Disaster Days?

What Fresh Hell Is This?

What Fresh Hell Is This?

Hólmavík in the Strandir region of Iceland’s West Fjords is a strange place. Its main claim to fame is the presence of the Icelandic Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft. Now it seems there is a second reason to feel apprehensive about a visit to Hólmavík, especially this time of year when many of the roads are closed.

The reason? In a word, Hörmungardagar, or “Disaster Days.” According to Páll Stefánsson of The Iceland Review:

On Friday’s program, among other activities, is a course in self-pity, a complaint service and an ugly dance performance.

On Saturday, head to the library to find bad books and later listen to the worst Eurovision songs [this could the most dreadful event of all] and the worst poem competition, where very bad coffee will be served. In the local church, sad (and bad) songs will be performed.

On Sunday, an anger management game will be held and a program about what has happened in the region.

The festival is directed by Ester Ösp Valdimarsdóttir, the so-called [huh?] spare time manager of the Strandir region.

I would like to have stayed in Hólmavík for a day or two, but I just couldn’t book a room; so I didn’t want to risk getting stuck there. I did change buses there, however. Toward the end of my trip, I had an all-day bus ride from Isafjorður to Borgarnes, during which I changed buses in Hólmavík in the local supermarket parking lot. The long bus ride from Isafjorður was uncomfortable because the bus was full of backpackers and all their gear, so there was barely room for my feet. Fortunately, the second leg of the trip on on a large and comfy Stræto bus.

I’m sure that if you can find your way to Hólmavík this weekend—fat chance, that!—you’ll find that, after all, you don’t have all that much about which to complain.

By the way, if you’d like to see a sampling of truly dreadful Eurovision songs, click here. And please don’t hold me responsible! You will find that there are musical acts that are far worse than anything even Lawrence Welk could have imagined.

What I Will Remember Most

Under Attack by Arctic Terns

Under Attack by Arctic Terns

Now that I’ve been back from Iceland for six weeks now, what do I remember most about that remote and somewhat wild island? The place that keeps coming back to me are the West Fjords. Only some seven thousand people live on a large peninsula punctuated by basaltic ridges and broad fjords. It is quite possibly one of the most isolated parts of Europe, even though one can reach it from Reykjavík by bus in about eight hours.

Above is our little guide Thelma (which she pronounces as Talma) walking with a tourist surrounded by an angry cloud of arctic terns who are aggressively defending their nearby nests. I can understand them, in a way. It’s been a bad year for Icelandic birds, what with the puffins of Vestmannæyjar being unable to produce a bumper crop of little pufflings, and arctic terns likewise having problems due to global warming.

The Little Town of Isafjörður

The Little Town of Isafjörður

Not that I felt particularly warm in the West Fjords “capital” of Isafjörður” (shown above) which has only some two thousand inhabitants. It’s on a little sandy spit of one of Iceland’s largest fjords, and it is fully about ten degrees Fahrenheit colder than any other part of Iceland that I visited, with the exception of the glacier Vatnajökull.

Why does the image of the West Fjords stick with me so much? And not only with me, but with other travelers as well. Most of them go to backpacking to Hornstandir, a desolate peninsula with spectacular views jutting out into the Denmark Straits that separate Iceland from Greenland. I myself did not go there, but most of the European kids who stayed at the youth hostel made that their number one destination. I’d like to see it some time, but I doubt I am up for a multi-day trek with tent, sleeping bag, camp stove, and food.

No, I will remember the long bus rides on gravel roads past spectacular waterfalls and cute little villages like Thingeyri and Patreksfjörður. I will remember the bird cliffs at Latrabjarg, where a gale-force wind was trying to blow me to my death on the rocks several hundred feet below. I will remember the island of Vigur (top photo), where a single family ekes out a living gathering eider down and welcoming summer tourists with coffee, tea, and homemade cakes.

These places are all etched in my memory. The beauty will remain with me forever.