The end of the road… for now.
I drove like a lunatic back to Vatnajokull and made it to the hike office with 10 mins to spare before the first trip of the day. I just left the jeep with the door open and engine running abandoned outside and ran in to see if I could get on the first trip. They didn’t have any space on that one, or the next, or the next and had one at 4pm if I was interested. It wasn’t even 10am yet and I didn’t fancy hanging around all day waiting on it. With hindsight I should have booked it before I came over but as usual with this sort of trip its hard to judge timings looking at some webpages and spreadsheets.
There was a signposted walk out to the base of the glacier so I thought Id do that myself. It wasn’t signposted as particularly difficult and the weather window was ok for a few hours. It was about 1/3 tarmac path but at the end of that section there are warning signs about people who have left unprepared and their car has been discovered in the car park days later or they don’t show up for a flight a week on and nobody knows where their bodies lie. I was pretty much on my own here for an hour or so and then started to get passed by people wearing a lot of goretex, hiking boots, backpacks, walking sticks and here I am in my combats and trainers with camera slung over my shoulder.
I made it to the glacial lagoon and set up my second camera to try and mimic the shot of Bruce Wayne from batman begins starting to head towards the glacier. I am such a fucking child!
I headed back to the point on the trail where all the warning signs to go no further were and saw a kid wearing a batman t-shirt. I figured high fiving an absolute strangers kid may not be the most appropriate thing to do out here, that and perhaps the little guy not knowing the significance of today’s wardrobe!
Just over 2 hours into the half hour walk I found my way back to the car and set off for the journey back.
I did plan to stop off in Vik and go looking along the beach for the puffins but in Vik you couldn’t see Vik because of the low cloud, mist and rain so I just motored on through. Vik is apparently the wettest part of Iceland and it was certainly living up to the reputation. What was really cool though was that with the three dimensional look of the lava fields and cliffs in the mist and rain it looked like facial profiles and you could really see where the mountain and lava rock troll legends come from.
A bit past Vik and the sun came out again and it didn’t look like it had rained here at all, just around one of the headlands there were a load of cars all sitting in the middle of the road, in the distance there seemed like a mini tornado with wind whipping up a dust storm right in front of our eyes. All the cars stopped were of the small 4×4 hire car variety and a few cars just motored on past us through the swirling dust. They seemed like locals and either they knew better or their cars were sandblast proof!
Turns out it was just a dust storm caused by wind whipping up dust from a newly ploughed field and it disappeared after 5 or 10 minutes or so. It was a lesson though in that how quickly this sort of thing can occur here and never mind the paint on the car, what would that do to you if you were caught out in one of the sand/ash storms.
It clouded over again and going by the weather forecasts that was pretty much it for the trip, low visibility, cold and a lot of rain for the rest of my trip.
Id already scouted out my accommodation for the night on the way out so pulled up outside the guesthouse, waved to the owner and went inside for a pee.
She met me coming out and I explained who I was and that I was sorry but I was busting and excuse my rudeness. She explained that although her guesthouse had the same name as the guesthouse on my notes, that what I had as the name of the guesthouse was just the name of the town and that she hadn’t heard of me!
Still could have been worse, at least I wasn’t busting for a dump!
I offered my profuse apologies, went quite red in the face and hung my head in shame and left.
10km out of town I found my guesthouse, well shot past my guesthouse, stuck it into reverse and started to back into the drive, just as the owner was coming walking out.
I dont think I would have killed him, I think he moved very quickly for an old man. I wasn’t doing to well with guesthouse owners today.
I was going to say he saw the funny side but he didn’t and when he asked me if I wanted breakfast I said I did and paid the extra tenner as way of apology. He told me about some old hydro electric station in the valley up the lane from the back of the guesthouse. He said it was a good walk if I liked walking. He showed me to my room, gave me the wifi key and said he had to go back to work (he was a farmer) and to just make myself at home.
When he had left out of earshot I set off for the old hydro station but as the saying goes, nothing will go where a hire car will go and the wee 4×4 carried me across the lane and through a few fields.
For a former engineer and still quite a geek the old building was an interesting artifact. There was a small waterfall and the local community had diverted part of the flow down a pipe and through a water wheel which drove an electricity turbine and used to supply the village with electricity. Before the main grid a lot of the small rural communities had these.
I headed back down to the nearest town and found the only open restaurant in town. There was a service station and although I had partaken of the service station fast food that a lot of internet fora rave about (being cheap and close to what north americans regard as ‘food’) its not really what Id come to expect here.
The restaurant was empty except for the polish guy on the door and I got chatting to him. He’d only been here a month and had flown through Belfast on his way here. That would explain some of the manufactured tourist figures back home with people transiting the airport on the way to Iceland to work being classified as tourists. He said there had been a call out for people with good English skills to work in the tourism industry in Iceland for the summer season. Last year Iceland’s population tripled with tourists in July and they needed more English speaking workers to help with the increase.
Funny that they triple the amount of people on the island in July whereas Northern Ireland’s population goes down to a half in July. There’s a lesson there.
He recommended the lamb so I went with that and it was local free range speciality and absolutely delicious.
This is turning into a food blog but its rubbish weather outside and this was one of the best things Ive tasted here and that’s saying something!
I headed back to the guesthouse for an early night and repack the car for the last couple of days.
In the morning it was a bit surreal as the guesthouse breakfast room was for 40 people and I was the only person there. There were another couple of people somewhere about the place but they weren’t going to show for a while.
I got talking to the owner and he said that due to the influx of people last year the government had pulled out all the stops in getting new accommodation built and they had built a hotel across the road for 150 people in less than a year from all prefab buildings. He said it had impacted him and the other small guesthouses as all the promotion of the new hotel had taken away their business in the non-peak season. He did say though that in 3 days from now he was fully booked until September. This seemed to be the case whereever I went, this was pretty much the last week before the main peak season and another week I would have been sleeping in the car or camping leaving it this late.
There was nothing much for it but to just push on though the rain and head to my hostel up a Keflavik. Id chosen a good hostel with great reviews close to the airport as although I wasnt leaving early tomorrow I didnt wan’t to have to get up early and drive a lot.
I hadn’t planned on going to the Blue Lagoon as Id been told (mostly by locals) that it was overpriced and that any of the local pools would be equally as good. Saying that though with it peeing it down all day with little or no visibility I just booked it for later on this evening as at least it would give me something to do later.
On the way to the hostel Id planned a couple of stops, one in the same bakery and supermarket Id visited on the way out in the village with the greenhouses.
This time the museum was open so I wandered in and found out that the big gap in the floor was due to a fault found when making the foundations for the shopping centre. The fault ran right along the tectonic plate split so one part of the shopping centre was in europe and the other in North America. Id walked between the two a couple of times on the way out and hadn’t even noticed. The shopping centre design had to be changed as it couldn’t be more than single storey but they didn’t mention what they did with the tanks in the petrol station outside.
The floor had glass over the crack and I had noticed it but thought it was a disneyfied interpretation of a fault rather than an actual fault itself. That part is open and the museum is dedicated to the local earthquake and had some mocked up kitchen damage. Easy to confuse the two.
This like the geothermal power station and the old hydro electric plant was a genuine find not on the tourist trail and like I did first time around, very easy to overlook. Like the big kid I am I walked across continents a couple of times before going into the supermarket and stocking up on a couple of the local foods I hadn’t tried yet and would form part of my dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow (flatbreads, kleinur donuts and the famous skyr yoghurts)
I had one more stop on my list and it was a fishing village on the south east coast. I got there to find the harbour misted in and it chucking it down with rain at the same time. It was also quite windy which I couldn’t figure out with the mist!
What I did notice on the way in was the teams of mostly young people in all weather gear tidying up flower beds and doing general landscaping and making the place look tidy. Id noticed these gangs of people throughout my journey so it might be some work scheme or school project or deliquents on the day out but judging by the lack of crime in the place and the need for loads of foreign workers I didn’t think it was jail gangs or unemployed people. I’ll find that out when I get home.
Fair play to them though, it was rotten weather and they were out doing the job.
I visited the highest ranked cafe in town but a coach party had just beaten me to it so I managed to find the local bakery where I was the only customer.
Nothing else for it but to head off to the hostel and what a surprise, it was close to the airport, it actually used to be in it. It was one of the buildings on the former NATO airbase which used to be a barracks but now was re-purposed into a hotel/hostel 18 months ago. The place was immaculate and there was no-one there! I made myself at home in the kitchen and sat around until someone showed up at 4pm to check me in. I think I gave them a fright. This whole place caters for about 150 and apart from one other guy I was the only person here.
I was in a six bed deluxe dorm with private bathroom and the room split into two rooms of 3 beds. The only other hostel inhabitant was in the other half room and he’d got in from a long flight so was already asleep. I unpacked and went back to the kitchen common room to see if there was anyone else about.
It reminded me of the shining! There wasn’t another car in the car park and I had the run of the place. That sort of wore off after an hour or two and there’s only so much free coffee you can take.
I went up to the Blue Lagoon early.
There wasn’t much of a queue to get in but it still took almost 10 mins for the greeters to deal with the 3 people they were dealing with. Nice customer service and probably what you would expect for spending the money but as my dad used to say ‘They wouldn’t get a job in the bookies’ (i.e. far too slow dealing with people). I can understand now the complaints about queues to get in and long wait times. Also judging by the number of Northern Ireland accents in the cafe most people do seem to visit either straight from the airport on a connecting flight or on their last night before leaving. I’m sure I’ll see most of the cafe in the departure lounge tomorrow!
I got checked in and got my electronic wristband to work the lockers. Here’s where the main load of complaints lie, they make you shower naked! I was confused by a lot of these tripadvisor complaints because surely everyone showers naked? What would be the point of going in clothed, although to be fair Ive done that a few times when travelling to wash the clothes I was wearing at the time, but that’s a whole new level of eugh! I think a lot of North American people are unused to showering naked in front of other people. Anyone who has played team sport wouldn’t understand the complaints and I didn’t. The changing room and shower rooms were bunged and I hoped it was people coming out rather than going in or it was going to be a very short trip.
Id planned to stay for about a half hour and see what all the fuss was about, get a few photos and then get back to the empty hostel. In the end I endured almost three hours of that living hell!
There were no more than 100 people in total throughout the entire outdoor section of the site and that thinned out as time went on. As I sunk up to my waist in warm water the sleet and rain came whistling in off the mountain and so I sat on the bottom with the hot water lapping my neck and I almost bust out laughing at the absurdity of it all. My brother had emailed me an offer for a hot tub a couple of weeks ago and I wondered what the hell he was doing sending me this and when would I ever get the time to sit in my cold garden on the side of a mountain in mostly winter all the time up to my neck in hot water. I thought Id have to dig through my deleted items mail folder when I got home to see if the offer code was still valid!
I know its man made and its a tourist trap and at times its probably like people soup but tonight, in the cold and rain and with room to swim across if you could it was nothing short of superb. I did do the whole mud face mask thing although the girls walking round with the sample beauty products gave me a wide berth. I think they were concentrating on the female members of the clientelle or maybe they thought I was just too far gone.
I did spend an inordinate amount of time in the spa shop for a single bloke who originally thought this was all a tourist trap but common sense prevailed and my skin would just have to stay untreated from now on.
Other than wandering around the empty hostel for an hour, leaving the car hire back and flying home that was it for Iceland. Did it live up to my expectations, well yes. I know Ive mentioned this before but if I hadn’t been to Antarctica then it would be up there with some of the best scenery and places Ive ever visited. Add in the northern lights later in the year and it has the possibility of being one of the best trips you will ever take for that sort of thing. My cruise/trip in Northern Norway was good but this is more accessible and you aren’t on a ship for a week in oceans that are going to kill you! I fell in love with my wee Suzuki Jimny and there hasn’t been a week yet since the trip that I haven’t thought of buying one. I have 3 cars already so where exactly I would put it I don’t know but come this winter at home, if we have a bad one I’ll be regretting not getting one.
This trip was arranged at short notice and I couldn’t really plan out where I was staying and just had to go with where had availability. I was glad I didn’t have to sleep in the car near Vik but it wouldn’t have detracted from the trip.
On reflection with a full week I could have/should have done a complete circuit of the island as the return journey was covering old ground and I overestimated the length of time to get to places. Still that gives me the opportunity to come back and do the north of the island and perhaps during northern lights season.