Once upon a time I spent a whole summer in the Westman Islands (Icelandic: Vestmannaaeyjar). It was the loneliest summer of my life. I didn’t know anyone and seeing I was a socially awkward teenager my attempts to make new friends were futile. Truth be told I don’t remember a lot from that summer except a lot of walking. Boy did I walk. I had spent some time on my grandmother’s farm in the north as a child but even though it was just me, my grandparents and the cows it seemed less isolated because every now and again we would drive to the nearest town for shopping. The only way to get to and from the Westman islands was flying or taking the boat for three hours to Þorlákshöfn.
Walking around Heimaey, exploring the new lava from the eruption in ’73 and watching the boats come into harbor, kept me sane that summer. And although I have no particularly happy memories of the town itself I’ve always thought fondly of my time there. Only five years later I moved on my own away from Iceland and maybe my summer of solitude at the age of thirteen gave me the assurance that I could make it alone in a new country.
Now, fast forward more years than I’m willing to admit to.
Last weekend the boyfriend, my friend Elli and his boyfriend Johan drove out of town really early in the morning to catch the first boat to the Westman Islands at 10. Nowadays the boat, Herjólfur, leaves from a place called Landeyjahöfn and the journey only takes about 30-40 minutes (and costs mere 1260 ISK). The sea was calm and the weather nice so you hardly noticed you were on a boat.
We didn’t have any special plans so as soon as we got to Heimaey we started looking around for things to do. We saw there was a boat tour around the islands at 11 so we hurried to a cafe Kaffi Kró where we could buy our tickets. We went with a company called Viking Tours that also does bus tours around Heimaey Island.
I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with Viking Tours. The tour was OK, which is the main and most important thing, but when we got to the boat there was no one around to greet us, they hardly said good day when they finally showed up (or good bye when we left) and the sound system on board was kind of bad so it was really difficult to hear what the guide was saying. It was just very impersonal somehow. But the tour was interesting, we saw a lot of puffins and learned a lot about the islands. I don’t regret doing it.
After a quick lunch we headed over to a new museum called Eldheimar where you can learn more about the eruption that happened in Heimaey in 1973. The focus point of the museum is a house that was dug out of the lava 40 years after the eruption but the project was dubbed the Pompeii of the North. It’s an interesting museum and well worth visiting, especially for those that don’t know a lot about what happened.
At this point it was raining quite a bit and I somehow managed to bust my knee so we decided to take the boat back to land at 17:30. If the weather would have been nicer and if I hadn’t been on the brink of crying with every step I took I would have loved to have spent more time walking around the island. Next time.
On our way home we stopped at Skógafoss and idiotically I thought my knee was good enough for a hike to Seljavallalaug. I’m still paying for that stupidity but maybe, just maybe, it was all worth it. That place is beautiful!