Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bus ride home to Eystri-Solheimar

(Photo: Above Skógafoss, taken a few weeks earlier)

Rain again non-stop. I can hang out in my room here at Geysir until 11. Then I leave my backpack there and hang out in the Geysir shop and take walks until my bus leaves at 3pm. I’m very glad to leave by the time the bus arrives. Short layover in Selfoss and change of bus. I’m allowed to keep my backpack in the storeroom at the gas station, so I take some things to the post office and get a bite to eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken. The young girl taking my order is wearing blue plastic gloves. She handles my money and touches the cash register before plucking two pieces of chicken to put on my plate. I guess the gloves give them a false sense of hygiene. I think it’s disgusting. The next bus is very full, and the bus driver doesn’t speak any English. All the poor tourists! At least I can speak enough Icelandic to get him to drop me off right at the driveway to Sigrún’s. As I get out and get my backpack from underneath the bus, a German guy gets out and snaps some pictures of Sigrún’s house and the glacier behind it. Makes me feel sort of proud-it’s pretty, and I know it! Sigrún comes to get me with the car when she sees the bus arrive. It’s late evening, and they kept dinner waiting for me. Mathias made tacos.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Geysir

(Photo: Gullfoss)

13°C (55°F) and nonstop rain. I decide to stay another day in my warm room. I need a rest and just don’t feel like moving. I catch the bus to Gullfoss for ISK 500 one way. Again, I had a fantastic bus driver who loaned me his copy of Morgunblaðið so I could check the weather. There are so many people at Gullfoss and the weather is not very pleasant, so I don’t feel like staying there long at all. I’ve been there so many times anyway, I just like to “check in” on it whenever I’m in the area. I had cake and coffee in the café before heading back to Geysir with the bus. Back “home” I take a long walk to Haukaskógar where there’s a cute little church and cemetery. I wander around the woods there for awhile but the constant rain is no fun. Back at Geysir, I run into the Belgian bicyclists who I met in Hveravellir. It’s pouring rain, they’re soaked to the skin and heading for the campsite. Again, I appreciate my warm room. I look through the Geysir shop in detail, and go into the multi-media show.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Hveravellir to Geysir

Got up at 2am to pee, still only 5°C/41°F but a beautiful sun on the horizon. I snap a picture before I dive back into my down sleeping bag. At 6am I wake up sweating – 18°C/65°F in the tent! I quickly peel of layers of clothing and go out into the fresh air. It’s a beautiful day in Hveravellir, sunny blue sky, warm with a brisk wind. I’d love to stay, but my time is running out and I need to start heading back to Eystri-Sólheimar. I promised I’d start working in the guesthouse there around August 1. I took a short walk, then packed up the tent. As I sit waiting for the bus, I still need a scarf and fleece jacket, and sitting in one spot is too cold. I say goodbye to Mr. Fantastic Warden who is painting the hut, and he takes off his glove to shake my hand, saying it was an honor to have me. I promise to come back next year, and I will! … The bus is fairly empty – ISK 2900 (€33/$47) to Geysir, I’d like to spend a day or two there before heading “home”. After just a short time, the bus pulls off the road – flat tire! Another bus pulls up soon and helps the driver change the flat. I’m amazed at the speed and skill with which they change the huge tire. When it’s over, we’re only 20 minutes behind schedule. As we drive onward, the sky becomes increasingly cloudy. At the short stop in Gullfoss, I buy a t-shirt so I have something clean to wear. It feels colder here than in Hveravellir! It’s nonstop drizzle so at Geysir I take a look at the campsite and decide I’d like a roof over my head tonight. I get a room just down the road, not in Hotel Geysir, but next door. ISK 7900 (€90/$130) but worth every penny! I have my own bathroom and it’s the first time since I’ve been to Iceland that I have a pillow! I take a shower – the first real shower since Wednesday in Þórsmörk, and I really wish I had a clean pair of pants to wear. It’s raining and I enjoy the day inside, dozing, reading and writing. I can’t warm up for some reason.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Cold day in Hveravellir

Wow it’s freezing this morning – 5°C/41°F, drizzle, my stomach is acting up and I’m not ambitious at all. I talk to the warden, who offers me some tea, and as I pay for another night of camping, he only charges me ISK 500 (€5.75/$8.15) instead of the usual ISK 750 (€8.65/$12). With a smile, he promises me the weather will clear up and he tells me about the crater Strýtur that you can hike to. His eyes sparkle as he talks about the flowers and birds I’ll probably see along the way. So for the first time, I set off my hike wearing long underwear and two pairs of socks, and all of my winter gear, which I quickly shed along the way. The whole day stays mostly dry but quite cold, and I often alternate between putting on and taking off my hat and gloves. I soon realize there’s a big group of people hiking behind me, so I decide to take a long lunch break hidden behind a group of lava rocks and let them pass me. I bump into them again later, and it’s a German tour group from Vikinger Reisen. The tour guide sees me way behind his group and waits for me to catch up. By this time we’ve reached the crater Strýtur, so I ascend the steep hill with the group. I quickly realize why I love hiking alone. The group had reached their goal for the day, they passed around a bottle of schnapps and planned the return hike along exactly the same path. The guide was way too talkative for my liking, so I quickly said goodbye and left the group, since my day if hiking had just begun and I definitely wasn’t going to return on the same route I came on. After walking around the bottom of the crater for awhile, inspecting the mounds of snow and taking a break to make some tea, I headed northwest with the goal of eventually bumping into the road F735 and following it back to Hveravellir. On this pathless route, I notice myself truly beginning to relax for the first time all vacation. Walking becomes a sort of meditation and as a result of my change in perception I begin to discover things around me that I’ve never noticed before. The rocks that look like giant wrinkles, the footprints of sheep in the mud, the lonely flower in the lava desert. The beauty overwhelms me and I feel tears coming to my eyes. At first I resist, and then I think: Why shouldn’t I cry! So I let it all out, bawling at the beauty of nature. I remember being a child camping at Luna White Deer and one morning before we were about to leave for home again, I sat on the edge of the lake listening to the loons and watching the sun rise, and cried at the beauty. I feel like a circle has been completed, and I feel whole again. In a split second, I feel like I understand my existence, this place and time, and why I chose the life that I did. I thoroughly enjoy the rest of the day, the beautiful light, the sun and the clouds and even the last few kilometers when it pours. When I arrive back in Hveravellir, my GPS says I had hiked 20km (12.5 mi) in 7 hours. I told the warden about my adventure and I could almost see tears come to his eyes too, like he was thinking: See, I told you! It’s very cold as I make dinner, the drizzle has at least stopped for the most part, and after cleaning up the dishes I jump in the hot pot. What a wonderful day!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Goodbye Þórsmörk, hello Hveravellir


It was bitter cold in the tent last night. I was too cold to look at the thermometer, but now at 6am it’s 7°C/45°F INSIDE the tent, so it was definitely colder at 3am OUTSIDE. Again the old rule applies – the colder it is at night, the more beautiful and clear it is in the morning. The sun is out and it’s warming up fast. I snap a picture of the Aussies while we’re all waiting for the bus. Lynn and Vern, thanks for crossing my path, you’re interesting people. Surprisingly Vern says that he finds ME quite interesting and that I’ve left quite an impression on him, and that reminds me of something Mathias once said: For all the interesting people you meet and think you will never forget, you yourself will also leave such an impression on other people as well. This is an interesting realization that I now observe every day of my life. I often run into people who say: Boy are you interesting, or fascinating, or whatever, and I used think: Me? My life is quite boring actually. But I guess it’s not and I like being able to touch and possibly inspire people by just being who I am… With all of this pondering, the bus has already arrived in Selfoss and we all part ways. I have a 2-hr layover and while I’m waiting I discover a flyer for another bus route that goes directly to Hveravellir this afternoon. Thinking I would have to spend the night in Geysir waiting for the morning bus, this came much to my liking… With time to spare before the bus leaves, I store my backpack at the gas station and walk to the post office and little shopping mall. I discover the Snúður and Snælda books that are missing in my collection, and buy the ones I need. They’re just thin children’s books about two playful cats, so they won’t add much weight to my backpack. Then I head into my favorite store in Selfoss, Nóatún, because in addition to high-quality groceries, it’s got all kinds of books, videos, CDs and other household things that I like looking at. Of course I can’t buy anything because I don’t want to add any weight to my pack, but I’m content with looking. I do find some lightweight aluminum tent pegs though, so when I return to the gas station, I throw out the useless plastic ones I had bought back in Vík. Back at the gas station, I hang around outside waiting for the bus and watching the people. I’m eager to get back into the countryside – I feel strange and out of place in a civilized town. As I’m waiting another bus driver strikes up a conversation with me, and later when he drives off, he waves! I’m impressed with his warmhearted friendliness to a foreigner who he’ll never see again, and the obvious pleasure he has in his work. So if you ever read this, Mr. Busdriver of the Þingvallaleið route from Stokkseyri to Reykjavík – you made my day! Then my small little bus from the Trex route pulls up. There are 20 seats max, and the only other people in the bus are a couple and their teenage daughter on their way home to Akureyri. The trip turns out to be a memorable one, the couple and even the daughter only speak Icelandic so I’m not shy about trying out my skills. The daughter pulls out her MP3 player showing me that she likes to listen to German music - Marianne Rosenberg! In fact, the daughter seems like she’s in the wrong time zone. She’s dressed in very old fashioned clothes, and her hair style is reminiscent of the 1950s. She’s wearing thick knit stockings, and if it wasn’t for the MP3 player, I’d think I was talking to one of the Waltons. I saw a young lady, about 20 years old, in Selfoss dressed like this as well. Icelandic fashion, especially for the younger generation, has always floored me. They’re not shy at all about wearing grandma’s hand-me-downs. But I shouldn’t talk. Like I said, I feel definitely out of place in the city in my hiking boots and Gore-Tex from head to foot, so I’m eager to get moving.

We drive along the Kjölur route, F35, and I realize how brainless it would be to drive a Toyota rental car on this route. The potholes get deeper and the rocks get bigger with every mile. As we drive, I stare out the window in amazement. I’m fascinated for some reason with the clouds. They seem to be so low, so tangible, dangling just out of reach out the window. This is one thing that always amazes me in Iceland, but in the highlands, this phenomena is more prominent. We stop at a waterfall on the way to Kerklingarfjöll because the bus driver wants to take some pictures – how cute! The teenage girl is thrilled, saying over and over again: þetta er frábært! Once again I’m amazed at the Icelanders’ love and appreciation of their own country.The campsite at Kerklingarfjöll is nice and I decide to come back there one day. We have 30 minutes to kill, so I walk around a bit and watch two bicyclists arrive and set up their camp. Respect! A short time later we arrive at Hveravellir and the family from Akureyri promptly invites me to visit them sometime. The man thanks me for my pleasant company and said I’m an inspiration. His wife translates, although I’m sure I understand it correctly. It’s strangely sad to see them go and I’m left with that odd feeling again that I’ve touched people’s lives in some memorable way without even realizing it. It’s bitter cold in Hveravellir, time to dig out the winter jacket, hat and gloves. After setting up my tent near the toilets, I take a short walk around the bubbling geothermal pots and make dinner, eating for the first time with my gloves on – it’s 6°C/43°F. The warden is a friendly older gentleman from Reykjavík who is a choir singer when he’s not watching over the hut. He gives me some hiking tips and tells me a few stories. I spend the evening warming up in the hot pot, boy the water is so hot and feels wonderful. This is definitely one of the nicer hot pots I’ve experienced. A Dutch couple tells me there was fresh snow in Nýdalur the other day. Otherwise, there are mostly Germans here.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wandering around Þórsmörk

It’s 7°C (45°F) in the tent at night, daytime temps range from 12°-16°C (53-61°F). The weather all day alternates between sun and downpour – typical Icelandic. I hike to Básar and then up a bit down the Laugarvegur, but I turn around shortly and choose another, flat route along the river bed instead. I saw two hikers ahead of me headed towards Skógar – it looked like they had been fighting, with one stomping several paces ahead of the other with a grim look on his face. I ran into them again several hours later with panicky looks on their faces. They were utterly unprepared for the conditions on the trail and decided to turn around and take the bus back to Reykjavík. One didn’t have any rain gear and the other was just wearing shorts and had no warm clothes with him. They said they’ll come back sometime, wiser and better prepared. After wandering around for a few hours, I walked back to Básar and took the bus to Langidalur, and walked the last 30 minutes in the rain to Húsadalur. Back “home” I made some lunch and jumped in the hot pot for over two hours. Got to talking to a nice Australian couple on an 8-month tour around the world. As I sit in the hot pot, I decide that as pretty as it is, I really don’t care for Þórsmörk at the moment. It’s too similar to Skaftafell, where I just spent more than enough time. It’s woodsy and the trees and vegetation block the vast, clear views that I dearly love in Iceland. Heck, if I wanted trees I would go to Wisconsin. I begin to plan my next excursion already…
That evening, it rains nonstop until the campsite is like a soggy sponge. I sit in the café, the Australian couple is playing cards at the table next to me. I ponder on why I’m actually doing what I’m doing. It’s not exactly fun, it’s painful, it’s hard, it’s cold, it’s tiring and it’s lonely. But there’s something about it that I masochistically love. I think of Nietzsche who once said something like: “If it doesn’t kill me, it’ll make me stronger.” I’ve always liked physical and mental challenges like this. But as much as I enjoy being a solo fighter in the Icelandic outdoors, I also enjoy meeting people from all over the world in the hotpots, on the bus and at the campsites. A mixture of the two is just right.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Þórsmörk


The day begins sunny and warm, and quite picturesque. I throw some food and gas into my backpack, take my clean clothes from the dryer and pack up my things. Mathias drives me to Seljalandsfoss so I can catch the bus, and Mona rides along. We’re pressed for time, and Mathias flags down the bus on the road so I can hop in – ISK 1700 (€29/$28) from there to Þórsmörk. I pitch my tent in Húsadalur. It’s hot and sunny, almost too warm for my liking, but that changes quickly. I make some lunch and take the leisurely 30-minute walk to Langidalur. I like the campsite there, it’s much prettier, especially the isolated spots along the river. The showers are nice (ISK 300 for 5 min), too, but there’s no hot water in the sinks (a luxury I’ve gotten accustomed to). I decide to leave my tent where it is, since I enjoy the hot pot and being able to sit in the café when the weather gets bad – a decision I certainly wouldn’t regret later. It’s 13°C (55°F)and cloudy in Langidalur. On the way back, I climb the mountain Vanahnúker (455m/1500ft). The wind gets strong and it starts to rain. 8°C (46°F). The steep path is getting slippery, but I make it to the top, snap a few pictures and scurry back down. Back in the tent, I make some coffee to warm up. It’s pouring rain and even too wet to make dinner (I don’t like to cook in the tent), so I have some hot chocolate in the café to sit it out. By 8:30 pm, the weather had cleared up and stopped raining. I treat myself to a “real” shower with an endless supply of hot water and lavender soap that someone had left behind. Afterwards, I go back to the café to sit until my hair dries, smelling like a flower, and then go for an evening walk. At 10 pm, you can see your breath outside, but the sky is clear – it’s 9°C (48°F). The hotpot is full, so I go to bed early.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Back to Eystri-Solheimar for supplies

I take the morning bus from Skaftafell to Eystri-Sólheimar. At the stop in Vík, I head towards the grocery store. The fruit selection is appalling, so I merely get some fresh orange juice. Then I head to the tiny hardware store, Klakkur, to see if they have tent stakes. Several of mine have been badly bent, especially from the hard ground in Landmannalaugar. In particular, I was disappointed with the V- titanium ones I bought. I guess they’re just not suitable for this terrain. Klakkur only has those huge plastic ones for family tents, but I buy two anyway at ISK 50 (€0.60/$0.80) each. The bus doesn’t leave for another half hour, so I go into the gas station for a cup of coffee and run into the two nice sisters from Finland who I met on the bus. I invite them for a cup of brew (ISK 200), since they’ve seen Vík before as well and didn’t feel the need to race off to the black beach again. While boarding the bus again, I remind the driver to let me out at Eystri-Sólheimar. He deposits me at the end of the long driveway, and the Finish girls wave goodbye out of the window as I collect my backpack. I begin the hike towards the house but Sigrún sees me coming and picks me up with the car. I can just imagine how she saw the bus off in the distance and got out the binoculars to see the little speck of a person head towards the house. My backpack is so light, there’s hardly anything left in it. And now it’s great to be home! I loan Mona my hiking boots and warm jacket so she can take the glacier walk with Sigrún. I enjoy the empty house, and use the opportunity to wash my clothes and take a bath. Then I help Mathias attempt to put up a yard light on the side of the house – no easy task! Oli, Sigrún’s brother, is gone for the day, too. The nephews came to take him for a long ride. They stopped at the hut in Hólaskjól, where I had sent one of my packages with hiking supplies, so they kindly brought that back with them. Dinner is fish as usual, and I love it. The family table is full, Mona, Mathias and the nephews. After dinner, Þorður from the museum in Skógar stops in. He stops by at least once every summer when I’m there, and this time he has his two German helpers from the museum with him, Alexander and Hans-Jürgen. Þorður is not at all shy, and he’s like a whirlwind when he enters the room, despite his being over 80 years of age. He promptly sticks his fingers into the leftovers like a little boy, tasting what we had for dinner. There’s no need to pitch my tent tonight. Kristín has went back home, so I can have her “room” - a mattress on the floor in the pantry. It’s about the same size of my tent, but the walls are solid and there’s a power plug to charge my phone and camera. In any case, it sure feels like luxury to me after the last cold, wet night in Skaftafell.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Rained in


Drizzle all night turned to a steady rain by morning. High of 13°C (55°F) today. I slept in, then went to the Visitor Center to ask about ice climbing, but the course for today is full. The weather is cold and wet and windy – nonstop rain. I regret leaving my long underwear at Sigrún’s and I’m always cold. I hang out in the Visitor Center, watching the film “Explosion at the Icecap” in several different languages, just enjoying the warm, dry seat. I had some coffee in the shop, wrote some postcards, used the internet, read and napped. Dinner is the highlight of the day. The cold and wet, and above all, the non-action, make me restless and I decide to leave the next morning, taking the bus to Eystri-Sólheimar to wash clothes and pick up supplies, and then continue on somewhere else with my adventure.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Jökulsárlón and more

It’s milder today, about 18°C but down to 11°C in the mountains, the sky is a bit clearer than usual. I decide to give my foot a rest and take the bus to the glacier lagoon, Jökulsárlón. I’ve been there several times before, but it’s always nice there and it looks different every time, depending on the amount and size of icebergs floating around. I don’t head for the boat tour like most people, I just walk around taking pictures and watching the seals play. Then I head for the shop for cake and coffee and write a few postcards. I was back in Skaftafell by noon, made lunch and embarked on another hike. The trail went right up alongside the Svínafelljökull, way way up. After about 3 hours, I had to turn back because I lost the trail. The weather was getting cloudy, the terrain was very steep and even with my GPS, I didn’t want to just cut through the mountains without a trail. It was one of the most beautiful hikes I ever took in Skaftafell, definitely worth it. By the end of the day, my legs, knees and back were hurting incredibly. Back at the campsite, I rewarded myself with a real shower! ISK 200 for 5 minutes, and worth every cent! I haven’t felt this clean in a long time. Then had noodles and popcorn for dinner instead of the usual soup & sandwich. At night, I again filled my water bottles with hot water and put them in my sleeping bag. Necessary – no. Nice – yes!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Day of hiking

Up at 7, good dry weather. I leave for a long hike at 9:15. An hour later I bump into Kieran from England, who had just arrived in Skaftafell to do volunteer work for a month. Since he hadn’t started work yet, he was just doing some hiking. It was interesting to hear about the volunteer project. The volunteers, mainly from England, stay for 4-6 weeks and work on outdoor projects like trail maintenance, or the control of lupine. They had to bring their own tent and camp, which I thought was kind of rough for workers, but I guess they’re at least fed well. Kieren and I hike the entire day together, stopping at a waterfall for lunch. The weather is nice, but later in the day there are some showers. We arrive back around 4pm, he goes to check in with the park officials and I head to the visitor center for some coffee and then back to the tent for a nap before dinner. My foot held up well today.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Glacier walk


They offer guided walks up on the glacier, so I sign up for a tour in the afternoon and just hang out until then, watching the film in the visitor center and relaxing. Our guide is Ben from New Zealand and my perception of a true hunk! A man looks so good carrying an ice pick and wearing mountain gear. I attached myself to an interesting couple from England for the company, Ruby and Andrew. The lady had played cello in the Reykjavík orchestra 30 years ago, and her husband surprised her with this trip to Iceland for their 25th wedding anniversary. Not having the proper clothes packed since it was a surprise trip, I gladly loaned them my second pair of gloves. There was a short bus ride to the tongue of the glacier, and we got out and strapped on our crampons. The ice was black at first, and hard to even recognize as ice. It was a strange feeling underfoot, and it was all very beautiful. Ben explained what a jökulmús is, which literally means glacier mouse. It’s one of the few life forms that actually survives on top the glacier. It’s a rock covered with moss on all sides, and the moss is able to grow on all sides because the rock moves and rotates ever so slowly with the natural movement of the glacier. That way the sun can hit all sides, allowing the moss to grow.
It’s –6°C/21°F up there. In the evening the skies cloud up and it begins to rain. I take a walk to Svartifoss and beyond, but have to put on my rain jacket. Back in the tent, I fill my water bottles with hot water from the faucet and put them into my sleeping bag. What luxury! I feel comfy and cozy and content.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Jeep ride to Skaftafell


By the end of the week, I’m getting restless and start planning the continuation of my trip. It’s full house at Eystri-Sólheimar with Kristín, Mona and Mathias there, so there are plenty of people there to help. Besides I’ll be back in August!
I can put on a boot now if I wrap up my foot well, but I sure can’t do any hiking like that yet. I decide to take the bus to Skaftafell National Park and just camp there for a few days, doing short day hikes as my foot gets better. By chance, a friend of mine is staying at ES and is planning to drive to Jökulsárlón, so I pack up my tent in the rain and get into her jeep. I enjoy the conversation with Súsanna and when we stop at Kirkjubæjarklaustur, we realize that the trademark waterfall is dried up! Iceland has not gotten enough rain this summer and I’ve seen things like this all throughout my trip. The bad weather in the South dissipates the further we move East, as is often the case. Kirkjubæjarklaustur marks sort of a weather barrier, where there is often a change in weather. In Skaftafell it’s dry and I find a nice spot for my tent before having coffee in the Visitor Center with Súsanna and her friends before they move on.
It’s about 14°C and I decide to take a short walk in front of Svínafellsjökull to see how my foot is doing, but to my dismay I realize I’ve forgotten my adhesive tape! Bandages alone will never hold up to hiking conditions. So I patiently wait in line at the desk inside and ask if they had something I could buy off of them. The young man promptly gives me a roll and insists I don’t have to pay, and although it’s a very thin tape and not exactly what I was looking for, it will work just fine. Back in the tent, I wrap up my foot, adding a tissue for extra padding under the tape. I make dinner before I set out for the glacier. The route is paved all the way to the tongue of the glacier, but I leave the path and walk along the rocks. I love looking at the rocks and stones and notice may types here that I haven’t seen in other areas. One is a type of pretty, sparkling multi-colored stone that is crumbly to the touch. Another is the dull gray rock that is split into thin slabs – in warm weather, moisture enters the pours of the rock which freezes in the winter, causing it to expand and crack into perfect slabs. So close to the glacier, it’s quite cold and I put on my hat and gloves and down jacket.
My foot is quite painful but I’m not in a hurry so I just take things slow.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Visit to the clinic


Sigrún’s husband Mathias arrived from Berlin last night. It’s wonderful to have so many nice people around me. He drove Mona and me to Vík and we took a walk on the black sands. Stopped at the clinic to get some bandages for my foot and since there weren’t many people there, I decided to see the doctor too. I’m impressed with the uncomplicated manner in which the clinic works. I have no identification on me, no passport, no proof of insurance – nothing. Still, I’m in the doctor’s office within minutes and he prescribes an ointment and says the toe is healing well. At the window I pick up the prescription and bandages and pay the bill – ISK 700 (€8/$11).

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Resting in Eystri-Sólheimar


The infection is healing already, but it’s obvious that I won’t be able to wear hiking boots for at least a week. The busses that pass through here only travel further into the highlands. Luckily one of the Hrauneyjar employees of has to travel to Skógar today and I can travel with him. From there it’s just a short ways to where my friend Sigrún lives in Eystri-Sólheimar. I can rest and recuperate there, while helping her out with her bed & breakfast. I enjoy the ride, the sun is still shining bright and there’s no wind today. It’s warm and the garbage in the back of the car that we’re transporting stinks incredibly. In Hella we deposit the laundry and continue on to Hotel Rangá to pick up some more things and have lunch. In Skógar the weather is gray and cool and the wind has picked up. So typical for the South! I chat with an Iranian who just came through Fimmvörðurháls through rain and fog. Then a little red car pulls up and it’s so good to see Sigrún! Mona is with her, a young girl from Berlin who is here to improve her Icelandic and help out in the guesthouse. Back in Eystri-Sólheimar, I fill everyone in on the details of my trip. Sigrún’s sister Kristín is there, too. It’s so good to see everyone. Sigrún cooks a fantastic meal of fish and there’s wine, too. There’s lots of story-telling, for example about the sheep that was in the house the other day. Evidently some of the guests had left the basement door open, a sheep had come in the hallway and the wind blew the door shut again. The sheep was bleating all morning and no one could figure out where the sound was coming from… The house is full of guests, family and friends, so I put up my tent in the yard. It’s 14°C (57°F), the sheep and horses are grazing; I absolutely love it here and always feel at home.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Another day in Hrauneyjar


I rise at 8am. It’s still sunny and beautiful outside, but the wind is strong. My toe doesn’t look any better today. It keeps refilling with pus and the infection has no chance to heal since it’s under the skin. I spend the day writing emails and reading, and soaking my foot. In the evening I finally decide to perform “surgery”. With a tweezers and my pocket knife, I remove the infected skin from the wound. It peels off easily and surprisingly doesn’t hurt. I wish I had a razor blade, since my knife is quite dull. Now that the wound is open, I cover it with a disinfecting powder and dress the wound. This should help it heal better. By evening it looks better already. I’m enjoying the rest and the laziness and am not at all bored. In the evening, I visit with a pleasant German couple.

(Instead of showing a pretty picture of my toe here, here’s another one of the first days of my hike)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Hike interrupted


I’m on the road by 8am. It’s chilly, windy, but sunny and mostly clear, and it’s the first time I put on my warm jacket, although I shed it again just a short time later. I actually enjoy the first 2km. The soft grassy, sandy terrain feels good on my foot, but the pleasure is way too short. The ground turns rocky and in between the rocks is something resembling quicksand. It looks like wet sand with a thin moss growing on it, but strangely there are no rocks on it. It sinks under my feet and my poles sink. If I scurry across quick, it’s ok but I prefer to avoid crossing these patches altogether. The rocky terrain twists and turns my foot, I’m in agony. Plus the wind is so strong that it blows me one step backward with every two steps I take. I find myself resting way too much. I climb a fence and reach the gravel road F26. The road is in horrible condition and I wonder how any vehicle at all could drive on it. I briefly consider hitchhiking, but decide I can make it to the next road, F30. The terrain is the same and soon the wind, the weight on my back, the terrain and the pain in my foot very quickly take their toll. I feel weak and tired and I have no ambition to eat or drink anything. I’m stumbling a lot and realize what a sight I must be if someone could see me. I think it was a mistake to leave the road again but now I have no choice. These two kilometers were an interesting psychological battle. I considered my options, such as pushing the button on my emergency beacon. But being so close to civilization, nestled between two roads, and with nothing but a bad blister and being overtired and dehydrated, I don’t think that “qualifies” to call for professional help. I decide not to rest anymore because every time I stop I realize how easy it would be to just not get up again. I focus on the spot off in the distance where I think the road should be and in fact I do see a car pass by once. When I reach the first paved road that I’ve seen in a long time, I’m beyond exhaustion. I’m cold but I have no energy to find a jacket or set down my backpack. I just stand there, leaning on my poles since I can’t put any weight on my foot, with the wind whipping in my face and hope that someone drives by soon. After about 10 minutes, a red sportscar drives by. The driver, a young Icelander (who else would drive a sportscar in the Icelandic highlands?), is alone but he just laughs at me and drives by. I guess I have to be a little more assertive than just sticking my thumb out. The next car approaches about 15 minutes later. I stand in the middle of the road waving frantically with a pleading look on my face. I’m not hitchhiking, I really need help! But the two ladies in the jeep do their best to swerve around me and drive on! Never have I felt so alone before. I wanted to at least walk a bit, but I wasn’t sure which direction I should walk in. The next hut was about 10 km to the southwest, but considering the pain in my foot and my exhaustion, I preferred to get to the highland hotel at Hrauneyjar about 20 km to the northeast. Another jeep approaches and stops! A German traveling alone who is more than happy to help. He had spent some time in Iceland 20 years ago, traveling by motorcycle and this time he only has a week, so he rented a jeep and is driving like mad – from Reykjavik to Höfn, via Landmannalaugar, in one day. Hrauneyjar is quite full, but Harpa finds me a room. It’s Friday and the next bus doesn’t leave until Monday so I book a single room with sleeping bag accommodation until then. That should give me plenty of time to rest and see what’s up with my foot. If all goes well, I could take the bus to Landmannalaugar and continue from there. But first comes first. I’m still freezing and even a hot shower won’t warm me up. I crawl into my down sleeping bag and sleep, sipping tea at every chance I get. After a few hours, I finally have the energy to examine my foot. The blister is filled with yellow pus and there’s a red rim around it. The infection looks deep. I hobble to the reception and ask Harpa for a bucket so I can soak it in warm water. The instant my foot hits the water, thick pus oozes out. Once it’s cleaned out, I put on some antiseptic and hobble to the cafeteria for some hot mushroom soup. I still feel very weak and I’m not at all hungry. After eating, I notice that the blister is full of pus again, so I soak it again before going to bed. The wind is howling strong outside my window and I can see Hekla raging with her snow peak against the blue sky. I’m so thankful for my warm bed and I fall into a deep sleep for 12 hours…

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Hike to Áfangagil

It’s chilly this morning at 6am, only 4.5°C (40°F). I was plenty warm in my sleeping bag though, although I did put on my hat. There’s no wind and not a cloud in the sky so I’m sure it will warm up to be a beautiful day. Actually I feel pretty good today and well rested. My knee is better and my body doesn’t ache anymore. I start the day with a positive attitude. I finally get moving around 9am. Boy my backpack feels extra heavy today. I guess my body is more tired than I thought. As I leave Landmannahellir an elderly Icelander asks me where I had hiked from yesterday. When I told him, he said “How long did it take you, 3-4 hours?”. I just smiled and said “Oh a little bit longer than that”. Was he nuts or am I that slow? I hiked nearly 9 hours yesterday!

Just a short way out of Landmannahellir I see a blue dumpster and decide to examine it more closely. Ah yes, I can get one of the doors open. I toss in my thermos bottle and fleece sleeping bag liner, neither of which I had used the whole trip anyway. Feeling lighter, I pass a group of horses as I near the fjord. At the edge of the water, I change into my wading gear and scout out the best place to cross. The water is knee deep but the current is strong. I fill my water bottle and move on. The next 5km trudging along the road are pretty dull and it doesn’t get real pretty again until the Hekla volcano comes into sight. The wind has picked up and a fair amount of jeeps pass, kicking a storm of dust into my face every time. For the first time, I dig out my sunglasses to keep the sand out of my eyes. Hekla is beautiful and I take a short break to admirer her. The sky is blue and only a few thin white clouds dot the sky. The snow-capped peak of Hekla with her rugged black garden of lava at the base form a bizarre contrast to the friendly skies. My hips and shoulders are hurting bad again. In fact, I dug out a pair of socks to use as extra padding where the backpack pushes on my shoulders. At kilometer 21 (mile 13), I’m really tired and just about ready to leave the road and cut across over the hill to approach Áfangagil from the back, when Þóra, the warden from Landmannahellir, pulls up in her jeep and offers me a ride. I gladly accept since I really don’t feel up to hiking uphill right now and if I stayed on the road it would be way too far for one day. I will remember in the future that 20 km with full gear in one day is just too much for little ol’ me. Þóra tells me she’s going to the University in Reykjavík and works as a warden in the summer, and that she absolutely loves her job and being in the outdoors. She’s on her way to Reykjavík for the weekend though. The way she expertly guides her jeep along the rough road shows me that she’s quite experienced with highland driving. At Áfangagil, there’s a large group of horse riders from Germany, but there’s no warden at the hut. It’s still very windy so I put up my tent in the little valley behind the hut. There’s an outhouse and a sink – what more could I ask for! After a fantastic diner of couscous, I sit down with some of the men while their wives are off taking an evening horseback ride. The ladies travel every day by horse, and the men follow with food and supplies in the car. There are two Icelanders traveling with them, a man who’s missing a few teeth who takes care of the horses, and a lady who guides the riders. As I converse with them, I realize what a mark I am leaving on the people I meet. At first I’m surprised at the respect they show for me, a girl traveling alone on foot through the mountains, but throughout my seven weeks in Iceland, I will run into this often. They give me an apple, an orange and a banana which I gladly accept, then I take a short evening walk, snapping some pictures and scouting out my route for tomorrow. Again, it’s been a beautiful day. Sunny, warm and clear, only the wind seems to be getting stronger and stronger. I crawl into the sack at 9pm and doctor up my feet. I have four blisters on my left foot and the one on my big toe looks infected. It covers the whole side of my toe and is filled with yellow pus. Again, my body aches and I’m really sore, especially my shoulders and hips. As I doze off, the riders begin to sing a mixture of English, German and Icelandic songs. What a pleasant way to fall asleep.

In the night the pain in my toe keeps me awake. I realize that there’s something really wrong with it if it hurts like this even when I’m not walking and not wearing shoes. I’m looking forward to resting a day in Hólaskógur.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Landmannalaugar --> Landmannahellir

My alarm goes off at 6am. I’m still tired and could have easily slept longer. In fact, I don’t feel right at all. Headachy. I take two Ibuprofin and get moving. A thick fog is hanging over the campsite. Visibility is poor. I have a strange feeling in my gut. Should I wait another day? I decide that it’s just my own fear making me wary, so I pack up my things, eat my Lucky Charms and begin my hike. The pack looks huge but it feels good on my back, and I feel strong. The trail begins on part of the Laugarvegur, but I misjudge the scale of the map and turn off way too soon. I realize quickly that I am wrong and I cut back across to the Laugarvegur. I wander about in Laugarhraun for nearly an hour until I find the right trail. It’s still foggy, but seems to be lightening up. Once off the Laugarvegur, the trail is poorly marked. Oh, there are trail posts, but they’re way too far apart. When you reach one, you still can’t see the next. As a result, I lose valuable time meandering around Vondugil until I realized that the trail cuts across the valley quite quickly, continuing nearly straight uphill! I’m actually afraid to look down and just trudge up the hill as fast as I can. I can’t take more than a few steps at a time because of the weight on my back. There’s no place to rest either, so I just lean on my poles. Both sides are steep, the trail is narrow and the terrain is covered with loose gravel and sand, offering little foothold. At the top, I look for a nice spot and take a lunch break. The view is fantastic, the climate is windier and colder and I feel like I’m hanging in the clouds.

The terrain turns into soft black moss. It’s easy going for a long time, except the hunt for the trail markers. Luckily the fog has lifted – in bad weather, the trail posts would be impossible to see. The terrain gets rockier. There’s snow in spots and patches of obsidian! It’s beautiful how the black rocks glitter in the sun. There’s not a soul in sight, I haven’t seen anyone all day. According to the map, there’s another “red” spot coming up, and indeed, red means difficult! Again it’s straight uphill, this time up a grassy slope which is a bit easier for footing. My knees are starting to feel the strain. Now I’m way up in the sky, near lots of snow-covered peaks that I can reach out and touch. The wind is stronger now, and I put on my wind-shirt. The fog is gone entirely, and it’s partly cloudy but doesn’t rain. The trail begins to descend again, another “red” spot indicates a steep decline, but downhill is definitely better than uphill! Just before the trail meets the road there’s a beautiful grassy spot where I stop and rest. There’s no wind here. Sheep graze in the distance, and I can see an occasional bus rumbling by. I take off my shoes and doctor up my feet. There’s a fat blister on my left toe and one starting on the back. I notice that I’m never hungry when I hike. I have to remember to eat a granola bar once in awhile. I have no problems drinking though. I’ve mixed Crystal Lite with my water and carry a bottle on my belt, always handy. The trail veers off to the left, but I see the road straight ahead – I’m eager to get to the campsite. I’m getting very tired and my shoulders are hurting from the weight of the backpack. Whenever a jeep passes by, I wave and put on a smile. Off in the distance, I see a red jacket and a lone Frenchman comes closer. He said I was the first person he’s seen traveling alone in 5 days. The track goes off to the right and a sign says “Landmannahellir 2.4 km (1.5 miles)” (it actually turned out to be over 3 km). It’s torture trudging along the road. I'm quite tired and my shoulders and hips hurt where my backpack touches my body. I reach the river and change into my wading gear (sandals and shorts), making sure to strap my boots and pants tightly to my bag. The cold water feels good on my feet. I snap some pictures. The light is fantastic, the weather sunny and dry. It's a beautiful view. I really like the landscape around this area. A jeep goes through the fjord. Only 300 m to go, but my right knee is hurting. Did I hurt it getting up again after putting on my boots? I finally arrive at Landmannahellir at 4:45 pm after hiking 17 km (10.5 miles). I lost one kilometer and an hour finding the trail at the start. I visit the warden and pay the fee of ISK 650 (€7.50/$10). There’s a shower, but all I need is the river tonight. It’s just wonderful to have a toilet and a place to get rid of some garbage. It takes me a long time to put up the tent, but I'm the only one there. The wind is strong and I want to make sure it’s stable after the damage it received on Vestmannaeyjar. There’s a little shack with a picnic table in it, so I go in there to cook, away from the wind. Pasta with spinach, and rice pudding for dessert. At 9pm, it’s still sunny, there’s a slight wind and it’s 10°C/50°F. My whole body aches.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Ljótipollur


20°C/68°F and sunny. I hike 17 km (10.5 miles) to Ljótipollur (meaning “ugly puddle” - a crater lake formed in a volcanic eruption in 1480), making sure to tell the warden where I’m going and when I’ll be back. Despite the beautiful weather, my pictures don’t turn out very well today. All day I only see two people while hiking – both hiking alone like me. Back at camp, I report to the warden, make dinner and use the hot pot. It's already 11pm, 16°C/60°F in the tent. I’m too tired to make any significant notes in my journal. All I can say is - the hike to Ljótipollur is definitely worth while. The colors of the earth are amazing. The trails are well-marked, and although steep at times, suitable for people of all levels.

I plan on hiking to Landmannahellir tomorrow. I’ve discovered a newer route (2005) through the mountains in the hiking map that I bought. I asked the warden about it, but she didn’t seem to have any information. But another girl in the office piped up and said that it’s a nice trail and marked all the way.

(PS The picture here is NOT of Ljótipollur. As I said, my pictures didn't turn out well, so this is a picture of an old crater in the same region)

Monday, July 9, 2007

Landmannalaugar

I leave my beautiful little hotel room at 7am and walk to the bus terminal. Everything was in order with the ticket I purchased online weeks in advance. The bus is very full, but I have a window seat and I sleep until we reach the town of Hella. I already know this area very well and don’t feel like I’m missing anything by sleeping. But once we turn off the Ring Road, it’s all new to me. I’ve never really been in the highlands before, except for traveling along the paved road to Hrauneyjar. I’m amazed at how well the bus travels along the bumpy dirt roads and crosses rivers. We travel the same route that I’ll be hiking this week, stopping at the lava flow from the volcano, Hekla, for a short photo break. We turn off towards Landmannahellir and when we arrive there the bus driver chats for a few minutes with the warden. I’ll have no problem hiking along these roads. In Landmannalaugar, I find a nice tent spot on the edge near the grass. Camped right behind me are two people from the Iceland forum. How nice! The ground is rocky and it’s tough getting the stakes in. I have to use a rock to pound them and I bend several in the process. The best stakes here for this type of ground would be thin needle-like pegs, and luckily I do have a few of those. Once my little house is standing, I pay the fee at the warden’s hut and take a little walk. It’s beautiful picture-taking weather – sunny and warm. In the evening, I try out the hot pot and get to talking to a group of older Germans. Very nice folks. Afterwards I get a hiking map at the Fjallabuð, make dinner and sit out in the sun. The wind is picking up a bit and the warden said there have been thunderstorms the last few nights, but so sign of any of that so far. I've been so lucky with the weather!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Farewell Vestmannaeyjar


Unfortunately, it’s already time to leave this beautiful little place. I would have liked another day or so here, to walk along the southernmost coast where the puffins like to sit. And there are plenty of hills I haven’t climbed yet either.

As I walk to the airport at 7am, there are several drunks out on the street. Out in the country, I pass sheep and horses and the little lambs run up to say hello. It’s a beautiful, sunny warm day. A bit of fog hangs low in the hills. The sheep here are curious and friendly, as opposed to most other ones I’ve seen on the mainland who are skittish and shy. My backpack feels comfortable and I feel confident about the long hike ahead. I reach the airport in just 30 minutes, but it’s still locked up so I sit on a bench and read. When they opened the doors, I found a seat in the waiting hall and a nice man came up and said I could check in already if I want. He hands me my ticket, saying proudly that he gave me the best seat with a nice view of the island when we take off. In the plane, the Icelanders behind me smell of alcohol and smoke. One is stuffing cheese popcorn into her face. What a tasty breakfast! The view of Reykjavík from the plane is beautiful as well. I walk to Aurora Guesthouse and leave my backpack there since it’s too early to check in, and wander about the streets for awhile. I decide to buy a warm fleece sweatshirt at 66° North, a decision that I would later be very grateful for. Then I walk to the Kringlan shopping mall, which is always a fairly long hike, especially on pavement in hiking boots when it’s 22°C/70°F. At the outdoor shot Útlif I buy two polyester t-shirts for my hike. In my first few days, I’ve noticed that the heavier part-cotton ones are utterly useless. Besides being so heavy, it’s impossible to wash them by hand and get the sweat smell out of them. Plus they take forever to dry when wet. The polyester running shirts are much lighter in weight and overall more practical. I hereby do solemnly swear to never again bring cotton t-shirts on a hiking trip! Before I leave the mall, I get a few groceries at Hagkaup – but they don’t have that Icelandic dried beef that I so much love! Later, I mail my excess clothes to my friend’s house and check in to the guesthouse. I have a much nicer room this time – with a tiny kitchen and a TV! Then I head outside again on the hunt for some real food. I end up at Kaffi Sólon, which is where I often eat. They have wonderful fresh fish and their prices are reasonable. I order some seafood soup and chocolate cake and watch the people walk by the window. After wards I make a phone call and send some text messages. After all, I won't have phone service now for awhile once I get into the highlands.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Rainy observations

I start my day by walking to the airport, carefully inspecting the sheep and horses along the way. Past the airport, I walk down toward the coastline, around the volcano Eldfell and then back into town. It’s raining so I decide to watch the volcano show (ISK 600) – a movie about the volcanic eruption on the island in the 1970s. I’m exhausted, dirty and sweaty from my hike and almost embarrassed to stand next to people. I chat with a few Canadians and then find a seat in a dark corner by myself. My feet hurt and I could have easily napped, but the film is quite interesting. Afterwards, they show one about puffins, and by the time it’s all over, I feel refreshed and rejuvenated. I go to the museum of natural history across the street. It’s still drizzling and a good day for stuff like that. It’s a tiny little place, but entrance is free due to the festival (usually ISK 200). After learning that snow owls are also native to Iceland, I take a long walk in the rain behind the docks. There’s a little black beach with black rocks jutting out of the ocean that remind me of Vík. I head back into town and go for pizza. I’m the only one in the place that’s more of a bar than a restaurant. A drunk guy tried striking up a conversation with me but the waitress threw him out when he wanted to smoke. I was so glad to get out of there, I topped off my healthy dinner with a chocolate bar. One of those with pieces of licorice in it. Mmm! Then I walk through the outdoor exhibition called “Pompei of the North”. It’s an ongoing project to excavate several of the houses that were buried under volcanic ash. Work has just begun and only three houses have been partially revealed, but it’s quite interesting nonetheless. One day I’m sure it will be very cool. I leaned a lot in the last few days, and not just about fish and wildlife. I learned that it pays to look closer at things in nature, because beauty is often revealed in detail. I learned that inconspicuous places often hide secret treasures. I’m also learning a lot about Icelanders. They seem strangely American. The younger generation cruise in their cars for a good time, and they’re often rude and loud and inconsiderate. They love their fast food, and many are either grotesquely overweight or extremely health-conscious. I’ve seen lots of joggers, but also lots of thunder thighs in tights from Bonus. And I’ve seen moms pushing baby carriages up rugged hills in the countryside. The older generation is always polite and helpful…

Friday, July 6, 2007

Wind!


I give up! What a horrible windstorm. I didn’t sleep a wink all night. The tent was nearly suffocating me, the wind bent the poles until it was flat. I got out every hour to make sure the stakes were in ok and to tighten everything down. Luckily there wasn’t much rain. As the storm progressed, more and more campers gave up. Lots of tent cadavers were strewn across the campsite. People lay sprawled on the floor of the bathrooms trying to catch at least a wink of sleep. Lots of long faces, but I didn’t let it get me down. I fought bravely for the life of my tent. Sometimes I just stood outside and held it up with my bare hands for awhile. It’s morning now, the storm rages on. I run into town for a few things, come back and try to take a nap, but the wind is still too strong. I notice that the wind in town is much milder, so I start looking for a room. This is the weekend that the islanders celebrate the end of the volcano eruption, so nearly every place is booked. I finally find a cheep room with sleeping bag accommodation (that means you get no sheets, no pillow, no towel, and use your own sleeping bag on a mattress-common practice in Iceland, and a nice way to save money. There are also cooking facilities.) Price: ISK 2000 per night ($31/€22). But at least I have my own room and a wind-free bed. Warm and happy, I set out in the rain to find something to eat. All the tables in my soup café are reserved – must be the festival going on tonight. I end up with a nasty burger and fries, race back to my room and go to bed early.

I sleep wonderfully until the other hotel guests come home. They’re loud and drunk and the couple in the room next to mine insist on having three minutes of passionless sex before they fall into a drunken stupor. I put on my headphones and try to ignore everything.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Eldfell volcano

6 am. It’s 14°C/57°F inside the tent. I take a quick peek in my little hand mirror. My face is sunburned and my eyes are bloodshot. I honestly look like shit. I’m embarrassed to leave my tent. Cleaned up my dinner leftovers for breakfast – good riddens! Flat bread and smoked lamb. But seriously, it’s actually quite tasty. After breakfast I continue my walk from last night, walking past the golf course along the coastline. The light is fantastic and I take lots of pictures. I cut through town and walk to the top of Eldfell, the volcano that erupted in the 1970s, burying much of the island in lava and ash. The colors of the ground up there are amazing! Deep reds and browns, making the earth look as though it were still on fire. An emergency light and metal box stand tall, ready to announce a possible future eruption. Black lava and red earth in contrast with green fields and the blue ocean. On the way down, I find a grassy spot and have some lunch, and take a 30-minute nap. I absolutely love napping in the outdoors. Refreshed, I walk back into town and get some sunscreen. The price is like a slap in the face – ISK 1600 ($25/€18) for a tube smaller than the palm of my hand. Ridiculous! I hike back to the campsite, make some dinner and write postcards. I chat with a German guy traveling by motorcycle. It starts raining and the wind picks up. I don’t mind. I spend the evening reading and writing.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Flight to the Westman Islands

Up at 6am, pack my bag and take a morning walk. Lots of cats out roaming, all friendly and not at all shy. Asked Siggi to call me a taxi to the airport but he drives me in his BIG TOY instead. On the way, he tells me how he started his first guesthouse 6 years ago. He now has 2 and will be buying another one next year. Was able to quit his job as an engineer and do the guesthouse business full time, although they’re only open in the summer. That means lots of time with his family in the winter, riding in his BIG TOY in the highlands or relaxing in their summer house. His wife says he’s like a bear, doing nothing but sleeping all winter. I check in at the tiny airport and had some coffee and skyr. My backpack weighs 22 kg/48 lbs. It still feels so heavy and there’s no food or gas in it yet. Problem is that it’s so darn warm! I can’t wear any of my warm clothes, so I have to carry it all. My flight boards early and we were on the runway 5 minutes BEFORE scheduled departure. Never had that happen before! Security? Heck no, I could have had a bomb in my pocket. The plane fills quickly with a whole group of kids from Ireland. Hope they’re not camping. We arrive on Vestmanneyjar at a miniscule little airport, and I manage to lose track of my backpack. There’s no baggage conveyor. The door on the right is for arrivals and the door on the left for departures. Both lead into one and the same room. After using the restroom I find my backpack merely lying on the middle of the floor in the lounge. I shoulder it and prepare for a long hike to the campsite. Within minutes a car stops, backs up and the driver asks if I want a ride. Can’t say no to that! Nice older gentleman, the manager of a fish factory. Said he likes to take rides in the car on his lunch break. Told me a new campsite just opened, so he takes me to both so I can decide for myself. I choose the old campsite, called Herjolfsdalur, since it’s nestled in a pretty green valley. The weather is beautiful again, the sun shining, not a cloud in the sky. Have my tent up by 11am in a pretty spot near the hut. Only two other tents are camped there. Get groceries (they have chocolate covered blueberries!) and walk to the harbor to take a boat ride. The captain is my age and not bad looking. We rode around the whole island and when we enter a water cave, he pulls out his saxophone and plays a tune. The natural echo from the cave makes it sound clear and beautiful. The cold wind whipping in my face on the boat ride makes me feel in need of some hot soup. So I sit in the café at the harbor to thaw my numb hands. I take an evening walk and watch kids in wetsuits jump off of boas into the harbor. The arctic water would be way too cold to swim otherwise, even in the summer, but with the wetsuits, little boys can still enjoy the little pleasures that other boys their age do. I’m back at the campsite by 8pm. A few clouds roll in and there are some minor drops of rain. A young girl comes around to collect the money and I pay for 2 nights. I’m starting to lose track of time, that’s a good sign! I take a late-night walk around the golf course. The islanders obviously love their golf. I see them play every night, rain or shine, wind or rain, until the wee hours of the morning. In fact, it’s after midnight now, and the course is packed with golfers…

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Reykjavík

First guests are up at 4am and my room is near the kitchen and the walls are thin. I didn’t sleep hardly at all, but that always happens my first days in Iceland. Takes me awhile to get used to it being light out at night. This time I brought one of those things to cover my eyes, so I’ll use that tonight, and listen to music to block out the other noise. Hot and sunny again – unbelievable! I sure hope it doesn’t stay like this! I rent a bike at 8am. On the way I saw movie director Balthasar Kormákur scurrying down the street with a briefcase in hand. He owns a little bar in Reykjavík, is that where he was headed? I get gas cartridges for my stove at the gas station and mail my packages to the huts at the bus station. ISK 1000 for 2 bags, total 11 kg/25 lbs. I’m done with my hiking preparations early, so I take a long bike ride to the zoo. Obviously with the climate here not many animals would be able to survive without lots of expensive artificial equipment. So the zoo contains only Icelandic animals, such as cows and sheep and chickens. There’s a family park connected to the zoo, with carousels and the works, and at the foot of the rides, the cows and sheep graze. It’s a bizarre sight. I find a bench in the Botanical Gardens and take a long nap in the sun, waking up with slight sunburn. I call my Icelandic friend Sigrún to let her know I arrived ok, and ride leisurely along the coastline back into town. Fall asleep at 9pm listening to music.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Arrival in Reykjavík

Berlin: I take the subway to the airport, packed down like a donkey. Realize how heavy my backpack actually is and first doubts arise. Plus I’m carrying a very heavy daypack as a carry-on that’s stuffed with batteries, food, a thermos bottle and other heavy things. By the time I arrive at the airport, my t-shirt is soaked with sweat and I smell like a racehorse. Remind me not to wear gray next time, it shows wet spots worse than other colors. I’m one of the first people to check in. The security guys see my backpack and ask: “Going to Iceland?” Is it that obvious? My gas stove stirs some interest on the x-rays, but once the security guys figure out what it is, everything is ok. Get a bite to eat at Burger King and my belly regrets it afterward. The plane is late boarding. I sit next to two very large men from Poland with beer on their breath. Say they worked in Reykjavík at the port. They soon fall asleep, but their large bellies, arms and legs ooze over into every free space, including my seat. Get an instant headache that lasts until evening. But thank the gods for Ibuprofin. Tears come to my eyes as we land and the stewardess said in Icelandic like they always do: “Welcome Home.” I guess they figure anyone on earth who speaks Icelandic and can understand what they’re saying either lives there or is from there. I cherish these words every time I land at the international airport in Keflavík, because it always does feel like coming home. I get a ticket for the FlyBus, which is an easy and convenient way to get to Reykjavík. Not many seats are left and I sit right in the front. Then, with a city map in hand, my heavy carry on in the other and my donkey pack on my back, I hike UPHILL to Guesthouse Aurora. It’s torture. Siggi, the owner, doesn’t seem to be offended by my smell. He’s friendly as ever. Maybe it’s the few words I speak in Icelandic. My room is in the basement – a bit dark and dreary, but large, with two beds and a couch. I’ll have plenty of room to get my food supplies together. I clean up a bit and race to the store. It’s already 7pm but there’s a grocery store downtown that’s open 24 hours. I buy huge amounts of Lucky Charms and other cereal, granola bars and nuts for my upcoming trek. The sun is out and it’s hot, 24°C/75°F. I pass the picturesque Viking Ship in my quest to find gas cartridges, but quickly give up for the evening. Back at the hotel, I take a shower with my clothes on (kills two birds with one stone, soap up the clothes on your body, rinse and peel them off). I sort my food purchases until I hit the sack at 11pm.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

I fly tomorrow. I've been watching the weather and last week Iceland had perfect weather. Hardly any rain. But now the outlook is pretty bleak. I wonder if I'll stay in my tent or get weak and find a room in a guesthouse. Maybe I should already look at a few alternatives. Only thing is, the island is currently celebrating its "End of Eruption" festival to commemorate the end of the volcanic eruption that caused the whole island to be evacuated in the 1970. Rooms might be scarce...