Western Iceland – finished but update youtube link
A tour through Western Iceland in late Winter (March).
We woke to a light sprinkling of snow over the tent, but the conditions weren’t too arctic. We had slept somewhere along state highway 1, about 60km north of Reykjavik. We fired up the Primus Stove and had a hot brew of tea to start the day. The plan was, not to plan. We’d continue to drive West until either we could go no further, or we found great stuff along the way. Barely 10 minutes up the road, we came to a stop to admire a partially frozen lake holding melt-water from the mountains. The shoreline of the lake was a curious mix of ice, moulded into near perfect spheres pilled up on top of each other in the thousands. The icy balls parted into a small mound of snow sitting atop them, and then they morphed into a slushy type ice mix, before abruptly become liquefied melt water. A very curious sight, made much more spectacular by the mirror imagine of mountains reflected in ripples across the surface of the water.
Pulling into the small village of Arnarstapi, we jumped out of the car and tied on our hiking boots. The rain had just started, so the raincoats came along for a ride. There was a small track running along the coastline, through some beautiful lava rock formations and through to the next village of Hellnar, renown for its almost instantly fresh fish meals served in Fjöruhúsið Café. The walk soon took us away from the Arnarstapi and into the lava fields.
Crashing waves pounded against the cliffs that dropped away steeply to our left, and a small path that cut through the ancient formations led us safely onwards. The contrast between the grays of the sky, the blues of the sea, and the changing hue’s of green moss that coated the boulders, was a wonder. The plants that grew were few and far between. A small wonder that anything could survive, when permanently pounded by the wind and the sea, and smothered with snow for 6 months of the year. The shrubbery that did grow was short, stunted and tough rubbery plants. I know somewhere; a biologist is cringing at my plant explanations.
Shortly before walking into the small fishing village of Hellnar (population.. 9) Elena mentioned the distinct lack of human activity in the small group of houses ahead. Sure enough, our ‘café’ was not only closed, it would stay closed for another 2 months before opening! Lunch consisted of half an apple each, huddled together on a small pile of boulders before turning around and walking back.
We got back to the car and noticed a small sign pointing to a Restaurant. The restaurant was actually somebody’s house. That was immediately obvious. Imagine filling your living room with a few tables, a dozen chairs, and then calling it a restaurant. Pictures of various family members were still hanging on the walls, books on the shelves, a piano tucked away in the corner, and one could even see into the bedroom if seated on the right angle! Still, a strange concoction of fish soup calmed the appetite, and we continued on our way with satisfied stomachs.
A small wonder that anything could survive, when permanently pounded by the wind and the sea, and smothered with snow for 6 months of the year.
We explored the local area, including Sönghellir cave (N64°46.866 W23°40.851) with wall-writings from the 18th century. Interesting to see someone 200 years ago, writing “I was here!” the same as one may write now! The day was particularly wet and grey, with a low visibility.
Not wanting to miss out on what nature had to offer, I stopped the car frequently and explored small points of interest noted on the map. There were many volcano craters that offered stark views from the top over the barren landscape. Standing with my head into the wind and snow, on the top of an old volcano crater I really felt alive. The taste of the air was exotic, old and pure. When I think of Iceland, I think of the way I felt standing on top of this one place.
Standing on a volcano cone,Snaefellsjoekull National Park – link to youtube
Back at the bottom I got the gas cooker out and made a hot cup of tea to warm myself back up.
The rest of the day was lost driving, hoping to get closer to the Western Fjords. We made it as far as Stykkishólmur.
There, we looked for a store to buy some wine, or even a bottle of spirits to keep the warm, Russian style. Strangely, the sale of alcohol in Iceland is very strict, only sold by ‘government’ stores and the stores are only open for a few hours a week. This is the opposite to what I expected, as in other Northern countries such as Finland and Russia alcohol is a staple for getting through the long dark winters..
We inquired as to the state of the roads further west; to find that they were most of them were still blocked off. Small towns that are located in the Fjords are literally isolated all winter, only to have access to the outer world again once the snow melts. And I thought days like that were long gone! Realizing we’d ran out of road, we turned around and drove East again, stopping along a scenic river for another night in the wild.