Drive-Through Towns: Nostalgia For The Non-Existent in Þorlákshöfn

Drive-Through Towns: Nostalgia For The Non-Existent in Þorlákshöfn

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Parker Yamasaki
Photos by
Art Bicnick

When I told the waitress that I was looking for something interesting to do in Þorlákshöfn, she expressed condolences. It’s not exactly the reaction one hopes for when writing a piece about a town. She asked the other waitress and went in the back to consult with the chefs, one of whom was from Þorlákshöfn. Nothing.

“My son plays Pókemon Go, and I remember reading something interesting about Þorlákshöfn on the Facebook group that I joined for him—let me see if I can find it,” she said, scrolling through her phone. I started to worry that the reality of this place might actually be so featureless that the story would focus on a virtual reality—and Pókemon Go at that, not even a cool Björkian virtual reality.

“Oh, here it is,” she continued. “‘In Þorlákshöfn there are no water Pókemon, which is ridiculous because it is a sea town,’” she read. Great. Even its virtual reality news is more focused on what it lacks than what it has.

Þorlákshöfn by art bicnick

What was is what is

As we pull into the town, the day is misty and constantly verging on rain, like a teenage boy trying not to cry. We head toward the sea and drive along the harbour front, straight out onto a quiet quay with old merchant ships tethered to each side. Instantly, my doubts are silenced. When we step out of the car, the quietness turns into an emotional reverence.

I walk up one side of the pier and down the other, intensely attracted to the bold primary colors of the boats’ chipped paint. I pass SVANUR, FRIDRIK SIGURÐSSON, JÓHANNA, the names rendered in blue, yellow, and teal. A man emerges from the gut of JÓHANNA, climbs her rusty steps to the dock, and begins a slow stroll back to the shore where Þolákshöfn waits for him, ever so patiently.

Þorlákshöfn by art bicnick

LED the way

The only other big buzz I’d unearthed about Þorlákshöfn was about a great café nestled somewhere in its innards. The café is called Hendur í Hönd, and it has its own street sign as you enter the city. We arrive in the early evening, and the “Opið” sign has long been switched off.

Þorlákshöfn by art bicnick

After cruising the residential streets we pull up to a small church with a smaller graveyard and a large LED-lit cross. Behind the church a long path winds out to the lighthouse. Even at some distance from the shoreline, we can see the crashing waves shooting up like geysers as they break against the rocks.

Þorlákshöfn by art bicnick

Non-locals only

Where the path meets the jetty we have our second encounter with human life. A fire, two surfboards, three cars, and a group of five men and one woman stand in flannels and hoodies. The scene looks like one I would have encountered on any given day back in California. But I was not in California, I was in Þorlákshöfn.

Þorlákshöfn by art bicnick

The group is serendipitous. Two of the surfers are from Switzerland, one from Canada, one from New York and two from California. Some know each other from before this gathering at the edge of the jetty, and others have just met. We talk about the surf and chance encounters, and how I shouldn’t disclose this favourite spot.

Pókemon No

The town is drenched in a certain kind of serenity—just the kind of quietness that many people travelling the South Coast of Iceland might be searching for, in one way or another. One arrives without expecting much, and leaves refreshed, calm, and a little bit soggy. Þorlakshöfn is a town of the sea—being there amongst the boats and sea spray is almost like taking a dip in the ocean itself. It truly is unbelievable that there are no water Pókemon here.

Þorlákshöfn by art bicnick