Northern Exposure Part 1: The Final 44

June 27, 2012

Most pre-trip reactions in response to the news of Meredith and me going to Greenland and Iceland were something like “Oh man, Iceland looks so cool!” Greenland got very little love; but the fact of the matter is that the entire trip was planned as a means to get to Greenland, Iceland was simply a necessity. Don’t get me wrong, I was plenty excited for the southerly cousin as well, but Iceland alone wouldn’t have had the power to lure me all the way out.

We flew direct from Seattle to Reykjavík. We got in quite early in the morning, at about 06:30, so we had all day to check out the city before renting a car and getting on our way somewhat earlyish the following morning. The memories really aren’t entirely clear as we were jet-lagged to complete confusion and dying of lumbago, but I remember sitting in the sun in a park trying to figure out the sun’s ecliptic for that latitude. Reykjavík is quite small, so we were able to get a fairly good look at it in the limited time we had, plus we had a few more days there later in the journey, so we weren’t itching to explore more.

We rented a blisteringly fast Hyundai i10 the following morning with the intent to explore as much of Iceland as we could in the week that we were there. It turns out the i10 is about the size of a dishwasher and commands a mighty 1.1 liter engine; while it certainly wasn’t fast, it did get us and our bags where we needed to go. We headed out of Reykjavík with the intent of making it to Ísafjörður in northwest Iceland by nightfall (or what there is of such a thing during summer). After our parting ways with Route 1 (the ring road that goes around the whole island), we meandered along an ill-kempt but nevertheless paved road out to Vestfirðir. The road devolved into a gravel path after not long; with the aim to not completely destroy the rental car with rocks, we opted to turn back and find another way. We ended up at the sleepy village of Hólmavík instead and set up our tent for the night. The sun only went below the horizon for about an hour, so the sky remained light the whole time.

The next morning we set off for Dalvík in northern Iceland, it’s a beautiful little port town that’s the ferry terminal for Grímsey. We stayed at the only guesthouse in town, a wonderfully-furnished (and -located) building called “Gimli” (no doubt the son of Gloin). The next morning we left the car parked at the guest house and hopped on the three hour ferry to Grímsey. Grímsey is the only place in Iceland that’s actually north of the arctic circle, it’s a tiny little island of about 5 km2. There’s a monument to the arctic circle on the island, but due to the northward (in the Northern Hemisphere) movement of the earth’s (solar-defined) circles of latitude, the monument is considerably south of the actual arctic circle. That, in addition to the fact that the whole island seems to think that the arctic circle is at 66° 33′ rather than 66° 33′ 44″ makes the monument itself quite misleading to the casual tourist. We made it to 66° 33′, but a confusion as to the actual location of the arctic circle (and an unwillingness to walk who-knows-how-much-farther up the island) prevented us from moving on. After arriving back in Dalvík that night, we picked up the car and headed towards Ásbyrgi. We camped at a beautiful little secluded spot a ways into the canyon.

The following day we had a long drive all the way to the south coast of the island through many countless miles of dirt roads (along with an immodest number of waterfalls, many of which were used in the filming of Prometheus). Our destination for the night was Skaftafell National Park. On the way to which we passed Jökulsárlón, which is a well-known lake at the bottom of a glacier which is full of icebergs. We got the chance to watch one of the icebergs break up as well. As we were sitting there looking at the lake, one of the icebergs began to crack down the middle in a number of places, the remaining parts all rolling about until they found a proper balance.

We hiked around the following day a bit, but decided to take off that afternoon. Leaving that early gave us more time to stop somewhere on the way back to Reykjavík. I had seen pictures of Vestmannaeyjar and had wished we had time to go there, it’s a town and a cluster of islands off the south coast, so we decided to stop at the ferry terminal to check the sailing schedule. It turns out the ferry runs several times a day (a welcome notion considering the previous ferry we took only ran several times per week!) with one coming up shortly. We parked the car and hopped on the ferry with our bags. The ferry ride to the town is breathtaking, there are a few sheer-cliffed islands with a single cabin atop them along the way. The town itself is pretty sleepy, but we found a campground and explored a little bit, finishing off the night in a restaurant in town.

The following day we made it back to Reykjavík for a few more days of checking it out. We visited the phallological museum, which apparently houses the world’s largest collection of penises. The museum itself is considerably less interesting than it sounds, though. The remainder of our time in Reykjavík was spent hanging out in bars and restaurants; which, due to our unfavorable exchange rate, is somewhat like burning money. Of note: this thoroughly incomprehensible Lithuanian guy.

Stay tuned for a riveting second part.

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