After three months on this island, it all came down to a few short final hours and a road trip. Less than two days before my departure from Iceland, I’d been stamping my feet at the Havarí arts space and barn disco on the island’s east coast; a few hours later, I was traversing the entire length of the country to Keflavík for the the plane back to Canada.
As I crouched on the floor of the crowded airport, one of the earworms from the show just a few hours earlier burrowed its way through my mind. “I don’t wanna go to sleep either,” a crew of sweaty Icelanders had sung to the sweatier crowd of revellers, who enthusiastically shouted back the sentiment. About 100 people had made the trek from as far away as Reykjavík to party with FM Belfast at Havarí, a farm tucked away in a fjörd just east of Djúpivogur.
Driving the South Coast
The drive to Havarí is difficult, not for the distance or the quality of the roads, but for the strength of will it takes to resist the urge to stop every few minutes to enjoy the view. Along the 600-kilometre stretch of road between Reykjavík and Berufjörður, you pass a tremendous diversity of terrain, from barren black moonscapes to vibrant green moss-covered lava fields, steep rocky cliffs to stunning ocean views.
Our first stop along the way was at Fjaðrárgljúfur, a canyon just west of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Although it’s just a few kilometres from the Ring Road, it feels relatively off the beaten path. We hike along the edge of the chasm, which seems improbably carved out by glacial meltwater. The trail leads down to the canyon floor, where we dip our feet into an icy river, and feel dwarfed by the towering rock face.
After Kirkjubæjarklaustur, the highway takes a relatively straight path towards the massive Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier. At certain moments all colour seems to vanish, and the surroundings become a barren monochrome. The glacier looms ever closer, until its long icy tongues stretch down from its mountain perch, as if threatening to sweep away the tiny cars that crawl like ants along the highway.
Entering the East
Settlements along Iceland’s South Coast are few and far between. An hour after the famous Jökulsarlón we reach Höfn, one of the last stops before our destination. The town is known for its lobster, and a dinner of langoustine tails dripping in garlic sauce at Humarhöfnin is a tasty treat after a long day of driving. From the restaurant, it’s a short walk down to the harbour, where there are views of Vatnajökull to the west, and in the opposite direction the sharp peaks that signal our entry to the eastern extremities of the island.
Although much of Iceland is known for its flat-topped mountains that appear to have had their summits sliced off, the East is a completely different story. Past Höfn, the mountains begin to take distinctly pointier shapes. The highway hugs the mountain slopes, teetering dangerously close to the water’s edge as it winds its way towards Djúpivogur, providing astounding vistas of these rocky peaks. As the sun begins to set behind the mountains, and as clouds begin to gather around the mountain tops, it’s easy to imagine that elves, trolls or other hidden people could be living up there, just out of reach.
When we reach Djúpivogur, we’re tricked into thinking that we’re nearly at our destination. But Havarí is located on a farm called Karlsstaðir that’s still another 45 minutes around Berufjörður, a long fjörd that reaches about twenty kilometres inland. At its far end, the road turns to gravel, and it becomes clear just how isolated the farm really is.
Eventually we arrive, greeted by a barking dog as we crunch up the long driveway. In the dimness of the mid-August evening, the lights of Djúpivogur sparkle across the water.
Going out with a bang
The following night, brighter lights guide people into the multifunctional barn of Havarí, which, for tonight, has been turned into a venue for one of the biggest shows on the island. The field outside slowly fills up with cars and tents as people from around the country flock to see one of Iceland’s favourite party bands, FM Belfast. They don’t disappoint—their energetic, celebratory show comes complete with colourful confetti, streamers, and some crowd-surfing for good measure.
In the morning, members of FM Belfast serve us coffee before we hit the road again. It’s a distinctly Icelandic experience to be bouncing along with 100 other Icelanders to FM Belfast in the evening and then have the band help me with my hangover the next morning. At one point, a band member comes over to our table with a latte, although none of us had ordered one. “This isn’t my profession,” he smiles apologetically, before wandering off, mug in hand.
After three months on this island, it all comes down to a few short hours and a road trip. On our way back, we stop for a soak in a hot pot in the shadows of Vatnajökull. It’s a rainy day, but I can’t help feeling that the weather is well-suited for my final day in the country. I fight off sleep all the way back to Reykjavík, taking in every detail before the journey back to reality.