Iceland 4

This is a continuation of the blog post Iceland 3...

Almost an hour passed before I had made it back to the main land. A metaphorical change of pants was needed as I slowly walked back to the car. This was my newest top spot. A hidden gem. As I walked down the canyon, I met a woman from Sweden who told me, “when you leave, you may no longer be physical here, by a piece of your heart will always stay. Trust me. I keep coming back.” Before we said our good byes, we both stood in silence and awe taking in what was before us. After what felt like only a few minutes, we continued on our separate paths.

It was now super late. I hit the small town of Vik late that night or early in the morning, depending how you define time, and swung into a little shop. Inside, there was a group of people around my age. One was dressed up as a Viking, scaring people as they walked in the door. After a good laugh, I pulled my map out of my pocket. I walked up to the girl with the sword (because, honestly, who else could I talk to?) and asked her what I should see around here. She grabbed my arm and led me over to the counter where the others were talking. The next thing I knew, they were circling locations on my map and jotting down notes and showing me pictures on Google. I told them I was in Iceland for a couple weeks, with an open road and no plans whatsoever. Wally and Viking (the names they gave me because I struggled to do their Icelandic names justice) were spot on with their recommendations.  

After about an hour or so, I took leave of my new friends, and continued West. I wanted to see Dyrhólaey peninsula. My grandmother loves puffins and this would be the spot for a perfect photograph. Puffins, arches, and the elephant rock were on tonight’s agenda. However, after about 45 min of driving I hit a “Road Closed” sign. “Birds Are Nesting,” the sign read. I pulled off the road the best I could, fell asleep immediately. 

The next morning, I explored the famous Vik black sand beach and hunted down the United States Navy DC plane. This adventure was the first time I felt truly alone. The directions I was given were simply: park between road 241 and 243 and walk south. You should find it. After an hour of walking through black sand, all I could see was black. I couldn’t see my car, I couldn’t see the water. It didn’t help it was raining again, and so foggy I could only see a few meters in front of me. If I forgot how many times I turned around I could be walking for days with nothing but a camera. After a couple hours I crossed a small river, crested a small hill and saw a shinney object. There it was! 

Riddled with bullet and blast holes that mostly went clean through, it was an eerie feeling. What happened here? I wondered as I examined, explored and photographed every inch of that plane. The sun was finally out, and rain had let up. I sat on a hill overlooking the coast line and that plane for a couple hours before making my way back. 

Later that day I had made it back to Skógafoss, Selijatandsfoss, where I hiked into þórsmörk.   þórsmörk is one of the destinations I thought I wanted to see. However, I have been told to get to the top, a good backpacker needs four days in and four days out. I am not a good backpacker so I would need about five to six days in five days out. I hiked for the day, camped, and then hiked out. This is an incredible place.

In this area are a few amazing hot springs. The typical directions are, make your third right, drive to the end of the road, walk a few meters to a mountain passage way and you are there. What they don’t tell you is the road end is not really an end, but just an unmarked drop off. The mountain passage is literally a mountain passage from The Hobbit, and the hill you have to walk over makes you wonder what they would call a mountain. It was an adventure, but well worth it. Luckily for me, I had convinced a local Icelandic girl I had met earlier that day to accompany me. We talked in great length about hidden places in Iceland before I convinced her to show me her favorite one. On the hike up I learned a lot about the area, growing up in Iceland and everyday life. The thing she said that stuck with me through my entire trip was about tourists. "We can always tell who are tourists. They are the people with the big eyes, the cameras and dressed differently. Us locals see this stuff everyday and can pass by it without as second thought. I knew you were a tourist long before you opened your mouth, and I knew what you were going to ask me, long before you did." 
I laughed. "I guess I am predictable." I replied.

Overall it was an incredible experience. After a few hours of exploration and a hot spring, we set back off to the small town nearby. We exchanged contact information and said our temporary good byes. 

Another hot spring I found had almost exactly the same directions, but I fortunately had the help of some amazing Italian and French tourists, who were volunteering at a local farm. I came to learn that they wanted more of a traditional Icelandic experience, so instead of going through a tour operator or a personally planned trip for a few weeks, they found a company that places people in a work situation anywhere in the world. For them they picked to volunteer on an Icelandic farm for 6 months. 

This hot spring was cold, slimy and contained in concrete barrier, which are not entirely uncommon conditions. You had to cross a river, about ankle deep just to get to it. But it was fun to share the experience with some new found friends, watch water fall from the surrounding cliffs and listen to the sheep laugh at us.

The final note-worthy stop I made during this stretch of my trip was to a historic cave. This is truly a hidden gem in Iceland, and has a very interesting story to it. The story goes that a woman fell in love with a much younger man. She was a widow, while he was just fifteen years old. In shame, she moved to a cave. One night, his friends convinced him that it would be very well received if he climbed to the cave to see her. And it was. So well received in fact, that they had a couple of kids together that had to live in the cave in shame as well. I hear it was a huge scandal. This cave was very well hidden, and since it is a hidden cave, it is super hard to find (go figure)! The cave is man-made, but the views from the mouth of the cave are incredible... if you can find it. 

You start to get real used to hearing “if you can find it” when given directions to places that are considered an Icelandic secret and soon discover how beneficial it is to ask locals to help you or even show you.

As I comb through my journal, I am reminded of so much more from this area. Maybe they will show up in blog posts at a later date. But if you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comment section.  I thought the sights and adventures couldn’t get any better than they were for these few days, but they certainly did! If you would like to know more, continue on with me. 

Ryan McNamee