Anyone who has ever visited Iceland knows the first question they are asked upon release from Keflavík airport is, ‘How do you like Iceland?’ In fact, you will be asked the question roughly ten times a day until the aircraft door is shut firmly behind you as you leave Keflavík airport. Icelanders, not behind the door at making fun of themselves as well as the former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (we don’t have much cash but we have plenty of ash Mr Brown), have two t-shirts hanging in the tourist shops windows in downtown Reykjavík. The first one says, ‘So, how do you like Iceland?’ and the second one says, ‘I love Iceland, now stop asking me.’
The recent volcanic eruptions have done little to dampen Icelander’s enthusiasm for enquiring about your frame of mind about Iceland. Except, now of course, there are even more exciting places to quiz you about. We don’t mind one bit being asked, ‘How do you like Iceland?’ because we like Iceland, a lot. In fact, við elskum Ísland. And, to be truthful, if Icelanders didn’t ask us how much we liked Iceland several times a day, I fear we would stop random Icelanders in the street and tell them how much we love it – you already know about my penchant for stalking unsuspecting Icelanders in airports.
So, when Chris and I were asked if we would like to spend the weekend on the Westman Islands – Vestmannaeyjar and share our story with the Pentecostal Church there, we jumped at the chance and we are so glad we did. We spent the weekend at the home of the Pastors of the Church in Vestmannaeyjar – Guðbjörg Guðjónsdóttir and Guðni Hjálmarsson and had a blessed time with them and two of their three lovely children.
The Westman Islands are named after the first inhabitants of the islands who came from the west (Ireland actually) and are a cluster of islands off southern Iceland. The largest of the islands – Heimaey, is home to approx 4,600 inhabitants. Surtsey (the newest island) was born in a volcanic eruption that started in 1963. It is the newest island in the world.
Vestmannaeyjar are probably most famous for the eruption that started in January 1973 when a 1600 metre fissure opened on the east side of the island. The closest houses where only 300 metres from the eruption. Everyone had to be evacuated from the island. Miraculously, the fishing fleet was in harbour because of bad weather the previous day and it was these boats that were used to transport all 5,000 islanders to the mainland via þorlákshöfn. Unbelievably, the evacuation of the island took only five hours. An estimated 250 million cubic meters of ash and lava was discharged during the eruption that lasted for five months and ten days. Before the eruption, Heimaey measured approx 11.3 square kilometres. Now, it measures approx 13.5 square kilometres. 360 houses were ruined by lava flow and many more severely damaged. I confess, I still don´t understand why my request to sleep in a boat at the harbour during our stay on the island was pooh poohed. Given that islanders had escaped in boats during the last eruption, it seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea to me.
Chris and I arrived in Vestmannaeyjar on Friday evening after an uneventful 30 minute trip onboard Herjólfur (the ferry). We spent most of Saturday exploring the island with Guðni and Guðbjörg and really enjoyed hearing all about the long and varied history of the island. Keen to show us everything, Guðni drove us right up the 1600 metre fissure that had carried the molten lava down to the harbour. I think it is really exciting to see fissures, craters and the like on TV. Driving to the foot of the (still warm) volcano, centimetres from the giant fissure was however, way too close for my liking and I was palpably relieved when we began our descent back down the windy gravel track.
On Sunday, Chris and I shared stories about our life before we came to Iceland with the congregation of Guðni and Guðbjörg´s town-centre Church. I talked about our journey to Iceland so far and Chris preached a lively message on living large in Christ and of not being ashamed of the gospel.
The people of the Church gave us a very warm welcome. Isn’t it great, that no matter where you go in the world, when you are a Christian, you are never far away from a friend? After Church, I mentioned to Guðni and Guðbjörg that it would be great to collect some chunks of lava for the folks at home to look at. So, after tea on Sunday evening we walked up the slope of the volcano to gather some samples. Guðni and Guðbjörg sauntered up like a couple of mountain goats, Chris did pretty well also. I made it in the end but by the time I got to where the lava was strewn about in gay abandonment, I couldn’t actually feel my legs. As we were winding our way back down the mountain (staying upright while walking sideways in a gale, isn’t easy), clutching our Icelandic treasure, I couldn’t help but hope that the folks back home appreciated our efforts to bring them a little piece of Iceland.
Due to uncertain weather conditions, we cut short our trip by a couple of hours and returned home to Selfoss on Monday morning on the 08.00 crossing, a journey of two hours forty minutes. Although the sea was choppy, we arrived well rested after sleeping most the way in a comfy cabin. All in all, we had a great time in Vestmannaeyjar. The weather was unbelievably mild, sunny even at times, although you still needed a good jacket if you were out and about. The company was superb and the volcano behaved admirably. To answer the question, ‘How do you like our volcano?’ Our answer can only be, we liked it very much!
- Volcano Power for Homes (foxnews.com)
- Exciting Eyjafjallajökull in a Super-Jeep! (fikaafterfifty.wordpress.com)
- Confused.com’s Guide to Driving in Iceland (confused.com)