We are finally to the last installment of Driving Iceland, which is quite alright by me. It has been a blast rehashing the best trip I have ever been on and I need to take this moment to thank my wife and ultimate travelling partner, Blondie, for making it all happen. Without her logistical magic and loving support I would probably never get out of the city let alone the country. Like many partnerships we go through a lot of bulls__t, both personally and professionally, in order to create a comfortable life mixed with a generous helping of fun, love, and adventure, but any hardships that we have encountered along the way are far outweighed by the times of joy that we’ve shared. It gives me a supreme sense of security knowing that someone I love dearly always has my back (as I do hers); with that join me in raising your glasses/coffee cups/water bottles to Blondie and those who we travel through live with and offer them our sincerest gratitude for always being there.
Ok, now to the business at hand. Our last morning on the shores of Myvatn, 30 August 2013, was grey with rain and snow moving in from the west. At breakfast we discussed our route for the day and decided that even though the coastal route was longer we would benefit from being closer to sea level where rain was expected rather than take the overland route and risk getting caught in the snow. Our discussion was interrupted by the sudden appearance of about a two hundred sheep being herded through the parking lot, which is a common thing in Iceland but to those of us at breakfast it was quite thing to see and hear (sheep like to hear themselves talk).
Once the sheep-related excitement died down we loaded up and bid farewell to Myvatn. As soon as we got out of town it started to rain and it didn’t stop for about twenty-four hours. Even though the sky was low and grey it was beautiful in a melancholy way. It reflected the feelings we had about being near the end of our trip. Our first of only a few stops was at Goðafoss, so named because once Iceland converted to Christianity a local leader threw all of his Norse God statues into the river at the falls – that is a man who took his conversion very seriously.
The route along the coast took us through a number of tunnels, a few of which were long dark one-lane affairs with turn outs every 200 meters or so to allow passing traffic through. As soon as we entered the first one I assumed my stress-driving position of bent back, strong wheel grip, and ban on any loud music or sudden noises. We had seen a number of huge trucks on the route and the last thing I wanted was to meet one of those big bastards coming around the curve (did I mention that the tunnels were not straight because they weren’t and it was too early in the morning for that crap). There are no photos because I was obviously engaged in the driving tasks and Blondie was reaffirming her relationship with the Oh-Shit handle.
Once through the longest tunnel of the day we made another stop at Siglufjordur, a small fishing village at the northernmost portion of our route. It seemed as if the entire town took the day off to avoid the rain and I did not blame them. It was pouring sideways and the wind off of the water blew us back into the truck after only a short look around.
Our only other stop before our arrival in Blonduos was at Sauðárkrókur for a quick bite to eat. As I mentioned in previous posts we lunched mostly on crisps and nibbles but the low morale created by two weary travelers stuck in a vehicle for an entire day made it necessary for us to stop and have a hot meal of burgers and fries at a gas station. Gas station hamburgers are usually a prelude to a future gastrointestinal emergency but not so in Iceland. There are no McDonald’s and I don’t remember seeing any Burger Kings because anyone can drive up to their local N1 station and order a fresh burger with crispy fries and sit down at a clean table. We did so on a few occasions and the quality was always top-notch. I could go for one right now.
Blonduos is sort of a one-horse town with not much going on as far as tourism goes. It was a good halfway point between Myvatn and Olafsvik, which was our last destination before returning to Reykjavik. Technically there is only one hotel, the aptly named Hotel Blonduos, in town even though we saw signs for some sort of lodging attached to a gas station. I will eat a gas station burger in Iceland but I am glad I didn’t need to stay at a gas station hotel. The Hotel Blonduos is run by two gentleman and a black dog named Luka. Between the three of them they cook, clean, greet, wait tables, check people in, and protect the grounds. I am not sure of their financial situation or of even that of the town but from what I could tell they were working on a shoestring budget – that being said I do not want to impress upon you, dear reader, that the hotel is run down – it just hasn’t been updated in a few years and that is not surprising seeing as how the economic troubles of 2007-8 hit Iceland very hard. Upon entering the front door we were greeted with a woof from the stoic black lab that is Luka and this wonderful piece of taxidermy:
That there is a four-horned Icelandic sheep, which is rare but not unheard of. Within the ranks of the hearty breed that dots the hillsides of Iceland there are small number of what are called leader-sheep that are a bit taller, braver, and exponentially smarter than the rest of the population. Their roles in the herds are as protectors and trail blazers so when I saw what to me was an obvious sign that we were going to be killed by Satanists was instead a memorial to a revered animal that once protected a local herd. Remember folks, context is key when travelling and we must reign in the prejudgment.
Once we were checked in and given our key, which had a small license plate attached to it to prevent accidental theft, we hunkered down while the storm raged just outside the window. The hotel had a large dining and bar area and the remnants of what must’ve been a pretty hip disco complete with DJ booth, disco ball, and dance floor. From what i saw of the locals I could barely imagine any of them smiling let alone shaking their rumps to the Pointer Sisters. The man who checked us in and who is now acting as waiter and bartender did his best to cobble together some cocktails for Blondie and I while we waited for the dinner hour. We were one of three tables in the dining room and it seemed that everyone else was equally fascinated by the interesting decor and bygone groovy scenes that those four walls must’ve witnessed. The menu offered was hearty and locally sourced with your usual lamb stew and meat dishes. One thing on the menu, however, stood out from the rest – they were serving foal steak. At first I just thought it was a type of beef steak, but it was indeed a steak of baby horse. Most of the dining room looked at the waiter like he had just farted instead of explaining that horse is served quite a bit in Iceland – needless to say nobody ordered it…except for me and another American who looked like he was an old-time military man who had probably eaten a lot worse in his day. Ethics and American sensibilities aside I must report that it was excellent and the owner, who was the acting chef, cooked it perfectly.
The next day, 31 August 2013, was so much brighter and everyone’s mood at breakfast reflected it. There was snow on the mountains and a chilly yet dry breeze blew over the hillsides. Our next stop was to be Olafsvik and Snaefellsnes, a western peninsula north of Reykjavik and home to the Snaefellsjokull Volcano, an important Saga site and the fictional entrance to the underworld in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.
The goal for the day was to see as much as we could on the peninsula then jet to Reykjavik the next day for some sedentary R&R. Thankfully many of the biggest sites are close together so we were able to achieve our goal rather handily with only one hiccup that I will explain later – first, here are some tasty pics from our day.
Once we rounded the tip of the peninsula we noticed some ruins sitting across the lava field near the shore so we decided to stop and give it a once over. The two kilometer walk along the beach was rocky but interesting because of all of the weird nautical detritus that has been washed up over the years – huge chunks of metal and foam floats and twisted nets were everywhere. As we got closer to the house I noticed a small brown animal running away from us with great haste. At once I realized that it was the elusive Icelandic fox, iceland’s only native predator mammal, but I was a bit slow on the go getting the camera on him/her so it just looks like a little brown spot in a sea of grass.
The picture above doesn’t do much to prove that it is indeed a fox but the scene in the next photo settled it for me. Danger, the next photo is quite gory so proceed with caution or scroll past it quick if you’re easily grossed out. You’ve been warned.
We were starting to run out of light so we decided to take the high road from the Hellnar area over to Olafsvik and take a few shots of Snaefelljokull on the way by. The road wasn’t technically an F-Road but it sure as hell was rough. By the time we got to the top the sun was in our eyes so we don’t have much to share with you picture-wise. We did, however, come across an American couple at the top who were hitch-hiking so we did the right thing and loaded them up and took them down to Olafsvik – they were spending seventeen days thumbing around the island and were on their way to the West Fjords. We aren’t all that comfortable picking people up so the conversation was a little strained but we told them what they had in store since they were going to do a clockwise trip. I couldn’t live with myself knowing that they might have to climb down from the mountain at night or try to camp out so it was worth it to help some folks out.
Once we made it through all of the snow drifts on the way down we discharged our passengers on the main drag running through Olafsvik. Our hotel was right across the street from where we dropped them off but it looked a bit dark, here’s why:
There aren’t many hotels on the peninsula so this little snafu worried us a bit. I even suggested driving to Reykjavik and sleeping in the car, which elicited quite a reaction of wonder and disgust from Blondie. Thankfully we were able to get a hold of someone at the tour company and found out that the Hotel Olafsvik was closed due to lack of business (no shit), but that we had been checked into a much nicer place in Hellnar, which is where we were at before climbing over the mountain. Perhaps it was all for a reason and we were destined to pick those people up on the mountain and bring them down to safety. Whatever the reason we made haste to get to the hotel before dark, this time taking a paved road. If you are ever in the area I would suggest strongly that you stay at the Hotel Hellnar – it is a former yoga retreat turned into a swanky little hideaway with zero cell reception and epic views from every window. The food they serve is damn good and the atmosphere is one of pure relaxation – so glad that the Hotel Olafsvik was closed. After finishing a bottle of wine and watching Full Metal Jacket we turned in for our second to last night on the island.
I will not bother you with anything from the following day because we took the quickest way to Reykjavik in order to relax and not drive for most of the day. It was sad that it was almost over but our clean clothes were running out and sleeping in all of those strange beds was doing our joints no favors. I hope that my readers can someday make the trip to Iceland and experience it for themselves – I know for a fact that everyone who visits has an entirely new and personal adventure, which is amazing for such a small country. Thank you so much for reading and come back soon for a quick run down of our (non)visit to Joshua Tree National Park.
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