Day 13 |
Jul 24, 2008

Akureyri, Iceland

By Christian Walter, Historian

Noon position: 65 degrees 41.09’ N, 018 degrees 04.610’ W

Having spent most of the night at anchor, the Prince Albert II went alongside in Akureyri’s harbor at 7 o’clock. A strong southerly wind was blowing, and blue skies indicated that our excursions today would be accompanied by summery weather. A hearty breakfast gave us strength before 42 of us set off for our long excursion (9 hours plus), while a good dozen had opted for the shorter tour of only four hours.

With 5% of Iceland’s population (some 17,000) Akureyri is the second largest town in the country. Already settled by the 9th century, the town has gone through quite a number of changes since its beginning. Formerly wool played a major part in the local industry, today it is fish and beer; apart from it being an important center for education with two colleges and one university.

A 30-minute drive took us to the Godafoss waterfall, steeped in the local Christian history – this is where heathen statues were said to have been thrown into the water in the year 1000 AD after it had been decided that all of Iceland should be Christian. The smaller group then went to Laufas, to see traditional houses made of a timber-front and sod/turf walls and roofs. Despite the fact that they looked somewhat small, the interiors were quite spacious and cozy. Other historical houses were seen in Akureyri, and the northernmost botanical garden in Europe was visited – how many northernmost things had we seen so far?! The selection of plants and flowers was spectacular, all the more considering that the garden had started out as the work of a single person.

The larger group continued their way to Lake Myvatn and its pseudo-craters. We had been warned of the clouds of insects that might await us, but not too many were seen. Called “midgets”, they are very important for the different birds that breed there. Brent, our Ornithologist; and some of the hardcore birders took off on a bird-walk, hoping to see some of the unique or uncommon feathered visitors. Barrow’s Goldeneyes and Slavonian Grebes were seen by most, while Brent and Dick, our “guest ornithologist”, were very pleased to have spotted the Great Northern Diver, and a Gyrfalcon. Those less keen on birds took a leisurely stroll up to some of the smaller cones dotting the shore of Lake Myvatn, before it was time for lunch at a local hotel. I was teased that the post office had a big poster of my brothers, who turned out to be Jule lads (Christmas lads), local helpers for Santa Claus, who happen to live in caves nearby…  Although we went looking for them in Dimmuborgir (=twilight castles), crossing from the American to the European plate (and/or vice versa), the caves we looked into did not show any trace of them at all. Nevertheless it was an area of very interesting lava formations, and Juan Carlos, our Geologist & General Naturalist, twice gave mini-lectures onboard the bus highlighting specific (unique) features of the lava/landscape. 

Continuing on our way, we went past the Krafla Geothermal power plant, to have a look at the lake located above the power plant before we investigated Namaskard, full of steam vents, mud pots, boiling springs, sulfur deposits (jokes had been made about the smell when we had gone past the area on our way to Krafla), and fumaroles. Having seen nature in action, we then wanted to take advantage of nature’s forces by using the Myvatn Nature Baths. A full 90 minutes were intended for a visit to relax in the soothing waters. Most everybody had brought a bathing suit/costume or trunks, and our brave troupe entered the warm (36 degrees Celsius = 87 degrees Fahrenheit) “open” waters of the artificial lake. In some areas, hot (100 degrees Celsius =212 degrees Fahrenheit!!) water was sent into the lagoon – with the appropriate “Danger” signs, yet several of us had to feel if this was really the truth. And, yes, it was definitely warmer! While everybody enjoyed the bath, Camille, our photographer, could not be convinced to do the same, as she was intent on taking pictures. Near the end of our visit, I went over to the slightly warmer communal “bathtubs” (41 degrees Celsius =105 degrees Fahrenheit), and was soon joined by other staff members plus one or two of our guests. Reluctantly we had to leave at five thirty; this had certainly been one of the highlights of our cruise. As a result of the soothing bath, the drive back to the Prince Albert II was spent in meditation, or enjoying the landscape. Luckily some Harlequin ducks were spotted in the river before most everybody dozed off… Before we reached the harbor, Sigga (our guide) took us along a road with some of the oldest houses of Akureyri, one of them dating back to 1795!

The recap and briefing intended for this evening had to be postponed. Conrad, our Expedition Leader, used the PA system to let us know what was going to go on in Husavik. Another calm dinner was ahead of us, as the Prince Albert II was not going to leave before 22:30. While Longyearbyen had been used by some to leave the ship, others had joined us there and today Akureyri had given new guests the opportunity to sample some of Iceland’s sites through expedition cruising. Dinner was used to exchange information and our newcomers from New York expressed that they were more than eager to use their expedition equipment on the Zodiacs and ashore, when loud shouts were heard from Dr. Tony Huntley’s dinner table. Tony, our biologist, had presented a guest with a very special pre-birthday gift: a patch from Jan Mayen. The guest had wanted to go ashore (again) in Jan Mayen, as he had been unable to buy a patch the first time – was that only a month ago? – but the weather had prevented us from doing so. So, what better gift than this so desired souvenir? When the Prince Albert II finally let go of the lines, it looked like a good idea to end the day with a drink in the Panorama Lounge, waiting for the sun to set – something many of us had missed for almost two weeks.