The sleepy drive to our first and only planned destination, Skogafoss, was filled with blue skies, which would become rare, and wind which would not.
In the light of day and just beginning our trip it was hard to pick where “not” to stop. Outside of Reykjavik the landscape seemed unearthly. High winds picked up snow on the way side, floating it across the road like a frothy fast moving river we were ever crossing. Spouts of steam from the thermal activity that blesses Iceland appeared unexpectedly at first and then expectantly as they are everywhere in this area.
Our first pull off was an overlook just outside of Hveragerdi, and as you can see there is a huge advantage to having a photographer for a boyfriend. In the midst of taking pictures a crew of Icelandic boys, most likely younger than 20, empty out of a small caravan and descend into the windy landscape to film a low production, actual foot stomping, fists on chest, music video. Through the wind we could hear a song, sans instruments, with extra fervency and boldness given our presence that was both amusing and impressive. As quickly as they descended they loaded back up and departed. Whoever you are, we’re crossing our fingers for y’all to be another Icelandic musical success. FYI, Sigur Ros is an all-time favorite, give them a listen! Moving on.
The difference between Matthews and my energy levels at this point seemed immeasurable. He had infinite in the way one does when you are feeding that hearty inner being by doing the thing you love the most. I on the other hand, having never ventured through so many time zones, felt like my 15 year old self after getting my wisdom teeth out, in and out of elation from the anesthesia and pure exhaustion. I succumbed to the battle when Matt ventured from the ring road, using some internal map the well-traveled seem to draw, and came upon a herd of horses out in a pasture. With my pretty fair knowledge of American horses, which I often claim as my spirit animal, I chose to stay in the car given their distance and likely indifference. I watched as Matthew walked a fair distance to the fence line, and as if he had a horse whistle, the fury group trotted immediately toward him. Jealousy and excitement overcoming any thought of sleep, I ran from the car to share in some horse chat. So rewarding! Icelandic horses are badass lovers who jockey for the best position to get their head in your hand. And their hair!!! 80’s hair band is the style they sport. The horses are short in stature and when you’re used to the stance of the American horse a bit childlike in a way. Hence the baby ones drew out an involuntary high peach squeal baby talk from me, which I learned should never be used in front of those you hope to attract.
With the biting wind filling up our misery quota (explanation in another post, keep reading) we sprinted, me in the lead, back to the car. For me, I had swung too high, our welcoming committee had exceeded my expectations, and the only thing left to do was pass the memory into one sweet dream. What transpired from here till our hotel in Skogar only Matthew knows cause my lights were out.
“After seeing the horses, Anna fell asleep in the car and I drove to the hotel in Skogar” – Matthew
Hotel Skogafoss, which would become our blizzard bunker, was a modest, need supplying refuge planted ideally within the Skogafoss waterfall‘s plume. We threw our bags in our room, which was basic but very clean, layered up and headed out into the elements.
A few points to mention, which is one of the goals of this and all future writings is to share the lessons we learn while traveling, what we refer to as Traveler Trues.
Prior to leaving we agreed that we would save money through our accommodations. From research and from our resultant experience, Iceland is expensive in terms of goods. Gas, food and alcohol are more expensive, and I’m tempted to use the term “much more”, than the U.S., but that doesn’t mean it can’t be economical. By choosing to get around on our own instead of joining tours (rental car rates are comparable to U.S.) and by staying in basic hotels and guest houses, our trip cost less than we budgeted. Based on every place we stayed, 4 total over 10 days, it seems that Iceland has a high standard for cleanliness and also truth in advertising. You get what you see.
Additionally, after our first night we realized the importance of staying in a place that either has an internal restaurant or a means to keep and make food. This is especially true in winter because you don’t know if the weather will permit you to head out to a restaurant. Besides Hotel Skogafoss, we stayed in guest houses that had kitchens and were able to buy groceries and make breakfast, lunch and dinner when we wanted. Groceries are expensive (bacon was $20), but we kept it simple and saved money. Moving on.
The Skogafoss waterfall, the “foss” meaning waterfall in Icelandic, so I was just redundant, was fascinating and provided a playground of sorts to make us feel like kids again. The water falls over a great breadth with a drop of 60 meters into a turning pool outlined by ice that is covered in millions of frozen nodules from the spray back. The season enabled us to walk within the waterfall cavern on thick ice and feel the freezing mist from the highland run-off.
The sun was down at this point and cast a similar blue hue which we had seen in the morning. Given the time of day and that it was winter, a tourist off season, we were nearly alone and took advantage by skating across the frozen water, climbing rocks to get to closer positions, and laying on the ice to just look up and take in the validation of our trip.
After the sun went down we headed in for some dinner. As I said before our hotel had an internal restaurant, which was run by the same hotel staff that greeted us when we got there. For dinner we shared Atlantic Char, a hearty lamb stew and a couple of Viking beers. From what we read prior to our trip, Icelandic food was not going to be the most memorable take away. So we were pleasantly surprised that everything was precisely delicious and so so much what we were craving after a long day in the cold Icelandic wind.
Bellies full and little buzzed we headed back for a huge sleep before a serious day of trekking. Right before we left the dining room the hotel manager (owner maybe) called after us that we would not be leaving the hotel the next day. Dun dun dun and then he pulled a hatchet and…. Kidding. He let us know that an isolated storm was on its way and that it would not be safe to leave the hotel even to go to our car. Whelp what could we do. Maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as he thought….
So that’s Iceland in the winter. Unpredictable. It had been sunny the day before and on this day we had 40 km per hour winds and a very loud white out. So we did what eager travelers do. We slept in, sampled most of the hotel menu, put a significant dent in our duty free liquor and played a card version of monopoly with some fellow travelers who offered delicious wasabi chocolate. We kicked Day 2’s booty!!!!