A Phallological Museum.......WHAT ON EARTH ?!?

Trip Start Aug 30, 2007
Trip End Sep 30, 2007

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Flag of Iceland  ,
Friday, September 21, 2007

An early morning drive to Husavik to catch the 9:45 AM whale watch...they've cut back to 2 trips per day cause it's getting really cold and the season's almost over...but we get there just in time to pay for our ticket and get on the boat...the boats are really cool...these old oak fishing boats that this company bought from fishermen.  In an attempt to keep the seas from being over fished, fishermen were expected to burn their boats when they bought a new one... so these classic old boats were mostly destroyed until this guy who was into preservation bought them and restored them...and about 12 years ago he started this whale watching business in the previously sleepy little town of Husavik...it hadn't gotten much traffic since it was off the ring road and really didn't have much to offer...but now it's billed as the best place in Iceland to go whale watching...and in fact the town and the boats, are beautiful..
So we slide out of the car and onto the boat and right off I meet this natty haired German guy Martin who's engaging and apparently, running the boat.  He offers us these coveralls for warmth...they're not just any coveralls - Lisa's is lined with neoprene (in case she falls out it'll keep her from sinking), and mine is heavy-duty and totally fake-fur lined and has zippers all over the place...but I'd  have to grab her waistband to keep from sinking - so thoughtful of them to make sure we wouldn't be cold...these outfits were a highlight of my experience....
And we're on the boat with a busload of German tourists....seems wherever we go there's a busload of German tourists...I don't know if it's the same busload or there are just a lot of them....but some of these people are beginning to look familiar...so Martin speaks German and the other woman, who I shall refer to as Gudrun, her name being at least close to that,  speaks English (and of course Icelandic).  But Martin's the only one really saying much thru the microphone... and we've been out in the sea for an hour and seen only one minke whale which is great but not the biggest thrill...we're in it for the humpbacks and some new stuff maybe...so we resort to enjoying the scenery and taking photos of ourselves and finally I decide to make my way up to the highest deck on the boat where Martin and Gudrun have sequestered themselves.  Squeezing my way in there, I get Martins attention and although it's a delightful conversation we're having, it's brought to my attention that most of the whales have already migrated south for the season....the minke is perhaps the only whale in this fjord....by now the others are probably around Cape Cod and the people there are seeing some great displays from the humpbacks but we're not going to...now that's a minor disappointment, I've seen lots of whales from Provincetown and how can one be negative on a brilliant, sunny (and COLD), day in a boat on a fjord...have to appreciate those gifts...good time but no whales...so we warm up with cocoa and hard cinnamon buns...chat with Martin a bunch more and enjoy the views...
By the time the boat ride is over, I've lined up my buddy Martin for a video interview...he's got an interesting story - he's also been involved in local reforestation efforts...and he makes a charming interviewee..and he introduces me to Matthew, from Baltimore who has volunteered for two years at the whaling museum....it's main thrust has been to ensure that there is a ban on whale hunting in Iceland (right now they're technically allowed to hunt but for 'research" purposes only).  The position of the museum folks is that even though the indigenous Icelanders have been whale hunting thru history for sustenance, they are a wealthy nation now with access to anything they might desire and do not need to rely on species whose numbers are threatened...Matthew's a serious guy and he has a lot to say...he also describes the Alcoa (yes aluminum) plant they're trying to build on the north side of Husavik.  Seems like Alcoa has decided Iceland is a mighty nice place to get cheap energy for it's aluminum smelting plants and is in rapid expansion, building plants in various locations in the country.  With lots of promo there's the suggestion of socioeconomic gain in jobs and schools and old folks homes....but in reality, there is a largely Polish workforce rather than Icelandic and the impact on the environment is not clear...esp with regard to Husavik...but yes, they did build a couple of old folks homes for some good PR.
Matthew talks about the cargo ships that'll have to travel into this harbor, their vibrations and theiir effect on the ecosystem, and how the aluminum plant alters the magnetic field and how  perhaps the whales might find this upsetting to their natural patterns...he feels that there's not a lot of research going on to really understand the ramifications of this industrialization but in town meetings with Alcoa, their representatives attempt to ease public concern  but lack factual scientific information.  Now apart from affecting the whales directly, if the tourist industry were to dissolve (and the whale watches are the core of that) so would Husavik.  It gets about 50,000 visitors per year to see the whales while an Alcoa plant would simply not have the same draw.  So I get a sense of what Matthew is so passionately serious about and my appreciation of  his intensity deepens..
And on a lighter note, the afternoon revolves around a visit to the Phallological Museum...the only one on Earth!!!  What are we talking about here you might ask?  Well just as the name suggests, it is a collection of the phallus (or in local, yet still biologically correct terms, the penis), from all sorts of specimens...It's run by this ex-school teacher who is a real character...not at all offensive, but entertaining and informative in a very zoological sort of way.  Apparently the tradition in Iceland of using the preserved penis of bulls for whips piqued his attention and so today we have a gem of a museum here in Husavik that offers a broad spectrum for comparative value...of course this type of display may not be for everyone,  and this entry in my blog may not be either...but as a responsible blogger, I thought it only fair to include this once in a lifetime experience as many of you may never have the same opportunity...and may never even want the same opportunity..
So the collection of Dr Sigurdur Hjartarson contains 257 specimens to be exact, the most striking of which is the donation from the sperm whale - it's as tall as me...see the photo for yourself...he does all the preservation himself sometimes using formalin, sometimes various drying techniques...he's quite the skilled scientist...the director relates that there are 4 humans who have promised, in fact, willed, their organs into the exhibit...the two most notable, in my mind, are the older (94) Icelandic gentleman who's been a radical activist for this-and-that all his life as well as a local celebrity, and a 42 yr old American who seems a bit obsessed...his wish is to donate while he is still alive !!! so that he can witness himself as part of the display...I don't wish to be judgemental but this strikes me as kind of odd perhaps??    Also included in the museum is phallic folklore, humor, and artwork...all very tasteful..after all it's just another structure of the body I guess worth studying...and it's accepted as a legitimate tourist attraction here in Husavik - Dr. Hjartarson says he's never been criticized by locals regarding his collection...in fact when a whale washes up on shore, they call him...he's well known, at least in Iceland....
At this time of the year Husavik pretty much shuts down by evening...we head back to Akureyri to our new friend, Bjarni ...we share a lovely dinner and conversation and drift off to dream of whales and ??  just whales...
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