Are we there yet?

Posted August 31, 2012

Are we there yet?

I scrabbled sideways, like a crab, over gigantic boulders and jagged basalt rocks. Midnight was drawing near and the light was fading fast.  My breathing became rapid and shallow. How much longer could I go on?

Although I’ve done some hiking on my last two holidays, I still consider myself a novice. So when my husband spotted a walk around the Hestur peninsula in the Western Fjords of Iceland, described as “easy going”, I thought that even I could give it a go.
It all started off pleasantly enough as we followed a clear track along the eastern side of the peninsula. A group of ducks waddled down to the water and swam in a line into the middle of the fjord. The air was still; the water lapped gently against the shore. A pair of geese flew out of the cliff side and landed with a heavy splash. High above us, a few tiny, fluffy bundles stumbled across the rock face as their parents honked protectively from the water’s edge.

We walked on.

We had enjoyed the promised easy going for about an hour when my husband asked,
“What’s that funny clicking noise?”
I looked up. A beautiful black and white bird, with a finely shaped tail like a swallow, was circling above us.
“What kind of a bir….? Fuck!!”
We both ducked as the avian kamikaze swooped down and launched an attack on the tops of our heads. Again and again it dive bombed us. Click-click, peck, peck.

“Do something!” I yelled.
“I need a stick,” said my husband.  He’d heard that the best defence, when being attacked by an Arctic tern, was to wave a stick above your head. I looked around.
“Where am I going to find a stick? It’s Iceland – there are no trees!”
My husband resorted to brandishing the case of his camera above his head as I cowered by his side, flapping my arms and shouting,
“Get off me, you mad bint”.

We scurried on.

Once we had cleared the danger zone, we allowed ourselves a laugh at being bested by such a small bird. After another hour or so we felt we’d deserved a rest. We ate our sandwiches and I checked our progress. So far, so good – we’d almost reached half way. We should be able to complete the loop of the peninsula on schedule. How wrong we were.

As soon as we turned into the western side, the path vanished and the terrain became rougher. We gingerly pushed our way through thick tufts of knee-high grass. I jarred one ankle, then the other as I sank into the deep crevices that lurked beneath. I stubbed my toes on hidden rocks. At one point my husband’s entire leg disappeared down a hole. He writhed and twisted.
“I think I’m stuck,” he said.
I looked on with horror. Who was going to hack a path through the grass for me now? I told him to try harder. He did; eventually he succeeded in freeing himself.

We struggled on.

Our progress had slowed to a snail’s pace. It was getting late; more endless swathes of grass lay in front of us. Surely there must be an easier way round than this? We scanned the cliff side.  Maybe there was a track at a higher level that we’d missed? But all we could see was sheer rock and ominous dark scree.

We looked down at the water. The tide had gone out, exposing a rough shingle beach. It had to be easier to negotiate than the hellish grass. It was … but only marginally. What looked like rough shingle, from a distance, turned out to be large, uneven pebbles and rocks, freshly coated with slippery seaweed. 

We slithered and teetered along the shore line.

The beach assault course eventually gave way to soft, black sand and, for the first time in hours, we found ourselves walking on a level surface. The lights from the roadway twinkled tantalisingly. Nearly there now; we punched the air in triumph. Little did we know that the worst was yet to come.

We rounded what we thought was the last bend only to discover that our path was blocked by gigantic boulders. My husband asked me anxiously if I thought I could climb over them.
“I’ll bloody well have to, won’t I?” was my snappish reply.

Fear (a sheer cliff loomed above me; the fathomless waters of the fjord lay in front of me; it was almost dark!) drove me on and I did manage to scrabble over them. I’d have given myself a celebratory pat on the back but I needed both hands to cling to the rock. I stifled my sobs and comforted myself with the knowledge that it was a circular walk. We weren’t lost and we would eventually complete a loop.

And so we staggered on…

 We finished our “easy going” walk just after midnight. It had taken us 9 hours. My legs were so heavy and stiff that, for the next two days, I lumbered around with all the grace and charm of Frankenstein.



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