We are on a tighter budget this year in Iceland, compared with last summer. Although we were by no means rich in 2016, we had the funds to rent cars and stay indoors from time to time.
This year, we hitch hike.
It feels utterly like cheating to me, having always paid my way around the world up to this point (with the exception of taking a train in India on the wrong day to Saway Madhopur). We set out on a Monday, and told ourselves we’d see if we could make it to Borgarnes. That was about halfway to where we wanted to be.
We made it more than 230km in a few hours. Things just clicked into place, and suddenly we were in a car with a Polish couple who live in London, a local who was escaping his office in a country house, a Frenchwoman who moved here 20 years ago, and a Singaporean man who drove approximately 130km/hr (I forced myself to stop looking at some point, for the sake of my dry underwear). An Icelandic woman delivering fresh salad took us the final 17km, filling our ears with stories from the region from the time of the Icelandic Sagas.
Arnastapi is a village with only one place to stay on the very end on the Snaefellsness peninsula, right next to the glacier that bears the same name. Snæfellsjökull is famous for being the entry point in Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne, and is a huge volcanic glacier that rises precipitously 1400m from sea level.
The area around Arnastapi is full of lava fields, Basalt columns formed by lava and the seawater, holes in the ground, and birds. The first night was gorgeous weather, the kind of Icelandic sunshine that is so strong it can actually sunburn. The water was an impossible blue.
I spotted the dorsal fin of a wild Orca in the distance. We sat and watched it for about ten minutes, while it was just offshore. We turned and made our way back into ‘town’ (there are like, four permanent residences or something), and the Orca suddenly burst fully out of the water in a breach. It was crazy!
The next day, the weather turned. Strong winds buffeted the little orange tent we have. Pouring rain soaked us so badly on the 200m walk to the refuge of the local Cafe that we dripped all over the floor. We sat down for a few hours, hoping that it would pass.
It didn’t. It just got worse. We periodically checked our tent, which sat alone in a field of broken, flooded, abandoned brethren. After resigning to be soaked through, we walked the 3km to Hellnar along the coast. Here we found an amazing coffeehouse at the end of the world, with cozy decor and free refills. I drank my fourth, fifth, and sixth cups of the day, mixed with raw rock sugar.
Having hitch hiked so far, we resolved to hike to the Singing Caves. Near Snæfellsjökull are these caves, formed out of lava flows buffeted by the strong winds of the area over thousands of years. The igneous rock is a bit like glass in structure, and it rings with amazing acoustics.
First we had to get there. The wind had really picked up, and the sky had darkened even a little more. It was 6C out, and the rain was flying sideways. At least on the way up the wind was at our backs most of the way, but the 4 km out there felt pretty long. It was creepy up on the hill above the town, with nobody around at all and just flying fog everywhere. An abandoned mining operation added to the atmosphere.
We came around a corner, and suddenly we could both feel the glacier.
We couldn’t see it, because of the fog and low clouds. But it had a definitive presence, almost like a light turning on in a room or a breeze coming around the corner of a building. Except that up there the wind had almost totally stopped. Russell says it felt like a reverse radiator to him. Some Icelanders say that Snæfellsjökull has strange energy. I think it’s clear that there are no UFOs landing on glaciers , energetic vortexes, or a ‘heart chakra’ for the Earth, but I sensed the glacier.
When we arrived at the caves, I sang a little. The reverberations could be felt, standing in the caves. We looked around at the walls and saw the carvings of many people who’d stayed inside for shelter over the years. The oldest date I saw was from 1711.
The return walk was fairly brutal. 4km with the wind right in our faces, stinging rain, and not being able to hear one another very well. It was as good a field test as our rain wear could ever get, and overall my Goretex did its job. My water-resistant trousers, however, were drenched.
We hid in the cafe once more, wrapped up in blankets and stuffing our faces with expensive french fries. My body craved calories from trying to keep warm all day. I even ate all the coleslaw, which normally I don’t like at all. I drank my eighth(?) coffee of the day and bought an ice cream. We changed into warm clothes and went back to our miraculously-dry tent. We zipped our sleeping bags together and settled in. I was wired from all the coffee and read my Kindle until about 3AM, finishing the very crappy space novel I had bought for a dollar on Amazon.
The tent held all night, and we didn’t get wet. The next day we brought everything to the toilet house (the only indoor structure at the campsite), and packed up for the public bus. Just as we were leaving Arnastapi, the weather changed. It was just in time for the Summer Solstice, and we were ready to head to Stykkisholmur.