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Vestmannaeyjar — islands splashed with blood and lava

Vestmannaeyjar — islands splashed with blood and lava

January 2019 · 6 min read · Southern Region

IX century. Ingólfr Arnarson, the great father of the Icelandic nation, has been building a settlement called Reykjavík on the newly discovered land for more than a year. His brother, Hjörleifr, accompanies him in the hardships of settling in these unfriendly lands. One night Hjörleifr is murdered by slaves of Gaelic origin, whom he brought to Iceland. In order to avoid punishment, they flee to the deserted islands in the south. Not for long did they avoid Arnarson's anger – his vengeful brother, having tracked down the fugitives, killed everyone of them. This is how fate wrote the very first dark pages of Vestmannaeyjar history , the islands of "Westerners", how Nordic peoples called Gaels in that time.

Author: @saunter

Source: Wikipedia

Vestmannaeyjar Islands (also known as Westman Islands) is an archipelago of 15 islands, one of which is inhabited, located about 150 km from the Icelandic capital. The city with the same name as the archipelago, but located on the island Heimaey ("Home Island") can be reached by ferry, which sails daily from a place near the main road that circulates Iceland. You can also fly to Vestmannaeyjar by plane. We can't afford airplanes, so together with Czarek we chose our reliable Toyota Yaris. Along the way we picked up two other hitchhikers - Anna and Natalia (the latter is recently on Steem under the nickname @fuera!). Though their hitchhiking this day was a bit cheated, because we had previously agreed to take them with us. Nevertheless, girls travel the world in the same way as we do.

On the ferry you could find a separate room to watch Friends while approaching the islands.

A 30-minute ferry trip guaranteed a high aesthetic experience in itself. Before you reach Heimaey you can enjoy the sight of three other islands.

Elliðaey – an island which was the subject of rumours saying that in 2000 the then Prime Minister of Iceland wanted to give it Björk in gratitude for her merits in promoting Iceland worldwide. The idea was abandoned after a harsh reaction of Icelanders. In fact, it was a completely different island of the same name, located in another part of Iceland. The building shown in the picture is a hunting lodge.

The dramatic history of the beginnings of Vestmannaeyjar settlement is not the end of drama. In 1627, the Ottomans arrived in southern Iceland in order to "gain" new slaves. This was done by Berberian pirates from Algeria and Morocco under the leadership of.... This was done by Berberian pirates from Algeria and Morocco under the leadership of .. "turkanized" and Islam convert Dutchman Jan Janszoon van Haarlem. On July 16th this year he arrived in the Westman Islands. For three days they plundered the islands, killing dozens of Icelanders and kidnapping over 200! Most of the kidnapped for the rest of their lives served as slaves in Algeria, but some managed to escape or were bought out. Among them was Ólafur Egilsson, who returned to Iceland and wrote down his experiences of these tragic events.

As we stood on land, we a charming Icelandic town surrounded by mountains of volcanic origin was revealed to our eyes.

The Icelandic police always know where to park. In the heart of the city, that is in front of a state alcohol shop. By the way, "police" in Icelandic is lögreglan. Sweet, right?

The Vestmannaeyjar is one of the largest populations of puffins in Iceland. Unfortunately, during this trip, the only puffins that we managed to observe were those on the signposts...

If we wanted to be on time for the last ferry back, we had only a few hours to visit the island. So we decided to climb one of the volcanoes to see the panorama of the city and the archipelago. And here we move on to the next dark pages of Vestmannaeyjar history. It has always been a volcanically active area with about 80 volcanoes, most of which are under the water surface. In the southern part of the archipelago in 1963 an eruption began, which ended in 1967 (!) and created a completely new island called Surtsey (from Surtra, the Nordic god of fire). Since its inception, the island has been studied by various natural scientists and is under strict conservation - it can only be viewed from the air if you do not hold a special permit. Since 2008 it has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The birth of Surtsey. Source: Wikipedia

However, it was 1973 that brought catastrophic events for Icelanders. On January 23rd the eruption of Eldfell suddenly began, destroying half of the city of Vestmannaeyjar. The inhabitants were evacuated and at that time the lava destroyed more than 400 homes. An extensive lava cooling action with sea water was initiated. The Icelandic struggle with the fire element was covered all over the world. As a result of the eruption, the island grew by as much as 20%! It took several years to rebuild the damage and re-migrate the population to the island. The event had a profound impact on the island's inhabitants, but also had a positive effect: the products of the volcanic eruption were used to extend the runway of the airport, and the forced relocation to the main island of Iceland had a positive impact on the education of young people. This is also an event that still attracts tourists like us today. Today you can admire the Vestmannaeyjar from the top of the destructive volcano, as it is one of the highest points in the area. We decided to climb up there.

Source: Wikipedia

Short video showing the eruption of Eldfell

Various wonders and atmospheric surprises awaited us at the top. Sun, rain, a rainbow and the classic Icelandic wind.

At the top we sat down under a red rock and just like the tired Hobbies ate lembas bread, we drank some vodka an beer, which one of the girls suddenly conjured up from her backpack. Heated from the inside we started to go back to the ferry, but one more craze came out in front of our eyes. Walking along the empty, sleepy Vestmannaeyjar street, we saw something like an anorexic Transformer-like creature approaching with increasing speed towards us.

The mysterious figure stopped in front of us and said:

– I can tell from your face that you want to try this out!

And we tried it! It wasn't easy. The boy ordered it on eBay and just unpacked it, but he was much better in handling it than we were. No wonder, he seemed to have a gene of madness in himself, it was evident in his eyes.

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When each of us tried and fell once or twice, the Icelander put on his seven-mile boots again and sprung away, astonishing the drivers he passed by. We took a ferry to mainland and went grab a beer with polish hitchhikers occupying small town Vík í Mýrdal, and later we soaked our ass in hot springs aaaaall night...

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