(Kingston, Ontario, Canada)
Despite its wintry name, all of Iceland lies south of the Arctic Circle…except one tiny island called Grímsey. The Arctic Circle passes right through the island: the only settlement on the island is south of the Arctic Circle but a 15-minute walk north takes you to the Circle itself.
Grímsey is beyond remote: it is 40km north of the coast of “mainland” Iceland and is about 3 hours ferry from the already remote port of Dalvik. Only 86 people live on Grímsey and we had previously heard all sorts of “grim” stories about death and depopulation on this island with an area of just 2 square miles.
We were staying in the northern Iceland town of Akureyri and thought that it would be a shame to be so close to the Arctic Circle and not actually cross it. So we took a bus to Dalvik and then hopped on what looked like a calm and efficient ferry for the journey to Grímsey. After a few hours on Grímsey, we would catch the ferry back to Dalvik. It was the middle of the summer; surely we could look forward to a pleasant day on the water and on the exotic island.
When we boarded the ferry in Dalvik, we staked out a couple of window seats in the indoor lounge, thinking it would be warmer and more comfortable. We enjoyed sailing past the towering cliffs of northern Iceland and looked forward to the rest of the crossing. Once we hit open water, however, something very bad happened. Despite traveling quite fast for a ferry, the boat began churning and lurching violently from side-to-side and from back-to-front. This lasted for hours.
Thinking we were safer inside, we soon both noticed that we weren’t feeling so well. I’m really not sure how much detail I should go into here. Is it enough to say that even the crew was seeking out paper bags for personal use and that one of us spent two hours in a bathroom stall? Do I need to mention what the indoor lounge smelled like?
Anyway, we eventually arrived on Grímsey and spent some time in the island’s restaurant in order to rehydrate. Colour eventually returned to our faces and, feeling less horrible than we did on arrival, we set out for our northward walk to the Arctic Circle.
We passed the circle without incident (right on the Circle, there’s a tiny bridge with a “M*A*S*H*”-style signpost pointing to various international destinations) and found ourselves on a remote path near the top of a cliff. A puffin briefly landed right beside us with a mouthful of capelin. Around the next corner was a sheer cliff housing thousands upon thousands of seabirds. We mostly noticed the interestingly-beaked puffins, of course, but there were birds of every description. There are apparently one million seabirds on the island altogether.
The winds were blowing, the land was bleak…and the grass was a vivid green. There were no trees but it wasn’t quite as barren as one would expect north of the Arctic Circle. Still, we felt like we were at the end of the world and felt some pride for having overcome considerable adversity to get here.
On the way back to the ferry (pictured at the top of this post), we understandably began wondering how we were ever going to survive the return journey. We overheard that staying outside on the deck was actually the best way of dealing with the lurching boat. Apparently, being inside with fixed straight lines (windows, walls, doors, etc.) accentuates your disorientation and makes seasickness worse. We resolved to bundle up and test this theory: the alternative was simply too grim to contemplate.
Eschewing the indoor cabin (which still wasn’t very fresh), we took our places on the exposed outer deck of the ferry. It was cold and windy and soon enough the boat was churning almost as much as on the way out to Grímsey. But we never felt sick! Feeling like a couple of wise old salts, we happily disembarked in Dalvik and reminisced almost fondly about our epic Arctic journey. However, as you might appreciate, we didn’t take any more boats for the rest of our holiday in Iceland.