I know that it’s been almost 5 months since I headed to Iceland, but, I think it’s time I took my time to start writing about my experience. I’ve been putting it off for many different reasons, but that’s not what matters.
A lot of people ask me, “Why Iceland?” I’m not going to lie, it was complete impulse. I had known for a while that Iceland was a place I wanted to go eventually, but ha not planned on it being any time soon. So early February, my dad asks me what I’m doing for spring break, to which I reply, “I don’t know. *Paused for a minute or two* I think I’m going to go to Iceland.” And just like that, without any prior planning, I went and purchased my plane tickets and started to contemplate about what it was I was about to embark on. Thinking back on it now, I think that’s one of my proudest moments I’ve been of myself. I just went for it and assumed it would work out. Paulo Coelho quotes, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” And I truly believe that ideology.
Anyways, at like 3am on March 14th, me and a friend drove to the Indianapolis airport from Louisville. Thanks again Alexis! I was flying from Indianapolis to Newark, NJ, and then to Boston, MA where I would catch my flight to Iceland. All my flights went well and I got to Boston with no problems.
When I got to Boston, I had a couple hours before the desk to get my ticket was even open. There was an elderly Icelandic lady sitting a few seats down from me and I talked with her up until the counter was open. Talked a lot about the fact that I was hitch hiking in March and she kept telling me how all the roads east of Höfn were going to be shut down. My general response was, “Oh well. Guess I’ll find out.”
Got to my terminal and started talking with a girl from Reno named Savannah. Strikingly, we had the exact same flights, both there and back, so for the next couple hours, we hung out in the small airport terminal and got to know each other.
The flight from Boston to Keflavík was a four hour flight and was an overnight flight. The week prior to leaving, I had been telling friends that if I saw the Northern Lights, I would freak out like a small child at Disney World for the first time; those were my exact words to be honest. It was something I have always wanted to see. My flight left out around 9pm, and about an hour into the flight, it started. I thought I was dreaming or tripping or something. There was no way. I’m looking out my window, I have to always sit in the window seat, and there they are. Outside my window, over the wing, I can see the Northern Lights. At first I wasn’t positive whether it was them, or just the plane lights reflecting off clouds or something, but after a few minutes, I was sure. They were there and I was basking in their beauty from a plane in the sky. For the first thirty minutes or so, they were pretty dim, but definitely visible. After a while, however, they started dancing and moving along the wing in a very magical sensation. At this point, I’ve been staring, eyes wide open, face pressed against the window, out my little double paned window, for over an hour and had no intentions or straying my eyes any time soon. I was genuinely losing my shit in the most positively joyous way possible. I kept frantically trying to tell the people around me that the Northern Lights were outside, but they were either: asleep, or didn’t care at all. That saddened me a little, but I wasn’t going to let their lack of interest keep me from having a great time watching lights by myself. So for the next hour or so, I continued to peer out my window and observe the beauty of natural phenomenons going on outside this giant, flying, Pringles-canister-like object that I was stuck inside. The craziest thing was the perspective of seeing the lights from an elevated location, versus seeing them from ground level; just a completely different experience to say the least.
We landed in Keflavík around 5am and wasn’t sure what to do then. Met back up with Savannah and we tried to figure out what to do considering it was pitch black outside, almost nobody is driving between Keflavík and Reykjavík, and nothing is open. So we chilled in the airport for the next couple hours before we caught a bus to Reykjavík. I was going to hitch my way into the city from the airport, but I wanted to hang out with Savannah in Reykjavík for a while, so I splurged and bought a 1600isk bus ticket. The bus ride was about an hour to Reykjavík and had plenty of beautiful snow draped scenery along the way.
Got to Reykjavík and this was the first thing we saw
I knew when I saw a Vanagon in Iceland, it was going to be a good time. Spent the next few hours walking around the streets and experiencing a new country. The arguably most famous buildings, and most beautiful in my opinion, in Reykjavík, is a church called Hallgrímskirkja.
I was having a blast walking around the city just shooting new scenery. We were both extremely hungry at this point, so we went to a small Icelandic cafe where I tried a dish called mashed fish. It tasted about as weird as it sounds. But, not in a bad way, just really different. Imagine how tuna is, except with cod, and then throw in potato chunks.
Most of the houses are all different vibrant colors and provide a very warm feeling to the city you don’t really get back in the US. Everything appears to be so much more laid-back and simpler; I love it.
To make sure you always learn something new everyday, the root endings of many Icelandic words have a meaning between words. For example, Vík, the ending of Reykjavík and Keflavík, means: “A Harbor Town.” Walking along the coastal waterfront is a beautiful area, even when the weather is gloomy, which it often is.
Across the water, you can see boats departing as well as mountains on the opposite coast; really quite remarkable.
A really cool thing about Hallgrímskirkja, is that there is an elevator to the top of the clock tower where you can peer out over the city in all directions. You pay like $10, but it is well worth the money. The sky opened up for just a brief second and allowed the sun to light up the clouds for a brief moment, and then right back to overcast; which is still beautiful in Iceland.
After we got down, it was past noon, and I knew that If I wanted to make it to Vík before nightfall, I really needed to get on the move. So me and Savannah said our see-you-laters and I walked out on my way. I had zero idea what I was doing other than the fact that I needed to get to route 1 (The Ring Road) and then follow that. In terms of how I was getting to Route 1, I had no idea. So I just started walking away from the city in a direction I assumed was correct based off the sole knowledge that I was following what appeared to be a highway. After a while, I checked my handy map from International Travel Maps (highly recommend it) and found I was going in the right direction. On the map, it looked like it was just a short walk to the connection to route 1. I was so wrong. After walking for 2 hours or so, and 11km later, I came to a mini spaghetti junction and found out that in order to get to the start of route 1, I would have to walk across the highway. I’m daring, but not stupid. So, I did the next best thing. I walked down to the side of the highway leading towards route 1, and stood there with my finger out hoping for a ride. Sure enough, within like 10 minutes or so, a young Icelandic man picked me up on the side of the highway, he literally stopped on the highway. Asked me where to, and I said I was trying to get to Route 1 so I can get to Vík. He’s kind enough that he drives me to the first gas station on the ring road and I’m officially started on my hitchhiking mission around the country.
At this time, it’s now around 3pm and I’m just really getting started. 176km is not a crazy distance in a car, but trying to hitchhike, it’s not a close stroll by any means. I start walking and everywhere around me is just gorgeous. Within Probably 10 minutes, an elderly Icelandic couple stops and asks me where I’m trying to go, and I respond with Vik. I annunciated the “i” as an “ih” because that’s how I figured it was pronounced and no one had corrected me prior. They look at me and say, “Henh?” I was like, “Uhhh, Veek?” To which they understood perfectly and the gentleman helped me put my bag in the trunk and I took my place in the rear passenger seat and began to try and start a conversation. Then come to find out that this couple literally speaks zero english. So I’m there sitting in the back of this couples car and can’t speak to them at all.
After a while, I knocked out in the back seat where I took a very well needed hour nap after not sleeping for over 48 hours. After 2 hours or so, they pull into a gas station and point at me and then immediately point at the gas station. So I repeat the hand signals and get the memo that this is where we part and I start again. I thank them and get my bag out of the trunk, and then head into the gas station to see what I can eat. I had read prior to leaving the US, that you have to try Icelandic hot dogs at gas stations. So, accordingly, I order a bacon wrapped hotdog. Oh. My. That hotdog was amazing. I can’t put into words how much I loved that hot dog, but it was damn good.
After eating my heavenly hot dog, I headed back out onto the road and continued to walk. It was a good 30 minutes to an hour before anyone picked me up. So I had plenty of time to walk and observe what was around me.
Icelandic horses are the epitome of chill. The small, furry, short, horses are so docile and beautiful, it’s hard not to enjoy their presence. You can walk up to the fence line and they’ll do likewise and you can pet them and they couldn’t be happier. Well, as far as I know. I’m not a horse or anything so I wouldn’t know for sure, but I figure they’re pretty happy.
Roads in Iceland are also a beautiful sight in and of themselves. They actually inspired my first official photography project entitles “Travel New Roads.”
After about half an hour, I got picked up by a Spanish guy and he drove me 10km to the entrance of the farm he worked on. I’ll take 10km over 0km all day, so that was more than fine by me. After that, however, things did not go well. I walked, and walked, and walked, and no one would stop. It didn’t help that I only saw a car maybe every 20 minutes or so. After two hours or walking with no one stopping, I started to get worried. I had drank the entirety of my two 320z Nalgene bottles, so I had no more water. At that point I sat down with my back against one of the poles that line the roads, and wrote this note in my phone: “It’s 5:15. Only two more hours of “sunlight” left and I’m still 65km from Vík. I haven’t seen a car in 20 minutes. I haven’t slept in 3 days. I’m tired and frustrated and just want to be there already.” It didn’t help that I could see rain coming in the distance.
After about another hour, a big SUV passed me up, but pulled over probably 1000ft from where I was walking. I literally ran to this car I was so relieved. I get to the SUV, hop in the back behind the driver, and say that I’m trying to get to Vík. There’s an Icelandic dad, his daughter, and her friend from San Diego in the car. They let me know that they’re showing the friend around the area and going to see a few sights and ask if I want to come with. Of course I wanted to go with. They drove for a little bit and came up to this huge waterfall. I knew which one it was because I had seen pictures of it floating across Instagram for the longest time. It was Skógafoss. Absolutely huge and equally beautiful.
Me and the two girls explored the area for the next 30 minutes or so, but I could have easily spent the rest of the day here. After the waterfall, we drove just a couple minutes down the road where they turned off the main road onto a small gravel access road. I saw one sign that I knew meant good new: Sólheimajökull. Another fun fact, jökull means glacier. So we drive a little ways off the main road and come up to the start of a trail. One of the craziest things about Iceland, is how much black is everywhere. After Eyjafjallajökull erupted a few years back, the majority of the southern portion of Iceland is still covered in black ash. It makes for some crazy color contrasts. Me and the two girls walked this trail, probably a couple km, and wound up face to face with a massive glacier.
The color contrasts of the bright blues among the dark blacks are something you could only dream of seeing. The area is extremely popular for glacier hiking and while we were there we could see groups climbing up and down the glacier. One of the crazier things about this glacier, is how easily accessible it.
I really believe in the idea that important meetings in life are planned for you, prior to their occurrence. There would’ve been no possible way that I would have been able to see this glacier had it not been for the fact I was picked up by these exact people at that exact time.
After a while of taking pictures and exploring the beautiful area, we made our trek back to the car and back to the main road. When we got back to the ring road, we knew it was our time to separate as they were making their way back to Reykjavík, and I still needed to get to Vík. So again, I leave the security of the car and company, and start walking. At this point, the sun had begun to set and I was still a solid 30km away. It doesn’t help my thought process that I didn’t take my tent along with me, only my eno and sleeping bag. But, I wasn’t going to let that dampen my mood. I just kept walking along the side of the desolate road hoping that one of the few cars, by few I mean one every 15 minutes or more, would pick me up and take me to town. Sure enough, within like 10 minutes or so of becoming dark, an Icelandic couple in a Ford pickup stops and tells me to hop in. They let me know that they’re passing through Vík on their way to Höfn and that they can drop me off in the town.
We get to Vík and this couple more than goes out of their way by literally driving around this town to try and find the hostel I wanted to stay at. We spend the next 5 minutes or so driving around trying to find the place, and they drop me off in front of hostel and we say our inevitable goodbyes and wish each other safe travels. I went inside the hostel, got my room, and went straight up to bed. Usually, it’s customary to hang out in the kitchen/dining area and meet the other people staying there, chit chat a little, and just relax in the presence of others. Not this time. It had now been almost 72 hours and in that time I had slept only 3 hours combined; not in a bed. Not to mention the fact I walked over 20km that day. I was tired to say the least. Overall, I was wowed at the courtesy and hospitality the people of Iceland had shown me, as well as the pure beauty and peace of the Island.