Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Westman Islands

History Lesson: The Westman Islands (or Vestmannaeyjar in Icelandic) were created from volcanic activity, the most recent being Surtsey in 1965. The largest, and only inhabited Island, is Heimaey, to which we made an impromptu, and very last minute, visit. (We had met a couple of French-Canadian girls in a hostel the day before who said they were going to visit the islands and how cheap it was, so, of course, we then had to look into it and go as well) In 1973 an unknown volcano (Eldafell) erupted, burying part of the town in lava and enlarging the island. Afraid that the lava was going to close off access to the port, the people brought in giant water guns and sprayed the oncoming lava flow with sea water to slow it down, and hopefully stop it. Luckily it worked, nobody died, and the port was saved.

Fast-forward 37 years. Eyjafjallajökull is now the erupting volcano, and the only way to get to Heimaey is to take a three hour ferry (since air traffic is most likely going to be canceled).

We arrived on Heimaey) often called ''the pearls of Iceland'' in may travel and guide books) in the midst of an ash storm. It was like landing in a war zone. Ash and dust filled the air, coating everything in a blanket of grey. The streets were practically deserted, and those that were out (walking or driving) donned dust masks, and the police that were patrolling the streets were handing out masks to those who didn´t have any.

The four of us bee-lined it for the hostel and stayed indoors until things calmed down. The two girls were only staying one night, so they lost part of a day of exploring, but Cory and I have decided to stay two nights and were able to see pretty much everything we wanted. We climbed to the top of both volcanoes (Helgafell and Eldafell), see the town after the ash settled and cleared a bit, we walked to the very end of the island, and (the highlight of the excursion....and possibly the entire trip) saw some puffins! (which are probably the cutest birds on the planet)It was the perfect (almost) end to a practically perfect trip.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the history lesson! That's really interesting about the giant water guns.

    By the way, happy birthday!