Published August 6, 2004
I got onboard the Særún. Our first stop was at a rock inhabited by a colony of puffins. The catamaran got almost close enough to touch them, but the puffins seemed unfazed. The puffin is the country´s national bird, and, as locals will point out, there are as many of them here as there are in the Westmans, even if the Westman´s are usually thought of as puffin paradise.
The King of the Air
The puffin may be the national bird, but in the hierarchy it still has to take second place to the white tailed eagle, the King of the Air as it is often called. The white tailed eagle became in danger of extinction as farmers used to mercilessly hunt them down for attacking live stock. It has been protected since 1913, and about 100 pairs exist on the island today. The eagles only have one or two offspring a pair, and if their mother doesn´t keep up with feeding the young, one of the chicks will sometimes eat the other. Most of the remaining sea eagles nest around Breiðafjörður or the West fjords.
Our guide told us that if we were in luck we might see one. We were, for sitting on a cliff surveying its kingdom, an eagle sat immobile. The suspicion arose that a dummy had been planted there for our benefit, as the eagle seemed about as active as a gargoyle on a hotel building. But finally its head turned, putting such suspicions to rest. On a nearby rock, a second eagle sat. The guide told us that the offspring has now reached almost full size, and will no doubt be following in its father´s footsteps and be found sitting immobile on a rock next summer.
Vikings, Executions and Shellfish
We now entered the history phase of the tour. Eric the Red, discoverer of Greenland and father of Leif Ericsson, discoverer of America, was from the area. When he was banished from the mainland for manslaughter in the 10th Century, he took refuge on an island and posted guards on the cliffs to warn of approaching intruders.
In its heyday around the turn of the 18th century, the islands were not only settled by farmers but also had a printing press and, of course, an execution area. A rope was put around offenders necks and then they were thrown into ravine off the ocean, where they were left to rot as a warning. The fact that a dead body on a cliff in the middle of the fjord could serve as a warning attests to the amount of traffic that must have been going past here in those days.
Having satisfied our intellectual hunger, it was time to attend to the physical one. A net-plough was cast into the ocean to drag the seabed for shellfish. The net was emptied onto a u-shaped table, and all hands started scrounging on it for whole shells while we landlubbers watched. The pile of seashells, sea urchins and crabs did not look particularly appetising as it lay there, but when the seashells were opened up and their bounty appeared, things took a turn for the better. Sea food doesn´t get any more fresh than this.
The boat turned around, and completed the half hour trip back to Stykkishólmur. Our ancestors may have been proud seafaring people, but a two hour cruise at least allows you to capture some of the feeling of life at sea