Journal of a 23-day Icelandic road trip

Friday August 21

We had a visit from the police yesterday evening! Two blond Vikings with short hair drove onto the campground in their American police-car, curious about seeing my big Hummer on the deserted campground. It was 11 pm, dark, and I was downloading my photographs onto the hard disk. They said hello, then started to question me: “That’s a beautiful car you have there. Is it yours?” I explained that I’d rented it, and they said: “Ok, goodnight,” then left.

We struck camp at 7 am. This free campground didn’t have any showers, just toilets and clean washbasins, which was already not bad!

Touching detail: previous campers had left half-empty gas canisters here (the village kids had the sense not to touch them), a kind of practical mutual assistance you find a lot here, and which I always found touching.

Once day had properly broken, I didn’t miss the opportunity to photograph the impressive radio antenna erected here by the Americans, as part of the LORAN (LOng RAnge Navigation) terrestrial radio navigation system, and now used by the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. It’s 100 meters (330 feet) taller than the Eiffel Tower! Remember that this is a strategic place, on the westernmost edge of Europe.

That done, we took a walk round Hellissandur.

NEW ROAD TRIP SCHEDULE:

I forgot to tell you about our change of schedule. We’d thought we’d not have enough time to do the Westfjords, those wild, largely uninhabited lands of Northwest Iceland.

But as you may remember, the poor weather had forced us to give up on the Westman Islands at the start of our trip.

We’d also done our utmost to pack as much as we could into every day (such as the one we spent around Mývatn lake!) to save time, with the secret hope of adding the Northwest to our program.

We had five days left, and time to spare, so decided to go for it.

Everything would be improvised from now on, until our return to the Reykjanes peninsula in the south-west.

Let's go north!

Hellissandur is a fishing village of 400 inhabitants. We continued our journey along the north coast of the Snaefellness peninsula, passing many other fishing villages.

Here’s Rif, next to Ólafsvík, another village on the north coast of the peninsula. I took a little stroll around the port, and as usual there were no barriers, no signs prohibiting access, and we could wander freely among the boats, and the day’s catches.

 

We reached an extraordinarily beautiful place, not far from the town of Grundarfjördur. A strange mountain soars above a lake, with a little waterfall beneath it. I didn’t know what this mountain was, but Kirkjufell (Church Mountain) is apparently famous in Iceland.

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We could still see this mountain, and that fabulous setting, as we drove away from Grundarfjördur.

Here we are in Stykkishólmur, a very pretty town of 1,100 inhabitants. We filled up the car with a massive 100 liters (27 gallons) of gas, for 19,089 ISK (€110) and also gave the Hummer a good clean, since the very dirty windscreen was preventing me from taking photographs while driving.

That done, we wandered around town in the delicious sunshine. There was a little hill overlooking the town, with an old lighthouse on it, an ideal place to eat our inevitable ham sandwiches for lunch.

The curiously shaped Stykkishólmur church proudly overlooks the town.

I understood the shape of this church better when I saw this Viking longship weighing anchor.

We passed holy Helgafell mountain on the way out of town, where the god Thor himself is said to have stayed! It’s a very small mountain, just 73 meters (240 feet) high, at the foot of which stands a little church.

According to legend, if you climb the mountain without looking back, and without speaking, you can make three wishes at its summit, which will have a good chance of coming true if you make them facing west and never tell a soul what they are! We didn’t try it ourselves, but you can.

A large wooden box was attached to the outside of the little church to collect donations, but when we tried to slip in a few coins we saw it was impossible to do so, for it was packed full! We couldn’t insert even one extra coin. There must have been quite a sum in there, unguarded, but nobody had touched it, not even those who were responsible for emptying it. What a pity!

There was a very beautiful view over Breiðafjordur bay from the top of the little mountain.

That’s it! We’d just left the peninsula and started to head north, passing through the tiny village of Búðardalur on the way.

The village was completely deserted, except in front of this house, where some kids were having a fancy-dress party.

It was 3.30 pm when we turned onto Route 60, which wound along the ocean, taking us to unknown lands. We had no idea where we’d spend the night.

WESTFJORDS, NORTHWEST ICELAND

We passed these very impressive concrete pylons, looking like science-fiction robots.

We stopped in a rather crazy gas station around 4 pm. There was country music playing, and the walls were covered with photographs and antiques. We ordered coffee and a few kleinar, those little Icelandic doughnuts. The woman owner was quite a character. I was joking with her, and she asked me where I was from. Upon hearing my answer she replied: “Oh, a Frenchman who speaks English?! Unbelievable!"

The landscape was sometimes quite surreal, like these slender rock formations, which made me think of the D-Day landings in Normandy.

Little by little we left civilization behind us.

At 7.30 pm, after four hours on the road, we stopped at one of the few campgrounds on the peninsula, at Flókalundur. That was also the name of the hotel. Yes indeed, a hotel in the middle of nowhere. Its emblem was two crows.

 

 

A superb (and empty) campground, nor far from the hotel, sloped down to Vatnsfjörður fjord.

I amused myself by staging a tribute to one of the greatest nature photographers, who spent his life photographing the National Parks of North America, particularly Yosemite. I’m speaking of the tremendous ANSEL ADAMS.

We went to bed around 10.30 pm, and just as I was dropping off to sleep I heard the sound of a distant engine and immediately “saw” a photograph: a long exposure at night, with the car’s headlamps picking out the shores of the fjord. But raindrops were already starting to pitter-patter on the roof of the car, and I drifted into sleep. It rained all night.

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