The ship begins to vibrate. Slowly, the Maud glides along the quay to leave Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, and head towards a first stopover, Heimaey, in the south of the country.
After a somewhat stormy night of navigation, it is a pleasure to slip between volcanic islets to dock peacefully in the heart of the small town.
The Hurtigruten team, a cruise line of Norwegian origin, has prepared different types of activities to visit the community: a short cruise around the islets to observe the bird colonies, a classic guided tour of the city, a walk focused on history or even the ascent of a volcanic cone.
How can you resist this last hike? Especially since this famous cone is closely linked to a central event in the history of Heimaey. On January 23, 1973, a lava flow suddenly escaped from a fissure and threatened the city. Fortunately, it was stormy that day and all the fishing boats were in port. We were able to evacuate the entire island in a short time. The lava continued to flow for weeks, months. The authorities, determined to save what remained of the port and the city, sprinkled the lava with sea water to cool it. The flow actually slowed its progress, and the eruption ended on July 3, 1973. But all that lava enlarged Heimaey Island by two square kilometers, from 11.2 km2 to 13.4 km2.
From the start of our hike, we came face to face with the wall of hardened lava that threatened the port. A tank was swallowed halfway, showing the force of the flow.
We tread on ground of fine volcanic grit, then cross an area where small bushes have begun to take root. We are starting to gain a little altitude. The ship’s geologist, Muriel Bulhoff, takes the opportunity to show different types of volcanic rocks: one is full of holes, light, another is smooth, more compact. Some are red, others black.
One last effort and we arrive at the top of the cone, on the crest of the crater. At the very bottom, you can clearly see the lava flow which caused a lot of damage in 1973. The weather is nice, the island is peaceful. It’s hard to imagine the panic that gripped the community 50 years ago.
Yes, the weather is nice, it’s peaceful… It’s also difficult to imagine that the remains of Hurricane Lee will make the sea perilous tomorrow, and that we will have to postpone until the day after tomorrow the big crossing that was planned around the Faroe Islands!
The Hurtigruten team is quickly crafting an alternative route: a return to the Reykjanes peninsula on the main island of Iceland for shelter. This peninsula is characterized by lava fields as far as the eye can see. The last eruption ended last August.
There is still action under our feet. In Seltun, we hear hissing, gurgling sounds: steam escapes from small holes, water springs of various colors and mud holes boil. A smell of sulfur spreads. The land of Iceland is very much alive.