An Unconventional Birthday in Ingolfshofdi, Iceland – Part 1


It wasn’t the day my turning ten year olds were asking for.  Actually, it was precisely what they weren’t asking for.  What they wanted was what every double digit turning ten year old wants….a day or an overnight with their friends.  Loud squeals, laughter, silliness, maybe a present or two, and …cake!  This day was everything but!

This unconventional birthday of theirs takes place in Iceland of all unsuspected places.  They woke up to little fanfare, just a letter from mom telling them how special they are and how their birth, 10 years prior had been the best day of my life.  It told of how proud I was to be their mom, to see the beautiful, intelligent, curious children that they have become.  It told of the things I love most – the independence and confidence, kindness and thoughtfulness, the empathy and love they have for others.  It was, they say, the best letter they’ve ever received.


Ingolfsofdi in the background

This year – no streamers and balloons, no giggles and laughs, just quiet emails and texts from a few of those giggly, laughing friends and wishes of adventures from Grammies and Grandpas.  After reading the notes we pack up our bags and depart our quaint cabin in remoteness and head out to an even more remote location, Ingolfshofdi – a cape far from everything – so far in fact we had to hop a tractor pulled cart and drive, standing in the back, 30 minutes through water and sand through what used to be a bay, many years ago.

Arriving in this remote location we weren’t sure what to expect.  We were cold (it started raining on our way out and we discovered our down jackets aren’t very warm when dripping wet.  Rain gear they aren’t)!  but eager.  After all, we were here on a puffin hunt!  Would we see them?  We weren’t sure.  We felt lucky two days ago when we discovered three hidden in the cliffs at Dyrholaey outside of Vik.



Our hike in the rain minus ski poles to the top of the cape

Our lovely guide escorted us up a cliff of sand blacker than the night.  It was a hike straight up hill.  We breathlessly dug our heels in in anticipation of what we would see on the top.  We finally reached it.  It was gorgeous and remote up at the very top.  But alas, no puffins!

At this point I’m getting a little nervous.  The girls aren’t so excited about this day as it is – and I’ve promised puffins in the hopes of making it all better.  At this point I’m hoping this lovely guide can deliver.  She begins with some history of the cape, her family who owns most of the land we went through and the government who owns the land we are standing on and how it came to be that we were here, as those before us, to see these adorable, mysterious creatures.  She was entertaining and funny as well as engaging and informative.  As she finished and told us the rules (stay single file – we’re in a bird sanctuary of sorts and eggs & babies are near by and camouflaged).

The protective SkuaShe also informed us that we should put our poles straight in the air above our heads when we got swooped at by the resident birds (not puffins but a non-friendly brown bird named skuas that were none too thrilled we were there to be observing them in their habitat).

Slight problem.  We Sullivans didn’t have any poles.  Apparently we were supposed to grab them prior to the tractor ride and we missed that small detail.  While we had observed and commented about others with poles we just patted ourselves on the back that we could hike up without their assistance and thought they were perhaps for the older dears that were with us.

Ha!  Were we wSqua preparing for a mighty swooprong!  These repurposed, multi-purpose ski poles were really for staving off these dive-bombing birds.  These older (and apparently wiser) tourists became our new best friends.  The kids kept coming fearfully to me and I kept quietly shoving them off to the “woman in the white jacket” who seemed naturally protective of my brood as she not only held her pole up but did so with a bit of a forceful jab.  Thank goodness for our wiser group members!  With their assistance we avoided yet another sharp jab by these aggressive birds (Liam and I had first hand experience yesterday and it wasn’t one we were keen to repeat.)  For the record, getting pecked by an extremely sharp beaked bird traveling at 15 miles and hour straight for your head – or in Liam’s case an eyebrow, is not a fun experience.

While avoiding the dive-bombing birds we continue along, noticing burrows in the ground.  We’re thinking we must be near.  We know they are from puffins.  It’s where they lay there eggs….but where are they?

All of a sudden, they appear before us – 20, 50, 100 stunning puffins.  Standing, staring as curiously at us as we were at them.

DSC01917They’re as cute in person as they are in pictures.  We stand in amazement at the sheer numbers.  The kids and I had just been talking about how their numbers are dwindling rapidly as the warmer waters and increased number of larger animals (whales) are killing and eating their food source.  We never expected, never imagined we’d see so many!  I was instantly thrilled, for me, for the girls, for Liam.  This was a gift.  Truly remarkable to see these birds.  The miserable cold, the drizzly weather, the tiredness, all was forgotten as we continued for almost an hour seeing more and more, hundreds perhaps thousands of these birds all in this majestic location.  We loved watching them stare back at us but it was exhilarating watching them take flight, their slow, methodical flap of their wings followed by their unsuspected bright orange feet trailing as they took flight.  I felt elated, thankful and at peace that this day had occurred and that, while unconventional for sure, it was how my girls got to spend their day…going from 9 to 10 with these lovely creatures.


While it was a full day already, for us, we had another adventure to go – go big or go home, right?  and we aren’t quite ready to go home…

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