Whales and Water

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October 16th 2017
Published: October 29th 2017
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We're going whale watching today! Very exciting!

So we got up and had the regular hotel fare, then got ready to go. Just a few minutes ride took us to the Gentle Giants tour offices, where we signed up, and then walked down to the dock. Our boat was waiting and the guide handed out overalls. Our boat, apparently, was an old whaling boat, until the whalers realized that the whales are worth more alive than dead. Tourists coming to see them bring in more money than they can get from hunting the whales, and with less risk. So the whalers converted their boats to tour boats and opened tour offices.

Anyway, we boarded and pulled on our overalls. Within a few minutes all the other participants of the tour boarded and as the captain took us out of the port, our guide gave us some safety instructions and told us a little about what to expect, where the best place was if you get a little seasick, stuff like that. He reminded us, of course, that whales are wild animals and do what they want, so there is no guarantee we'd see any.

Lucky for us, the day was clear and the sea calm. Yes, there were large (to us) swells that gently lifted and dropped the boat but nothing more. The sky was clear and there was a light breeze. We could clearly see the snow capped mountains on the other side of the fjord. We headed in that direction, because, as the guide explained, rivers of melt-water that came off those mountains brought nutrients from land. Algae and other plankton thrived on the nutrients, which attracted krill and small fish. These, in turn, attracted the whales, so our best chance to see them was there.

About a half-hour of sailing brought us closer to the cliffs. There was a fishing boat there and we kept some distance from it (I guess so as not to interfere with the fishing). Very soon we started to see spouts. The captain took the boat towards them and pretty soon we were in the midst of a small pod of three humpback whales! Each would come to the surface and take a breath, spouting into the air. Then it would just sort of relax just below the surface for a few seconds before taking another breath, It would take a few breaths like that (allowing us to get quite close). Then, during the last breath, it would sort of flex its back and dive down to where the food is. As it dove, its tail would break the surface and gracefully curve over and slide back under the waves. Mesmerizing! Sometimes we even saw the top of a whale's head, with the strange bumps in front of its blowhole. Our guide told us that these were actually hair follicles. Each bump had a hair, and it is thought that the hairs act like a cat's whiskers, feeling the currents.

Each whale would dive down for a few minutes, and then come back up to repeat. Soon enough we started recognizing them by their tail markings. Each whale has different white markings in the underside of its tail, like fingerprints. One had lots of white, while another had very little. We got to see the whales pretty closely. They are BIG! Almost as big as the boat! Our guide told us that the humpback can get to about 17 meters long, and weighing in at about 45 tons!

Soon another tour boat joined us and together, both boats tried to 'chase' the whales to get as close as we could, but without getting close enough to bother the beasts. They didn't seem to mind us at all. Just going about their business while we watched ant took loads of pictures. Maybe they were selling tours to 'people watch'.

We got a glimpse of a minke whale as well, but it just popped up once, then dove down and we didn't see it again. Minkes have a different dorsal fin than humpbacks, and they are very shy, their tail never breaking the surface.

After a couple of hours our guide handed out some traditional Icelandic pastries, called kleina, and mugs of hot chocolate, and soon afterwards, after a few more humpback sightings, we headed back across the bay to Husavik.

Soon after that we docked in the port and helped each other out of our overalls. We collected our belongings and got off the boat. The grandparents went to find a pharmacy while we found a bathroom, and then we went to eat at a hole-in-the-wall fish & chips place on the docks called, believe it or not, "Fish and Chips". We were not impressed... it was a dinky little place, the meal came in a Styrofoam box, the fish was rubbery and not very tasty, an the price was what you'd expect from a good restaurant. Next time I'll sit in a restaurant.

By now it was about 1 PM, so we piled into the van and headed South. About an hour's drive later we got to the Goðafoss Waterfall. According to legend (and Google), in the year 1000 the Lawspeaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði made Christianity the official religion of Iceland. After his conversion Þorgeir threw his statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall. Since then the falls were named Goðafoss, or 'Falls of the Gods'. The falls themselves are wide and powerful, impressive if not very tall. But the kids were far more interested in the ice covering the puddles around it. They managed to lift some quite large panes of ice and Gilat took some slow motion video of them breaking it. We were careful on the wet, slippery rocks (some had a thin coating of ice as well) while we enjoyed the falls and the ice for a while. Then we loaded back into the warm van.

We drove on through the second-largest city in Iceland, Akureyri. We stopped for a rest at the big church. The church is on a hill overlooking the town, but it was closed and there wasn't much else to do there. We went on to a supermarket to get tonight's supper (hamburgers tonight!). Did yo know that the red light on the traffic lights in Akureyri are shaped like hearts? I don't know what the reason for that is, but it sure made us pay attention to them.

Our next stop is just a little off course, at one of the few turf churches remaining in Iceland, Víðimýrarkirkja. The church is a small cabin, covered in turf, with a small gate in front. The church bell is hanging in the gate's arch. The church was closed, and there's a large farmhouse next to it so we tried to be quiet, not to bother the residents. Besides, it was getting dark already.

Our next stop is the Tindastóll hotel in Sauðárkrókur. What a charming little hotel in an old, wooden house. We were a bit worried at first, since the only door that seemed open was at the top of a flight of stairs, but when I went inside and signed in I was directed to take the van around the back to a much more convenient entrance through a small courtyard with a hot tub in the center. So we got to or rooms, two very large rooms on the second (top) floor at the top of a narrow and very steep, but short flight of stairs.

The room came with bathrobes, so while Gilat cooked the burgers (I helped with the preparations), the kids went down to the hot tub.

Later on, the grandparents and I also went for a dip, and while we were enjoying the warm water Mum said that the only way to make it better would be some Northern lights. And wouldn't you believe it, a few minutes later we did see some! Faint, but definitely there!

What a way to finish the day!

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