Last year I went through my regular cycle of restlessness in mid-March. By late January spring had arrived and by February the season was in full swing, taunting me for months to come with warm weather and sunny days. I tried my best to ignore the changes taking place around me; struggling to keep my head buried in schoolbooks. By March, however, the distraction was too much and something had be done; I had to do something. I had to GO somewhere… And so it began, a search for my next destination. My only problem was budgeting with limited money for both school and travel. As such, my choices were fairly restricted.
Peru? – Too hot.
Europe? – I was just there…
Africa? – Too expensive.
Staring at price lists for flights, I was at a crossroads. I could fly to somewhere in Eastern Asia, but I didn’t want to become yet another young adult looking for culture amid tropical beaches and thumping nightclubs. Finally, I crossed Asia from the list as well. Sitting on my bed, discouraged, I looked up at the world map on my wall and scanned the surface.
What about Iceland?
Initially I had written it off as being too touristic, but if I could find a cheap flight I could potentially visit the Faroe Archipelago as well–a place I had always dreamt of seeing.
As it turns out, that is exactly what I did. I booked an outgoing flight to Reykjavik, returning from Copenhagen and a separate set of connector flights allowing me to spend a week in the Faroe Islands. After it was all said and done, the four separate legs cost less than fifteen hundred Canadian dollars. Mission Accomplished!
Fast forward several months to the end of July and I’m standing in a truck stop on the outskirts of Reykjavik with my thumb out, hoping to get picked up. As luck would have it, the third car to pass by offered me a ride. My destination for that day was a waterfall to the north, known as Glymur. Tucked into a hidden canyon at the end of Hvalfjordur, the cascade drops 198 metres making it the tallest in all of Iceland.
Thanks to Iceland’s permissive regulations about camping on public and private property, I was able to pitch my tent upstream on a flat section of soil overlooking the river. The sun began to set moments after I finished making camp for the night, lighting the subarctic sky ablaze as I unwrapped the now-cold subway sandwich I had bought hours before at the truck stop. At nearly 10pm, this was my first substantial meal of the day and the best sandwich of my life.
As the sun finally passed below the horizon, the last few hikers on the trail marched past my camp. I was situated at the highpoint of the hike, which meant that they would likely finish at midnight. Figuring that these hikers were overambitious tourists, I asked if they were okay and if they knew how get back to their car. Back home in British Columbia we regularly hear about these kind of individuals on the news, usually because they’ve gotten lost in the backcountry. I was, however, both surprised and relieved to hear that they were locals making use of the constant summer twilight to enjoy the trail without throngs of tourists. I was complimented for my camping spot before the group left, following the trail across the river and down the opposite side of the canyon.
The next morning I awoke to the aforementioned hordes of tourists attempting to cross the river. I quickly packed up my camp, ate some bread and butter and began my hike back to the car park.
On my way down, I met an older couple from Australia who offered to give me a ride to my next destination. They were twitchers, visiting Iceland for its large bird colonies. It was explained to me that there are 370 bird species which frequent the island nation, some being permanent residents and some being migratory. I believe the couple was in search of White Tailed Eagles, whose population in the Westfjords remains strong despite its threatened status in continental Europe. The couple was very kind and dropped me off in the town of Borgarnes, which was preparing to host an international art exhibition. Regrettably I wasn’t around to attend the festival, but on the upside, I was fortunate enough to meet a pair of artists who suggested I visit their studio. As thankyou for offering me a bed in the main gallery of their building, I showed up with some food and prepared what would be my first home-cooked dinner in three days.
The following morning I headed west along the highway towards Snaefellsness, a large volcanic peninsula midway up the west coast of Iceland. I ended up walking for a few hours in the early morning before eventually getting picked up and subsequently deposited at a junction down the way. The scenery here is very diverse, with fantastic views of mountains, cliffs, waterfalls and of course, the ocean. Although the main highlight of the peninsula is the volcano Snaefellsjokull, it is almost overshadowed by the dozens of hidden wonders nestled among the lava flows which cover the landscape.
Continuing my string of good luck since leaving Reykjavik, I ended up hitching a ride with a couple whose terminus was the same as mine. We were both planning to end our day in a small town on the northern side of the peninsula, where I would likely spend the night in a tent.
In all fairness, Stykkisholmur is not so small for an Icelandic community. The town has a population of over a thousand, making it larger than most settlements, and is big enough to have its own ferry service across Breidafjordur Bay, connecting Snaefellsness to the Westfjords. There are even some good restaurants in town, though the pricing is a bit steep.
We arrived in the late evening and as always, my first instinct was to find a place to sleep. This came in the form of an island attached to the town by a large breakwater and I figured that the location was well-suited for pitching my tent, so long as I waited until after sunset to set up camp. In addition to enabling easy access to the island’s lighthouse, the breakwater also served to completely shelter the town’s harbour and marina, which meant that the island itself was a frequented locale for tourists and townsfolk alike. I ate dinner atop the high point, watching the sun fall into the western horizon along with a dozen or so tourists. Today dinner would be cheese and bread with a power bar for desert. Roughly half an hour later, the last remaining individual turned around and headed back to town, allowing me to finally pitch my tent.
During what I thought would be my last few minutes before retiring to bed for the night, I was noticed and approached by a group of four men. I had pitched my tent atop a small precipice on the ocean-facing side of the island, and although the location was not easily spotted from town, the party of four had little trouble making out my silhouette from their perch at the foot of the lighthouse above. Initially I expected them to be the local authority and that I would be asked to leave, but thankfully my good fortune prevailed and the group turned out to be a band of tourists from Spain and Norway, intent on complimenting me for my picturesque camp. I don’t recall the Spaniards’ names any more, but I remained in touch with Runar, the Norwegian. In short ado a bottle of vodka was produced from one of the strangers’ bags and made its round among the lot of us. Never to miss an opportunity for music, I crawled into my tent and returned with my guitar, much to the surprise and delight of the rest of our group.
Our surprise would be maintained for a short while longer, as two road-tripping Icelanders appeared out of the woodwork and joined our small gathering. They were on the last leg of their journey and planned on returning to their hometown of Akureyri by nightfall of the following day. As it happened, this was the direction Runar and I needed to travel come morning and so I asked if we could catch a ride with them. They cheerfully agreed, explaining that before making the drive home, they planned on seeing Snaefellness. Although I had just spent the day hitchiking the same stretch of highway, I gladly accepted the invitation to accompany Haukur and Eydis on their road trip, as did Runar.
Our newly-made plans would require us to get an early start, providing strong incentive to go to sleep. Our evening soon drew to a close and everyone headed off in the direction from which they’d come, leaving me to the sound of my tent beating in the light wind.