Iceland 2000 : the northern peninsulas
Monday, June 26 : Schiphol - Reykjavik
My bicycle and me arrive June 26 at half past four local time on Keflavik airport, for a 24 days bicycle tour in northern Iceland. Although I don not have any bad experience, I'm glad that my bicycle arrived almost undamaged. When I arrive in the hall, a lot of people are waiting for transport to Reykjavik, and the parking area of the airport is overloaded with the cars. The bus strike that is going on for more than a month now, takes it tolls. I step on my bicycle and set of for the ride to Reykjavik. That's the advantage of having your own means of transport. The disadvantage is that you have to do the busy, windy and boring road on your own. Every time I come to Iceland it seems the road becomes longer and the wind in front stronger.
In Reykjavik I have an appointment at nine with Nikki. She's a girl I will spend the first days with. A week before my departure I got an E-mail from her, with some questions about Iceland. I told her we would be there at more or less the same time. She asked if we could travel together. A little surprised, I accepted the offer. I'm too much of a loner to travel a whole holiday together, but a few days looked like fun. And I wanted to know who this energetic lady was, of whom I didn't know more than that she was a former mountain biker from California, who played guitar.
In Hafnafjördur I take a shortcut, but lose the road a little, so a can I take a short peak at Bessastadir, the residence of the Icelandic president. I arrive only half an hour before my appointment with Nikki on the campsite. The campsite warden tells me that a girl with that name has arrived, so it looks a if we will meet soon. It's still early in the season so the campsite is not really crowded. I put my tent on the place where I usually put it, and just before nine I go to the reception. No sign of Nikki. Half an hour later there's still no sign of her. I look around on the campsite. There are quite a few cyclers. But none of them look like an American girl on her own. And I don't find her that evening.
Tuesday June 27 : Reykjavik - Hvalfjördur
I wonder if she might have thought that the appointment was in the morning. So, the next day at nine I'm back at the reception. Still no sign of Nikki. I start to wonder where an appointment like this can go wrong. The answer comes when I return to my tent. An English speaking couple is preparing their bikes for a ride. He speaks with a French accent, she speaks clearly American. I ask the girl if she's Nikki. A smile is the answer. "You must be Michael" she says. So there she is, about five foot tall, blond, pigtails and a BIG smile. She had waited for me for a couple of hours the previous morning. When I didn't show up, she went for a ride with the French guy. They had met at the Blue Lagoon on the day of her arrival, and together they had cycled to Reykjavik. His plan is to cycle the ringroad counter clockwise the next three weeks.
First we have to do some shopping. My plan is to cycle to Húsafell and there isn't an opportunity to buy foodstuffs after we leave Reykjavik. Nikki buys a lot of plastic bags to put her stuff in, because the weather is lousy. It is even so bad that she considers flying to Mývatn. Taking the bus is impossible because of the strike. But around two the sky clears up a little, and we decide to start cycling. Our first goal is getting out of Reykjavik, which isn't as easy as it sounds when you want to avoid the busy roads. But with only a short detour we land on the road to Mossfellsbaer where we arrive around four. We stop at a petrolstation to buy some sweets, and I notice that Nikki is a very communicative person. She talks to everybody ('Hi, how are you, where are you from'). Probably her Californian attitude, which is a striking contrast to the Icelandic (and my own). In the 5 days that we ride together I meet more people than in the three weeks that I travel alone.
We continue on the road to Thingvellir. In my memory this was a nice river valley, but it turns out to be a stretch of Icelandic moorland. The rain and the wind make the ride rather awkward. Nikki asks me several times to stop, because she's too cold, and afraid of hypothermia. But camping on this plain isn't very appealing. I promise her to stop at the first decent spot on the road to Hvalfjördur where we will have wind in the back. When we arrive at a wet piece of ground near a lake, I start unpacking. Nikki is irritated that I do not listen to her, and complaints again about hypothermia. She shows me her sleeping bag, a thin summer thingy that may be good for an outdoor holiday in a warm country, but is unsuitable for Iceland. She left a warmer one at home because it was too heavy.
We decide that the best thing to do is find a farm or other warm place where we can sleep. So we cycle to the first house that we see. I knock on the door and a man opens. "Tala Ensku ?" (do you speak English) is one of the few Icelandic sentences I know. "Nei" he answers. I point at Nikki. "Kalt". The man goes away and a few moments later a woman comes out. She looks at Nikki, pulls her into the hall, strips her from her coat and takes her into the house. I'm not sure what to do at this moment and stay outside. Then the man comes again and winks me inside. I take off my shoes, and enter the house. Nikki sits shivering next to a radiator in the kitchen. I take a seat. We're offered coffee and sandwiches. When I ask for a ´gisthusid´ in the area, they ask us to stay in their spare room. Communication is of course a problem, but with hands and feet, pen and paper, a Lonely Planet guide and Nikki´s ability to make conversation we have a pleasant evening. It ends with a video of the 1996 Jökulhlaup, when the volcano Loki erupted.
Wednesday June 28 : Hvalfjördur - Thóristadavatn
In the morning when we have breakfast, a machine inspector arrives. He speaks English, so we can have a real conversation with our hosts. Nikki takes some pictures (smile :-) ) and we say goodbye around eleven. This ends our experience with Icelandic hospitality. Nikki would describe it later as "a most humbling experience". My opinion is, that a situation like this won't be unusual for people in Iceland, and that the weather is more often an unpleasant surprise for travellers. And for Nikki coming from sunny California a day with cold, rain and wind is less familiar than for me coming from not so cold but rainy and windy Holland.
The first kilometres downhill and with the wind in the back make us fly on the road. Our goal is the waterfall Glymur, the highest in Iceland. It lies at the end of Hvalfjördur in a small nature reserve. It is still an hour hiking and climbing from the road. The waterfall is 200 meter high, and falls in a small, but beautiful gorge. Unfortunately the waterfall is hardly visible from our site. To see it well we should wade through the stream. I don't try it, afraid that the strong wind will blow me into the gorge. So we return.
The rest of Hvalfjördur we have wind in the back. It is a nice fjord, although not as rugged as the East Fjords. I would have thought that we would pass an old whaling station (hval = whale), but the only striking thing is a Nato base. We drink a cup of coffee in the restaurant of the petrol station halfway the fjord. Nikki is making conversation with a couple at the table next to us. They are from Lithuania. He works in a stripclub in Reykjavik and she helps him. The other way round would be more logic. Stripclubs were a booming business in Reykjavik, until the local government put restrictions on it.
Around nine we leave for the campsite, a few kilometres away. Only after a few minutes it's pouring with rain. I change to a lower gear because of the short steep slopes, but something goes wrong. My chain breaks. Damn!. The past ten years I brought a chaintool with me, but this year I couldn't find it, so I left it at home. I'm thinking about what to do next. Walk to Borgarnes ? I probably have to go to Reykjavik to buy one. Which is almost impossible with the bus strike. In the meantime Nikki is waiting on a hill. "My chain broke" is say. "I have a chaintool" she says cheerful. That's the one possibility that hadn't crossed my mind. I advise everybody to take a guardian angel with him when travelling in Iceland.
We put up our tents at a small campsite near a fishlake. I cook myself a meal. Nikki dries her wet stuff with the blowdryer in the toilets, and goes on visit to other guests on the campsite.
Thursday June 29 : Thóristadavatn - Húsafell
After drinking coffee with some German campers that Nikki had met at the campsite we leave around 11:30 to Húsafell. The first kilometres are along several lakes. After that, the road climbs to a beautiful view on the Skardheidi Mountains, and descents to the lake Skorradalsvatn. It is great cycling weather, a little wind and nice sunshine. Unfortunately the scenery gets less interesting, with a distant view on a river and a chain of hills in the distance. When we turn into Reykholtsdalur we're in an area with hot springs. There are several places were steam comes out of the ground. It is also used for heating greenhouses. Reykholt is a historic place, and used to be the residence of Snorri Sturluson, writer of the Edda. You can see his swimming pool and they are digging for archaeological finds. There is also an exhibition about life in 13th century Iceland. A few weeks aafter we were there, they discovered a tunnel between Snorri's house and his swimming pool.
Just before Húsafell we pass two waterfalls, the Hraunfoss and the Barnarfoss. The Hraunfoss is the most spectacular because the water emerges over several hundreds meters beneath a lavafield. The Barnarfoss streams a little upstream through a narrow gorge. I had seen them before. Most striking for me are the fences and a small wooden platform, both a sign that Iceland is adapting itself to more tourists.
Around seven we arrive at Húsafell. I go to the camp shop to buy stuff for dinner. Meanwhile Nikki is investigating who the English speaking people are that are talking in front of the shop. When I come back she cheerfully says that we are invited for a barbecue. That evening we eat lambchops with Arnar and Margaret, a couple from Reykjavik, who are on holiday with some friends from England. To celebrate Arnars birthday they went skidooing on the glacier Langjökull. Nikki is immediately interested, and asks if we can do it as well. I doubt that it is a good idea, because of my total lack with motorised vehicles. But I like the idea of cycling part of the beautiful Kaldidalur route again.
Friday June 30 : Húsafell
It is a beautiful day. Almost cloudless and almost too warm. Nikki goes in the morning for a dip in the swimming pool. I'm not a pool type, and restrict the visit to a shower. Then I make a stroll on the campsite. Húsafell is a well known holiday place. Apart from a campsite there are dozens of small houses between the birch trees and the lava. That morning is quiet, but when I'm at the reception to renew the reservation, the girl warns me for 5000 people that will arrive that evening. The first weekend of July is an opportunity for people from Reykjavik to party en masse in Húsafell. I always tried to avoid these situations, but I doubt that I will manage to do it this time.
That afternoon Nikki and I depart in the direction of Langjökull. The first part along the river we pass a sort of moonscape. Then we have a stiff hill, which Nikki climbs in mountainbike style. I prefer my own style of low gear and walking. Uphill we have a stunning view over the surrounding area. Since we are early in the season, there are still patches of snow and ice in the stone desert.
An awful sandy and stony road goes uphill to the skidoo base on top of Langjökull. It takes an hour to cycle the six kilometres. Officially the station is already closed, but because of the fantastic weather we can make a ride. So we put on the thermal suits, a helmet, boots and gloves. Then we get a short instruction about the control of the skidoo. It is very simple, only a gas handle and a break. No gears or clutch, even I can do it. So the four of us go for a ride, Nikki, me, a guide and the ticket selling girl, that was persuaded by Nikki to go with us. First we cross the glacier in north-eastern direction. It goes fast, about 60 km/h. I try to keep in the tracks of the guide, but can't come too close without being sprayed by bits of ice. After 15 minutes, we arrive at the other site of the glacier where we have a magnificent view on the Kjölur. Thanks to the clear sky we can see kilometres far. When we go a little to the south, we can see the Hekla and the Myrdallsjökull, more than 100 km away.
Travelling on a glacier is not without danger. One moment our guide who is a little in front of us starts waving with his arms. I ride towards him, and ask him what's the matter. With a smile on his face he says, that wanted to warn us for
a big crack that we passed unnoticed. On further inspection the crack is about half a meter wide, and probably several meters deep. While it is too dangerous to cross the thing again, the guide rides the scooter back over the crack. A month later a woman will fall during a skidoo ride in one of these cracks. In spite of the danger and my doubts about the environmental friendliness, I must say that skidooing on a glacier is an awesome experience.
By seven we go back. The road is now downhill, and I see Nikki disappearing in the distance. I try to make some speed, but my front tyre sinks in the sand, and I fly over my handlebar towards the ground. Icelandic deserts look beautiful but taste dirty. I stand up. My chin, arms, and legs are bleeding a little. My bicycle looks ok, and I try to make some speed again. Fifty meters further I'm on the ground again. This is Nikki's terrain, not mine. I walk the rest downhill.
At the foot of the hill I'm fine again, and we're back on the campsite after an hour cycling. It has unrecognisably changed. Almost every spot is now used for a tent. Nikki's tent stands almost inside a big family tent. Everywhere is loud music and are kids walking, standing and hanging around with cans of beer. Small children run around until midnight. My own tent is for some reason still free. But around midnight, when I'm almost to sleep, a ghetto blaster is put next to my head. From the other noises I can extract that they are putting up a tent, and are singing. Until three it is noisy, but then I fall asleep.
Saturday July 1 : Húsafell - Varmaland
The next morning when I go to the toilet I view the battlefield. It is not as bad as I thought, the cleaning team must have risen early and did a good job. A dirt container the size of a delivery truck is full with beercans. But the toilets are still functioning which seems almost impossible with 'parties' in the Netherlands.
Nikki wants to take the bus to Mývatn. My plan is to bring her to Grábrók, where she can take the bus to Varmahlíd. From there she could cycle to Akureyri and Mývatn. There is no direct line because of the busstrike. Around two we leave along the north side of the river Reykjadalsá. This site of the road has no tarmac, but that also means less traffic. The weather is beautiful clear and sunny again. Nikki puts some turbomusic on her Walkman and cycles two gears faster than usual.
At the petrol station of Baulan we do some shopping, and stay a while sitting in the sun. To my surprise two other cyclers arrive. They are on there way back from the Westfjords. Their original plan was to cycle the Kaldidalur, but then the gears of one of their bicycles broke, and now they want to take the bus to Reykjavik. Like good bicycle tradition, cookies are brought in, and travel stories are exchanged. A passer-by gives us some pieces of dried fish. This looks like cardboard with a fish smell, but tastes better than I thought.
Around nine when the wind rises and the sun sets, we leave for the campsite of Varmaland. When we arrive it is crowded with partying Icelanders. Our group splits. I'm hungry and tired, and want to stay, the others don't. This means that Nikki and I will split on this windy campsite. I caress her head, and we say goodbye. I make dinner, and at half past eleven, when the party people are gone, I crawl into my sleeping bag. And fall asleep with the thought that my days with Nikki deserved a better goodbye than a cold hug on a windy camping.
Later Nikki writes me that she never went to Mývatn. The same evening they went to Borgarnes, from where Nikki went to Snaefellsnes. First to Arnarstapi and than to Stykkishóolmur. From there she took the bus back to Reykjavik where she visited Margaret and Arnar. With them she visited Gullfoss and Geysir. Then she hiked the Landmannalaugar - Thorsmörk trail. All in all she had a great time and a lot of good memories. I'm so glad for that.
Sunday July 2 : Varmahlíd - Brú.
The morning leads me to a slow start. The weather is grey. But worse, the wind that rose yesterday blows straight from the north. This means 60 km wind in front. I'm not looking forward to this, and I'm glad that Nikki doesn't have to deal with it. Until the Grábrók crater with its surrounding lavafields, I know the terrain. I rode it four years earlier. From there we follow the river upstreams. In the lower parts you will find some farms, but when this stops you cycle between the hills in no-men's land. It is not deserted though. There is quiet a lot of Sunday's traffic. Halfway the climb I wave to two cyclers, the last that I see in four days. The hills turn in a moorland, including the sheep. I expect to be almost on the top (the river is gone, and there are small lakes), when the road makes a strange curve into the mist. At this point I have no idea of the surrounding area. Apart from a bright orange emergency shelter, I could be in a misty polder near my home. The mist changes in drizzle when I go downhill in the direction of Brú. I enter the local restaurant at the petrol station shivering from cold. But the room is overcrowded and full of smoke. Even the EC soccer finale between Italy and France can't keep me there. I put up my tent at the small campsite at Stadarskali five kilometres further. A toilet and a tap are all I need. It is also everything I get.
Monday July 3 : Brú - Ósar
A beautiful day to explore the Vatsnes peninsula. Weather has cleared, the wind set, and a friendly sun shines. The top of the mountain ridge that forms the backbone of the peninsula is visible. The only village, Hvammstangi, is hardly interesting. Even two weeks later when I pass it with the bus I do not recognise something. The rest of the peninsula is more attractive. To the left side the sea, with a view on the road to Hólmavik and the Westfjords. To the right side the already mentioned mountain. Other ingredients are some farms, a church, a lighthouse and few cars.
The sea near the deserted farm Hindisvik is supposed to be domain of a seal colony. I go there, but first I must battle with some Arctic Terns. Carrying my bag over my head I reach the sea where I take position on a stone. With my binoculars I search the sea for seals. After twenty minutes I haven't seen anything but some ducks. But then a seal sticks his head out of the water. I can look at him for 10 seconds, than he disappears without coming back. Not completely satisfied I decided to cycle on myself.
My next stop is a peculiar rock in the sea with the name Hvítserkur. With some fantasy it looks like a seamonster. I leave my bike at the top of the hill and walk the path down to sea. It is indeed a strange site, this odd shaped, white with grey, three legged, piece of stone, that stands a couple of meters of the beach. I stay the night in the nearby Youth Hostel at Ósar.
Tuesday July 4 : Ósar - Blönduós
In the Youth Hostel I meet an airforce man stationed at Keflavik Airport, who is touring the country with his wife and two daughters. He used to live in the Netherlands and knows my town of birth very well, because he used to go out there. For him these are dear memories of the time that he was alone with his wife. Life with teenage daughters must be demanding. He also tells me that there are a lot of seals nearby. In the morning I walk back to the sea, and indeed on a nearby sandbank about a hundred seals are lying in the sun. The distance is too far too make a good picture with my camera, but I can see them clearly with my binoculars.
Less clear is a medieval fortress with the name Borgarvirki. It is on top of a hill and looks like a round stone wall about thirty meters wide, with a small entrance. From the description I had imagined a more castle like building. So it is a little disappointing, considering the steep climb. But you have a nice view over the area, and the lake Hóp whose size depends on the tide.
Every holiday I skip an attraction that I regret when I'm back home. This time it is Kolugil, a gorge with a waterfall. It would have been 15 km wind in front. I do visit Vatsdalshólar. These are a lot of hills (uncountable according to Icelanders), that were put there by a landslide. I walk between them and climb some of them, and can only agree : there are a lot of hills. Opposite Vatsndalhólar is a hill where the last execution took place. There is a remembrance shield, but I can't remember what reason the man and the woman where brought to death, a crime passionel or just a robbery.
The final part to Blönduós is hard work again. Most of the day I cycled to the south and had wind in front. Now I cycle to the north and again I have wind in front. I don't understand Icelandic wind.
Wednesday July 5 : Blönduós - Saudárkrókur
Today the Skaganes peninsula is on the program. I expect not to do it in one day, because the full distance is more than 120 kilometres. Just before I leave from the campsite, another cycler arrives. He is from Germany and the past days he rounded the Snaefellsnes peninsula. Although he had to push his bike through snowfields sometimes. Some roads marked on his unknown brand map as a good road where nothing but mountaintracks. That's why I prefer maps from Landmaelingar Islands.
Until Skagaströnd the road has a asphalt surface, but after the village it becomes a flat gravel road. Not really exciting, but you ride on a plateau about 50 meters above the sea. Apart from some horses and a few farms there is no sign of life. In the north the scenery changes in stonehills and small lakes. A big bird hovers by. I think that it is an eagle, but with my knowledge of birds it could equally be a big seagull. Artic Terns will you find here as well. Without them it would be really quiet. In the east, the scenery changes once more into bald rugged hills. A distant view on the island Drangey, a 200 m high lump of stone with perpendicular walls. Dark clouds look glued to the hills. Not a very people friendly environment, and rather unexpected this close to the coast.
At one of the sparse farms, one can buy the Icelandic culinary speciality Hákal. This is shark meat that they but in the ground for several months to let it rot. I've seen several travel reports on television where the presenter spontaneously had to puke when they tasted it. But don't let this withhold you from taking a bite, because I never tried it myself.
Although I didn't have the plan to cycle the full distance in one day, I managed to do it. The wind was less during the evening. Only the last 25 kilometres are a little harder than expected. My travelguide Ulf Hoffman's Island per Rad speaks about "slightly up and downhill". I bet he never cycled these more than ten percent slopes himself . Around eleven I enter Saudárkrókur via a backdoor. I'm not disappointed. From a description that spoke about the view on Drangey as its biggest asset, I had very low expectations. But it is a village with a nice church, and something that you may call a village centre. I find the campsite next to the swimming pool and fall asleep, contented that I'm still able to cycle more than 120 kilometres a day. I had not done this in almost a year.
Thursday July 6 : Saudárkrókur - Siglufjördur
I stand up late. It feels likes the day after. I'm not used to riding such distances anymore, is the conclusion. The sky looks clouded. I don't feel like cycling today. But staying in Saudárkrókur isn't very appealing either. So around twelve I step on my bicycle for the ride around Skagafjord. The first kilometres as I cross the delta of the river Heradsvotn (?) I have the wind in front. So it is more difficult to flee for the colony of Arctic terns that nests outside Saudárkrókur. It's not the first time that I'm attacked this tour, but these are very aggressive, and I feel one pluck my hair several times.
The clouds are low, and cover the top of the mountains. I pass Hólar, an important historic and religious site. The thought of spending the rest of the days in the nearby pool crosses my mind. But I still have shopping to do, and the nearest village Hofsós is 15 km away. And I'm not a pool person. Some km before Hofsós I visit the cute little church at Gröf. It is a replica of a 17th century church with grass on the roof and place for maybe 30 people. In the guestbook I spot the name of the writer of the best Dutch guide on Iceland, Willem van Blijderveen. The German cycler I saw in Blönduós met the writer Ulf Hoffman at Snaefellsnes. So next year (2001) must be a good year for updated travel books.
Just outside Hofsós I meet a lonely cycler, struggling against the wind. He stays three months in Iceland and his plan is to cycle the coast including the West fjords. We exchange tips and go opposite ways. Fifteen minutes later I'm in the middle of clouds of mist and drizzle. For me, the worst thing of this weather is that I have to take of my glasses off. I see very little of the green mountains and surrounding meadows.
My goal for the day is the village Siglufjördur, where I want to stay a day to do some hiking in the area. There's only one (dead end) road going to the village. In the petrol station at the crossing from where it starts I take a coffee, and try to dry up a little. I hope to be in Siglufjördur around 7:30. But the first setback is that my back tyre seems to go flat very slow. I pump it up several times but it takes every time shorter before it gets weak again. It will be my only puncture during this holiday. The second setback is the road that is not at all flat. It rises to unknown heights with short steep climbs and descents. Combined with the mist, that makes the view less than 100 meters, this last 25 km is quite tiresome. It is not a bad experience though. The limited view, the silence, the idea that there is a sea down there that you can't see unless you take a wrong turn and dive in it. It gives me a peaceful feeling.
I arrive around 8.30 in Siglufjördur. The camping site is still under construction. It is a field in the heart of the village, next to the harbour, with a view on the houses that are build against the slopes. I can't suppress the feeling that the whole village is watching me when I put up my tent, cook diner and go to sleep.
Friday July 7 : Siglufjördur - Dalvik
Siglufjördur is a friendly village surrounded by 800 m high mountains. This makes it a little more special than all those other little fishing villages with a harbour, a church and some coloured houses. Pride of the village is the museum in an old fishing house. I don't go inside, because I suspect it to be no different from other fishing museums like the one in Eskifjördur. Besides, I changed my plan to stay here for the day, because the low clouds makes a hike in the area less attractive. In the morning I wander through the little streets in the centre. But at noon I break up my tent, and take the route back that I did the day before. The weather has cleared a little, and now I can see where I ride. And I wonder how I managed to do some of those steep short climbs the day before. One and a half later I'm back at the petrol station at the crossing to drink a cup of coffee. The next kilometres I cycle slowly uphill through a nice river valley. I know a steep climb (16 %) is waiting, but until then I enjoy the view on the hills, that become clearer by the hour. I'm in a lazy mood, and walk the steepest uphill part of the pass. When I'm at the top there's almost no plain, and I have a clear view on Olafsfjördur. The weather is sunny, but downhill a freezing wind from the north blows in my face. My goal this day is Dalvik, and I leave Olafsfjördur, a modern fishing village with a lot of space, for what it is.
Just outside Olafsfjördur the road goes through a tunnel. This one is 3,5 km long and, like most Icelandic tunnels, lit. I like tunnels when there's not too much traffic. And this is a good one. Since there are lamps only every fifty meters or so, you have a constant change of light and dark. This, combined with car noises and the lights and squeaking breaks of big trucks, gives a hypnotic effect. I believe you can have the same effect in discotheques. But I prefer tunnels.
Saturday July 8 : Dalvik
Dalvik has a great campsite. It is quite, has showers, even a washing machine, and it is free. Surprising is that there are only two other guests when I arrive. And when I crawl out of my tent late the next morning I'm alone. Today is my resting day, so I'm not in a hurry. I do some shopping and take a detour in the village. Dalvik is a modern local centre with a lot of space round the central area where the church and school are. I think, that it is not interesting for tourists, but quite nice to live there.
That afternoon I take my bicycle, and take the road into the nearby mountains. It is a beautiful day. Sunny, a little wind and almost cloudless. The road forks in two directions. First I go to the right, and take a peak into Svarfadardalur. A bunch of horses look curious at me. I don't think they see a lot of cyclers. My main goal is the Skidadalur. I cycle uphill as far as possible, and park my bicycle against a sign showing the hiking trails in the area. There are several possibilities like a two days hike to Hólar. I just follow the river for an hour or two. It is a beautiful valley, with smooth green slopes and little glaciers on top. Groups of horses run free, and approach me for food or just out of curiosity. Limited by time I cannot go as far as I want, and regret that I didn't start earlier in the afternoon. On the other hand, it is my resting day. I return to the camping site by the other site of the river. All in all it was a very pleasant day.
Sunday July 9 : Dalvik - Skogur
When you look from Dalvik to the other site of the fjord, you can see Laufás, my destination for this day. This also means almost 40 km wind in front unless it will turn halfway the day. I do not count on that. The first 40 km from Dalvik to Akureyri are easy, and quite nice until I reach the point where road nr 1 and lots of cars joins my way. It is Sunday so there's only little heavy traffic. But it is still a busy road. I pass Akureyri and start the little journey up north. I have wind in front and the road is narrow. Roadworkers are busy on the road, there are lots of cars riding too fast, spreading noise, clouds of dust and stones. All in all this is one of the worst parts of my trip, and I declare this road second worst of Iceland after the bloody stretch of tarmac between Reykjavik and Keflavik. The only positive thing is the nice view on Akureyri. When the place where the road goes over the hill appears, I leave road nr 1 reluctant to take the old road that follows the fjord a little longer. This is a nice detour with very little car traffic. It turns inland near Laufás an old turf farm that is well worth visiting. There are several other farms like Laufás, e.g. Glaumbaer and Burstarfell. They all give a good view of how richer farmers lived in the past. If you want to see how an ordinary family lived in the past I advise you to go to the museum farm Saenautasel, on the plain south of Mödrudalur, east Iceland.
The road inland from Laufás goes through a very nice valley, with Icelandic forests. I camp that night in Skogur, a forest south of road nr 1.
Monday July 10 : Skogur - Húsavik
The ride to Húsavik was supposed to be easy. Only 65 km, most flat road. And the first 15 km is known terrain for me because I did it 11 years ago. The wind was still from the north, sun in front. And I didn't have much food or drinks, except from water. The only place where I could get some would be a detour to the supermarket at Godafoss. I decided not to go there and stay with the supplies I had with me. Unfortunately the area I cycled was mostly farmland or lavafields with small trees. Lots of sun and no places to get water. I sinned again against one of the mayor cycling rules, keep eating and drinking. So 10 km before Húsavik I sat exhausted at some monument for the eternal sheep or so. After a last struggle on an unexpected climb I reach Húsavik, where I plunder the first supermarket I see.
Húsavik is famous for it's whale watching tours. I think there is a 95% chance that you see one. It also has a nice and friendly campsite. The warden tells me some interesting things about the village, and warns me for trolls and elves in the surrounding bushes. The weather is still fabulous and I take a stroll around the harbour and in the local park.
Tuesday July 11 : Húsavik - Lundur
It promises to be another easy day. Only 70 most flat kilometres, till Ásbyrgi. But first I have to make a phonecall home. There used to be nice phone cabins inside post offices. But nowadays every Icelander is extended with a portable phone in his hand, so most of the cabins are gone. I have the choice between buying an ISK 1000 phone card, or the coin phone at the local hotel. I choose the latter. Unfortunately the thing eats coins in a rate of ISK 100 per minute, so the ten minute conversation costs me as much as a phone card.
I cannot remember very much of the landscape on the Tjörnes peninsula. It was not ugly, but neither impressing. From the road long the coast, you could see in the distance the only place of Iceland on the Arctic circle, the island Grímsey. The road was slightly hilly, until it bent to the south, where it rose a little more. Just before a nice descent, there was a viewpoint over the delta over the river Jökullsá á Fjöllum. I passed Ásbyrgi, and settled myself at the campsite of Lundur.
Wednesday July 12 : Lundur - Raufarhöfn
The next two days I want to round the last peninsula named Melrakkasletta, in the top north east corner of Iceland. Tourists often skip this part of the country, because it has very little to offer. For me it is a journey in time. Eleven years before, I cycled road nr 867 that crosses the peninsula, after having camped the night before on a hill without any water. It took me then 5,5 hours, to cycle the 38 km, and I still wondered why.
This time it takes me an hour less, and I find a small stream within 50 meters of my former camping spot. What was I doing the last time ?
I turn left to the north. There is not very much here. A single farm, some small lakes, stones, mist, hills, fences,
sheep, and a road. My guidebook promised a great view over half the peninsula. I see nothing but mist.
By seven, I reach my destination, the village Raufarhöfn. My top three of dreary Icelandic villages immediately gets a new number one. Most of the houses, some of them look rather ruinous are spread along the road that passes through the village. The church is in a corner of the village hidden behind a scrap yard. There is no petrol station where I can get a cup of coffee or do some late shopping, also because the shop is closed. But worst is the very dominant fish factory in the heart of the village with a big smelly smoke-belching chimney. The camping site is nice though with a circular wall of ground that provides shelter against the wind.
Thursday July 13 : Raufarhöfn - Ásbyrgi
The Melrakkasletta peninsula is flat. Small lakes, few farms, wet grassland with stones, beaches with driftwood, a flock of geese, arctic terns on the attack, rain, mist, silence. And wind in the back so I can leave this part of the country with a pleasant speed. This day has few highlights. I see two ravens sitting on a rock making a lot of noise. Kopasker is a friendly village but not special. Quite nice is the scenery, at the place where the river delta from the Jökulsá reaches the sea. Black sands with stretched lakes. It must be paradise for seabirds. Strange is when the road makes a big curve around some factory standing in the sandur. And very wet are the last kilometres to Ásbyrgi, when rain in front strikes again.
Friday July 14 : Ásbyrgi - Mývatn
Ásbyrgi is a hoof shaped canyon with a forest inside. It is also one of the major attractions of the Jökulsár Gljúfur National Park. There are two campsites here. I choose the big one near the entrance that is luxurious for Icelandic standards. There is a washing machine, and even closets with circling hot air to dry wet clothes. I'm not very interested in the canyon. I was here before and explored it extensive then. I only climb the small "island" in the middle. My main goal this day is the Dettifoss, the biggest waterfall of Iceland. I saw it before, 11 years ago, but I then from the east shore. Now I want to see it from the west site. The road here has the name to be notorious bad. But the first part to Hljóodaklettar is better than I remember of the time I went to Hljóodaklettar. And a sign that stood near Hljóodaklettar, warning for the quality of the rest of the road is gone. In other words, until close to Dettifoss, the road is good (for a mountain track that is). Meanwhile the grey skies in the morning have turned in sunny and warm weather as I arrive at Dettifoss. I have a chat with a German cycler. He already did the difficult southern part of the road, and describes it as an "Autobahn". But one should view this in the light that he started his holiday in Egilsstadir, cycled through the interior to Askja and now hopes to get a spare tyre in Mývatn, so he can continue through the Sprengisandur to Reykjavik.
I first visit the 10-meter high but very wide Selfoss. This waterfall is a little upstream of Dettifoss. It is a nice waterfall but probably a better sight from the other shore. It is well worth the little detour though, and I don't understand why only few people visit it. Dettifoss is really impressing from this site of the river. You look frontal to a big grey thundering curtain. The third, least known waterfall Hafragilsfoss is a three kilometre walk downstream. There is a marked but not easy track to it (little yellow wooden poles). You first walk through a stone desert. Then you have to climb about forty meters down along a rope, to river level. Here starts the best part of the hike. The views in the canyon are awesome. Hafragilsfoss is only slightly smaller than Dettifoss but you have a good view on both its site and the front. After a rather awkward passing with loose stones, you climb out of the canyon at Hafragil, from where the path goes back to Dettifoss. The hike cost me about four hours, and it was unforgettable.
The feared track south is indeed much better than described. Only the last few kilometres (near road nr 1) are quite sandy. It may even be better than the official road on the east bank. My conclusion is, that this road is a better choice if you want to see Dettifoss, because you can also go to beautiful Hljóodaklettar.
I arrive around ten at the border of Mývatn national park. Near Námaskard you will find a terrain with bubbling mudpools and steaming springs. I only want take a short peak, to see what changed in the last years (fences...). But the beautiful sunset urges me to put a new film in the camera and make some pictures. Around eleven I arrive on the campsite.
Saturday July 15 : Mývatn
This day I have two options, a 6 hour hike to a gorge, or stand up late and have a quiet day. When the wind and rain beat against my tent I choose for the latter. Another beautiful sunset is the most worthwhile event of the day.
Sunday July 16 : Mývatn - Akureyri
Today's destination is Akureyri. Instead of the usual road nr 1 I travel northwest in the direction of Húsavik. After a short ride I'm in the middle of a moon landscape. Strange, near Mývatn you are in a populated area, but only few kilometres away you get the idea to be alone in the world. Well, not completely. When I want to make a picture of the area, I first have to hide a long string of toilet paper that's stuck behind a stone and waves in the wind. Another symptom of the nature suffering under a growing load of tourists, and for me one of the reasons I prefer camp sites over free camping.
Twenty kilometres south of Húsafell I leave the main road, and descent into the rivervalley. My goal, the museum farm Grenjadarstadur was already visible from the hill. The farm is very similar to Laufás. They date both from halfway the 19th century. In both cases there are five houses next to each other, with a grass roofed centre behind it. And the arrangement of the building is also comparable with rooms connected through a central corridor. A church is also part of the complexes, because both houses where inhabited by priests. There are also differences. Laufás has walls of turf, Grenjadarstadur of wood. And the ceilings in the latter are higher. But I like Laufás better.
Monday July 17 : Akureyri - Reykjavik
In the morning I pop in at the Tourist Information. To my surprise they tell me that the bus strike is over. The morning bus is already gone, but in the evening there is another one. My idea cycle the Öxnadalsheidi pass to Varmahlíd and take the bus from there. I had done this route twice before by bus. But it seems like an excellent opportunity to view this landscape with its high mountains and rugged rocks.
The first kilometres I'm mostly hindered by the heavy traffic. But when I round the bent where the road to Dalvik starts, I have straight wind in front. I try it for some kilometres. In the distance I see dark rainclouds. Near a school is as
sign with the road conditions. Wind speed 11 m/s from the south west. In other words the next 60 kilometres I must ride a road with wind force 6 in front, a steep 550 m high climb and probably lots of rain. I don't want this. I'm sure that one day, I will cycle Öxnadalsheidi but this year my holiday ends in Akureyri. I return.
I was twice before in Akureyri, but it couldn't impress me. A small town centre, one street actually. A highway close to the centre, surrounded by concrete buildings. A many houses that fell in decay. Now I see another side of the town. Downtown near the harbour is a quarter with lots of colorful houses. And the botanic garden is much more beautiful than the one in Reykjavik. I spent the rest of the day sitting in the sun on a hill near the church watching a cruise ship doing unclear things in the fjord.
Around five my bus to Reykjavik leaves. My bicycle is hung with two others on the front site of the bus. With two bicycles in its luggage compartment, the total amount is five. This will grow during the trip, so that we arrive with eleven bicycles in Reykjavik. The last two bikes are parked in the corridor between the seats because of lack of luggage space. After a wet trip we arrive around midnight in dry Reykjavik.
Tuesday July 18 : Reykjavik
Almost every time I visit Iceland, I spend the last day in Reykjavik. This time I visit Árbaer, the open-air museum. This entertaining museum lies a few kilometres south-east of the campsite, in the same valley as the first hydro power plant with its museum. In the Árbaer museum you can see about 25 houses that were saved from destruction. In every house there is a small exhibition of tools and articles of use for a certain profession. There is also an interesting slideshow of the history of Reykjavik. I read that there are plans to move the museum to the surroundings of Tjörnin lake.
After spending some hours in Árbaer I cycle to the Tjörnin lake, to the new town hall. In the basement is a huge 30 by 20 meter elevation map of Iceland. I stay at least half an hour looking for all the places that I've been, and see how they fit in the structure of the land.
The rest of the day I stay in the centre, walking and sitting in the sun. Near the harbour is a fair. In Akureyri was a circus. I pitied the Icelandic people because I thought they didn't know this kind of amusement. But I was wrong. They only don't know a zoo with exotic animals like elephants and lions. But there is a zoo with Icelandic animals near the campsite.
Wednesday July 19 : Reykjavik - Keflavik
Again a day that I have to choose between being lazy or cycle. I could visit the new Blue Lagoon near the airport. A longer tour would be to Kleifarvatn and then along the south coast. I choose laziness. To avoid the awful road to Keflavik I take the bus. When I arrive at the busstation it just left. So I make a short visit to the lighthouse of Seltjarnes, to the west of Reykjavik. Here starts a bicycle path along the sea that ends close to the bus station.
In Keflavik I take a stroll in the town centre. It has as much charm as Egilsstadir or Selfoss, which is not meant positive. On the campsite I meet a couple from the Netherlands, who crossed the country with their Landrover. They make me curious about some places were they went, like the Langanes peninsula. I prepare for getting up early, because my flight leaves at a quarter to eight.
Thursday July 20 : Keflavik - Schiphol
I can't sleep, afraid that I might miss the plane. I rise at five, and at a quarter to six I'm on the road. It rains cats and dogs. I arrive very wet at the airport. The departure hall is already full of people, with queues almost reaching the entrance doors. There is also a shortage of luggage trolleys, it takes me half an hour to find one. With seven pieces of luggage and a bicycle I need it. Also preparing the bicycle for the flight costs some time. I take a position in the queue at five minutes to seven. I'm still there 45 minutes later. Luckily my flight has a delay. Otherwise I would have had a real bad day. I even have time to visit the tax-free shops to buy the CD of Icelandic band Sigur Rós. A memory to this holiday. But of course the experience is the best memory.
© Michiel Erens, 2001