20 June 2006

Summer camping

Iceland is a great place for camping in the summer. Lots of wide-open spaces, amazing views, no crowds, and the 24 hours of daylight means you don't have to bring flashlights. Plus, the lack of trees means you're never sleeping on a tree root. It can be a bit brisk though, so pack warm clothes!

Saturday was the big national holiday, where everyone is supposed to be bursting at the seams with national pride, so J and I figured the best way to celebrate was by being out in the middle of the land. We packed up the car with tent, grill, and plenty of warm clothes, and headed out of town, and straight into some pretty gloomy sogginess. We had planned to find a place on Snæfellsnes, but the south coast of the peninsula north of Reykjavík was shrouded in thick fog that erased the view and would have made for hard fire-lighting come grill time. Still, in hopes that somewhere, somehow, the weather would be ok, we crossed over the mountainous spine that runs down the center to find sunny weather on the north. It's nice that you never have to accept the weather where you currently stand as your only option here. We set up camp at a farm where the enterprising owner charged 500isk per person for a grassy field with a toilet and sink in a shed on the side. We were by ourselves when we arrived- not bad for a summer weekend where the view is this good!

After the usual camping dinner of lamb, potatoes and vegetables, we grilled marshmallows on the dying embers, then set out down the dirt road to a waterfall we'd seen a mile down the way. As we walked, the birds continued to wheel overhead, and an occasional sheep that had jumped the fence looked up from their busy eating schedule. The lambs were all leaping about in the way lambs do, like their energy has caught them unawares and they are not quite sure what to do with it all, and the surf whispered from below the cliffs to the opposite side.

We found the waterfall and watched it tumble between the buttercups and dandelions before we turned back to follow the same road back. We stopped to visit a small herd of ponies, setting off some kind of power-ballet between this one and another. They climbed a gravel hillock together, squealing and kicking, then tumbled down the other side to rear up at each other and pretend to bite fiersomely. As we strolled away though, everyone settled down to the grass again, having lost the audience. These few months of lush green makes gluttons of all the grazing animals here.

Back at the tent, we fell asleep easily, lulled by the waves, the wind, the birds, and the sheep in the adjacent field. The next day we went to the tiny nearby town of Grundarfjörður for coffee, and found that the only place open was the ubiquitous Esso station. We were the second customers of the day, and we took our white china teacups to the front window to sip slowly while we watched the town wake up. We decided it was time to move on when an eccentric fellow in a flower bedecked straw hat paused to put his cigar on top of the trashcan outside (for use when his shopping was done) and then gave us both some very suspicious looks with his rheumy eyes.

After a short walk to the church in the center of town, we continued our way on towards the main Snæfellsnes town of Stykkishólmur, taking a detour through the massive lava pile at Berserkjahraun (yes, that is the Original Berserk). At Stykkishólmur, we again fell into the small-town rhythm of the local bakery as we had lunch, watching as people bought their buns and snúður, bread and cakes. As with all bakeries of this type, it was tidy and functional, and we watched the shopkeeper dust the crumbs meticulously from the bread-slicer during idle moments.

Next, the pool, possibly a new small-town pool favorite for me. The lap lanes were wide and sparkling, and the waterslide offered a panoramic view of Breiðafjörður from the top, then whizzing glances at the multicolored houses on the ride down. There was a nice round body-temperature pool, and some decent jets in the nuddpottur. The only drawback: no eimbað! Still, if you're in the area, it's definitely worth a kikja inn.

Not wanting the weekend to end, we signed up for a bird-watching tour that left from the harbor. We joined the line of tourists and the trio of Icelandic ladies on their Girls Weekend to wind through a few of the hundreds of lava-formed islands in the center of this enormous fjord. We spotted a white-tailed eagle, and several other bird types, narrated in two languages by our capable skipstjóri.

We landed a few hours later after a surprise snack of freshly harvested raw scallops (I only could manage to eat one, but it certainly was the freshest I've ever had), slightly wind and sunburnt, our eyes filled with the images of the wide and quiet fjord. Back in the car, we headed back over the ridge to the south side, where predictably, the rain settled back over our heads.

Ship sighting: So many activities I hardly know where to begin! The summer cruise ship is in full swing, and I have spotted many of them departing. Athena was at the main dock in town on Saturday, and was properly decked in bunting for the holiday. She left late Sunday evening, blending in with the foggy drizzle like a ghost. Yesterday another cruise ship left as well, one I didn't even know had been here. Today we also have this cool research vessel in the harbor, leaving this evening, and I've even seen a few sailing clubs out on the water.


tsduff said...

Absolutely love this post! We will be following your lead and camping out on the north side of Snaefellsness next week, as well as all around the land. Quick question: What type and quantity of fuel is available for purchase in Iceland? Little propane tanks? We need to know so we can purchase the right kind of burner/stove tomorrow. Thanks :-)

jessica said...

your posts always make me smile. :)

ECS said...

Terry- I think it might be too late to answer this now, but we don't use a stove so I am not sure. I can tell you that J did buy one that burns all kinds of fuel, and found that the best type (he said it's called "white gas") is not available, based on his initial investigations. Beyond that, I can't tell you.

Jessica- thanks! Glad you like them. I also was reading some of your blog and I noticed you commented on the online Icelandic course. It is only in Icelandic so people who are not English speakers can learn it as well. Although it seems crazy and pointless, I do suggest giving it a try, since just by guessing, listening, and playing the games, you will be surprised how much you learn. It helped me so much I was able to skip over the first level of Icelandic here.

Angel said...

Elisa, your gift of observation continues to surprise me, even after all these years I have known you- You just have a great way of describing things....

The pictures and description make everything seem very lovely and wild....

BTW- I got a kick out of my glittery birthday card. Thanks for sending it!

Happy Longest Day of the Year. :)

tsduff said...

Not too late - thanks for the info. I appreciate your input :-)
We are almost off!

jessica said...

thanks for the tip ECS. I will try the course again. I suppose I was so surprised by the incongruity of a beginners Icelandic course in Icelandic that i decided it wasn't going to help me at all. apparently that was a harsh assumption, i'll try to work through it again. I did just buy a text too! that should help :)