ICELAND PART 3 - WESTMAN ISLANDS
The one thing my mom really wanted to do in Iceland was see a puffin. To explain her excitement about the cute little birds I can only fall back on the analogy of a kid a christmas....excited with shining eyes.
But September tends to be late for puffin migration, and we were cautioned that seeing the tuxedoed aviators would be rare.
The thing I love about my Mom is that she doesn't get deterred easily. Not only did she research the best place to see them in early Fall, but she was completely convinced - down to her soul - that we would be successful. It is a trait she passed on to me, belief, and one I'm happy my gypsy spirit holds today. If you don't believe you give up.
In her study she discovered a little island chain of the west coast called the Westman Islands.
Fun Icelandic Fact: They call this place the Westman Islands because this is where the Irish escaped to when they tried, unsuccessfully, to invade Iceland. The Irish were known as the "West men".... being Irish myself it sounded like a magical place.
Little did I know, when my Mom pointed it out to me, that it would be a travel memory that would live with me forever.
Since we technically visited Iceland in "winter season" the ferry from Vogar to the Westman Islands wasn't running. To catch a ferry we would have to drive the almost 3 hours to Vik. Though the boat ride from Vik was shorter (only 45 minutes) we would waste half our day just getting to this place we wanted to explore.
Our only option became flying. Finding a plane to the island we booked our tickets and hoped for clear weather to enjoy the next day.
To say we were not prepared when we got there is an understatement. Though we had read you could rent bikes to travel around the island (PS: if you get the chance you should do this), and that it wasn't very big, we didn't realize winter season meant bike shops weren't open, and that rain meant walking a small island would make it feel big.
We landed at the tiny airport with 11 other people who quickly dispersed in their own cars leaving us alone in an empty terminal. No, not just empty, post apocalyptically empty... not even a scrap of paper on the floor - empty. No one was around. It was as if we had been deserted in a town that once was.
Looking at each other, with no clue which direction town was, and no cab to call to get us there, we started weighing our odds. What do we do now that we have 11 hours on the island and it appears to be uninhabited?
That was when we heard the talking.
Though the airport appeared to be abandoned, one lone person remained - chatting on her cell phone.
"Maybe she will let us call a cab. I've heard Icelandic people are very generous...."
Intuition, believing, luck... I don't know what helped us that day but my Mom was not only spot on about the generosity.... she missed the mark by a long ways. Icelandic people aren't just generous they are INCREDIBLE!!!!
Did the woman let us use her phone? No. Because instead she gave us a ride in her own car into town.
This is simply where the kindness began.
We grabbed coffee and breakfast snacks before walking around and deciding what to do. Admiring the street art as we finished the last of our pastry.
Art is considered an honorable career in Iceland and Artists make enough money to live on. 1 in 10 Icelandic people will be published in some way.
I climbed to the top of a volcano that exploded in the 60's, before we visited the volcano museum. It is probably one of the coolest museums I've visited in a while. Built around a house that was buried in the flow - now unhurried from the ash- you get to explore the destruction of mother nature and see what survived years under the lava.
The climb to the top showed the breath-taking contrast in scenery.
A light drizzle had been pounding us all day, and my Mom really wanted us to be able to explore the whole island so she decided to spend the money and hire us a private car. We would then be able to instruct the driver where to go and hopefully learn some cool history.
Problem was, we didn't have a phone. Cue another AMAZING Icelandic goddess and the start of one of the most generous days I've ever been on.
Stopping at a little travel shop my Mom asked if we could borrow a phone to call the private driver. She was quickly handed a landline from which to make the call. He didn't answer.
When I say the island is small.... it is small town small. The shop owners knew this man, his wife, and his habits. Not wanting my Mom and I to be left out in the cold they proceeded to call his house, his wife's number, and all his favorite hang out spots... still, no one answered.
We were just deciding we were going to have to see what we could on foot - both of us go with the flow kind of people, when the shop owner asked me "Do you know how to drive stick?". When I told her that my first three car's were stick she quickly handed me the keys to her own car and asked me to have it back to her in time for her to pick her son up from the airport.
My Mom and I stood there, open mouthed, unbelieving (first time for us). This woman had just given us her car. Though we protested a few times she insisted and soon were were driving the island looking for puffins and adventure.
Poor planning on our part turned into one of the awe inspiring travel moments. I honestly left Iceland wondering if I had done anything that nice for someone and how long it had been since I had.
Having the car for a few hours let us tour the whole island. By the time we had to bring it back we were ready to walk the rest of the day.
Having worked up an appetite, and trying to taste as much lobster soup on this trip as possible, we popped into the most delicious restaurant.
Choosing our own fish out of many options we decided to split lobster soup and fish and chips. If you go to the Westman Island you have to check out Fiskibarinn! The price was incredible for the portions.
We ended our day at the local aquarium where a pet puffin is housed. They like to say it is his museum and they all just work there. I would have to agree. This rescued puffin was adorable and met my Mom's goal of seeing a live puffin on the trip.
Travel Tip: Don't miss the Westman Islands for any reason. If it had been sunnier we would have gone on a boat tour that would have shown us sea caves and a permitter view of the place. Even with rain and no other tourists there was plenty to do. Bike riding, golf, hiking, museums... this place is one of the most magical places I've ever been.
If I come back in another life I want to come back as a puffin that grows up on this island!