Thursday, August 15, 2019

Puffins!

Puffins on Mykines Island.

The moment I realized we could see puffins in the Faroe Islands, I knew I had to get to them!

Originally, I had planned for our time in the Faroe Islands to follow our time Scotland.  After thinking about that some, I realized that was not a good idea given that it would mean that we would be heading north as summer turns into fall and the weather would turn from cool to cold.  At the same time, it would lessen our chances of seeing these adorable creatures as they begin to return to sea in September.  So, I reversed the order of the trip and completely re-did the itinerary for this one day....and it was so worth the effort!

Mykines Island is home to the largest colony of puffins in the Faroe Islands so if you are interested in seeing the puffins while you're in the Faroe Islands, this would be the place to come.  You need to know that the tours to islands only run from May 1 to August 31.  Peak season for seeing the puffins is mid-July so also keep this in mind if you want to avoid the crowds.

The ferry to Mykines, named Jósup, departs from the village of Sørvágur each morning at 10:20a and at 4:20p.  The return ferry departs from Mykines at 11:05a (this departure is only relevant if you are staying overnight on Mykines) and at 5:05p.  It's about a 45 minute ferry ride each way.

While you can go on your own to Mykines, I opted for us to take a guided tour.  After doing a search on the internet, I came across a website called Visit Mykines.  I immediately sent them an email and pretty much got an instant reply back from the owner and guide - Heini Heinesen. 

Although it would be 9 months before we would even going on this tour to Mykines, Heini strongly recommended that we get our ferry tickets ASAP which I immediately did.

I also went ahead and paid the required $75 per person hiking fee for Mykines.

Sørvágur is located only a stone’s throw from the airport on Vágar island which is a short drive from our Airbnb apartment in Tórshavn. The ferry departs from the harbor in Sørvágur, near the local EFFO gas station.  Just plug that in as the destination in your GPS and you'll get to the ferry harbor with no problem.  On our previous day's roadtrip, Pat and I stopped in Sørvágur enroute back to Tórshavn so we had a rough idea of where the harbor is and how long the drive would take from Tórshavn.

On Puffin Day, Pat and I arrived into Sørvágur almost an hour before the ferry was scheduled to depart.  Neither one of us wanted to miss out on seeing the puffins.  More importantly, it was a sunny day and the sea was calm.  If the weather is not good, the ferry ride could be canceled.  If that had happened, we could reschedule for another day but glad we didn't have to deal with that situation.

The harbor at Sørvágur is small but there is plenty of parking for cars.  We were one of the first to arrive but it was not long before others started to show up.

That's the Mykines ferry, named named Jósup.  It's a small boat!

Gradually, people began to cluster around the ferry boat and as soon as boarding was possible, Pat and I joined the crowd.  I don't know how many passengers the ferry holds but it looked like the captain was trying to take on as many passengers as he could.  Initially, Pat headed down into the cabin but I wanted to stay up top so we came back up to the deck and secured ourselves two spots on the bench to sit down on.  In hindsight, I am really glad that I had taken Heini's advice to get the ferry tickets ASAP because there would've been no way to get them on the spot - no seats available!

Leaving Sørvágur behind us.

The small ferry made it's way out of the harbor and in no time, we were on open water.  Considering how many bad weather days you can have in the Faroe Islands, I was grateful it was a picture perfect sunny day for our day trip out to Mykines Island.  Like everyone else on the boat, I just kicked back and admired the scenery.


We cruised by several sea stacks, commonly seen in the waters around the Faroe Islands.


As we passed a large sea stack, everyone started pointing their cameras towards the sky.  I wondered why.

Through my zoom lens, I could see dozens of birds flying all around the rock formation.  It's hard to make them out in the photo but if you look at the full size image of the photo, you'll see all the black dots.  Nothing wrong with your screen, those are the sea birds that call this part of the world, home. Unfortunately, with the noise of the ferry motor, I could not make out their chirping.



Notice how most everyone is dressed on this summer's day. Pat and I were prepared for a chilly ride!

I recognized Mykines Island as we approached it.  If you look carefully, you'll see its white colored lighthouse, standing above the landscape, on the left side of the photo.

Approaching the ferry dock on Mykines.

Indeed, the ferry ride from Sørvágur took just about 45 minutes.  Everyone disembarked and climbed up the set of steps that lead to the village itself.

The one and only village on Mykines. There are a total of just 8 people who live here year round - two are in there 80’s, two in their 60’s and two that hover around 50.

Heini was at the top of the steps waiting for us.  We were joined by two moms from NYC, along with their children and nanny.  Apparently, they had left their husbands behind to work.  Nice!  I talked with their nanny a bit.  She gets to travel with them everywhere and has been to many places around the world that she would not have been able to do herself.  She's enjoying her job.  Lucky woman!

After everyone had arrived, Heini introduced to the woman he was standing next to - his wife.  She would be accompanying us to help Heini keep track of us. 😀

We headed towards the start of the Mykineshólmur trail which leads you from the village to the lighthouse that is situated on the far end of the island.  The village is roughly in the middle of the island.

The first section was a steep, uphill climb.  Pat was not sure she could handle it but I told her we would go slowly, one baby step at a time.  I was barely a few feet into the hike up when I started shedding layers.  It was getting hot in the bright sun but what a beautiful day it was!

It took a while to get the top - further distance than it looked.  When we got to the top, we stood for a few minutes just to take in the breath taking view of our surroundings....and the sheep. 😀  I came for puffins and I got sheep.

The next stretch of walk was relatively flat. The grass was so lush, it felt like I was walking on top of a sponge.  If only all hiking surfaces were this comfortable to tread on.

Looking back down at the village.

In no time, we saw our first puffins!!  They are about the size of a small pigeon but way cuter. I somehow expected them to be the size of a penguin.

WARNING:  There is a lot of puffin overload in this post and I make absolutely no apologies for it!

Mykines is home to the largest colony in the Faroe Islands so if you want to make sure you see these charming birds, your best bet is to come here.

There were several sections on the hike trail where you could really get close, less than 2 meters, to the birds and they were not afraid of humans!

Puffins are sea birds and they build their nests near the cliff edges, making it easier for them to fly back and forth with the sardines they catch for their young. Baby puffins are called pufflings.

I tried to get photos of the birds landing because they are a bit awkward when they hit ground. Too cute!

Awww!!

Puffins build their nests on the ground.  We were told to strictly stay on the path so we would not risk damaging a nest.  Sometimes the puffins could be hard to spot, even with their distinctive orange beak and feet.

Before starting out on our hike, we had mentioned to Heini Pat's concerns about whether or not she could handle the full trek.  There were quite a few sections of the trail that he felt she would struggle with and so, after a bit of discussion, she decided she would hang back; enjoy being in the company of the puffins here and then slowly make her way back down to the village.  We had brought out lunch (some pasta salad) with us so before continuing on, we had to figure out how to divvy it so we could each have our share.  We had both brought our water bottles with us and if she wanted to, there was a small restaurant in the village that Pat could go to for a bite or drink.

I bid Pat farewell and headed off with the rest of the group.  We were making our way towards the lighthouse, at the far end of the island.

With each step, the village grew smaller and smaller behind us.

Lots of puffins to make me smile as I hiked along.

Ahhhh.....why come to Mykines if you don’t want to overdose on puffins?




Our hike took us from the village, which sits in the middle of the island to the far end where there is a light house.  To get there we had to do a steep climb down to cross the bridge, that links to the ground where I was standing on to take this photo, to the island that the lighthouse is situated on.  The hike path was a series of very steep up’s and down’s separated by flat sections where I could catch my breath. Whew!

When I stopped to take the photo below, all I could think of was "so close, yet so far". The light house was where we were going to have our lunch break and I was getting hungry. You have to bring a packed lunch and water everywhere you go in the Faroe Islands or else you starve!  Eateries are not a common thing here!

For most of the hike, I stayed right behind Heini's wife. I paid attention to where she put her feet so I would do the same.  I figured she knows this route like the back of her hand! At one point, I asked her name....twice.  I still don’t think I have it correct- Ellenbord?


Beautiful day, stunning scenery.  What more could you ask for?

Stopping to watch the puffins was a good excuse to catch my breath.

Puffin sighting = break 😂

So adorable!  I swear sometimes it looked like they were posing for the camera!

One section of the path was dotted with holes.  These are puffin nests. We gently walked around them so as to disturb the ground as little as possible.

Coming in for a landing!  Cute as they are, puffins are not the most graceful fliers!

We soon reached the bridge that connected the two parts of the island.  We would cross the bridge to get to the side that the lighthouse is on.

Crossing over the bridge.  I stopped for a few seconds to take in the view from here.


The hike really was a series of steep up's and down's. I was surprised that I was actually able to keep up with everyone! I'm so thankful for all the hours spent sweating in the gym. 🙏

Sometimes, there were steps. For the most part, we were hiking up and down dirt paths.


From the other side of the bridge, we were so far away, we could barely make out the village.  Quite the hike but really enjoyable on such a sunny, cool day!  I'm absolutely loving my time here!

One cliff ledge, I spotted gannets.  They are the other common seabird here and apparently, they only nest on a specific section of cliffs here.  They're pretty birds but not adorable like puffins.  Sorry, gannets.  A few photos and I moved on.

The gray, fluffy one bird at the top of the photo is a baby gannet.  Swear it looks bigger than the adult!


Invader!  A lone puffin who obviously did not get the memo that this is gannet territory.

We finally made it to the lighthouse!!  For all the people that had been on the ferry with Pat and I, it seemed like only a fraction of them were at the lighthouse.  I wondered where everyone else had gone to.  I'm glad I made the effort because the views from here are spectacular!


Ellenbord told me about this building but I can't remember what she said.  Whoever lives here are hardy souls!

I was quickly reaching puffin overload.  Even so, I had to take photos.  Afterall, I might never make it to Mykines again!

Puffins aren't always easy to spot.  Can you see them in the photo below?

When I finally reached the lighthouse, all I could think of was LUNCH!  But first, some photos....

....including the obligatory touristy one.  Here's proof I made it to the lighthouse.😁

I found a grassy spot to sit on and munched on my lunch.  All the while, I was virtually pinching myself - still could not believe where I was.  Such an incredible place that once upon a time, I would only dream of ever coming to!  So grateful to be able to travel as I do!

Ellenbord, having her lunch at the best restaurant in Mykines.

After lunch, it was time to head back.  We took a slightly different route to get back to bridge.


If I remember correctly, these were the steps that lead up from the old ferry dock.


Them’s some steep steps, if you can call them steps!

There are literally hundreds of seabirds flying over head at all times. They are noisy and in some spots, have created a stinky mess, if you know what I mean.


As often is the feeling, we made it back to the village in less time than it took for us to get to the lighthouse.  Pat was waiting for us at a spot near where we left to head out on the hike. Poor thing.  Other than to walk around this teeny, weeny place, there wasn't anything for her to do or see to occupy her time.  In hindsight, she should've brought her Kindle with her to read with.  I made a mental note to have her do this if ever we were do do something that maybe she would change her mind about at the last second.  In any case, it was good to see her though I was sad to leave where I had just been to, behind.  No more puffins. 😢

Heini took us on a short stroll through the village before taking us to his home. Remote Mykines village did not have quite the same charm as the other villages we had been to but it somehow felt like a comfy place.  As with the other villages, I didn't notice too many villagers out and about.  Perhaps they stay inside when the know that tourists are around.  I would. 

Here are a few of the photos I took on our stroll.  By now, I was tired of taking photos.  The puffins did me in.  😂





Heini and Ellenbord

At his home, Heini showed us how villagers, once upon a time, used nets to catch puffins for food. 



I asked Heini if they still do that and he replied, no.  I asked he liked eating puffins and he replied, no.  I asked why not and he said that puffins are seabirds that eat fish and therefore, their meat tastes fishy.  He likened it to eating chicken that tastes like fish.  I can understand why that would not a delicious bite of food.  Nowadays, the villagers on Mykines receive a weekly delivery of food from the "mainland" so there is no longer a need to catch and eat what flies over your head.  

Heini's father was the last keeper of the lighthouse and Heini partially grew up on Mykines.  These days, he and wife live here during the summer season.  The rest of the year, they are back in Tórshavn.

Heini's Mykines house is also conveniently located right next to the helicopter pad.  Some tourists opt to fly from Vágar Airport to Mykines but I think the ferry is a better experience.

Heini, Ellenbord, and their dog, Freya (sp?) relaxing in front of their home.

When it was time for us to all say goodbye to Heini, he walked us all back to the top of the steps leading down to the ferry landing.  We only had to wait a few short minutes before the ferry came into view.  Aboard the boat and 45 minutes later, we were back in
Sørvágur.

What a great day this was!  I left Mykines with wonderful memories for a lifetime!