A five-day expedition through Iceland in a dainty manual car. Just me and my Mom.
After months of planning, sprawling a big Michelin map over the kitchen table, calculating drive times and finding F-roads, it all comes down to this. We faced our challenges, all the way from Keflavik through Snæfellsnes, pushing north past Siglufjörður to Akureyri. Adhering to arrival times, tracking our impulsive photo stops, pronouncing those long names, swatting flies from our faces, watching for sheep, keeping warm and spending less than $100 for dinner.
My eyes endlessly scanning a wild, Nordic landscape, ears absorbing therapeutic sounds of birds and waterfalls – this is what months of planning were all about.
Day 1, July 6:
Functioning on seven hours of sleep in two nights, I resorted to my reserve energy supply and allowed my overtired state of mind to elevate my aesthetic experience in a strange, new environment.
We came ready to brace Iceland’s wild, subarctic elements with our windbreakers, hats and thermal underwear. The sleep masks tucked away in our purses was our only source of darkness for four nights amidst the absence of nightfall. Our economical sensibilities kicked in after months of saving. The shock of high prices certainly took our breaths away as much as the landscape. And our cameras were ready and fully-charged. We departed Keflavik airport at 11 am in a dinky little rental that could hardly reverse. Today’s destination – Snæfellsnes.
Driving past Reykjavik, we could already see the mountains ahead, contoured in the sky. Narrow streams of glacial water trickled down between the crags to the inlets below.
Mom employed some geology expertise from university to analyze these strange formations surrounding us. She said that scattered rock fragments had accumulated over the years from weathering or erosion. Eventually, these rocks, known as scree, formed a smooth, concave land formation called talus deposits.
After fiddling with the Bluetooth settings, I connected to Spotify to play my Icelandic curated playlist. We turned left on route 54 to circumnavigate Snæfellsnes, a narrow peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean.
The car zipped past flocks of foraging sheep, sometimes dangerously close to the roadside. As seen in every travel guide, clusters of wild horses grazing in front of rolling hills materialized as perfect pictures from outside our window.
After another hour of driving, we inched closer to the mighty glacier of Snæfellsjökull, initially spotted from our plane during landing.
For literature buffs, the glacier alluded to Jules Verne’s gateway to the centre of the earth. Rumours of supernatural beings also attracted pilgrims and travellers to explore this enigmatic mountain.
My Mom pulled the car over directly south of Snæfellsjökull, and we followed the hiking trail until we reached Djúpalónssandur – a towering cliff, jagged rocks and pebbles all perched precariously over a black sand beach. The wind was fairly gentle, carrying the sounds of waves thrashing and birds cackling. I presumed that this kind of cliffside real estate market was infinitely more competitive than Toronto’s.
We hoped to check in by 6 pm, and timing was getting tight. After five hours into our trip, the car reached the very tip of Snæfellsnes. Along the way, a red-roofed church perched on a hill caught our eye. My Mom pressed the brakes and turned right to drive up the gravel road.
Serving the nearby villages of Hellissandur and Rif, Ingjaldshóll has hosted some big names in history. Heard of Christopher Columbus? According to a plaque outside the door, Columbus shacked up here once in the winter of 1477-78. Ingjaldshóll also happens to be the world’s oldest concrete church.
Behind the church lay two symmetrical memorial stones dedicated to the Icelandic poet and scientist Eggert Ólafsson and his wife. The pair had close personal ties to Ingjaldshóll, but sadly, they drowned in a storm in 1798 upon returning from the Westfjords. The stones were a tribute to lovers lost at sea
Our next stop was Ólafsvik, a fishing town situated on Snæfellesnes’ northern shoreline. According to my guide book, Ólafsvik is Iceland’s oldest established trading town and the most productive fishing hub on Snæfellsnes. A waterfall hugged the town’s southern border with a stream flowing all the way down towards the ocean. As we walked towards it, a family watched us from their front porch.
Our stomachs started growling as dinnertime approached. In the meantime, we stared at the winding road ahead, climbing uphill (with all the pep this car could handle) and barreling downhill.
Meanwhile, I was confusedly checking Google Maps to find Kirkjufell, the famous cone-shaped feature of Snæfellsne supposedly a kilometre away. And then, a lone mountain emerged from around the bend, separate and taller than the others, curving towards the sky in both directions and plateauing on top. Without hesitation, my Mom pulled over to a viewing spot. It was that moment when I saw its shadow from the north side, that I realized this was Kirkjufell.
Visitors also call Kirkjufell “Church Mountain” due to its resemblance to a church steeple. I also figured that lots of Game of Thrones tourists likely enjoyed Photoshopping Jon Snow’s face in the foreground just for fun.
We left Kirkjufell, and arrived at our guesthouse by 5 pm. An isolated wooden chalet dotting the mossy countryside, it had an expansive front deck, a sweeping view, and very fresh trout.
We ate almost everything on our plate, even the salad – a feat I could hardly accomplish – while drinking two bottles each of Einstök ale.
Our full stomachs warranted a post-dinner stroll until our arms tired from swatting flies. It was 10 pm and the sun shone as brightly as 6 pm back home. The feeling was unorthodox – wearing sunglasses outdoors so close to midnight.
Our jet-lagged selves decided to wait another time to see the midnight sun. We tucked into bed around 11, bidding goodnight and goodbye to nightfall for the next four days.