Today my cousin Steinn taught me how to fly fish. The farm I'm staying, Seglbúðir in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, has excellent streams and waters for fly fishing and beautiful scenery to match.
I had some minor apprehension going into it, as I had only caught 3 fish in my lifetime and my clumsy nature seemed destined to land me in some tragic accidental hooking incident. Nonetheless, I was happy to spend quality time with my relative and learn something new while enjoying the sights and sounds of the family's land. We had spent a good portion of the week herding sheep, which was in parts stressful, tiring, and rewarding. Much of the stress was from my own anxieties over making mistakes, of course, as my family was nothing but patient and encouraging with my amateur shepherd struggles.
(unsurprisingly my only picture from the days herding sheep)
To keep things brief, fly fishing sounded like a fun activity that would probably involve less awkward running up and down hills after much more agile sheep, and indeed it was.
Fly fishing is not, as I thought when I was a small child with a confused and active imagination, regular fishing but with an actual fly as bait. It came with a variety of minor struggles on my end, from nearly getting trapped in quicksand to tangling my like countless times, and at the end of the day we had caught four beautiful Icelandic fish, one of which was a brown trout we had for dinner that night. But what I most appreciated from the day and what has moved me to write about it was the peace and reflection our time on the water gave me. There was something quite special about that spot; its wildlife and terrain created a perfect blend of sounds from birds to lapping water to wind to the distant quiet roar of the sea that I could hear in still moments. The clouds and mist exerted more of a presence on our surroundings as the day progressed, which my cousin lamented as much the scenery like surrounding mountains and glaciers were covered. This scene was just as enchanting to my eyes, though, and my heart swelled a bit at the sight of the now-distant farm houses and barns barely visible in the misty evening but still standing as landmarks of familarity and comfort. I watched my cousin cast with skill and a practiced ease, I watched the cria flit above the water expertly searching for their own fish to grab, and I found a sense of quiet joy as I lost myself in this moment. My homestay is almost over, 3 weeks with the loveliest and most welcoming family I could have asked for one the prettiest farm in Iceland, and I find it difficult to accurately express the sense of gratitude and above all the peace I have had in my time here. My restless, cluttered, often anxious mind has been put at ease with the days of working and enjoying life with my relatives. There has been so much beauty both in the incredible landscape of Ísland as well as in the more emotional sense of forging such special connections to my relatives and my ancestral roots, I know I have a journey ahead attempting to process it all after I return home. But for the time being, I have been able to live in the moment and experience each day as a unique and rewarding opportunity, taking the time to appreciate all in my life that has led me here and all that this wonderful program is giving me in this moment.
So, short story long, fly fishing at Seglbúðir farm is great for a break from herding sheep as well as for existential contemplation, and here's a picture of me with a fish we caught. Sjáumst!
I have been lucky enough to work with the Elding Whale Watching company during my family stay in Reykjavík.* I have been out on tours 6 times in 5 days, and each time has been an exhilarating and unique experience. On my second day I was sent on an Express Whale & Puffin tour with Whale Safari, and it was SO MUCH FUN! These tours are on RIB boats, so they go much faster and are much smaller than the large whale watching boats. These boats also allow passengers to be much more "up close and personal" with the animals.
Once I was dressed for the outing (flotation suit, life jacket, 2 pairs of gloves, hat and goggles) it was time to head over to the boat, which docks in the Old Harbour and allows for a great view of Harpa. The guide told us to put our phones and cameras in our suits to keep them safe and dry, so without thinking further I dropped my phone into the abyss that was the internal cavity of my suit. We set off, and were bouncing along to an island where Puffins settle in the summertime. (Side note - Puffins are TINY! For some reason I had expected them to be at least double their size.) It was there that I realized that my phone was no longer where I had dropped it, and was probably loose in my suit - if it was even there at all.
I had actually convinced myself that my phone had fallen out of the leg of my suit and had bounced into the Atlantic Ocean, but I was having so much fun that I was at peace with that sequence of events. Unfortunately, without my phone I was not able to take pictures of the Puffins, the Minke Whales, the Harbour Porpoises, nor the White Beaked Dolphins. You'll just have to take my word that I saw them on a wonderfully sunny day, with the Reykjavík skyline and mountains in the background, and it was breathtakingly beautiful.
On the way back to the harbour I felt something slide down my leg: my phone! I contorted into the weirdest, least comfortable position so that my phone would not slide out of my suit. Luckily this worked, and now my gorgeous/not at all embarrassing selfies can be shared with the world.
I am so grateful to be here in Iceland with the Snorri Program. This particular adventure, in conjunction with a little bit of luggage drama, has made me feel less tied down to all of those material items that I thought I needed to survive (dramatic, I know). It also brought me within meters of a Minke Whale, which was SO COOL!
*Brooke stayed in Ísafjörður in the Westfjords with her relatives for one week
After our first 2 weeks in Reykjavik we all got sent of on our own journey's, I happened to be sent off to the farm where my great great great grandpa was raised, Sveinsstaðir just 20 min south from Blönduós. The farm is now run by Ólafur Magnússon and his wife Inga Sóley Jónsdóttir, they have three children, an eight year old daughter named Sunna, a 7 year old daughter named Salka and a 5 year old son named Magnús after his afi. Not only was I here at my family's old homestead I was here to help Óli, as I called him, to raise a new barn for sheep, to add and build onto the "family farm". This was a great feeling knowing that this whole place has been raised by decedent's of my family and I'm here to help keep it going. The house I'm staying in was built in 1929, and 86 years later I'm back to build the newest addition to the farm. Which made for a busy life here between pouring concrete and herding sheep up to the highlands, I've been getting pretty exhausted. But luckily my host family knows I'm not here to do all the hard work, they've taken time to show me around. After our first week of hard work, Magnús, Oli's dad, and his wife Björg had then taken me for a road trip from Sveinsstaðir to Akureyri and everywhere in between. It was a fantastic trip and it was nice being able to see so much of Iceland. Óli, after one long hard day of prepping rebar for our next concrete pour, decided to treat me and his family with a visit to the swimming pool in Blönduós, which was exactly what I felt I needed. The next weekend (the last weekend before I leave back to Reykjavík) Magnús decided to take me for a fly in his private Cessna to give me an even greater view of Icelands beauty, which could be undoubtedly the best way to tour. All in all, I am genuinely greatful for what my host family had to offer and sadly my time here is almost come to an end, this is truly an experience I have taken to heart. I couldn't have dreamed of a better 3 weeks on a farm here in Iceland.
I had these irrational fears of children and horses before travelling to Iceland. Kids made me feel awkward as I never had younger siblings and will forever be "the baby" of the family. Horses' size, strength, and capability intimidated me as I've only rode one (sneaking out when I wasn't allowed, no less) and she bucked me off.
But the fear wasn't very reasonable and my perspective mutated as I've seen the beauty and intelligence in these beings.
Bergey Jökla is the name given to the bright-eyed little girl that won my heart. We created magic together sitting down with an unflattened Cheerios box in front of us- my preferred canvas I always used in my own childhood- and tubs of felts and crayons as our wands.
Bergey would dramatically scribble and dot the cardboard much in the fashion of a maestro, and I would locate faces and features within and help pull them forward.
I quickly saw that she and I had so much in common, there was no way I would feel afraid or awkward with her.
Now that I've moved from the farm Bústaðir back to Sauðárkrókur farm I miss the little Bergey hum, her song of life, that would narrate her days. I miss playing with her and being weird and animistic and true to ourselves. I feel like the time we spent together recharged my inner child.
When it came to horseback riding, I was more than willing to face this fear, as I recognized that that's the only way to overcome it. I couldn't have asked for it to unroll more beautifully...
Kári and Magga, my host parents, got suited up and prepared the animals to ride them out into what was an extremely foggy evening. I was given the reins belonging to Jarpur; name meaning auburn. Respectfully handling and being in close proximity with the creature felt comforting like being with a friend. I mounted him and we set off into the farmlands, each step of Jarpur's symbolized a step forward in our unison and my trust of him. The wet misting of the fog on my face and the cool clouds of breath coming from my horse navigated the ride. We came up to a glacial river and Jarpur stopped and hesitated but I feel like we had an unspoken, almost psychic communication. He was kind to me and gently started through the water.
The fog was thick as pea soup, only the grassy field, cloud-like tufts of wool snagged on barbed-wire fences, and the view of his mane were clearly visible. A group of neighbouring horses came running over and ran to the same beat as us like a tribal drum. I distinctly remember at this moment thinking, "This feels more like a dream than being planted in the waking world." The surreal beauty of the moment had me suspended in awe.
In life back home, being caught up in unnecessary phobias had closed doors to beautiful experiences. I feel that Iceland has gifted me in opening me up and I've initiated new possibilities for when I return to Canada, and from now on.
Hraun didn't get its name from nothing - the farm is surrounded by a large field of lava and moss. Once you drive beyond the lava, the farm appears as an oasis, filled with yellow flowers and grazing horses, all along the Ölfus river. It is the first place I've stayed at a farm in this three week work/homestay period. I've never spent any amount of time on a farm before, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Honestly, before I got here, I didn't even know what sort of farm it was. Now, three days in, it seems their work here is a little bit of everything. Their land extends almost all the way to the sea, and they make use of all of it. They package and sell dulse seaweed snacks, keep horses, grow turnips, and sell sand, amongst other things. My activities have largely revolved around the seaweed so far, but each day has brought something new.
Today, I decided I was going to go out and explore some of the land closer to the road. Elsewhere, I had been warned to exercise precaution when exploring the lava fields. The thick moss that grows over the tops of the rocks can sometimes disguise a small hole as solid ground, and it's possible to seriously hurt yourself. While I took this advice to heart (falling into a moss-covered lava crevice would be just my luck, honestly), I figured that as long as I was extra careful, I shouldn't need to worry. It was with that in mind that I embarked on my journey. I had already taken some pictures when I came across what looked to be a small cave. I grew incredibly curious, and against my better judgement I decided to check it out. I stepped slowly towards, checking to make sure the ground underneath me wasn't going to give way. As I came to realize that the ground there was pretty stable, I became more confident, and began walking at a normal pace. This was, evidently, a bad move, because it was shortly afterwards that I lost balance and slid forward, descending into the cave. This all sounds very dramatic, but I should probably clarify that the cave was pretty small. So much so, that I was able to crawl out without any difficulty. That all being said, I'm pretty sure my life flashed before my eyes as I fell. It was definitely an experience I won't soon forget.
I traveled with the daughter of my host, Maja, and her husband Arnar to the tiny fishing village Hjalteyri. It has 43 inhabitants and most of the homes are marvelously preserved from the late 1800's. The factory there, founded in 1937, used to be the largest herring meal and oil processing factory in the world (fascinating, I know) it is now closed and is an artist studio and a diving center. I had researched the water currents of the Eyjafjörður fjord and wanted to come here to collect sea water (on the West side of the fjord, away from Akureyri, the water here is the purest ocean water and the least diluted by glacier runoff and affected by pollution that I could feasibly get to on a quick afternoon trip). Why was I collecting sea water? To boil it all down and make sea salt! An interesting souvenir to bring home!
The Ólafsfjörður fog devours the small fishing town in a blanket of vapour. Clouds roll down the mountains, cutting off the horizon with an opaque wall of white – as if drawn by some lazy artist who found a new commission and dropped her hobby piece, the sky left featureless in her absence.
I’d imagine – if not for the town being accessible only by tunnels which themselves tumble out of the mountains – you’d be able to see cars punching through the fogbank; suddenly appearing out of thin air. Transported into the tiny bubble of Ólafsfjörður and captured. Made heavy with dampness, as the wet air slaps its spongy stroke onto any dry surface it can find. No car in Ólafsfjörður goes outside without a coat of water drops, whether it rains or not.
This weekend my family gathers there to mourn the passing of a brother, father, grandfather. I am invited for the reunion however, not to the funeral – nor should I be, I didn’t know the man. I am perhaps only family in the way everyone in Iceland is family – bound together under a legacy of our grandparents’ hardship against rough winters and volcanic fire. A shared sense of something like guilt, but not quite, just the feeling that others had to suffer before us to make our lamb-stuffed stomachs and drunken revelry possible. The only cure for this feeling might be more lamb and wine.
Tents are erected on wet valley grass, children scream and play football, adults turn to the bathhouse for release from a long week. The ever-present smell of Ólafsfjörður's fish factories doesn’t bother them the same way it does me – a punch in the gut and a muffled retch with each strong gust of wind from the sea. I’m saved only when evening arrives, and the mouth-watering aroma of roast lamb burns away everything else.
Death marks a calendar justification for the family reunion – but it doesn’t mar the tone of the occasion. There are maybe sixty of us in all, with enough food and drink for twice that.
“Are all these people related to us?” The flow of Icelandic chatter – between a pair of recently introduced cousins – is broken. I pick up a word or two occasionally, but never enough to know how serious the conversation I’ve interrupted is. This makes my questions short, anxious.
“Yes, in some way or another. It’s basically a big clan meeting, you see.”
I laugh, “Better make sure the chieftain knows what we want before his trip to Thingvellir.”
A drunken adult says almost the same sentence back at me – perhaps mistaking my own voice for that of her conscience – and adds; “That’s what it is though, really, except these days we don’t have to butcher Gudrun out back to solve a land dispute.”
Gudrun manages to smile warily, consulting her glass for some assistance in understanding why my new cousin finds butchering her so hilarious.
When the lamb, waffles and coffee run dry, the clan must return to their tents. Iceland’s summer sun is unrelenting though, and the frivolous fixations of intoxication make 3AM the perfect time for me to explore the fog-soaked mountains. While the others tuck into sleeping bags and begin the squeaky wiggle of trying to get comfortable on an air mattress, I fetch my camera and begin climbing.
Thick air and a light head make the hike harder than I’d like, but I set my sights on a lookout that pokes through the clouds. The silence is complete, save the wind and one lonely flagpole tapping out a quiet, erratic rhythm as wire brushes on steel. The lights of the city are on, but the town may as well be deserted. The streets are empty, houses are silent, windows are dark.
I take a photo. The shutter click is deafening. I keep hiking.
It’s hard to tell what’s fog and what’s cloud. I’ve never seen fog that hangs twenty meters above the ground, but I’ve never seen clouds that come down so close to earth either. The walk takes a decent while, the silence only broken by single, long bird calls from birds I can’t see. A little bit of isolation shock begins to set in, as I realise how far I am from the warm atmosphere of drunken family I occupied a few hours ago.
As the city below sinks away I try to take another photo, but find I can’t lift the camera to my eye.
I am terrified.
I can’t bring myself to give up the peripheral vision required to look through the viewfinder – animal hindbrain blazing with paranoia. I can’t see into the fog, so I don’t know what’s waiting in there. I’m alone, on a thin mountain path, exposed and vulnerable. The fog brings to light my most childish fears – images of being torn apart by blood crazed mountain cannibals. Nightmare fuel.
At the same time every reasonable thought in my head is attempting to find purchase on my mind. This is serene – I say to myself – meditative. But the feeling of loneliness is palpable. Just as the wall of fog whitewashed the horizon earlier, the whole mountain in front of me now looks like an unfinished painting – a strip of gravel path on a canvas of white abyss. The fear accompanying this feeling of blindness is so primal that I can’t uproot it.
My eyes are wet. I am terrified of the Ólafsfjörður fog.
But surely the lookout isn’t much further, so I break into a sprint. It comes soon enough, but it’s a hollow reward. The weather of Iceland is temperamental at the best of times. The lookout is no longer puncturing the fog. It’s now buried in it.
I sit at the peak; catch my breath and quick point the camera at myself, and more importantly at anything behind me. Children’s fears have children’s solutions. Ghosts can’t get you under blankets, and mountain cannibals won’t come out while they’re being watched, be it by camera or human eye.
It is beautiful up here, that’s undeniable. Like the moon, or at least some place otherworldly, because the world can’t be seen outside of my tiny bubble. It could not exist; I could relax in total peace. Alas, the mountain cannibals await just that very thing, I’m sure of it.
I wish I could say I calmed myself in meditation on the lookout – enjoying the peace that can only be found when occupying a hilltop in solitude. But no, eventually the wind picked up – and along with the smell of fish came the familiar sight of city lights.
I ran home, to my tent, to my clan, to the squeak of air mattresses.
Far away from the mountain cannibals of the Ólafsfjörður fog.
Ásta Sól Kristjánsdóttir
Blog editor and Manager of the Snorri and Snorri Plus Programs