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una August 2010 The Westfjords

Dear Reader, The Westfjords are known for sheer sea cliffs, long narrow fjords, magnificent ocean views and majestic mountains. If you want to experience the unique atmosphere of unspoiled, wild nature and traditional fishing villages, this is the right place for you. In this magazine you can see the Westfjords in pictures and descriptions, coloured by the individual feelings and experiences of 23 young people from all around the world. For two weeks we have explored the nature, towns, people and history of this region. We tried to find an answer to one question – how do people survive in a place which is so far from civilization as we know it and where it is dark almost half of the year? We spent a lot of time on the road, trying to absorb as much adventure as we could. We were bathing in the hot tops by the sea shore, hiking up the moun-

tains, watching puffins on the cliffs, kayaking in the fjords, visiting many swimming pools, and last, but not least, getting know the locals. We talked a lot. To fishermen, musicians, cooks, waitresses, priests, directors of universities, children. And everyone we met, was so open, friendly and willing to share his or her little story. And now we would like to share it with you. We know that it is not possible to put all the power and beauty of nature,the kindness of people, the peace, harmony, legends and stories we have discovered in the West fjords in these few pages. But we hope, that the work we have done, will help you connect with even a small part of this magic place.

pictures from flateyri

everybody come to swim! Iceland, a land of endless natural resources and water is certainly one of them. Icelandic people have managed to make the best use of this unlimited resource by building swimming pools all around the country. In fact, almost every village, even the tiniest ones, has their own swimming pool. Visitors to swimming pools can enjoy warm water, either natural or heated, always ranging from 25C to 30C in the swimming pools and up to 45C in the relaxing hot tubs. The water is heated thanks to the abundance of cheap geothermal power. In a country surrounded by slightly freezing cold water, swimming pools play an important social role in Icelandic culture: school children learn how to swim (all Icelanders must be able to swim) and play in their free time; adults do aerobics and all kinds of water sports; parties are held in swimming pools and above all hot tubs are a meeting point for people who gather and talk about all types of subjects, from politics to gossip. Fishermen relax themselves in the hot tubs after work; they talk about their daily catch enjoying the coffee served next to the bubbling water. Warning to all visitors: having a shower without swimsuit before getting into the water is compulsory due to hygienic rea-

sons and in compliance with the Icelandic health policy. Do not forget! During our 2-week work camp in the Western Fiords, we spent 10 days in Flateyri, a 300-inhabitant village surrounded by a beautiful and atmospheric landscape. Flateyri offers visitors the opportunity to do various activities, among which kayaking in the fiords (from April to September, contact, email, trekking along its amazing trails, spending time in the lively bar and the possibility to relax in the village swimming pool and hot tubs. The swimming pool is located in a modern sports centre, equipped with a gym, a sauna and a hot tub. The staff consists of 1 person in winter and 2 people in the summer, when there are more tourists attending the swimming pool and the facility is open every day (in winter it is open only 4 days a week). We interviewed one staff member, Smari Snaer Eiriksson, 22 years old, from Flateyri, who is going to start university in Reykjavik in September and works in the swimming pool as a summer job. In the swimming pool, he is in charge of selling entrance tickets, cleaning and works as a life guard. In order to be a lifeguard, he has to renew his lifeguard license every year.

This public swimming pool is attended by few local people (only 10 local people out of 300 go every day) in winter and Icelandic tourists and World Wide Friend volunteers in the summer. Smari said that people’s habits have been changing over the years. More people used to go to the swimming pool before the terrible avalanche that hit the village in 1995. 200 people left the village after the tragedy and the current population amounts to 300. According to Smari people do not go to the swimming pool mainly because they are lazy, but also because the entrance fee is more expensive than in other places. If you want to go the swimming pool, these are the prices: • • • •

Entrance fee 440 kr Children from 0-15 years free entrance! 10 tickets 3,390 kr 30 tickets 8,290 kr

Smari looks forwards to seeing you!

During our excursions, we have had the possibility to enjoy a pleasant relaxation in a swimming pool. Thanks to this experience, we met Icelandic people to whom we asked for some information abou swimming pool organization.

Kristof: Yes, a lot. During summer, I usually go to the swimming pool every day but in the winter, as I go to school, I go only in the weekend.

We went to the Isafjordur’s public swimming pool. While I swam I have met two children who played in the water. I have observed Icelandic people are nice and children, in particular, like meeting people of different cultures.

Kristof: Icelandic swimming pools often have more than one pool, such as an

I started play with the 2 children and, after shyness moment, I asked them for some information. Me: My name is Giuseppe. Nice to meet you. What’s your name?

Giuseppe: How many pools have generally an Icelandic swimming pool?

outdoor heated pool with a hot water. There may also be a sauna and spa pools (“jacuzzis”). Giuseppe: Very well…Do you like playing with a ball or swimming with a life buoy? Kristof:I like playing with Petr. It’s so amazing. And what about you?

---: My name is Petr

Giuseppe: In my country, we go to the swimming pool only to learn how to

---: My name is Kristof. Nice to meet you too.

swim. So play in the swimming pool is forbidden! Here I like taking

Giuseppe: How old are you?

pleasure in warm water with my new international friends and playing withn you.

Kristof: I am 10 years old. Giuseppe: Do you like going to the swimming pool?

Kristof: Thank you. I like playing with you. Where are you from?

Giuseppe: I’m from Italy. Do you know Italy? Have you ever watched a television program about my Country?

me this?

Kristof: No, I haven’t but my parents know Italy.

Kristof: I ask you about your metal jewels because our swimming pools are rich of minerals that can ruin metals.

Giuseppe: Why there isn’t chlorine smell in your swimming pools?

Giuseppe: This is an important and useful information. Thank you

Kristof: Chlorine? What is the chlorine?

Kristof: You are Welcome! I like talking with you

Giuseppe: Chlorine is a chemical disinfectant used to maintain the water clean!

Giuseppe: Kristof, would you take a photo with me? I will write a feature story and I’d like putting also a photo of us!

Kristof: ok… There is no chlorine smell in our swimming pool because we donot put it in water. For this reason, you are compelled to take a shower without swimming suit before entering in the pool

Kristof: Of course

Giuseppe: Ok I have taken a shower Kristof: Have you removed your metal jewels such as necklaces and bracelets? Giuseppe: I do not wear metal jewels, only a wood bracelet. Why do you ask

After having taken a photo, we carry on playing with Francesco, Nerea, Elena and Emy.

First step in Iceland Iceland is a place apart from the rest of the world, standing alone in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, with its own culture, its own way of life, its own language and its own freedom. For the last five years, the percentage of immigration has significantly increased. Today, more than 7% of the population in Iceland comes from other countries, mostly from Poland, Germany, Serbia, Spain, Russia, Denmark and Latvia. They are young (between 20 and 30 years old) and usually move to work in the Building and Fishing industry, or also the cleaning services in hostels, hospitals, etc. When you travel in Iceland for a couple of week, all these specificities that make Iceland such a unique country make you feel lost, so you can easily imagine how immigrants are feeling when they arrive on this unique island ‌

To help them in their first step in Iceland, there is the Multicultural and Information Centre. This initiative came originally from an interest group on cultural diversity in the Westfjords. Funded by the Ministry of Social Affairs in 2001, the centre is located in Isafjordur but offer services for the whole country. At the beginning, there was only one employee but in just few years, the team has grown up to four employees. Their main goal is quite simple but very useful: giving assistance over the phone and online in 5 languages (English, Polish, Thai and Serbian/Croatian). In other words, they try to facilitate communication between Icelanders and foreign citizens and to enhance the services provided to newcomers living in Iceland.

They also provide specific services to the newcomers, from translation (when visiting a medical doctor or during parent and teacher interviews in schools) to help in administration, including courses in Icelandic, etc. Ari Klaengur Jonsson, Project Manager of Information, works on the website which is mainly dedicated to give information about the way Icelandic people live. “When you arrive here, the main problem is not really about prejudices, because the Icelandic people are open minded. It’s more about communication and different problems of usual life. For example, find a house in a town like Isafjordur, it can be difficult if you don’t know anyone.” One of the other priorities of the Multicultural and Information Centre is the teaching of Icelandic. You can find information about courses on the website. They also sell a leaflet on school rules intended for children who are starting school and don’t yet know how to read or write in Icelandic. “Of course speaking English is enough to live here but I think that you really have to learn Icelandic to feel integrated, not just to communicate but to understand the culture.” So if you plan to move in to the Westfjords, don’t worry and don´t hesitate, you know now that there is a place where you can find help, information and support. The Multicultural and Information Centre is definitely one of the keys of your integration in Iceland !

The Multicultural and Information Centre is definitely one of the keys of your integration in Iceland !

Face to face

Here, you know that the road passes through the mountains just for you, and makes a space in the wilderness, like a thief. At the airport, the night is still young, the light is just beginning to go to sleep and I arrive in Iceland in silence. I walk the streets of Reykjavik slowly, I don’t really know where I am going or how the next two weeks will turn out. We will be twenty four people from different countries, all together in the West fjords to participate in a photography and journalism workcamp. The meeting point is scheduled, there is a place in the world, a little point on the map that is waiting for us. After the first presentations, the fear has gone and we are all ready to start this adventure. Our first stop : Drangsnes. Everyone´s first words are: “The end of the world”. The West Fjords, this part of Iceland where the tourists never used to come, has begun to seduce us. The light of the house on the cliff goes on and off alone in this infinity. At the harbour, a boat full of fishes arrives, the fishermen watch the scene from the hotspots on the beach, while they take a beer and talk about their journey. Like a child in a circus, I take a seat with them and my white body becomes red like a lobster´s. The night takes her time to come, we talk about the future in Iceland. A young man with sad eyes, Artur , asks me where I come from and when I answer Quebec, Canada,

I see the dreams and loneliness at the same time in his eyes. He just says : “ Me too I want to travel again but you know how is life sometimes…” He doesn’t have to finish this sentence, we both know the end. The next day we finally arrive at our new home, Flateyri. The sunset is wonderful, the sky is high and the mountains are orange. I walk in this beauty and wish to reach the top of the mountains just behind the village. The wind is strong, my body fights to stand up. Far away, near the coast, at the other side of the fjord, sheep enjoy the last hours of light, the bar will be open tonight, our neighbour has just finished cleaning his garden. Even on this naked ground, life grows. Behind Flateyri, the memories of the 1995 avalanche is hidden behind the protection wall. In the cemetery, one candle is still alight. Here, you know that the road passes through the mountains just for you, and makes a space in the wilderness, like a thief. Alone with my country and my memories, I turn the music up loud in my headphones and sing words so precious to me. But they mean nothing to the people here. Since arriving in Iceland, I realize the power of this beauty

that I have never seen before in my life. You know that you are lucky to be alive and to be a guest in this universe that doesn´t need us to survive. This is the kind of beauty that you don’t see in towns where the light never sleeps, where the sky is too small. Sometimes you cannot capture this moment or landscape in your camera, you have to keep this wild image in you.

She accepts the Catholic religion provided that the priest can be married. At Thingeyri, I will remember Hildur Inga Rúnarsdóttir, a 31 year old priest, so open minded. At the crucial question of life after death she simply answered “ I don’t know what is waiting for us after death, I never go there.” No final answer, just an independent mind, for a free Iceland. In this village I will also remember Janne Kristensen who has just opened the Simbahöllin Café with her boyfriend, Wouter Van Hoeymissen.

This is the kind of beauty that you don’t see in towns where the light never sleeps, where the sky is too small

I thought that I was used to loneliness, that I know her name and her daily moods. Everyday of my life I have tried to tame her but Iceland taught me that real loneliness is not a luxury that you choose, it seeps into the first years of childhood, when you learn how to play football alone with the sound of the sea. It comes when you wait for the end of the winter to return to the coffee shop, when you fall in love with a traveler who will never come back after this summer. Here the loneliness comes with the majesty of the landscapes, it’s the price one pays to be part of all this purety. It is a unique language that you cannot speak anywhere else in the world. Loneliness is not only a bad thing that preoccupies you, it’s also a kind of pride, something that you feel strong inside your heart and comes with you no matter how far you travel. Iceland is a strange planet, independent and free. This freedom is everywhere. Iceland stands by herself in the ocean, face to face with the polar circle. She doesn´t ask for anything. She doesn´t wait for anybody. She chooses a lesbian president while the United States asks if they are ready to vote for a black man.

About the impact of the café in Thingeyri, she answered : “ You know it’s hard to change the habits of people here. Most of our customers are tourists or come from other villages in Iceland. The locals are proud of this place, they come once or twice in the year to show it to their family, but they don´t come often. If they were comfortable reading the newspaper with a latte each morning in a café, they wouldn´t choose to live here you know.”

Here the loneliness comes with the majesty of the landscapes, it’s the price one pays to be part of all this purety

So loneliness is also a way of live here, and you have to be careful to not disturb it. It’s a part of the Icelandic culture and wealth.

This workcamp is almost finished and I will remember all of the volunteers who left their lives behind for these two weeks to discover this unique and lonely Iceland. We all return to our countries with so many pictures in our hearts and on our cameras, hopeful words etched in our memories and I think that we will be less lonely than before…

In Summer, days are so long that it could be always afternoon. Bright sky, clear clouds, light everywhere. Take a look to these pics and try to discover what time is it!

How long is a day in Iceland?

Mysterious Iceland Although Icelandic history is short it has lots of traditions inherited from its Scandinavian origins that evolved into a rich and varied popular culture full of myths, legends and beliefs. Many stories of this kind can be found all along the Icelandic territory, it is in the area of the West Fjörds where some of the most representatives had been cradled. Nowadays, Westerns inhabitants declare not to believe in what they call “bed time stories”. Nevertheless, deepening in the origins of their folklore, it is possible to realize that Icelandic population hasn’t lost for good their beliefs.

Sagas Sagas are the masterpieces in Icelandic literature. “Saga” means, literally “What was seen in ancient times” and are based in the events happened in Iceland during the 250 years after following the settlement of the Island (XII-XIII centuries). All of them approach epic stories such as fights, love stories or family dramas. And although many of these stories seem to have historical origins, the oral tradition has given a major number of magical elements to the action: legendary characters who live together with mythological creatures, long trips to unknown lands, etc.

The West Fjörds are an important literary reference in the Sagas, especially Gísli Súrsson Saga. This Saga tells the story of the first woman that settled in the lands of what is now Bolungarvik: Purídur Sundafyllir. Purídur, originally from Denmark/Norway, had the special ability of attracting fish to the nets of the fishermen. (?) The legend tells that after a big argument with her brother Pjodolfur because of land, the powerful woman cornered him at the top of a cliff, forcing him to hide jumping down. He landed in a rock in the middle of the sea. Tradition says that the rock was inhabited by hidden people who sheltered Pjodolfur for several days. Since then, nobody ever heard about him and that’s why Bolungarvik inhabitants thought that he was bewitched.

Witchcraft and sorcery The most talented sorcerers lived in the West Fjörds and most notably in the coast of Strandir. Many texts gather all kinds of spells that witches used for getting everything that they wanted: sickness, love, money and even food. In the XVIIth century Strandir was the epicenter of a widespread witch hunt. Pointing a finger at the neighbor was enough to get

him killed. To be cleared of any wrong doing, the condemned (most of them were men, opposite to continental Europe) had to find 12 peers who could testify to his innocence (quiet difficult in a sparcely populated region). If unsuccessful, the witch was burn to death on a pile of wood usually built from the prisoner’s disassembled house. Also the accuser was given the death man’s property as compensation, allowing that many families as the legendary sheriff Magnús Magnússon’s became very wealthy because of these procedures. We can find the origins of many of these tales in the Witchcraft and Sorcery Museum in Holmavik. There can be found many objects related to those prohibited arts. One of the most remarkable examples are the necropants, a part of a spell for making money. The owner of a pair of necropants had to make a contract with a living man allowing you to exhume him and skin his lower body. Step into the pants and they will become permanently stuck on their owner.

Then, he had to steal a coin from a poor widow on one of the major church holidays and put it in the scrotum. As long as the coin was in it, the necropants’ owner would magically come into possession of money.

Nature spirits Iceland is also known for being influenced also by some of the old german traditional myths. There are many places where small people are believed to be living in. It is also said that those magical beings help or damn everyone who is their own ways. Every garden, roof or cave is it able to be a proper place to find that kind of noiseless beings. For instance, it is believed that near Isafjödur is easy to find small fairs, gnoms and guardian angels. In addition to this, Icelandic people strongly believe in elves. They are described as a little human but smaller, and they don’t like to be disturbed. However, if one were to favor these elves the same person would be bountifully rewarded, for example in many folklore tell-

ings it is remarked that those that aid elf women in childbitrh have been very fortunate. Westfjords is a place where trolls live as well or, at least, that is what some people beliefs. Icelandic trolls are massive fearsome creatures that reside in caves and caverns of Iceland mountains. Many of them cannot bear the sunlight and if sunshine were ever to shine on them they would be turned to stone. As a curiosity, there is a legend which says that the isthmus between Iceland and Westfjords was created by two trolls fighting with each other. What local people in Wesfjords believe about their own legends? Here there are some opinions of people who live in Westfjords about the social feelling to that kind of legends.

Popular beliefs, myth or reality ? Jóhanna Kristjándóttir Inhabitant of Flateyri

“We have a lot of stories about that. Not everybody can see. Elves particularly live in big stones, in flowers in the garden… Maybe you find people that claim that they have seen them but not many people really believe in that... And if you move the rocks where hidden people live, they can take revenge and something bad would happen to you”

Gudný Hildur Magnusdóttir Bolungarvik Major´s assistant

“Yes, there is one. A legend about the first person who moved here from Norway in 800-900, Purídur Sundafyllir. It says that she was half a woman and half a sorceress. She settled in Bolungarvik with her son. We don’t have so much information but there are a lot of legends that people have told each other about her.”

Thelma Hjaltadóttir Journalist of BB Local Newspaper (Isafjodur)

“I have heard stories about trolls but nothing like that. It´s not a mythology that actually people believe in. If you see the mountain, over the airport, there is like a seat in it and people tell children that there was a troll over there and nobody believes it no more. It´s like a fairytale.”


Are you really sure to be brave? Try to taste typical Icelandic food: for example, delicate mutton’s testicles in milk’s water (Súrsaðir hrútspungar) or delicious rotten shark (Hákarl). Shark meat is very toxic when you catch it. For this reason, you need to bury it in the ground and wait for six months, or more before having a smelling snack! After this, to be able to support the strong taste in your mouth, you absolutely need to take a sip of freezy Brennevín. Do you think your stomach wants more or not? If you aren’t satisfied yet, you could enjoy Slátur, unbelievable sausage made of lamb liver or blood, water and rug flour, all in lamb intestine. People say that this is very good for pregnant women! When summer finishes, it´s the real The Silence of the Lamb: sheeps come back from mountains and their meat is so tender, so appetizing, so perfect, that you could eat every little part of them…and actually Icelandic people do. Except the brain, everything it’s edible: fried heart with potatoes, kidney, blood, liver making fantastic sausages (Svið)…heads too. Yes, heads! Why not? You can roast them straight on flames and devouring all, including yummy eyes and skin. Or you can use the head to do an amazing jelly (Sviðasulta): just put it in a big pot and cook it for long, long, long time. If you want to have something special, you

need to be patient. Also for the bread, Icelanders are really patient: baking their typical bread (Rúgbrauð) takes ten hours. You can bake it in the oven, but if you are lucky enough to live in the South, you can also put the ingredients in a can and cook it in a boiling geyser! And what about whales? In a lot of restaurants you can normally find big whale steaks (or whale sushi) on the menu. Also puffins (Lundi in Icelandic), the photogenic birds with the orange , are on the menu: it’s quite common find them smoked, roasted or cooked. Do you prefer something less adventurous? Don’t worry! You can choose between lot of kind of soups, creamy Skyr (similar to yogurt) with blueberry or simply with sugar and tasty Kleinur, fried twisted donughts. And a huge, impressive quantity of amazing cakes and waffles, with an overdose of sweet cream and sour rhubarb jam. But if you are vegetarian, and wonder how to avoid whale, lamb and puffin meat during your time in Iceland, you will find everything you need but get ready to pay the price: two thirds of the vegetables sold in Iceland are imported.

Enjoy your meal, and please, join us with a glass of Brennevín! Cheers!

WESTFJORDS SOUNDS If music is the sound of soul, Iceland has its own. And above all parts of this beautiful island, Wesffjords peninsula is remarkable. Traditional music exist in all countries and cultures, but in Iceland the evolution of that one has been different because of its situation away both Europe and North America. Traditional Icelandic folk music remained widely performed into the last decades of the 19th century, when folk collecting began in the country. However, the advent of Western classical music and other foreign influences in the same period began leading to a decline in traditional music. Later, the arrival of popular music furthered this change; some folk music was recorded between the World Wars, but intense collecting did not begin in earnest until nowadays.

There are two very important vocal performance styles in Iceland, one using the term kveรฐa and the other syngja. The first a performance practice referred to as kveรฐskapur or kvรฆรฐaskapur. Kveรฐskapur is also the generic Icelandic term for poetry. The term syngja translates as to sing. The sound of this music is sometimes melancholic, but there are also other songs whose lyrics tell about romantic stories and, of course, songs about the most famous legends in Iceland: the Sagas, a compilation of the pioneers who came to that part of the world mixed with mythology and mysticism. As a difference with other traditional sounds, there are no particular instruments used to play these songs. The most used one is achordeon. It was very popular at the end of the nineteenth century, and now it is becoming again, with piano too.

Icelandic people feel a great love for its own environment and culture, and they try to preserve and develop it in the best way they can do, that is, keeping alive. Actually, more than 90 per cent of the children in Westfjords are in music schools. It is a huge number if it is compared with other European countries. As a matter of fact, the music school of Ísafjörður is the oldest one in all the country, established in 1911.

It is easy to feel the power of music in this wonderful area surrounded by many fjords and loneliness in the middle of the nature. If you close your eyes in a windy day and start listening to those beautiful songs you could transport to a far place, out of time and distance, and you would start to understand this close but exotic country. Six popular songs:

One of this example is Helga Kristbjörg, a young girl that lives in Ísafjörður and who works playing traditional songs in Bolungarvik church for tourist people that are coming by cruise even more often than ever. She is an example of how young people care about their own origins and they promoted to everyone who wants to know them better.

“ More than 90 per cent of the children in Westfjords are in music schools.”

• • • • • •

Oifadir gjör mig litid ljos, composer from Isafjordur Jonas Tomasson Thu ert (you are) by Thorarinn Gudmundsson Dyravisa- an Icelandic folk song Litla fhugan (the little fly) by Sigfus Halldorsson A sprengisandi by Sigvaldi Kaldalons Sjomannaralsinn by Sharar Benediktsson

VIKINGS in the West Fjords Thingeyri, a beautiful village located in Dýrafjörđur fjord Thingeyri is part of the Ísafjörđur town municipality that includes also Hnífsdalur, Flateyri and Suđureyri. The complex is 409 km away from Reykjavík with a population of approximately 320 inhabitants. Exploring the area you will come across the ruins of an ancient Viking settlement, standing by the sea. The village was rebuilt with the financial help of UNESCO in 2006, on the authentic ancient position of the buildings; a wooden observation tower rises on the highest part of the area, while a circular wall, made of stones and soil, protects the core of the settlement. In the inter-land, 45 minutes walk away from the village, Vikings built a granary. Sonia Thompson, the Village-Keeper, has moved to Iceland from the USA 31 years ago; she still practices the Vattarsaum, litter-

The village was rebuilt with the financial help of unesco in 2006

ally “Needlebinding”, a Viking embroidery art passed on from generation to generation. Following this particular craft, women netted using needles made of sheep’s horn in order to create socks and hats, combining also different kinds of gems and glass pearls.

Every year, during the first weekend of July, a folk festival takes place.

Every year, during the first weekend of July, a folk festival takes place. Several bands,like the famous Hjalalin Band,come to Thingeyri to perform.

Troughout the festivity it’s possible to taste a typical Viking soup made of meat. Among the most famous Viking recipes, it’s also important to mention the “skata”, a traditional fish dish cooked on the 24th of December and the “slaughter”, a soup made of boiled lamb blood mixed with milk.

In Thingeyri’s harbor visitors can also admire the biggest Viking boat still present in Iceland, 24 feet long and made with Estonian wood. Despite Norwegians forced the Icelandic population to convert to Christianity in 1020, many communities still believe in Ásatrú, the ancient Viking religion, based on a plurality of Gods, like Thor, God of war, represented by the hammer.

“ many communities still believe in Ásatrú, the ancient Viking religion ”

The main difference between this religion and other confessions lies in the fact that there are no written books or manuscripts and the stories are just handed on orally from generation to generation.

Its main characteristics are respect for the nature and braveness in war. According to テ《atrテコ, warriors that die in a brave way will end in Valhalla, a paradise in which an eternal war takes place, interrupted by cyclical beer breaks and festivities. More information about Viking history can be found in the Gisla Saga, written by Snorri Sturluson, a famous Icelandic poet and politician. His work tells about the first community of Vikings, leaded by Gテュsli Sテコrssonthat, who decided to leave Norway and move to Iceland in 950 A.D.

More information about Viking history can be found in the Gisla Saga

never stop exploring In the fjord there is nothing else and much more than silence. We are getting ready for kayaking. Siggi – a tourist guide from Flateyri – seems to me both quite and excited. One exciting story about his childhood in Iceland I want to share with you. As a ten year old boy he went for a 10 kilometre walk with his friend along the stony beach from Flateyri to Suðureyri without permission of their parents. Coming back and being very lucky from their excursion their parents were very angry with them – “because it was such a stupid and dangerous decision to do this hiking”. The fjord and the table mountains seem so quite and the light shimmered on them like diamonds but they imply an immense danger. One could not imagine that only one single avalanche – like it happened in the year 1995 - destroyed the half of the vil-

lage in few minutes and brought a big sadness to this picturesque place. While drinking a beer together in the local pub named “vagninn” Siggi is telling me further stories about Flateyri and his childhood. And they have all one thing in common: Inquisitiveness. It is my third time here in Iceland and I am always coming back to the Western Fjords. Here you enter a particular world full of secrets just waiting to be discovered. For the common observers small Icelandic villages might seem lonely and isolated. But if you keep the child in you and start exploring you can find so many interesting things that may change your point of view afterwards. For example, Siggi has just recently discovered a nice hiking path up to the top of

the mountains around Flateyri where he has never been before. And he has been living here since 50 years. What started as a supposing unspectacular stay in Iceland is getting more and more impressing. The ten days in Flateyri are certainly spinning away and I do not want to think about the farewell at all. On a cloudy morning we also went with Johanna – a lovely lady in her 60s and a living masterpiece in telling legends and sagas of the Icelandic culture - to Holt nearby Flateyri. While Johanna is telling us the saga about Brynjólfur Sveinsson a rainbow appears far away above the fjord. It is a mystical day - windy, cloudy and somehow sunny. Brynjólfur was born here. It is said that his mother Ragnheiður– being a direct ancestor in the tenth generation of Johanna - helped the elf lady to bear her child.

The elf lady was so grateful that she gave her a kind of paste which she should put on the boy’s body and face especially in the boy’s eyes. As a consequence, Brynjólfur became a very brave, noble and clever man who was able to read and translate the old manuscripts. The inhabitants of Flateyri are very proud that Brynjólfur was born in their village. From now on whenever I hold a note of 1,000 krones in my hands I will certainly remember this nice beautiful day as well as Johanna and her sagas while us standing in the bitter wind and following her words like little children. His image can be found on your notes of 1,000 krones as well. Just check your wallet!

“ never stop exploring and stay inquisitively wherever you are.”

Last but not least here is my council particularly for the western fjords of Iceland : never stop exploring and stay inquisitively wherever you are.

Þetta reddast! ‘Everything is going to be okay’, Or is it? This is a common phrase used by inhabitants of the West Fjords. But Þorleifur Eiriksson is less sure. He is the director of the West Fjords Natural History Institute in Bolungarvik and his small team are responsible for charting how changes in climate and environment are affecting ecosystems in the West Fjords. He is very worried about the future of the area and believes that, “in ten years the West Fjords could turn into a desert”.

Global warming has already had a significant impact. Locals have noticed that winters have become milder, with far less snow and summers have been warmer and drier. Over the next decade summer temperatures are expected to rise by 0.25 °C per decade, and the winters by an average of 0.35 °C (Iceland’s Ministry of the Environment, 1997). Considering the extremely harsh winters, most Icelanders are delighted by the rising temperatures and actually the country is likely to benefit, at least in the short term, from the melting glaciers. Iceland relies heavily on hydropower and the increase in melt-water from the glaciers is enhancing power production. For a country renowned for its pristine environment and lack of pollution, it may surprise you that Iceland does not have a great track record in the global race to be Green. They resumed commercial whaling in 2006, one of just two nations to defy the global moratorium. Icelandic whaling ships can once again hunt endangered fin whales and minke whales.

And in Reykjavik, for example, there was hardly any evidence of recycling. Iceland has one of the highest levels of municipal waste per capita in the world and the average individual´s ecological footprint in Iceland is 6.02, approximately double the global average. Local attitudes to the environment, sustainability and conservation vary greatly. The director of the ´Arctic Fox Centre´ in Sudavik, Ester Rut Unnsteinsdottir, claims that people here take the natural resources, wildlife and landscape for granted.

She has set up a fascinating information centre for visitors, school groups and local people. She said “business always comes first. Here, people would sell their grandmother for money”.

She was only partly joking. Ester has moved her family from Reykjavik to a tiny, isolated fishing village in the West Fjords in order to continue research on Iceland´s only indigenous mammal, the arctic fox. She has set up a fascinating information centre for visitors, school groups and local people, but she has struggled with prejudice from some locals. “Here, the term ´naturalist´ is an insult”, she told us. For both Ester and Þorleifur, piecing together the ´real story´ is the key to sustaining the unique environment of the West Fjords. Their research is underfunded, but critical to understanding the fragile ecosystems of the region and how tourism, industry and development are affecting them. Both research centres rely heavily on volunteers and financial support from abroad. At the Arctic Fox Centre their main research project is ´Wild North´; a study of the effects of tourism on the population and behaviour of foxes. Already she has

“ Many Icelanders do not know a thing about the foxes, although they are the most natural thing in Iceland ”. noticed the previously gregarious foxes are becoming shy and increasingly nocturnal. Ester is an inspirational woman. She is not only working on the ´science´ of the region, but also on the hearts and minds of people. She was horrified that “many Icelanders do not know a thing about the foxes, although they are the most natural thing in Iceland”. Since opening the centre last year, people have gradually opened up to her. Fox hunters, who are still paid a bounty by the government of 3000 Kroner per fox tail, have begun to bring her items, such as snares, to exhibit in the museum.

She has also made friends with a 16 year old boy from the village who is the descendent of a legendary fox hunter and has grown up with guns and a passion for hunting.

He is now her keenest volunteer and has taken responsibility for caring for the centre´s orphaned fox cub, Frosty. Although the Icelandic government has been slow to recognise the need for research and sustainability, more funding has been promised and progress is being made. But it is thanks to the hard work and dedication of Ester, Þorleifur, their colleagues and volunteers, that we may be able to say ´Þetta reddast´ with a bit more conviction.

Why or Why not live in iceland ?

Why should you live in Iceland

* Iceland is like a nest, people always come back to it

* You are close to nature

* The landscapes are beautiful

* In small towns, the community helps you to raise your children

* There are work opportunities

* You can find interesting jobs

* The country is peaceful and quiet

* This country is safe, the crime rate is low, no need to lock your door

* This is a clean land * This is the perfect place for children * The people are open, friendly, kind and fun to be with

* It feels good to be here

* There is a good education and health system

* The distances are short and perfect for outdoor leisure activities

* You can create a lot of opportunity for yourself

* You can be connected to nature

Why shouldn’t you live in Iceland

* The darkness in winter is hard to live with

* Not for you if you’re not used to living in a small community

* The weather is difficult and changes quickly

* You can feel restricted and oppressed by the landscape

* The economic crisis has made the situation hard to live with higher prices

* Theaters are almost exclusively found in Reykjavik

* There are no work opportunities

* You have fewer work opportunities if you have a high level of education

* Everything is expensive even if the prices are cheaper in Reykjavik

* Ecomonic reasons: not enough jobs and you can be better paid elsewhere

* There is too much government control

* You don’t have many kinds of jobs to choose from

* Icelanders do a shabby business of looking after nature

* There aren’t many leisure activities to do

Fears of the people of iceland

* Entering the EU because Iceland will be swallowed and they won’t be independant * They want to keep their uniqueness and independance * All the young people will move away for their studies and won’t come back * Changes in the climate affecting the sea, the diversity of fishes, and the landscapes * Massive companies, big factories

Being young in the WestFjords For young people from Madrid, London, Milan or Brussels, it can seem rare to grow up between sea and mountains, where the nearest city is a 5 hour drive. In

Kristo – 19 from Reykjavik works during holidays in the restaurant of the maritime museum of Isafjordur

their town there are less than 4000 inhabitants and the cinema is open only 3 or 4 days a week.

Bryn Jahuld – 23 studies bio-chemistry in Reykjavik

In order to find out a bit more about the lives of

works in the bookshop during summer holidays

young people , we met 7 locals aged 19 to 23 from Flatteyri and Isafjordur. Although not enough to make statistics (but do you really want to read a statistics article?) you’ll at least get an idea about their lives, and perhaps how similar they are to yours ?

Häkon – 18 student working for the city municipality during holidays.

LIVING HERE First of all, they like living here. „We are free here. Everybody knows everybody. Your parents let you go where you want” says Loftur. Bryn Jahuld would like to raise her children up here for the same reason. However few young people stay in Isafjordur without spending time abroad to learn another language or at least move to Reykjavik to study. And after? „You never know” they say. Nowadays a lot of young people go to Scandinavian countries „It is fashionable but it is also because of the prices. Here everything is so expensive”. They rarely move away for good. Helka, for exemple, lived in Berlin for her studies and came back here 3 weeks ago. SCHOOL AND HOLIDAYS The school year begins at the end of August and ends at the end of May. Social life at school is more developed than in France, as Bryn Jahuld says. The school organizes parties for the students, for exemple.

Linda Björg Gudmundsdóttir - 19 studies piano, hopes to gain a place at the Icelandic Academy of Arts but failed the first exam so she is waiting for next year to try again

Loftur – 23 studying sportbiology in Reykjavik to work as a coach and ski guide or teacher works for the local municipality during the summer organizing work for young people.

They have almost 3 months of holidays. Most of young people work during their holidays. You can see them in the bakery, the bookshop, petrol station, restaurants, campsites...

GUDNI – 17 They also like travelling. „My friends and I went to Rome, Milan, Brussels, Munich, Barcelona, Andorra, London, etc.” explains Loftur. As they all speak English very well („ We are only 300 000 Icelanders, we need to speak other languages”), they can easily go all around the world!

student working for the city municipality during holidays.

INDEPENDENCE Compared with French, Italian or Spanish youth, Icelanders are much more independent. Most of them pay for their own studies and generally they move out of the family home at 20, if not before. ISOLATED? Not as much as you’d expect. Even in this remote region, their Internet connections are fast and you can get cell phone reception everywhere. Everybody is on facebook and they watch English and American TV programmes... So, even if they are far from a lot of things, they are not so isolated! FREE TIME During the week, evenings seem to be quiet. Music and sport are the most common hobbies. Swimming is the national pasttime and they enjoy soaking in the hot tubs with their friends. Football is the most practiced sport in the country but there are others .Hukon plays handball, Daniel basketball and Loftur loves skiing. On the other hand, people also enjoy the arts. Linda plays a lot of piano and Bryn Johuld loves literature.

At weekends, it is something else. Important notice for interested people : If you are under 20, you cannot buy alcohol or cigarettes (but once you are 18, you can vote). Like everywhere in the world, young people find a way around this, and here an older friend buys the „goods” for the others. One strange tradition, which is very common, is the Rundtur: you take your car and your friends and you make tours around the town. It is always the same tour and they make it several times. But they seem to like it very much. The typical plan, once you are over 20, is to drink together at home, and at 1 a.m, go to the bar until it closes which is usually around 4am. Of course, you have to go to a good bar. There are two for young people in Isafjordur. The coolest now is the Langi Mongi which opened only a few months ago because some people didn’t like the former one any more. The Wagnerninn, Flatteyr’s drinking hole, is becoming „the place to be”, with regular concerts and DJs that pull in people from surrounding areas, including Isafjordur. We tried an 80s party and it was great fun!

About drinking: „Icelandic young people drink a lot. We can drink one bottle of Vodka in one night” tells Bryk Jahuld. A bottle of vodka here, even the local stuff, costs approximately 40 euros, so a night out for them is expensive. Reykjavik... Big city! Most young people from this region have move to Reykjavik to go to university (there is one university in Isafjordur but it only has e-learning). Surprisingly for us, they don’t really dream about going to the capital. „I have been living here all my life and it is just a village with only 300 inhabitants. I have to go to Reykjavik to learn but it is such a big city, I am a bit worried” said Linda. Loftur, who already lives there, agrees: ‘Reykjavik is a really stressfull city! I would be happy coming back here later”. Kristo, from Reykjavik, explains a little bit more about the diferences between Reykjavik and West Fjords: „People are less shy here. Everybody talks to everybody. When I arrived, everybody came at me to ask who I am, where I come from, why I am here. In Reykjavik, it is not like that.

There are so many people that everybody minds his own business and talks only to his friends”. Although we cannot really comment on behalf of people living in Reykjavik, as visitor and volunteer staying in the WestFjords for two weeks, we can assure you that it is true that people in this area are very talkative and welcoming. They are incredibly friendly, interested in us and our work and more than happy to answer all of our questions!

icelandic haiku A Viking searches This terrifying landscape Carved from ice and rock.

Waves crash; slow motion Oblivious of bloodshed Against ancient cliffs.

Snow clouds gather A farmer collects his sheep The blueberries are sweet.

Fishermen prosper

The Hidden People

Hauling in their sea-harvest

Ease suffering in lonely fjords

Cold and wet and proud.

A quiet magic.

Death dark winters

Untamed, defiant

Villages sometimes buried in snow

The wilderness blooms in spring

Time passes.

And fears melt away.

My Song

I am one of the hidden people

Riding beside you like a wild horse

A little shadow with a beating heart.

I placed stepping stones across the chilly streams And once on a walk, when it was warm and still,

A fraction of light in solid darkness, born.

You slept with your head in my lap.

Nestling in the cold contours of volcanic rock Pushed forward by loneliness

I am one of the hidden people

I saw your fingers first through a fissure

Just a shadow with a beating heart.

Plump and pink Like your face

Do you remember snow was falling

lit up by the sinking sun.

When you packed your rucksack

Absentmindedly you watched the fog

And left?

Tip toe stealthily down the mountains

The longing in your eyes

Settle on the glassy fjord.

As the darkness spun around you I should have known you’d leave.

I am one of the hidden people

I watched as your bus slid so easily

A little shadow with a beating heart.

Into the long long tunnel.

Fingers trailing through summer grass

I am one of the hidden people

Face smeared with sweet blueberry juice

Now alone with my beating heart.

I followed you that summer

made by * Jonas Boni

* Carlos Largo

* Alejandro Tagarro

* Julie Bouniton

* Marine Ledoyen

* Romy Volkmann

* Francesco Di Massa

* Sara Moreau Dignard

* Elena Zanuccoli

* Nicola Gibberd

* Emi Navarro Lacarra

* Monica Butnaru

* Licia Gueye

* Stefanie Nsom

* Hana Raskova

* Ana Gutierrez Diaz

* Elisabet Rens

* Dita Vinovska

* Hyun Kim

* Giuseppe Ricchi

* Linda Matejovska

* Nerea Labado Mora

* Rosella Rigamonti

WORLDWIDE FRIENDS Una is the official magazine of Veraldarvinir/Worldwide Friends Iceland (WF), a non-profit,non-governmnetal organisation that promotes environmental awareness, peace and cultural understanding. Founded in 2001, it organises international workcamps in which volunteers from all around the world meet to work together in different kinds of environmental, artistic and educational projects. In 2010, Worldwide Friends received over 1400 volunteers and also worked as a sending organisation for Icelanders wanting to take part in similar activities abroad. Get involved!! Are you Icelandic and interested in volunteering abroad? WF Iceland sends Icelanders overseas for projects lasting from two weeks up to six months. Take a look at your options at under ”workcamps abroad.” Foreigner and wanting to come to Iceland? Worldwide Friends workcamps mostly take place during the summer. You can find available camps in an international web search engine for instance at You can also apply to come as a long-term volunteer for up to six months. A new work camp in mind? Do you think that you could use WF volunteers’ help with some project of yours in Iceland? Contact the WF office with your suggestion by email: or by phone: +354 55 25 214. How to contribute otherwise? WF Iceland is always looking for household equipment for our volunteers to use. If you have old but running electronics laying around, why not pass it forward! We are especially looking for washing machines, dryers, microwave ovens, toasters and such. Contact us by email or phone and we’ll talk more!

Publisher Worldwide Friends Iceland /Veraldarvinir Hverfisgata 88 , 101 Reykjavik

Una wf iceland magazine august 2010  
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