Over the last six months, this blog has become a hikers' instruction manual. My "warden" job in the highlands is totally immersive — I love it for that — and there is little space in my brain for any other line of thought. Since we left, I've lost my focus; I've been stuck in my head and forgotten how to write my way out. Those of you who only check this site* will be totally unaware that we have moved to the East Fjords.
*I post photos on my facebook page most days.
Dan and I have a new job at Havarí, an organic farm, cafe and guesthouse on Karlsstaðir (the farm's traditional name) in the southern part of the Eastfjords. It's a forty minute
drive north from Djúpivogur (population between three and four hundred) and around half an hour south from Breiðdalsvík (population one hundred, and something).
Havarí (roughly translating to "chaos") is the brain child of Berglind and Svavar. Though Iceland's population is relatively small, the East Fjords are far from Landmannalaugar, so we were surprised to find that all our Icelandic friends knew about the place already. Svavar's music, under the name Prins Póló, is well known in Iceland and I shortly realised that we had sometimes been working to his songs while we cleaned. Their vegan sausage "Bulsur" is also a house-hold name, but the Icelanders I spoke to about it were strongly divided as to whether this was a natural concept or not. For a nation historically unable to grow fruit or most vegetables, not eating meat or fish can be a contentious issue; though plenty of young people are choosing to turn vegetarian or even vegan now, there are still many who find this very strange.
Our jobs are to run the cafe through the winter (11-4 every day if you're passing); look after the hostel for guests; and cook the cakes, soup, mashed potato and other food sold for lunch. We live on-site in the old farm house pictured below.
Hiking is my healthiest obsession. Living in beautiful places, I begin to feel guilty on the second day of not getting out. To begin with, I only had time and the confidence for small ventures out from Karlsstaðir...
Down by the sea, I followed the shoreline as the black sand gave way to almost-familiar rocky parts and kelp forests below. It rang in my mind as a distorted part of Scotland, as if I was wearing somebody else's glasses; the rocks had right angles in confusing places and were flamboyantly arranged into impractically narrow gullies and random overhanging boulders. Anything wet was absurdly slippery and I had to crawl with my hands to escape an innocuous looking stretch of rock-pools. Thankfully it was peaceful there and there were only ducks to watch me.
Having watched the Highlands plunge into autumn some time near the end of August, I was mentally prepared for imminent endless dark evenings, rain lashing against the windows, and wearing my woolly hat in bed under several extra blankets. To my surprise, in the East Fjords, September and the first half of October were largely clear, with only very occasional snow, and just about everything else in healthy doses. I treated every sunny day like the last of the season and found myself outside quite a lot.
Initially, it seemed quite committing to start exploring the mountains behind our house. I waited until my first whole day off to hike the only route people had talked about. It was unmarked, but easy to find as it followed the plateau behind the cliffs, above the farm.
After following the plateau, the route comes down into Krossdalur. This valley quickly became my favourite place in the area, and I returned every week or so to watch it falling through autumn. The green became patched with red and yellow, before it started to fade away. I knew there were reindeer around and was tentatively excited about my chance of seeing them. Nothing makes me quite as happy as seeing a new animal in the wild.
I first saw the herd around a kilometer away, and eagerly took a dozen photos of tiny brown and white blobs. As I got closer, they disappeared over the horizon. I was thrilled and happily striding along until, coming over an insignificant hillock, I was surprised bya huge pair of antlers. The reindeer was less than fifteen meters away and I stopped dead in my tracks. Creeping backwards, somewhat terrified, I hid behind a big boulder and waited with my camera until he began to walk uphill.
He didn't notice me until I took the first photo, looking just as shocked as I had been. We stared at each-other for a minute, and I made my way back behind the boulder before running, crouched and silent like a cartoon thief, back down the hill. I kept out of the reindeer's eye-line until I was quite far away and, when I looked back, he was also doing a comedy panic gallop up the hill away from me.
Once we were far enough apart, he relaxed and posed majestically on the brow of the hill.
After over a month of delay, I finally coordinated the free time, weather, and my enthusiasm enough to climb Berunestindur. Without a map or known path, my confidence was wavering. From the plateau it looked feasible, but the higher I got, the more intimidated I felt by the rocky section above me. My unspecific fear was not mainly focused on falling, but rather getting stuck on something that wasn't solid (Icelandic scree is a nemesis of mine), or being surprised by a cloud and losing my safe route down...
I was pathetically pleased to reach the summit [and even more relieved to get back down again].
One morning I looked around and everything had turned brown. The subtle autumn had slipped past and darkness loomed before us. I'm strangely excited.