Day 2, July 7:
Being naturally inclined to exploring the less-traveled routes, we chose to veer off the Ring Road and go north.
During the initial planning stages, we were allured by pictures of the Westfjords but ultimately bypassed it for timing purposes. Our destination was Akureyri via the newly advertised Arctic Coast Way.
I pulled off my sleep mask at 6:30 am. I had finally succumbed to at least six hours of sleep. The sunlight never left us and brimmed brighter from the early morning hours.
At breakfast, I filled my stomach with toast, assortments of cheese, vegetables, a croissant and a fried egg with a side bowl of skyr. At 8 am, my Mom shifted gears and chugged our tiny car slowly down the gravel road, looking for the highway.
A herd of sheep paused and surveyed us from the roadside, looking like passersby on the street watching a Ferrari zip past. They posed but didn’t smile for the camera.
We turned left onto the paved highway going east along Snæfellsnes. Then came the repeated and petulant squawks from the GPS echoing the vehicle. “Recalculating.” “Recalculating.” We realized that the car was heading north instead to Stykkishólmur. After my Mom pulled over twice, I realized that our intended route 54, was an extension of that same gravel road. Something our insurance plan wouldn’t particularly like.
Instead, my Mom continued to Stykkishólmur to gas up, double back and continue south to cross inland. This route took us back to Borgarnes before we veered up to Akureyri. Although our little Nissan could handle gravel, we felt uneasy about driving at reduced speed and bumping through on a half tank.
We took a quick stroll through Stykkishólmur before gassing up. Vibrant colourful houses scattered were about, some perched on round hilltops. The main street that led to the harbour stretched over water towards an island protruding 200 feet from the shore with a lighthouse resting on top. The place reminded me of a small town in Newfoundland.
The community was one of the first settled in Iceland, a popular fishing hub particularly for scallops and halibut and a mythological landmark. In Stykkishólmur the famous Erbyggja Saga recounted the life of Snorri Þógrímsson, a Viking priest and his eventual conversion to Christianity.
My Mom filled the gas tank and hurtled the Nissan towards route 56 to the other side of Snæfellesnes. A striking characteristic of Iceland – such a narrow crossing revealed spectacles around each bend.
After passing Borgarnes, Blönduós was our next stop. From the passenger side, I watched the terrain morph around us, blending itself into a barren Wild West landscape and an extraterrestrial habitat. Consequently, we settled on our first impulse stop of the a day – a chain of craters.
Three of them stood in sequence from shortest to tallest. We hiked up Gràbrók, the middle one that I guessed was 100 feet high. It boasted a ripe old age of at least 3400 and its origins derived from a fissure eruption (in lay terms – a volcanic eruption sans explosion). The area now remained protected from development.
I followed the footpath and catch my breath from five flights of stairs, my Mom in tow. I firmly planted my boots against the path to withstand vigorous gusts of winds, strengthening by every metre I climbed. My wind-sensitive ears thanked me for bringing my hat.
We paused for photos, holding our cameras steady and watching either side for tourists. I decided it was fitting to attempt floral aesthetic with my DSLR.
Adhering to our schedule, we pushed onwards to Blönduós, hoping to save time to explore its local attractions Our travel guide dismissed the small town as lacking in magnetism, save for its Textile Museum (which admittedly enticed curious lovers of material history like myself). At this moment, the busiest spot in Blönduós was the gas station and restaurant.
We endured the restroom and hot dog queues (for an unmemorable hot dog), filled up and scanned our map. After a long debate, we gave the Textile Museum a miss in anticipation for Hofsós, our next stop. I had my swimming trunks in the bag, hoping for a warm dip in their new, cliffside pool.
I watched the sun disappear and thick clouds cover the sky the further north we travelled. The outside temperature has plummeted by 8 degrees. Light rain began to sprinkle the windshield.
Driving at reduced speed, we pursued a narrow road, zigzagging through green hills and valleys. It traced through the earth like a grey pencil – I could see it for kilometres from high up above. The vehicles ahead looked like bugs crawling on the pavement.
Windshield visibility decreased, due to the car’s poor quality of wipers. At this point, we couldn’t tell the difference between raindrops and the remnants of unlucky flies.
Around 4 pm we approached Hofsós. Tinier than Blönduós, this place hugs a small peninsula, almost entirely enclosed by a river. As I stepped outside, I heard nothing but the sounds of rushing water.
It was July, yet I found myself layered in a thermal shirt, a windbreaker and a raincoat, unable to shake off a chill. My head was covered by both a hat and a hood, with no strand of hair poking out. Of course, blowing rain and icy wind wasn’t our idea for a pool day.
After Hofsós, our most daunting drive awaited us along Skagafjörður bay to the very top, before stopping one last time in Siglufjörður. Thankfully, the rain halted, allowing us to see snow-capped peaks, cliffs and shrouding mist over the Norwegian Sea. We were only 40 km away from the Arctic Circle.
The road was paved but occasionally giving way to gravel with little to no warning. Adding to my anxieties were landslide warning signs posted around each bend, with rocks and boulders leering above us on the mountainside. It looked as though someone held them up with firm grip on invisible strings.
With the absence of guard rails, the drive was both dazzling and dizzying. I was grateful our direction designated us to the road’s inner side.
Siglufjörður was nestled within a narrow fjord, the northernmost municipality on Iceland’s mainland. It was like a ski town burrowed within the Alps or the Rockies, cloaked by low-lying clouds.
The town was was filled with activities, but we didn’t have the time. Upon a quick stroll, we discovered the Folk Music Centre, where we could hear the chiming of old tunes and nursery rhymes. Its annual Folk Music Festival was around this time of year. And fittingly for a settlement with a bustling harbour, there was a museum for herrings.
My Mom was determined to find one particular place, hidden from the guidebooks. I followed her, until she stopped in front of a concrete, two-storey apartment building and snapped pictures from across the street. I wondered if locals were confused as to how such a plain structure could serve any interest to us. Her mission was to locate the police station from the Netflix show Trapped, which was filmed in Siglufjörður. Unfortunately, she wasn’t convinced that she got the right building.
We started chasing time on our final leg of the journey. Leaving Siglufjörður, we zipped right through the inside of a mountain through dimly-lit tunnels. When the road got too narrow for both lanes, lucky for us, oncoming traffic had to yield.
Outside Siglufjörður, my Mom stopped the car briefly. We saw a bird with a long, thin beak perched on a sign, listening to its sharp, high-pitched squeak. My Dad guessed it was an avocet when I sent him a picture.
Our tour around the Arctic Coast Way concluded as the car turned south along the inlet of Eyjafjörður. By 6:30 p.m., we found our destination – a guesthouse about 10 kilometres north of Akureyri. Similar to the previous night, the place was a lone chalet surrounded by wilderness.
Beside the chalet was a schoolhouse sitting right on the same property, decked with murals of mythological beings and other imaginative creatures. Artwork and trinkets for sale were on display in the foyer and decking the hallways. There was a hot tub, a tree swing, a telescope for birdwatchers and a farm with at least 60 horses.
We checked in on time before our dinner reservations. My Mom ordered catfish as I indulged in some fresh ravioli. However, the purée vegetable soup appetizer was our highlight of the meal. More importantly, it was time to cap off the evening with a beer, once again.
We walked towards the farm and safely approached its photogenic equines. They were roughly the same size but varied in colour – from white, to shades of brown and black. I envied their soft manes and how the wind ruffled their shaggy front mops. One curious horse was close enough to the fence for a perfect close up. Eventually, the pesky black flies re-emerged and chased us back inside.
I took a hot shower to shake off a persistent chill. Wrapped in a big housecoat and a book in tow, I met my Mom in the living room.
The time was 11 pm. Looks like we’d be needing our sleep masks again.