After a stellar performance in delivering multiple blogs from the Faroes, well in my view anyway, the silence since we arrived in Iceland must have seemed deafening, to those on their couches. The last few days have been full for us, mostly wondering how to dodge more rain and cold and blogs have taken a back seat, so here goes…..
We are up early in our cabin after a luxurious night sleeping on a calm sea yet again. Are we lucky or what?! Fog or mist clouds our view on the TV screen from the bridge of the view ahead. Good thing they did not have that technology on the Titanic! Cabins need to be vacated an hour and half before arrival to allow the crew to prepare them for the next guests, so up and packed for us. Unlike the Faroe Islands, everyone is getting off so we gather up our gear, still damp from yesterday’s windy downpour and ensconce ourselves with a fellow traveller, Ralph, whose path we crossed from time to time in the Faroes.
Then we are down to Streak and Storm, remove the anchor ropes, load up and wait to dock. Motorbikes with knobbly tyres surround us, I believe they are heading for the centre with its gravel roads, river crossings and other challenges while we are taking the more sedate route anti clockwise around the country. I doubt our paths will cross and so far they have not.
Just as efficiently as we boarded, they have us off into a cold and wet Seyðisfjordur, the port in Eastern Iceland where we will start and finish our circumnavigation of Iceland. The first thing I notice is the trees, something we missed in the Faroes, which had virtually no trees, the second is snow a few hundred meters up the steep grassy hillsides, that explains the cold, snow near sea level in summer, whatever next… Now I know why all the UK motorcyclists head south from the Eurostar, they can get this kind of weather in the UK in winter.
Happily settled in the local coffee shop, these map apps are very good at locating them, we look at the weather forecast for the east of Iceland, rain rain and more rain it appears and sub 10 degree celsius weather predicted. Not our preferred riding weather and the alternative of heading south sees more of the same. With our gear still wet, we stay overnight to dry out and then set-off northwards.
Past the cyclists, they are crazier than us, although one we spoke to thought that those who walked were the crazy ones. Down the temperature goes and over the pass at 5 degrees, a hot drink and warmth starts to fill our thoughts and we make barely 80 kms / 50 ml before we find a place to warm up. Today will be a short riding day. We reach Möðrudalur, the highest working farm in Iceland, and probably the coldest and here we will stay. As we walk back from our room for dinner, who should appear but the cyclists, they have peddled the same distance as we have ridden, although we arrived about 7 hours earlier. My hat off to them, but not for me.
Still grey the next day, but onward we go without the rain, we are thankful for small mercies. I am taken by the ‘fresh’ nature of the land, both the verdant greens and the volcanic activity that rents or covers the landscape we ride through – coming from Australia, an old and worn land, the recentness, if there is such a word.
We chose to take a 7.4km tunnel linking Mivatn and Akureyri – what surprise that is as the temperature increases from 11 degrees to 34 mid-way – not the best experience for Anne being claustrophobic! We find out that Vaðlaheiðargöng tunnel construction hit some difficulties when they hit a stream of underground, boiling geothermal water.
We arrive in Akureyri from where in February 2018 two dedicated BMW riders drove their car 400 km to hear our presentation on ‘the Stans’ we were making at the Iceland BMW motorcycle club AGM. Then they drove 400km home to be at work the next day. We really hoped they enjoyed the presentation! We are catching up with one of them, Joi, while we are here on Sunday.
Saturday night we are eating at a local restaurant when our neighbours, seeing our clothing ask if we are the RTW motorcyclists meeting their friend Joi tomorrow. Of course we are. We spend time chatting and learn that Kristjan and Joi are friends and motorcyclists from childhood going on a road trip together the day after next. Connections again.
We spend longer in Akureyri than originally planned for some bike maintenance issues on both bikes. Stefan, whom we met at the Motorcycle Museum, has kindly let us use part of his Velaverkstaedi garage for us to work in, away from any potential rain and gives us hand at times.
I had wondered the last time we were in Iceland, in February 2018, about the lack of trees around Reykjavik, and have since learned that it was a combination of natural disasters, volcanic activity, and clearance for sheep farming and timber for heating and charcoal that denuded the landscape. It is believed that when the first settlers arrived, around 25% of the country was forested, This was reduced to 1% within three centuries. Later volcanic activity covered large areas and strong winds also eroded the soil. Until 100 years ago, many Icelandic people had not seen forests. At the present rate of reforestation, it will still only cover 1.5% by 2050. A reminder to us all, man’s actions cannot always be quickly remedied. See https://hmdecozine.com/2014/01/21/iceland/ if you are interested in more info on this topic.
From Akureyri, we continue our way westwards, stopping at Hvammstangi for the night.
The plan was to spend a week exploring the Westfjord region but more forecast rain put us off and we decide to head to Snæfellsness National Park instead. What a special place, especially Djúpalónssandur, or the Black Lava Pearl Beach.
We have seen, experienced and learned so much since we arrived so instead of writing a ‘novel’, here is a simple list of things that have become normal for us over the past couple of weeks but are worth a mention or we might forget about them:
- The smell of sulphur when taking a shower can be strong in places
- Hot water from taps is extremely hot here
- Night time is still light enough to read in summer
- You can’t see the stars at night in summer
- The tiniest villages exist everywhere especially in tiny coves accessible to fishing boats
- The tiniest village will always have a church
- Life here, at least in the countryside, revolves around fishing or sheep farming and Icelandic horses
- Whereas sheep in the Faroes are kept predominantly for meat and therefore would be seen with long strands of wool hanging off their bodies, waiting to snag against a bush to be removed, sheep here have a beautiful fluffy coats for the prized Icelandic wool garments
- The Icelandic language is the closest to original Old Norse that was spoken by the Vikings and has a number of unique characters such as ð (th as in ‘this’) and þ (th as in ‘thing’)
- The power of nature can be seen and felt throughout Iceland with its numerous volcanoes, moss covered lava, waterfalls, wild coastline, geothermal activity noticeable with steam coming out of the ground, wildflowers growing out of lava rock cracks
- Many legends of trolls, demons, and prophets exist around the origin of numerous rock formations, islands, canyons
- Everyone speaks English in Iceland
- Winds can be ferocious here – thank goodness for Cape Town riding experience
- No need for wind turbines when there is so much geothermal energy
- Iceland is heaven for hikers and nature lovers
- Don’t think of earthquakes when you’re in one of the many long tunnels
- Sheep are as stupid as kangaroos, running out right in front of you at the last minute – thank goodness for good brakes
- Staying connected is tricky when you camp and need to recharge your devices
- There has been a lot of “chatter” in our heads as we work hard on staying positive in the relentless grey, cold and windy weather
- It is amazing how excited we can get when the low cloud and fog clears, even if only briefly, to reveal impressive scenery
- Green is so vivid even under grey skies
- Birds chirp all night
- We definitely prefer wild camping to organised camping but nature is so fragile and precious here that we decided to respect the Icelandic government request not to wild camp unless absolutely necessary
- Iceland is expensive
- It’s been fun repeatedly bumping into Ralph and Charlotte since the Faroes and making new connections
- We have enjoyed our time but the weather has been a bit of a challenge – yes, that’s why they call it ICEland! – we are especially disappointed to have had to decide to skip the Westfjord region this time
- It is Anthony’s turn to pick the next holiday/trip destination!!
A bit of trivia: we have now ridden Streak and Storm in 50 countries.
Just a couple more days here, time to catch up with our Icelandic friends, store the bikes in Reykjavik for a month thanks to these friends here before special time with family.