There is a very small window of time between the winter and summer seasons when hitting the road in a sketchy vehicle is ideal in this country. Winter driving is a nightmare with the ever-changing and unpredictable weather conditions. Summer can feel a bit crowded. But for a few weeks towards the end of April and into early May, a Tour De Iceland is a stunning experience in solitude.
The focus of this journey was the East fjords, possibly one of the most wonderfully unsettling areas of Iceland. In order to take our sweet time through our tour, a mad-dash to Höfn was made on the first evening, apparently driving through an ash cloud and into a dark blue doomy sky.
Waking up in Höfn is a pleasure. The mountains loom over the harbour-town to the north, with southern views of the very edge of the world. Although they are desperately lacking a bakery or lunch spot that isn’t part of a mini-mall, they have one of the greatest little pools in the country, which opened last year. No matter how cold or windy it is, climb to the top of the waterslides for the view onto Vatnajökull.
The hills are alive with the sound of effing music
Next began our long, leisurely trek through the East fjords. It got pretty awesome pretty quickly. For starters, we somehow landed one of the clearest, sunniest and warmest days one could hope for, given the timing. The sea to the right of us shimmered like silver, clouds shadowed onto the pure white snow still on the mountains and the wind rustled around the car. And then came the reindeer.
We spotted three herds before Lón, the car-commercial-esque road that hugs the cliffs along the coast before getting into the East fjords proper. It is quite uncommon to see them so far south. Each herd was bigger than the next, some of them casually kicking it in the road. This left us with little recourse than to simply pull over and hang out with them. Good times.
After holding our breaths through the majesty of Lón, we started hitting up the various towns of the area. The weather clouded over around Djúpivogur so we came into this sleepy little fishing town to stretch our legs and see a man about a horse, so to speak. Spotted locals eating pylsur. Very appropriate.
In, I was put to the task of practicing my very limited Icelandic comprehension skills by asking directions to a restaurant from the only visible locals, two rather elderly women. They were cool. We lunched at Kaffi Margrét, a restaurant attached to a lovely wooden guesthouse with a chicken coop and a ridiculously cute dog. The meal hit the spot and they made some of the best hot chocolate ever.
Just emotions taking you over
Then shit got kind of real. As we wound in and out through the increasingly steep and acute fjords, the enormity of the landscape started to bear down, impressing just how miniscule and powerless we were against nature. Maybe driving through that ash cloud had residual effects. Regardless, looking at the massive rising mountains, the snow and clouds, indistinguishably white, and feeling a distorted perception of distance and time, something happens to you. You really have to just shut up and look around.
“It’s big, but it has no soul”
After reeling our way out of the fjords, it was just a stone’s throw to Egilsstaðir, where my cohort somehow suspected we would find a better time than in the town I was rooting to go to — Seyðisfjörður. With my driver still sceptical, we started chugging up the mountain pass towards the 700-person strong fishing town. We rounded the final curve and saw rays of sun creeping down the fjord onto this sparkly little toy-town and my friend began to ohh and ahh. I told him so.
Upon our arrival we settled into a charming hostel housed in the former hospital and hit our second pool of the day. Seyðisfjörður’s pool is indoors, but no less exposed to the elements. Huge vertical windows along each side of the building give the perfect feeling of swimming right between the fjord and their dry-sauna in the basement was a pleasant surprise.
We ended our day’s journey with excellent pizza at the Skaftfell restaurant and art centre. After quite a few pints and no other customers around, we struck up conversation with the establishment’s owner, Nikolas, and a pair of locals. My friend asked Nikolas why Seyðisfjörður was so much nicer than Egilsstaðir, even though the two towns are so close and the former is so tiny. “It’s big,” he said, “but it has no soul.” Enough said.
Then we got shitfaced.
The East fjords of Iceland certainly offer one of the island’s more beautiful landscapes. The people are also really nice.
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