Jul 21, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer
Iceland is shy when viewed from out at sea, or at least that’s how it seemed today. But when we set foot upon the land, joy and color burst onto the scene.
The silvery satin sea rolled up to shore. Fulmars skimmed the surface, appearing to touch wingtips with their intangible selves in the aqueous realm. Razorbills and guillemots—most with a single chick in tow—floated like black pearls. Pale yellow jellyfish were the stars in our upside-down world.
Siglufjörður tossed back its fluffy duvet of clouds as we glided into the pier. The view shocked us with its brilliant colors—blue and red and yellow on boats and buildings. It’s a sleepy little town today, but 100 years ago, it was quite a different story.
Here was the Klondike of the Atlantic, where riches were not pulled from the earth but scooped from the sea. More than 1,000 years ago, Norseman voyaged to this land, liked what they saw, and stayed. At the turn of the 20th century, another wave of visitors from Norway appeared, this time following the herring. Like gold seekers in North America, hard-working people journeyed to Iceland, hoping to strike it rich. But as with all booms, there followed an inevitable bust, and by 1968, the last herring was salted.
Today the Herring Era Museum preserves the memory of a time when more than 500 vessels came and went from 42 piers, and the laughter of Herring Girls could be heard as they bantered with each other while gutting fish. In the background, machinery would have hummed as some of the catch was processed into fish meal and oil for export.
Iceland went back into hiding as we sailed away heading west, then south. The deep green hills were a beautiful background to the blows and flukes of humpback whales. On the ship, we discussed the lives of seabirds and the decline of cod as we continued to the pier of Iceland’s second city. In Akureyri, we took in the colors of an excellent botanical garden and sampled the offerings of several local shops. As the day dimmed and the clouds sank back toward the sea, we enjoyed musical performances by Ösp Eldjárn and Àrstídir.
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