Iceland Day 5: Fjords

Today was a long and wonderful day, and everything I had hoped to get out this trip.

Another early morning saw my alarm beep at 6:30am. The tour I decided on doing was one that did Kayaking and hot springs and the pamphlet I have says it starts at 8am. I showered, got dressed and packed and headed down stairs. Breakfast was just being served at 7 and was much more than I expected. The booking price included breakfast for an additional $5 and with the food costs I’ve seen in the grocery stores ($3 for like 6 thin slices of roast beef), I was expecting very little. What I was served though was cereal, fruit, toast, boiled eggs, sliced meats and cheese, juice and pretty much anything you wanted (like sliced bell pepper!). I ate my fill and felt like the Gluttonous American.

Arriving at the tour office I’m told they think I can go, but they need to verify. They make a call and a bit later get word back that there is a group going, but because it’s a smaller group than the minimum they need an extra 1500 ikr. That’s fine by me, $12 or what ever it comes out to be isn’t going to break the bank and it sounds like fun. As it turns out the other people going decided to pay up what was needed to overcome the minimum and I was just helping to defer the costs some.

At the tour guide’s office I’m given a wetsuit to try on and sent to get myself lunch. Eventually the rest of the tour shows up and it’s a newly wed couple named Sam and Jen who were really looking forward to today’s trip. The office dog, the first dog I’ve seen in Iceland is a ball of energy and is running circles around the office, stopping on occasion to playfully gnaw on the cat. Our guide Gulli (who’s name I’m probably butchering the spelling of) gets us packed up and on our way.

The trip starts with us driving 2 hours south along the coast to the most inland of the fjords. We snake our way up and down each one as we go. The sheer cliffs drop right to the water stopping briefly for our little road and the occasional farm. The water is a dark emerald color and calm as glass. The drive is entertaining in itself. I chat a lot with the couple, they’re friendly and eager to talk. Jen is an American from New Jersey, but has been in England for school where she met Scott who is in the Royal Army.

The weather is just amazing. Looking out my window this morning it seemed a bit gloomy, and last night it rained lightly. I heard this morning from a French man in the tourist office that his trip up to Hornstrandir had to be cut short do to a nasty storm. As it turns out though today the weather was perfect. Partly cloudy with little breeze at around 10C. Plenty warm.

I feel like I’m in the real Iceland now. Not a gift shop with stuffed animals of seals and puffins, or a museum with giant fake Vikings. No, now I’m out in remote unspoiled lands in a small fishing village with a bunch of kind Icelanders.

After what seems like less than an hour we arrived at our destination, a hot spring hotel and a small patch of beach. Hot water from the spring is running into the water at the beach making steam as they meet. We unload, get kitted out, and set off. The water right at the beach is piping hot, but out away from the hot spring it’s cooler though it’s still much warmer than I expect. We’re not far from the arctic circle, Ísafjörður is just 15 miles I’m told south of the arctic circle, and Hornjord where I plan to go tomorrow is just 3. I think after this trip I’d be ok saying I’ve been to the arctic.

The scenery here is just spectacular. The glacier Drangajökull can be seen poking through gaps in the mountains from a distance. There is snow on the tops of many of the fjord mountains. The hottest part of summer has passed and these patches won’t melt much more. The water is clear and rocks jut up in places. Water birds fly away as we slip along the coast line. We see baby puffins, not yet old enough to get the colorful beaks of their parents. Seals sit on rocks, diving in the water as well. They’re very curious and follow us as we go, but they’re also skittish and don’t get any closer than 30 ft. Every so often one would surface, realize it was too close, and make a paniced dive back underwater. We take our time near the seals, they’re fun to watch and we kind of hope they’ll get closer. One sits on a rock just below the water’s surface and looks like he’s sitting on top of the water. I dub him the Jesus seal.

We pull onto a little beach for lunch. I notice I’ve worked up quite a lot of heat and pull off my life jacket and foul weather gear. My arms are a bit tired too with the miles we’ve covered, it seems appropriate after all the walking I did yesterday. I’ve packed two sandwiches of unknown contents from the bakery. They turn out to be quite good and are ham, tomato, and boiled egg. At this point I couldn’t imagine anywhere better to be. We recline along a hillside, the tall grass making a pillow. The sun is shinning through puffy white clouds and we’re watching seals play in the Fjords. I enjoy a nice hot cup of tea brought by our guide and we chat about random things. Gulli as it turns out is a student during the winter, but the high season coincides perfectly with his summer break so he comes home to work.

We head further down the coast hoping to find more seals and maybe some nesting birds but aren’t in luck and turn back around. We now have a slight breeze in our faces which is pleasant but makes the trip back slower. When we arrive at our launching point the tide is a bit lower and the whole beach is awash in steam. We pull our kayaks ashore and haul them to the car taking a slightly odd route to avoid the pipping hot water from the hot spring.

Now it’s time to enjoy a nice hot swim in a rather larger swimming pool filled with hot spring water. But first the customary shower. I’ve heard that the only way to offend an Islander is to not shower before getting in the pool. Of course this means stripping down in a public shower. It bothers me that it still bothers me, but whatever, a quick bit of staring at the walls and I can put my trunks back on and dive in. There doesn’t seem that much point though to me, the water isn’t exactly perfectly clean with some algae in it, and because you’re asked to not shower with your trunks, they’ll bring in contaminants too, plus the walk to the pool isn’t paved completely either. Whatever, it’s a social rule I don’t intend to break. The water is quite hot and the air quite cold. It makes for quite the shock. There are wooden benches along the side and we sit in the water for hours getting out from time to time to cool off, chatting away. We make sure Gulli knows he has an awesome summer job, he gets to do every day what people spend hundreds of dollars to come do, go kayak in some amazing landscapes and sit in a swimming pool sized hot tub. It’s so relaxing and even a weak lager seems like the most amazing drink ever. Eventually we pack it in and head back to town.

We stop along the way for some photos but not much is said. We’re all in a sort of hot tub afterglow, completely relaxed watching as one fjord after another passes by our windows. Little farm houses and settlements with less than a hundred residents.

In town I realize it’s gotten fairly late, around 6:30pm and the tourist office where my bags are is just closing. Gulli calls ahead of me and they stick around while I exchange emails quickly with my new friends, and rush to the other end of town. Bags in hand I head to my new guesthouse for the next 2 nights, Litla Guesthouse. The proprietor greets me and guesses who I am, I guess I’m the last to check in for the night. I’m told by Gulli he can be quite chatty and is quite the fan of jerky (which came up when I said I brought some as snack food from home). I offer him some of my Trader Joe’s Original Beef Jerky, the best I know of, and he says it may be the best he’s ever had. He offers me as a thank you a bag of Whale Jerky.

After getting settled in I head back towards the tourist office where I’m told is a great restaurant I have to try. They serve the catch of the day once the fishing boats come back into port and aren’t too expensive as Iceland goes. I decide to splurge a little because Iceland is known for it’s fishing (it’s 40% of their economy) and Ísafjörður is known for it’s fish. I have pan seared carp and it’s quite excellent. I’ve never had fish so tender that it just melts like butter, but that’s exactly what this is.

Because today was a wet day, I only brought my point and shoot.

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