120km/h - Iceland Day 5
We awake at 8am to the sound of crickets. My iPhone is waking us up. Groggy eyed, we ready ourselves for the day and collect our packed gear from the previous night. We leave the keys on the table, shut the door behind us, and message Maria through Airbnb. “Thank you for the nice place. We have checked out. Keys are on the kitchen table.” A hop in the rental car and we are on our way.
Donuts and coffee in downtown Reykjavik. Dani has a Coke. It doesn’t taste quite the same here. We opine about the good things of America. We agree that Americans work harder than Icelanders, more organized, and more professional. This conclusion will be reinforced sooner than we think.
10:25am. We make the short drive to where Dani is to meet her Archaeological team and head out.
11:00am. Hanging out with everyone. Chatting. Wondering when we are all going to leave.
11:15am. Packing up the storage van with all the archaeological equipment. Why wasn’t the storage van already packed and ready to go? Who knows. Ask the Icelanders. Three large industrial cases of beer were already packed and ready in the van though. Go figure.
11:45am. We’ve packed the van with the various equipment littered throughout the archaeological institute. Waiting for the final car of the caravan to arrive.
12:00pm. Last caravan car has arrived. We have enough cars to fit everyone now.
12:30pm. Leader of our caravan decides we better get leaving since it’s getting late. We head out. Y U SO DISORGANIZED Iceland.
We make a short lunch break at the first major city north of Reykjavik. It will be the last city we see with more than 1,000 people living in it. On our way we pass through a tunnel underneath the ocean. It is long. It is impressive. You surprise us Icelanders. Maybe you are pretty organized to pull off a feat like that.
We are driving now. The skies are blue, and the green pastures wide. The mountains rise up and fall like giants of old. The rock bridges snake across the fjords. We continue on, hang a right at a dirt road, and hit the breaks next to an old Viking long house. Wait, it’s a replica, but it’s an excellent one. The viking actress beckons us in. She’s looks like the russian lady from Rocky 3. (We hesitate but we’ve seen how Rocky ends. America wins!) Inside a fire burns, and she tells us glorious stories about Eric the Red - interweaving modern references and humor quite well.
A short 15 minutes later on the road, we stop for a bathroom break at Iceland’s version of a grocery store. We soon leave, but where is the van with all the archeological equipment and the ‘archaeologists in training’ luggage? It is not behind us as it should be. A few minutes later we learn it is broken down. 3 caravan members proceed on. 1 caravan member returns to the van to help. We are part of the 3.
The pace is slower now, the road winds more, narrows, and all the bridges we cross turn into one lane bridges. You have to wait for the other car to cross before crossing yourself. Usually this is not a problem. You rarely see other cars. I count 14. Dani counts zero. She’s asleep, resting. The road gradually climbs, and we are surrounded by patches of snow now, probably on top of an old volcano. Just at that moment, Dani mumbles something in her sleep that makes me laugh. Our cut down caravan of 3 cars proceeds on, down the hill, with me laughing. It won’t be long now till we reach the fjord.
A fjord in Iceland is a finger of ocean extending into the land. An inlet or bay so to speak. These inlets are everywhere in Iceland. They are similar to San Francisco Bay, except they feel more like the Gulf of California.
We’ve reached the fjord and I spot the old building where Dani and her new archaeological rag tag bunch will be staying. But the structure is on the other side of the fjord. It’s almost within reach at a guestimated 0.5 kilometer away. I’m looking for a troll to pay the troll, but there is no bridge. This area is too remote to justify the expense I postulate. Even trolls have funding requirements. So we continue on the road down the fjord to it’s end, and then back up on the other side. The round trip to make up this 0.5km difference is a solid 30 minutes. The drive is full of amazing views. Iceland you are tedious and beautiful.
I’ve downshifted to second gear now, and am making a right turn onto the road leading to Reykjanes. It’s a dirt road. Before us unfolds an old hotel/school. This is Dani’s home for the next month. We both hope it is nice. The outside is weather beaten, but inside is comfortable (but I’ll let Dani be the judge of that since I am not staying there). There is an almost olympic sized natural hot springs pool.
Dani and I say our goodbyes and kiss. One more ‘I love you’, and I hop in the car. I watch her walk back inside with the rest of the group for dinner. Part of me feels sad leaving her there, but this was always the plan. She’s on her own now for a little while. Archaeological adventures and possible discovery await her. I set out for Isafjordur.
The distance between Reykjanes and Isafjordur does not look far on the map, but I must make my way through at least 3 fjords. It’s already past 7:30pm. I know it will take me at least 1 hour. I’m quickly up to 120km/hr flying by sparse summer cottages and slowing down for the occasional sheep.
As I reach the point of the first fjord I see fog rolling in at a quick pace off the point. It’s still sunny and clear on the road. At the second fjord I reach a sharp uphill climb followed by a downhill decent - waterfalls on my left and arctic ocean on my right. It’s a new kind of Pacific Coast Highway. In the distance across the fjord are snowcapped peaks. On the 3rd or 4th fjord (I can’t remember), I spot a small town with a harbor. I cross my fingers for that to be Isafjordur. I’m an hour into the drive so it very well could be. I just passed through a very old rock tunnel so at the very least this small town has a grand entrance. Nearing the town I realize it is not Isafjordur, and as I pass through I witness a simple small church with a cemetery out of a children’s book. It is filled with large white crosses marking the graves. I must take a picture when returning that way.
The next fjord reveals Isafjordur. I wind my way around the crook of the fjord where there is a small but paved airport, and make my way up the other side of the fjord to town. I stop in at a cafe to borrow the wifi. Iceland has great cafes - rivaling Paris. Using the wifi with my iPhone I pinpoint my location and find the guesthouse I will be staying at. I knock on the door and Aslaug greets me. It’s 9:15pm and there are kids still out playing. Aslaug seems to know all of them as she hops in my rental car to direct me to where I am staying. She says a couple are her nieces. We drive 2 or 3 blocks and stop in front of an old 2nd level apartment building. The door opens to a steep flight of stairs to a 200 sqft upstairs apartment. She hands me the key with a smile, and begins the walk back to the main guesthouse. The place is very old, a bit rundown, and smells strongly of cigarette smoke (she is still getting used to Airbnb and accidentally overbooked the main guesthouse) but it will do. I plan to mainly program at the coffee shops and visit Dani after her work and workshops at Reykjanes.
Finally, I unpack some of my things, and walk the 2 to 3 blocks into town to find a late night place with wifi. I do so, send Dani an email, buy a pizza and a beer, and then log on Skype. Dani tries to log on Skype, but her internet connection seems quite bad. We send a couple of emails back and forth, and in those emails I learn her connection is really really bad. We are definitely in Iceland and Dani is at the edge of it.
I visit her tomorrow at 7pm. We did things the old fashioned way and made a plan in case communication channels were bad.