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Posts Tagged ‘Highway 1’

For the remainder of our time in Iceland, we originally planned to spend some time near Lake Myvatn in the centre north of the country. We realised, though, that it would be very expensive to stay there and difficult to get around. We arranged, instead, to spend most of our last few days in Reykjavik – but not before spending a night in Akureyri, a large (by Icelandic standards – 18,000 people) town in the north.

To get there, Habiba found us a car-sharing ride via a website for exactly this purpose. It turned out that the guy was not only taking us to Akureyri, but moving a portion of his belongings to Reykjavik, carrying another traveller to Reykjavik and picking up two more when he dropped us off. When we saw his car, we didn’t realise there was another person along for the ride – and it didn’t even look like it would take the two of us and all our stuff. The boot was nearly full and there was a pile of stuff occupying passenger space in the back. However, we moved stuff around, the other guy – a Briton – sat in the front with his backpack, my backpack was squeezed in between the back seat pile and the roof of the car, the driver unloaded a few board games back at his Egilsstaðir home and Habiba and I squashed ourselves in with our smaller bags by our feet or in the space behind the handbrake.

The ride to Akureyri was pleasant. We chatted a little, the driver played some good music (some Queen, a bit of Rammstein – I was happy) and we stopped at a couple of interesting places. The first of these was the mudpots at Námafjall (‘á’ is pronounced like the ‘ow’ in ‘town’ (and you’ll remember that ‘ll’ is ‘tl’)). These mudpots are small craters full of grey, bubbling mud and they emit steamy clouds with the juicy bad egg smell of sulphur.

The second place was Goðafoss, a waterfall that looked like a scaled down Niagara Falls and was so-called because an early convert to Christianity tossed his pagan statues into the water there. There was one outcropping of rock that looked out over the basin and looked like an inviting place to stand. To get there, though, you had to cross a delta of rivulets by leaping from rock to rock – not so easy when you’re wearing a small, but heavily packed backpack.

In Akureyri, we had a couple of beds booked at Akureyri Backpackers, the local branch of the hostel we stayed at and would stay at again in Reykjavik. It was a much nicer place than the capital’s version – newly opened (it smelled of paint and work was still being carried out in places) and, with its pristine white walls and its wood floors, good enough to be a hotel. We were told when we checked in that they’d double booked our beds so we were upgraded for free to a twin room.

Leaving the hostel to check out the bus station for travel the following day, we saw Isabel and Dylan, who had left the farm a few days before us. We hung out together for a while; we got curries from a little Indian takeaway – my vindaloo tasted all right, but wasn’t very spicy. Later, Habiba and I went to the botanical gardens together.

The next day, we began to carry out our plan to hitchhike all the way from Akureyri to Reykjavik. We got up nice and early and started waiting by the main road going through the town (Highway 1, the ringroad circling the whole country) at around nine o’clock. We took note of the traffic lights with the heart-shaped red lights. I’d been pretty sceptical about the project, but Habiba’s enthusiasm brought me on board. No one picked us up and I argued that we’d stand a better chance if we walked further through the town in the direction of the capital.

We made our way to the hostel that Dylan and Isabel had been staying at. While waiting – Habiba wielding a piece of paper with ‘REYKJAVIK’ written on it – a couple of cyclists told us that we should try further along the road, so we moved on to the last major junction in the town. And we waited. And waited. Eventually, I told Habiba we should cut our losses and stop at midday and make other plans; she reluctantly agreed. At about 11:55, a couple of lads in a 4×4 told us they could take us about sixty kilometres to their village. We needed to go about 300 km and, given our track record up to then, it seemed a less than certain prospect that we would secure further rides.

So at noon, we started to pick up our bags. Just then, Isabel and Dylan drove past in their rental car. They waved to suggest they’d come around and get us. They were on their way to a music shop; they didn’t have plans to travel to Reykjavik, but they took us with them and then dropped us at Europcar, where we could get our own vehicle. Bus tickets to Rekjavik would have been 11,800 kronur each (£59), if I remember rightly – and the bus only left once a day at eight thirty in the morning, necessitating another night in Akureyri. Renting a small car for twenty-four hours cost 20,000 (£100), although we had to return it with a full tank of petrol.

So we (by which I mean Habiba) drove to Reykjavik. Habiba needed to stop frequently at first so we could take pictures of the beautiful, mountainous countryside. I was on navigation duty; not a difficult task, but we tried to keep track of how far we’d gone and when the next petrol station would come up. With the car, we got a book of vouchers – one of which we made use of for 10% off a whale-watching trip – and three coupons for free coffee at N1 petrol stations. At the first rest stop we made, we discovered that the N1 cappuccinos were disgusting. I got filter coffee next time.

We drove between mountains carved out by glaciation – sometimes rocky, sometimes grassy, sometimes scree sloped – through old lava fields grown over with moss and past fjords cut into the gentle grass- and farmland. Unlike the east of the country, there weren’t many trees – perhaps the reforestation project wasn’t focused here. The drive took something like six hours – maybe a bit longer and concluded with a three kilometre drive under the bay to the north of the capital. The walls of the tunnel were rough ripples of rock, making it seem like you were traversing a natural cave.

We parked up on Laugavegur (‘au’ is apparently pronounced, according to one guide I read, like ‘furry’ without the ‘f’ or ‘r’ sounds, and, as I mentioned in a previous post, the ‘g’s are silent; which basically makes the name of this street an ‘l’ followed by a blur of vowels, punctuated with a ‘v’: ‘Ləəəvəər’) and checked back in to Reykjavik Backpackers for four nights.

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