I went to Iceland. It wasn’t my idea, and it took me quite awhile to agree to go. Iceland wasn’t a place I thought much about before this trip. In my mind it was a really beautiful place, but it also seemed like somewhere that had gotten VERY popular over the last few years…..thanks Game of Thrones. And where you find crowds of people you most likely won’t find me.
It was my boyfriend’s idea to go, and if I’m being honest, another reason I was hesitant to commit to going was because traveling outside of the country with someone you’re dating seemed pretty risky. It’s a long time to be with someone, and who knows what kind of shit you’ll be forced to confront with each other.
Anyway, I eventually said yes, because it’s a pretty lucky and privileged thing to be able to have a choice of taking a trip like that. Also, my boss told me Iceland was an introvert’s paradise with its isolation and stormy weather…..SOLD.
While my boyfriend (his name is Bret, yes, with one t) was pretty excited about researching what to see and do in Iceland, I felt a little stressed leading up to the days before we left. Consequently, I contributed my talents by reading articles about stupid ways people have died in Iceland, downloaded their version of a 911 app, researched grocery store chains, and planned out all of our meals in a spreadsheet. Slightly neurotic? Maybe, but that’s what I bring to the table.
OH, and did I mention Bret rented a manual car? It was cheaper, yes, but neither of us drove a manual which in my mind was umm, going to be a disaster. It didn’t help that I waited until the day before we left to ask my friend for a driving lesson using her stick shift. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? We would break down on an isolated road in the middle of nowhere, with no cellphone service, AND DIE?? Ya, that’s probably it.
On the day we left, we forgot it was a holiday weekend (Labor Day), so getting to the airport took way longer than usual. If our flight wouldn’t have been delayed by 15 min we might not have made it. Great start, right? We were flying Denver to LAX, then LAX to Reykjavik on WOW air. We left LAX at about 10:00pm only to find ourselves landing in Las Vegas less than an hour later. Someone had a medical emergency on the plane and we had to land. I have no idea what the emergency was, and I hope this individual is OK now, but turns out making an unexpected landing is kind of a big, complicated deal, especially if it’s an international flight. We ended up sitting on the runway for three hours which isn’t too fun when you’re in the desert and the air conditioning is turned off. Also, WOW air is cheap for a reason, no free beverages, no reclining seats, no pillows, nada. I shouldn’t complain that much though, I didn’t have to wear a tight, purple, polyester suit and answer cranky passengers’ questions like the flight attendants had to. Also, one more side note about WOW air, they have a lot of male flight attendants, who, for whatever reason, look like they just walked out of an Icelandic edition of GQ, so I really can’t complain.
About 12 hours after we boarded, we finally made it to Reykjavik. Next on the agenda, after paying $9 for a coffee, (Iceland is expensive in case you weren’t aware) was to get our rental car. The rental car place was strangely trendy, with EDM music playing in the background, and lots of attractive, young people working at the desk. Bizarre when you consider what it’s like to rent a car from a sad-looking Hertz office in the U.S. with their flickering fluorescent lights. Despite the effort to make this place feel like you were in some kind of VIP lounge, things went downhill pretty quickly when we found out they had given our car to someone else but had “upgraded” us to a better one. While it was a nicer car, it wasn’t one we could take on the types of roads we wanted to travel on, we needed high clearance and good tires. After an hour of arguing and basically being asked to leave, we ended up going to a different rental car company where we paid more than double what we had planned on for one of the last cars they had available that would get us where we needed to go. The good news is that it was an automatic so I could relax a little as we drove away, tired and delirious in our massive, diesel Toyota Land Cruiser, #america.
Day 1 & 2, Hvergerdi
We had a short drive to the town we were staying in for the first two nights in Hvergerdi, which is a really small, steamy village surrounded by hot rivers. We booked a room at a hostel called Hot Springs Hostel, and it was pretty great, not at all what I was expecting. I remember staying in hostels when I backpacked around Europe in college, and this place was nothing like that. I felt like I was staying in an Ikea (in a good way), not to mention we ended up being the only people staying there for the next two nights so we had it all to ourselves, SOLITUDE! The owners were awesome, the shower was hot, the beds were sooo comfy, and they had the best coffee machine ever (Bret looked up the model and it was $2000, eeeesh).
Waking up the first day was hard since we had just spent 12 hours on a plane without really sleeping, and were now 6 hours ahead of the time zone we left from. And I wasn’t lying about the beds being ridiculously comfy. After a pretty late start we decided to drive the Golden Circle, which was in a word, underwhelming. This is a half day drive that is really popular with people who have layovers in Reykjavik. It’s basically a highway that follows some frequently visited sites, like a national park where you can actually see where the American and European tectonic plates drifted apart, a geyser, and some waterfalls. All of these stops in themselves are pretty unique and amazing places, don’t get me wrong. They just aren’t very far off the beaten path, which means there will be gift shops, bathrooms that aren’t free, and lots and lots of people around. So, if you’re not like me and don’t want to get as far away from everyone as you can, then you might enjoy it.
After being touristy for an afternoon, we decided we better take some time to get ready for the rest of our trip which would be spent camping. We knew we needed fuel for our stove so we went to go buy some. Problem is, once you’re outside of Reykjavik, finding a store that sells camping supplies is a little difficult. We were looking for white fuel, and after checking a grocery store and gas station with no luck, we realized we might have made a big mistake by not taking care of this before heading out of the city. It didn’t help that I forgot to bring my backup stove which uses canisters (of which there were plenty in all of the gas stations). We weren’t using data on our phones so we went back to the hostel to get on wi-fi to look up our options for stores. White fuel, it turns out, isn’t as common as you’d think it’d be, and even if it was stocked, no one called it that so asking someone where to find it wasn’t that helpful. We read some blogs on where people had found white fuel in Iceland and left to check them out. One gas station had something called White Spirit that looked and smelled like fuel, but the rest of the label was in Icelandic, of course. I tried to translate it with Google Translate but couldn’t make much of it. We went back to the hostel again to look up White Spirit and the first thing we saw was that it should NOT be confused with white fuel…. thanks internet! We tried another gas station and managed to find Coleman Fuel which is the same thing. Good thing we did too, because I’m pretty sure Bret was starting to inhale way too many fuel fumes (he insisted he knew exactly what white fuel smelled like and was trying all the bottles we found).
My advice for camping in Iceland, bring canister stoves.
After a pretty long day, and with bad weather moving in, we decided we’d read, get to bed early, and start the next day off right.
Well, that didn’t exactly happen because we stayed up late talking. I don’t mean talking about our hopes and dreams, no, I mean #realtalk. Bret and I are pretty different people, we process and deal with things differently. This means we can come off as jerks to each other if we’re not careful, and at the time we were both annoyed at each other for various reasons. The good news is that we talked it out and probably had an overall better trip because of it. The bad news is that this took until 2am. So, when you see a selfie of a couple kissing in front a waterfall or sunset while they’re on vacation, you can probably bet that the entire trip didn’t look like that, just saying.
Day 3, Landmannalaugar
So even though we started later than planned, getting out of town and heading to Landmannalauger, which is a campground in the Fjallabak Nature Preserve (don’t worry, I can’t pronounce it either), was pretty rad. We finally put the Land Cruiser to work on some F roads, where we saw some really beautiful, really strange landscape, and drove through a few small rivers. My navigation/map reading skills were starting to improve at this point (which was a topic of our previous nights #realtalk), and we saw a rainbow, not bad.
As we approached the campsite, we saw there was one more river to cross, but one that looked deeper and faster. Judging from the cars who made it before us, we figured we could do it. I was definitely holding my breath as we crossed because what would be worse than paying double what you thought you’d pay for a rental car? Paying for water damage on said rental car. But we made it, and the campsite that greeted us was amazing.
Iceland does campsites really well for the most part. There are no individual, assigned spots like in U.S. parks, so no waiting in line or worrying about a place filling up. There was a hot spring nearby, along with sheep, lava fields, volcano craters, and hiking trails. The campsite had a sweet area for cooking meals and pretty nice showers/bathrooms too. OH, and they had plenty of white fuel…..the more you know.
We decided we’d get a quick hike in before setting up the tent. Weather was moving in but we’d been in the car all day and it looked like it was clearing up. One thing about Iceland though is that the weather is crazy unpredictable, and we soon found ourselves walking uphill in rain and high winds. This wasn’t the kind of quick moving storm we’re used to in the mountains either, this was like, really really wet, and even our fanciest rain gear didn’t really hold up that well.
We made it to the top though, and on the way down, we got to see some geothermal areas with actual steam coming up from the ground, so trippy.
When we got back to the campsite, we sat in the car during the rest of the downpour. The rain didn’t look like it was going anywhere, but, there were a few 5 min periods here and there where it would clear up. We somehow managed to set up the tent in record time during one of those breaks, guess that #realtalk helped us work together.
After cooking our dinner huddled in a dry, wind protected spot, we decided we were going to the end the night in the hot spring. It was cold, it was dark, it was storming, and honestly, walking to that spring was MISERABLE, but once we were in it, OMG. The closer you got to the spring, the warmer the water was and if felt amazing. You actually had to be careful because some areas were scalding hot. We almost had it to ourselves since the weather was so bad, and just as I was wondering why I was sitting outside in freezing weather in a swimsuit, the coolest, most unexpected thing happened. WE SAW THE NORTHERN LIGHTS!!!
That will go down as one of my best memories for sure, and made all of the hassles of the day disappear. Don’t get me wrong, walking back to the tent was just as miserable, but man, oh man, was it worth it. At that point, I was super stoked for what else Iceland might have in store for us.
Stay tuned to hear about what when down over the next few days.