A five-day expedition through Iceland’s northwest in a dainty manual car to escape the summer heat. Just me and my mom.
After months of planning with a table-wide Michelin map and figuring out drive times and F-roads, it all comes down to this. From Keflavik through Snæfellsnes and pushing north past Siglufjörður to Akureyri and back, we faced several unique challenges: adhering to arrival times, timing our impulsive photo stops, pronouncing names, swatting flies from our faces, trying not to run over sheep, keeping warm and paying less than $100 for dinner.
Overall, my photos show the essence of what these months of planning were all about.
Day 1, July 6:
Functioning on only seven hours of sleep in two nights, I resort to my reserve supply of energy and allow my overtired state of mind to elevate my aesthetic experience in a strange, new environment.
We come armed to brace the subarctic elements with our windbreakers, hats and thermal underwear. The sleep masks tucked away in our purses will bring us darkness for the next four days amidst the absence of nightfall. Our economical sensibilities kick in after months of saving. The shock of high prices would certainly take our breaths away as much as the landscape. To capture the scenery, our cameras are ready and fully-charged. We depart Keflavik airport at roughly 11 am in a dinky little car, that can barely reverse. Today’s destination is the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
We could already see unique land formations as we veer past Reykjavik into Borgarnes. In between crags and fjords, narrow streams trickle down to the inlets below.
My mom’s university years in studying geology come back in full swing. She says that scattered rock fragments accumulate over the years as a result of weathering or erosion. These rocks are known as scree, thus forming a smooth, concave land formation called talus deposits.
I start playing my Icelandic curated playlist as we turn left on route 54 to circumnavigate Snæfellsnes, a narrow peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean.
Within every kilometre, there are sheep grazing, often dangerously close to the roadside. Clusters of wild horses watching us with rolling hills in the background is a travel guide photo coming to life.
After another hour of driving, we inch closer to the mighty glacier of Snæfellsjökull, initially spotted from our plane during landing.
Literature fans would instantly recall this mountain as Jules Verne’s gateway to the centre of the earth. Rumours of supernatural beings also attract pilgrims and travellers here to this day.
A towering cliff, jagged rocks and pebbles all perched precariously over a black sand beach, catch our attention. We park tiny the Nissan and hike to this spot under the bright sun. The wind is fairly gentle, and the air fills with the sounds of cackling birds. Cliffside real estate must be competitive here.
We’re tight for time before our anticipated check-in of 6 pm. Our car finally encircles the very tip of Snæfellsnes and its snow-capped glacier. Along the way, a red-roofed church perched on a hill catches our eye. My mom presses the brakes and veers right to get a closer look.
Serving the nearby villages of Hellissandur and Rif, Ingjaldshóll has hosted some big names in history. Heard of Christopher Columbus? The church’s info board states that Columbus once shacked up here in the winter of 1477-78. Ingjaldshóll is also the world’s oldest concrete church.
Behind the church lies two symmetrical memorial stones dedicated to the Icelandic poet and scientist Eggert Ólafsson and his wife. The pair had close ties to Ingjaldshóll but sadly drowned in a storm in 1798 upon returning from the Westfjords.
Our own saga continues as we chug along. We stop again in Ólafsvik, a fishing town situated on the peninsula’s north coast. According to my guide book, Ólafsvik is Iceland’s oldest established trading town and the most productive fishing hub on Snæfellsnes. Embracing the town’s southern border is a waterfall and a stream that trickles to the ocean.
Our stomachs start growling as it approaches dinnertime. In the meantime, we focus on the winding road, climbing uphill (with all the pep our car had) and barreling downhill.
All of a sudden, the most dramatic scenery of the day materializes from around the bend: a lone mountain, separate and taller than the others, curving towards the sky in both directions and plateauing on top. As we descend towards it, my mom pulls over to a viewing spot on the other side. Confused, I check Google Maps again for Kirkjufell, the famous cone-shaped mountain of Snæfellsnes, which is supposedly right beside us. But as I look back from a different angle, I see it.
Kirkjufell is also known as “Church Mountain,” because it could resemble a church steeple. I think many visitors would also take a picture then Photoshop Jon Snow’s face in the foreground.
At last, we find our guesthouse after traversing 2 km on a gravel road. An isolated wooden chalet dotting the mossy countryside, it boasts an expansive front deck and fresh trout.
We inhale nearly everything, even the salad and potatoes and polish off two bottles each of Einstök ale. The trout was fresh, delicious and worth the exorbitant prices. What surprises me most is the feta – basked in herbs and less salty than feta from back home.
We venture for a post-dinner stroll until our arms tire out from swatting black flies. The time is 10 pm, and the sun shines just as it would in Toronto at 6 pm. Fairly close to midnight, and I am still wearing sunglasses.
Our jet-lagged selves would have to wait another time to see a midnight sun. We turn in around 11, ready to say goodbye to nightfall for another four days.