Ég elska Ísland (Day 1)

‘Ég elska Ísland’ translates to ‘I love Iceland’ 

My first 3 steps outside the airport were met with a howling wind and a biting cold that attacked my exposed head. “Holy s*&@ it’s cold!” But I loved it. I’m not used to cold weather. I grew up in California my entire life so anything 40°F and under is like a different world to me.

Jonn and his buddy Guillermo met me promptly at 7:30am outside Keflavik airport. It was good to see a familiar face. One I hadn’t seen in almost a year. Jonn was working in Europe and the Middle East before he left his job to backpack around Europe indefinitely. We hoped in the rental car and we were off to the capital, Reykjavik.

You can never really predict the weather in Iceland. One minute it will be windy and starting to rain and the next it will be scattered clouds and sunshine. No real use looking at the forecast. Just be prepared.

Somewhere along the Highway 1

We checked into a familiar place I had once stayed, Kex Hostel in Reykjavik. It’s a popular place among tourists and locals alike. They host live music during the weeknights where you can find the bar packed full with people enjoying themselves. It was only 8:15am and I hadn’t slept in almost a day. Breakfast was self-serve and boasted an arrangement of fresh bread, coffee, oatmeal, jams, jellies and a salami and cheese platter. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and after eating airlines pretzels and trail mix the last 12 hours, this looked even more amazing.

Shark shed in Seltjarnarnes

We filled up with more food than we could stomach and quickly layered up for the day’s adventure. It was a beautiful day outside with the sun peering through the layer of clouds. Fresh with ideas of where to go and see, we opened up our country map and decided that today would best be spent exploring the western coast. I had read about a little pool that was carved into a boulder by an artist named Ólöf Nordal and it was only a short 10-minute ride from Kex hostel. It was called Kvika in the Seltjarnarnes peninsula right in the outskirts of Reykjavik. It’s basically a thermal foot bath right at the edge of the water in front of this old wooden shed. The shed omits a strong odor from dead sharks being hung to air-cure. Upon reaching this little pool, the winds were blowing at 2,768 miles per hour. The water felt nice and hot but the winds prevented us from removing any clothing and hoping in.

We continued on our day’s journey up the western coast. As you leave Reykjavik, it’s surprising to see how close all these mountains are. Luckily for us, the sun was out but with the winds blowing strong towards the east, it made for a chilly afternoon. There is this sub-sea tunnel around 3.5 miles long that you must pass through at the beginning of the drive. These tunnels were built under water because of the snow that often closes down roads during the winter months. How they were able to build such an enormous tunnel underneath freezing rough waters is past me. Continuing up the coast, it quickly became apparent that the scenery was getting more and more beautiful. As jet lagged as I was, I took this all in as much as I could. I love this place. There weren’t really many people on the road for most of our journey. You almost felt like you had the mountains and roads to yourself.

Roaming the fields

Upon reaching Arnarstapi, we got out to take in the cold air and beautiful views. Also known as “Stapi,” Arnarstapi is a small fishing village located on the southern side of Snaefellsnes. It’s interesting to see how remote these small villages are. I can’t help but wonder how simple yet enjoyable their lives must be. Everyone has his or her own struggles in life but here everything just seems so simple and I like that.

Arnarstapi

Cold air, mountains, waterfalls, little homes on the cliff side. Amazing

When you rent a car, which you should, make sure you rent a GPS. Crucial. Many of the places we stumbled upon were found via GPS coordinates. Makes you feel like you are truly exploring when a place requires you to type in coordinates versus a name. The car we drove was a small 4-door sedan that didn’t seem equipped for some of the roads we traversed. There were several times when going off road may have not been the best idea, but hey, you won’t see cool shit unless you take a little risk. Better yet, reserve a car that has 4x4 capabilities.

Continuing around the tip of the peninsula, we came across the Lóndrangar rock formations. They are these two rock pinnacles, most likely volcanic plugs, left behind from an early eruption. You can see them clearly from the steep cliff sides.

Londrangar rock formation

If the conditions permit, you should check out Snæfellsjökull, a 700,000 year-old active glaciated volcano. It’s located right at the tip of the peninsula. We didn’t get a chance to see it but there’s always next visit.

Our day’s journey took us through a few more scattered fishing villages before we turned back for Reykjavik. Day 1 was an amazing start to this adventure and I could only hope that the next few days would provide the same if not better places to see.