Fishy fishy fishy fish.
26.07.2014 - 26.07.2014 17 °C
Another morning, another Fokker 50. The beauty of adventure is never knowing what is going to happen.
On this Saturday morning, we arrived in Isafjodur, West Fjords' oldest trading post, nestled between two snow capped mountains. We were greeted by Maik and his 6 year old son, Felix, our guides for the day. There are some people who you feel you've known without ever having met before, Maik and Felix were such people. Their welcome was most friendly. A good start.
The theme of the day was fish, fishing technique, fishing boats, eating fish, processing fish, fishing sustainability, history of fishing and future of fishing. FISH. And to remind us the day was about fish, there was the scent of fresh fish wafting about. So if fish bores you, do not read any further.
Fishing is taken very seriously here. And the people are extremely passionate and proud of what they do. So they should be; what we learned was incredible. The sustainability of fishing in Iceland dates back a very long time. We were able to see the way olden-day fisherman lived and operated in the tiny station called Osvor Bolungarvik. The female guide was dressed in a rather unusual garb of handmade leather overalls. Not terribly flattering or practical (involved rope going around regions that make toilet visits next to impossible). The reconstructed mini "living museum" showcased genuine articles used by fisherman of the olden days - tools, eating and sleeping arrangements, fish drying racks, "backpacks" which were basically wooden crates, and examples of innovation that I cannot sufficiently describe here. The larger and formal maritime museum is only worth a mention because it was half-filled with vintage and curious accordions. None of them playable underwater.
To return to Isafjodur, instead of using the rundown, avalanche-prone, pot-holed, cliff skimming road again, we took the faster and safer tunnel through the mountain and popped out into the sunshine. Ah, lunchtime.
Now here's the thing. When there is no menu and you are told "today it's plaice or halibut" you kind of have to go with it. Plaice for me (my favourite fish and cannot get it in Australia) and Halibut for Paul, so we can get a taste of both.
The restaurant was a wooden cabin with long wooden picnic benches inside. Tjorhusid is not a fancy place, but let me tell you I ate the singularly BEST fish in my entire life here. Each meal is presented in a huge cast iron skillet: fried fish, tiny potatoes, vegetables, capers and seasoning. Simple and flavoursome. But TOO MUCH! One dish would have fed us both. Needless to say on this occasion, I overate.
Staggering out of Tjorhusid, we met up with Maik and Felix and continued the fishy adventure.
Maik is another interesting guide. He lived in Australia's east coast for a while, and built a timber house for John Butler. He has a friend who drummed for Midnight Oil. He used to live in the presidents house in Isafjordur. And he has a Masters in Marine/Fishery Management. He was a font of knowledge and very talkative. I could barely keep up.
Here's a few factoids I remember from Maik:
Some architectural influences are from Chicago because the first architect from the West Fjords lived there. Some houses are named after world cities which the occupants assume as their surname. For example: Agnes Tokyo. Magnus London etc.
The avalanche protection design is envied by Alpine countries. They've managed to create steps and barriers so that they blend into the scenery.
Driftwood from Siberia is a handy source of wood which is in scarce supply in Iceland.
There is a law saying if you see anyone operating a winch, you must stop and help.
Isafjodur is the place of many firsts in Iceland: first retirement home, apartment building, Danish consulate.
The isolation of this area inspired innovation, ingenuity and creativity in the past and it continues today with their commitment to sustainability.
And so to Sudureyri, another town in the fjords, accessed through another tunnel. But hang on, this is no ordinary tunnel. This is a one-way 9km tunnel with an INTERSECTION and passing bays. Drunk people and sheep are night-time hazards. This must be a tunnel created by a CGI specialist, it couldn't be real.
Sudureyri is a small (pop 275) environmentally friendly fishing village. Here we were given an exclusive tour in the fish processing factory (unfortunately not operating, it being a Saturday). My audit and QA hat was ON, people, I cannot help myself - I was asking questions like nobody's business and Maik just loved it. (Poor Paul). Therefore I shall bore nobody with the details. Suffice to say, Islandssaga is an immaculate and modern facility. It can get fresh fish to New York in 36 hours. I'm hoping one day it can come to Perth too.
One thing worth mentioning is the waste management here. There is very little that goes to waste. Fish waste ends up in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and fashion, but never as cat food. Apparently, finding a fish head in your soup is a status symbol in Nigeria. So guess where the fish heads go?
A fishing culture day is not complete without more fish to eat.
Maik had set up a trail. At each point he stopped and told us snippets of interesting information and had placed a basket of fish to taste. We sampled coconut fish, dried fish (like fish jerky - Very Nice), and a mashed cod with brandy. By now my stomach was bulging and I was really not in the mood for any more fish.....
....except we had a little cooking lesson on how to make a ceviche. I could barely manage a mouthful.
Today was like a school tour, I returned to Reykjavik, my head full of fishy facts. But no fish for dinner.