Saturday, 24 May 2014

Iceland 22: Ingolfshofdi

We were warned that it would rain today, and indeed the forecast proved to be entirely accurate when we opened the curtains.  Given the weather, and the fact that the forecast was less wet further east, we decided to go back to Ingolfshofdi, just west of Jokulsarlon, where there was a "Nature Experience Trip".  I was able to book online, at which point I was told that it was ISK5000 each, and that there would be no extra charge for any Icelandic weather.  As it was nobody actually bothered to check whether we had booked, but that's another story.

We were early so went to the Skaftafell visitors' centre, just beyond the black sands, which was absolutely heaving with people.  It appears to be the centre for organised trips into the interior, including glacier walks, rafting and the like.  There were several yellow converted school buses there, along with a large number of other coaches and cars.  We looked around the bookshop, read the history of the area (and how the local people had been isolated until a bridge was built very recently).  There was also lots of information about the various volcanic eruptions in the vicinity, and how the local people dealt with them.

After a coffee we headed to Ingolfshofdi, at which point it had almost stopped raining.  We were loaded onto what was effectively a sheep cart behind a tractor, and then towed slowly through rivers and across a large area of black sand to the promontory where all the sea birds were nesting. We'd already seen Bonxies as we approached, but there were clearly lots of other present - including puffins, which were the main attractions.  The tractor dumped us at the bottom of a steep slope of sand, and a couple of American girls had real problems climbing up it.  Even the fitter people were having trouble, as the sand was very soft and gave way as soon as any weight was put onto it.

At the top of the hill we were given a brief history of the area, and then asked to stay together as a group to keep disruption to the nesting seabirds to an absolute minimum.  We were soon being mobbed by Bonxies, which wasn't surprising as the guide, Aaron, took us straight to one of their nests to look at a small chick (only 2 days old, I believe).  We then went past several other Bonxie pairs, and very soon got the sight of our first puffins.  There were lots of them around, but it was difficult to photograph then because: (a) they're small; and (b) they move very fast when close to the cliffs.  Several puffins obliged us by standing on the edge of the cliff to be photographed before going down into their burrows with their beaks full of sand eels.

After gorging ourselves on puffins, we then went to see other gulls, razorbills, guillemots, ravens and the occasional greater black-backed gull.  All the time we were being mobbed by Bonxies - for the sheer hell of it, apparently - which was an amazing spectacle in itself.

Two and a half hours later we were back at the top of the sand hill, and we then slithered down back to the tractor and trailer.  It had rained on and off for most of the trip, but nobody minded because we'd had such a good time.  My feet were wet, cold and full of gritty black sand, but again it didn't matter.  Even without the birds, I could have spent hours there simply photographing the patterns in the black sand.  Very simple and very beautiful.

At this point we turned the car's heater on and headed for somewhere we could have a (very late) lunch.