Check! The word we chanted in one voice during our travel through Iceland. The list of things we wanted to do and see was long and we were realistic enough to know that we needed some luck to check off some of our wishes.
We arrived in cold pouring rain and the first thing we thought was: “How are we going to survive three whole weeks in a camper van?” But we didn’t bring all those layers of clothes for nothing so it became time we adapted to the situation and went for an evening walk to one of the typical Icelandic churches. Check!
Almost as an award the weather cleared in the morning and we had some beautiful sunny days in The South checking off not only the common touristic places but also puffins and whales along the shore. Heading to The East the temperature dropped and the wind power increased. Whilst driving all kinds of questions arose: How do the children go to school, how does the school system work, and what about the reindeer in the eastern part of the country? With free WiFi it was easy to find the answers in Wikipedia. It appeared that reindeer withdraw to higher places in the summer. So, driving in the middle of nowhere on top of the earth to the Kárahnjúkavirkjun dam we sighed: “A characteristic landscape for reindeer.” A few kilometers further on the road a herd of at least sixty animals passed by. Check!
Up North playing cards in the evening the best circumstances to see The Northern Lights came up in the conversation. Finding via Google the aurora forecast on vedur.is telling us that the chances would be good… tonight. We stayed up and walked away from the campsite and city lights. Unfortunately, a bright full moon showed up. But also… a large dark cloud. And then when the moon was fully covered an unimaginable light show began. Making us delighted and silent at the same time. Two more nights we were able to experience this almost unreal phenomenon. Check!
Whale watching was high on our list. Preferentially on a RIB boat. The conditions, however, were not good. It was a typical Icelandic brella-day. On the previous tour no whales were spotted and the sea was rough by the stormy winds. We decided to go anyway, knowing there would be a free second chance. We loved the bumpy ride as if it was a very long roller coaster attraction in an amusement park. No seasickness pills needed! Two days later we sailed out on a small oak boat for our second attempt. This time we were very lucky. Four Humpback Whales were in the area and because the next tour was canceled we could spent an extra hour with these gentle giants. Check!
Driving to the Westfjords we spotted Northern Bottlenose Whales. We fortunately had the opportunity to follow a small road to the rocky beach and watched them play and eventually move on.
The West was a great driving experience with long gravel roads introduced by ‘malbik endar’ and regularly full of potholes. We saw a gyrfalcon but no arctic fox. But better none than a dead one as friends of ours came across. From the shore of the peninsula we watched a Killer Whale. Keeping us extremely fascinated by swimming in circles all the time without showing more of itself than its fins. Check!
We ended our trip in the Reykjavík area. We shopped for souvenirs and because we are the proud owners of Icelandic horses we would like to buy an Icelandic woolen blanket with horses on it. Check!
On our last day we joined a ‘rétt’, the gathering and sorting of the sheep. One happy family tradition! Check! Hundreds of sheep packed together instead of staring at us in groups of three (Wanna know why? Google it!) along the road or preferably standing on an ‘einbreið brú’ [single lane bridge]. Always aware of sheep being around, it were dogs we almost ran into.
Time passed quickly. At each place we visited we hiked to breathe the atmosphere and nature and it made the step counters on our mobile phones going mad. We enjoyed the workout and the adventurous steep and slippery trails of rocks or wooden steps, bringing us to places even more beautiful than the ones mentioned in the travel guide (e.g. Selfoss 1.5 km upstream Dettifoss). Wearing hoods and/or rain suits, we didn’t care about the weather. Complaining makes no sense. Each Icelander waves misfortune away by saying: “Welcome to Iceland!”
Nature protection appeared to have high priority. The surroundings were clean and there were toilets or at least firmly secured dixies at even the utmost desolated places. We smilingly referred to the latter ones as Dixieland Iceland. Warning signs with texts as: next hospital is 62 kilometers away, no refund if you die, and we will sell children to trolls and keep the profit, made us laugh.
The times we went out for dinner we chose to eat traditional recipes, grilled leg of lamb, fish stew and yes… Hákarl [fermented shark meat] and ‘Brennivín’ [distilled beverage]. Check! We didn’t suffer the disgust, unlike several others, by the smell and/or taste of the meat. Probably because it reminded us of raw salted herring we are used to eat in our home country. The liquor was almost harder to swallow. When a bowl of fish soup fell over and soaked one of our pants the waiter said: “You will smell like shellfish, mate!” A sentence that will last in the family for a long time…
We were very pleased with our choice to rent a camper van. It made it possible to travel where and when we wanted. Every day we checked the website SafeTravel to check if our travel plans needed to be changed. Reading news messages about unfortunate situations that were meant to prevent others from harm and irreversible wrong decisions.
Camping itself was also a great adventure. Lots of camping space, but limited facilities. Waiting in line for the toilets or showers. Storm, torrential rain and low temperatures making you wish to camp as close as possible to the service buildings. When our heater failed, it became a more and more polar expedition and still we were better off than the ones camping in small tents. The heater could be repaired on a Sunday morning at the private address of a service contact and kept mysteriously working… till our last weekend.
Speaking about the weather, it is a saying in Iceland: If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes. We experienced it all. Going along with beautiful pictures of cloudy skies with the sun peeking through and just lighting and coloring up a specific place. Lots and lots of rainbows. The soft blowing of the wind swelling to a roaring storm and then silence again as if someone turned off the fan. Black clouds sailing in, pouring rain for several minutes, and the raincoat could be taken off again.
In fact all we wanted was a lifetime experience. Check!
Will we return? To discover more of Iceland and check off more of our remaining list, like the arctic fox, the magnificent Glýmur waterfall that only can be reached by a tree log over the river and that was too dangerous to attempt this season, and many, many more? The answer is: YES! CHECK!
Read more: Hit the road in Iceland
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