Aluminium and Fish, Eskifjordur, Iceland,

You approach Eskifjordur by sailing down the Reydarfjord until you see a big aluminum smelter.  A small fjord, Eskifjord, branches off to the starboard.  At the end of that small fjord you see some gleaming white fuel tanks.  This is Eskifjordur.  The water is almost completely still and reflects the mountains.  As you approach the fuel tanks, where Prinsendam will dock, you see, stretched out for a little over a mile, a pretty town of small buildings reflected in the water.

Eskifjordur is a fishing village of about 1,000 people that sits across Eskifjord from a 1,000-meter-high mountain Holmatindur, about the same height as Verstovia is Sitka.   As well as being a fishing town it is also kind of a bedroom community for Reydarfjordur, where the aluminum smelter provides jobs.  There are pens in the Fjord for fish and kelp farming.

Holland America uses this as a jumping off point for tours of the wonders of the East Fjords but we decided to explore this small town on our own.  A part of exploring means sitting outside (It was a rare beautiful day) for a coffee and talking with a local woman.  Exploring also includes visits to the local museum, a local restaurant which had been a fishermen’s workshop but had been closed for 80 years.  When someone bought it, he discovered a treasure of old implements and artifacts from which he created kind of a private folk museum and fish restaurant.  The town is trying to develop a tourism industry and there are several hotels and one resort further down the Fjord.

The local maritime and history museum is excellent, the type of small town museum I love, with lots of “stuff” but organized in a very logical way.  It is in one of the oldest wooden buildings in the town.  It had been a store with a storehouse.  The front part of the museum is set up as a store with things you may have seen on sale in the early to mid-20th century.  In other words, stuff I remember using.  Once past the cash register, where you pay an admission fee, you go into the store rooms with a little map that has the exhibits interpreted in English (or you can get it in Danish or German.)

The upper floor has exhibits of stuff, an old dentist office with a foot powered drill, a medical dispensary, a photo shop, a cobbler, a carpenter.  The lower floor is all about the fishing history of the town, and it looks a lot like fishing histories in Southeast Alaska (pictures of boats like you can see in Sitka’s Pioneer Bar) until the introduction of mechanized trawlers and fish farming, at which point the histories become very different.

There are not a lot of small fishing boats in the harbor but we saw three big trawlers, one almost 300 feet long.   Residents tell me economically the town is as good as it has ever been.  “Everyone who wants work can get it easily.”   I ask about the collapse of cod because of overfishing.  They tell me that mackerel is becoming the new cash fish.  (We have heard this in the Faroes as well.)  With climate-change mackerel are moving in where the cod were, and there are still some cod.

The town looks prosperous and a lot of homes have decorative work around the doors, windows and along the eves of the roofs.   And on this sunny day in the low sixties it is easy to tell the bundled-up cruise ship visitors from the locals in shorts, tank tops, and in one case, a bikini.

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