and J observed that the cars have no license plates. Hmm.

By the time we settled down it was almost dark but we went to explore a volcano - actually, the people explored and I just sort of gave up halfway up the mountain. I sat there staring out at the views of the sea, being blown over by the wind, thinking how really far from everything this place is. Why would 4,000 people want to live here? There are 4 restaurants, 2 grocery stores, and a bunch of little shops and gas stations where you buy hot dogs and lottery tickets. And there's the fishing and (wintertime non-existent) tourist industry. That's it. Anyway, as we headed back it was REALLY windy but with my wool sweater, it was all fine and dandy.

We walked around town for a bit. If you love Christmas shops, every shop has some kind of Christmas decoration in their windows - not just lights, but the works - little santas, angels, red felt cloth, stars, everything. It's amazing. I would've loved spending a day in the shops if only they were open! After buying candy at the grocery store, L found a flyer advertising pizza at the cashier and we finally decided to go there to eat dinner. We took a cheap take-out deal which included garlic bread and headed back to the hostel. There were three pizza boxes although we had ordered two, and I was wondering how the garlic bread was packaged even though all we could smell was just garlic during the walk back. When we opened up the boxes, it was discovered that the garlic 'bread' was actually a garlic and cheese pizza. People who tasted it said it was disgusting, but I thought it was normal-tasting. Just not used to it in pizza form.

After that, there was pretty much nothing else to do. So we slept for two hours and then woke up. It was only 7:30. We'd travelled all the way to sleep. We turned on the telly and watched the whole of Pirates of the Carribean 3, which, for those of you who've watched it, is a very long movie. And for me personally, very very boring. So I just slept on and off throughout the drone. I almost regretted travelling. Almost.

At around 11:00, the movie ended. We went out to see the Northern Lights and ended up downtown again to check out the 'night life' of the Westmann Islands. We were laughing our heads off - no one was anywhere, we were just wandering a dead 'downtown'. We went into the only place that was open and was attracted by the pool table opportunities. No one was there. The music was a CD mix, a CD that skipped. We played pool. All the pool clichés occured: I, of course, was on the losing team. We lost because of me. The coin operator almost didn't work. The person claiming to not be good at pool turned out to be the best.

After a bit, people started coming in. Then there's this guy (let's just call him C) who asked J in Icelandic, "Are you from the Westman Islands?" When J answered in English, the guy immediately screamed, "Cool! Foreignjers!" and pulled up a chair (when he learned J was from Denmark, he got even more excited and tried out his probably bad Danish). I was amused that people here are so desperate to get out of here that they are so eager to interact with anyone who is not from the island. Turns out that he was part of a handball team (Iceland won silver in handball at the Olympics this year - I guess it's one of their more beloved sports) who was 'stranded' on the island because the people operating the plane would not fly out any more that day. A team of handball players stuck on an island - sounds like the next Snakes on the Plane (by the way, check this out:
Anyway, a younger player from the team started talking to us about handball and football. K and me just spaced out. When C came back, he said, "Is this guy that boring?" and K replied, "All he would talk about is handball and football--" C interrupted "Oh, you mean the Blue Lagoon!"
Then he went to the younger guy, pointed to him and said, "This guy's a retard. He only knows how to speak English. He's left-handed and he's the mascot of the team. He's a left-handed mascot. My dog Smeeta? He has a smaller IQ than him." and then K said, "What kind of dog?" We all started laughing because that wasn't the point of the phrase at all, but I got it. K was curious because the name of the dog sounded Finnish. Of course, the younger person got really upset.
After they were all gone, L said, "They should calm down. It's just handball."

The next day, we hiked (or in my case, attempted to hike) more mountains, saw the destruction that the eruption resulted in, then got on the ferry to go home.

More observations: There are signs of polar bears and puffins all around town. And also, there is the embassy of Sweden and Norway here, out of all places.

The ferry ride back was even more nauseating than the one coming in. Even then, nice weekend. Pics on the way.

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