We had booked a stay at a horse ranch up north, west of Akureyri, ahead of time but were disappointed to learn that the owners were not opening for rides for a few weeks. While we soaked in a hot springs pool nearby that evening, my son, in conversation with friendly locals, got a recommendation to another riding stables. Our hosts called ahead for us and booked our rides for the next day.
Icelandic horses are unique, gentle, long haired beauties. In addition to the classic gaits—walk, trot, canter, gallop—Icelandic horses have a very smooth four-beat fast gate called tölt, and a flying gait where the left legs touch ground together and then right legs, a graceful flight to behold. Our horse trek leader did not permit us to sample the faster gaits, but gave us a demonstration on his own horse. Other breeds of horses are not allowed to enter the country, and any Icelandic horses who leave for competitions are not allowed to return, to guard against diluting the strain.
Wild reindeer herds were a common sight and, of course, herded sheep. Seals bobbed their shiny heads up in the Glacier Lagoon and along sea coasts.
Most plentiful were birds—not a keeper of silence! A goal on this trip was to see the elusive puffin, rare except in extreme northern climes. On a northern outcrop of Snaefellsjökull National Park’s peninsula, we boarded a bird-watching boat ride from the coastal town of Stykkishólmur and headed north among small islands. We slowed to observe a variety of raucous birds along the way.
When we reached the farthest destination of the cruise, we entered puffin territory. Their black and white coloring reminds one of small penguins, punctuated with bright orange beaks—they are adorable! Part of the auk family, puffins feed by diving underwater for small fish. They fly close to the water’s surface, as if hovering along, and appear to be flying on the sea itself as they take off and land—quite entertaining.
On the return trip, a special treat was prepared. The crew lowered nets, dragging them behind us, scooping up sea life. Then they raised the nets on board and dumped them out, sorting them into edible creatures and throwing back the rest. On the table were chopsticks, wasabi, and soy sauce. Viking sushi!
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