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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Iceland

Travel towards a goal can yield more than the goal itself - it may seem to be a cliché but we often find it to be true. We left Stornoway hoping to get to Greenland as quickly and safely as possible. Luckily (due to diminishing fuel and bad weather south of Greenland) we happily ended up in Iceland.

So often, it’s the people you’re fortunate to meet who make the difference … and we’ve met some fine 
fellow travellers and “locals”. When we got here the HMS Endeavour was tied in the prime spot at the dock. Captain George Richardson warmly invited us to come alongside and sent over some enthusiastic and attractive crew to assist. We have lovely memories of being tied up next to her sister ship ‘Discoverer’ in January 2008 in Antarctica. At that time, Captain Andrew and the crew were equally helpful although this time they were that little bit more attractive with four female crew members (in 2008 there was just one!) The crew are of varied experience and are drawn from all three services of Britain’s forces. These ships were newsworthy in the 70’s as Chay Blythes ‘Wrong way Around’ circumnavigators and the solid British Steel construction is still holding up well.
Hellisheiði Geothermal plant
    
Although we had a number of problems to fix, these were quite quickly sorted out. Frederick and his mechanics fixed our broken engine mount  by appearing at the boat and welding a new one within two hours. Fuel arrives conveniently by truck right to the boat tomorrow after which, if only the weather would co-operate we can leave.

Rift
We arrived during Iceland’s Independence Day weekend so we celebrated by seeing the “Golden Circle” via Sterna tours (high points are pictured). Our small group of five people chanced to be lucky when Gunnar Ingi Valdimarsson showed up as our leader. He’s a knowledgeable, organized and clever chap with a particularly wry and somewhat cynical command of the English language. We learned Iceland’s first parliament was conducted orally CE 930. Writing was developed and laws from 1157 are still visible on long-lasting calfskin with the original language so unchanged that it’s still understood by native speakers. Iceland came under the domination of various Scandinavian powers until - after having been occupied by Britain during the earlier war years and being constrained by a Danish economic monopoly for years – they became free on June 17, 1944.
Strokkur geyser

The economic recession of 2008 took its toll on both the Icelandic economy and Gunnar’s education which had included some years in Norway and a year in the US. He’s now using his marketing skills in the tourism industry which - along with IT and such companies as Össur (marketing prosthetic legs to Oscar Pistorius and others worldwide) – is now showing a gradual growth and may one day supplant fishing as the country’s most important industry.

Gullfoss waterfall
Not only the social fabric of the country (with only about 300,000 inhabitants) but also the fragile shell of Iceland’s epidermis are at risk if many huge cruise ships arrive at once. Not far under the top layer, you’ll find lava hot spots. The potential for volcanic action is always imminent by one of Iceland’s more than 130 volcanoes. The country is poised on the North Atlantic Rift System – and the earth’s crust is separating the Americas and Eurasia by about 2cm/yr. Whereas this is covered by ocean further south, it’s visible on the surface here.


Living over the Volcano has a few benefits, though. Iceland is practically self-sufficient (not counting motor fuel) with green energy. Boiling hot lava sub-surface heats surface water to create steam. Steam–powered turbines generate electricity, cooled by lakewater it provides a hotwater via a  pipeline all the way to Reykjavik. Steam comes up through the porous surface in various spots all over the inhabited parts of the country and allows people to luxuriate in hot tubs, saunas and heated outdoor swimming pools. The lakes and streams are crystal clear, the fishing is spectacular and you'd love the horses. 

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