Iceland Road Trip – Chapter Three: Moon Safari

Norðurfjörður-camping-2

Bruce Lee of the Westfjords

Note to self: no matter how sturdy a tent, always secure it with guy lines, especially if you stay at an exposed ocean-side campsite in the Westfjords. In the middle of a nightmare about waffles (triggered by an awful event), I’m rudely awakened by a battering wind that wants to throw our tent in the air, like the hands of an insane hiphopcrowd who just don’t care.

As J. and I get out of our tent, the ferocious wind nearly blew it away but J.’s spirit guide Weng Weng gives him the courage to launch himself – in true Filipino style – on top of the tent and hammer the pegs down into the grassy ground. A thunderous, beastly roar comes out of J.. Meanwhile D.’s tent has been severely damaged just like his self-esteem would later that night. But I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Rough Guides describes Norðurfjörður (population: 30) as one of the most remote parts of Europe, so we are pretty surprised when the owner of the campsite, a wrinkled old lady with a cane, brings out a portable card terminal. She says: “That’s 1.500 Kronas each, please insert your card here”. Even at the northern fringe of Europe, VISA-transactions are integrated in daily life.

road-643-westfjords

It’s a Long Way To Akureyri

Driving southwards along road 643, next to a scenic coastline strewn with driftwood from Siberia, we pass Holmavik and get back on the Ring Road. Finally we’re reunited with one of the distinct markers of Western civilization: the hot dog! We park our car at Staðarskáli gas station to put our gaping mouths around the national pride of Iceland. Three guys enjoying a thick juicy Wiener drenched in ketchup and remoulade in the company of big hairy truck drivers. Very, very heterosexual.

Anyway, the hot dog’s nutritional value gives us enough energy to drive all the way to Akureyri in northern Iceland. In the country’s second largest town (population: 18.000) we witness an event that will change the world forever, or at least the Netherlands.

So You Think You Can…Play Football?

At Backpackers Hostel we watch the disastrous defeat of the Dutch Football team against Iceland in the qualifying round for the European Championship 2016. Hollands’ hope of making it to Euro 2016 is now mathematically unlikely and leaves the nation in shock. Meanwhile, Iceland is living the dream and get ready to party like it’s 1999. D., holder of a Dutch passport, is facing this doomsday scenario without much drama and starts boozing the night away at Götubarinn and Café Amour.

The following morning D. needs more alcohol to numb any emotion. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so we go to Kaldi Brewery in Árskógssandur, north of Akureyri. A tour guide introduces us to the factory’s history and lets us sample their craft beers. All of them.

kaldi-brewery

Björk’s Giant Banana

Drunk as hell we get back into the car and realise we are drunk as hell. Maybe a walk in a park would sober us up. Luckily, Akureyri has a gorgeous botanical garden with a wide variety of subtropical plants and an Icelandic rarity: fully grown trees. Strolling through this haven of tranquility we notice café Laut, the designer bistro of Björk (yes the artist). She is not around physically, but we sure recognize her music on the background. A live album where she explores the metaphorical mental condition of a giant banana after a devastating heartbreak, while experimenting with drumsticks (made of local subtropical wood) on puffin skulls. If Pablo Escobar gave me the choice “plata o plomo”? Plomo please! We need to get out of this place, quick. Our masterplan is to go east, destination: Myvatn!

botanical-garden-akureyri

Moon Safari in Myvatn

The area around Myvatn is simply breathtaking. Imagine an otherworldly landscape of boiling mudpits, steaming volcanic vents, enormous lava fields and moonlike craters. The unique and bizarre geological formations were considered the perfect training ground for NASA’s astronauts during the Apollo programme in the 1960’s. To prepare the aspiring spacemen for a moon safari, they simulated landing procedures and extravehicular exercises in a lunarlike environment. Amongst the 12 men that have set foot on the moon, nine trained in Iceland, including Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong.

Myvatn is also home to thriving bird colonies but alas, puffin numbers have dropped significantly since Björk started her musical experiments here. And now the Atlantic puffins avoid Myvatn’s black lava fields. Damn you Björk!

Apollo-Geology-Field-Exercises-in-Iceland

Hell on Earth

Feeling somehow down about the development of our puffin expedition, we need some distraction. We drive to Bjarnarflag’s underground bakery, buy some steamed lava bread and move on to the bubbling and evil-smelling mud pools of Hverir. This is the perfect backdrop for reenacting the iconic death of sergeant Elias in Platoon. We continue east towards dormant Krafla volcano and crater lake Viti (meaning ‘hell’ in Icelandic). Next up is Leirhnjúkur: a lava fountain transformed into a bad ass sulphur-encrusted mudhole. Be careful where you step because you can fall into hidden fissures, get burnt by hot steaming vents or cut open by sharp cooled lava. So take along your mother-in-law.

power-station-in-myvatn

hverir-steam-vents krafla-lava-fields

Leirhnjúkur-solfataras

After a full day of exploring Myvatn’s natural wonders, our tired bodies are in desperate need of rejuvination. We head over to Jarðböðin Nature Baths and soak our aching muscles in the powderblue mineralrich water. We watch the sun go down with an Einstök Pale Ale and start planning the last leg of our road trip in Iceland. Will we get to see the puffins or will they stay just a myth? May the Old Gods help us. Continue here.

General information:

  • Staðarskáli gas station: Hrútafjörður, 500 Staður (one of the best hotdogs we had in Iceland)
  • Urðartindur guesthouse in Norðurfjörður (campsite 1.500 IKr pppn, with cooking facilities and toilets at your disposal)
  • Akureyri Backpackers: Hafnarstræti 98, Akureyri (4.800 IKr pppn, with kitchen, laundry, shower and sauna facilities)
  • Café Amour: Ráðhústorg 9, Akureyri
  • Götubarinn: Hafnarstræti 96, Akureyri
  • Hamborgarafabrikkan: Hafnarstræti 87-89, Akureyri (best hamburger joint in town)
  • Botanical Garden Akureyri: Eyrarlandsholt (no admission, open from 1st of June till 30 September, on weekdays from 8 am – 10 pm and at weekends from 9 am – 10 pm)
  • Café Laut: inside botanical garden (excellent place to have lunch, open from 10 am – 10 pm)
  • Kaldi (Bruggsmiðjan) Brewery: Öldugötu 22, Árskógssandur (admission: 1.500 IKr)
  • Jarðböðin Nature Baths: Jardbadsholar 660, Myvatn (admission: 3.700 IKr)

 

 

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