Kayaking has always been a favorite sport of mine because its effort-to-awesomeness ratio is incredibly low. Sure, pro kayakers can get up to all kinds of badassery, but if you’re a tourist interested in trying it for the first time or a “kasual kayaker” like myself, you don’t have to worry about dying at all. It’s almost as easy as it is safe, plus you look impressively adventurous in the photos afterward. That’s a win-win-win scenario if you ask me. Plus puffins.
I’d spent the whole summer stuck in the city, working like a chump, with little time for recreation in the Icelandic countryside or appreciation of its magnificent beasts. Lovely as they are, the cats of Reykjavík don’t count. Luckily for me, I was able to squeeze myself into Fjord Serenity, a kayaking tour offered by Arctic Adventures. Knowing I’d be writing about it later, I went in thinking of it as work but came out having had exactly the day off I’d needed. Did I mention puffins?
A little less dead
The first thing to kayaking is gearing up. After donning waterproof jackets, we practiced sealing and unsealing ourselves to the kayaks with the elastic rubber skirts they put us in. Then there was a quick rowing tutorial before we headed into the fjord.
As I walked my kayak down the beach, I spotted my first animal of the day, a tiny dead crab. It was completely intact and I decided to stick it under the elastic ropes crossing the front of my kayak. In Old Norse culture, a person was believed be accompanied to their fate by an animal spirit called a fylgja. I decided that this crab must be my fylgja of the day, guiding me back to shore in once piece—but hopefully a little less dead.
It was cloudy when we slid into the startlingly still water but the sun kept threatening to peek through. I crossed my crab claws that it would make good on its threats.
Fjord serenity now, fjord serenity now
I was told there’d be jellyfish and, besides the sheep along the hillsides, that’s the first living thing we encounter. It creates the first buzz amongst the group and even a little wholesome bit of fear. They were harmless, though, and seemed peaceful. I was even a little jealous of them.
The thing about tours is that you never know who you’re gonna end up with. I imagine some groups paddle silently through the fjords, listening to the water and tour guide’s information about rocks and birds. Other groups make small talk. Some groups, ones with teenagers, apparently blare Justin Bieber from their cell phones as they kayak and scream at the sheep to “lure” the poor, confused animals closer. So much for fjord serenity.
I’d had a little of column A, a little of column B, and more than enough of column C. So I paddled ahead to keep up with the guide, who was telling the group about the arctic terns around us. By the time we reached a peninsula to stop and stretch our legs, the teenager’s dad had properly shamed her and Justin did not join us on the final leg of the journey.
The group was a bit quieter as we set off toward a small island with high cliffsides that is known for its bird colonies. I happened to know it was also where Hörður, a famous outlaw from the Icelandic Sagas, happened to hide out with his band of followers until they were lured to shore and killed. Now it’s mostly puffins. Despite living in Iceland over a year now, I’d still never seen a living one, so I was not alone in my excitement as we broke into their cute little army surrounding the island.
Before the rest of the group arrived, the guide spotted an eagle. It perched right on the cliffside as I stopped paddling and looked up. A palpable silence gathered as the others caught up. We all simply stared upward in awe and after a moment, the eagle actually turned its head to look straight back down at us. That’s where we finally found serenity.
Next we found joy and laughter as two seal pups escorted us back to the shore, popping their heads up unexpectedly here and there. Even the smile on my face, however, could not shake my newfound peace as I removed the crab from my kayak and lay it back to rest on rocky beach.