A land of ice and fire? Of monsters and men? Or of land, fog, the occasional geyser and locally distilled schnapps with more acceleration than the best 4×4 Off-road vehicle. Or story is a Björk song of love and laughter, with a gravel kernel of good advice and helpful tips. Enjoy,
What and how you can get for free
Everybody knows that Iceland is pretty expensive, the only ones who might have disagreed where two lovely acquaintances from Switzerland whom we met at Selfoss pool (a very special little one in the middle of the fields near Vopnafjörður) who said that prices are almost the same as in their home country. But we managed to come across a few free things – for example when we tanked at Olis or OB, Julian always went for the included free coffee. What made it even better, he could refill it – not at all common practice in Estonia. Coffee wasn’t the best but it did its work. Aaaand that’s about it. Okay, Epp once asked for hot water to make her own tea.
For free things you might have to learn to speak Icelandic – locals are very flattered when somebody learns their language and willing to make special bargains because of that – we have proof – we met a German girl who managed to get free entrance to the swimming facilities for herself and two of her friends because she spoke Icelandic.
We took with us from home a few packs of dry meals and porridge material for 9 portions. The latter we did not touch once. Probably it was too healthy comparing to the things we ate – turbo noodles, soups, canned beans, large amounts of licorice and soda drinks. The kitchen box had everything we needed – pots in different sizes, bowls, plates, drinking cups for two and cutlery + cutting boards and knives and an extra gas which we had to put into use on our last days and which by the way was more effective on heating stuff up. At first Epp was concerned how to light the fire because she didn’t want Julian to burn his eyebrows nor his massive hair but it turned out to be not so scary.
About water – swimming in it and drinking it
Best swimming spot – our favorite was the hot spring pool Grettislaug near Drangey island where the owner of the place came to check up on us and made a morbid joke about boiling human meat and where we met one Aussie and a LA girl, who claimed that even for her – the biggest water snob of them all – Icelandic drinking water is the best she has ever had. We have to agree on that. Coming from the land of almost flat landscape Estonia, where the water is of course drinkable, we felt an instant difference between our tap water at home and the wonderful Iceland water.
As Steinar said at the car pick up he would be personally offended if we would buy any water from shops. We took it seriously and not once bought bottled water and instead we had a few of our most entertaining moments at the trip when we gathered drinking water from Seljalandsfoss stream, then filled up our water tank at Skógafoss (while getting some interested stares from senior tourists) and once used a water hose next to Glaumbaer museum in Northern Iceland. It felt wonderful and so down to earth right to collect our own drinking water as it was done long time ago (ignore the water hose part) when people didn’t have to worry about polluted water. In that sense, Iceland is a treasure.
So yes, coming back to the car, there is a big water tank. When planning the trip we were a bit worried if there is one and when we saw it we thought if it is enough for the trip (8 days). We cooked almost every day, drank a lot of this tasty water on its own and cleaned the dishes with minimal water and we had to fill it up only once. And yes, we had fun watching a few times how fellow explorers of Iceland bought bottled water. Steinar, it seems that you have some more explaining to do.
How to keep your clothes dry
One thing what we hadn’t come across before in our home country, in swimming pool locker rooms to be more exact, was the spinner – a marvellous invention what helps you dry your swimwear in seconds and you don’t need to worry about wet clothes piling up in your van. Epp gave it two spins to get her swimming suit almost to a dry state, maybe she should have tried a third spin for seeing if it makes the suit completely dry. Well, next time. And there will be a next time.
When there were no spinners available (not every place had them unfortunately (we grew so big fans of them) we used a trick thought by Epp’s mother – crumble up some newspaper and “pack” your wet clothes inside it. paper will absorb most of the water from clothes. We used the same trick for drying up Julian’s wet shoes – this time we just stuffed the shoes with crumbled newspaper. It worked wonders.
As this was our first longer camping trip we thought it is a good idea to invest in microfiber towels. It was a good decision – they dried up so quickly (with a few anomalies when our towels behaved weird). The weather was as beautiful as ever – we got sun, strong rain and wind and clouds – almost the whole package (leaving out snow), so we did not have many opportunities to dry our clothes outside. Fortunately our dear microfiber towels were capable of drying up also in the van.
We also had rain coats with us – Epp 1, Julian 3 (because you never know how many rain coats a man needs during his travels, right?) including a pink one which received a few compliments from fellow explorers (who by the way were all so nice and friendly). Rain coats were very handy near the waterfalls (especially when going in the back of Seljalandsfoss) and on the rainy days when keeping yourself warm and dry was one of the pillars of keeping up a good mood.
Newspapers and reading them first when going somewhere
Coming back to newspapers – besides being handy when drying clothes they are a great source of useful information (Captain Obvious confirms). After having an adventurous and nerve racking drive to Seyðisfjörður over a mountain with 10% upturns-downfalls and snowy landscapes and mountain tops and then having a short walk and a warm meal we prepared at a park bench and then marking it on our “Big Map of Iceland” as the cutest town of them all and then having another nerve racking drive back to Egilsstaðir and then taking the newspaper what we had grabbed already when arriving to Reykjavik from a free newspaper stand and then reading a page long article about Seyðisfjörður and its places of interest, it’s best Sushi in the world and it’s art gallery and hiking trail, we felt a bit silly only learning about it after we had a seemingly superficial visit to Seyðisfjörður. To learn from our mishap – always study the free literature handed out to tourists before you go exploring, you might get some really nice tips and knowledge. Luckily it only happened twice (yes, twice.). We kind of drove past the north-east part of Iceland and missed some places of interest.
One of the highlights of our trip was whale watching. We drove to Dalvik, had two glasses of locally brewed beer Kaldi, then met with the group at Dalvik Whale Watching center and put on funny blue Smurf suits and sailed to the Eyjafjörður bay where we didn’t see any whales. Our guide decided to take us further to the south where five whales were spotted. We started our trip with a note that the morning group had not seen any whales and we might have no luck either. So we weren’t feeling very optimistic. But! As we sailed further down to the south, very close to Akureyri we saw them. To be exact we saw the whale tales, backs and puffing water steam caused by their breathing. So cool! Most of the group had expensive cameras with them to capture the best moments. We had our Samsung Galaxy A5 what was able to make okayish pictures, so we didn’t focus that much on taking photos but rather making mental documentation of what we saw.
Our way back to Dalvik was windy (Epp thinks it might have been 10m/s), the waves were 1–1,5m high, water was splashing over the railing and our boat was swinging in slightly frightening angle and Julian was not feeling good about it and Epp kept quiet because it is not nice to giggle about that. Most of the blue suits were wet by the time we arrived to the port but we were lucky to sit in the back of the boat were water had little access. Instead of three hours we got a four and a half hour trip. Unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to do any fishing due to weather conditions but in general it was the most adventurous one out of our three paid activities (we also went horseback riding and had a look at the crater of Kerið).
About the camper van
We really appreciated the super warm sleeping bags. With woolen socks and long underwear it was so nice and cozy to cuddle up in our sleeping bags and listen to the rain trembling on top of the car.
Wi-Fi on board was the best thing – every time we had a question – we could turn to Wikipedia. We learned about the population, demographics, agriculture, education system, swimming culture, expat community, religion, crime and wool monopoly of Iceland to name a few.
We spent our last day in Reykjavik and went for a free walking tour with Bjarni and as we were so well-read (read: well-googled) we had the opportunity to enlighten the whole group with our knowledge how many Polish, Lithuanians and Germans lived in Iceland in 2016. The walking tour itself was the best we had had so far – built up as a semi stand-up comedy with good advice and an Icelandic song performance we couldn’t have been luckier to get this kind on an introduction to Reykjavik.
At some point the Wi-Fi connection seemed to be down and we thought that we had already used up the 5 gigabytes and we couldn’t log in with the provided credentials but then Epp the navigator, technician and DJ figured out that we only need to “forget” the Wi-Fi and then connect again. Voila! The day was saved.
Oh, one more thing. We forgot to return the car keys on our last day and thought we would have to take a 30 euro taxi ride to the car drop off point. Luckily, Rent.is peeps were the best in the world and said that one of their guys happens to be in the city center and Julian had a chance to return the keys. Thank you again!
In total we spent 7 nights in our camper van. The first evening after coming from Hjálparfoss where it was super windy (otherwise we would have stayed there) we found a spot near a petrol station in some parking lot. At that time we did not know that it is not allowed to camp in city borders (but I guess we weren’t actually in city borders, I think..). Coming nights we always found a spot to stay, where there were signs up saying that overnighting is forbidden, we continued looking. Only once we had a serious temptation to stay at a forbidden viewing point – it had the most magnificent view with sunset and the queen of Iceland mountains – Herðubreið, but we didn’t want to be the douche bag tourists, acting like we own the place so we went on and found another spot. Once, in the late evening, after using our gas cooker as a lighter for cigarettes, we forgot it behind at a viewing point. We only realized it after been driving a few minutes but nevertheless we were so worried that somebody will take it (there was almost no traffic and Iceland crime rate is one of the lowest in the world), when we arrived back at the parking lot, we found our dear gas cooker untouched and enjoying the view on mountains. Huh! That was close! (Or was it really? )
About sleeping itself
We slept like babies in our van. It might have been the massive intake of stunning views and being on the road and stopping at interesting sights the whole day or the red wine or the peculiar Icelandic spirits (looking at Julian drinking them with a grim face, was indeed something) what made us fall asleep momentarily. The mattress was so soft, the sleeping bags so warm, the warmth generated by the heater for the time we changed clothes was so comfortable and the cold air that came after turning off the heater, put us to sleep very quickly. In mornings we opened up the side door and had a look at the bays, mountains, vast empty moonlike landscapes – wherever we had spent the night this time. It sounds like a description of some sort of a spa experience – but it was truly awesome. On a serious note – there is a ventilation hole in the ceiling so if somebody thought that our sleep came so fast because of having not enough fresh air, then noooo.
What surprised us (at least Epp) the most was that Iceland used to be covered with forests 40% and now only 1% remains and this is all because human activity and a little help from volcanoes. It was heartwarming to see new man planted trees in neat rows every once in a while and that current habitants are taking afforestation seriously.
What we want to do next time
Snorkeling, whale watching again, seal watching and Westfjords!
Read more: Westfjords Travel Guide
Must have links
• Sundlaugar.is Overview of all public swimming pools and hot springs in the various regions.
Word of warning: Pools could be closed, better check their respective websites (link found in this one) and/or call before heading there. bring your own towel and bathing suit, or else pay crazy money. people did not use flip flops in most of the times, so these are not needed seemingly.
• Olís If you end up with the same company as we did, you wanna tank at Olís to save the little money that you can!
Word of notice: especially in the scarce East, there are fewer OLIS petrol stations, but others that cost roughly the same. In general you should fill up at least every 3rd time you see a petrol station. Also, those are the places where you wanna go to the toilet
• Grapevine Just cool, really
• Freewalking Tour A must, when in Reykjavik
• Kaffi Vínyl Cool and vegan and hip and almost affordable (not)
• Bókin bookshop Old vinyls, old books in all sorts of languages and a cool shopkeeper. Does not have a link
Things to bring that you might not think about:
• A lighter or matches. There will be times when it is too windy for the gas cooker to ignite itself.
• A CD/USB Stick with an audio book, ideally one that features Icelandic sagas.
• Salt/pepper/other spices (if you’ll use your gas cooker, it could be essential)
• Hooks and rope (the car could have some small holes inside in the sleeping area walls on which you can attach the hooks and ropes to dry your clothes more effectively.
• A travel mug. You most likely get free coffee at the partner petrol station OLIS when fueling up, so with a travel cup you can pour yourself more coffee!
• A water bottle to collect water from beautiful waterfalls
• Drivers licence (well, one of us forgot them at home)
• Rubber boots, long rain coat to cover also most part of your legs; two pairs of woolen socks, winter coat, hiking boots if you are doing actual hiking, if not, semi hiking boots will do as well.
That’s all from us, thank you Iceland and your people. Until next time!
Read more: The Ring road in a camper
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