Iceland unplanned

July 6, Saturday
Back to civilization

The bumpy road from Landmannalaugar made us realize how far from the civilization we were. The harsh desert-like landscape continued for more than an hour drive. It was hard to contemplate that such a wonderful place was completely surrounded by a vast rocky desert.

Our initial idea for the upcoming days was to try to get to the Glacier lagoon and go for a kayak adventure, but the distances and timings didn’t convince us enough. When we finally arrived to Hella, we were not ready to leave and with a humble smile we told the driver that we would go a bit further.

Some more searching on the go and we finally dropped off in Hveragerdi village, just an hour away from Reykjavik. This is a usual staying place for people who want to visit the famous hot river. After spending an hour in the hot spring at Landmannalaugar, we felt tempted to sink our bodies again in a natural and relaxing SPA. After all, we did a great job hiking Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls trails for the past six days and we deserved a proper relaxation.

The camping was situated in the village itself. We were back to civilization. Our food supplies for lunches were running low but we couldn’t refill so late on Saturday evening. The local gas station had more junk food for local teenagers than for starving hikers. At least it had a loaf of bread. We didn’t need much more than that for tomorrow.

July 7, Sunday
A relaxing day???

The receptionist at the camping warned us to start the day early if we wanted to enjoy the river without big crowds of tourists that come for day excursions. We thought that 7 a.m. was early enough to wake up. Quick breakfast, no packing, and off we go.
OMG… what a difference to hike without a jumbo backpack! No more back or shoulder pain, no more wounds on the hips…

We started the hike with a walk through the village and some fields with high geothermic activity until we reached the actual trail. The trail didn’t look crowded yet, but the first groups were already arriving on horses.

We started the climb which was much longer than we expected. Yet, without the backpacks it wasn’t that bad. We were much more bothered by tiny flies than by the climb itself. There were soooo many of them and they were soooooo annoying… I had at least few trying to look me in the eye real close and tasted a few as well. Quite soon we started thinking that those mosquito nets that most of the tourists put on their heads in this area are not that ridiculous. Unfortunately (or fortunately), we didn’t have them. Let’s embrace this beautiful nature with all its nasty add-ons!

As we were approaching the hot river, the area was getting more and more steamy. Every now and then we could see the warning signs not to step away from the path as the chances of burning yourself were high. Careful, boiling water everywhere! The local sheep didn’t seem to worry about it though. On the contrary, they were all concentrated in the thick clouds, enjoying a free steam sauna. I wonder if this is the reason why Icelandic lamb is so famous for its softness…

We were clearly not the first to reach the river, but it didn’t look too crowded yet. We looked around a bit and found ourselves a free spot quite high upstream. The higher you go, the hotter you get! And here we were, soaking again, forgetting all the tiredness, enjoying wonderful views and… eating our sandwiches without sharing them with the flies. It’s wonderful that they just disappear above the water.

After spending a lazy hour (or two) in the water, we could notice that the crowds were reaching this place of wonder too. Time to move on.

Even though we were being lazy after a relaxing bath and saw some dark clouds gathering above the mountains, we still decided to have an extra walk on the surrounding trails and see more hot springs and mud pots before heading back to the village. It wasn’t a difficult trail and gave us a nice escape from the crowds.

Kilometer by kilometer and we already had around 14 of them by the time we got back to the river. Now we saw what the receptionist meant about the crowds…

A quick stop to wash the feet and we continued to our descent back to the valley. Surprisingly enough the flies were not attacking us anymore. For the moment we thought they were gone, but then we saw that the tourists going towards the river were still struggling with them a lot. I guess fly attacks depend on the wind direction.
We came down fairly fast but still had to do our killer-miles before reaching the camping. My blister on a toe wasn’t feeling comfortable. Too much soaking in the water, I guess.

Back in the camping we checked the count of the kilometers for the day. 21,4!!! How the hell is that a relaxing day??? Something must be wrong with our perception of relaxation…

While Pedro was packing our tent, I rewarded myself with a civilized shower. Oh, what a blessing! I still got scared looking at the mirror though. A week of sun, wind and lack of treatment was too noticeable.

“I’ll deal with it when we get back home… For now, it’s better to simply avoid mirrors.”
Not knowing what else to do in the area, we paid for the camping and headed towards the bus stop. The bus arrived a bit late, giving us too much time for the sweet temptations of the nearby gas station. Oh, that ice-cream was so delicious…

We took the public bus to the main station in Reykjavik where we planned to switch for a bus no 12 that goes up to the camping. Here we faced the first situation in 8 days where we actually needed cash. Which we didn’t have… We paid with cards everywhere we went – busses, huts, snacks… All except this bus ride where we got surprised that cards were not accepted (outrageous!). But we were lucky to get a friendly driver who blinked an eye and allowed us in the bus anyway, saving our feet from another 5 km walk.

20 minutes later we were back in Reykjavik campsite, right where we started a week ago, not knowing what tomorrow would bring us.

Statistics of the day:
21,4 km with a fairly significant climb (our tracking system failed us a bit today so we don’t have the exact numbers). 7 hours hiking, long bath in the hot river included.

July 8, Monday
Snaefellsjokull National Park

First thing in the morning we went to the reception with the hope to get an advice for renting a car without a credit card. Unfortunately, all the companies they called were demanding it. Thankfully, internet search was more helpful. We managed to find one single car rental in Reykjavik that allowed to rent a car without a credit card if you paid full insurance. Made it more expensive but at least gave us hope. We couldn’t book a car online the same day and decided just to head towards their office immediately.

3 km walk and we were knocking on the door with fingers crossed. Luckily enough, they had an available car to offer us. A fairly old, with loads of marks of wear, but with four wheels and running. We didn’t need more than that. Rent a car without a credit card – check!

All excited about our increased mobility we immediately headed towards the west of Iceland – Snaefellsjokull National Park. We read about it the night before and put it on the top of the list to visit in these last two days.

It took us over two hours to get to the west end of Iceland. While Pedro was driving, I was checking online what were the most important things to see in the park. Almost by accident, I found information about a stop on the way for watching some local wildlife – seals and birds. We have never watched seals in their natural environment before.

The seals were lying lazy on the rocks. We were watching them. They were watching us. The cubs were playing around and approaching once in a while to give a closer look at those weird strangers on the rocks.

Right next to the rocky home of the seals, there was a wonderful white sand beach where we saw some unfamiliar birds. We spent there some time enjoying the peacefulness of the sea, almost tempted to go for a swim. But time was running fast and we still had so much to see today! Time to move on…

Snaefellsjokull National Park is well known for its awesome volcano that rises above 1400 meters and is covered by a glacier. We didn’t have time nor gear or energy to do the hike to the peak and decided to do the round trip instead, visiting some villages and admiring the volcano from a distance. All day long it was playing hide-and-seek with us, covering with the clouds or revealing itself. Real beauty, yet not easy to capture in the photos.

Next stop – Arnarstapi.

We arrived the village around the lunch time and, being back to civilization couldn’t resist fish and chips before starting the sightseeing. Oh My God how delicious it was!!! We had to stay strong to resist repeating the dish.

With our stomachs full we headed towards the sea. And… that was the moment when Pedro stopped laughing about my previous encounter with aggressive birds on the first day in Reykjavik while waiting for him to arrive. Iceland really has some crazy birds!!!! We were walking calmly on the road when all of the sudden dozens of birds raised from the field and started circling right above our heads, screaming and making us scream too. At that moment the legendary movie by Alfred Hitchcock “The birds” came immediately to our minds.

Later we learned that those birds were Arctic terns, well known for their aggressive behavior during nesting period. According to Wikipedia, “it is one of the most aggressive terns, fiercely defensive of its nest and young. It will attack humans and large predators, usually striking the top or back of the head. Although it is too small to cause serious injury to an animal of a human’s size, it is still capable of drawing blood, and is capable of repelling many raptorial birds, polar bears and smaller mammalian predators such as foxes and cats.”

With some screams and almost running we finally reached the sea to face yet another astonishing view. The turquoise sea and the cliffs full of birds paralyzed us. I couldn’t take my eyes off this amazing seascape. We took a slow walk by the coast, admiring the art of rocks and water while listening to the sound of hundreds of seagulls. I could spend there the whole day, just sitting and watching it without getting bored. It was hypnotizing.

Curious to see what else was waiting for us, we headed back to the car. A short drive and we were pulling over again as our eyes were attracted by some outstanding rock formations. Another hour walking and enjoying the sea. This time we were able to go down to the black pebbled beach, full of rocks of different textures. Apparently, this beach was formed by lava running straight into the water.

Iceland is the land of ice and fire. It has countless volcanos, some with well preserved craters. One of such volcanos, Saxholl, was standing straight on our way. Quick stop, easy run up, few photos and back to the car. We were starting to run out of time…

Driving around this west peninsula I was thinking that even after a spectacular week hiking in the highlands, Iceland still managed to surprise us with yet another breathtaking day.

A bit overwhelmed by all emotions, we started heading back to our camping with one more quick stop at a famous Kirkjufell mountain. Just for a photo.

With more time spent in a car than hiking, it finally felt like a resting day. After such a lazy day with many food sins we didn’t feel like eating dinner (nor we deserved it). Our food leftovers (a couple of Travel lunch meals) and gas were donated to the starving hikers at a camping share point.

Time to rest before the last day…

Statistics of the day:
Approximately 10 km walking and 435 km driving

July 9, Tuesday
The saturation day

Not having enough time to reach the Glacier lagoon far in the southeast of Iceland, we decided to do the famous Golden Circle on our last day instead.

We tried to leave the camping as early as we could, yet didn’t manage to arrive to the first destination before the mass of tourists. By the time we reached Þingvellir National Park a few busses were already there. Yet, those tourist destinations were worth visiting for purely educational purposes. Þingvellir National Park is famous for its incredible geology as the Mid Atlantic Ridge runs straight through it and is well visible.

Next, we stopped at the Geysir Geothermal Area, which was already beyond crowded. We saw a few eruptions and moved on.

Then – Gullfoss waterfall. It is the most iconic waterfall of Iceland, where Hvítá river falls deep and wide into the canyon. I have to admit it is beautiful but would prefer to see it in solitude, not in the crowd.

Golden Circle – check! Time to move on (and run away from the crowds).

Our further destinations of the day were strongly influenced by a very unexpected situation… We were running out of gas and… automatic self service gas stations didn’t accept our cards. Not a single one of them!!! After quite a few tries, we had to head towards the closest bigger village to find a regular gas station. Selfoss, here we come!

We were driving a lot today, watching the landscapes and feeling that we have reached the point of saturation. Nothing was surprising us anymore. Well… except for the angry Arctic terns… We stopped at the tiny village Strandakirkja, right in the middle of nowhere, in a quest for food (maps were showing a hotdog place there). Yet, instead of food we found a couple of horses and got another bird attack! Some screaming. Some running. Some cleaning. And a lot of laughing.

More driving and we finally found a perfect spot for our last snack. The viewpoint at Kleifarvatn lake was our favorite spot of the day. Until a bus of tourists arrived, of course. Luckily enough, after we’d finished eating.

We still had a few hours left before returning the rented car. Our last stop before heading back to the airport was at a small town Hafnarfiordur. It had a harbor and a nice path next to it. We went for an evening walk, watching the sun going down slowly, but never really reaching the sea. Yet, it was at least a bit resembling the sunset.

This final walk was a nice and natural way to finish our intensive trip in Iceland. It only felt natural that we were about to go home, full of positive emotions and unforgettable impressions.

Goodbye Iceland! We hope to see you again!!

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