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Iceland Through and Through PART ONE

Southwest Iceland
Southwest Iceland

The Journey Begins.

This was going to be the first of many Icelandic road trips, I decided. So, we rented a Toyota Yaris online from a budget outlet called SadCars. Why not happy cars? Or excited and reliable cars? Or magical elf cars? Of course we pointed this out to all the young employees at the Sadcars outlet and they laughed at us and said we were hilarious. Actually, that’s pretty much how all the Icelanders we met reacted to us, even when we weren't doing anything in particular: they chucked with anticipation of our next move, like we were a strange new species of hilarity that could explode at any moment. They liked the way we tried to pronounce words like “Eyjafjallajokull” and would say “Takk takk takk takk!!!” instead of just “Takk” (thanks) like the other tourits; we felt the extra takks made us more legit. I gave one Sadcar girl a hairband with Canadian flags glued to the top and she was delighted; she stood in the bitter wind with the flags waving wildly, smiling in excitement.

We were almost on our way, packs loaded up, GPS Karen with the Australian accent telling us to drive to the highlighted route…until we felt a giant jerk and the car lurched forward. THUD! Uh-oh. None of us could drive Standard. I can’t drive at all, and we decided that rough Icelandic off-roading through volcanic craters would NOT be the best time to figure it out. We lied and said it had been at least ten years since we had driven Standard and were “upgraded” to a very sad looking 1999 Toyota Avensis.

Highlights of our Toyota Avensis:

  • Gas gage is stuck at half-empty (half-full depending on sad or happy car view)
  • Front seats don’t recline or all
  • Headlights sometimes work (luckily it’s summer and the sun won’t set)
  • Definitely no four-wheel drive: PAVED ROADS ONLY!
  • GPS only knows 4 random places in Iceland, none of which we are going to
  • The “Check Engine” Button is always flashing
  • Monster speakers in the backseat, threatening to demolish that remainder of my ear drums

We were all set! We decided to just drive and figure out where were going later…

The demographic of the average tourist who vacations in Iceland is 65+. 65+ folks love tour buses and boardwalks and taking tour buses to boardwalks and then following the wooden paths to a safe and secured viewing area facing an easily visible landmark that is exciting, yet a safe distance away. 65+ people need to be surrounded by swarms of other tourists who can help them take photos, adjust their tilly-hats or direct them to the nearest restroom to put on expensive sweaters because they are chilly, and when it’s time to eat, they buy overpriced food that they can’t tell is overpriced because they didn’t bring their reading glasses (Harold must have left it in the other fanny-pack, Oh that Harold...).

We decided that although it would be nice to take pictures of 65+ sweater-clad and squinty-eyed folks, on a scenic and safe board walk, it was probably not the best place to reconnect with our Elf and Wizard ancestry, and mysteries of our past. So after a brief visit to the geysirs and a quick picture at Golfoss, one of Europe’s most powerful waterfalls (according to the sign that I had to read to a 65+ because she didn’t bring her reading glasses, Oh that Harold!) we officially joined the unofficial 3% of tourists and started trekking away from all boardwalks... to the Westfjords!

Gollfoss Waterfall
Gollfoss Waterfall

Watch out for exploding geysirs!


What I didn’t realize is that Karen, our GPS with the Australian accent, has a very slim repertoire of Icelandic cities. Why couldn’t Helga, the Icelandic milkmaid narrate our adventure, then our first day would have been a bit more accurate and on-track! Our first stop was to a town called Reykholt in Iceland’s northwest, on the border of the Interior, a few kilometers from three of the biggest glaciers (jokells) in the region. What Karen didn’t know is that pretty much every region of Iceland has a beautiful little town called Reykholt, so of course she thought we were part of the 97%: the 65+ tourists that wanted to stay near the sweater-selling and expensive eateries at all time. Luckily a 65+ Icelandic woman, after laughing profusely at how hilarious we were doing ordinary things like asking where we could find the glaciers while in a grassy, flat area, and taking the advice of a mapping-machine with a charming accent, she directed us 150km in an another direction to the correct Reykholt, and gave us a big piece of glossy paper, with a detailed picture of Iceland on it, called a map. Finally, at midnight we made it to our first campsite, in the hamlet of Husafell.

Highlights of Husafell Campsite:

  • Hot hot hot showers
  • A giant, multi-coloured trampoline and play park
  • Geothermal pool with water slide and bath toys
  • Laundry machine and drier
  • Real toilets that flush!
  • Soft, soft grass
  • The office closes at 10pm so we saved 1000Kr ($10) each
  • Soft-serve ice cream dispenser
  • Espresso bar
First campsite: Madison all bundled-up and ready for bed at 1am
First campsite: Madison all bundled-up and ready for bed at 1am

The sun was high in the sky as we set-up the tent and spread out our sleeping bags and blankets. The weather report for the week promised sunny and mild conditions. After being in the arctic for the last four months, I figured I could easily handle a low of 7C; that looked like balmy, Hawaii-esque weather. Nope. I don’t know how we survived the night: I woke up in a state of near-hypothermia. Somehow in my sleep I had sensed the danger of our predicament and poor planning and attempted to put on everything I owned, and stuff all my sheets, towel, and Ghanaian fabric into my measly sleeping bag. All these extra layers and fabric still could not shield us from the extreme temperature. My weather App should come with a disclaimer: in Iceland 7C feels like -70C and sleeping outside should NOT be attempted by non-Standard-driving-directionally-challenged-backpackers-with-no-gear-other-than-Tarot-cards.