SEEDS 12. Westman Islands - Vestmannaeyjar
May 18th is an interesting date.
Gregorian calendar was showing that date when Vasco da Gama reached India, when Napoleon was proclaimed Emperor of the French and, astonishingly, when Jackie Cochran broke the sound barrier with her plane in 1953. But there was even more! On 18th of May in 2009, a group of 9 SEEDS volunteers arrived on Westman Islands (Vestmaenneyra) to help with an erosion control project of Eldfell volcano and even though their speed was far below Mach number and Westman Islands were already discovered hundreds years before, the event overtook all the formerly mentioned by 4 miles. Well, maybe by 3.8 miles but that's it, because the very first workcamp in cooperation with Westman Islands Council was just about to begin and that's definitely a big historical milestone. Anyway, however you put it and whatever history textbook you stand for, the fact that there were 9 people on board of Herjólfur ferry waiting for one of their best two weeks is just good enough to celebrate.
We set up our base in a boys scouts' house with a marvelous hall that's not only ideal place for dining, sleeping or exercising but also for international football matches, which was immediately tested and proofed. Italy, Netherlands & Czech Republic United beat FC France, Belgium, Australia & Korea by class and were therefore allowed to clean the stadium after the game. So much for the first day of a workcamp during which we've also seen golf course, 3 football fields, famous festival place and the second most windy place in Europe, everything during one short drive around the island. Sheep were surprised and volunteers were happy, since the weather was brilliant and horizon was far away.
There are several wooden fences on Eldfell mountain, whipped by a wind all day long and all night short so that most of them are broken or almost ruined, nonetheless, they still serve as a barrier, stopping rich fertile soil to be blown away by everlasting sea breeze. The mentioned "rich fertile soil", or mud, how volunteers use to call it, does not appear on the mountain slopes naturally but it has to be delivered and that was our main task. It doesn't sound like a hard job, provided you have enough mud, buckets, shovels and muscles but if you are missing one of these, things get instantly more interesting.
In our case, we had all the buckets we needed but we were short of muscles so the first few days were more like a fitness training than a serious manual work. It is also remarkable how many different approaches arise, even though your only task is to fill bucket with soil, carry the bucket 20 meters upward, empty it and throw it back to let it continue a vicious circle. Hence, every hour moved us a little bit further, every minute meant new knowledge in the art of bucket chaining, volcano climbing or shovel handling and since weather was mostly on our side (we were trully blessed, by the way), it gave us an opportunity to enjoy amazing view during the shifts. In the end there were ten lines of mud on the slopes, all of them full of seeds and fertilizer, ready to become a grown up grassy knoll.
As you can imagine, it wasn't easy to wake up our limbs and minds after spending whole day fertilizing Eldfell hillsides but somehow, surprisingly, we almost always succeeded to do so which allowed us to explore the Westman Islands more. We were strolling, walking, hiking and some of us were even climbing on top of the biggest cliff of the archipelago, 283 meters high Heimaklettur. Apart from these exercises, we enjoyed a concert of Foreign Monkeys, experienced a sight seeing tour around the island, entered a volcano, survived a boat trip and never-ending stories about Free Willy being kept on the islands and still not being tired enough, we were swimming (Dutch and Belgium champions even in the sea), we played badminton with enthusiasm and with each other, we watched a football match (our host Trausti Besti played as captain and we saw 6 goals! ...not his though) and last but not least, we had an opportunity to join an icelandic party - thank you Diza!
Meanwhile, in our effort to at least partly repay kindness and generosity with whose we were accepted on the islands, we cooked various national dishes and organized an "international evening": an event that is traditionally part of the SEEDS workcamps. We were happy to welcome almost a crowd at 5 p.m. when the dinner started and we were even happier noticing, that most of the people seemed to like the meals and didn't have to visit a toilet more than usual after consuming it. Thanks for coming and surviving!
In the morning of the 1st of June 2009, however, the first chapter of cooperation between Westman Islands and SEEDS was closing, leaving not only good memories in volunteers' minds but also cleaned up beach, street and several would-be grassy stripes on the Eldfell mountain. Let they grow green in peace!