KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We had an absolutely fantastic week in Iceland last year in September 2011 and enjoyed flying with Icelandair. We decided to fly with them once again, and thought stopping in Iceland for one night would be a great way to break up the long flight into manageable segments. We had discovered a terrific guesthouse near the airport and planned to rent a car for a day in order to explore the nearby peninsula.
Our flight landed around 6:30am local time and the owner of the guesthouse drove the short distance to pick us up. Other guests were busy enjoying a hot breakfast, and we were encouraged to join them while our room was being cleaned. Many international flights arrive and depart in the early hours, and breakfast had begun at 4:00am. Our room was ready in no time and we tucked in for a few hours sleep before our car was delivered at noon.
The sky had been heavily overcast when we settled into the comfy bed, but the sun was shining brightly when we awoke three hours later. Kapoor luck strikes again. We learned that a Festival of Lights had been underway in light rain the day before, and that the fireworks show had lasted well into the night.
We checked the forecast for the following day, when we were booked to continue on to Oslo, and read that there was a 100% chance of rain. We didn’t waste any time getting into our wee car and setting off to explore a part of Iceland that we had missed on our previous visit.
There are only 300,000 people in Iceland and over 80% live in and around the capital Reykjavik. The population is very sparse on the Reykjanes peninsula, but the settlements are usually within 10km of each other. Each community seems to have its own historic church, and seeing that it was Sunday, I thought it might be interesting to visit many of them and take some photos. I also took a few moments to walk through the cemeteries and take note of the inscriptions and decorations on the markers. Many of the graves date to the mid-19th century.
The lighthouses here and there around the peninsula were fascinating and, in some places, we had a short walk from the road so that we could admire the ground underfoot, the smell of the short grasses and the sea salt on the breeze. The temperature was in the mid-teens, but we weren’t in the least bit cold due to the warm sunshine.
After stopping in several communities, we came to the ‘Bridge Across Two Continents’. It is here that geologists believe the European/Asian tectonic plate is pulling away from the North American plate, causing a series of fissures, gaps and eruptions in the region. A bridge was erected to give visitors a real sense of the meeting of the continents.
We stopped in a small fishing village for a light lunch and enjoyed chatting with a young couple who owns the local café near the harbour. The young Icelandic man had met his wife in the Philippines when he was travelling the world, and we learned that one of his brothers was married to a Thai woman and another to a German. We told them their family was almost as international as our own.
When we asked for the easiest route out of town towards the south coast, he suggested we might be interested in driving on the small road around the wee Hópsnes peninsula in order to view the many shipwrecks washed up on the rocks. He told us that there are markers indicating the name of the ship, the date it was wrecked and whether the crew was rescued or was lost at sea. We made the detour and found the area compelling and unforgettable.
The road heading east from Grindavik hugs the coast below towering hills and is quite deserted. It’s clear there has been plenty of seismic activity here and it is not an inviting place for settlement. After passing over a low-lying hill, we came to a more hospitable coastline and noticed that it was covered with greenery. It was here that we began to see several cars parked just off the highway, and the locals were bent over picking something growing amidst the rocks.
We turned off the highway near a place called Krysuvikurberg in order to see the largest seabird-breeding colony in all of Iceland. We road wasn’t paved, but it was easy to negotiate for the first few kilometres. We passed a family bent over picking, and stopped to ask them what was so captivating. The woman told us this is the season for wild blueberries, and that they are sweet and juicy and well worth the effort.
We carried on towards the sea, but came upon another small car turning around in the middle of the road. A woman was driving and her young son had hopped out to guide her so she wouldn’t hit the rocks on either side of the road. As soon as they were past us, we could see why she had gone no further. There was a depression in the road that had filled with water from the previous day’s rain, and rocks were sticking up from the puddles.
We might have tried driving through the obstacle if it had been our own car, but we didn’t want to take a chance with a rental vehicle. We turned around as well; much disappointed at not making it to the nearby cliffs where we knew the colony of birds was located. As we drove back, I talked myself into believing that the birds had migrated for the winter, knowing that the puffins had left some weeks earlier.
We stopped when we reached the berry pickers and stooped to sample some of the crop ourselves. The berries weren’t as sweet as the ones that grow in the Frazer Valley near Vancouver, but these were wild berries so that’s to be expected. The skins were delicate and some were so ripe that they burst as we pulled them off the branches.
I noticed at the couple’s 8-year-old daughter was combing the low-lying plants with a scoop-like contraption, and asked her if I could take a closer look. She proudly showed me the scoop and the berries nestled in the bottom. I asked her to hold it so I could take some photos and she seemed very proud to do so. While I was taking photos, Anil was busy picking a handful of berries and he presented them to me as we climbed back into the car.
The family gave us a friendly wave goodbye, and I remember feeling that my disappointment had vanished. I don’t know if they would still have been there if we had dawdled at the bird colony, we would have missed the chance for a friendly chat with a local Icelandic family.
We had been on the road for almost six hours by this time, so we drove back west in order to catch a glimpse of the world-famous Blue Lagoon. When we made our plans to visit Iceland on our way to Scandinavia, we felt quite strongly that we would spend some time soaking in the rich mineral waters, but we were so enjoying the drive and the sights that we decided not to interrupt the solitude by plunging into such a commercial enterprise.
We had enjoyed our visit to the mineral baths at Myvatn on our first visit to Iceland. It’s located in the northeastern part of Iceland, and not many tourists make it that far from Reykjavik and the nearby Blue Lagoon. Many locals told us that the Blue Lagoon used to be a more natural place to visit, much like Myvatn is now. When we pulled up to the parking lot, we could see several large tour buses and scores of cars so we knew the place would be hopping.
We did walk in to have a look around and were put off by the crowds. The fact that we had to exit through the gift shop was the final nail in the coffin. We turned and left feeling like we hadn’t missed much at all. Our memories of the healing waters of Iceland were unblemished, we felt we’d made the right choice and turned our car in the direction of ‘home’, our guest house in Keflavik.
Anil’s face fell when I told him I wanted to make one more stop. Jet lag was beginning to set in and he just wanted to get to the guesthouse. I had seen a series of stone figures along the coast when we drove from the airport to Reykjavik last year and I wanted to take a closer look.
I’d read that the cliffs overlooking the sea, were believed to be haunted by a ghost who liked to lure the unwary to their deaths. The stone figures were erected to warn the unsuspecting traveller. We had some fun climbing up to the figures and posing for photos. Once I climbed up for my photo, I had to wait for Anil to give me a hand down again. The ghost was nowhere in sight.