Two days, 150 KM and a 30-minute ferry ride onward, we arrived on Vestmannaeyjar, or the Westman Islands, one of the few places in the world where they are making more land.

Looking back to Iceland from Vesmannaeyar with Eyafjallajökull in the background
Looking back to Iceland from Vesmannaeyjar with Eyafjallajökull in the background

On January 23, 1973, at 1.45 a.m. and without warning, a 1,500-metre-long fissure opened up and began spewing lava. The residents were evacuated by the island’s fishing fleet which happened to be in the harbour because of gale-force winds the day before. It was feared for some time that the eruption would destroy the harbour of Heimaey, the largest island in the group and home to some 5,000 residents. A large volume of lava narrowed the entrance and it would have been blocked completely were it not for tireless work at cooling the lava. Six million tons of cold sea waterwater were sprayed on to the advancing lava eventually stopping the flow towards the harbour. In the end, the entrance to the harbour is more sheltered and better than before the eruption which lasted five months.

A view of the town with the lava flow in the foreground that buried 360 homes
A view of the town with the lava flow in the foreground that buried 360 homes

One-third (360) of Heimaey’s houses were buried beneath the lava but remarkably only one person was killed. The island grew by two-and-a-half square kilometres and got a new volcano, Eldfell, to stand beside Helgafell which erupted about 5,000 years ago and is the reason for this place existing in the first place. The residents returned to rebuild, although one-third chose not to return.

The lava flow stopped partway into the harbour where this seawater tank was
The lava flow stopped partway into the harbour where this seawater tank was

For nine years after the eruption, the heat from Eldfell provided Heimaey with geothermal energy – one benefit, I guess. There is an effort under way at Eldheimar, Pompei of the North, to excavate some of the homes that were buried by lava from Eldfell. We found a few remnants of things buried by the lava but not much is visible.

The weather was beautiful on the way over with lovely views of the islands and back to Iceland’s Eyafjallajökull. Remember that one? It is the volcano that erupted in 2010 and shut down airspace in much of Europe as it spewed ash into the atmosphere for weeks. The weather crapped out soon after our arrival. We just got the tent up in the crater of an extinct (we hope) volcano on the edge of town, and the rain began. The visibility went with it. But, as is usual at campgrounds here, there is a lovely common area with washrooms, showers and laundry, as well as cooking facilities with a hotplate, toaster, kettle, coffee maker and even a waffle iron.

Coming into the harbour the views are dramatic. It's a sea bird nesting paradise
Coming into the harbour the views are dramatic. It’s a sea bird nesting paradise

We each had a shower and did a load of laundry which we were able to leave hanging inside overnight to dry. We made dinner and headed for the shelter of the tent. Because of the wind – have we mentioned the wind? – the tent flapped all night and despite ear plugs, we did not have a great night’s sleep.

Campground in a crater of an extinct volcano on Heimaey
Campground in a crater of an extinct volcano on Heimaey

The morning dawned with weather as crappy as the night before. Regardless, we donned all of our rain gear and headed out on foot. But because of the poor visibility we did not venture up any of the volcanoes as that would not have been safe. After a couple of hours we ducked into a bookstore/coffee shop and had a cup of something hot.

Next on the agenda was a trip to the supermarket. We bought some stuff for the night’s dinner and a few staples for the road. The photo shows all we bought and here is a list with prices:

bread (half loaf) 598

mushrooms 120

lettuce 488

cucumber piece 93

red pepper 180

red onion 39

salad dressing 418

can of mystery meat 698

jam 387

fruit yogurt 348

cherry tomatoes 498

6 eggs 248

chocolate biscuits 358

2 TBSP butter 50

parmesan 398

tea (20 bags) 398

Total 5,319 Kr

What $46.65 will buy in groceries
What $46.66 will buy in groceries on Heimaey

At the exchange rate of 114 Kr to the Canadian Loonie: $46.66. That’s basically one dinner, two lunches and a breakfast, maybe two, with some jam, parmesan, biscuits and tea bags left over.

Yes, it’s not cheap but this is a small island off the coast of a larger island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and a lot of what you see is imported. Surprisingly, some items are the same cost or less than at home. The bread was a bit of a shocker. $5.25 for a half loaf of spelt bread. However, I’m sure it will taste just great with a couple of fried eggs in the morning. Until now, we’ve mostly been eating flat bread because it packs well and doesn’t turn to dust inside the panniers.

“It might be windy but at least it’s raining.”

Optimistic pessimism. We’ve practiced that a lot these last couple of days. The weather did not improved. In fact, it got worse so we decided to go back to Iceland. We wandered around town in the morning when the weather was reasonable and got up a bit higher than the day before, providing some views of the town. On our way back to the campground to break camp the weather really took a turn and, soaking wet after packing the bikes, we sat in the dining room to dry out while waiting for any sign of improvement before cycling to the ferry dock.

Jan "enjoying" the wind
Jan “enjoying” the wind

It’s too bad the weather was so nasty because Vestmannaeyjar looks beautiful. It is certainly dramatically situated, nestled between volcanoes up to 226 M high. But we didn’t really get to see it all. Had the forecast for the next day or two been good, we would have stayed, but the forecast is for more of the same and higher winds so we’re moving on.

Tonight, we are camped at Seljalandsfoss, a lovely falls that tumbles off Eyafjallajökull. Tomorrow’s forecast promises to be sunny with light winds (yeah, right!) along the coast so we’ll move east toward Vík where we will sit out Tuesday, which calls for 27 mm of rain.



4 thoughts on “Vestmannaeyar

  1. Thank you Paul – I am enjoying reading your blog SO VERY MUCH!!! Truly wonderful! Thank you for taking so many photos, and taking the time to describe it all in such detail. Absolutely wonderful!

  2. Paul Love the blog… hate the wind….. Have lots of pics of the Island which we visited last year … and the Falls along the south coasst. Good to relive a trip through the eyes and text of another traveller.

  3. Please do continue sending your story’s. I love to read them. Take care. Dikke kus. Ook groeten uit Rob

  4. Paul, Kirkjubaejarklaustur is a nice little village, next one on the way East from Vik. Don’t miss the pub close to the camp ground for the cake, and of course a beer at night.

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