Journal of a 23-day Icelandic road trip

Monday August 17

Woke up at 7 am. The sky was blue, and we sipped our first coffee in the sunshine.

This would be a busy day. We’d drive round the Vatnsnes peninsula, then take Route 35 to the center of Iceland, reaching the Kerlingarfjöll mountain range toward the end of the day. I prayed for some beautiful light when we got there, having been unlucky with the weather up until now.

VATNSNES PENINSULA, NORTHERN ICELAND

We headed north to drive along the coast of the peninsula, hoping to see whales and the famous Hvítserkur arch.

More fantasy landscapes. Actarus? Tintin?

I don’t know whether I already told you, but it’s impossible to photograph horses from a distance in Iceland, since the horses come to say hello as soon as you approach their enclosure. It’s crazy, and it works every time! That’s why they’re always shot with a wide angle. Actually, I found it quite soothing to stroke them.

A path lined with wild grasses led us to a point overlooking this black sandy beach. On the horizon an apparition: Hvítserkur arch.

We followed Track 711, and soon reached the northern tip of the peninsula, and the abandoned Hindisvík farm. We were very excited when we got there, for you can see seals in this area. Unfortunately, the site was closed for protection, to our great disappointment.

I was quite vexed, and admit to having climbed over the fence to have a look, despite it being forbidden to do so, but at least it’ll spare you doing it yourselves if you’re in the area. It was a sad place, with not a single seal in sight; just seaweed drying in the sun, and all kinds of trash.

I understood why entry was forbidden; clearly the site had suffered from human visitation, and the seals had left.

Are you wondering what these sheep are doing? Well, they’re sheltering from the wind. That’s right, the wind, always the wind!

I took a few photographs of the “sheepies”, as we called them. We dreamed of finding a completely reddish brown one, but had to make do with this half-and-half specimen!

This is Illugastaðir farm. It was our second chance to see some seals.

We found a very pretty wooden hut serving as a toilet. The treasure map, I mean the seal map, had been pyrographed (created using a heated object). The seals were supposedly 900 m (984 yards) from here.

We found this little note inside the toilet hut:

After using “the only public toilet on Vatnsnes”, we found a large glass pot outside, filled to the brim with coins. We left 300 ISK (€2) to thank the farmer for the toilets, and the map!

We found some craggy rocks at the end of the path. A man was there with a huge telephoto lens – it must have been a 600 mm. In front of us lay some rocks, on which we could clearly see some inert seals sunbathing.

Happy as we were to have seen some seals, it was hardly an extraordinary sight. They were too far away and weren’t moving. We stayed for five minutes, then left.

Here’s a beautiful “sheep sorter”. Sorry, I don’t know the name of this device. Indeed, although I’ve deduced its use, I’m not certain about it.

And here’s a lighthouse to add to our collection: Skarðsviti lighthouse. The car’s odometer showed that we’d just reached 3,000 km (1,864 miles).

We got out of the car a bit further on to go and see another curiosity of the peninsula: Ánastaðarstapi rock.

Looking like a canine tooth into the sea, this pointed rock is a nesting site for birds.

The photograph below was an accident. Emilie suddenly saw this bird appear in the viewfinder, flying toward her, feared that she was being attacked by an Arctic Tern, and jumped back, pressing the shutter button in panic, without even framing the shot. It was a great demonstration of the theory of “happy accidents”.

We arrived in Hvammstangi at 1 pm, so ending our tour of the peninsula. We went shopping to fill up the cool box, but still without a beer in sight. Some reserves were required, since we’d now be heading into the deserted lands of the center of Iceland.

We did a big gas fill-up at Víðigerði gas station and bar. It's a region of fishermen, indeed there were a few of them propping up the bar, and there was a large collection of multicolored fishing flies on sale. I picked up an old postcard and went to pay for it. The proprietor took the money for the gas, but looked taken aback when I showed him the postcard, and asked me what it was. I explained that I’d found it on a shelf, and he shrugged and charged me 50 ISK (30 cents) for it on principle. Postcards were clearly not his thing.

Yet that postcard was very much to do with fishing:

Does this sign appear complicated to you? It’s actually quite clear, well as long as you have a road map! In fact, all of these routes lead to the 35, which crosses the country from north to south.

We have an expression where I come from (near Toulouse, in Southwest France): “the pig is in the corn”, the English equivalent of which would be “the rot has set in”. Well, here in Iceland, “the cows are in the rapeseed.”

ROUTE 35 (NORTHERN PART), ICELANDIC HIGHLANDS

Here we are on the famous Route 35. The light was still superb, despite the lowering sky. It was 3.15 pm.

Blöndulón is one of Iceland’s biggest lakes. I found the light, colors, and reflections quite magnificent, so I took a series of photographs for my collection of skies from Iceland and elsewhere.

There’s no lack of space, is there? Yet the sheepies are systematically on the road.

We’d arrived in the center of the country! Here, in the middle of nowhere, was this gate, which had been closed by the veterinary office, no doubt to avoid epidemics?

We came across these two courageous cyclists, one of them on a bicycle, the other on a recumbent tricycle, proudly flying the Breton flag.

It was 4.50 pm when we reached our first stop: the Hveravellir geothermal area.

HVERAVELLIR, ICELANDIC HIGHLANDS

Some people were playing with a bicycle tire.

Others relaxed in a hot-pot, which really tempted me!

But it was already late, so no time for leisure activities! Exploration was the main thing.

There was a shelter next to the car park, and a cafe, the most remote cafe in the country. I entered, and saw there was a little bar, behind which stood a man with a magnificent face, very dark hair and skin, with very light-colored eyes, a kind gaze, and a strong accent.

What did I see behind him but a few cans of Viking, the local beer! Hallelujah! I’d finally found my beers, here in the middle of the desert! I bought four cans, and discreetly asked the man where he was from.

“Afghanistan,” he answered. Incredible. An Afghan here, running a bar in the center of Iceland.

I replied to him that he must know the mountains very well, and his face lit up: “Oh yes, here for me it's flat like a desert,” and smiled.

A customer next to me who had overheard our conversation shouted at him: “You are from Afghanistan? I thought you were Turkish!”

The man’s smile faded.

We headed off to explore the site. First up was a geothermal area.

You can then go hiking in the surrounding area.

Hey! It’s The Beatles!

The horizon was constantly changing, as was the light.

Here we are, back at the hot-pot, which I really wanted to try. The hardest thing was changing into swimming trunks when the air temperature was around 6 °C (43 °F).

But it’s heaven once you’re in!

Back on Route 35 heading south, direction Kerlingarfjöll.

Here’s our friend from Brittany again!

It was 8 pm when we arrived at Kerlingarfjöll. The light was magical. There were a few guesthouses, and a real restaurant above the shelter!

This was the only time I regretted paying for what turned out to be just a patch of grass: all the attention has been paid to the luxurious lodges, with practically nothing for campers.

I had to wait a good ten minutes before anyone bothered to serve me, and the price of the campground was exorbitant: 2,800 ISK (the average price elsewhere was 1,700 ISK). I added an (incomprehensible) hiking map for 500 ISK, bringing the total to 3,300 ISK (€20), twice as much as anywhere else. I didn’t even dare imagine the prices of the lodges, or the restaurant!

I asked for the weather forecast, and the guy told me that the next day the weather would be really bad. I hoped he was wrong. If there was one place where I really wanted good light, then it was here. We went to bed in a glacial car – the outside temperature was 3 °C (37 °F).

Day 15            Day 17            Index