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Genteel Giants

2016 June 15
by admin

Iceland may be best known for Björk and Eyjafjallajökull, but a few whisper of its even greater strengths: whales and bubble baths.  Today, we sought out the best of both, as we crossed the north from Sigló to Seydisfjordur on the east coast.

We sketched out an ambitious itinerary last night, and managed to make it if anything a little more ambitious as the day went.  Following the coast brought us to a pair of endless tunnels, cutting two whole finger-like peninsulas off the top of the island.  Before long, we were in Húsavík, the capital of the world for whaling (or whale-watching, but I’m reclaiming the word).  11 species come here for feeding, to get fat and ready to be ostracized to the desolate seas near Boston which they try to leave again as soon as their young are ready.

We sprung for an excellent fast boat with Gentle Giants, which started with Puffin Island.  We confusedly stared at the pretty but puffin-less island that the boat first approached, before it turned back to sea and waded into a crowd of puffins thousands large.  Each one looked like a rubber duckie, slowly spinning in place, until it decided to make another flight attempt, wagging its clumsy arms but only able to raise itself inches from the waves.  Our next stop was a real treat: a rare blue whale sighting.  We chased after its double-blows, approaching within 100 m of its massive crests, each time before it took another dive and surfaced a random kilometer away.  Then we approached the mountains and abandoned monastery, first finding a single humpback and admiring its warty maw and patterned tail.  We were all feeling satisfied, but had no idea that the best was yet in store.  Our final stop brought us into the middle of an impromptu feeding frenzy.  A half dozen humpbacks and minke whales circled us, cresting often in unison and flashing tails, while the air filled with sea birds following closely.

We lunched at a hip new restaurant called Fjaran, feasting on baked brie and sweet potato fries, and a lobster salad and a barley pesto fit for Brooklyn.  A short 45 minutes later, we got to the geothermal gem of the North: Mývatn Lake.  Every nook of the lake has lava sculptures and steaming vents.  We hiked around Hverir, an alien landscape of sulfur yellows and fungal-looking purples, with black and grey muds bubbling.  Next we scrambled up the slippery mountain,  not really sure where we were headed nor why, until our path disappeared in the dust.

After some head scratching, we got back in the car and not 4 km up the road, we arrived at natural sulfueric baths,Mývatn Natural Baths in English or Jarðböðin, where we luxuriated in 14.5 degree water, silk with minerals.  There were empty watery expanses, socializing crowds, coveted booths, a packed hot-tub, and saunas.  We slinked from steaming pools to shivering wind and back, and all emerged feeling thoroughly bendy and chill.  Two hours later, we arrived at a cute cabin on yet another single-occupancy road, for an elaborate home-cooked meal to finish our quintessential Icelandic experience.

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