I recently finished a weeklong trip to Iceland, where I was pretty much incommunicado with the rest of the world. While you can find wifi here and there, Iceland is one of the last great untouched frontiers. I arrived in Reykjavik with the naïve belief that in a week I could hitch my way around the entire island. Oh, how wrong I was. What follows is my account of hastily made acquaintances, unplanned detours, and yes, getting stuck.
Day 4: Bildudalur to Isafjordur
The first thing I did the next morning was go over to the hostel to check in with Carmen; it was only 9 AM but the space where she had parked was empty. When I gave the news to Johannes that we were without a ride, he was beside himself for a while.
I couldn’t blame him for being upset, since we’d gotten along well with her. Also, we were 36 km off the main road going around the Westfjords and under no illusions as to how long it would take to get a ride in this very, very empty place.
We set off down the road and waited outside the town. Miraculously, we only waited about 20 minutes before a loaded down jeep carrying a German and Canadian couple—here as student researchers for a fisheries company—gave us a ride out of one fjord and into the next. It was only halfway to the main road, but it was better than nothing. Wet took stock of the dropoff point: a natural hot spring and pool overlooked the fjord, and we had the whole place to ourselves.
Clouds streamed across the sky and we were shrouded in bursts of steam emanating from the spring. The air temperature wasn’t much higher than freezing, but the hot vapor from the spring kept us warm despite the cold.
Pleasant as it was to take a hot bath, we wanted to get going, so we changed back into our clothes and moved our packs to the road and waited for a car. And waited. And waited. Three cars passed by in two hours, and I knew that we could easily spend the entire day there waiting in vain for someone to stop.
I did the calculations in my head, and figured we were 15-18 km from the main road. Loaded down with our packs and camping gear, that was about 3-4 hours of walking, but it was better than sitting around waiting. We set off along the gravel road, walking sticks in hand.
Our pace was steady and soon we were out of the fjord and into the next one. There was a river flowing into the sea and we filled our bottles with fresh snowmelt. The combination of thirst and water purified by porous volcanic rock made it the tastiest water I ever drank.
About two and a half hours into our walk we were headed up a steep hill, with about 8 km left, when we saw a motor home crawling up the hill behind us. I had only been picked up once before by caravan drivers; they tend to be middle aged and a bit too stuck up to take hitch-hikers aboard.
Our desperation must have been tangible, because they stopped for us. The occupants of this motor home were Swiss, and this was their 4th time driving a camper van in Iceland. They were in fact middle-aged, but the man behind the wheel told us that as a young man in the 1970s he had thumbed his way through Africa. The general rule of hitch-hiking prevailed: those who pick up hitch-hikers were once (or still are) hitch-hikers themselves.
The Swiss took us to a heaving glacial waterfall called Dynjandi, where they camped for the night. Johannes and I climbed up to the top of Dynjandi, took some photos, and then met a French Canadian and a Parisian driving til Isafjordur, the biggest city in the Westfjords.
Sophie and Marie spoke pretty good English—Marie had a particularly charming Quebecois lilt—and although we had nearly 200 km to cover, time passed quickly. When we arrived in Isafjordur, population 3,000, Johannes and I set up camp near a school and then joined our fair lady friends for drinks at a bar.
That was probably the coldest and windiest night we endured, but thanks to the beer and our good company, the harsh weather lost its edge. I snuggled deep into my sleeping bag, tired but content.