Friday, June 15, 2007

Iceland: Day Seven (Höfn to Djúpivogur and back to Vík)

Today, I drove a total of 300 miles (mostly at over 150 kpm in a 90 kpm zone (i.e. I drove 90-95 mph in a 60ish mph zone); luckily, our Lonely Planet states that one has to go out of one's way to get into legal trouble in Iceland) and ate a ton of junk food. Yay Americans!

We breakfasted at our hotel in Höfn (I have been pronouncing this word the way it's spelled, but apparently the "fn" sound goes to a "p" sound, and the whole word is supposed to be pronounced kind of like a one syllable hiccup: "hup!"), which offered the usual fare, except that the muesli had something like leftover Coco Pebbles in it (yick). I tasted the icky caramel stuff on toast with jam as planned, and while it was totally edible, it wasn't all that dandy, so we chucked the remainder, packed our bags, and hit the road. Our itinerary listed Höfn as our last stop before turning around; without ever having visited this country, we had no idea what the quality of the roads would be, what the distance between towns would be, and doubted whether we would be able to circle the entire Ring Road in our 10 day trip, particularly since I'm the only driver. It turns out that the roads are generally better than expected, and I can drive very far very fast; had we known this ahead of time, we'd have skipped the night in Selfoss for Vík, spent the Vík night in Höfn, spent the Höfn night in Egilsstaðir, and spent tonight in Akureyri (geographically, if Reykjavík is Los Angeles on Iceland, Höfn would be Atlanta, and Akureyri would be Minneapolis). We could have finished the whole circumference of the island, and I would have seen a lot of fjords. As of this morning, I had not seen one fjord, and was pretty testy about it. Michael and I both had the Let's Go! bug, and weren't looking forward to backtracking our way to Reykjavík. "Let's go to Akureyri!" I said (there is a small airport there, and I proposed taking two more days to drive East and then dropping the rental car at the Akureyri airport and flying to Reykjavík on Sunday just in time for Iceland's Independence Day celebration and our flight home Monday afternoon). I began singing, "It's a long road, to Akureyri" to the tune of It's a Long Road to Tipperary. We decided to keep driving East for at least 75 miles, to a fishing town called Djúpivogur. By then, we would decide whether to call Avis to change, Iceland Air to book, our guesthouse in Hof to cancel, and guesthouses in Egilsstaðir and Akureyri to book, or to just turn around and stick to the original plan.

About 50 miles East of Höfn, we saw a pristine black sand beach off the highway with a giant rock jutting up out of its middle; we decided that we had to go there, but the road was cliff side (akin to Devil's Slide on California's Hwy 1 if you know it, but all unpaved brown gravel that appeared to pour freshly off the cliff side daily), and there was no way to take the car down to the beach (or even pull over and hike down). We kept on for about another quarter mile until we saw a vague turnoff toward the shore marked by tire tracks in the grass. We took this very rocky path at about 5 mph to the coast, where we parked and hopped out for a good long walk. There was a glacial stream running all the way down into the ocean, which poured both waterfall-style (over rocks) and magical-style (underground through rocks, such that a copious flow of water seemed to originate from nowhere). I climbed some lava rocks in which tide pools (with no creatures, unfortunately) were abundant, trying to get high enough to scout out our secret beach. I couldn't see it, but we walked back that way, over mossy bluffs and rocky shores, where angry seabirds chided us for treading where people rarely, if ever, tread. We walked and walked. The air smelled like the beaches in California, salty and pungent (from the kelp), which was fresh and new (every other beach thus far has smelled like sulfur, except the Jökulsárlón, which didn't smell like anything at all).

After a brisk half hour, I spotted the giant rock jutting up out of the pristine black beach. Unfortunately, I was standing 10-15 feet above the pristine black sand, over a 90˚, concave drop. I skirted the surrounding promontory, determined to find a way down. I chose the section of the incline with lowest grade, despite the fact that it was wet by a slow, thin trickle of water and laced over with caramel-colored algae. Scooting down in a crouch on two feet and one hand, I reminded Michael what we say in yoga: "The closer you are to the ground, the less far you have to fall." I reached the next tier, a four foot high rift of pebbles and small round rocks, and dug my heels in as they gave in to my weight, bringing me down to the beach as if on an escalator. We'd made it! I walked all the way out to the giant rock (it was quite a long little beach), and photographed my footprints—the only mark on the hard-packed sand. Michael took a picture of me doing a headstand against the rock. I wanted to draw in the sand—leave a message that could be read from the road—but I couldn't find a stick. We mucked about a bit more, scrambled back up the cliff, and hiked back to the car.

Continuing East, we continued to consider Akureyri. Michael was worried about Avis; I was not, although I had been very much looking forward to our guesthouse in Hof, the Frost and Fire, which had a very sexy website with pictures of hot tubs and whatnot. It was cold and my shoulders were (are!) stiff from driving. But we had come across a lot of unpaved road (the warning signs read "Malbik Endar," which probably means "End Pavement," but I've just been calling the gravel "malbik endar,") and I wasn't looking forward to retreading all those bumpy roads, upon which I can do 50 mph at best. We finally reached the fishing village (which has a population of roughly 300), where I saw my first (and what was to be my only) fjord (it was pretty unimpressive, to be honest, not looking any different from a bay). I snapped some pictures of an old blue fishing boat, Michael bought a Coke Zero and a Skyr at the gas station, I got an "American-style" chocolate muffin, and we popped a U-turn back West. Boo. (It was Michael's decision; this is, after all, his trip).

We drove and drove and drove and drove. Some heavy weather came, and it started to rain (the first rain we've seen since the night we landed, which means that we've been lucky; rain is generally ever-present on this Island). Because the plains are so low and open, I could see the low black clouds wrapping around the mountains like blanket, and see the clear blue sky high above in the distance. "There's going to be a rainbow, somewhere," I told Michael. "Keep your eyes peeled." We drove and drove and drove, and it rained and rained and rained. My defroster wasn't servicing me properly, and I had to slow to 40 mph. It wasn't unlike those dreams where you run and run and don't get anywhere at all. I was so frustrated. I got more and more testy, and began swearing quite a bit, quipping, "Where's my fucking rainbow, muthafucker? I earned that shit!" But no rainbow came. We drove and drove and drove, and stopped for petrol; I was on empty. We filled up at an unattended Esso station (it looked to be on post-atomic lockdown; there had once been a grocery inside, but the shelves were bare and partially wrecked. The WC, indoors, could not be accessed. Luckily, I had peed in a squat next to the parked car at our beach.) We drove on, knowing that our guesthouse was within five kilometers, and planning to settle in, even though it was only three o'clock.

Coming upon the turn off for Hof (so small I can't even call it an outpost), which features our Frost and Fire guesthouse, a turf-covered church, and a farm or two, we drove up the wet gravel road and parked at the main house (many guesthouses, including this one, are little compounds of small cabins around a bigger main house). Inside, we found the fanciest lobby thus far, designed as a sort of lodge and complete with fountain, television, board games, couches, and so forth, but with no attendant and no bell to ring for one. Icelandic proprietors have been pretty laissez faire, so rather than worrying, I did a bit of exploring. We found the loo and did our business, and I found the on-site restaurant (closed, empty, and vacant) and wandered into the (also vacant, but well-stocked) kitchen. A glass front refrigerator was filled with tallboys, and I was ready to settle in and get drunk, except that it was locked and all of my exploring availed no key. I did, though, find some available bottles of red wine—full and single-serving—which luckily don't need refrigeration, so grabbed a little Gallo Cabernet (screw top; would have taken a large bottle but for lack of a corkscrew) and planned to cozy up with my next book: Cocteau's Les Enfants Terribles. Michael was looking antsy and did not want to sit around drinking. He rummaged around the reception desk and found a sheet of paper instructing visitors to go to a small house down the road if reception was empty.

We popped our umbrellas (it was still raining heavily) and I dropped the little wine bottle into my backpack (against Michael's protestations); down the hillside, I opened the door to the referenced house and found three young Icelanders enjoying some cigarettes. I gave our name, and the young woman went to fetch our key. She escorted us to the building in which our room was located, far from the main house and the house in which we'd found her. She didn't bother to open the door for us. I asked her where the hot tubs were and she looked at me blankly. "Swimming?" I asked. "There's no swimming," she said. "But up at the house, your brochures have pictures of jacuzzis. . . and the website said. . ." She told us that they were planning to build hot tubs this winter. She smiled and walked away. We were extremely disappointed about this, but happy that the building did have kitchen facilities (although we had no groceries and the next town with a grocery store was probably an hour away), since the only restaurant was the hotel's which charged KR2800 ($40ish) for a set menu dinner with no choices and no vegetarian option. We put the key in the door to our room, number four, but the lock wouldn't turn over. This was the straw that broke Michael's back, and he got that ashy look across his face to which six years of close friendship has strongly sensitized me. "Do you want to leave?" I asked, knowing the answer already. "It's just that there's absolutely nothing to do here," he said, "and we have at least eight conscious hours to spend. And I'm really unhappy about the lack of advertised hot tubs." He even had the internet printout, which boasted a pool, multiple "hot pot" jacuzzis, and a sauna. We drove back up to the manager's house and I left him in the car to do what he does best (study maps and locate an alternative town in which to pass the night) while I went inside to do what I do best (give the manager a piece of my mind and cancel our reservation).

First I told her that the key didn't work. She looked confused. Then I explained our frustration with the lack of promised bathing facilities, and showed her our printout. "Ah," she pointed to the page. "You are looking at the wrong location. That is the Frost and Fire in Hveragerði. It's 300 kilometers from here." I didn't understand. "This is the Frost and Fire in Hof. It's a different guesthouse you are looking at." Aha. The mistake had been ours (and, partially, the website's somewhat misleading layout and photo gallery). I asked whether she could call them to see if we could stay there instead, before I realized exactly what 300 kilometers meant: another three hours of hard driving. Doable, but not desirable. Hveragerði is practically Reykjavík. "Never mind," I told her. "Anyway, it's too early, and this place is too isolated, for us to stay with nothing to do. Can we cancel?" I asked. "Yes," she said, "I am not the regular manager of this guesthouse," she said slowly, "I'm sorry, but it's okay;" we said our goodbyes and I was back in the car, on the road, driving and driving and driving.

We stopped at another gas station for another Coke Zero. It was half past five and although I hadn't noticed hunger creeping up on me (I'd eaten the last of my nicked bananas as we'd driven back across the Jökulsárlón, popping out for few more quick pictures), I saw hot dogs (Iceland's favorite meal!) on the grill and decided that it was time to try one. They had them wrapped in bacon, and I ordered one; the attendant tucked fresh and fried onions along with some relish into the bun before tucking in the dog. Ketchup and mustard were self-serve. It was absolutely delicious and I scarfed it and ordered another. I scarfed that too while Michael sipped his Coke. Then five old couples besieged the previously empty place and we hightailed out.

Soon, we approached Vík. "Do you want to just stay at Hotel Edda again?" I asked Michael. There was the dual benefit of the awesome restaurant and the guaranteed free wireless. They had a room and we took it, then went off to dine, even though I'd just eaten two bacon hot dogs. I ordered a 0.5 L Carlsberg (the only alternate to Viking, which Michael ordered, and declared "sheep's piss") and a small "Cottager's Cheese Pizza," which came topped with blue cheese, Camembert, castle cheese, extra cheese, and with a side of jam (?!) Michael had a large garlic butter mozzarella pizza, same as last time. As before, the service was sub par (typical in this country, where there is no tipping), and we waited at least fifteen minutes to order, at least fifteen minutes for our food, and at least fifteen minutes after we'd finished to order dessert. I wanted to try the Skyr Cake, but though it was listed on the menu, they didn't have any. I picked another cake instead (the cake in the cake case I had assumed was the Skyr cake, a layered frippery with strawberries atop piles of creme and meringue) along with a coffee (I quit coffee a month or so ago in attempt to treat a chronically crinked neck/jaw/shoulder/arm, but have had to take it up again on this trip at breakfast-time in order to be conscious on the long drives, and I guess I've been re-hooked). The coffee was the best I've had here (it's generally not that good; potable, but cheap-tasting; better than a New York diner coffee which usually tastes like a rusty tin can, but not as good as even Starbucks', which I actually don't rank very highly); it was an Italian-style Americano made from roasty beans in an espresso machine. The cake was interesting and somewhat pleasant, though I doubt I'd order it again; the older I get, the stronger my inclination is toward savory rather than sweet, and the combination of meringue, chocolate chips, sugared cream, and icy berries put me over the top. We got back to Edda, and the combination of alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and plain old calories had me bouncing off the walls. The after-midnight sun is still in full affect and here I am, awake as awake can be.

More photos from day seven.

1 comment:

F3 said...

Great shot of you upside down at the black rock.
Be interesting to print it and display the photo upside down.
With all those fishing boats, too bad you didn't get out for a little fishing.