05 June 2007

.... og langt til Húsavíkur

Over the weekend I was up in the north in the mid-sized (for Iceland) village of Húsavík, where my choir went to help with the 100th anniversary celebrations of the adorable church there. We drove up in various cars on Friday, enjoying the gradual improvement in the weather as we headed north, from gale-force winds and rain in Reykjavík, to the mild and summery beauty of Akureyri. The lambs and foals are all out now, so the greening fields were sprinkled with lambs doing their knock-kneed leaping as we drove by.

After stopping at the usual suspects (Borgarnes, where everyone ran into someone they knew, Blönduós, Akureyri for the Vínbúð), we arrived in Húsavík by about 7:30, and set up shop in the guesthouse the choir had taken over. The photos in the breakfast room showed it had once been the Hotel Húsavík when it was built in 1903, and the third-floor room I stayed in had a sweeping view of the town's location on the bay and the mountains opposite. The weather was so astoundingly good that I shed my jeans for a skirt, and wearing sandals, I meandered along the stream nearby that surged down towards the sea. It was lined with old houses, trees in full leaf, and in one spot, a dam had created a peaceful pond where ducks bobbed. Hard to believe this golden and idyllic spot was Iceland.

Afterwards, I joined the rest of the choir for rehearsal, and then when everyone else went back to sit on the porch and drink beer, a small group said "we´re going to the cheese tub!". Not really knowing whta I was up for, I joined the cheese-tub people. Apparently they didn't know what we were in for either, since we had to stop to ask for directions. The destination turned out to be up over the hill that shelters Húsavík from direct sea contact, where the buildings of town simply stop (as they do in so many of the villages here), and the open moor stretches to the water.

We pulled up at the only construction in the area, a shipping container situated next to an enormous galvanized tub, formerly used as part of the cheese-making process. Three other people, locals, were there too, so we changed and climbed in with our Coronas to enjoy the glorious view. We had arrived at sunset-time, and the sky was ablaze with the full force of summer sunset. Our only other company was the kría that flew overhead, their piercing calls the only sounds up there. This is Iceland at its best- beautiful clear weather of endless sun, remote locations, stunning views, almost nobody else around, and a cobbled-together hot tub from which to enjoy it all.

The next day was bus-tour time, so we all got aboard and went further along the northern coast and then inland to Europe's most powerful waterfall, Dettifoss. As waterfalls go, it was cool but not HOLY CRAP, although it is quite a lot of water. I think the reason I was less impressed is because it was so straightforward. Unlike many of the waterfalls here, there were no interesting stones in the middle that the water had to navigate around, no peculiar water color, no multiple levels or turns in the stream, just a LOT of water. Of course, waterfalls are waterfalls, and they're always impressive and cool. It's just not my absolute favorite (am I now a waterfall snob?).

On the return trip, we headed into Ásbyrgi, a massive horseshoe-shaped carving in the land that was created by a torrent of glacial water. The more mythical story is that Oðin's 8-hoofed flying horse left one hoofprint in the land there. Anyway, it's also odd because the toe of this canyon is an almost for-real forest, by Icelandic standards, with a flurry of 10-foot birch, rowan, and pine trees, currently in their early-spring fresh garb.

While the rest of the group headed to the pond at the very toe of the hoofprint, I took a detour into the trees, delighting in the birds, the tiny plants emerging in the undergrowth, the juniper smells, and the sound of the wind in the trees. Then I heard something else- the rest of the choir somewhere else in the canyon had started to sing, a lovely song that praises the landscape and majesty of Iceland- kind of the "America the beautiful" of this country. The acoustics were superb, and the way it filtered through the trees was almost movie soundtrack-like.

I scurried down to join them on the viewing platform in the pond, and as we finished up our impromptu concert, a busload of Dutch tourists emerged from the trees, applauding. They'd arrived about halfway in, and had been listening from the stairs. They sang their anthem, we all had a jolly laugh, and then we climbed back on the bus to go to the next stop, a beach laden with fossil shells.

This is an unusual situation for Iceland, since the landscape is almost entirely formed by volcanic activity, and the soil and cliffs are almost always lava-based. However, this location on the northern edge of Iceland is all brown dust, a sedimentary deposit that is loaded with layers of shells. They're fused in rocks sprinkled on the beach, and the cliffs above show horizontal seams of white. Some of the shells have even become houses for crystal, which have grown inside the shell and created quartz shell-shapes.

One group photo later, we were back on the bus and back to Húsavík in time to prep for the evening concert.


SOe said...

Great post! I was around Husavik last August and I liked it very much (a absolut great - whale watching tour). I´m also a waterfall snob. I had the same feeling about Dettifoss - a lot of water but not my favorite waterfall. Not really interesting - you can not see the water volume on pictures and where is nothing special around it. The forrest in Ásburgy I enjoyed 5 o´clock in the morning. It was fantastic!

ECS said...

soe: Thanks! We didn't get to do whale watching but I definitely want to go back now. I'm glad I'm not the only one with Waterfall Opinions! Iceland'll do that to you.