Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands), Iceland

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It was a perfect happenstance that our our solitary and windblown cottage was right near our 5th day of Icelandic adventures. I had originally planned a trip into the highlands of Iceland in the famed watercolor painted hills of Landmannalaugar, but it was impassable without an SUV, so we settled on a calmer day in the Westman Islands ("Vestmannaeyjar" in Icelandic).

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The ferry terminal was probably only a mile as the puffin flies from our cottage, but took about 20 minutes to reach by car because of the circuitous roads. The ferry wasn't crowded at all, possibly because if you don't understand Icelandic, figuring out the logistics is a little complicated. So here's the trick if you ever visit Iceland: take this ferry from Landeyjahöfn to Vestmannaeyjar and be prepared for the most enchanted place you've ever seen.

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The islands are part of a volcanic archipelago of about 15 small islands off the south coast of Iceland, about a 35 minute ferry ride from the mainland. We visited the largest by far, Heimaey, which is only 5 square miles, but managed to see the others from peaks on Heimaey. The ferry was a bit windy so I sat with my hat and gloves on most of the trip, but when we came into a cove and pulled right past a huddle of islands, the whole boat darted to the right side to point and gape as we slid past these deep green peaks.

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We had brought our car on the ferry and once we arrived on Heimaey, were surprised to find how extremely close everything was. I had found a local spot, Gott, to try for lunch but we kept passing it because it was so close. I'm not even sure there is really a town as the whole island is only a few roads, but we were still glad we brought our car so we could scope the whole island out. There were very few tourists, and the whole place was solitary. And the winds!

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Heimaey is famed for the explosion of the volcano Eldfell in 1973. There was nothing and then in the middle of the night, a volcano started erupting, which eventually destroyed much of the town (thankfully, everyone was safely evacuated). Eldfell is still a nearly perfect cone of warm, red lava, and we decided to give it a go.

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Hiking up in piles of loose lava was more difficult than the glacier hike because each step my feet made up, I slipped back a little. Even though I knew I wasn't going to slide straight down, the feeling of no firm ground was a wee bit unsettling.

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The hike was just straight up and up, but thankfully the view each time we stopped to breathe was ever more incredible, looking over the town and other islands below.

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The colors at the top were jeweled reds and emeralds and topazes in the sun and we kept turning to each other like Where are we? Is this real?! Why is no one here?

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At first I thought maybe my feet were just warm, but once we reached the top, we found steam holes with very hot air leaking out. The volcano is still radiating quite a bit of heat. The winds at the top made up for the warmth, and between the hot air and whipping winds, I felt a little wobbly.

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So I stood next to this rock formation for a bit to hold back the winds. If you look behind me in this picture, you can see a pole sticking up at the very far right. It's hard to tell, but it had a big red light at the top, similar to a lighthouse light, except it wasn't on when we hiked up. We figured it was some sort of alarm or weather tracker. But after we'd been up at the volcano's top for about 15 minutes, it started to beep and flash red! That did not help the wobbly situation.

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We never did find out what it was all about, but still, when there are only 2 other people on the top of the volcano with you and an alarm starts going off without explanation: disconcerting.

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Never have I walked through such a rainbow of land and rock before.

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As soon as we reached the base and my little legs stopped jittering,

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we hopped back in the car and drove about 10 minutes to the far end of the island near the area called (no joke) Vikin.

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And it was suddenly clouded, white skies, and vigorous winds from every direction. This is my please can I get back in the car face; it was the coldest I was on the whole trip. My nordic man doesn't look phased at all.

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To up the enchanted factor a little bit, there were also these island horses pawing to get our attention.

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We drove around to the northeast corner of the island, and I tried to hike up a trail, but was thwarted by heart palpitations (thank you, thyroid) so had to climb back down. Can you spot me on the dirt trail with an itty white hat?

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Paparazzi, stop documenting my failure!

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This area was near the fishing docks and was swarmed with sea birds, like a smelly dream.

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We took one last stroll by the bay, before heading back to the ferry for a sunset cruise home.

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The Westman Islands were one of the less planned parts of our trip that shocked us with their intense beauty. We'd totally recommend a visit as it felt like we'd gone to a whole new country!

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