Journal of a 23-day Icelandic road trip

Monday August 10

We set our alarms for 7 am, and we were right to do so, for the beauty of this place under the rising sun took our breath away.

It wasn’t raining, for the first time since our arrival, and Emilie was able to prepare breakfast on the picnic table. Even better, I could drink my coffee sitting down.

From where we were sitting, we could see the glacial tongue that laps up to Höfn.

I was preparing to pack up my gear to leave, when I witnessed an incredible scene. An observant Jew, who we’d already noticed the previous day in the campground (rare to see a kippa amid the glaciers!), climbed up onto the mound above us, facing the lake. He was just a few meters away from me, saw me, but paid me no mind, even though everyone else was still sleeping.

He put on his tefillin and prayer shawl, slowly and very calmly. I was itching to photograph him, but above all didn’t want to disturb him, so I stayed discreetly near to the car, but without hiding, and took a few shots. I think he saw me taking pictures of him, at any rate he must have sensed it, but he didn’t say anything to me.

I watched him for a few minutes, fascinated by the scene. I reflected to myself that just as they’re some super spots in the world for surfing, then this must be a super spots for praying.

Then we drove off toward the East Fjords!

We made a little stop at the tiny hamlet of Stafafell. It was so peaceful here. The lush grass and real flowers that cover these Icelandic cemeteries make them so cozy and welcoming.

EAST FJORDS

We came across this impressive trident shape.

The East Fjords are comprised of hairpin bends, winding coast roads, and tunnels.

We got to Djúpivogur around 11.30 am. I noticed these houses, one wall of which was decorated in a particular way. This one depicts a deck of cards, another a piano, and I wondered if it was the owner’s hobby that was represented? If anyone has the answer, let me know!

Iceland is dotted with adorable fishing villages nestling between steep mountains and the sea, and Djúpivogur is no exception. There’s a magnificent farmhouse dating from 1790, which is now a cafe and museum. The particularity of this village is that you can go bird watching along the seaside. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to do that.

All of these little towns have a gas station that also serves as a grocery store and restaurant. They tend to be very Americanized, with the usual hotdogs, Coke, and huge plates of burgers and fries. But if you look closely, you’ll see the older fishermen tucking into plates of fish. I asked what they were eating and was told it was the dish of the day. So we decided to try it, ordered two of them, and were rewarded with two enormous plates of absolutely delicious breaded hake, served with steamed potatoes, and for only 2,200 ISK (€13) for two!

But with the sky already clouding over, it was time to get back on the road.

We walked down a path to get to little Hafnarnes lighthouse, freshly painted in beautiful orangey yellow.

It faces Skrúður island, which looks like it’s straight out of a Robert Louis Stevenson novel, and which watches you as you drive all the way along this part of the coast. I dubbed it Devil’s Rock, in memory of my childhood reading.

Below you can see a gigantic aluminum factory, which has stirred controversy in Iceland for ecological reasons. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a longer building.

Fáskrúðsfjörður is not just the name of a fjord, but also the name of a village that has the particularity of being a living link between France and Iceland, owing to the many French sailors and fishermen who stayed here between 1850 and 1914.

U p to 5,000 Frenchmen braved the distance and the danger each season to fish and to trade here. Many men died, or were lost at sea, and so a cemetery was established a few kilometers out of town to honor their memory. 49 Frenchmen now repose here for evermore, while the French and Icelandic flags fly next to each other, and all street names are translated into French. It’s very touching .

We left the village and carried on along the fjord. I took advantage of the superb view over “Devil’s Rock” to ask this couple to pose for me.

Here’s another lighthouse, called Vattarnes. No, it’s not the photographer who’s leaning, but the lighthouse!

We reached the very deep Reyðarfjörður fjord, just as the skies were becoming menacingly overcast.

We were aiming to reach Neskaupstaður, a small town of 1,400 inhabitants. Why? Because it’s the easternmost town in Iceland, and I’m always drawn to such world’s end places. It’s very isolated, and you can’t reach it from the coast, but only by crossing the mountain. Unfortunately for us, a thick fog had descended, and we could only see three meters in front of us, not to mention the strongly gusting wind, all of which combined to create a truly chilling atmosphere on this winding mountain road.

We then found ourselves heading straight for this absolutely gloomy tunnel so we stopped in front of it, somewhat puzzled, but had no choice but to enter. We were very soon quite seized with terror, and I’m sure you can see why, can’t you? There was only one lane, even though the road itself was two-way! We just prayed we hadn’t made a mistake.

This one-way tunnel was as dark and damp as a tomb, the sharp rock seemingly just a hair’s breadth away from the sides of our car. It was like the mountain was swallowing us up. These 630 meters (690 yards) felt like an eternity to us. If you meet a car coming the other way, there’s just one passing place in the middle of the tunnel to dive into.

Here we are, safely arrived in Neskaupstaður. We took a walk around town. The Lonely Planet guide mentioned a guesthouse located above a music store, and a free campground overlooking the little town.

NESKAUPSTAÐUR, EXTREME EAST ICELAND

Here’s the music store.

We came across this Cadillac. Didn’t I tell you? Icelanders love old American cars, so you see a lot of them around.

We found the free campground overlooking the town. It cost nothing to stay here, as I’m sure you’ve understood.

The time was 7.30 pm and we were starving. It was cold and wet, so we took shelter in the back of the Hummer.

We didn’t take long to fall asleep, with the alarm set for 7 am.

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