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Iceland Blu-Ray Special Features

Iceland Blu-Ray Special Features

After a 10-minute cab ride, 50-minute bus ride, 6-hour flight to JFK, mad dash through customs, and 3 1/2-hour flight to Austin, I got home at 1:30 in the morning on Friday.

Bye Iceland.

Today’s a day for laundry and unpacking and not spending any money oh god.

Here’s some random thoughts and observations on the trip that never got into a blogpost.

Looks like some sort of alien submarine creature.
  • I made a critical miscalculation in my desire to see the Northern Lights: there was no, way, in, hell I was going to get out of my sleeping bag in the frigid dark and open the camper door just to check if they were out. If I could get some kind of northern-lights Amber Alert on my phone, then we’re talking.
  • I never mentioned cairns. Icelanders used them as navigational waypoints way back in the day, and they’re still all over the place—sometimes standing alone on a hill, sometimes in lines that stretch for miles next to the modern-day road.
  • Apparently Icelanders love basketball? I saw hoops outside of most schools, and at the restaurant in Akureyi, a group at the next table were closely watching a livestream of a women’s basketball game.
  • Akureyi is the second-largest city in Iceland and it has 18,041 people. The tenth-largest city has 2,546. This is a sparsely inhabited place.
  • Reykjavik meanwhile is blowing up, with construction cranes on every block. I heard how hard this country was hit by the recession, but it seems they’ve turned that frown upside down. It’s the Austin of the north.
  • This country is safe, I mean like leave-your-keys-in-the-ignition safe. One possible reason is a lack of class struggle:

    A study of the Icelandic class system found only 1.1% of participants identified themselves as upper class, while 1.5% saw themselves as lower class.

    The remaining 97% identified themselves as upper-middle class, lower-middle class, or working class. (source)

  • Prices were so expensive that I kept thinking I was doing the math wrong. (It’s basically 100:1, we’re not talking advanced calculus here.)

    Aww a cute little puffin toyWHATTT
  • I was here for 15 days, and I didn’t handle Icelandic currency once. I’m not even sure what it looks like.
  • Iceland takes Easter seriously. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of Easter weekend are all national holidays.
  • It sounds like a cliché, but I seriously missed enough stops on this trip to justify a second trip. If I do ever come back, it’ll be in the summer, when I can visit the more remote areas that were closed this time around. And see puffins.
  • It’s the last trip I’m taking with this passport. I have stamps for Australia, Finland, The Netherlands, Greece, Ireland, Hong Kong, and Thailand1.
  • You can tell the Icelanders. They’re not wearing hats.

Here’s the only real memento I brought back: I collected sand from beaches in the north, south, east, and west of Iceland, plus volcanic ash (and a little water) from the glacier.

Iceland Day 14: ACTION PACKED

Iceland Day 14: ACTION PACKED

I went downstairs for breakfast.

I went back to my room and put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door.

I left again for lunch.

I met this dog.

Voff-voff!

The weather was quintessentially Icelandic—sometimes snowing, sometimes sunny, sometimes both.

Snow in the sunlight. I'll miss you, #Iceland.

A post shared by Kevin Miller (@happywaffle) on

I literally cried laughing at this.

https://storify.com/vjzuylen/please-stop-roasting-my-goddamned-shoes

I dozed.

And then, almost as a dare to myself to brave the cold one last time, I walked 10 minutes down the street to dinner. The wind blew at me from literally all four directions. I was pelted by frozen rain while the sun shone on my face.

Ahhh, Iceland, how I’ll miss you.

Iceland Day 13: Cake compared to yesterday

Iceland Day 13: Cake compared to yesterday

The end of my crazy Rescue 911 day was remarkably mundane: watching “Black Mirror” in the back of my camper while sipping hot chocolate with a wee nip of whiskey. For the final time, I went through my settling-in routine: suitcases shoved to one side, couch folded down to a bed, curtains drawn, dish cloth draped over the skylight, myself zipped into the sleeping bag, heater turned off. The next morning, everything in reverse order.

My neck and back were in open rebellion after 10 nights in Björk. But I had good news for them: after folding my giant paper map of Iceland every which way, I had finally come back around to the quadrant that included Reykjavik. The end was, at least on paper, in sight.

But we don’t head in a straight line to the end point, my friends. Not even—ESPECIALLY not—when we’ve survived a Snowstorm Rescue the day before.

And so, instead of driving south from Borgarnes to Reykjavik, I turned east on highway 50.

If Bob Ross had been my road trip companion, he would have thankfully reloaded his color palette at this point—deep browns, greens, reds, and yellows, with black and white needed only for the mountains in the distance.

The valley was broad and flat, and river meandered through it in senseless cursive loops. I might have been in Missouri, if the plumes of white in the distance had been brush fires, rather than steam emerging from underground.

I arrived at the viewing area for two adjacent waterfalls. At Barnafossar, the river funnels through a jagged channel of lava rock that’s only about 1200 years old. The churning water is so violent that it could pass for milk.

Just a bit farther down, Hraunfossar pours water into the right bank of the river for almost a kilometer.

For not-the-first time on this trip, I was frustrated with how pictures fail to capture the sights in person. Some of this stuff you just need to be there for.

Björk’s check-engine light had been lit since I first picked her up ten days prior. (“It’s just the emissions,” said the employee cheerily.) Now, though, the light had begun to blink and the engine had noticeably lost power. I called the Happy Campers service line, and since I was so close, they told me to just bring it on in to Reykjavik. I rubbed the narwhalrus for luck and we continued south.

Oh yeah, he’s been with me this whole time.

I was in a rush to return the camper by 4pm. Even so, I took one last sightseeing stop to Glymurfoss, Iceland’s tallest waterfall1 just a bit north of Reykjavik. It was a bit of a bust to see the falls themselves; the best viewpoint is from the opposite side of the river, and the only way to get across (dry) is on a log bridge that’s only open in the summer. But the hike out and back was super-fun, requiring a climb down through a cave tunnel and up a steep muddy slope. And the ravine itself was impressive on its own.

Back to the car. Time for the real, actual, home stretch.

I drove back up the south side of the valley, along the base of a long dark slope with streaks of green moss and white snow straining to meet each other in the middle. Signs of civilization began reappearing: semi trucks, overpasses, four-lane roads, police cars, even a Toys R Us. Björk and I limped back to port, check-engine light flashing urgently the whole way.

That’ll do, Björk. That’ll do.

Happy Campers is located near the airport, so to get back to town I took the airport shuttle again, almost like I was rebooting my trip. The landscape drifted by once more outside the window. It was so strange and new when I first arrived. It’s still strange, but now I know it well.

I had a beer at the hotel bar and a yummy noodle bowl from a place around the corner. I retreated to my room, drank whiskey, watched BBC, and otherwise did as little as possible. I slept in a bed. Like a rock.

 

Iceland Day 12: Like Baywatch, but the opposite

Iceland Day 12: Like Baywatch, but the opposite

Coming down out of the Westfjords on Sunday afternoon, with sunlight on my face and dust on the road, I’d had a subconscious feeling of being home free. Oh, Iceland was not done with me yet, my friends.

The weather was mild and dry when I left the campsite in Stykkishólmur on Monday morning. I drove west on the Snaefellsness peninsula, taking a detour through Berserkjahraun, a seemingly endless field of lava rocks in weird formations.

 

It began to snow gently as I continued westward, then right at the turn of the peninsula, the wind picked up. And picked up. And picked up some more.

 

Snow flew sideways as I headed south along the tip of the peninsula. Björk was weaving as much as ever, this time due solely to the incredible wind speed. I found myself in third gear, then second, then first. Even at 20kph I was all over the road. Miraculously, a turn-off area materialized out of the whiteness, and I pulled over to wait it out, along with another van.

Björk was rocking on her axles like a boat at sea. Just for funsies, I tried opening my front door a smidge—it required a SERIOUS amount of effort. If the wind had been blowing in the other direction, I have little doubt it could have taken the door right off its hinges.1

With nothing else to do, I climbed into the back of the camper, typed the first part of this entry, and caught up on my podcasts. There was heat, food, water, power, and even a bottle of Viking Toasted Porter left in the mini-fridge; just about the pleasant-est waiting experience imaginable. But even after 2+ hours, the wind was still hammering away.

At last, bright flashing lights appeared alongside me on the road: an enormous rescue 4×4. A fellow in a bright red parka hopped out and walked up alongside like a typical traffic stop. He told me that the forecast was even worse for later in the day, Björk was at risk of tipping over, and they needed to extract us from that location.

A real live rescue operation!!

More excited than worried, I grabbed my bag and exited Björk on the leeward side2. I then walked around the camper and was SLAPPED in the face by the snow and wind. My hood flew off my head and I staggered back a step. Sweet Christmas. With difficulty, I made it the few steps to the rescue truck and climbed inside.

“Welcome to Iceland!” the driver said cheerfully.

I was joined by the couple from the camper that had pulled up behind me, and we all headed down the road. Even this monster truck was buffeted back and forth. We passed one poor little hatchback that had been blown clear off the road. (Another truck arrived to help.)

After chatting amongst themselves, the rescue staff seemed to change their minds, and we returned to the campers. I then handed off my keys to one of the guys and sat in the back seat of the 4×4 as we drove down the highway side-by-side, our vehicle acting as a windbreaker for Björk.

Fast and the Furious: Reykjavik Drift

After just a couple of miles we reached a little turn-off area and everybody pulled off. It didn’t seem especially less windy, but they seemed to think we were good from here. The Rescuers shook our hands and sent us cautiously on our way.

At their instruction, but also because it was still windy AF, I was forced to skip several stops on the southern edge of the peninsula: the striking rock formations on the beach at Londrangar, the cave tour at Vatnshellir, the scenic ravine at Rauðfeldsgjá. Next time, guys.  :\

Björk struggled mightily against the wind descending onto a broad plain, with mighty snow-covered slopes ascending to the north, and furious white waves pounding the beach to the south. Scenic, but also un-photographable in my current condition. After another two hours I made it off the peninsula and back to the Ring Road, at a town called Borgarnes. I was super-hangry, but I found a nice Bucee’s-style mart and got inside for Wi-Fi and a hot dog.

And here I am!

Tomorrow is my final leg to Reykjavik, with a few scenic stops en route, and hopefully less CRAZY FREAKING WIND. Then I return Björk, and I’ve got 48 hours to chill in town, probably doing as little as possible, before at long last flying home.

If this had happened on my second day in Iceland, it might have put me in an extremely sour mood. Coming near the end, though, it’s just one more wild turn.

I’m gonna miss this weird place, y’all.

Iceland Day 11: Gleðilega páska!!

Iceland Day 11: Gleðilega páska!!

I’ve told this story many times: when I was six years old, I told my mom that I only ever wanted to live in a place that snow was exciting. It was the smartest thing that young Kevin ever said.

I wonder if Icelandic kids feel that way about warm weather?

A little note about my sleeping arrangement. My sleeping bag, combined with long underwear and fuzzy socks, is generally quite comfortable in the back of the camper. But there’s a critical flaw, which is my need to breathe. Imagine trying to sleep with an open freezer in front of your face all night. YES I KNOW THE NAME OF THE COUNTRY, THANK YOU.

At 6:30 the sun woke me up, rising over the mountains into a clear blue sky, snow twinkling on the ground. It was easily the prettiest morning thus far.

I knew that the highway connecting north Westfjords to south Westfjords was closed, but as a mild protest against the bad luck, I headed in that direction anyway. I was going to see the countryside as far as I could before being forced back.

Directly south of Ísafjörður was a long tunnel with an intersection in the middle, deep under the mountain.

We Texans are not used to your dwarvish ways.

Just south of the tunnel was the village of Flateyri, facing the Greenland Sea.

And south of Flateyri, around another fjord and halfway up a mountain pass, I hit an incredibly slippery stretch of road and decided it was as far as I would go.

That’ll do, Björk.

I got back to Ísafjörður with enough time to attend Easter service at the local “kirkja” (KEERK-ya). I’ve been snapping enough pictures of scenic churches, it seems only fitting that I actually attend one.

For something I’ve literally done over a thousand times, church in a completely foreign tongue is an interesting experience. All the beats were the same, but the inscrutability of the language made it all seem like I was doing it for the first time. I garbled my way through the hymns. I politely stared at the pastor throughout the sermon. I crossed myself when everybody else did. I dipped a very stale cracker into some very sour wine.

And the prayers were well-timed, cause I needed ONE LAST harrowing mountain adventure to get back to the main part of Iceland and start southward towards Reykjavik.

I threaded my way back eastward, up and down the fjords, counting them down like fingers as I went—4, 3, 2, 1. The weather remained glorious. Along the shoreline were various gulls, ducks, geese, and half a dozen other types of bird. At one of my picture stops I listened to a flock of them out on the water call to each other: “Ow-WOOOOoooo.” In two places there were even seals, planking on the rocks. Across the water to the north, white and forbidding, was the uninhabited upper Westfjords.

 

Then I was back to the mountains. A couple of days without snow had done wonders for the road, though—I made it out of the Westfjords with a minimum of exciting slip-and-slide action. Snowmobilers and cross-country skiiers were gleefully zipping around the white landscape as I went.

The afternoon was otherwise uneventful, spent in transition to the next peninsula southward, this one called Snæfellsness (bless you!). When I cleared the last mountain pass, the flatlands of southern Iceland sprawled out in front of me. The highway grew dusty; if it weren’t for the stray swatches of snow and white mountains in the distance, I could’ve been driving through rural Texas.

I parked for the night at Stykkishólmur, a quaint little wooden-house fishing village. Just when I was completely used to Iceland’s capricious weather patterns, it finally gave me a beautiful sunny day from beginning to end. Just one more way this country managed to surprise me.

As I settled in, for a second I thought I heard a plane passing overhead. I didn’t; it was the wind. And only then did I realize… I haven’t heard a plane pass overhead since I’ve been here. I keep finding little reminders of how remote I am.

Iceland Day 10: From Necropants to Emmsjé Gauti

Iceland Day 10: From Necropants to Emmsjé Gauti

I was wide awake at 6:45 on Saturday morning, and my big tour stop for the day didn’t open until 11.1 And so, like the kids in “The Cat in the Hat,” I sat for several hours, supremely bored in the back of my camper.

If you had told me my day would end with a rap concert, I would not have believed you.

Finally 11:00 arrived, and I drove down the street to the Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft. This was a quirky little low-budget museum with a strong fishy odor and a bunch of miscellaneous knick-knacks on display. The exhibits were variously interesting and amusing—magic spells back in the day were imaginative and very, very complicated.

DON’T MESS IT UP.

And of course there were the well-advertised necropants. They were a model, not actually a corpse’s skin. But they sure did include the weiner.

Fake pants!

The largest exhibit provided details about burnings-at-the-stake in 17th-century Iceland, not long before the Salem witch trials. I was torn on how to react, given the hilarity of the charges (knowledge of “farting-runes” and “how to know if a woman was a virgin”) against the fact that these poor folks really were burned alive for this silly nonsense. Twenty people in 31 years, including nine in the years 1674-1678. Ugh.

Before leaving Hólmavik, I hopped into their local pool. It was the first time I’d felt warm all damn day. I simmered happily in the hot tub, catching snowflakes on my tongue, watching in amazement as the attendant unhurriedly worked on the larger pool wearing a t-shirt. Icelanders are made of firmer stuff than I.

Then, around 1pm, came decision time. The “loop” I’d planned to take through the Westfjords was closed, meaning if I drove out to the regional capital of Ísafjörður, there would be nothing to do but turn around and drive back the way I came. I was 60/40 in favor of skipping it entirely and just heading south a day early. But then, kismet struck: I checked Instagram, and the @visitwestfjords account had just posted about an annual music festival that was culminating *that night* in Ísafjörður.

Alright, universe, I’m taking the hint.

Once more unto the mountains, Björk! Blinding whiteness! Road practically invisible! Mortal terror! Just an average day for Iceland Trip 2017™.

Ísafjörður is probably less than 100km from Hólmavik as the crow flies2, but over 220km when you count the long zig-zagging route to get there, up and down the fjords. Toss in the snowy mountain pass and the trip was well over two hours. I stopped at one point to gawk at an open-sided barn with fish hung out to dry.

You do not envy the smell I endured to get this shot.

I arrived in Ísafjörður, wondering if I’d wasted my afternoon, but the universe kept tossing hints that I hadn’t. I’d managed to park the car directly in front of a nice pub—another thing I hadn’t seen since back in Reykjavik. I sat down with my $13 beer (yikes) next to a rather distinctive-looking woman in a VERY distinctive-looking jacket.

After a couple of hours and a freeze-dried dinner (spicy sausage pasta, not bad) I followed the crowds to the concert, staged in a warehouse just a couple of blocks away. The festival is called Aldrei för eg Suður, literally “I’ve never been south,” and it’s one of those deliberately remote events that’s proud of its inaccessibility. This is the tenth year of the festival, and Google informs me that it temporarily doubles the population of Ísafjörður every year. That’s mind-boggling. I could hardly understand how I’d gotten here, let alone two thousand other concert-goers.

I entered the warehouse—free admission, come and go as you please—and to my surprise, there was the woman in the distinctive-looking jacket on stage, in the middle of her set. Turns out I’d been sitting next to Hildur, lead singer of Icelandic pop band Rökkurró.

The crowd numbered almost 1,000 and was surprisingly young. There were a dozen babies on shoulders and so many kids in the audience that I couldn’t tell whether this was a “kid band” or not. As the evening progressed, the families filtered out and were replaced by teens and twenty-somethings. I still felt like the old man in the room. I heard an astonishing number of American accents around me; we’re eeeeeverywhere!

After Hildur was Vök, a cool EDM mish-mash with airy vocals and liberal use of a saxophone.

And after Vök was the headliner, Emmsjé Gauti. (It’s pronounced “MC Gauti.”) The crowd went wild. They knew all the lyrics, call-and-responded on cue, and screamed when he took off his jacket. It may be the end of the earth, but this guy is a star here.

Midway through his set, Gauti (can I call you Gauti?) pointed out a guy standing at the very back of the concert hall. He then leapt off the stage and crowd-surfed aaaaaall the way back there just to give that lucky fellow a high-five. He then turned around and crowd-surfed aaaaaaall the way back to the stage. It was a delightful moment.

Sometimes Iceland throws you seals. Sometimes necropants. Sometimes surprise music festivals and crowd-surfing rappers.

Well played, Iceland.

Iceland Day 9: Snoke is *totally* Jar Jar

Iceland Day 9: Snoke is *totally* Jar Jar

After taking a six-hour-long shower, gorging myself on the free breakfast, and bidding a teary goodbye to the comfortable bed1, I checked out of the Hotel Kea and drove Björk northward through Akureyi. Along the way I saw something I hadn’t seen since all the way back at Reykjavik: stoplights. As an adorable bonus, all of the red lights were heart-shaped.

Awwww.

The snowbound peril began again almost immediately as I left the city and headed up the western side of the fjord. Thank gawd for my studded winter tires.2 For the third time in three days, the road disappeared entirely in snow; I was traversing a steep slope that angled down to the sea, cautiously rolling along a flat strip halfway up the mountain. Then a van came at me from the other direction, towing a large boat. I made an audible Tina noise.

At the top of the peninsula was a series of long tunnels which were pretty creepy themselves, despite offering a break from the snow. They felt like cheap tunnel rides at Six Flags. Most were a single lane wide, with a gap every 500 meters for one car to pull over and let the oncoming car past. The longest tunnel was 11 kilometers long, with only a tiny gap of daylight in the middle.

It was here, on a long straight stretch, that a bright red light suddenly flashed at me from the side of the tunnel. …Guys, I think I got camera-speed-trapped. This would be (a) frustrating, since I was driving at Miss-Daisy speeds for 99% of the day; (b) scary, because omg how expensive are Icelandic speeding tickets; and (c) interesting, because they were pretty much the first sign of law enforcement I’ve seen in all of Iceland. I haven’t noticed a single police car, not even outside a police station.

I exited the final tunnel just past the town of Siglufjorður and rounded a bend. To my right was the Arctic Ocean, uninterrupted. Nothing but water and ice between myself and the North Pole. I looked it up later: the latitude was 66.2° N, easily the farthest north I’ve ever been. It felt like the end of the earth.

Santa?

After rejoining the Ring Road, I stopped at a gas station and had a very different kind of Treat Yoself experience: a hot dog3, an ice cream cone, and a coffee. Final tally for this calorie-fest was somewhere around $15. Way cheaper than dinner last night, unless indigestion is a factor.

I peeled away from the Ring Road yet again to head north into the Westfjords, Iceland’s wildest and least populated region. To my complete lack of surprise, a long portion of the road there—the ONLY road there, I want to emphasize—was unpaved. By now, I’m over it.

Me when I drove on my first bumpy, potholed Icelandic road:

Me when I drove on my 50th bumpy, potholed Icelandic road:

In the final afternoon stretch, the swings in the weather became downright comical. It went from blinding snowstorm to blinding sunlight and back to snowstorm in a 15-minute stretch. This is some wacky Neverland shit right here.

I arrived in Hólmavik, my destination for the day; watched the teaser trailer for “The Last Jedi” on my phone while standing in their little supermarket; and found a parking spot for the night overlooking the bay with its large population of penguin-looking ducks.

Tomorrow, Saturday, is an unknown quantity. The roads might be clear enough for me to make a loop through the region; or, if the road/weather pattern thus far continues, I might turn back towards Reykjavik and get there a day ahead of schedule.

Hmm, not many pictures to share today. Let me make up for it with a day-before-Easter tribute to the cute little churches of Iceland that I’ve seen in every little town and valley.

Iceland Day 8: Treat Yoself

Iceland Day 8: Treat Yoself

A fresh layer of snow had fallen during the night, and would continue to fall all morning. It’s funny how surprising this is for me; I had mentally prepared myself for the possibility of rain or ice on this trip, but steady snowfall in mid-April didn’t seem likely. How wrong I was.

But the show must go on! And so I gently slid Björk in a counterclockwise loop around Lake Myvatn, stopping first at a group of “pseudo-craters” that are the product of giant steam explosions from out of the earth in the ancient past. That would be quite a thing if it happened again, no? I’ve kinda been psyching myself up for sudden volcanic activity the whole time I’ve been here. (Or ice. Or rain. Just not snow!)

A small tangent: Icelanders repeatedly assure you that their tap water is safe to drink. This seems like an odd thing to reiterate, until you smell it: sulfur. It gives me flashbacks to summer camp, but not in a good way.1

Now, some areas of the country are better than others in the sulfur department, but at Myvatn it was serious, both in the water and the air. The steam from underground smelled of it—in some places it was mild, in others it was truly eye-watering. Being a chicken owner, you’d think I’d be more acclimated to the smell of rotten eggs.

My other major stop at Myvatn was Dimmuborgir, a giant playground of lava formations that have frozen over time into strange hoodoos of crooked rock.

Before heading out of the area, I had a customary tourist experience: pull over and pet the Icelandic horses, distinctive with their stocky physiques and emo haircuts. The interaction turned awkward, though, when I discovered they don’t like bananas.

Sorry guys.  :-[
There was plenty of time on the clock for the day, so I took a detour up north to Húsavik. The extra drive took me past more and more fields filled with jumbled piles of frozen lava, not as snow-covered as those back at Myvatn. Finally I rounded a bend and, for the first time in my life, saw the Arctic Ocean.

Looks cold.

I loved Húsavik! Charming little town. At the whale museum, there was a macabre but fascinating display of over half a dozen skeletons from beached whales, including a blue whale and a narwhal. I could’ve paid for a whale-watching tour, but I had other plans for spending all my money, so I headed back south.

The schizophrenic weather had veered back to brilliantly sunny. Weather is best divided into quarter-days in Iceland, I’ve found. I drove through a gap in a tremendous snowy mountain ridge and then, as though arriving at the end of a quest, I descended to the glorious fjord that would lead me to Akureyi. (ah-KOO-ree-yeh, I think.)

SVEIN-byarn-ger-thee, I think.

Today was the midpoint of my epic road trip, and I was celebrating with a night in an honest-to-god hotel, with a BED and a SHOWER. I also got a Moscow mule at the hotel bar, which at happy hour prices was “only” 1,500 ISK (that’s almost $13.50).

On the plus side, it came with a bendy straw.

Since it felt a little absurd to make dinner over Björk’s gas stove in the hotel parking lot, I extended Treat Yoself Thursday to include dinner across the street: locally-caught Arctic char with polenta and salad. Hello, delicious fresh food! Goodbye, $50! Food is ‘spensive here, y’all.

Having successfully parted my foolish self from my money, I forced myself into some productivity at the hotel desk before reminding myself what a warm bed in a climate-controlled room feels like…

Oh, yeah, I could get used to this.

Total random side note: Apple Pay works *everywhere* in Iceland. It’s amazing.

Iceland Day 7: White, wheat, or buried?

Iceland Day 7: White, wheat, or buried?

I’ve got a bit of a ranty Marc Maron-style opening today. Please feel free to skip down to the pretty pictures.

I TOTALLY get why people travel with other people. Someone to share your experiences and memories with, split the bills, yadda yadda. I’ve done it myself.

That! being! said! Among other things, I do NOT envy the picture-taking process:

  1. Person A poses in front of the waterfall/volcano/glacier/crashed-plane-on-beach.
  2. Person B lines up the picture, takes an impossibly long time composing the image, and takes 8-10 shots.
  3. Person A walks over to Person B to approve or reject their handiwork. If it’s rejected, go back to step 1.
  4. Switch! Now it’s Person B’s turn to pose.

And the whole time I’m there just waiting to get my shot. Give me a selfie stick any day over this little dance routine.

/rant

Not far from my campsite Wednesday morning was the trailhead for Hengifoss, “Iceland’s third-tallest waterfall.” They sure do love their superlatives here—how very Texan of them.

It was a two-kilometer hike up the hill to the base of the waterfall, wind blowing so hard I literally had to lean into it a couple of times, snow falling half-heartedly. There wasn’t anybody else on the trail for the entire trip up and back.

Geology nerd time! The cliff that you see there consists of layers of vertical basalt pillars interrupted by layers of red rusted iron. The pillars were once lava from nearby volcanoes. The layers were once ash from distant volcanoes. This entire mountain—this entire country—is a product of volcanoes. Amazing stuff.

Today’s weather was indecisive, with the sky overhead an ongoing battle between blue and gray.1 I’d say besides the SUPER-SCARY SNOWSTORM you’ll read about momentarily, it was the best weather since my first day out of Reykjavik. You know how residents of Texas, and every other state, love to claim the weather changes every 10 minutes? Yeah that actually happens in Iceland.

I stopped back in Egilsstaðir for gas2; used the Wi-Fi to write a blogpost while uploading pictures and downloading podcasts; then around noon, pointed Björk to the west.

Yet again the drive was pleasant to start with, but as I got to higher elevation, the snowstorm moved in and began blowing onto the road. I wasn’t losing traction, but I was losing visibility. At one point the road was covered in snow entirely, marked only by the yellow markers to either side. There wasn’t much for me to do but sloooowly creep my way forward through the snow, palms sweaty, knees weak, mom’s spaghetti, until I got to clearer conditions. Let’s not make a regular thing out of this.

Once it cleared a bit, the landscape was gorgeous in a Hoth-like way: broad and flat, with neither plant nor animal to interrupt the view.

After a hundred kilometers or so, I crossed a river valley and turned right to get to Dettifoss and Selfoss, two more amazing wonderfalls.

YAWN.

The parking lot was full and there were people yammering in a dozen different languages. Yep, I’m officially back in tourist country.

Ah, tourists.

A bit further west I approached Lake Myvatn, the biggest attraction in northern Iceland. It’s easy to see why; the whole area is arranged like an amusement park, with a cave or volcano or bubbling cauldron spaced out at seemingly regular intervals around the lake. Steam was oozing out of the ground right and left, in a few places creating mind-boggling sculptures.

Today’s fun fact: In Iceland they bake bread by burying it in the freaking ground. WHAT PLANET IS THIS.

I also poked my head into the cave where Jon Snow and Margritte got busy in that one episode of “Game of Thrones.” I couldn’t believe how not-child-safe it was: no handrails, no barriers, nothing to stop you from slipping into the hot-water pool inside. Fun story: this cave used to be a popular bathing spot until a nearby volcano eruption in the 1970s raised the water temperature to 60 degrees Celsius. I feel sorry for the first person who figured that out.

I was tired. Around 5:30pm I headed to the campground, and by 6:00 I was parked, sitting in the back of the camper, making an early dinner and going through my pictures. This is what counts as a “slow day” in Iceland: white-out conditions and boiling smokestacks in the earth.

My organizational system within the camper van is improving by the day. Just as these things tend to go, I’ll probably have it perfected just in time to return the camper and fly home.

Mmmmmm, instant coffee
Iceland Day 6: Drivin’ in a Winter Terrorland

Iceland Day 6: Drivin’ in a Winter Terrorland

I was right to worry.

The snow at the Höfn campground had melted overnight (which is not what I’d have expected, but, that’s Iceland for you). As I left town and drove to higher elevation, though, it reappeared. The first vehicle I passed was a snowplow, which would seem to be a good omen, but turned out to be a bad one. The road, it turned out, was only cleared in one lane—the southbound lane. And so, crazy as it sounds, for long stretches over the next 100 km, I was driving into oncoming traffic.

Pictured: mortal peril (don’t worry, I stopped to take the picture)

Any time another car (or a blind turn) approached, I carefully eased Björk onto my own slushy side, then back into the oncoming lane. Thankfully, the road was practically empty; I passed fewer than ten cars in two hours.

The weather worsened. At one point I was being simultaneously pelted by rain from above and snow from the side—and just to maximize the danger level, thousands of killer geese1 floating in the ocean to my right. The whole thing felt positively Biblical.

And speaking of Jesus Christ, at one point I caught a patch of ice and began sliding at an angle toward the far edge of the road and the steep embankment beyond. Now THAT will wake you up in the morning, my friends.

I did *not* attempt any pictures during this portion, so here’s a nice one from earlier.

I finally stopped in the little town of Djúpivogur to celebrate my continued existence and make breakfast in the back of the camper (yum yum, freeze-dried scrambled eggs and coffee). Then I saw the sign for the local baths and decided to stop in. The place was largely empty, just myself and a couple of locals. It was an unremarkable experience, but again, felt quite genuine, like a brief glimpse into Icelandic life.

North of Djúpivogur the road was cleared of snow and relatively easy going, though it turned to gravel for a short stretch.2 Snow continued to blow around me, almost certainly obscuring some spectacular views, but creating its own weird experience. In places it hovered in a stationary fog a few inches off the road. The world was black and white.

I drove a six-kilometer-long tunnel deep under a mountain ridge and emerged into a valley that took me to the day’s major stop, Egilsstaðir, population 2,306. After a coffee in the local info center, I took a side trip to Seyðisfjörður, best known from “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”3 It was yet another snowy drive up and over a mountain ridge to get there, with still more eerie black-and-white vistas as I went.

And it’s just about as far as I’m going to get from Reykjavik, and Texas, before heading back.

Arriving in the scenic little town, I found… not much to do. The few tourist attractions were closed for the winter. (“Winter” lasts until May in Iceland.) So a few pictures later, I drove right back the way I’d come to Egilsstaðir. …Okay there’s not much to do here, either. Earlier I had asked the worker at the tourist center if there was a local pub; she circled a location on the map that turned out to be a secondhand store. Welp.

For the day’s final leg, I drove southeast out of town to Lake Lagarfljót (also known as Lake Lögurinn, apparently?) and along its eastern shoreline to my campsite for the evening. There I settled into my evening routine: typing this entry, listening to a podcast, eating freeze-dried dinner. (Veggie burrito bowl. Not as good as the gumbo.)

Tomorrow, the road adventure begins all over again—the next stretch of my trip was labeled “slippery” according to the road-conditions website this afternoon, and there’s more snow in the forecast. This is what I asked for, dammit!!

And now, this.