Iceland 2016: A Whale of a Day

15 07 2016

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Yesterday, horses ruled.  Today it’s all about whales.  But not until 16:00.  So in the morning we head back into Akureyri to play Tourist.


5-30-16 Akureyri (11)

Across the fjord to Akureyri

On the way around the fjord, we stop at an overlook to look at the city across the way and find a patch of beautiful lupines. Lupines are a non-native, invasive species.  They crowd out the native wildflowers and grasses and may be causing the demise of the heath bumblebee, Iceland’s only native bee.  I know that.  I also know they are absolutely gorgeous. They remind me of wisteria, but with longer-lasting flowers. 5-30-16 Akureyri Botanical Garden (43) I decide my sister Marie would love this beautiful spot, so I get her out of my suitcase and leave a bit of her here.  Marie, who died almost a year ago, loved to travel and took special joy in the beauty of nature.  In one of her journals, she wrote about how the wildflowers on the side of the road turned an awful day at work into an Awe Full Day.  She would approve of this spot.


5-31-16 Akureyri MarieFinally in Akureyri, we stroll the streets and do some gift shopping.

5-30-16 Akureyri (31)

We also discover that duct tape is a handy item for car repair, even, or especially, in Iceland.

5-31-16 Akureyri (24)

Fortunately, not our car

On the way to Húsavík where we are scheduled for a whale-watching boat tour, we stop at one of the most famous of Iceland’s many waterfalls: Goðafoss, the Waterfall of the Gods.

5-31-16 Goðafoss (22)Again, there are no words.  We pose for the requisite photos in front of the falls, then explore downstream where there is a smaller waterfall and a bridge to the other side.5-31-16 Goðafoss (4)

5-31-16 Goðafoss (24)

As we meander around, Dave tells me that there is a tamarind just off the trail that I need to go see.  A tamarind?  My mind searches its files…an orange or maybe a monkey?  No, Dave explains patiently, a bird.  Well, I’m impressed.  Obviously he knows his birds.  I go back and indeed find a beautiful bird.   A ptarmigan.

5-31-16 Goðafoss ptarmigan (13)


This ptarmigan seems unperturbed to have people sharing its personal space.  It allows me to get within six feet, so I am in photography-heaven as I shoot photo after photo of this very photogenic bird.

Even after all these stops, we arrive in Húsavík a couple hours before our tour.

5-31-16 Husavik

We walk around the town, furtively looking for the Icelandic Phallological Museum, which houses “a collection of penises and penile part representing all the types of mammals found in the country.” Didn’t find it.  Kind of relieved.  We did find an Exploration Museum, though, with artifacts from the Apollo Astronaut training that took place near here in the mid-60s.  Whodathunk?

5-31-16 Husavik (2)


We board the “traditional Icelandic oak boat” for our whaling expedition.  No, I am reprimanded by the cashier.  We are not going whaling.  We are going whale watching.  Big difference.  We don our stylish red overalls to keep us warm and toasty on the open water and head out into Skjálfandi bay for our three hour tour.  Snatches of the theme song from Gilligan’s Island play through my head.5-31-16 Husavik whale watching (16)

It’s not long before we start seeing whales breaching in the distance, and not long after that before I have an enormous collection of photos of the vast bay each with a little black dot in the middle.

5-31-16 Husavik whale watching humpback (37)

A Tail of a Whale

The guide identifies every black dot: there are white beaked dolphins, minke whales, harbor porpoises, and humpback whales.  Soon enough we are in the middle of a feeding area.  We discover that the best way to find the humpback whale is to look where the seabirds are feeding.

5-31-16 Husavik whale watching humpback (29)

Flocks of arctic terns, puffins, and fulmars gather where the fish are.  And where the fish are, there soon will be the whales.  And there are.  One even breaches so close to our boat that the captain is taken aback.  I’m sure they have rules about keeping the boats a certain distance away.  I’m also certain that nobody told the whales those rules.

5-31-16 Husavik whale watching humpback (18)5-31-16 Husavik whale watching humpback (14)

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the birds.  In between whale-sightings, I entertain myself by taking photos of the many birds around us.  Soon I have almost as many blurred pictures of birds as I do black dots in the bay.  A few turn out to be quite decent.

5-31-16 Husavik whale watching tern (3)


5-31-16 Husavik whale watching fulmar

Clear the runway! Fulmar take-off!


The crew feeds us hot cocoa and cinnamon rolls on the way back, much tastier in my opinion than the krill that the whales are feeding on.  Makes me glad to be a human.

5-31-16 Husavik whale watching (1)

Back in the car, we head for Lake Mývatn and our home for two nights, Hótel Reynihlíð.  Upon arriving, I find a group of college-aged girls doing yoga in a common area.  My antennae are up.  I ask where they are from.  Berry College, Georgia.  Is Russell Maddrey with them?  Mouths drop.  How do I…?

5-31-16 Myvatn  (3)

Russ grew up in Aiken and went to Aiken Elementary where I taught.  I know his mom and knew he would be traveling the Ring Road at the same time we were as part of a college geology class.  Although it seems like an unusual coincidence, it wasn’t really.  I had been watching out for him, knowing that he was going counter-clockwise while we were going clockwise around the island.  The Ring Road being basically the only way around the island, and knowing that there were certain stops that everyone makes, I am not that surprised to run into him.  Of course, when I call his name when I see him in the parking lot, all his classmates are impressed that he is such a famous person, known world-wide.  Which he will be, or should be, since he is one of the nicest guys on this planet.

A nice ending to an altogether nice day.



2 responses

15 07 2016
Sharon Foret Cagle

Love your story writing and pictures!❤️

Sent from my iPad


15 07 2016

Thanks, Sharon! It’s my way of reliving the adventure!

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