Travel Journal Archives: Iceland and Beyond: Days 7 and 8

Friday, May 5th, 2017, Dalvik to Borgarfjordur:

As I predicted, my written recap of journal entries decreased with each day of this trip, not for lack of things to write about, but because I got too caught up in conversations and moments and told myself I’d write them all down later.
Then later would come, and I would be quite tired.

Then really later came, like now while creating this post, and I find myself digging back through months of files in my brain to remember what happened during one particular day.

I do remember being the last person to breakfast on this Friday morning, so that’s a sign normal habits had re-secured themselves and jet lag gave up trying to change my ways.

We all stuffed ourselves as much as we could, knowing our lunch stop might be a bit later than usual.

On this fine foggy morning, we were to say adieu to Akureyri (much to my dismay) and the little lambs (soon to be chops) to go on a whale watching tour in Dalvik.

I love boats, I love the ocean, but I never trust my guts when it comes to motion (I did not mean that to rhyme, but I’m not sorry for it).

I was ready as I could be in that regard–armed with my essential oils and mentally prepared to lock down the contents of my stomach at all costs.

I was, however, not completely ready for more bitter cold.

The mild weather the previous couple of days had already made me forget what icicles growing under my skin felt like.

Stone assured me that the tour company would have suits for us to wear while on the boat.

At first, this was relieving, until I realized that said suit would likely not allow for a skirt to fit over it. Believe me, I tried. But as tempting as keeping cozy in a fleece-lined, waterproof body suit was, I knew I’d regret it.

If I felt convicted there in the restroom, after trying and failing to squeeze my skirt to button at the waist over the bulky material, I wouldn’t feel any better once I stepped outside.
If I can’t do it in a skirt, I won’t do it at all; that’s always been my motto, and compromising on my beliefs at this point in my life just seems futile.
So, after handing the suit back to the captain, I asked Stone if I could get back into the bus to pull out some extra layers. This meant he had to unlock it again, so as we were walking over to it I shrugged, “Sorry, I’m not trying to be difficult.”
He replied, “No…you just are.” But I caught the joking tone in his voice, and we both laughed.
After layering up as much more as I could on short notice, we all walked to the docks and loaded on the boat. We were joined by several others not on our Arctic Adventures tour, bringing the head count to probably 20.
Right before we pushed off, though, one of the shipmates handed me a large orange fisherman’s jacket, muttering “It won’t keep you warm, but at least it will keep you dry if we get sprayed.”
It could have wrapped around me twice, and had I been an inch shorter it would have tripped me on the slick deck, but the thoughtfulness was still touching.
I hadn’t wanted to stand out, but the thought occurred to me that I probably do all of the time as it is, whether I mean to or not. People tend to take notice of anything or anyone that’s different.


For the record, I was cold. Not that I would admit it to anyone.
But the crew supplied mugs of hot cocoa, and once we were out on the open sea–which did not rock and sway sickeningly, praise God–they had us moving around the deck from starboard to port in search of any sign of whale tails or spouts.
Unfortunately, the morning mist didn’t budge. Had there been an abundance of active marine mammals at the time, they were able to observe us without being detected themselves.
That’s not to say we didn’t get a few glimpses, though. We saw and heard a few puffs of blowholes and spotted some flukes, but the gentle giants were satisfied to stay only slightly curious of our presence.
Amazing as it was to even be in the same vicinity as these whales, the conditions weren’t ideal for me to catch an epic, up-close picture.
We searched and followed as best we could but after about an hour we began to drift our way back to the harbor, though not in any great hurry.

The captain announced that if anyone wanted to try their luck at deep sea fishing, now was as good a time as any.

Granted, there wasn’t a pole for every passenger, only three. Being inexperienced myself, I wasn’t about to volunteer straightaway.

But as few others stepped up to accept the challenge, the captain made eye contact with me and promptly handed me a pole alongside two other girls from my tour, and we set to work bobbing our bait.

Within what seemed like only a few seconds, Michelle next to me started shouting in delight. Her catch fought her for about a full–very dramatic and hilarious–five minutes before she was finally able to reel up the line and show off the large catfish at the end of it.

On the other side of me, Janice had given the pole to Stone, if I recall correctly. Everyone else seemed content to watch us with amusement.
I knew our time was quickly running out by then, and so as silly as it sounds, I actually said a silent prayer.
You see, when I say I’m inexperienced, I quite literally mean I have only held a fishing pole a couple of times in my life, and only once did I actually hold one over water because a friend insisted I try.
Therefore, catching a fish has been on my bucket list for some time.

I strongly believe God cares about the little things we care about, for it was right about the time this thought came to me that my line tugged in confirmation.

Instinctively, and with all of my natural impatience, I yanked the pole back. But the captain instructed me to reel him in slowly, to tire him out in the struggle.

So I did, and without much trouble, though not without a considerable amount of concentration: ain’t no way I was letting this fish slip away.

Finally, among a chorus of congrats and cheers, I pulled up a good sized cod– not bad for my very first fish!

When the crew member released him from the line and handed me the hook, I pretended to give my fishy a smooch for the camera’s sake, until he wagged his fin to try to slap me. Couldn’t say I blamed him.

I then reluctantly handed the fishy over to the captain, and whispered a heart-felt and elated “Thanks, God,” under my breath.

For lack of better words, I was stoked.

My trip through Iceland was already a bucket list event; I never would have thought to cross off another big one at the same time. As the saying goes, the best things come when we least expect them.
Now, if all fishing experiences could guarantee an outcome like that, you might see the start of yet another new hobby in my life. But don’t get your hopes up.

While dissecting and filleting our two prized catches of the morning, casually scraping off the innards to frenzied seagulls hanging about, the captain announced he would put them both on the grill as soon as we were back to the shore.

I may have been an awkward orange blob, but at least I was a successful, lunch-winning one.

Obviously, there wasn’t enough for everyone to get full off of, but the lightly seasoned, tender white fish was definitely the snack we needed to hold us until real lunch could be found down the road.


The fog really took its time receding, and in some places along the coast never totally disappeared, but it made for quite ethereal pictures. Not that the Icelandic scenery really needs any help with that.

We stopped at a small harbor town called Siglufjordur in search of a bite to eat–we had a lot of driving to accomplish that day, according to Stone, so we’d better savor the stop now.

I, of course, took that as “enjoy as much time as you can on your feet and outdoors before you have to sit for a few hours.”

So, opting only for a coffee at the small restaurant and deciding that snacks from the local grocery store would hold me over, I used the Wi-Fi to proudly send my folks the picture of my cod on our Whatsapp chat, then headed outside to explore.

I made instant friends with a couple of stoic and well-aged locals.

They were definitely on the quiet side, but still made for good company and offered a supportive shoulder and listening ear.

Hardy-har-har, I know.

Seriously, though, whoever constructed these wooden statues was quite the craftsman. From the stubbled chin made of nails to the vivid colors of their elderly eyes, their creator took care of even the finest details to make these gentlemen lifelike.

I parted from their austere glances and made way to the harbor to shake my head in awe at the glassy reflection of the nearby mountains.

I was joined shortly after by a few of my tour mates, and Clive and I battled for capturing the best angles in our pictures, as usual.

The sun was desperately trying to burn off the low clouds and warm up the air, but thanks to the latte burning like fuel in my belly the temperature felt just right.

Once back on the road, we all begged Stone to stop if ever there was a herd of Icelandic horses close enough to get a good picture of.

A day or two prior, during our drive up the east side of the island, he had already attempted this.

However, before most of us could get down the steps, the ever-watchful farmer came tearing down the driveway, honking his horn and excitedly speaking Icelandic to Stone.

We didn’t necessarily need a translation.

The essence of the conversation was not that of concern for our safety due to the electric fence, but rather was based on very superstitious and overly-protective bias that us foreigners might carry foreign diseases that would transfer to his horses.

Icelandic horses are descendants of the original horses brought over by the Vikings, which have been bred only there ever since, without ever importing others.

while on the drive…

So, we sort of understood where he was coming from, insulting as it may have seemed.

But that didn’t mean we were any less disappointed, or any less hopeful for an opportunity to see them up close.

I must point out that this altercation with the farmer was the only somewhat unpleasant experience I had with any Icelandic local.

Far cry from Boston, that’s for sure.

Anyway, around late afternoon we pulled off the main highway to a trail and viewpoint overlooking the coastline and another fascinating volcanic formation surrounded by black sand that was quickly being engulfed by the incoming tide.

The wind was also coming in strong, whistling in my ears and causing my eyes to water.

While the rest of the crew was content to stand at the platform, I took off down the small, steep trail that led down to the shore to get a closer look.

As I made my way cautiously down, I heard one of the ladies say something along the lines of they could all count on Arizona (AKA me) to get pictures for the rest of them.

Sarcasm or not, it’s nice when someone believes in you.

When I reached the shoreline, I crossed the small runoff stream that ran from the top of the hill, only to find the tide had come so far that there was no way to physically reach the formation beyond that point.

That is, unless I wanted to wade knee-deep in freezing ocean waters–which I didn’t. I was even more confident on that decision when I watched another photographer, with a 3 foot tripod and all, make his way back to the shore doing just exactly that.

When he was within speaking distance he informed me that the sandbar had been completely dry when he had first arrived probably only a half hour ago. Yep, I thought, that’s kind of how high tide works, but outwardly I only inquired as to how cold the water had been, to which he responded more or less with a simple chattering of teeth.

As Stone drove on a little further, back into foggy, mystical territory, our wish was at last granted.

Right along the roadside, outside of their fence, was a herd of happily grazing Icelandic horses. They weren’t unfriendly, but they weren’t accustomed to people wanting to admire them closely either.

Still, in all of their indifference, they were beautiful. Not a pony, but yet shorter, stockier, and coated in thicker hair than a normal horse, these gentle creatures tolerated us well enough.

I tried to be as cautious and slow-moving as I could be, so as not to startle them; there was so little noise among the coastal hills that even my camera’s shutter seemed atrociously loud, making their soft ears twitch.

I suddenly remembered that I had a spare apple in the pouch of my bus seat, and swiftly ran to grab it to be given as a peace offering, or a bribe, whichever you prefer.

It worked, more or less. One fuzzy-footed horse was curious enough at the crunch that sounded as I bit into the crisp green apple.

I flicked the chunks toward her and ever so gradually she made her way over to me to halt within a couple feet. She refused to eat out of my hand no matter how still I sat.

As we were all turning to go, I tossed the remains on the ground. When I looked back, she was smugly chomping up the fruit.

By the time we arrived at our hotel in the area of Borgarfjörður–which was definitely the nicest one along the journey, as far as luxuries go–it was beginning to sink in that this was our final evening together as a tour group, but I tried to push that thought away until morning, at least.

I didn’t actually order dinner that night, since I’d snacked so frequently on the bus that afternoon. However, Suzanne, another other Aussie traveling solo, was unable to finish and ended up sharing half of her meal with me.

No matter where I go, I seem to end up assuming the role of garbage disposal. I’m not complaining, though. Everyone has their talents…

Over candlelit dinner, surrounded by large windows that boasted mountain views, we talked about art and politics and cultures…anything besides the inevitable conclusion to come of our trip the following day.

This hotel was also the most busy one we’d encountered thus far, and filled with many other young adults, more than I’d seen in one place in over a week.

In fact, as I recapped the majority of this day’s adventures writing in my travel journal on a couch near big bay windows, a bunch of young Icelanders drunkenly made out on the couches adjacent from me.
As entertaining as that was, I retired sooner than planned to my dorm room. Janice had already drifted off to sleep, and as I slid under the covers of my own bed, I soon did the same, undoubtedly with a bittersweet smile on my face.

Saturday, May 6th, 2017, West Iceland back to Reykjavik:

We could take our time this last day. With more stops and less driving to do, and no intense rush to return to Reykjavik at a specific hour, we were able to make the most of each mile and minute that passed.
Our first stop that morning was only a mile or two up the road from the hotel, to explore a giant crater, and get a view of several others around it.
The pictures don’t do it justice, but for what it’s worth I promise it was immaculate and spectacular.
Much like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, I stood along the top rim of it feeling ant-like and insignificant.

Just another short drive to the other side of the highway, we made another stop at a nearby waterfall.

The sign said Gonguleidir, so we’ll just go with that.

Of all the waterfalls we saw, this one was definitely least impressive, but that’s not to discredit it.

I did find a few great angles after all: One bird’s eye view, staring straight at it, and the other right alongside it, with my feet inches from the rapids.

If Stone was good at anything, it was at discerning how much time was appropriate in each spot, and when everyone had had their fill of a place yet or not.

I hardly remember a time when he was urging us to hurry up, telling us it was time to get going.

We all just sort of knew, and he did as well.

The bus ride to our next stop was another short distance.

Deildartunguhver (yeah, say that one 5 times fast) natural hot spring boasted of gorgeous, bold colors.

From rust red and oddly complementary lime green rocks to turquoise waters that bubbled and boiled from the earth’s depths, this narrow geyser splattered and spurted constantly, sending steam into the otherwise cloudless blue sky.

The fence around the stream was marked with the sign “Haetta” which I had seen before and gathered to mean “Danger” or “Warning.”

I never asked for sure but some things don’t need an explanation.

The thermal water running downhill is collected into a large pipeline and sent in the direction of multiple towns within a 65 km radius to be used as central heating.

Apparently, this small dot on the map is known as Europe’s most powerful hot spring.

It is also severely guarded by a wild and ferocious watchdog.


If this overfed fur-ball guarded anything, it might be his lunch or any handouts he expected from visitors as payment to his touristy territory.

Boy, was he cute though. I missed Samson the minute he waddled up to us, begging to be loved.

Also within the vicinity was a row of greenhouses, filled with probably all sorts of vegetation but I distinctly recall seeing a sign for tomatoes, mainly.

I can’t be sure. I and the other girls from my tour were too busy with the fluffy animal following us around.


the hot spring pipeline taking boiling geyser water to many Icelanders

Before lunch, we stopped at a local museum of sorts, which gave praise to a famous Icelander named Snorri Sturluson.

Born in 1179, he became a historian, lawyer, and politician; however, he’s probably most known for being a writer, mainly of Norse mythology.

Likely, he was an advanced and controversial thinker for his time, but he is legendary nonetheless for his impact in both Iceland and Norway.

The museum also had giant stone artifacts fastened to the wall, which reminded me a lot of the Ten Commandments Moses received from God on Mount Sinai.

I had a great urge to touch them, but you’ll be happy to know I restrained the childlike impulse.

How they were preserved, or what they said, I forget. There was too much to read.

The little church on the same grounds was nothing too tremendous on the outside, but quaint once indoors.

Compared to most old churches I’ve seen in Europe, this one wasn’t gaudy, nor was it mixed with ancient pagan culture. I quite liked it.

While some of us were upstairs taking pictures, I overheard two of my tour mates behind me discussing religion and attending church.

One had dismissed that last part, saying that it had never been too necessary to them; in turn, the other said she hadn’t been in years, but at one time had been devout and loved to go to service.

“Not like you, though,” she suddenly directed toward me. “You’re a good girl, aren’t you?”

This was a statement more than a question, and not a disdainful accusation by any means, but it still caught me off guard. I wasn’t able to find adequate words to respond in a timely manner.

It’s amazing what we say even when we don’t say anything at all, I thought to myself as I stepped down the narrow staircase and headed back outside.

We enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch at Husafell Bistro.

I think I ate more this meal than almost every meal combined that week. And for the flat, fairly inexpensive cost of $20, by Iceland’s standards, I took full advantage of the value.

There was beet salad and fresh fruit and vegetables. I had fourths. No shame.

Another quick bus ride of maybe 5 minutes from the restaurant gave Stone just enough time to brief us on the history of the next place on our agenda.

Hraunfossar and Barnafoss, twin waterfalls that cascaded over a ridge of an old lava flow channel, are fascinating for more than just their good looks.

Legend has it that two young brothers went out on their own one day and did not return home. Their parents, arriving home to find them missing, set out to follow their tracks, which led to the natural bridge that once crossed the Hvita river where the waterfalls flow into.

However, the tracks ended here, and believing her children to have drowned, the mother cursed the bridge, which not long after came tumbling down due to an earthquake. Other accounts say she simply had it destroyed to prevent further tragedies.

Of course, it is likely that a natural bridge would eventually crumble altogether after some time resisting the sheer force of the river beneath it.

One way or another, the natural bridge ceased to exist, and now there is a man-made bridge for visitors to cross in order to get a view of both sides of the river.

Speaking of views, this photo to the right was taken on a very secure, very obviously trodden ledge outside of the rope boundary.

After getting a few pictures, I returned the several paces to step back over the rope and was met mid-step by a blonde, middle-aged woman, who was scowling directly at me.

She stood in front of a small group of people and obviously wanted to be heard by all.

“This is here for a reason, you know!” She snapped in a condescending, slightly accented tone, gesturing to the rope hanging below our knees. I couldn’t tell which accent she had, exactly, but she wasn’t Icelandic or American.

“Oh, I see,” I simply replied, with probably what looked like a facetious smile as I went on my way. If she had meant to scold me and consequently make me feel ashamed of myself, she had failed.

My week had been too full of wonderful, unrelenting, rocky cliff-edged moments to have been fazed by then.

We all exchanged email addresses once we were all back on the bus in our self-appointed seats. But after that, the slow hour or more drive down the western coastline was a silent one.

The reverent atmosphere didn’t alter much when we arrived at a pleasant bay area.

We climbed the steep golden hill toward an overlook for one long last view of the breathtaking nature all around us.

The sparkling blue, still waters, the blinding afternoon sun, the shadows of fjord mountains that never seemed to end–we were imprinting these sights, sounds, and smells into our minds for good.

Words weren’t needed.

We had all become so accustom to each other that simply sharing the scenery with one another’s presence was sufficient.

yes, of course I sat on the edge of this

Stone was a gem (can’t believe I didn’t think to make that pun on the trip) and instead of dropping me off first, as my hostel was the closest on the outskirts of Reykjavik, he waited for me to throw my bag into the dorm room and hop back on the bus for a ride downtown.

We all said tender good-byes and well-wishes and scattered invites to each others’ homelands, then parted ways, one by one.

Beyond glad that this second free day in Reykjavik was a stark contrast to my first, I followed my low top Converse and camera lens wherever they wished to roam.

They led me to the Harpa, an architectural masterpiece of a building hanging out into the harbor.

It serves as a concert hall and general hub for all sorts of cultural events and gatherings.

Though I could have stuck around that structure for an hour, trying to get every possible angle on it, the itch to explore all I could before daylight was extinguished kept me moving.

I crossed the street, heading east along the harbor toward the Sun Voyager sculpture, and did a double take at a young man in an Arizona State University t-shirt.

We had a pleasant chat. I told him all about the places I thought worth visiting, and we both marveled at how small this world seems sometimes.

Ironic moments like that always stick with me, even if I walk away still wondering why they happen.

I mean, I probably will never see him again, not even in my own state of residence, and yet, I’d met him midway across the Atlantic ocean.

Maybe, it was just a reminder that even though I was solo, even more so now apart from my tour group, I wasn’t ever really alone.

Being goal-minded as I was at that moment, the encounter was brief, and I made it at last to the famous sculpture without further distraction.

Well, except for the gaggle of children hanging all about the giant steel artwork when I first arrived.

I couldn’t blame them, really. If I could have gotten away with it I may have done the same thing.

A little bit of biding my time, though, and I finally got a few shots free of photobombers.

I can’t tell you much more about the structure except that it is supposed to represent a Viking ship, like one of many that would have landed in this area to make its claims so many years ago.

It’s pretty cool–one of those things you have to see while you’re in the city.

I was turning toward the walking path when I was startled by a loud “psst” from a lady talking on her phone on one of the steps that faced the sculpture.

She silently gestured whether I’d like her to take a picture of me with the landmark, to which I nodded graciously in return.

Thus ending her phone call, she took my phone and began circling all around me like paparazzi, taking several shots instead of the stingy singular one that most people take begrudgingly when you ask them.

“Thank you so much!” I told her, with as much meaning as I could. Before I turned around, she was pulling out her phone again, asking if I minded taking some for her as well.

“I live here, see it all the time; I take pictures for everybody but never have anyone take picture for me, I don’t even think about it!” She exclaimed, then went off in a myriad of poses and expressions for her camera. I was more than glad to return the favor.

I saw her point, too. Only recently have I been trying to explore the surroundings of the city and state I dwell in; it’s always easier to see the beauty in far-off places and miss what’s right under our noses.

While we’re on the subject of noses, it was about this time I caught a whiff of something savory, and suddenly my appetite was awakened.

Everyone I had spoken to, local and tourist alike, had promised me that an Icelandic hot dog was what dreams were made of.

Like most of you, I have my own idea of what hot dogs are made of, foreign or not. I kept telling myself, “you didn’t come all this way to eat a hot dog.”

But after so many people’s confessions, I finally broke down. Who was I to look down my nose at cheap, filling food anyway? If you’re trying to be a local, eat like one.

Right across the street from the Harpa, I found the little stand people raved about. Although I had to detour around some construction zones to get to it, I made it in perfect timing, as right after I ordered the line grew exponentially.

Granted, it has been a very long time since I’ve eaten a hot dog, what with trying to steer clear of gluten and all that, so maybe I’ve just forgotten. I tried to find something wrong with it, truly, but I’m afraid I have to agree with the masses.

This foot long, $5 dog was scrumptious.

I don’t even know what all they put on it; when the guy asked me “the works?” I said “heck, yes!” and that was that. I know the bun was toasted, and there were grilled sweet onions under it. As for the sauce…?

It doesn’t matter, it was wonderful and I wish I could have stuffed more in my purse and taken them on the plane with me the next day.

And now, you can enjoy the quirky art walls of the colorful neighborhoods just like I did at this point.

Except, I had a licorice latte in hand from one of the many local cafes busting with people.

The streets were raucous and jubilant, busy with all sorts of people. Tourists and locals alike meshed well together on the sidewalks, no one stood out as over-distinguished.

All were content to enjoy the freshness of spring.

When you take sunshine for granted, it’s easy to forget how thankful people in other lands are when it does decide to illuminate their days.


But don’t let the light in these pictures fool you; it was about 9 PM, and the air was rapidly losing its hint of warmth, in my humble opinion.

In between Wi-Fi breaks wherever I could find them, Janice and I did try to meet back up, but alas we both realized we were heading in opposite directions.

I took this as a sign that I should be responsible and get things situated back at my home for the night, and started my way south toward the same hostel I had stayed in a week prior, the Capital Inn.

On the way, which I had memorized by now, I passed the Hallgrimskirkja church once more. Though it was still iconic and recognizable from afar, it looked vastly more impressive with the waning sunlight shining on its rigid features.

Again, I had missed the window of opportunity to enter inside and look out the top; they had closed an hour prior.

Another time, I told myself. Somehow, I knew even then, Lord willing, I’d be back to Iceland some day.

I walked for some time, alone with my thoughts, soaking in the city’s vibes.

Just before cresting the small hill that led downward to my destination, I paused, turning back to see the massive steeple towering over the city like a misplaced lighthouse.

My dorm room this second time was a whole new experience.

The room only contained bunk beds and a desk. The bathrooms were down the hall and the kitchen was also a shared area outside our door.

I knew I’d be sharing this time; I had booked a 4 person room.

I really only needed a place to crash for a few hours since I had to be picked up by the shuttle around 4 AM to catch my flight to Paris.

However, when booking, I didn’t realize that “4 person” did not specify genders. Whoops, indeed.

To my surprise (accompanied by an “oh no” feeling) two young women, and a young man, all walked in the room and introduced themselves cordially.

As much as it should have felt awkward, though, it wasn’t. Thank the Lord, everyone remained fully dressed.

We talked for some time about all of our travels–they were obviously much more experienced and cultured than I. Each from different European countries, they had met at a hostel years before, and quickly bonded, becoming travel buddies for life.

These are the kind of people you only read about or see in documentaries, I thought to myself. And yet here they were, normal and real as could be. I wish to this day I had gotten their contact info, or at least remembered their names.

Sleep seemed silly at this point, especially with my mind racing in anticipation of the next day’s travels, but there wasn’t much else to do.

The clock on my phone said somewhere past midnight when the lights were off and we all settled into our creaky mattresses; I could still see a soft, orange glow on the horizon through the small window.

Before drifting into a restless doze, I recall shaking my head and chuckling at myself at the oversight I’d made in reserving this room. Yes, all had turned out well, thank God again, but I wouldn’t be making that mistake twice–best not to push my luck.