Even though summer had come and gone we – the Danish writer of this article and her travelling companions, two exchange students from Canada and Germany – thought it would not be too late to go see the countryside. In late September, on a Tuesday, our group set out from the now “old hringbraut” picking the bus stop closest to BSÍ as our starting point.
After 20 minutes we got our first ride, a microscope salesman, who took us all the way out to the gas station after Ártún. Here we met up with some kids who “helped us” get another ride. As a female traveller, you can expect unpleasant rides, and this was to be our worst – even more frightening as it was only the second of the tour. A farmer with very few teeth and the dirtiest truck this writer has yet to see gave us a ride to a junction just past Mosfellsbær. At this point he scared us to death by threatening to feed us to the trolls, before turning the truck around and stopping it to let us out. A geologist took us to the Hvalfjörður tunnel, a radio engineer took us through it, and an older couple took us the rest of the way to Borgarnes. That turned out to be an unhappy place for hitchhikers.
Cherish Your Ride
So we did what we had to do to keep warm; walk down the road and talk. And sing. And see the sights. Like the monument for the sailors at the side of the road. And then we did get a ride with a young man going to Akureyri to visit his parents. We did stupidly enough turn down the ride all the way to Akureyri because we had some freak idea that we would be going to the West Fjords, so he let us out of the car at the road to Búðardalur.
And then we started walking. And then we realised that turning down the ride all the way to Akureyri had been extremely stupid, because it soon became obvious that we would not get a ride on this road. Over half an hour, only three cars passed, of which one was full and one only had two seats. Then we made the harsh decision to let the West Fjords mind their own business for the time being and to get back on the ring road.
Most people who have travelled the ring road have probably noticed the abandoned building at the junction where the road to Buðardalur meets the ring road. Well we got a very good look at it while waiting there for more than hour and a half for our next ride. Only when one of us lay down and played dead, a couple in a minibus stopped. They had been to Reykjavík to drop off some tourists who had stayed at their farm. The lady was German, and the husband was well known in Denmark, so we had some pleasant conversation.
They took us all the way to Brekkulækur, where their farm was. Then we waited by the road almost until it got dark and then we just stepped out in front of a car that was coming from a side road and almost forced him to drive us the last 10 km to Viðigerði, where we spent the evening cooking some food that we had picked up in Bónus in Borgarnes and making plans for the next day. The manager of the place was eager to let us in on some of the good hiking trails in the area, but, as it turned out, the road was more tempting, so the next day we were off again, hitting the road around 9.
In the North Country
Generally the weather was good, which is not necessarily a good thing when you are hitch-hiking. People feel more sorry for you when it is raining. But the long waits for cars to come by are more tolerable without the rain, and we had some good walks along the open road. After hitting the road at Viðigerði we got a ride with a man who sold paint and he took us over the mountain and down into Skagafjörður, where we got postcards and some tooth-breaking Icelandic candy.
In Skagafjörður we waited for so long that we actually went and checked the bus schedule. But in the end we did get a ride with two Austrians who were heading to Akureyri. Having arrived happily in Akureyri we took time for some sightseeing (the church) and then hit the road again.
Our first ride out of Akureyri was only going to the other side of Eyjafjörður, but there we met our Austrian travelling companions again, got a look at Goðafoss too and arrived at our destination for the night: Skútustaðir on the south shores of Mývatn. We took a walk on the pseudo craters, which were formed when lava flowed over the wetlands, making the water in the soil boil and making the overflowing lava explode to form these moonlike hills, where the sheep now graze like nothing could rock their world in this dusky last light of day.
Appreciate the Toilet
Next morning was quiet on the road between Skútustaðir and Reykjahlið, but the rock formations next to the road are amazing, the sun was shining, and the hard sticky candy tasted better and better. We hitched a ride the last few kilometres to Reykjahlíð with an older farmer, who insulted our Canadian by introducing her as American when he made a stop to introduce us to some locals.
Reduced to foot soldiers again, we walked past the now closed silica factory. And then, as we were giving up, another driver actually stopped and offered us a ride. He was a Nigerian/British engineer, who had driven across the highlands alone and was on his way to see Dettifoss. He then planned to turn back and head for Reykjavík the short way on the good road.
Before he got far we urged him to stop and take a look at the geothermal area around Námafjall where bubbling mud pots spew a foul sulphur smell over the area, before driving onto the long and bumpy road to Dettifoss. Driving through this wasteland we were getting closer and closer to the damp cloud coming from the waterfall. Our driver explained his familiarity with dirt roads from his home country and we were not worried, but rather car sick. I was relieved when we arrived at the parking lot and saw a toilet there, only to have my hopes crushed when the hut turned out to be locked. To whom do I talk to get the keys? No one was there and there were no trees anywhere nearby to hide behind.
Dettifoss is amazing though, the walk from the parking lot to the waterfall took us over these fantastic, huge basalt columns, upwards of one metre in diameter. Truly like being on another planet. The waterfall is gigantic and violent. Stripped of tourist glamour on this cloudy day it was just a massive experience. I just wish that the toilet had been open.
Influencing / Manipulating?
The bumpy ride back to the ring road allowed the Canadian to start influencing our ride properly. Our driver had told us that he had just rented a car for two days and hoped to make it through the highlands and back to Reykjavík in that time. As it turned out there was a lot of things he did not have time to see, and the Canadian was quick to tell him about the wonders of the south coast. So, when we got back into mobilephone range, he called the car rental to extend his lease another day and we headed east hoping to reach Höfn before sundown. It was almost too easy. We could not believe our luck.
We had some food in Egilsstaðir and enjoyed a postcard view of Berufjörður at sunset, then drove along the steep cliffs around the horn until we, just before it got very very dark, saw the lights of Höfn show up on the plains below us. We got settled in a guest house, and had, for the first time, company at the accommodation. An Irish couple were staying in the same place, but still, there was plenty of room for all.
Next morning we took some time to look around Höfn, especially the harbour and the charming fishing boat turned into a bar. Around 10 we rejoined our ride at the guest house and hit the road. The weather was greyish and foggy, but when we arrived at Jökulsárlón the fog made the icebergs look even more ghostly and gave the scenery an otherworldly feel. Then we drove up to the Sólheimarjökull outlet of Mýrdalsjökull for a little close encounter with a real glacier and had time to see the beautiful waterfalls on the south coast as well. We were back in Reykjavík in the darkness around 8pm Friday.
Big thanks to Tunde for giving us a long ride and thanks to everyone else who picked us up.