Iceland 2011: Húsavík – Chasing Whales
Húsavík is a small town on the north coast of Iceland. It is the best place in Iceland to go whale watching. It is also home to the penis museum. Yes, you read that right. More about it later. Considered to be the prettiest fishing town on the north east coast, it is also the first site to be settled by the Norsemen. A total of eleven species of whale come to feed in the summer, and the whale watching companies are out on the waves, all hours of the day, pursuing these beautiful creatures of the deep in their flimsy boat. (Really, if the whales wanted to, they could smash them into smithereens. Just a thought.)
“Why not in front of the penis?” – Andy (Smelly)
Before we set out for our 1pm date with the whales, we explored Húsavík. It took us all of ten minutes. Moran (Hebrew Smurf) was dead set on visiting the Iceland Phallological Museum. Why…we can but wonder. The outside of this bizarre set up was quiet unnerving to say the least. Decorated with Smartie type pebbles it resembled some sort of perverse Hansel and Gretel prop. Andy’s (Smelly) description was spot on: “They make it child friendly with Smartie coloured rocks.” But this oddity (along with the stone ‘sculpture’ of the meat and two veg) was nothing in comparison to the horrors that awaited us inside.
Now, I’m going to make one thing perfectly clear. None of the group paid to go inside the actual museum, (Which was about the size of a small classroom) we just hung around in the entrance lobby for a while, chocking on our words. On the wall was a framed drawing made by a six year old child, of a penis. When you looked up, you were met with a penis mobile. Yes. A penis mobile. Take a few seconds to digest that. It’s the sort of thing I could imagine Ricky Martain putting in the bedroom of his little boys. We decided to leave soon after. Unsurprisingly.
“It can’t be krona because it has a picture of Chairman Mau on it.” – Andy (Smelly)
“I don’t work on Sunday’s.” – Jorge (The most northerly Spaniard)
Being smart, Tom and I decided to wear our eye-catching orange waterproofs for the whale watching trip. The others went with the attractive waterproof onesies that Gentle Giants (the company we went with) had to offer. The cost of the trip, might I add, was eye wateringly expensive. But we were not disappointed. We were told to keep our eyes open for the blow spout – the column of water that is spayed into the air as the whale exhales, and to shout 12, 3, 6 or 9 o’ clock (the whales location) if we saw anything. It didn’t take long, after our trudge out to see, before we spotted one. At first sight of its great body, the boat would spin in the direction and crash through the water towards it. This was actually somewhat terrifying, as water splashed onto the deck, making it slippery and dangerous and of course, it was hard to protect your camera as your slipping and sliding all over the place. I assumed this would be thrilling. But to be honest, it wasn’t. When we were quiet, just watching, it was then that I was most happy. Seeing the backs of these magnificent beasts break the surface, makes you go weak at the knees.
Chasing them, though, was horrendous, and I felt so guilty. There have been reports on how damaging whale watching can be to the animals, affecting feeding, mating and looking after their young. And I am not surprised. I can’t even begin to imagine what it is like for them, when they are just under the surface, and this angry, loud machine is racing towards them. Humpback whales can be incredibly acrobatic, sometimes leaping clear of the water, but the ones we saw were subdued. We managed to catch sight of two Humpback Whales. I wonder how old they were. Humpback Whales can live to be 95 years old. How old were the ones we saw? How long had they been putting up with these motorized irritations? At one point it became too much for me at the front of the boat, people crowding to get snap after snap after snap, not caring if they barged others out of the way. At the back, there was a poor bloke throwing up. He’d been there since we’d set off. I think the only whales he saw were on the mini booklet we had all been handed at the beginning of the trip. When we were making our way back to shore, two people handed out Kleiner (uninspiring Icelandic doughnuts) and hot chocolate. Now, when you are out on the choppy sea, offering doughnuts and hot chocolate is a really, really nice but bad idea. I didn’t take any. (Wise move.) Poor Andy (Smelly) did though, and soon joined the other poor bloke at the back. Before long, Tom was there too, bringing up the contents of his stomach. ‘He who shall not be named’ found this to be quite hilarious, and I was told to ‘take a chill pill’ when I, quite naturally, got irate about some twat laughing about my boyfriend being violently ill. Fortunately, a cup of tea later, Tom was feeling okay and looked less green, and I had resisted to urge to kick ‘He shall not be named’ into the waves thrashing the bay.