Before I discuss the happenings of the day, I should tell you about how the islands got their name. The islands are named after Gaelic slaves who had been captured into slavery by Norsemen. The Old Norse word Vestmenn, literally “Westmen”, was applied to the Irish, and retained in Icelandic even though Iceland is further west than Ireland. (In contrast, the Norse Gaels often called themselves Ostmen or Austmenn – “East-men”.)
Not long after Ingólfur Arnarson arrived in Iceland, his blood brother Hjörleifur was murdered by the slaves he had brought with him. Ingólfur tracked them down to the Vestmannaeyjar and killed them all in retribution, hence the name Vestmannaeyjar (the islands of the west men). This is speculated to have occurred in AD 875.
Today was our last day in the Westman Islands. We started out after breakfast with a trip to a school. School was in session and we were provided with three young ladies as tour guides by their English teacher. Only one of them actually talked to us.
The children were from age six to sixteen in this school. We went into an literature class where they were watching a movie of the book. I noticed it was then English literature. We were also taken to their library, their lunch room, a home economics classroom and also into a classroom for special needs children. It had its own access and elevator as it was on the third floor.
It was amazing to watch children walk into the school after the day had started and leave early. The doors were not locked. Coast were hung on a rack outside of their classroom. Their shoes were taken off at the door. There were tables in the hallway for students to finish an assignment, or take a quiz by themselves.
We left the school and got with our local motor coach driver Alfred, who took us around the 5.25 square mile island.
It was pouring now so it was good to be on the motor coach.
Alfred drove us to Stórhöfði. Stórhöfði is a peninsula and the southernmost point of Heimaey. It is claimed to be the windiest place in Europe and holds the record for the lowest on land observation of air pressure in Europe. The name means great cape.
Stórhöfði is the location of one of the oldest lighthouses in Iceland, having operated since 1906. Weather observations began at the lighthouse in 1921, which, since 1940, have been conducted at night too.
We then drove back over by the harbor and the area towards the mouth of the harbor to see the old Norse Church and medical building. The location is called Skansinn and is a part of the harbor. But first we happened upon one of the pumps used to help stem the flow of lava.
We went inside the medical building where they have a few antiques.
Although the beautiful stave church on the island of Heimaey in the Westman Islands is not as old as you might think, its roots go deep in history. It was built and consecrated in the year 2000, and presented to the Icelandic nation by Norway in commemoration of the thousand-year anniversary of Iceland’s conversion to Christianity, and contains a replica of the Norwegian medieval altarpiece of Saint Olav.
The architecture and the building methods are from the period just after the close of the Viking Age in the 1100 and 1200’s, the church being a replica of the Norwegian Haltdalen stave church, which was built around 1170.
Keiko (earlier Siggi and Kago), (c. 1976 – December 12, 2003), was a male orca who portrayed Willy in the 1993 film Free Willy. He was captured off Iceland when he was three. He was sold many times and spent most of his life in aquariums, usually too small for him. He was eventually freed in Iceland, in July 2002, but did not fully adapt to the wilderness and died in December 2003 in Norway.
We all headed to lunch at the same restaurant as yesterday because they had a Christmas special – burger of caribou. I had the salad bar.
The group then to the Westman Island Natural Museum. I went to the Sea Life Trust to see what they were doing for two Beluga whales.
The SEA LIFE TRUST Beluga Whale Sanctuary has been created in partnership with Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) along with expert support from Merlin Entertainments and Cargolux Airlines to provide formerly captive beluga whales with a safe and more natural home.
The hope that this world first project will help to encourage the rehabilitation of more captive whales into natural environments in the future and one day bring an end to whale and dolphin entertainment shows.
The Sanctuary’s first residents are two female beluga whales, Little White and Little Grey, who traveled all the way to their new open water home off the south coast of Iceland from China.
I spoke with a lady who works there from San Diego, who worked with the US Navy program with whales and dolphins. She is part of the team that is trying to prepare these two beauties to into the bay that I showed you above. Right now they are slowing lowering the water temp to get it to what the actual sea temp is in the bay. That plus with winter coming up, it will probably be middle to end of April before they will be set into that bay.
The Sanctuary also provides a permanent home to animals that need special care, such as injured puffins, from our team of marine animal experts.
I loved my visit with Sea Life and it looks like they are trying to take all the necessary precautions to make this a better place.
Iceland in 2019, decided not to go whale hunting this summer. But many fear it was just for 2019. Iceland has killed more than 17,000 whales since the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium on all whaling. These were mostly fin and sei whales.
On my walk back to the hotel – another puffin.
Some drawing by the hotel owner’s daughter hung on the wall. I only am including a couple – but there were many more, all wonderful.
And lastly as we left our hotel in Westman Islands, across the street was a pole that showed the depth of the ash at this location. It was up to my shoulder.
We then flew back to Reykjavik for our final night before heading home.
We had our goodbye dinner at Gott which is a Westman Islands owned restaurant. Food was very good.
After which, I headed out for a couple more photos before heading back to start repacking everything. Our flights are not until 5 pm tomorrow so we will have a little more time in Reykjavik in the morning.