Secrets of Vestmannaeyjar (vol.1) | Bite of Iceland - Travel Blog

Secrets of Vestmannaeyjar (vol.1)

Posted on May 18, 2017 in Travel Bites | 3 Comments

Westman Islands Vestmannaeyjar Heimaey

There is a place in Ice­land where inhab­i­tants’ fate depends on a whim of a fierce vol­cano, jump­ing between extreme­ly steep rocks with­out any pro­tec­tion is con­sid­ered as the best sport in the world and in the sum­mer you can hear a flut­ter of at least a few mil­lion of wings. That’s Heimaey, the largest island in the Vest­man­naey­jar archipelago.

Vestmannaeyjar: when it’s raining cats and dogs

When we talk about Vest­man­naey­jar, we can have in mind two things. Name­ly, it is a tiny, incred­i­bly pic­turesque arch­i­pel­ago of four­teen islands which lies nine kilo­me­tres south of Ice­land, but also the name of a town on Heimaey, the largest island of Vest­man­naey­jar. In the end, the town has two names that are used alter­nate­ly: Vest­man­naey­jar and Heimaey. First inhab­i­tants of the arch­i­pel­ago were run­away slaves from Ire­land, who planned to start a new, def­i­nite­ly much bet­ter life here. As they were actu­al­ly “West­ern­ers,” the arch­i­pel­ago soon began to func­tion under the name of West­man Islands. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the Irish had not enjoyed their free­dom for too long. Soon, they were tracked down and slaugh­tered by blood­thirsty and always greedy for new ter­ri­to­ries Vikings who began to rev­el on the islands themselves.

Westman Islands Vestmannaeyjar Heimaey

Cur­rent­ly life goes on only on Heimaey, oth­er islands are unin­hab­it­ed – in the hunt­ing sea­son they are set­tled for a very short time by hunters. Pret­ty con­tro­ver­sial fame of Heimaey as one of the raini­est areas in Ice­land did not scare away a bunch of dare­dev­ils. It is the most impor­tant fish­ing port in the coun­try, so the island is inhab­it­ed by four thou­sand five hun­dred peo­ple. If we bear in mind that it’s such a small area and take into con­sid­er­a­tion a typ­i­cal Ice­landic pop­u­la­tion den­si­ty it’s a real­ly good score. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the unbear­able weath­er is not very mer­ci­ful for them, icy rain­drops usu­al­ly are accom­pa­nied by pow­er­ful gusts of equal­ly freez­ing wind. As a result, you can wit­ness here quite unusu­al and fun­ny scenes. Four-legged pup­pies, which usu­al­ly don’t pay any atten­tion to the unpleas­ant weath­er, are fre­quent­ly tak­en for a walk, while their own­ers fol­low them in a car. So the dogs play in a fairy­tale ter­rain and just behind them their own­ers dri­ve slow­ly, often dressed in typ­i­cal homey cloth­ing like dress­ing gowns. 

Westman Islands Vestmannaeyjar Heimaey

Stuntmen of Vestmannaeyjar

Every sum­mer, the pop­u­la­tion den­si­ty on the island changes rad­i­cal­ly, mak­ing from Vest­man­naey­jar an aver­age city in India. For­tu­nate­ly, in this case, we don’t talk about tourists. This time that’s birds that join the Ice­landers, and there’s an unbe­liev­ably huge num­ber of them, includ­ing eight mil­lion puffins. What’s more, there is an intrigu­ing and blood­cur­dling sport, close­ly con­nect­ed to the birds called spran­gan. Spran­gan awak­ens such great emo­tions not with­out a rea­son, the main idea behind it is… to avoid a hor­ri­fy­ing and sure­ly dead­ly fall into the abyss. Spran­gan was born in the smart minds of egg pick­ers. They were the first who began to swing on long ropes along the fright­en­ing cliffs. Hang­ing over the abyss, they fig­ured out that it’s a great way to steal eggs from bird nests when their own­ers went for some under­wa­ter hunt­ing. You should know that Ice­landers have always con­sid­ered puffins as a great snack. Per­form­ing spec­tac­u­lar Tarzan’s moves on the ropes, they also hunt­ed for puffins, catch­ing them in spe­cial nets.

Westman Islands Vestmannaeyjar Heimaey

After some time, the most tremen­dous and flex­i­ble pick­ers decid­ed to add even more adren­a­line to their exploits. They start­ed com­pet­ing with each oth­er to gain the biggest num­ber of tro­phies, doing it in the most impres­sive way. Their jaw-drop­ping per­for­mances were often observed by oth­er islanders. Amid the spec­ta­tors’ screams of amaze­ment, anoth­er idea was born. They decid­ed that a com­pe­ti­tion for the most skil­ful pick­ers should be organ­ised. They did as they said and soon the com­pe­ti­tion gained amaz­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty among the locals, so big that soon spran­gan show turned into an annu­al fes­ti­val. When it comes to birds, they can sleep and breed in peace, because nowa­days spran­gan is just pure fun with­out any thoughts about steal­ing birds’ pre­cious eggs.

Next week we’ll intro­duce you to the most con­tro­ver­sial ten­ant of the island. Stay tuned!

Westman Islands Vestmannaeyjar Heimaey

Westman Islands Vestmannaeyjar Heimaey Puffin

Westman Islands Vestmannaeyjar Heimaey Map

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  1. Firda
    June 6, 2017

    Had the chance to vis­it Heimaey 4 years ago. It’s got to be one of my most favourite places in Ice­land. We took an unin­ten­tion­al­ly pri­vate bus tour with a local guide and it was great. Heard lots of sto­ries from him, includ­ing some local gos­sips! Thank you for this won­der­ful post. It brought back fond memories. 🙂

    • Adam Biernat
      June 27, 2017

      Thank you Fir­da, so great to hear that 🙂

  2. Elizbieta Grochowiak
    June 12, 2017

    I have vis­it­ed Ice­land in May/June this year and met nice peo­ple, espe­cial­ly very nice guy using Lis­ter­ine at Myvatn camp­site.… please con­tact me if you do remem­ber me…thank you for inspir­ing places to vis­it e.