Don Juan and the Westfjords
My friend Paul has a system. He uses it to determine how good-looking he is compared to the general population. When he enters a room, an auditorium or a stadium, he decides, using purely subjective measures, where he ranks on a scale of the best-looking people around him. If he is the most handsome, the most irresistible, he gives himself ten out of ten. If he is the ugliest, the least desirable, he gives himself one out ten. Over many years of practising this system, he has settled on an average measure for himself of either eight or nine out of ten. This number seems to vary depending on how much of my expensive whisky he has consumed. Clearly, in Paul’s world, he is surrounded by people with harelips, hunchbacks, eczema and manic facial tics.
On the other hand, I think I’m a solid six out of ten. Sure, I don’t possess many of the stereotypical, traditional but arbitrary characteristics that society has determined make a man good-looking. Things like height, leanness, piercing blue eyes, chiseled granite jaws, grooming-intensive full heads of hair or subtly-defined muscularity which can only arise from time spent doing mindless exercise. But I have my merits too. A fine tortoise-shaped belly, a well-shaped shiny head, a luxurious hairy chest (how can you not love Austin Powers) and a refined, astigmatism-correcting pair of spectacles which lend me an alluring, professorial look. However, society has yet to catch up with me. When you combine these under-rated physical traits with a somewhat acerbic tongue and a tendency towards the sarcastic, you’ll be surprised to learn that my history does not represent a man possessed with oodles of sex appeal. All this was to change in the Westfjords.
Icelandic place names tend towards a certain literalness. The Westfjords is no exception. Lying to the (north) west of Iceland, the Westfjords region is made up of multiple, fat-fingered fjords that jut out into the cold Atlantic Ocean. Even by Icelandic standards, the area is relatively deserted, with most visitors finding it too rough or too remote to visit. The roads wend themselves around the edges of the fjords and driving them can be a slow yet strangely exhilarating feeling. Our pace of driving was not helped by the gravelly, pot-holed roads nor by my wife’s now incurable psychosis – her unrelenting insistence that we stop to photograph virtually every single damn sheep on the island.
Our first goal was to visit the Latrabjarg cliffs. In summer, these are filled with millions of breeding birds and most notably for us, the Atlantic puffins. We were really keen to see these, not because they are particularly rare, but because they possess a weird goofiness which both of us find attractive. We knew we would be cutting it fine since most of these birds disappear in mid-August and we were well past that date, but on the ferry crossing to the Westfjords, I snapped a (bad) photo of a puffin flying with a fish in its mouth, so I held out some hope. Sadly, we were thwarted. All we found were a few ducks, tons of sea-gulls, a wonderful cliff-face and the odd car filled with foreigners who looked well-suited to starring roles in bad French movies.
So we marched on, heading towards Dynjandi, a multiple layered waterfall deep in Westfjords country, but not before a stop at a beach called Raudisandur, which means “red sand”. You can guess the rest.
Dynjandi will be remembered, not only for its picturesque falls, but as the site of my awakening as a global sex symbol. Whilst admiring the falls, I was suddenly inundated by streams of women. Ok, it was only two (excluding my wife), but inundation can be relative. The first was a handsome woman of undefined Eastern European origin, who asked me huskily if I could help her use her tripod. Not attuned to such blatant innuendo, I proceeded to assist in this menial task along with words of wisdom on apertures and shutter speeds. When her boyfriend / husband, a man with not so subtly defined muscularity, came to see what the fuss was all about, I casually said she would be fine and moved on.
The second was a younger, comely lass from the Netherlands with a lithe backpacker’s physique and a fashionable eyebrow ring. She too wanted some photographic assistance and I happily obliged, flattering her with soothing words about f-stops and neutral density filters. My ever-suspicious wife, who was some distance away from the action, was surreptitiously snapping photographs of us with a telephoto lens as if preparing for a divorce settlement.
Having been showered with such wanton overtures, I decided that the world, if somewhat belatedly, had finally come around to recognizing my obvious charms. Somehow I suspect San-Marié thinks that a bald man with greying stubble, coupled with a tripod and a retro-looking camera are sufficiently unthreatening, with just the right veneer of professionalism, for young women to seek legitimate advice from. I know whose view I’ll believe.
Our day in Dynjandi was not yet over. As we settled in to camp by the waterfalls, I was delighted to be able to catch the Liverpool vs Arsenal game over 3G, even though it meant missing out on most of a memorable sunset.
My Dutch friend, who was also camping there that night, then offered to wake us up if the Northern Lights appeared, as she felt there was a reasonable chance of this happening. I felt it was too early in the season and too light for this to be a real possibility and that this was an obvious ruse of hers to allow her to knock on our camper, hoping to catch sight of me in a state of undress. Sure enough, at about 2 am, the knock occurred and I scrambled to cover my nether regions. We exited the camper and to my surprise, caught our first slightly tentative view of the Northern Lights. Despite my difficulties trying to photograph these, I have included my somewhat flawed attempts below, given the momentousness of the occasion.
The next day, feeling a bit sleep deprived, we shuttled up to Isafjordur (population 2527), the thriving metropolis of the Westfjords for a taste of urban life before heading to North Iceland where you’ll find us in our next installment.
For our full Westfjords gallery, please click here.