Behold, Heimæy. This wee volcanic island is one of the Vestmann Islands, which, according to tradition, are named after a group of West-men (i.e. Irish slaves) who escaped their Norse captors and settled here many moons ago.
As you may or may not be able to tell from these photos, the Vestmannaeyjar are small and remote. Heimæy’s economy is based mostly on fishing. Come to think of it, so is most of Iceland’s, I guess, but here it’s pretty noticeable as you walk through town.
I wish I knew the name of this building. I really like it. Its style is sort of reminiscent of the stave churches in Norway, so it looks about as Vikingish as a tourist coming to Iceland could hope. (I would like to think that I no longer qualify as a tourist after being here for so long, but when I travel about the country taking photos, I don’t think it’s an escapable label.) I also like the fountain in front of it. It’s a nice first site to see when the ferry pulls into the harbor.
The size and remoteness of the island has not discouraged history from granting it a few noteworthy disasters. The most famous of these are a Turkish raid in 1627 and a volcanic eruption in 1973. Both of these are commemorated, as befits a fishing town, with pictures of fish.
The Turkish raid was one of those tragedies that you might say left a deep scar in Iceland’s history. Oddly enough, it seems the pirates weren’t actually Turkish, but Algerian, but as the barbary coast was controlled by the Ottoman Empire, it’s an understandable error. The pirates arrived on the island and took a pretty hefty percentage of the population captive to sell as slaves back in northern Africa.
In January of 1973, the volcano, Eldfell, erupted, and continued to do so until July. Many of the locals were evacuated successfully, and those who stayed behind used high-pressure water cannons to harden some of the lava before it reached the harbor. More on that in a moment.
I like this town’s sense of decoration. Roundabouts, crosswalks, and intersections should be decorated colorfully and creatively more often. I don’t know if most other towns should go for this fish motif, but if San Antonio were to paint its intersections with, say, horny-toads, that could be fun.
And I got a good laugh from these puffin signs. This is a great idea. But not many parts of the world can boast a bird whose head is shaped perfectly for giving directions, so I don’t know if this could be applied elsewhere (at least not without just looking cheesy).
Here, on display for posterity, is one of the water pumps used to defend the harbor from the encroaching lava flow. Had the lava not been stopped, then the harbor would probably have disappeared entirely, buried under volcanic rock. This would have effectively destroyed the town’s ability to fish and, therefore, have made it a much less desirable place to live. I am told by what I hope is a reliable authority that many of these pumps were donated by the American and British governments.
And here we can see the lava flow. In spite of the ocean and the pretty green island in the background, I couldn’t help but think of Mordor (that’s the bad place in The Lord of the Rings, for those of you who don’t know).
Here we have some really incredible rock formations. I’m not quite sure I know how the lava hardened this way (it’s far enough out of town that I don’t think we can credit the water canons). Some of these rocks are still pretty hot, too. One of the Kansans traveling with us was here studying this kind of thing, and he told me that the rocks are warm because they’re actually still cooling off after the eruption. Seeing as the eruption was 39 years ago, that should tell you something about how hot that lava gets.
When the Turks attacked the island, some of the locals managed to hide up in the crags in caves that they usually used to dry fish. I’ve decided that the land marker by the caves can tell you about them better than I can, so here you have the land marker and the caves.
You might find it a little difficult to tell from this picture that there are caves up in these cliffs. To tell you the truth, I had trouble seeing them when I was right there looking up at the cliffs in person. But there are some there. Either way, here’s a nice looking cliff.