There’s an activity in Iceland known as the “rúntur.” That’s rune-ter, with a rolled “r”. The term doesn’t translate that well to English, but the closest I could find would be something like “cruising.”
It refers to the act of driving around for fun while chatting about, I don’t know, life. While out for a drink, I asked a friend how she’d describe the concept. “Do you know how back in the day you’d lie on the floor with friends or hang on their couch or whatever and just listen to records or read magazines?” she asked, almost nostalgically. “It’s like that, only in a car, while driving.” I turned to the bartender and asked him. He grinned: “You know that’s actually a popular Icelandic first date?” Who said romance was dead?
The real beauty of the rúntur first appeared to me when I visited an old friend of mine, Þorbjörg, for a weekend in Höfn—a small southeastern fishing village known for its proximity to the stunning Vatnajökull glacier and the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. In the summer, this area is often bright and warm, but when I visit it’s deep in the winter off-season.
As I board the bus at Mjödd it starts to rain, and it doesn’t let up for the whole weekend. When I finally arrive at Þorbjörg’s house, Höfn is so foggy that you can barely see more than ten metres around you. I quickly realise that if I was hoping to see spectacular landscapes or do some stargazing during my trip, well, I’m out of luck. The weather is—as is par for Iceland—not on my side.
But despite the gloom, we still get up early the next day to drive to Jökulsárlón. It’s lovely, even with the weather. We go for a boat ride, and get amused by the enthusiasm of the tourists, who take selfies and smile through through their shivers with no idea they’re not seeing the landmark in its prime. While they huddle in groups looking at the icebergs, we retreat to the car. It’s cold and wet, and Þorbjörg is sure that there’s a secret, more private view of the lagoon somewhere close by. Not short of time, and with no return bus waiting, we have the luxury of cruising around the lagoon at our own pace.
Small town life
To be blunt, when the weather’s rotten—especially in the country—there really isn’t much to do in these small Icelandic towns. We stop and get shrimp subs at Hafnarbúðin. We peek into Höfn’s only (empty) bar. We try to take a walk on the coast before quickly abandoning that plan. But this is where rúnta comes in. The only cure to boredom is to drive, so we spend the next few hours meandering through sheep fields and emerald swampland.
Sometimes we’re both silent—the hum of the music and pitter-patter of rain our only soundtrack. At other times we’re animated, gossiping about friends in Reykjavík, while slowly getting more personal. She confides in me her worries about backpacking and leaving Iceland, and I confess my own insecurities. The confined space of the car, surrounded by misty meadows, becomes a type of haven where no subject is off limits.
Travelling on through the fog, we periodically stop chatting and get lost in our own thoughts and the whirl of the tyres. Then, without warning, one of us will change the song, or cough, or clear our throat, and the gossiping will resume. The latest on the Kardashians. What happened last weekend at Prikið. Facebook drama. The cycle continues.
You know how they say: “When in Rome”? Well, if you find yourself in some bad Icelandic weather, do as the Icelanders do. Go for a rúnta.