The plus side of sleeping in a 1999 Toyota Avensis with seats that remain only in the upright position (apart from not having to set-up/pack the tent everyday) was that we saved some money. Every morning when the camping attendant came around to collect campsite fees (1000Kr ($10)/person), he would peer through our window and see our contorted, overly-dressed zombie forms, give us a sad look and walk away. I guess he didn’t have the heart to charge us for our hours of utmost discomfort. We discovered that if we found a small hill with a steep incline and attempted to drive up it, then put on the emergency break, we could rest at a 45 degree angle; our sleeping improved significantly. Even if I did dream every night about falling off a cliff to my death, at least our necks were contorting painfully like a neglected newborn’s.
Eating in Iceland does not have to be expensive, despite what you might have heard. No, we didn’t feed off rotting sharks that had washed up on shore…though that is an option. There are “BONUS” stores (a discounted grocery shop chain whose logo is a drunk-looking pig) scattered around the country. They all open at 11am so when we arrived at 10:45am at the outlet in Reykjavik right after our red-eye flight, we weren’t the only giant-pack clad travelers waiting anxiously for the doors to open so we could all stock up on crackers and canned tuna. Surprisingly our budget allowed for way more than just The Student Dorm Food Groups. Traditional Icelandic bread, steamed by the geothermals, loaded with seeds and nuts, is hearty and less than 200Kr ($2) a loaf! Select veggies, like tomatoes and lettuce, are grown in local greenhouses. Icelanders love to talk about their tomatoes, and I was excited to learn that Iceland also has the largest banana plantation in Europe! See, I must be related to this culture; if I had limited greenhouse space I would definitely tally me some bananas.
The main source of energy that fueled us on our road trip, and also keeps me returning to this island year after year, is the skyr. Skyr is velvety smooth yogurt, and makes Greek yogurt seem like a chunky glob. Skyr is made from sheep’s milk and naturally contains 10g of protein for every handful. It’s also 0.1% fat, or something unbelievable like that. Skyr comes in what seems like every flavor of the rainbow, and is available at literally every gas station, corner store and campsite, like an addictive elixir. Body builders order it in bulk and we were eating 5-6 containers of it daily. Skyr + geothermal sundlaug spas = ancient Elfish secret to eternal youth and beauty; we definitely didn’t look nor feel like we were living in a breaking-down car. Maybe that’s the reason why Senior citizens from all over the world land in Iceland by the plane-full; it’s not the leisurely bus tours or the well-constructed boardwalks: it’s for the quest of Eternal Youth!
Once we were loaded up with skyr, raugbraud bread and bags of avocados, it was finally time to board the ferry that would whisk us away further north, to the wilds of the westfjords. Aboard the small car ferry we started to feel like the “3% of tourists” for the time; we had strayed from the Guide Book’s recommended “Ring Road Roundabout” of popular sights and postcard-famous pit stops. The other passengers spoke in loud, excited Icelandic and most were vacationing young people like us, though much more stylish, and were opting away from the tourists. We smiled and gestured animatedly along with them when they spoke to us in their language. We winked at each other in the bathroom, proud we were recognized as citizens not as visitors ; it must be all the skyr-loading.
The ferry ride to the Westfjords takes three hours, with one stop in between at the elfin island community of Flatey. “Welcome to Flatey: Population 12”. It’s made up of two families, living on a big grassy rocky cliff, waves crashing on all sides, surrounded by gulls zipping in and out of the fog. A few white houses with red roofs make up the town. Little girls in flowery dresses and knitted sweaters, blonde curls flying in the wind, run from out behind the rocks to greet the boat as it docks. Just watching the town congregate to meet the visitors and relatives returning makes me wonder if we have stepped back in time, or at least to another dimension where Anne of Green Gables is preserved. Young men (in suspenders!!!) unload cargo and large, hefty sacks of potatoes. Small boys entertain bouncy dogs. I wonder which house I would live in, though both look alike in dignity. Would I have to share a room with animated, loving children, telling tales of island ghosts and shipwrecks...
But there are no-cars-allowed on this dead-end isle; there simply isn’t room for us now. So with the piercing, discordant toot of the horn, we, our Avensis and Karen, our Australian GPS, are whisked away. Maybe another time, Flatey.
What will we find in the Westfjords?
TO BE CONTINUED....