Journal of a 23-day Icelandic road trip

Monday August 24

Guess what weather we had this morning, when we woke up at 7.30 am? Yes, that’s right: clouds, wind and rain. The campground was right by the sea, so I went to take a few pictures of the dark ocean.

A French girl, about 35 years old, with piercings, dreadlocks, and a roll-up cigarette in her mouth (at eight in the morning!) came to see if we could help her out since she’d run out of gas for her stove, so we lent her our canister. She’d arrived in Iceland the previous day, and the force of the wind had made quite an impression, shocked her even. Something told me that she wasn’t done being surprised.

Then we hit the road, to go and see Iceland’s highest waterfall: Glymur.

We drove past this strange village of corrugated metal bungalows, but I didn’t yet know what it was when I took these photographs.

I discovered later from a TV program that this was a whaler village! Whaling is not banned in Iceland, but it has been the subject of much debate here. And this isolated place is where the whalers live, and where they bring their catch back to, far from the eyes of Reykjavik.

In fact, there’s no doubt, for here are the two whaling ships at anchor in the bay.

We arrived at the starting point for the hike to Glymur. As you can see from the sign, there was just one problem: a 5.5 km (3½ mile) trail that was quite steep, and where you had to walk through water in several places. What with the weather (terrible wind, driving rain, black clouds), Emilie simply didn’t feel up to it. Even I was somewhat put off by the prospect, not to mention that it would be difficult to take photographs, so I gave up on the idea, with an aching heart.

We continued on our way, direction Reykjavik. I don’t think I’d witnessed worse weather since we set foot in Iceland. Just look at the photographs.

The dark waters of the fjord were simply beautiful, the sky was quite unreal, and I believe I saw a lenticular cloud.

REYKJAVIK

A return to Reykjavik meant that we were back in real civilization, after 21 days spent in the backcountries. It was a little tough on our spirits, but there was much in this town to console us.

For example, there were these fantastic fresh fish kebabs at the very popular Seabaron restaurant, very welcome after 21 days of eating nothing but sandwiches and freeze-dried soups!

The kebabs at bottom left are minke whale, the species we saw at Husavik, but we didn’t try any. The langoustine soup (1,500 ISK) was to die for!

Well, I think you know me by now, enough to remember that I’m irresistibly attracted by ports. I returned to glean a few more photographs.

This worker made me think of a Teletubby! Yes, that’s it, a Teletubby.

REYKJANES PENINSULA, SOUTHWEST ICELAND

As we drove down Route 42 to explore the Reykjanes peninsula, a miracle happened: the sky cleared.

The dark waters of Kleifarvatn lake:

The Seltun solfataras a little further on:

The unbelievable turquoise waters of Grænvatn:

The enchanting and isolated Krysuvikurkirja church:

We continued our exploration to the extreme south-western tip. Reykanes peninsula seems to be completely covered with lava. Leave the road at your peril!

Reykjanesta cape and its lighthouse, just off Route 425.

At the risk of being repetitive, I should point out that there’s nothing in the photographs to make you think there’s any wind: no trees, no grass. However, it was blowing a Force 12 gale! It was quite crazy; we had difficulty opening the doors of the car, and could barely stand once we got outside. I really had to struggle to climb up here (virtually crawling) and found it extremely hard to frame my photographs.

The only way to show you the wind in Iceland is as it blows the horses’ manes.

Here we are in the fault between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. A really special place to write love messages with stones.

Back to Reykjavik. We’d been sleeping in the back of our car, without a mattress, for 23 days, so we were dreaming of spending our last night in Iceland in a real bed. We rang Monique, but were out of luck: she was full.

I wasn’t expecting this, given that we were at the end of August, and I was disappointed because I wanted to see her again. But before I could say anything, she added: “Come and see me, we’ll find a solution.”

So we arrived at Chez Monique (her guesthouse) with a heavy heart, knowing that this was our last evening.

MONIQUE IS PHENOMENAL

This slip of a woman set foot in Iceland 42 years ago, in 1970! It was fate that brought her here, as au pair to a French diplomat appointed ambassador to Iceland. He asked her whether she wanted to come with them to continue looking after his children. And come with them she did.

Having experienced the whole of the last 40 years of Icelandic history, she regaled us with such anecdotes as going out on the town with American soldiers in the 1970s.

Monique met an Icelander, they married, and built this guesthouse together. But he would never see it in operation, having died six years ago, just before it opened its doors, and she found herself on her own.

Monique now runs the guesthouse with unbelievable energy, since the job requires a colossal amount of work. And you know what? She also works part-time at Reykjavik hospital.

She was rather embarrassed that the guesthouse was full that night, but offered us an adorable little room with a single bed, to help us out. And help us out it really did.

But the best was yet to come (I shouldn’t really say): “It’s a small room, so I’ll let you have it for free. That way you can treat yourselves to a good restaurant.”

Incredible! So we returned to Fish Market, which was conveniently located a two-minute walk from the guesthouse.

But I took my camera with me this time, so you can join us.

We hadn’t booked of course, and it was super packed, very lively, noisy, yet friendly. The only places left were at a bar opposite the kitchen! We couldn’t have asked for better seats, since we were able to combine the pleasure of eating with the pleasure of watching the kitchen ballet.

We ordered the tasting menu again (impossible to do otherwise) and we were off for an hour and a half of happiness, washed down of course with a fine bottle of white wine.

Here are a few plates – I didn’t photograph hem all!

And here’s dessert, a launching pad to cloud nine, to a state of pure elation before the coming departure (assisted by the white wine of course).

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