Places: South Iceland 2001 and 2013

Looking South from the Island of Heimaey, Vestmannaeyjar

These are my oldest image files. They were converted from my Kodachrome slides from a trip I took to Iceland in 2001. Before I went to Iceland, there were parts of Europe that fascinated me. After Iceland, I was fascinated only by Iceland. Was it that I have an inborn need for wastelands like Patagonia or the Southwestern Deserts of the United States or the Peruvian Altiplano? I think so.

With the above photo, I was trying to see if I could find Surtsey, the island that was created by a recent volcanic upheaval beneath the sea. (The island still exists, but it is gradually getting smaller.)

The Ice in Iceland

The Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon Near Skaftafell

One of the most incredible sights in South Iceland is the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon visible from the Ring Road on the way to Höfn in Hornstrandir. On one side of the road are these incredible chunks broken off from the giant glacier Vatnajökull; on the other, is a black sand beach dotted with tiny chunks of transparent ice like diamonds in a black satin setting.

The lagoon and beach are so spectacular that it is almost impossible to just pass on by. Even the bus to and from Höfn stops for a half hour or so. It’s not long enough for a boat ride on the lagoon—but it makes you want to come back, as I did in 2013.

Ice like Diamonds on a Black Sand Beach (Breiðamerkursandur) 2013

Why I Want To Return

My two visits to Iceland have merely whetted my appetite. I have read all the major Medieval Icelandic sagas, most of the novels of Iceland’s lone winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (Halldor Laxness), and the superb books by Jesse L. Byock on Medieval Iceland. Plus there are parts of Iceland I have not seen, such as the Eastfjords, the stretch between Bru and Akureyri, Siglufjörður, and the Sprengisandur route through the middle of the island.

Places: Puerto Montt, Chile 2015

Puerto Montt in the Fog

This is the beginning of a new series based on places I have visited since 2001 and always illustrated by my own photographs. In common with all the places I decide to feature is my desire to go back and spend more time in the vicinity. I visited Puerto Montt briefly in 2015 on a trip I started in Buenos Aires, going on to Iguazu Falls (on the Argentina side), San Carlos de Bariloche, Puerto Varas, Valparaíso, and Santiago.

In her book Among the Cities, Jan Morris describes Puerto Montt as the southern terminus of the Pan American Highway. Actually, it continues on the Island of Chiloé across Reloncavi Sound as far as the town of Quellón, from which one could travel by ferry to Chaitén. The port was named after Manuel Montt, who was President of Chile from 1851 to 1861.

The Cathedral of Puerto Montt, Built Entirely of Native Alerce Wood

The Sea Creatures of Puerto Montt

The highlight of my visit to Puerto Montt was the incredible fish market, which Jan Morris described very picturesquely back in 1961:

And wettest, strangest, most southern, most remote, more alien than any melon-flower are the sea creatures of Puerto Montt, dredged through the rain out of the Pacific. There are heavy eels with muscular flanks, big flat fish like slabs of fat, giant clams, crinkled oysters by the million, mountains of spiky urchins, glistening and globular.

If I weren’t on a bus tour, I would have loved to stay for a giant seafood dinner, but I was scheduled to take an all-night TurBus sleeper to Valparaíso.

Unfinished Business

I would dearly love to go back to Puerto Montt for that seafood dinner, and then head across the sound to the Island of Chiloé, which is famous for its UNESCO-recognized wooden churches and wet forests. The Chilotes dispute with the Peruvians the development of the potato, which grows extensively on the island, and which is served with seafood in a local stew known as curanto.