I left Seattle on Memorial Day weekend. Bags were packed and zipped the night before. I took one backpack with everything that I would need to survive, as well as an Icelandic-style shoulder bag that I picked up a few hours prior to departure. Ironically enough, the person I purchased the shoulder bag from had just returned from Iceland, himself! In the shoulder bag I carried my camera gear, passport, and bursting note book.
The flight wasn't too bad, but Icelandair is very basic. Hard seats, little leg room, expensive airplane food. However, the airfare was just right, and it really is the best way to get to Iceland.
I left SeaTac airport around 4:30pm, and didn't arrive in Keflavik until a little after 6am (Iceland time) the following day. It was about a 6hr 40m flight, which I slept through most of. I woke up once, and stared in awe at the massive ice sheets 35,000 feet below. I sat next to an older couple who had been traveling for the past 3 months. They had gone from Dubai to Australia to Hawaii via giant cruise ships. They drove through California, Canada and Washington State by car. They were finally heading home. Naturally, I handed them my business card and we began talking about real Hawaiian and Alaskan cruises.
We landed in what looked like the middle of nowhere. Mountains, rocks, and some grass. “Welcome to Iceland,” a stewardess proclaimed over the intercom (in both Icelandic and English).
I stood up, grabbed my bag, and headed for Customs. Now, unlike traveling to the US, Icelandic customs consisted of four short lines, with a lady at the end of each. She looked at my passport, looked at me, asked the duration of my stay and before I could answer, stamped my passport and, with a huge smile said, "Welcome to Iceland, Ryan!" There was no interrogation, no absurd or accusatory questions I wouldn't know the answers to. Just a smile and a welcome.
I ventured through the extremely small terminal, grabbed my bag and headed towards the bank before making my way towards the buses waiting to take new arrivals to the city. The driver asked where I wanted to go so I showed him my address. “No problem,” he said with a grin, “we can get you a few blocks away.” With that, he stowed my backpack and we were off.
I spent my first couple of days in Reykjavik. It was a great introduction to the Icelandic way of life. My host family was amazing. Their beautiful home was located not too far outside of the city in the suburb of Hafnarfjörður. The city bus stop was no more than a block away. Perfect location.
This was the only time I felt like I was really a true tourist. I explored the town and hit all of the tourist spots, big eyed and camera in hand. I talked to locals, hunted down the people I had met online. I even made it out to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is worth the hype, or so I thought at the time. If you are just in Iceland for the city, the Blue Lagoon is a must.
The next morning I woke around 8am and got ready quickly. Like the morning before, I had a very European breakfast at a bakery nearby. After breakfast I set off to find Johnny, the GM of Go Car Rental. Johnny and I had been talking online for a little while now. His new rental company was located very close to where I was staying. After a 20 minute walk, I found his store. We sat and talked most of the morning about what I wanted to do, and how my trip had been so far. He helped me narrow my plan down to a manageable chunk. We checked road conditions, and maps. Kind of planned a route, or at least set a Day 1 game-plan. He looked out in his lot and asked what I thought about an American mini-van? If I can get everywhere I need to go, its great. As I filled out the paperwork, he ran outside and in a few minutes had transformed a family van into the perfect base camp, bed, and camping chair included. Although it wasn't a 4x4, the route I was planning on taking didn't actually require a 4x4. It was heavy enough to handle some gravel roads and hills, but not the monster that would be needed to climb mountains. In the end, this was the perfect car for my adventures. Johnny had the lowest prices and was one of the nicest people I have ever met. If you are going to visit Iceland, you have to met Johnny!
It was a little after noon when I returned back to my house, loaded the car, and took off. I stopped by a BONUS, the "cheap" grocery store, and loaded up on some snacks: chips, pepper, and pretzels. I also found a Vínbúð, the liquor store, and picked up some real Icelandic craft beer; a porter 6-pack and pale ale 6-pack. Sounds like a weird combo, but salty snacks would be needed, and the only food I had packed was freeze-dried food, that needed pepper in the worst way. The beer, well I ended using them like a barter item with other travelers. They were also just what I wanted after a long hike and a soak in a hot spring.
I had a long drive ahead of me. My goal was to drive as far east as I could, and then spend the next ten days making my way to the Westfjords. I had no time to waste.
The city of Reykjavik was a great place to visit. However, I found that as soon as I crested the first hill into the countryside, Iceland became absolutely surreal. The sun hit the cliff walls perfectly as 80's rock blasted over the Icelandic radio station that was preset in my vehicle. With the windows down and heat all the way up, all I could do was laugh as involuntary shivers went shooting down my spine. I was actually in Iceland! I grabbed the journal of notes I had been frantically compiling for the past few months and threw it in the back of the empty van, never to be seen again. Screw that “plan,” Iceland was calling, and I knew I had to answer. I pulled out the blank map that Johnny had given me and took off. I was going to drive nine to ten hours without stopping. I wanted to see how far East I could get.
Waterfalls, cliffs, fields, glaciers… I drove passed everything, and my desire to stop at every possible spot was difficult to overcome.
When I saw Seljalandsfoss, the desire was too much. There was nothing that would keep me from stopping. What a magnificent waterfall. (I love waterfalls.) After exploring for a couple hours, I remembered I would be coming back through here in a few days, and had to keep going. I made only one other stop. Jökulsárlón. When you pass icebergs majestically floating in a crystal clear bay, with snow caped mountains surrounding you, you have to stop. Little did I know, this would become my home for the night.
After exploring the bay and wandering around the area for a couple of hours, I realized it was very, very late. I still had three hours to reach where I wanted to be. I hopped back in my “base camp,” which I started calling my “white stallion,” and sped away. I hit Höfn late, or early, depending on how you want to look at it. I filled up on gas, talked to a local about the area, and continued east for about an hour before deciding that I should turn around. There wasn't a great place to park for the night in Höfn, so I continued to a small turnout past Jökulsárlón, hiked a small hill, and pitched my tent so I could watch the ice chunks float by.
Part 3 coming next thursday....