Iceland, Experiencing the Raw Forces of Nature | Full Documentary

Iceland, Experiencing the Raw Forces of Nature | Full Documentary

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Iceland, on the confines of the Arctic Circle, is a fascinating island where an original hardy breed of men and women live out their purest aspirations. A touching authenticity beats in the hearts of its inhabitants. They know nature here is uncompromising, so they have no other choice but to remain humble and to live, thanks to what it can offer.

Like this island where the forces of the earth are visible everywhere, the Icelanders feel free and independent. A bad day outside is always better than a good day in the office. To be in nature is maybe the most important for me, just to be somewhere. It need not be spectacular, but to feel the power of nature, the force, and to feel small in nature is something I really enjoy.

That's why I like to put up my tent a little bit off from the road on a place that looks a little bit more wild and remote, and then feel one with nature. That's something I really enjoy. Tayo has always been fascinated by earth sciences. First, he studied astronomy in the Netherlands, his home country.

Then he went into glaciology, a discipline that allowed him to wed his two great passions, science and the mountains. Studying glaciers puts him on the cutting edge of climate warming research. This land with the primitive, rugged force of its volcanic landscapes symbolizes nature in its purest state. The untouched wild nature is shrinking, getting less and less, so it's harder for us to come into contact with wild nature. There's some of it left in Iceland, which is very special.

I think it's very interesting and inspiring for me to try to keep these places that we still have on the planet, and to really try to preserve it because they become so precious and there are few of them left. Tayo moved to Iceland four years ago. This country is sitting on the world's most active hotspot, where one can observe the formation of our planet in real-time. Iceland is a cauldron and a fascinating land of experimentation for scientists who, like Tayo, are actively committed to the preservation of the Earth.

Well, if you don't have a driver's license and you're low on funds, hitchhiking is the best way to get around, even in this country with its often harsh weather. Today, Tayo is headed for a vast glacier field in the south, to lead a scientific expedition. He'll be meeting up with his friend, Joaquin, at a refuge at the foot of the Glacier Vatna. Dude, it's okay if I go with you? -Cool. Okay, cool. Where are you heading to? I'm going to Skaftafell. -Oh, cool.

Going to work? -Yes, that's the same direction I'm going. That's great. -Yes, cool. Who are you working with? I'm guiding people on the glacier taking trips. Oh, sweet.

Have you been to Vatnajökull? Yes, I've been on Vatnajökull, Skeiðarárjökull, Svínafellsjökull, Fjallsjökull, Eyjafjallajökull, Brúarjökull, Skeiðarárjökull, I've been on most of them. -All the glaciers from the south. Yes, I've taken most of the south coast and gone on all the glaciers because even if I have days off, I will still go on a glacier. Yes, it is right. It's really enjoyable for me because I'm always driving this route a few times a month. It's really enjoyable for me to meet up with people from all over the world that I can chat with on the way. Time flies faster when you have somebody in the car with you.

On a geological time scale, Iceland is no more than a newborn. Hardly 20 million years have elapsed since this island began to emerge from the volcanoes on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Iceland is home to around 100 volcanoes that are a permanent threat to the population. Over the last few centuries, Iceland has experienced a major eruption every five years on average. Vast expanses of the landscape are old lava fields covered in surface moss, while hidden beneath lie surprising geological formations. Once, this was a fresh eruption.

It was a big lava field. What happens at some point, is that the surface cools down and that becomes solid, but then the lava can still flow under it. Here, the surface cooled down first, but then inside here was a river of lava that flowed through this tube, that's why it's called the lava tube. Ever since the first Vikings landed on the shores of Iceland more than 1,000 years ago, the settlers here have managed to survive on their island by waging a constant struggle with a hostile and violent land. A very revealing episode of that struggle took place in the Westman Islands off the southern coast of Iceland. January 23rd, 1973.

In the middle of the night, fountains of lava burst forth from the Helgafell volcano overlooking the fishing village, and flowed down to the sea in a torrent of molten rock. Five thousand inhabitants were rapidly evacuated to the mainland. The eruption would last several months, burying the town under tons of ash. Down through the generations, Icelanders have learned that they mustn't look on nature as an enemy, that they could contain its wrath by remaining humble before it and using their wits. The population of Westman refused to give in to the fury of the Earth and mobilized in an amazing show of solidarity.

Rescue workers decided to pump millions of tons of seawater onto the lava flows to stop their advance. In this Homeric battle of water against fire, the port and a part of the town were saved. Yes! Joaquin, yes.

Good to see you. -Good to see you. You arrived. -Yes, I got here. It's pretty cool. -Yes. Yes, so we're having pasta with tuna and tomato sauce.

Wow, it's nice. -Pretty sweet. Typical mountaineering food. I'm going to start also checking the… Joaquin, a Spaniard, also felt the magnetic pull of this majestic island. Like Tayo, he spends all his time in an effort to understand the mechanisms of our planet in order to better defend it.

The two friends are going to ascend the glacier tomorrow to set up a GPS device that will measure the glacier's speed. We're going to this glacier right there because it's still moving quite fast. Not too fast. -It must be amazing, the landscape of it. I have never been to that area, so I'm really looking forward it. The platform that Tayo has picked out in the midst of the crevices is a three hour hike from the refuge. Glaciers cover ten percent of the Earth's surface but all over the world, their area is shrinking year by year.

These giants of ice are one of the more visible signs of the climate change our planet has been subject to. You can see with your own eyes that they are dying. Tayo and Joaquin have chosen to devote their lives to exploring glaciers in order to bear witness to their rapid decline. Their work leads to predictions about another phenomenon that concerns us all. The rising sea levels and its direct consequence, the disappearance of inhabited land. I'm working a bit more with satellite images and he's working with GPS.

With a satellite image you can get the full glacier, and with this, you can get a really accurate single point. The best is, of course, to combine both. I think it's rolling. -Yes. Here is the number of satellites. At this place, I really feel at home.

It's a really special place. I often have a feeling that glaciers are calling me, talking to me, saying, come. The glacier that Tayo and Joaquin are studying, is part of Europe's largest glacier zone.

In October 1996, in the same spot, the volcano under the glacier awoke. The ice cap was blown into the sky in a gigantic eruption of ash and steam. The millions of cubic meters of melted ice ran off and formed a lake. When the ice damming the lake gave way, the mass of water released, swept away everything in its path.

For geologists, it stands out as one of the most remarkable eruptions of the century. For these are the natural phenomena that formed Iceland's present landscapes. Before such a spectacle, men like Tayo naturally take a philosophical perspective of the mechanisms governing the colossal forces of our planet.

When I was studying physics, I was thinking about what life is. In physics, you think a lot about time and time makes change possible. In a way, time is change.

I started to think maybe the change itself is life. Everything that changes is life. It's much broader and wider concept of what life is. In that way of looking at the world, a glacier is also a living thing.

Right here, we're making a little cairn so we can find the right way down. However, we want to keep it small because we're in a national park of Iceland and we're not supposed to make cairns, because people will always follow the same trail and they don't want to have a lot of trails going through the national park. On the way down, hopefully we can find it, then destroy it. Wow! Crazy man. -Cool. Nice. -Wow, spectacular.

Wow, you would completely miss all of those things, all of those details. If you are sitting in the office, even if you are working with the glaciers, you're missing half of the experience. The best way to know how they are is just to look at them. It's a country where people have suffered from nature for a long time and it's still harsh and really rough. That's all part of it. You can sit in the car or stay on the main road and escape everything and try to pretend like it's not there.

I like to be outside and to have it in my face, really to feel the wind, to feel cold, and actually to feel miserable, to feel bad, and to suffer, I think it's a part of it. I think you cannot be in Iceland without suffering. Tayo is not about to leave this country. He is pursuing his research with dogged determination, hoping to unlock the secrets of the glaciers. The commitment of these men may one day allow us to better predict the changes on our planet. Weather permitting, the captain of the Drummore scans the waters of the fjord of Dalvik.

These arms of the sea that cut deep into the land, provide food and shelter for an abundance of whales. Lea was born here in Iceland 29 years ago. Her mother is French and her father, skipper of a fishing boat, Icelandic.

She's a journalist and is presently doing an article on her native region, which is far off the beaten path. Wow, great. That's a beautiful humpback whale putting on a show for the pleasure of all concerned. The fjord is just swarming with whales and we can see them now, especially because winter is coming on and this is when they migrate to the South Pacific. This is the ideal season for whale watching before they head off in search of a warmer climate. There were ten of them here yesterday, so there could be ten today as well.

The sea is calm today. Yes, a beautiful day. Perfect for us, but sometimes it's harder to spot the whales when the sea is flat, because they just stay below the surface and don't do anything.

They don't even come up to blow. Lea is Franco-Icelandic. She studied philosophy in Paris. The subject of her dissertation was tolerance among different peoples, something she, with her mixed background, knows about firsthand. Drawing on her double culture, she writes for the Pourquoi Pas, a newsletter named after the ship of Commander Charcot, the French explorer who perished when his ship ran aground on the coast of Iceland.

This will appear in the little French newsletter I started with a few friends. It's meant for Iceland's French-speaking community and all lovers of Iceland. It will come out next summer, the July 2016 issue. We do one per year. Lea spent the first six years of her life in Iceland.

When her brother, Viktor, was born, her mother decided to return to France with the two children, but Lea and Viktor would spend their summer vacations in Dalvik with their Icelandic father. Conte. Straddling the two cultures is tricky. Whichever country you're in, you're always kind of a foreigner. On the other hand, the great thing is, as Guth said, you never know your own language as well as when you speak another.

Being a dual national makes me someone who has an intimate knowledge of both countries, and that's a great asset. I consider that I belong in both countries. I could never choose. When Viktor came of age, he decided to settle permanently in Iceland and work on his father's fishing trawler.

He also trained to become a river fishing guide. I can't remember when I started fishing. I know I started very young. Whether it was freshwater or the rivers or the sea, I think it was my grandfather who took me fishing for the first time and then it was my father.

We would go every summer, so of course, I love it. However, it's not just the fishing, it's being out in nature, enjoying the environment, so it's the whole thing. It's a very Icelandic thing, being a fisherman by profession and fishing as a hobby. Everything revolves around fishing. You work at sea and spend your vacations on the rivers. Wow, is that nice or what? It should flake off easily.

It's cooked to perfection, nice and tender. Yes, I can tell. Delicious! The Icelandic word for stupid is heimskur, a person who has never left home. The ideal is to go abroad and come back home. Then he won't be a heimskur. He didn't just stay at home, on the other hand, he can't not come back.

That's how it is, right? That's right, you always come back eventually. It's like a magnet, there's nothing to match it. It's like absolute freedom. Three times a week the ferry heads out to Grimsey. Lost in the mists, this small island, worn and scarred by the wind and storms of the Atlantic, is a three hour boat ride to the north of Dalvik. Grimsey is a land out of time.

Lea says that this island lying on the Arctic Circle embodies the very soul of Iceland. The tightly-knit community of men and women is an ideal source of inspiration for the stories she writes for her paper. On Grimsey, there are no more than 90 inhabitants clinging to this little parcel of land. A port, a school, and just one store. Here, life revolves around the comings and goings of the fishing boats.

My grandfather was born on Grimsey, so, yes, we're necessarily cousins with everyone on the island. Here, it generally turns out that you're cousins with everybody. There's an app for when you're at a party, you can check to make sure you're not coming on to your own cousin. Here, the risks are even higher given the size of the island and the few families living here. The waves were a good two and a half meters yesterday.

They're a little lower today, but they take time to settle down after a storm like that. The sea is still pretty rough. The biggest caught there is 25 kilos, right? That sounds about right. Now we're coming into the very best fishing season. Really, why? There's less for the fish to eat in the ocean so they'll take our bait more readily.

It's like the story of my family here, all the men are fishermen. I've often been here when they bring their catch into port. I'd often be here to greet them.

Same thing when they'd go out, I'd watch them leave. I used to see the men coming back, and then I'd ask them how it went, what kind of catch they got. All year round, storms buffet Grimsey's black cliffs. These palisades form the ramparts of wild land. The fishermen are well aware of their sea's reputation. Generous with its fish, but violent and unpredictable.

Everyone here knows that you can't bargain with its whims. The storms beat down on the fishermen at sea, and the ocean is a beast that swallows them alive. Not a single family on Grimsey has been spared. In the old days, many Icelanders lived in this type of place because there was food.

We should never forget that 100 years ago there was nothing here in Iceland. It was only after the Second World War that the whole infrastructure was created. However, as my father always says, when they had Versailles in France, Iceland had only a few wooden houses.

We have to keep in mind that this is still a new world. It's as if we farmers and fishermen here in Iceland all of a sudden woke up in a suit and tie. Grimsey is still a testimony to how life used to be.

The fact that there are still people living here is just amazing. When you live on Grimsey, you necessarily have stories to tell. Like Biyani, the village elder, he's sharing his love of the island with Lea.

[Icelandic spoken audio] This is it? It was originally a gas lighthouse. We turned it off at the beginning of the war. There was only the pastor left? Only the pastor and two old-timers.

We wrote to the bishop to find new men to settle in Grimsey. Thank you. -That was nice. It's pretty much the story of my life.

Always meeting up with these people in France and Iceland, always trying to understand the cultures of the two countries. What makes these two populations so different when they're only three hours apart by plane? Yes, it's something I'm really interested in. I've been trying to understand it since childhood. However, I'm not sure I'll ever find an answer, not a clear-cut answer in any case.

Through my articles and encounters, I can try to catch a glimpse of the answer. I think, yes, in some parts of the world when people live in a city and they go to nature, like going to a museum or a park or something, they go and watch it and then they go home again. That's not the life that I want to live, I just want to live in it. I want to be part of it and play with it. It's also freedom. You don't have any motor, you can go wherever you want.

I could start tomorrow or today, we can just go on for many months. You don't have to ask anybody. Freedom. Siggi was born in the Westfjords.

He worked as a naval architect in Iceland and Canada, and in places the world over. Ten years ago, he gave it all up and bought a sailboat, the Aurora, to marry his two passions, the mountains and the sea. Thanks to his boat, Siggi can share his favorite spots of the Westfjords with other sports and nature lovers.

Greenland, some 300 kilometers to the north, is a regular destination for his outings, but his favorite playground is still his own wild region. Here at the ends of the Earth, nature is unforgiving, but it is wild and unspoiled, like no other place in the world. [Icelandic spoken audio] Today, the two men on board the Aurora with him are his son, Haukur, and his cousin, Vidar. The family will be spending a few days together so that Vidar can perfect his sailing techniques. No, it's a humpback whale.

I think they live quite comfortably here in this place. The best thing we can do is just observe them in peace. That's why you see a whale, what it's doing, I don't know, it's just being a whale.

Same as a whale when looks at me, what are you doing? Being a human, probably. That's not allowed. Don't do that. It's too late, we'll have to turn. In a week, Vidar will be leaving for England to get his yacht master's certification. Then he will also become a captain, the promise of a new life.

We turn there and we'll be headed toward the trawler. Then we'll come back. Tell me exactly when. You just have to be careful not to slacken the jib. Nine months ago while out skiing, Vidar was caught in an avalanche. It cracked several neck vertebrae and broke his arm.

Ready, now you can let go. Take hold and pull. Very good. Vidar barely survived, but he was laid up in the hospital for several weeks. His iron determination, along with painful sessions of physiotherapy, allowed him to gradually recover his mobility.

Siggi played a crucial role by training him in sailing. He's giving me this opportunity to learn from him because he's been sailing for 20 years. It's also very important after an accident when you are recovering, you have some sort of goal. It gave me a purpose to get fit and strong again to go and learn to sail. Well, he's getting well-trained, better and better. Okay.

He's an inspiring person for sailing. I knew Vidar from the time he was a baby. He's a similar age to my son, Haukur. I think he's still young, he's kind of feeling his way around life. He's very interested in the outdoors.

We managed to convert him from skiing to sailing. Yes, he's a good kid and I think he can do some nice things. The three men have dropped anchor off Hesteyri, in the heart of the Westfjords.

Siggi is well acquainted with the history of this abandoned village which is a testimony to this region's past. This is an Arctic fox. The Arctic fox is the only native mammal of Iceland.

When the Vikings arrived in Iceland 1,000 years ago, there was only one mammal in the whole country, and that was the Arctic fox. Generally, in most places in Iceland, they are shot. However, here in this region, they are protected because it's a nature reserve and to shoot foxes is not allowed. After the Second World War, Icelandic society underwent a total metamorphosis. The farmers and fishermen isolated in remote communities began to flee their living conditions, which were extremely harsh, particularly in winter. The decline of these villages, cut off from the rest of the world for eight months of the year, became inexorable.

When they lost a doctor, that was the final nail in the coffin. Eventually, in the early 1950s, there was basically, a few, four or five families left, and they just sat down and had a meeting and said, this is it, let's go all together. We don't want to just slowly fade away. They all packed up and went, all together. In 1952, I think the last people moved away.

Since then, nobody's lived here. Yet in its day, Hesteyri had up to 100 residents. There was even a postal service, a store, and a school. Thanks to whaling, this community was the center of the entire region.

Now, all that remains are a few houses and the ruins of the old whaling station. They used this to melt down the blubber for the oil. They were mainly after the oil. The meat went to the locals or they would throw it away.

Later, they began to make animal meal with the meat. At the end of the 19th century, the sea around Iceland was rich with whales. Around 1890, Norwegians moved into Hesteyri to systematically whale the nearby fjords. For the inhabitants of the Westfjords who had lived closed in on themselves, it was a radical change. All of a sudden they came into contact with the rest of the world. Foreigners came to work in their region and intermarried with the local women.

Icelanders left their country to learn a profession, then came back with new skills. After 20 years, Iceland banned whaling for nearly all the whales had been massacred. Fifteen years later, the country once again authorized whaling, but issued permits only to Icelandic companies.

It's very much a part of Icelandic history. People say, well, we should just bomb it all down and clean it, because it's pollution in the environment but I think it's old enough that it's an interesting kind of a relic, in a way. I like to come here. It's getting a bit dangerous, falling on your head. But, yes, I like it. People survived here in these fjords for hundreds of years or 1,000 years almost with what they can find in these fjords.

Fish in the fjords, mussels, birds, and eggs and anything they could find. They were 100 percent sustainable for hundreds of years, so it's totally possible. It's a delicacy. It's still alive. They're like oysters, just better, more taste. There are very few roads in the Westfjords.

The only way to get to the wildest spots is by boat. This isolated territory has given rise to generations of intrepid sailors like Siggi, eager for adventure. [Icelandic spoken audio] Siggi has turned the Aurora into an ideal base camp. On board, life unfolds to the rhythm of the sun. When night falls, the Aurora becomes a cozy cocoon, like every other home in Iceland. She's become a bit of a mountain hut that we can move around.

You can put your anchor down and live on the boat. Go ashore for skiing, hiking, diving, and all kinds of activities. Come back on the boat, have a nice dinner, good company, good conversation around the table, solve every problem in the world, go to bed, sleep and wake up ready for the next day. That's kind of what Aurora does for me. Exchange is the cornerstone of Siggi's philosophy of life. What he has taught Vidar goes far beyond mere sailing techniques.

He has transmitted to him the joy of being one with nature, and Vidar has drawn fresh strength from this to move on with his life. What I discovered in myself that I want to learn is more about the ocean, more about the sea, because I live so close to it. We're dependent on it and it's big, it's dangerous, it's beautiful, it's mysterious, and everything. It has a deep meaning for me. I'm looking forward to trying something new, learning something new.

I don't know where I'm going to go, what I'm going to do, just explore the ocean. Yes, he's ready, so in five or six days, he'll be sailing in South England. Make us proud. I always like to learn. It's my own self-interest. I'm just hoping that I'm going to learn something more when Vidar comes back.

That'll be good. Vidar, following the time-honored Icelandic tradition will go abroad and then come back, richer for the experience. Every year, the first snowfalls are a signal for the northern Icelanders. They are ready to face the winter, to hunker down until spring. The waters of the fjord will soon form a dense ice pack and Siggi will have to moor his boat as the days gradually shrink to nothing, and one long night covers this land of ice.

2023-03-14 00:41

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