Iceland Day 7: Hitchhiking

I let myself get a slow start. I woke up about the same time as normal, 7am, but took my time getting out of bed, showered, and on the road. As I was heading out I decided to grab a tea first in the kitchen of the guest house and found an Italian couple making breakfast. We chatted about Italy and hiking and camping out in the Westfjords. They even shared some of their breakfast with me. A German couple joined us at some point but their English was a bit shaky so they didn’t chat too much. I told the Italians I had heard so much about how the Icelandic culture encourages them to pick up hitchhikers, and how it was similar to how they leave their keys in their cars in case there is an emergency and someone needs to use it. There is a reason there are so few police visible around Iceland, there really is no crime. Part of that I think comes from homogeneity, it makes it much easier to have that communal culture when everyone is economically and socially similar. The Italian couple tell me about how a friend of theirs was hitch hiking in Reykjavik and got picked up by a nice old couple. He asked them what they did for a living and the husband told him he was the Interior Minister.

I went down to the tourist office to figure out when the bus leaves for Bulongarvik but apparently just missed it, and the next one wasn’t until 1. I decided I might as well give hitch hiking a try here. I checked out of my guest house, dropped my bags with the tourist office then walked to the road out of town. It didn’t take but a minute and a car pulled over, it was the German couple from the guest house. I guess it’s not surprising with how small the town is. They were headed out towards Bolungarvik too. I had them drop me off at the turf houses at the edge of town and they decided to have a look too.

The turf houses as it turns out are part of a museum associated with the natural history museum in Bolungarvik, a small fishing village. The buildings are from a restored fishing outpost that was in use until the 70s in the same way it had been used for centuries. There was a building where all 8 people slept, a salting house, and a drying shed. As I was walking around an old Icelander comes up to me and in very very bad English points to his shirt and says something like “cheep shin”, and then points at my jacket as well. I’m so confused. He calms down a bit and tries again but I’m clearly not getting it. He then indicates he’ll be right back and runs back up to the ticket office. I kind of realize at this point he has like some old clothing or something he’s either going to get dressed up in, or offer me to dress up in for a photo. I’m in no rush and I take the time to snap off a few blocks of photos for a HDR image. The sun and sea are beautiful, and the weather spectacular, it’s hard to imagine how yesterday was so wet and cloudy, or how it might be up at Horn. This presents the unique problem the High Dynamic Range technique is meant to solve, a bright dynamic background, and a much dimmer foreground. I’m feeling a bit extra artistic today.

The man comes back wearing a traditional fishing outfit, though it’s hard to call it that when fishing in this way only stopped a decade before I was born. An Italian couple joins us (not the same one from breakfast). His outfit is made of sheep skin (that’s what he was trying to say) with cod liver oil applied to the outside for water proofing. A rope belt and harness is around his waste and he describes how if someone fell overboard they would be pulled by with a gaff from this loop in the back. Most of this is communicated by gesturing and a few key words of English. He then goes on to describe what the buildings were used for and how they would launch their boat. It’s much more interesting than I expected.

My ticket also allows me into the natural history museum in Bolungarvik, though with how small the town is I’m expecting a couple small rooms. The Italian couple noticing theirs is the old car in the parking lot and that I intend to walk into town offer me a lift and drop me off at the museum. Like the couple from breakfast they live in Milan where apparently most of the work is. They extol me to spend more time in Italy next time I go and that the week or so I took there wasn’t enough. They’re right, but at least this time I know to stay away from Naples, and spend most of my time along the Amalfi coast in places like Pompeii. The museum is quite small and is mostly made up of taxidermy. A giant stuffed Polar bear greets you. There are some photos as well from the 50s and 60s including one of a car off the road inches from falling off a cliff. I can’t imagine how they managed to get out of the car without sending it over the edge. It’s a striking image.

I decide to continue my hitch hiking adventure because the next bus from Bolungarvik is hours away. I walk out of town and stick out my thumb. This time it takes more than 2 cars though, but less than 10. I get picked up by a young lady who apparently works in the tourist office and since today was her day off she went to Bolungarvik to go for a swim in their public pool, it’s heated and out doors which she likes more than the indoor one Ísafjörður has. It’s very common in Iceland for towns to have pools or public baths. She’s quite cute which seems a theme in Iceland, as a whole they’re a very attractive people. I tell her about how I can’t ever tell what time it is and she remarks that when she goes with her family to their summer home out in the northern fjords they turn off all the phones and there are no clocks, because it’s summer there is no need to tell what time it is, it’s light all the time and they just eat and sleep when ever they feel like it, and when the boat comes to get them they can hear it from far enough away to tell it’s time to pack. She drops me off at the tourist office and tells me about the hikes in the area. I’m wanting to do one I’d heard about that is 1km from the airport and gives a great view of the town. She thinks it’s “Troll Seat”, this glacial depressing over the airport and says it should take me about 45 minutes to climb. I thank her and head on my way.

Before lunch I want to see the fishing museum because Jen and Sam had recommended it. Everything in Ísafjörður is about a 7 minute walk away except the airport. The museum is a bit disappointing, it’s mostly about a man from the Westfjords that wrote a book that taught people in Iceland how to be more efficient fishers. I guess in some way that’s played a big part in why Ísafjörður is here, and why Iceland’s biggest source of GDP is from fishing, but to me it’s not horribly interesting. What they did have though was a video of a drama documentary in English showing how fisherman lived for centuries and it was quite interesting and helped fill in some of the holes from the fishing station museum.

After lunch I figured I’d hitch another ride to the airport, drop off my bags a few hours early (too early to check in), and then see if I could find the trail head to Troll Seat. This time it takes me much longer to find a ride and I get maybe a 5th of the way there. The full distance would be quite tuff and I start to second guess myself. The pack feels heavy, especially after yesterday. I’m starting to get far enough along that going back will be a bit painful too. Just my luck though a couple pulls over. They’re headed to Akureyi, pronounce Accu-rare-ee, don’t ask me how, there are some Icelandic pronunciations I still don’t understand. I still don’t get how Eyjafjallayökull, the volcano that caused all those flights to be shut down in Europe, is pronounced where my ‘-‘ means they draw out the sound. I get the first bit because ja is pronounced ya, and yökull means glacier (it’s a volcano under the glacier with that name), but how fjalla meaning mountain is pronounced fetla I just don’t get, I would have figured it to be f’ Ísafjörður is quite hard to pronounce too, the ð character is this sound I struggle to make, kind of a rolling ther sound with a hint of a d at the start. Anyway back to the story! So this couple tells me they’re headed to Akureyi for some farm equipment expo. Akureyi is the second largest city in Iceland, Ísafjörður I believe is the 4th. They say they love picking up hitch hikers because you meet interesting people. I tell them it’s the same from my side, I also get to meet interesting people. They see 2 other girls looking for a ride but there is no room, and they think out loud of going back to get them after they drop me a couple km up the road at the airport. This is why I love Ísafjörður so much. It’s not some amazing architecture, but a combination of the wonderful scenery and the most amazing people. The city has a distinct worldly feel to it, and despite it’s remoteness it’s still connected to the outside world with a small international student population and the tourists passing through.

The man at the counter in the airport lets me leave my stuff right behind the kiosk, and I head out to climb Troll Seat. I walk down the only road out of town in this direction and eventually find a place where I see other people climbing up. I’m a ways behind but it’s nice to be on the same trail as someone else so I pushing a bit hard to catch up, and even though they were 2/3rds the way up when I start I manage to reach the top at the same time. It’s a grandfather guiding his 3 grandsons on different hikes around Ísafjörður. They have this “mountain passport” which describes different hikes in the area along with places to put stamps found in a guest box at the top. When they finish all the stamps they get some certificate of accomplishment. There is also a guestbook. The boys sign their names with their ages, 5 years old. I take some photos and enjoy the sights for a bit. I had some time to listen to the sights and sounds. The fishing boat going out to sea. A truck motoring down the 1 road into town. A light aircraft taking off headed north east. The clouds are sparse and I was wishing this is the weather I had the day before. The wind is calmer than normal and I’m still warm from the fast pace up the mountain. I take a deep breath then head down.

I’m very early at the airport as per usual and take the time to do a bit of reading, River Town has turned out to be a very enjoyable book, and I it brings some perspective to my experience in China. I also have time to look over and process a few photos though I’m a bit too absorbed with River Town.

The flight is pretty uneventful and much smoother. I recognize a number of people getting on the plane. There’s the cute waitress from the restaurant I ate at the last two nights. There’s Lisbet who booked my tours and let me come in out of the cold before the office opened. I feel like I’ve gotten to know the town and it’s people more than I normally do in my travels. I’m sad looking out the window as we leave Ísafjörður.


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