Day 15 |
Sep 05, 2010

Hesteyri and Vigur Island, Iceland

By Christian Walter, Historian

Co-ordinates: 66° 02’ 58” N, 22° 51’ 46” W (Vigur Island)
Weather: partially cloudy and calm
Air Temperature: 14,6° C
Pressure: 1011 hpa
Wind: 12,8 kmh

The morning began with a healthy breakfast in the Restaurant, as we were anticipating our arrival at about 8 o’clock a.m. A look outside gave way to mountains and the typical Icelandic coastline of steep, brown hills interspersed with green patches of grass or other vegetation. The weather was accompanying us, as before, and an interesting morning could be expected.

EL Robin had planned a little surprise: we would call at Hesteyri, an abandoned fishing village, have a look and would be walking around the place during the morning with the help of some “local” guides. ‘How could they be local, if the village was abandoned?’ we wondered.

The village consisted of a dozen houses, some built during the early 20th century, but abandoned after whaling and fishing was on a decline. Every family resettled, and the area was eventually turned into a National Park. Visitors come for the day, descendents of the villagers come to spend a weekend or part of the summer and hikers start their trek across the peninsula from here.

The houses seemed to be in good condition, only the gardens were overgrown. One of the last houses of Hesteyri was “The Doctor’s House”, which had been converted into a place were you could sleep and have a little something to eat. Well, this “little something” was going to be our reward after the walks or hikes we intended to do here.

Three sisters had prepared for our visit and were getting ready to serve rhubarb tart and pancakes, as well as coffee and tea, as soon as we would return from our different walks around the village.

The guides had to come from the next larger village and were going to be here just for us during the morning; they actually arrived only after our scout-boat had gone towards the shore.

To accommodate everyone’s desire to stroll, walk or hike, three different options were offered: a strenuous and long hike up towards the top of the hill behind the village; a walk towards the abandoned whaling-station; or a stroll through the small village.

28 willing hikers were sent ashore first and took off with Hans-Peter, myself and John, our local guide. At first we were walking on the trail leading to the next village. When we were closer to the second waterfall John pointed out that we would have to look for our own trail from now on. We walked over the rocks and the tundra, passing a small swampy area with a lot of cotton grass, before we reached an old cairn, from where there was a nice view of the bay, the ship and the village.

For the return, a short-cut was taken and the first hikers were back in the village at the same time as the whaling-station visitors with Colleen and Montgomery Pilliwinks III, Juan’s newest nickname after a tall tale for “Liar’s Club”.

The rhubarb tart and the pancakes offered at the “Doctor’s House” found unanimous approval and despite the many midgets encountered in and around Hesteyri, it had been an enjoyable visit.

For our afternoon stop, the Prince Albert II had to be relocated, and after 2 hours we were at our second anchor-position close to Vigur Island. The water surrounding this small island is quite shallow, and as we arrived at low tide Chris Srigley and Captain Golubev, who drove the two Mark VI Zodiacs, had to make sure they were not hitting any rocks. It was so shallow that on the opposite side of the island a seal was seen floating above the water! (It actually was resting on a rock that did only barely reach the surface.)

Three groups were sent ashore and explored the island of 2000 x 400 meters. Despite its small size, it is the second largest island within Isafjordur – the Ice-Fjord. At first the only windmill in all of Iceland was visited. The tiny structure had been built in the 19th century and had apparently been used until 1970! It was such a small structure that one person could move it into the wind, if necessary.

Normally Vigur is a Puffin haven, but we were somewhat late in the season and all the birds had either been caught for the local market and Reykjavik’s restaurants or had gone to stay on the Atlantic waters during the winter. Only Purple Sandpipers were seen en masse. It was a nice little hike around the island and topped off with yet more cakes and rhubarb tart from the local family. Farming had once been important in Isafjordur, but now there were only about 20 families dedicated to sheep-raising. Eiderdown collection, bird-catching, and tourism seemed more important than farming.

Apart from souvenirs, stamps and postcards could be bought, as this island’s family looked after one of the smallest post-offices in Iceland and the world.

Once back on board it was time to get ready for the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party. Both Robin and Captain Golubev stated that we had been extremely lucky with the different expedition-stops, bear- and walrus-sightings, and the weather, and hoped that this might induce a favorable predisposition for future voyages on the Prince Albert II or any of the other Silversea ships.

Before it was time to head for The Restaurant, Captain Golubev introduced a selection of crewmembers from every department, and Robin called for three of them to receive, as recognition for their well-done work, a diploma as ‘employee of the month’.

As soon as the kitchen-team under Anna-Mari’s leadership was back at their stoves, the Captain’s Farewell Dinner could be served – yet another treat for the palate!

Our next tour would start at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning; therefore an after-dinner drink could still be had, enjoying the relatively calm seas and view of the coastline in the distance.