Day 6 was one of those days where I would be hard pressed to forget. Everything seemed to go wrong, tempers flared and arguments broke out, but it was one of those days where we realized what an adventure we were on.
We were thrown together by chance on a #IcelandChallenge trip of a lifetime. Things were bound to go astray, right?
We checked out of Icelandair Hotel Hérað early in the morning after a phenomenal breakfast. They even brought out some homemade Skyr that we were all dying to try! Honestly, I know I talk about breakfast a lot in these posts, but Skyr was one of my favorite breakfast/snack foods in all of Iceland. It’s this thick, creamy, delectable goodness! I always ate it with granola and fruit, if I had it. Ah, how I miss it!
We stopped to fill up our tank on the way out of Egilsstaðir and after about 20 minutes driving north on Route 1, we took a right on Hellisheiði Eystri to drive over the mountain into Vopnafjörður. This route is 630 meters above sea level (~2067 ft for the Americans, like me). The incline was so steep that our car couldn’t handle the heat—literally. We took it real slow, but the car started spewing steam a few meters shy of the top. It was like something out of a movie. Inga jumped out and threw up the hood like a true Viking, while I wondered how we were going to call AAA roadside assistance on a mountain with no phone service. Inga stepped up and took the reins, while I stumbled over the rocks to the edge of the mountain to snap photos of an absolutely phenomenal view. Imagine a sea of clouds stretching into the sky as far as the eye can see.
I have only been above the clouds in one other spot (south of the equator in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina), but it is something everyone must experience in their lifetime. It makes you feel limitless and puts you in your place at the same time.
The car situation still loomed in the background and Inga suggested that we fill the radiator with water to cool it off, smart woman. Given that I know absolutely nothing about cars, I trusted her judgment. The only water we had on hand happened to be a few Icelandic Glacial bottles. Only the best for our Chevrolet Captiva! (Traveler Tip: Remember to bring water in your car when traveling on back roads in case it gets overheated; you never know when it will come in handy!)
We chugged along at low speed and said hi to the sheep on our way. Once it seemed we had made it to the top, we stopped the car and enjoyed our presumed victory. One or two beers may have been cracked open in celebration! ;) Driving down the mountain, we were all flying high and as soon as we hit sea level, we decided to stop again in a field for what I think was a bathroom break (fields were my bathroom of choice). It was such a stressful couple of hours that we felt the need to blow off some steam so we hopped the fence and ran around like mad women. #noshame
Our next stop was at Dettifoss around 2pm. It was insanely hot, even hotter than the last two days in the east. I want to say it was about 27°C (80°F) but with a blazing sun overhead. The tourists were swarming since Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. It’s also one of the sites where Prometheus was filmed, if you have ever seen that movie.
Our next stop was Krafla which lies just outside of Mývatn. It was one of the most active volcanoes in the 70s and 80s. It has erupted 29 times including one eruption that lasted 5 years! Those five years were known as the Mývatn Fires and occurred between years 1724 and 1729 (according to Wikipedia). Although the last eruption was in 1984, the area is still prone to earthquakes. The crater beneath is known as Víti, or ‘hell’ since many Icelanders used to believe that hell was below these craters. Located just on the other side of Route 1 is Hverir—the geothermal hotspot area. It is highly active with hot steam and mud bubbling up at random spots. The entire area smells like rotten eggs, but that doesn’t keep the tourists at bay. Just remember to be careful walking around this area and stay within the roped pathways! We don’t want anyone gobbled up in a massive mud hole, unless you’re a Star Wars fan, then I’ll allow it.
We made a pit stop for some ice cream and coffee in the town of Mývatn before heading to Goðafoss—the waterfall of the gods. It is as majestic as it sounds. It was my favorite waterfall when I visited in 2012, but coming back a second time, I realized how different waterfalls can look depending on the weather and season. Take a look at these two pictures from 2012 and 2013:
I prefer the gloom of 2012. I may have hyped it up too much to the girls, whoops! They’ll have to come back in early June, instead of the end of July. On our way to Akureyri, we got our stride back and conversation turned to Icelandic candy. Inga had bought a bunch in Mývatn and ugh, I do not understand the licorice fetish in Iceland. One candy after another was either made with licorice or licorice flavored…why, why!? Please tell me how this came about because I don’t get it. The only one I actually like is called þristur (meaning ‘third’ in English) which is licorice covered in milk chocolate. I should tell you that I learned to like it. I wasn’t all that crazy about it to begin with, but after two summers (and being the chocolate aficionada that I am), I’m proud to say it has grown on me.
We had our first look of Akureyri from Eyjafjörður. We rounded a corner, spirits high and saw the second largest city in Iceland on the other side of the fjord. To an American, it’s a cute little fishing town of 18,000 people, but for Iceland, it’s a bustling city and major tourist hub. It is a popular spot to visit in both summer and winter because of its central location in the north and its excellent skiing mountains. We also noticed a cruise ship docked for the night. So, it’s not as little as you may think. The city sprawls upward into the fjord (with farms along the outer rims) and Icelandair Hotel Akureyri sits right on the top.
We checked in around 6pm to find spacious rooms and comfy beds! We threw down our stuff and changed, then walked down to the hotel restaurant Aurora, to meet Sigrún, the hotel manager. We had such a lovely evening with her. She is well-traveled and extremely knowledgeable about tourism in Iceland. She moved to Akureyri in ’97 because she thought it was a nice place to raise kids. She was the mayor of Akureyri for three years which gave her ample time get to know the community and the town’s needs, but the draw of tourism was too strong and now she works as the manager of one of the nicest hotels in town. Her biggest concern about Icelandic tourism is the fragility and lack of infrastructure. The number of tourists that come to Iceland each year is more than twice the size of the country’s population which means the government must invest in the proper resources to handle these numbers. Haven’t you always wanted to come to Iceland? If you haven’t I guarantee one of your friends wants to or already has! The numbers are growing each year because more people are realizing the beauty of this place. If you have been here already, what do you think of the infrastructure of tourism companies and sites around the country? Do you have any thoughts for improvement?
We debated these topics over dinner as we shared our stories and reasons for coming (or living, in the case of the Icelanders) to this special place. The meal was excellent, the wine was smooth and the conversation flowed. It was a wonderful way to end a stressful day.
© All photos taken by Laura Hundersmarck
Plus if you missed any of stories from the Iceland Challenge, click here for past blog articles.