Learning to Drive Manual in 5 Days..
By Haley Ketteler
Day 1 – Stoplights are Difficult
Upon leaving RENT.is in our camper van, Emily proceeded to stall out in the car park; so, she started the car again and… killed it… and again… and again… Many attempts later and inches of progress forward, she finally escaped the parking lot, and we were on our way! She eased the van onto the road and headed to a grocery store. Tensions were high, and chocolate was needed.
After wandering around a small grocery store in Keflavik, we finally found spaghetti, chocolate (in the form of digestives), peanut butter, and yogurt: the essentials of this journey. Along with the basics, we found a loaf of bread, sandwich meat, cheese, carrots, and cranberry juice. These few items would hopefully last us till the end of our trip (spoiler alert: they surprisingly did!).
Once we made it back to the van with the spoils of our outing, we set our sights on a campsite north of Reykjavik. The route to this camping location took us around the edge of the capital city and made it possible for Emily to stall the van many more times that day. The hazard lights were a great blessing as we stalled out at almost every stoplight we came across. I could already tell that this week was going to be a great test of my sanity and Emily’s yet-to-be-found driving skills.
Once we made it north of Reykjavik, we came across our first field of Icelandic Horses. They were a much welcomed sight after such a stressful two hours. I think it is safe to say that our furry friends were just as excited to see us as we were to them. This little lady was certainly enjoying her snack or fresh greens.
Now that we were out of the city and on open road, the driving was going much better. Emily successfully drove us to our campsite for the night and she proceeded to collapse on the bed almost as soon as we had parked. After resting up for a few minutes, she pried herself off the mattress and we headed into the shelter to make dinner; it was (you guessed it!) Spaghetti Bolognese! After eating we were both in much better moods and ready for bed. It had been a long day already. We camped at the Hjalli Travel Service and the view was quite spectacular!
Our first night promised to be quite the chilly one, so we climbed in our sleeping bags, turned on the heater, and curled up for our first night in Iceland.
Day 2 – Massive Plates, Boiling Water, & Smelly Shells
Up bright and early on our first full day in Iceland, we had a breakfast of peanut butter sandwiches and water: a meal fit for a king. We chatted with the other folks that had camped at the campsite and they told us about Þingvellir National Park. On the Golden Circle, this national park is home to the boundary between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, the Silfra Fissure, and the site of the World’s first Parliament Alþingi. Emily and I had no better ideas, so we decided to make it our first official stop on our Iceland Stopover.
Being the budget travelers that we are, we agreed that postcards would be the only souvenirs we would purchase on this trip. After walking through the visitor center and purchasing the agreed upon souvenirs, Emily and I made our way along the path through a tectonic fissure down to the valley floor. Here branches of the Þingvallavatn Lake run through the rift valley. Footpaths lead throughout the valley leading to the Öxarárfoss waterfall and the Þingvellir church. If you’re looking for panoramic views, this is a great place to find them.
After exploring the national park for awhile, we jumped back in the van and continued on Route 37 to Geysir. While the waterworks in this thermal area may not have been quite the sight as some of the geysers and thermal pools in Yellowstone National Park, it was interesting to see Old Faithful’s namesake. The Strokkur geysir went off roughly every three to five minutes while we were at Geysir. While walking around the area and checking out the other pools, we were able to get many different views of the spout. Due to the low temperature, the spout was mainly steam, but it was still quite impressive!
After Geysir we headed back towards Þingvellir National Park. We had passed by a campsite earlier in the day and decided it would be a good place to stay our second night. After purchasing a camping pass and taking a quick nap, we headed north on Route 1 and drove to Borgarnes. Along the way we passed through the Hvalfjörður tunnel. Before entering the tunnel, we were not aware there was a toll, but coming out on the other end of the six-kilometer tunnel, we were surprised at the steep toll of 4000 króna.
After gassing up in Borgarnes, we headed south again and took Route 47 to bypass the tunnel. Although it takes much longer to go around the lake on Route 47, it is extremely worth it. We drove past beautiful views, fields of friendly horses, and multiple waterfalls. We even found a beach with seashells opposite a waterfall! It was only after we had picked up the shells to get a closer look that we realized they smelled absolutely terrible. By the time we had put them back on the beach, our hands smelled extremely bad. We had never seen seashells with barnacles attached, so the smell was worth the closer look!
After our detour along Route 47, we headed back to the campsite and settled in for our second night in Iceland.
Day 3 – Waterfall Chasing, Friendly Foals, & Mars Trekking
Our third day in Iceland was another overcast, slightly chilly day. We ate our breakfast of peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches and a shared Skýr yogurt, and then we headed south to meet up with Route 1. We headed east towards Seljalandsfoss waterfall. This waterfall presents a striking contrast against the bluffs along the north side of Route 1. We pulled into the car park, donned our rain jackets and camera protectors, and headed out to greet the waterfall.
As soon as we left the van, we could hear the pounding of the waterfall into the small river below it. We hiked up to the falls and then followed the path that led around behind the waterfall. Behind the falls it was extremely windy and wet. Very few people made it out without being drenched by the spray.
After this large waterfall, we followed the path along the base of the waterfall and were greeted by three other waterfalls. We decided to go all the way to the end of the path and found a smaller waterfall hidden in a cave. By carefully stepping along a path of mostly submerged stones, we were able to climb into the cave and take in this waterfalls majesty.
After our waterfall exploring, we were both drenched and hungry. Emily changed into some new pants and we hit the road again to find a good place to eat lunch. We found a charming farm nestled at the foot of some very impressive hills. Emily also took advantage of the clothes dryer in Iceland and found that it is surprisingly efficient! Her pants were dry in less than 10 minutes! If you are wondering whether she received weird looks from the other tourists, the answer is, without a doubt yes, yes she did.
After lunch, we came across a field of beautiful, friendly horses and some very cute foals. We spent almost an hour photographing and watching our new friends as they played and grazed in the meadow.
We continued along the road and came across the Skógafoss waterfall. After climbing roughly 440 stairs to the top of the waterfall, we were greeted with a beautiful view over the valley and out to the sea.
We wandered down to the coast looking for Puffins, but, unfortunately, we couldn’t find any, so we headed towards the Sólheimasandur plane crash car park. We began the two-mile trek out to the crash site and started to feel like we had found ourselves on a different planet. For miles on either side of us, the landscape was flat and sandy speckled with pebbles and stones. The only landmarks to be seen were far off in the distance, hidden by the overcast sky. Occasionally the sun would come out and light up the mountains. Without the yellow stakes marking the path, we most certainly would have been lost in about five minutes.
The skies were perfect for dramatic photos of the crash site and the sun provided the perfect lighting to creates eerie pictures of this deserted beach.
On the way back to the van, we were treated to beautiful views of the mountains off to the west. It seemed as though the view got better every time we glanced in their direction.
We camped at the Skógafoss waterfall campground our third night!
Day 4 – Ice, Ice Baby!
We had one goal our fourth day: make it to the diamond lagoon of Jökulsárlón. We drove for two and a half hours to get to the lake from Skógafoss. The drive was extremely beautiful and well worth the time.
Once we arrived at the lagoon, it took our breath away. It was unlike anything we had ever seen. We decided to hike from one end of the lagoon to the other to see all the incredible ice sculptures poised on the almost glass-like lake. Surrounding the lake were beautiful mountains and the glacier that fed the ice into the lagoon. We did not have time to walk down to the oceanside beach on the other side of the road, but this view was enough to satisfy our curiosity for one day. We probably could have stayed for a few more days and been completely happy.
Jökulsárlón was as far as we were going to make it on our Stopover in Iceland, but it was a wonderful turn around point.
We headed back to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall and spent the rest of the evening climbing around the two major waterfalls seeking great pictures in the golden sunlight. We also ended up being completely soaked since the wind decided to pick up as soon as we got behind the waterfall.
Not a bad way to spend our last night in Iceland!
Day 5 – A Fond Farewell
Our last day in Iceland was spent making our way back to Keflavík Airport. Along the way we made a few stops to kill some time. We found a friendly Puffin too!
By the time we made it to Reykjavik, we still had two hours to spend, so we headed to Ikea. Neither Emily nor I had ever been to an Ikea, so it was a fun adventure. We ended up walking out with two fish ice cube trays! Ikea is sneaky that way…
Our trip was one for the books and was extremely fun in our camper van. Ready for round two Emily?
Read more: Yearning for change
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