Hitching round Iceland for a week
01.06.2009 - 08.06.2009
Iceland.. WOW!! or Iceland eh... Why? They are the kind of mixed responses I got while boasting about my new upcoming trip to the 'Land of Ice'.
But that's where I went and I had been wanting to see this place for some time. Another factor leading to this trip was my recent recovery (just about) from a knee injury, so I was more than ready to start climbing mountains again.
I'd heard Iceland was good for hitching so being money conscious and keen to talk to real Icelanders, I never used public transport (except a taxi at the start and a short bus ride at the end that were both understandable and forgivable).
- So here's where I went:
- Here's What I saw:
- and here's my story:
Day 1: To take advantage of my need to be in the Heathrow area I had the good fortune to be able to stay with my mate Tom for a few days, which was lovely and put me in the holiday spirit. It was a dull, dull many hours wait for my flight at the convenient time of 21:10 and I was expecting a dark and sleepy arrival at 23:10 Iceland time. However as we started to fly over the barren and lava shaped landscape towards the airport I could help but notice it was as light as a cloudy afternoon in England. Turns out that Iceland is light for a full 24 hours even in early June. Good eh?
Sleeping was a bit awkward having just arrived and it being light out but my hostel was comfy and my dorm room just to myself. It was long-sleeved top type warm aswell.
Day 2:I started off my first day in Iceland with a typical European breakfast buffet that at the time seemed reasonable at 1000 ISK (about 5 GBP) but I later found that you could buy much more and save it for lunch and other breakfasts for this much. Well we all make mistakes at the start.
I did intend to move on to Reykjavik (Capitol City) via the Blue Lagoon (Outdoor Spa Pools) but I spotted a bike for rent and ended up booking another night and planning a loop of the tip of this peninsular. Well as much as I enjoyed it, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
To start with this bike was SHIT. It looks like an ordinary mountain bike on the photos but to ride it is to kiss goodbye to your arse, legs and will to cycle ever again. Still the route was promising, passing moss covered lava fields, the Blue Lagoon and a few small towns. However it was a bit windy and the roads were fairly hilly so riding was a bit tough. The Blue Lagoon was beautiful but at 20 Euro for a swim I gave it a miss. The next town was simple enough and provided me with my first stroll around a Icelandic Supermarket and get some lunch.
My mistake here was to not finish my water bottle and re-fill. Instead I finished lunch and pushed on with my butt hurting, the wind blowing and the roads rising and falling.
So I resorted to survival tactics but pointing at something of interest on the map and just trying to make it there. Through this I ended up at an amazing terrain of sulphur gas rising from vents, brightly coloured soils, and a rocky coast.
With that traversed and a few scary moments where my shoe disappeared into the warm earth, I found some strength and pushed on to a Bridge that crosses over the continental plates of Europe and America.
Now I was really thirsty and my energy levels were rock bottom yet there were no cars around to bum a lift from and no towns in sight. I did make to one small town after a heroic effort and as it had no town I had to ask some kids playing for some water. And boy did I need it. To follow the water I ate 3 breakfast bars I had bought earlier in succession and made one last effort to make it back to town.
I can't tell you how pleased I was to see Keflavik popping up on the horizon and then enjoyed a sweet downhill decent into town.
My efforts and strength that day warranted a nice (but not too expensive) meal in town but after walking right through town and finding almost nothing I settled for a Basic Pizza, some Apple Juice and an early night.
Day 3: So onwards and eastwards. I walked my way out of town to try out my first Hitch in Iceland. Several Icelandic people had already recommended it, which is surprising but it's perfectly true. Hitch-hiking in Iceland is fantastic. Friendly people, free ride and you get to ask questions and learn about this rarely understood country.
This mornings Hitch was an (really) old couple who were just on their way to reykjavik for some shopping. I learned all kinds of things like about Industry, The Cod Wars with England, The Americans etc.
My Hostel was quite modern and big and despite this or because of this, I didn't like it. Still it was in a nice area of Reykjavik and I continued my no public transport policy by walking off toward the centre or town.
Iceland has a total population of 350-ish-000 people and Reykjavik the capitol has about 150.000 of them. Not big numbers and not a bit city. Still it has it's charm and I'm never a big fan of large cities. My day walking around town however wasn't too interesting to say the least The highlight was probably eating their version of fish and chips-fries and smaller pieces of battered fish to dip in cocktail sauce-and having a free re-fill coffee with a view of an every 5 minute Geyser.
I eventually looped back to my hostel and met two Aussies sharing the room, who at first were very friendly and talkative and were a great help during map planning time but during the night were the LOUDEST fucking snorers of ALL TIME. You always think that your dad is the loudest snorer you've ever heard and would probably fancy your chances at winning a snore-off between yours and your friends dads but one of those Aussie... my god! It goes to say that I only slept 2 hours that night and was pleased to get out and away.
Day 4: For me this is where my real Iceland vacation started as I was heading eastwards and more inland 'into the wild'. So I followed the tried and tested hitch-hiking routine of getting out of town and finding a nice place to stick my thumb out with a desperate but friendly look in my eye.
And so started one of my strangest hitches of the week. He was a middle-aged, firendly looking guy with a hammer on his front seat... who pulled over only a few km's down the road, put his hand on my knee, lit a cigarette and asked me how old I was... heart beat rising and alarm bells ringing I was utterly relieved when he stared introducing a nearby home as that of a famous Icelandic Writer. Of course such a strange guy didn't stop his antics there. Further down the road at the wonderful freshwater lake of bingvelir (thingveleer) he started to ask a random tourist on the way back to his car (containing his family) if he wanted a photo of him in-front of the lake. Needless to say the guy didn't and was surprised to get moaned at for his decision. I tried to explain he probably already had one taken but my friendly driver for the day wasn't having it and seemed genuinely perturbed by the whole thing. Still he managed to corner an Italian couple and talk to them while I took some photos, so all was well.
Just up the road was the site of ye'olde Viking trading and a Gorge formed by the shifting of the continental plates. This is where we parted ways and the scene of another escapade.
This area was nice to walk around and explore so left my pack with the guy at the information centre who told me I had just under two hours before he left for lunch so I'd have to pick up my bag before then. No problem I thought. And so I set off for a bit around the area, which was nice enough, and spotted a little tunnel a few other tourists were passing though and ending up a little further up the road. Now that's my kind of adventure and proceed to walk around promising myself to go through it on my way back. Less that an hour later I was done and ready to take on the rock tunnel. Off I went along this wide grassy area expecting to meet an entrance any minute now. 10 minutes later I began to wonder quite what the F**k was going on. Onwards I walked in this eerily quite area with the rock faces either side of me climbing ever higher. All I could do at this point was to turn back or push on. I have learned over the years of my travel that I detest going back the same way I came or giving up on an interesting route. This became a theme of my trip to Iceland and the cause of many spots of bother. Twenty odd minutes later I'm running and looking for a way out of this channel of rock I'd found myself in and spotting a steep but doable climb, I got myself out of there and onto a path. Sadly this was on the wrong side of the gorge so on I ran and ran and ran. A dirt track finally bent of towards the main road and over the george. It was clear that I was miles away from the center now and had only 20 minutes to get my pack back. So I hitched a lift with a young fisherman. And that would be that if he had taken me to the wright place but before finally getting me to the centre in time he went passed it and took me to another tourist centre further up the road... bless him.
I kicked up a quick conversation with the Scottish guy who looked after my bag and he ended up giving a lift up the road to a cafe where I could eat a well needed hotdog, fill up my water flask and get another hitch out of there.
My last hitch of the day was a lovely guy named Gunnar who was a Carpenter and a happy fella. The road to my next hotel in Laugarvatn got pretty gritty and bumpy and Gunnar's way to smoothing out the ride was to gun it and fly over the bumps. It was quite fun and the road took me right outside my hostel. Awesome.
The hostel was nice and quiet and immediately felt like home. The staff were cool and it was imbetween a lake and a mountain. After a good old rest and shower I took advantage of the 24 hour daylight and walked up and down the mountain. The way up I was uncertain of the route but it turned out okay and I added a rock to every rock pile I passed, a tradition I have seen in many countries. Up at the top I enjoyed a spectacular view and then, as per my nature, I proceeded to take a different and much harder route down : )
Day 5: Getting bored of writing this now so I'll cut it down a tad. Day 5 was all over the place regarding highs and lows, starting off with a rainy, dark morning trying to hitch to the Geyser (the that all others were named after) with no luck. I was starting to think I might have to try and walk the 25km's and prey for a lift back but then a kindly group of Belgiums came into my life and took my not only to the Geyser but also the Hue Waterfall Gulfoss and took me back to my hostel. Loved them guys and it was a shame to part ways.
This left me with a good part of the day still to fill so I seeked advice and ended up following a dry river bed up a mountan nearby in search of a cave. The expedition ended up like so many by choosing the wrong route and ending up crawling very steep gravel, clinging to larger rocks that would sometimes give way and roll down in the way I imagine my body would any time now. Still I pushed on until I eventually admitted defeat and found a much safer way down on some grass.
To sooth my woes I enjoyed one of Iceland's many outdoor pools with accompanying hot baths. However I think this transition from deliciously warm water to nipple pinching cold air to luke warm water and then back again, was repeated once too often as I became ill that night... luckily I was alone in my dorm room as my constant nose blowing wouldn't have gone down well and I may never have survived the night.
Day 6: Finding myself a bit weak and fragile I didn't fancy hitching this morning but then busses are almost none existent out here and sod em anyways. I hate busses.
So I was picked up soon enough by the oldest man alive who would occasionally slowly veer off to the side of the road and then slowly bring it back again. Still he was an interesting man and I was glad for the cheering up. However we arrived as far as he could take me at Selfoss and various awkward events led me to be sitting next to a French couple in a mini van to catch up with a recently departed bus. When met with the driver I tried to find out the cost to my next destination, Vik. But he saw to the Frenchies first who took bloody ages to sort themselves and pay. A decade later I finally got the answer to my question... bloody expensive. I just walked out of the bus and stuck my thumb out, the way it should be done.
Within no time I was waving off a cheerful Icelandic golfer, eating a celebratory biscuit and saying hello to my new Hitch and his dog. As I've said before all my hitches have led to a wealth of information about Iceland and I really wouldn;t have wanted to travel any other way.
The last guy took me as far as he could before dropping me off and I stuck my thumb out for the fourth time that day. A cheerful family of Icelandic/Americans picked me up and we chatted away as we passed along the south coast with beautiful mountains, grass and waterfalls to my left. Within no time at all I was in Vik and was more that ready for a break and a bite to eat.
I settled in to my hostel and went to the supermarket. On route, low and behold, I bump into the French couple who took the expensive bus. It seemed they had just arrived. So not only did I save money but time as well. HA!!!
My attitude towards being sick has usually been to go out and ignore and today was no exception. I had Vik to explore. My misson that day was to climb the nearest hill but that mission developed into climbing down the other side, crossing a beach with a weeding going on in a cave, climbing some big rocks trying to make my way around the coast, realizing it's not possible despite what my map said and then having to go back the way I came back to the hostel, which was no mean feat believe me.
So I basically sweated out my illness. And to follow todays adventures I had a delightful chat to a wonderful and cut English girl at the hostel and then sold out and went on a Glacier tour.
But todays excursion took it's toll and an old heel injury and my more recent knee injury came to say hello during the night.
Day 7: Nothing happened at all! I was sick and injured so I took it easy, read, ate, slept. I did talk to some lovely people at my hostel though.
Day 8: A bit battered and worn I opted for the easy option today and headed to the Gas Station to catch a but most of my way to the Airport. A few facts to know: about 200km from Airport, Flight at 4pm, current time 9am. No problem eh?
Wrong! Despite telling the lady working there I was waiting for the bus and standing next to where I needed to be, it somehow pulled up, failed to see me and left????? This is the Icelandic bus service.
Not sure quite what happened but apparently the busses there are often not bus shaped : ) and the rest of the blame goes to an ignorant Gas Station lady and an idiotic bus driver (a foreign looking guy with a pack standing next to the bus, might he be a customer?... nah, let's drive on).
So hitch-hiking it was. Not a problem, just more risky. First guy who picks me up after a 30 minute wait only took me 5km down the road, next guy 10km... ahhh... I waited in the middle of knowhere surrounded by beauty but unable to enjoy it as I had been sat there an hour. The only option was to walk on. So on I walked for another hour or so and started to do the math: 180km + 4pm take off = No chance. But I didn't give up and I remained surprisingly optimistic and eventually my hero pulled up in a 4x4. Both him and his friend though I had no chance but he didn't give up either and maintained a steady pace and thought of the best way for me to get from Reykjavik (his destination) to the airport. The answer was the Fly Bus that runs between Reykjavik airport and Keflavik Airport. He drove me right to my bus stop and the time was loking tight but doable. Moments after we said our goodbyes and he pulled away the bus came and took me to my destination with minutes to spare.
After a rush through the Airport check-in and all that malarky I had a comfortable 5 minutes to sit and wait for boarding. What a hero. THANK YOU!!!
So that's it really, I scoffed down a few sandwiches on the plane and landed safely in Heathrow. I loved Iceland and I will definitely go back again. Hopefully with a few friends who can drive so we can rent a 4x4 and do Iceland right.
I managed a whole week of Hitching and in the end it proved to be more reliable and sometimes quicker than public transport.
Hope you like the photos and managed to read until the end.