Iceland. The land of fire and ice.
This moniker definitely painted a picture that delivered an unforgettable experience.
After (what seemed to be) a quick flight from Toronto I landed in Reykjavik around 6am local time. Grabbed my bags and hopped on the bus for a 45 minute journey through one of the most foreign, baron and otherworldly landscapes I had ever experienced. Albeit I was half awake and it was early morning.
And that was just the beginning.
Like most travel days, the day was kind of a wash trying to adjust to the time change and collect myself after not sleeping for 24 hours. After getting the bus to drop me off in Hlemmur Square around 7:30am I majestically made my way to the hostel. I say majestically because I probably looked like a zombie wading his way through the yet-to-wake city centre.
Of course, arriving that early in the morning left me with a good 4-5 hours to kill before actually being able to check-in to my room. Luckily, like most hostels, they have a bag drop, so I didn’t have to lug around my carefully packed backpack and all my gadgets.
I always struggle my first day of hopping time zones, doing my best to allow my body to adjust in some way or another in order to function for the day. I also make a conscious point to not nap at all the first day. From past experience the only thing that does is make it harder to adjust. My suggestion, if you’re asking, is to suck it up and battle through it until at least the early evening. Your body will have an easier time recognizing the time and need to lay that head down on a pillow. You’ll find yourself combating jet leg faster.
I gathered myself the best I could and spent the day exploring Reykjavik. What a cool city. With a population of just over 200,000 people it wasn’t too difficult to do most of the main, and popular, attractions within that first day.
The hostel was in a perfect, central spot for exploring. I wandered down to the waterfront and snapped a few pictures of the boats in the harbour, meandered down Laugavegur street, which is the main shopping area, and took the elevator up to the top of Hallgrímskirkja Church for an incredible panoramic view of the city. (Above)
I had heard a few rumblings that Icelandic hot dogs were some of the best in the world. And I hadn’t eaten a thing. So naturally I found the first hot dog stand my eyes could see.
I really don’t know if it was just the specific stand I went to or not, but, as you can tell from the picture, it didn’t taste much better than it looks. Mediocre bun with a simple tube steak, onions and their special sauce, which is like a gravy mayonnaise. Part of it could have had to do with the lack of appetite from being jet legged. But lets just say I didn’t get another one the rest of the trip.
After relaxing the first night at the hostel and chatting with a few other worldly travellers, I got up early the next day and made the walk to the car rental shop, about 15 minutes away.
See, to see the land of fire and ice in its most natural, I wanted to experience everything it had to offer. So I rented an SUV from Iceland 4×4 that acted as my moveable home for the following 10 days.
By 9:30am I was outfitted in a nice 2016 Suzuki Vitara, on the way to pick up my sleeping bag and air mattress from Gangleri Outfitters and then onto Bonus, the discount grocery store in Iceland.
Iceland is expensive. Not surprisingly, though, as a country with a total population of some 300,000 people. And its also smack-dab in the middle of the ocean. Yet Bonus provided a fantastic selection of just what I needed to survive for 10 days in the Icelandic wilderness – instant noodles, mac and cheese and lamb sandwiches. Why lamb? Because it was the cheapest… and apparently plentiful.
The best part? The country basically acts as a natural spring for fresh water. My entire 12 days I only purchased two 2L bottles of water (so I had something to fill) and filled them at each campsite. I actually stopped at a few waterfalls and rivers and filled up straight from the free-flow. It was incredible – perfectly tasting, fresh and clean water. Naturally.
Once I was finally (sort of) situated with what I needed for at least the next few days, I plugged a random destination on the Snæfellsnes peninsula into the GPS and hit the road.
Even with all of the research I had done prior to my trip, nothing – and I mean nothing – could have prepared me enough for driving in Iceland. If you’ve ever driven or been to the UK, you know how a lot of the country roads are quite tight, with stone walls on each side? Well, the roads in Iceland are similar, but instead of stone walls along the sides, they drop off. Some only a few feet, some hundreds, with little to no barricades. Not that they’d help anyway.
Part of my problem is that I can be quite spacey. I love landscapes and I love to take pictures, and I love to look, so I had to consciously remind myself (on a very regular basis) to focus on driving. Greg, you can stop in a minute. Keep your damn hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road.
You take your eyes off the road for a split-second and, well, I’m sure you can imagine.
Still, what came next and what I experienced over the next 10 days was one of the most incredible and otherworldly experiences I have ever had.
Keep your eye out for Part 2.