7/12/2017 – Geothermal-mud-horses and the end

7/12/2017 – Geothermal-mud-horses and the end of the Explorer trip

I didn’t actually take careful notes about this day. Wish I had.  My room was right at the exit door so I was being encouraged to hang out elsewhere because all the naturalists were delivering everyone’s baggage to the hallway right outside my door.

Thanks to all these fine naturalists, Kasper, Geo Joe, Steve, Brent, Alisha, John, Jared and Stef, and those who aren’t pictured, Doug, Ian, Dennis, James, Eric, and Andy, Tommy and Joe.  They made it all super fun and interesting.

We went to the GeoThermal Museum – which really was quite a palace.

7-12 Geothermal place

That was followed by a trip to a place where the bread is baked in a tub stuck in a Geyser vent  – and finally a trip to see Icelandic Horses, which was great.  Then we were dropped off at our hotel, which was really just a couple of blocks from the Explorer’s dock. I still need to download all my phone’s pictures to complete the last three days in Reykjavik, and it is late, so I’ll finish this another day.

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7/11/2017 – Latrabjarg & Flatey Island

7/11/2017 – Latrabjarg & Flatey Island

Today is sadly the last day.  A sort of cloudy and overcast day.

7-11 Cloudy but beautiful day

We started by driving the ship alongside a high cliff called Latrabjarg with 40% of all the razorbill birds (in Iceland) on the cliff face. The estimates are that there are usually a few million birds here at any one time. The cliffs are huge – about 400 meters tall (1200 ft) high and about 8 miles long. Huge piles of birds, puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes, little auks, fulmars, glaucous gulls, and more nest on the sharp edges of the cliffsides.

The razorbills have that crazy habit of the babies all falling into the ocean after they are fattened up and then swimming with their parents (the dad) for a few weeks until they can fend for themselves.  It is quite a fall.  Hundreds of feet for some.  Those who don’t fall into the water are dashed to death against the rocks, certainly. Hmmm.  Not a great plan.  We saw many fulmars, and kittiwakes, and terns and gillimots, and razorbills and even puffins.  The boat had to be a little bit further away than one would have liked to really see them up close and personal, but it was still good.

7-11 Cliffs7-11 Iron layers appearant in the rockThe Westfjords are the oldest part of Iceland. Especially the Latrabjarg cliffs are like an open book to study the geological history: Latrabjarg is a cross section of the lava layers that built up in the flat area Vestfjardasletta about 13 – 14 million years ago after several volcanic activities. These are the oldest geological strata in Iceland. The hard layers of lava consist of basalt, up to 9-12 meters thick. Basalt is a rock formed from the rapid cooling of lava exposed at or very near the surface. The layering of the iron in the rock is super appearant here.  You can see the red stripes going right across the cliff face. The iron rich basalt was laid down across what was a huge plain here, and then compressed for 10’s of thousands of years, and then more basalt from a volcanic explosion, and then more iron rich vegetation which is compressed for another red stripe, and so on.

7-11 - Razorbills7-11 Seagull going to eat a jellyfish for lunch
Then at 10:30 – there was a BarBQue out on the back porch.  What was that about? Hot dogs.  Burgers. I don’t get it.  We ate breakfast at 7:00…

Then the birds on the cliff, then lunch, then we arrived at a place called Flatey Island.

We walked around a charming little village which had people born in the 1700’s in the graveyard, maybe 25 houses.  All quite spic and span, arctic terns dive bombing everyone left an right.  Or maybe only the tourists.

The church was quite special. Beautiful murals painted inside with Jesus in the form of a fisherman in a big Icelandic sweater. Charming.

The graveyard was sweet and I found a stone which was indecipherable except for 1741.

7-11 Gravestone from 1741

7-11 Flatey Island Church and graveyard7-11 - Flatney Island Village7-11 Last Puffin7-11 Flatney Isolation

A quick little zodiac tour of the harbor, and then we were back, and drying off our boots and that is the last wet landing, practically the last landing. The actual last landing is tomorrow, something about 8:30am, when we are driven with our luggage to a hydroelectric power plant, a geothermal hotsprings and mud pond kind of place and an Icelandic horse place. And that will be tomorrow.

Funny to think of leaving all these people, they are so delightful and interesting. This trip has been haunted a bit by Cotton, and for me, by David Collins, too.  I think he would have had much of Kaspar’s friendly and charming disdain for the tourists on this boat.  July 9th was the 1 year anniversary of his death.  I was a bit sad for my loss of both of these men this trip. There are never enough good men and it is so sad to lose two.  But a beautiful trip and my good friends Will and Patty are charming, and delightful traveling companions.

On to Reykjavik…

7-11 Nat Geo Explorer7-11 Last Volcano to round7-11 - on the way to Reykyavik

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7-10-2017 Vigur Island and Isafjordur

7-10-2017 Vigur Island and Isafjordur

It was another busy day. Went to a puffin colony, which was on an island called Vigdur.

7-10 Vigur Island7-10 Vigur Island One family had lived on this island since 1880’s.  The great grandfather was a rector of the church of a town (!) settlement across the way, and it was his cheerful great grand daughter who gave us a tour of the little island’s eiderdown factory.  The down of the eider is stunningly soft and crunches up very very small, then unfolds again. It is highly prized in Japan and China. Much better than the down of a goose.


She was a pretty, cheerfully plump girl, with a sweet pretty face.  She walked in rubber boots up to the tiny windmill that is perched on the top of the island.  It was used for grinding corn and there were two corn grinding rocks which looked quite serious in the ground before it.

Then we all took a funny walk on the trail of the wild tern.  The trail was mowed between fields in which nested many wild tern.  The tern do not like the people marching through their fields, whether the people keep to the trail or not.  So the tern dive bomb the people.  So the people carry little sticks with bright blue flags on the end and keep waving the sticks around to discourage the birds, who, like Ganesha birds, hit the sticks anyway, quite hard!!!

After than little tour of the “Birds” we had a nice snack in their family’s house, and wandered around taking pictures and avoiding crabby tern.


That afternoon, we went basically across the bay to a real settlement, where we had signed up for Waterfall hike and Arctic Fox center.  The waterfall was a 2 mile hike – good fun.

7-10 Waterfall hike valley7-10 Will and Patty on Waterfall hike7-10 Waterfall for today7-10 The High SnowThe Arctic Fox center only had two rescued foxes in a pen.

Not quite what I was imagining. But they were very sweet.
But the hike was very nice and the waterfall was quite something. It was also fun talking with the local guide.  He was constantly taking tests to improve his skill set as a guide.  He mentioned that he had not only a physical therapist degree and Kinesthisiologist degree from college, but he also was trained as an orienteer, as a specialist in native nature, as an Emergency Medical Technician, CPR, How to drive an ambulance, a fire truck, a motorcycle, a big truck, how to set bones, administer medicine, how to drive all forms of boats from a dinghy to something that is 110 feet long, how to navigate by stars, and I don’t even remember all the rest.  Crazy!

Peaceful night.

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7-9 Dynjandi Falls

7-9 Dynjandi Falls

These falls are in the Arnarfjordur in the north of Iceland. Dynjandi means “Thunderous”.  It is actually a series of waterfalls, 7 in all, with a cumulative height of 100 Meters (330 ft).

We sailed into the very still fjord in the early morning.

7-9 Early light on the way to Dynjandi Falls

Without announcment to the guests the safety officer ran through a sort of amusing safety drill which involved the delicate transport of a “Wounded Guest” from a lifeboat to a Zodiac and up into the ship.  You can see the test dummy carefully placed in the Zodiac below.

7-9 Emergency DrillThen we could see the falls ahead of us.

7-9 The Hike to Dynjandi Falls

Patty was ready to go.

7-9 Patty ready to climb Dynjandi FallsWe actually ran into other tourists here which was a bit disconcerting. Doesn’t Iceland, and, in fact, THE ARCTIC belong to US?

7-9 Dynjandi fog

It was a nice little hike to the midpoint of the highest and most spectacular of the falls, but there was a buzzy cloud of little flies which were bothering a number of us.

7-9 Sunny with net

Will and Patty made it to the big falls.

7-9 made it to Dynjandi!7-9 Dynjandi Falls

It was a nice hike back, too.

7-9 Lower Dynjandi falls7-9 Beautiful countryside

7-9 Explorer in fogAt one point a strange fog drifted in and engulfed the Explorer!  Quite a sort of Brigadoon moment. But, sadly, it moved out of the fog and we were still in 2017. Pity.

Then we cruised around to another fjord, where there were no bugs. Clever of the Captain and Brent to outwit them.

We went off on a mellow hike, more slow and exploratory, with only a sort of vague waterfall as a goal.

Mostly just a lot of delightful spring weather to enjoy and a fun little hike.  I really enjoyed the fact that the POLAR BEAR FEAR was now behind us and we could simply “Be back at the boat at 3:00 or we will leave without you.”

Much more pleasant.

 

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7-8-2017 Whales and Sigurdoldur

7-8-2017 Whales and Sigurdoldur

The night before was a rocking and rolling one, after pulling away from the ice, after people had tossed themselves into the water of the Polar Plunge. Brrr!  I had no enthusiasm for that.  Don’t swim enough I suppose.

Then we headed out toward the ocean and Iceland, so back out through the plates of ice.  The sound of bumping, cracking and grinding along the sides of the ship grew gradually less.  We were called to dinner and over dinner the sound of the ice disappeared.  The seas got rougher.

It was a fancy Philippine dinner.  The food was good (but then, it is always good) and the waiters and waitresses were all dressed in traditional shirts and dressed.  High heels on the rocking ship, too.  Yikes!

We were shunted after dinner to the lounge which had the curtains pulled down to make a dark room, and there was a band made of various of the crew, which played what sounded like oldies but goodies.  I didn’t stay long,  I had been late about taking my Dramamine pill that evening, and wasn’t feeling any too steady.  I walked outside where I could see the horizon from a sheltered place on and outside gangway, and stood there collecting myself until I was tired and went to bed.

So that morning it was smooth, for which I was very grateful. We were powering away toward land on the horizon, and it was one of those glittering mornings, the sky bright blue and the sea a deep blue to match.

We had been in the lounge watching a presentation, when Brent called down to us that whales were breaching, and we all scrambled upstairs and outside for a view.  Never did see the breaching whale but never mind.  There were plenty of whales enough for everyone’s taste.

Whales, bubble feeding, whales floating, whales lying on one side, whales on their back, whales up close, at a distance and in between.  There were four or five pods of whales surfacing at one time.  Whale soup.  It was all humpbacks as far as I know.

7-8 Bubble feeding

Bubble feeding

7-8 Whale soup - more

7-8 Everyone taking pictures of whales7-8 Whale soup7-8 Whale welcomes us to Iceland

A youngster just playing around!

7-8 Whale - up close

Humpback up close!

I got a lot of pictures and then ran out of space on my SD card, so just watched and enjoyed it all for awhile.  In the sunny warm weather (the temperature was much more clement than it had been amidst the ice flows) we were quite comfortable and happy.

We continued on into the northern town of Sigurdur (sp) which had been a major herring cannery town in the 1930s.

7-8 Siglufjordur harbor

Evidently the “romance” of the herring girl life appealed to all young women in Iceland, who came out here in droves to work for the summers.  There had been about 30 factories, and something like 150 boats going out daily to catch herring.  The herring girls were the first stop after the boats got back, cursing and sorting and packing the fish.  The factories made oil and fish meal out of the leavings. It sounded like a hard life but a sort of amusing group of strangers thrown together to work hard, and no doubt, play hard at the same time.  Dances most nights of the week.  So few places to live that it was two to a bed, and the beds were very small.  Anyway, the town has renovated two old buildings and built a third for a wonderful museum.

The first is an old building where the girls lived.  There used to be 30 or 40 of these kinds of buildings, but no more. The rooms were tiny and packed with beds and kitchen gear.  The second is one of the old factories with it’s boilers and steam engines and workshop tools and the third is a new building, very large, in which they have recreated a bit of the fishing pier itself, with about 9 boats all set up as if floating above the water.  It is excellent. I was quite pleased with it all.  There were movies all about from the age, surprisingly, with young pretty women decked out in rubber gloves and huge yellow aprons, tossing their curled hair for the camera and looking glorious full of health and sass.

There were some herring girls who gave a demo of what the herring girls do in the front of one of the buildings and then we all joined in on a herring girl dance. Most amusing.

7-8 Herring girls

But better than that was the flights of the fulmars and the terns above the little pond in front of the museums.  Gloriously close.  It was addictive to try to capture their whisking flight.

7-8 Arctic Tern playing7-8 Arctic Tern picking off worms7-8 2 Arctic Terns

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We had 2 hours to wander around the town.  I walked up to the graveyard which stood above the town.  A sweet, quiet place, looking out over the calm fjord. The high mountain sides swept down in a classic glacially carved u shape into the water. The walls of the mountain were verdant green and on one hillside purple lupin painted great swaths of lavender and plum. The water was very calm, the day was generous and bright. But I could see in the cold night this would be a lonely place.

I walked around through the town, took pictures of the houses with their very modest embellishments,

then made it back to the ship, which was truly a ship and stood waiting, very large and solemn, a wall to climb into, and then stood on the deck as we pulled away back out to the sea from the town of the herring girls.

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7-7-2017 – Greenland Ice

7-7-2017 – Greenland Ice

The captain seems determined to get us as close as is possible to Greenland, in spite of all the ice between us and them.

7-6 Captain takes us in to Jan Mayen

This is him from yesterday when approaching Jan Mayen.  Today the bridge looks the same, but there is no land beyond the bridge window, only ice.

Here is a picture of the current ice situation:

DSC_2341

The yellow is 50 miles thick of ice between us and Greenland’s shore.  The captain has spent the day up on the bridge, chatting with people, and acting astoundingly calm about how deep we are getting into the ice toward Greenland.

We listened to a presentation by Joe McInnes about the Titanic IMAX movie that he helped to work on and I am left with many more questions about his role.  Was he the doctor?  The Marketing guy?  The producer?  And why does he keep talking about leadership?  I don’t want to hear about it.  The whole thing was done in 1987, so no wonder it feels rather out of date.

He asked “Who remembers what they were doing when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon?” And everyone raised his/her hand. And he said “See. Everyone. Everyone remembers.” Well, it had to be everyone above the age of 50 or so, because, if you were younger than that, you weren’t old enough to remember… He seems a very VERY nice man, but I just wanted to hear about his adventures, not about what he thinks leadership is.

We are now sailing, very slowly and cautiously through piles of sea ice.  Very slowly. Very cautiously.  Every now and then we have a great bump. Everything rattles and the noise is very loud and deep. Sometimes we heel over a fair amount to one side or the other.  The captain has the bit between his teeth.

7-7 Pushing through to Greenland7-7 more toward Greenland7-7 More Icebergs7-7 More Icebergs

At last it is just too far to go.  We spent about 4 hours pushing through and managed about 3 kilometers.  At this rate it would take us days.  Ah well, a great experience anyway.

But we did stop then and do the standard Polar Plunge.

7-7 Polar Plunge

Let me be clear.  We didn’t all do the polar plunge.

7-7 Happy not doing Polar Plunge

Will and Patty (and me) very happily NOT doing the Polar Plunge…

On to Iceland!

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7-6-2017 Jan Mayen

7-6-2017 Jan Mayen

Today we were awakened by Brent’s “Good Morning Good morning” at 6:30 to find out that we were at Jan Meyen, the island in the middle of the northern Atlantic, and there were whales at the bow.  It was Bottlenosed Beaked whales, and I admit that I didn’t bestir myself fast enough to see them when I finally arrived to the above-bridge deck.  But the island was lovely, if shadowed and grey, wreathed in clouds so that the great volcano on the northern half of the island was only visible as snowy slopes stretching up into the cloud layer that lay over the ocean.
7-6 Mighty glaciers of Jan Mayen
Loads of birds, mostly fulmars, wheeled about the boat, and we took ourselves gradually down along the east coast of Jan Meyer, to attain the harbor.

I watched as the station chief met the launched Zodiac at the black sand lava beach about 200 yards from the Explorer, and the zodiac raced back to our ship to give us his introductory talk.
7-6 Kasper and Jan Mayen Station Commander
The talk was nice, a little introduction about the history, the ownership, what they do (report on weather, and represent Norway) and the rules of visiting.  Evidently our passports will all be stamped with their stamp.  Nice!

We did the usual Zodiac trip aboard, and the crew was actually, I think, excited.  For most of them, they had never made this stop.  There was essentially no wind.  The sea was flat as a piece of paper. Most times the seas were somewhere between 6 and 15 foot here. Dennis had been on trips with Lindblad for 31 years and he had never stopped here. During the entire annual season the folks on Jan Mayen thought they might have 10 ships stop, if they were lucky. Many years it was far fewer than that, and that included their supply ships.

We went hiking in a large group with John Palinthrope(?), the Welshman. He had never been on this island before so the trip, which was quite scenic, wasn’t particularly specifically organized.  We wandered toward the huge Loran tower, which was now (being obsolete) scheduled to be taken down. It was surrounded by many many guy wires, which we had to take care over.  John was nervous about our general ability to navigate over the wires, so he took us far far up the side of the hill to avoid them.  This meant that we tromped through a vast field of deep deep moss, leaving rather a miserable track of broken and uprooted moss in our wake.


The moss was extraordinarily deep and lush, and there were a large number of wonderful lichen and flowers etc, nestled within it. Icelandic Poppies, the Saxifrage of different colors, and many more. It was fun tromping through the stuff though I did feel guilty about the damage that we were doing. Come to think of it, was it one season’s growth, or did it regrow each year?  I don’t know.  The walls of the volcanic rock above us were sharp and very steep, and had a capping crust that was probably 40 feet thick along the top.  That was were the fulmars, and dovekeys had their nests and they were flittering around the rough ledges far above our heads, far above the mossy surfaces.

We hiked about an hour out, and then walked down to the rocky edge of the island, above the sharp and high cliff side that seemed to run all the way around it, and headed back through what was MUCH easier going, to the beach where we landed and beyond, tot he little settlement and the store.

A huge whalebone – perhaps a rib? – lay in the center of the ring of buildings, along with a missive antique anchor, and the root of a giant tree.

7-6 Jan Mayen AnchorAs there are no trees on this island, aside of a tiny little plant that looks like it could be a single leaf of a fir tree, this giant root, had to have been washed up as piece of driftwood on the beach, and then been retrieved by one of the many earth movers that we have seen parked and even rolling about the compound.
7-6 Jan Mayen Polar Bear7-6 Settlement on Jan Mayen7-6 Jan Mayen geology
There were silver blue foxes on the island many years ago, but the last was killed 50 years ago. (Typical) So no mammals to eat the many eggs that are laid here. The birds are all doing rather well on the island.

We were ferried back to the ship, and as we gradually made our way to the north of the island, the Beerenburger mountains clouds lifted, and we all hung out watching a glorious sunlit beauty of an evening, with the magical view of the mountain in shimmering white snow gleaming through the clouds, and at last a triumphant breaching  peak of snow glittering above the mist.
7-6 Beerenberg - the Clouds part
Joe, the geologist was in his element, describing and explaining the volcanic activity that drove the development of this atoll.  It was actually warm when we were in the lee of the island, while we gently wandered north along the west side, so green and lush as it was.  We spent a couple of hours watching the rising Blue and Fin and even Humpback whales, all more than beautiful, for being living beings from beneath the waves.  It was nice to see the bright white of the humpback’s fins, and the curve of the humpback, just before the flap of a tail appeared over the sea.
7-6 Mighty Blue
Two hours went by quickly.  We will set out clocks back one hour tonight and wake up late, facing the ice sheets that appear to be 50 miles thick, between us and Greenland.

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