Thursday, April 26, 2012

Iceland Trip, Day 8 - Fermented Shark on the Rocks

(This is part ten of a series of posts about our 2011 trip to Iceland. Here are the 
first, secondthirdfourthfifth sixthseventh , eighth, and ninth posts.)

I heart Iceland (B&W)
I Heart Iceland (Jokulsarlon beach)

Our little camp in the meadow by the sea made for a restful place to sleep, but as often happens, Seth and I got up stupidly early to go find some good photo locations. We drove back to the Jokulsarlon area, stopping on the way at a few photogenic locations. While Seth concentrated on the landscapes, I tracked down some more Whooper Swans and a very excitable Red-Throated Loon.

Farm campsite,
facing the Bay Farm campsite,
facing the Bay
Farm campsite
with cliffs (B&W) Red-throated
Loon in flight
Ice Cap,
morning reflection
Farm campsite vista, Back yard, Our Campsite with cliffs, Red-throated Loon, Ice Cap with reflection

Across from the famous lagoon as Jokulsarlon is a black sand beach. A causeway connects the lagoon to the sea, through which icebergs flow out at fairly decent rates of speedi. In general, Jokulsarlon is apparently a bit more impressive at other times of the year, but there was enough ambient ice floating around to keep us occupied. Both sides of the beach were littered with icebergs of various sizes, from small remnants to massive car sized affairs that had come ashore.

entry  CradleSea
Ice   Ice
Melting Ice
detail   Melting Ice
angles (B&W)
Window to the
Sojourner, Lagoon causeway, Cradle, Sea Ice, Ice field, Melting Ice Detail 1, Melting Ice detail 2, Illumination, Illumination angles, Window to the Sea

After we had wasted a respectable amount of the morning there, we returned to get our ladyfolk, and then drove back to the beach. The difference in vistas between the two days was fairly amazing, as the fog-enshrouded landscape of the day before had given way to a clear morning and the true extent of the lagoon was apparent.

While I’ve complained about the cost and relatively quality of a lot of the food we’d had so farii, I have nothing but love for the waffles we had for brunch. The little tourist café served a fairly cheap plate of really good homemade waffles topped with red currant spread and clotted creamiii. The rest of the party went back to the black sand beach, but I had spent enough time there earlier, so I stayed at the lagoon for a bit and watched the seals.

Gnome at
Vista, day 2Jokulsarlon
Vista, day 2Jokulsarlon
Vista, day 2Jokulsarlon
Waffles!, Iceland native at Jokulsarlon, Snow bunting, Jokulsarlon vista 1, Jokulsarlon vista 2, Jokulsarlon vista 3, Jokulsarlon Lagoon

Without a real target for the rest of the dayiv, we headed into Hofn, did some tourist shoppingv, and got come groceries for a home-cooked meal that evening. There was a nature walk in Hofn’s harbor, near a large memorial for seamenvi, but it was a bit ho hum after what we’d seen at Skaftafellvii. The view would have probably been amazing if it wasn’t hazy that day. Even then, we could see on the horizon three of four separate glaciers at the same time.

Hofn Harbor, Arctic Terns in aerial engagement, Nature walk wildflower, Nature walk wildflower 2, Architectural fail (2nd, 3rd floor doors to nowhere.)

We decided to stay another night at our seaside farm inn, before heading back west the next day. We opted for a “cabin” as opposed to tenting it againviii. The cabins had a small shared kitchen area, so we cooked a leisurely meal. After a couple bowlfuls of chili, salad, chocolate cake, etc. I was fairly full. 

However, I had sworn that before I left Iceland I would try three of the nation’s delicacies: the schnaps/paint thinner called Brennivin, Puffin, and the fermented shark dish called Hakarl. Of all of them, it was the Hakarl that really put the fear into me. ( Hakarl is Greenland shark that has been gutted, placed in a shallow hole, pressed by stones, allowed to ferment for 6-12 weeks, dried for several months, and then has other indescribably horrible things done to it. Then you eat it.)
It’s been the target of various epithets, mostly notably “nausea-inducing”, “inedible”, “like the business end of a chemical toilet”. Even celebrity chefs used to odd foods have reviled at it. Anthony Bourdain called it “the single worst, most digusting and terrible tasting thing” he’d ever eaten. Andrew Zimmern called it “hardcore food”. Gordon Ramsey didn’t say anything …he was too busy vomiting.


So I HAD to eat it.

This was going to be our last night with our traveling companions, so it was now or never. I picked up a small package of Hakarl in Hofn, and at the end of dinner, I broke it out. As soon as I opened the package, an indescribable smell almost immediately filled the room. A group of Italian hikers had been sharing the room with usix, and immediately turned to look at me with horrified faces. We offered them some. They declinedx.

The moment had come, so I manned up and threw some down. The smell could melt plastic. The taste? Actually….not that bad. I was almost a little disappointed…it had such a horrible reputation, and it really wasn’t any worse than bad lutefisk or salted deli fish. The tradition is to wash it down with a shot of Brennivinxi. No one would join me in that either.


I ate a few pieces, but really didn’t care to have any more. So, as far as I know, the rest of the that package is at the back of the inn’s refridgerator, just biding its time, getting MEANER…


iWe saw several seals coming out from the lagoon to the sea, and it was unclear if they had intended to do so, or if the incredibly swift current gave them little choice if they got too close to the outlet.

iiAmazing langoustine dinners notwithstanding.

iiiMan I miss those waffles. They were outstanding.

ivOff our time there, I think this was a day I would have done differently. Jokulsarlon was cool, but not worth two days of our limited time. I kind of felt we wasted a lot of time that day that I would rather have had at Skaftafell. But I think there’s always one day like that on every vacation…

vI usually detest tourist shopping. I’d rather bring home memories, photos, etc, than things I can just buy on the internet afterwards. But the rest of the group decided they wanted to, and we spent what felt to me like a really long time doing so. I guess every trip needs a little downtime, but I always wince at being indoors in an amazing place, especially when my time is limited there

viSadly, this spurred a lot of jokes. Ahh homophones.
viiThough there was a fascinating (to me) aerial dogfight going on over our heads between flights of arctic terns and some other sea birds. Wheeling and turning at each other, with flights in almost formation coming in for assistance. Sadly, the rest of the group was in a hurry to leave.

viiiPersonally, in retrospect, I would have preferred to tent it again, since the “cabins” had all the charm of a really bad dorm room.

ixThere was also an eclectic fellow photographer from Canada. No one seemed much interested in talking to him except me. I notice this is a pretty common phenomenon…I love talking with people on planes, etc. No one else seems to like doing that these days. I rarely am the one to initiate things, but I certainly don’t shy away from it. Since “normal” people seem to have given up on interacting with strangers in anything but virtual spaces, the ones who are still doing it tend to be the “characters”. Which is just fine with me. I’d rather discuss diving in deep lakes, photography in Canada, or any of the other odd conversations I had with strangers that trip than hear someone “normal” whine about politics or complain about their blessings. There’s a fine line between crazy and brilliant, but I think there’s something to learn from both sides of it.

xI’m fairly sure they feigned lack of proficiency in English just to avoid having to politely accept some hakarl.

xiBoy what a stupid tradition that is…”Hey, I just ate the worst food made by man…guess I’ll wash it down with this Black Death.” I guess the only way to get the taste of Hakarl out of your mouth is to burn off any remaining taste buds with the Brennivin.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Iceland Trip, Day 7 - Of Lobsters and Lagoons

(This is part nine of a series of posts about our 2011 trip to Iceland. Here are the first, secondthirdfourthfifth , sixth, seventh , and eighth posts.)

Iceberg lagoon
Iceberg lagoon vista

Sadly, we were scheduled to leave Skaftafell the next day. I could have easily stayed a week, but other sites awaited us. After packing up, a short individual hikei, and a brief breakfast in the visitor center cafeii-Got up and packed up, drove out to visitor center. Had brief breakfast in the café (my compatriots had yet another morning of musli and Skyr. I opted for a chocolate croissant and coffee. Despite their steadfast devotion to their trail food, I think there may have been a few covetous glances my way.)

Our drive took us northeast up the coast, which had transitioned back from the endless flatness of the Sandar to the rugged coastal greenery of earlier daysiiiThe destination for the day was the famous Jokulsarlon iceberg lagooniv. We stopped along the way to see a pair of Whooper Swans, and spent a bit of time at a smaller iceberg lagoon. The sheer bridled energy of the icebergs calving off became apparent when we heard what sounded like thunder, and saw a massive chunk of ice wall calve off into the lagoon a mile or so away. In a few moments, the water, up till then mirror still, rose precipitously in a large series of waves. I watched as a dead sheep along the bank was floated off by the artificial tide. I think there was some symbolism there, but I’m not sure what it is. Probably an old Icelandic saying like “Calving icebergs float all dead sheep”, or something…

swans Glacier
Mountain and
landscape (B&W) Icebergs
Ice and
Whooper Swans, Glacier in the mist, Mountain and Ice, Lagoon landscape, Icebergs, Ice and Stone

Unfortunately, the fantastic weather we’d had up until this point began to break a bit, and clouds and light rain moved in, prompting us to move on to Jokulsarlon. After lunch at the tourist cafev we spent some time watching seals play in and around the icebergs, which stretched on to the horizon. Needless to say, pictures were taken.

Blue Ice
overhang Unidentified
abstracts Iceberg
Alligator Iceberg
Submarine Great
Jouklsarlon Lagoon, Blue Ice overhang, Seal, Iceberg abstracts, Alligator in the Ice, Iceberg Submarine, Great Skua, Ice forms.

Our camping area for the night was a small bed and breakfast on a working farm, whose grassy meadow overlooked a truly fantastic seascape. Once we got everthing set up , we drove northeast to the coastal town of Hofn. Along the way, we stopped to photograph a pastoral scene of old farmhouse ruins. Just as I had set up and was taking pictures, a herd of wild Icelandic horses came running through the scenevi. Minds sufficiently blown, we continued on for dinner in Hofn.

Old farmstead
(B&W)  Hill of
horsesStorm over
Ruins  Storm and
Storm, Ruins,
Coastal cliffs, Old Farmstead, Hill of horses, Storm over ruins, Storm and horses, Horses pacing the storm

Hofn is known for its langoustine lobster, so we found a nice cozy restaurant and treated ourselves to a wonderful dinner of langoustine lobster tails. Of all the local food we tried, this was definitely the highlight. There was even local beer, brewed with glacial water and alpine thyme.
Properly sated, we headed back down the coast to our campsite. On the way, the clouds opened up and the moon lit up an amazing watery scene in misty, ethereal lightvii and ghostly reflections.

A dream of
water, earth, and sky     A dream of
water, earth, and sky

A dream of
water, earth, and sky (B&W)
Hazy light, Reflections, A Dream of Earth Water and Sky


i Ok, I admit it, I was birding. That being said, I added a new species, Common Redpoll.

ii My compatriots opted for a sixth morning of musli and skyr. I opted for a fresh chocolate-filled croissant, coffee,

iii Though with many more glaciers in view, arms of Vatnajokul branching out everywhere. It says something of the scenery of a place when glaciers start to lose their impact on your visual threshold.

iv Well, famous at least in that it’s recognizeable even if one doesn’t realize what/where it is. It’s been in a dozen movies, most notable a recent James Bond movie. Much to my disappointment, however, we did not get to race Aston-Martins on the icy surface of the lagoon, dodging icebergs and bullets. Must only happen in winter when the lagoon freezes over…

v Including yet another dissappointing “traditional Icelandic soup”, listed as a seafood chowder, but executed as a genereic broth lacking any relation to actual seafood. Also, as a side note, new bird species Snow Bunting and Parasitic Jaegar/ Arctic Skua observed here.

vi I missed what might have been the most amazing pictures of the trip simply because the scene in front of me blew my mind to such a degree I forgot to keep clicking. It was like the cover of some new age celtic cd or something…old ruins, galloping horses, mountains and storm clouds, and verdant fields.

vii We, of course, stopped to take pictures despite the hour and fullness of our stomachs.