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It's a long climb, to get to the bottom of things

the pay as you go plan.

ICELAND | Monday, 19 July 2010 | Views [587]

The tentacles of the city rose up from the ocean and captured me in its depths with a voracious appetite for frustration. As I circled Reykjavik for the first hour of my car rental, I was stalling and starting as I got reacquianted with ye olde stick shift and tried in vain to find the highway that would start my great 'Circle the Island' adventure. It was late, but surely nothing on this little Island could be that far away! The hours dragged on in infinite sheep counting numbness as I struggled (as anyone who has ever driven with me as a passenger will understand) not to fall asleep.
The first turn that took me face to face with a glacier broke me out of my zombie slumber. Every day of life that bores me and tries my patience back home should be met with a reminder of a place like this: I am the luckiest girl in the entire universe. I am here. In a land more beautiful than any I have ever seen.
Recognizing the severity of their contry's ability to stop tourists in their tracks, the road has pull offs every mile or so to admire the view. I must have pulled of at every single on of them.
The crisp jagged edge of the newly broken mountains ardently embraces the soft dripping slope of ancient melting ice; who, unsure of his ardor, raises her glacial blue trsses into the power of the sky until the clouds reflect a grayly pouting jealousy of their stolen glory. To the right, the sea played out a sibling rivalry of rock hewn cliffs and rolling green pastures vying convincingly for my camera's lens.

At long last, I turned at the third sheep to the left and followed the narrowly winding gravel road to the farmhouse I would rest at that night. Mom greeted me with a humble soft-spoken warmth, inviting me to the breakfast room for tea and coffee but the ingrateful teenager I am, I had to get back out and see more.
I found my way to the black sand beaches and spent a few precocious hours climbing over the rocks like a child deciding if I am the first or the last person on the planet to find this amazing fortress playland. I made friends with the puffins who quizzically admired my human peculiarity. In just a week the midnight sky has gently relented it's sunlit severity, gracing me instead with a spectacular sunset that lasts for hours on end- I have indeed found heaven. A country with a love of softserve icecream, decent peanut butter (really!!! it almost tastes like American!), unlimited outdoor adventure possibilities, and endless hours to watch the sun set over the ocean. sigh. what could be better!?!?!

I have pushed my flagging haggard body to the point of bronchial diress at this point. Also typical Emily- I keep going until my body decides it has had enough and shuts me down. The mornings are the worst, luckily my store of Nyquil will keep me sleeping through the worst of coughing nights for at least a little while. Starting our later than i had planned, I had a full day of bravado planned- I was going to take on some Highland roads and get around the volcano Helka to the Holy Land of Hiking, the Landmannalaugar.
Now the roads that get off the main road and into the remote and really INTERESTING places are all marked F###- while boring old highways are just ###. When I got to the turn off, there was a big billboard sized sign warning that F- roads are off limited for 2wd and passenger cars- driving on these roads voids all insurance for rental vehicles. They are strictly for 4WD Jeeps and require fording rivers and other potentially dangerous conditions. I stopped at this billboard sign. I got intimidated, considered turning back. then said, eh, I will just got for a little while in my yes, 4wd but also passenger car, and if I get to a river, I will simply turn back...

It started off pretty well. As I cruised over the rock hewn lava fields broken down by the sheer amount of wheels traversing them daily, I thought, yeah, I am my father's daughter! Boldly aetting out for adventure! I can drive stick with champions, maneuvering expertly over the volcanic ash and rough rider roads. I came upon the first river. I pulled over as I had planned and watched a huge pickup truck swoosh through the knee-deep water like a car comercial in action! wow, I was not that stupid!
Then, a moment later, three models of Subaru no bigger than my little trusty Suzuki followed suit. hmmm... if they can....
I always made sure that another car was caravaning behind me, but then I ground down into a lower gear and confidently boated my way to the other side. I reached the sand-hued Star Wars desert set of Landmannalaugar and set off for a few hours of hiking.
The mountains first here look like layered smooth sand sculptures, every color of the sunset reflecting on the temperature of their volcanic birth. Several were still smoking from the natural steam accumulating in secret lava lagoons underground. Their neighbors are grumpy moss colored masses of broken rocky crumbles- evidence of the destructive ambivalence of plodding blundering Giants that obviously roamed here in the past. I communed with the elves and their troll cousins until I knew that I had to go- I was going to be painfully remiss in arriving at my little farmhouse well after grandma would have gone to sleep!
On the way back, I decided to take the road that let me out directly by the next town I was staying in- the hostess at the morning farm told me it was a beautiful route. I got a little cocky about my river crossings. Combined with my belting out of country tunes and my impatience to be done driving, I cannot say I didn't deserve the Elvish miscreancy that happened next.
I believe the song was "Country Road" by John Denver when I was ambushed by a deeply ravining river. The stark 45' angle of the upkeep required an extra ohmph of acceleration, which bumped and jolted the axels of the car like a bull bucking a cowboy. I lasted a few hundred feet bafore I heard the blood chilling sound of metal dragging beneath me. uh oh. this cannot be good.
It had started to rain by this time. Added bonus. I postured into my best imitation of a mechanic and found the plate under the front of the engine bent around one remaining bolt like a braided pretzel. Trying with my handy leatherman to unpry the remaining bolt, I could not get it to budge no matter what I did. Finally, a car came up the road behind me. The lovely french couple tried to help as well, no luck. no luck at all. The aussie lads that came from the other direction whistled their dismay at the state of the car. oh, shit. yeah. that's right. I know now what the F stands for, and that's what I am...
Duct tape, always handy in the past, seemed like the only thing to do. I taped and tied the metal up to the bottom of the car and asked the Frenchies if I could caravan with them back to the main road. The Aussies warned that there was nothing for miles in teh other direction and many more rivers, but I knew that the way I came was not an option either.
We crossed one river before I heard the scraping again. This time, I remebered I had bungee cords ataching my sleeping bag to the top of my backpack! Brilliant! Bungeed and secure, I prayed every second of that infinite ride to Please God, Let me just get back to the main highway!!!
and it took nearly 2 hours, but I did it! we did it!!! thank you, nameless french couple, for holding my hand and braving the way with me! I called the farm and told them I had car trouble- they said I was still 2 hours away. at midnight. great... sick and not sleeping is a great way to adventure your way straight to hell... but after today, I could sleep in a cardboard box and feel lucky.

Slow start again the next morning, I went first to one of my favorite points in all of Iceland- lake Jökulsárlón. It's an eerily poignant glacier lake with huge icebergs floating in balletic grace. The lake itself is only 30 years old- as the sea water wears away the layers of thousand year old ice, the water amassed into a great lake battle of fresh water versus sea in the glacier's fight keep it's composure.
As my little boat floated by, I could feel them melting, mezmerizing me with their slow seductive dance of death. I could have watched them for days, tracing their path out to the sea.
But the twinge of car rental damage started to spur at me. I called to turn myself in. They advised me that the next big town I passed through would have a rental location. I headed there and looked in the five street town desperately for their green logo without success. At tourist information, the manager informed me that it was not a location, it was a guy. She gave me his phone number, but when I called him, I felt my Icelandic Retardation quite pointedly. They all speak perfect english... but no westerner dares even attempting to pronounce a single Icelandic word! He was telling me how to get there. I could not make out a syllable of what he said. I had to ask the information desk woman to translate for me, feeling as helpless as a toddler as they laughed and chatted away the international minutes on my cell phone. She pointed out a blue house on the map, and within 15 minutes with a sawzall- he had the problem fixed.

On my way out of town I picked up a few hitchhikers in the spirit of travel karma. They were a nice German couple who helped me stay fixed on the road and not dally at the pull offs for too many pictures. I managed to get to my farm by 10pm that night- only to find that my room was in a Church! I brushed my teeth staring at the pews lined up to the altar and reflected that perhaps this was a bit heavy handed for a Sign.

I woke up expecting hymns and hallelujiahs, but just a normal breakfast and I was on my way.

Today I headed out for the fingering bays of the East- the homeland of the mystical creature in Iceland. The part of the country that has a Commission to investigate building sites for Elven homes before any plans are accepted. The rolling California hills of green grass sprinkled with wildflowers refused to let me keep driving all day. Soon I was channeling my inner sheep scampering up the steep slopes just to roll back down to play in the freezing sea. I love every small town I visit here. Everyone knows each other. Even their system of names assumes familiarity. Here, there are no family names. Your last name is your father's name, followed by daughter or son. My name would be Emily Robertsdottir. My father's name would be Robert Johnsson. It touches the quirky sentimentality in me that they were all so related that they only wanted to know who your father was to place you in the family tree. So years later, generations later, the tradition is still standing. So though the Gunner Gunnerssons about in the phone book, the entire country's phone book is smaller than my first year French book in school. I was talking to a young boy about the 6 degrees of separation, and he said that ws the reason the crime rate in Iceland remains so low- If you tried to hold up a liquor store, most likely the person behind the counter is your grandmother's best friend or your teacher's husband. There is no anonymity here.

The next day was a prehistoric wonderland. Lake Myvatn winds its mossy way along the low drawn brush of the land with a mysterious laziness. The tiny islands of trees and rock look like Brontasaurus backs, and I was certain the head was about to surface. I hiked around for an hour until the little gnats that are so prolific the lake is named after them became too much for me. I made my way to the craters lining the bridge of volcanic action. Huge pock-marks taken out of the earth like inverse volcanoes pointed to the sea. Lining these craters is sulphuric hot springs. YES!!! Don't mind if I do! I think nature makes complete sense- you may have the coldest climate around, but you are blessed with natural hot springs all along the way.

After the hot springs, I discovered the boiling mud flats of Haverarond. It looked just like the Neverending Story's Swamp of Sadness. Bubbling heavy brown mud with big burping flatulance stinking up the land with the a sulphuric stench. Made from the magma depths of the Krafla volcano next door, I followed the hot foot path to take a look gander at the George Lucas inspired power plant at the site of the volcanic core.

Feeling like a full day had already passed, I was not yet ready to actually get on the road home. I took the 200km detour out to see the Dettifoss Falls- the largest waterfall in Europe.

Pulling up after the long gravel drive, I was not certain I had made the right choice. But once the rocks before me fell away to the thundering rush of the water falling away, I knew that even Niagra cannot hold a candle to this! There are no safety barriers, if you are stupid enough to fall or have a death wish to enact, you are free to do whatever you wish. I laid my belly on the rocky cliff and stuck my head out over the edge, laughing impetuosly at the thrill of such power! I could feel the reverbance of the water rumble in the rocks below me, I marveled at the moment the water wishes it could race back up and hangs suspended in air, and individual caught up in the rush of it all going by too fast.

The day was unending wonders- On my way out I discovered a bird reserve nestled into a horseshoe canyon made my Thor's horse as he fled into the heavens...

pure bliss. I did feel bad when I finally rolled up to the farm that night. This was a mom and pop place. and mom was none too happy to stay up until midnight for her errand child!

I can't help myself. I love this place. I want to stay forever!!!

Tags: glacier, iceland, jökulsárlón, lake myvatn, landmannalaugar, the circle road, volcano



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