Dispatches: Outnumbered by sheep in Iceland

travel week4My wife and I  promised our nephews that, after their bar mitzvahs, we’d treat them to special celebratory trips anywhere in the world. This summer, we took our nephew Jacob to Iceland. It’s a feast of sights and sounds sure to appeal to the teenagers in your life — and you’ll have a good time too! Here’s some of what we experienced.

Photos © 2016 Miki Jourdan unless otherwise noted.

Dispatches is our occasional look outside of DC at the places local photographers have traveled. Have a set of photos you’d like to feature here? Contact us at editor@dcfocused.com.

 The Fauna

Because of its isolated setting, Iceland’s wildlife is rather limited. This has its advantages. Iceland has neither snakes nor mosquitoes!

There is only one native species of land mammal, the Arctic fox. However, a variety of other animal life has been imported over time. Sheep seem omnipresent on the island. In fact, they outnumber the human population.

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Driving along Route 1, the highway that rings Iceland, don’t be surprised if a flock of sheep stops traffic. You’re also likely to see Icelandic horses.

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The island also has a wide variety of seabirds, including the adorable puffin. From our base in Reykjavík, we took a boat tour that guaranteed puffin sightings. We were not disappointed.

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The Flora

Pretty much everywhere you go in Iceland, you’ll see a pretty purple flower called the Alaskan lupine. These blooms were introduced in 1945 to combat erosion. However, since that time, lupine has become invasive, putting native lichens, mosses, and shrubs at risk.

Photo by Dania Palosky
© 2016 Dania Palosky

The Ice

As a child, I was taught that Vikings gave the island the stark name “Iceland” to discourage other settlers. While this tale is likely apocryphal, the country does have glaciers and icebergs. We visited the stunningly beautiful Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in the southeast corner of the country. Travel there now before the icebergs disappear due to global warming.

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Geysers & Volcanoes

Iceland, one of the most geologically active places on the planet, has more than its share of geysers, earthquakes, and volcanoes.

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Strokkur Geysir

 

One of the highlights of our trip was a tour inside the dormant Thrihnukagigur Volcano. After hiking for a mile through a lava field, we took an elevator into the depths of the volcano. Aside from a few types of bacteria, nothing lives inside the crater — except for the occasional tourist.

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Volcanic features, like the Laufskálavarða lava ridge are roadside attractions in Iceland.

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Waterfalls

Iceland is blessed with many beautiful and dramatic waterfalls.

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Öxarárfoss waterfall in Þingvellir National Park

 

Gullfoss waterfall
Lining up to see Gullfoss waterfall

 

Striking a pose at Gullfoss
Striking a pose at Gullfoss

 

Cuisine

When the world hands you lambs, you make lamb hot dogs! These are popular in Iceland as are fish and chips and other seafood. Surrounded by water, you can be sure that the seafood is fresh. This was particularly true when we took the Viking Sushi Boat Tour and Shellfish Tasting in Stykkishólmur. Scallops, sea urchins, crabs, and other critters were pulled out of the water during our tour for us to sample. This seafood may have been a bit too fresh for our taste.

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Other Sites

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The streets of Reykjavik, with Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church in the distance

 

We didn't spend much time in Reykjavik, as it was the only destination on the trip that bored our nephew. Still, the people seemed nice.
We didn’t spend much time in Reykjavik, as it was the only spot along our journey where our nephew was bored. Still, the people seemed nice. We’ll need to plan an adult-only trip to explore the city in greater depth.

 

Dramatic rocky cliffs
Dramatic rocky cliffs at Stykkishólmur

 

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The Blue Lagoon. Photo © Dania Palosky