Journal of a 23-day Icelandic road trip

Sunday August 23

ÍSAFJÖRÐUR, EXTREME NORTHERN ICELAND

We woke up at 7.30 am. The great news of the day was that we’d just experienced our first night in Iceland without rain!

This stream flowed through the middle of the campground.

We commenced our tour of Ísafjörður. Being Sunday, there wasn’t a soul about; the town was completely deserted.

The reflections of the town made me think of Rorschach’s inkblot test.

We filled up the tank and left the town without having met a single person. Today marked the beginning of the end of our trip. We would complete our exploration with the northern part of the Westfjords, then drive 450 kilometers (280 miles) across the country to the Akranes peninsula. There was no time to lose!

As you can see from the above sign, we were at the western exit from Ísafjörður, on Route 61. And you’ll also notice that there are no roads or drivable tracks in the far northern tip of the country, so it’s impossible to get there by car! It’s almost completely wild. But you can get the ferry there from Ísafjörður. I can only imagine how extraordinary it must be to venture into these remote and distant lands, and I’d love to read about the experiences of people who’ve done that. And maybe I’ll be lucky to go there myself one day!

The wild territories of the great Icelandic north face us across the water all along Route 61:

The roundabout at the world’s end! The inaccessible lands stretch across the background.

There is also a glacier in that northern tip of Iceland, called Drangajökull. You can see its most well known glacial tongue on this photograph, called Kaldalón, which is visible from Ísafjörður:

As we were driving along, my attention was caught by some shapes in the water, and as we passed them I realized what they were: we’d finally encountered some seals!

We spent an amazing time with this whole family of seals, who were lounging around in the shallow waters of a lake. We parked the car, walked down to the shore, and stepped onto a large rock that offered itself as an ideal promontory. The seals were very scared, and swam off as we approached, but we stayed there, without moving, for a good quarter of an hour.

They turned out to be as curious about us as we were about them. This particular one made several test swims past us, from left to right, then from right to left, never taking its eyes off us to check for any bad intentions on our part. It swam past, dived, resurfaced, then went back and forth two or three times.

Seeing that we weren’t moving, the seals slowly returned to their rock to sunbathe.

Eventually the whole family was back at their spot. It was wonderful. But the time was now 11.44 am, and we had to get back on the road.

Here we are in the little town of Hólmavík. We stopped to eat our sandwiches in front of this strange house, which seemed to be celebrating the glory of Smurfs.

This is Hólmavík church:

We hit the road again, heading south.

The light was just sublime.

Forget “golden hours”, the silvery sheen that sometimes pierced the clouds provided precious “platinum seconds” for my photography.

ROUTE 1

Finally we got back on the luxurious bitumen of Route 1.

I took a lot of photographs as I drove, somewhat randomly. The surreal light was constantly changing, and the long journey was anything but boring.

Sometimes the sky got so dark that it seemed as if night had fallen, or a sudden eclipse had occurred.

In places, it appeared as if a giant punch had been used to make holes in the clouds, so sharply defined were the edges:

Elsewhere there were curtains of rain, or of light.

We found a viewpoint at the side of Route 1, with a little orientation table.

This was the sky I’d have loved to have seen throughout our whole trip: changing every minute, unpredictable, almost unreal.

We continued driving, and made a stop at a huge gas station next to Route 1. It must have been the biggest in the country. It had a giant map of Iceland, and a restaurant with seating for at least 500 people! The place was packed, with kids running everywhere, and it was nice to find ourselves surrounded by so many Icelanders, since we’d seen so few. That said, it was a mixed impression, for most of them were obese, and wolfing down huge hamburgers. The American way of life has clearly been established here for a while, with all of the disadvantages that come with it.

AKRANES PENINSULA, WESTERN ICELAND

We didn’t drive as far as Reykjavik, since we wanted to see the Akranes peninsula. There we stopped at a pretty campground by the beach, with a very friendly caretaker.

My strategy was to go and see the highest waterfall in Iceland the next day, which lay between here and Reykjavik.

We went for a walk around Akranes, and being Sunday yet again, there was no one around. Akranes is apparently the poor suburb of Reykjavik, with lots of housing projects and depressed neighborhoods.

While we were looking for somewhere to have a drink, a guy drove past us in his “pimped up” sports car, and seeing the Hummer he immediately turned round, accelerated back to show off at us, and slid into a crazy skid, drifting across the street. We heard the scream of his engine behind us, then he lost control of his car and slammed violently into the sidewalk!! It was a rude return to civilization.

We found a friendly bar soon after, where we drank a few beers, and I took some pictures of these young Icelandic girls, before heading back to the campground at 8 pm.

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