Iceland Visit, 2012, Part 3 of 3

In the first two parts of my Iceland overview, I focused on the people, land, weather and food.  In this edition, I will share my experiences with whales, puffins and horses, and will also provide my opinion on the only downside to a trip to Iceland.

Puffins, Whales and Horses:

Not only is the land beautiful, but it is full of wildlife.  Whales were visible on our way to the island, and could be seen off the ship, so we did not have a need to go on a whale watching expedition.  However, whale trips are definitely a tour option while visiting.  Any whale sightings we observed were families of whales, so it wasn’t just one.  We might have a group of 5 whales off the starboard stern, and a group of 3 off the portside stern, all moving around at the same time.  This was quite an impressive sight.

I also went on a puffin-watching expedition.  Puffins are small birds, colored similar to penguins but with red beaks and markings.  They fly to Iceland once a year, stay for 4 months, and then the adults fly away, leaving the babies to get themselves off the island.  The interesting facts about puffins are that they are monogamous.  They find a mate while on the island, they have one baby together, they build an apartment 2 meters under the ground where they have one room for the baby and one for their (ahem) output.  One bird goes out and gets food, while the other watches the baby, and then they take turns.  After four months, the parents fly away separately, and then come back the following year and find each other again.  If one of them does not return, the widow or widower finds another widow or widower and mates with them forever.  I found the story of the bird behavior to be quite interesting.

Another interesting side note is that the babies use the reflection of the moon to find their way off the island.  However, because the city of Reykjavik is so close to the small islands they are born on, the birds are confused by the city lights and sometimes wind up on land.  Local children put the baby birds in boxes, and let them free in the sea so they’ll have a chance.  I found that quite touching.

Now, to discuss the horses.  Icelandic horses (and the Icelanders are adamant they are not ponies, even though they are small) are purebred animals.  No other breeds are allowed on Iceland, and if a horse is taken out of the country for any reason, it is not allowed back.  We took a ferry to a nearby island one day, to ride horses.  We selected a total beginner trip which was really more about the sightseeing, since my only experience with horseback riding was about 40 years ago in Girl Scouts, and I really didn’t know how to ride.  There are, however, horseback riding tours for all levels of riders in various parts of the country.

tame horseSo the two horse guides selected a horse for me that was billed as extremely gentle.  And off we went in the gorgeous sunny day, overlooking ocean vistas.  About a half mile down the path, we were walking through a bird sanctuary, and I asked what a particular bird was.  I never heard the answer, because at that moment, my docile horse decided he wanted to return home, and he turned around, and started galloping, with me on his back shouting, WHOA with a tightening of the reins, then WHOA again.  Well, Mr. Gentle was having none of it, and he just kept speeding along, so I did what any non-rider would do.  I clamped my legs on tight, bent forward to stay low,  and just remained determined not to fall off.  Luckily, I made it, much to the surprise of the guide who was at the farm.  He said, with wonder in his eyes, “Wow, he ran HOME!”  I said, “Yesssssss, but WHY?”  He had no idea, claiming the horse had never done that before.

Kat and the horse handlersI agreed to get on another horse and go again, and this time, we had a nice long sightseeing tour by horseback.   By the way, they gave me a horse that was about 30 years old (that’s him on the right and me and the horse trainers), and he was quite calm.   I have to admit though, once I got over my fright, galloping on the back of a small horse through the countryside in Iceland was an awesome experience!  One I would definitely repeat.

Finally, the downside:  The only downside to the visit to Iceland is the expense.  Everything is expensive from the food to purchases.  The kroner are the money of Iceland, and in June 2012,  $8 US equals approximately 1,000 kroner.  Price tags were often a shock.  Seeing a price of 23,000 on a sweater could be daunting, and when you figured out the actual price in US it was still daunting.  Many sweaters, and jackets, ran from $200 on the low end to over $500 US.   And the prices were the same in ever store we went into.  Meals usually more expensive than dining out in New York City, but one thing I did notice is no one is rushed through their meal, so that was a pleasant surprise.

So, if you plan a visit to Iceland, just save up some spending money first, and then go enjoy.  You’ll definitely want to experience the wildlife and the land and the people.

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