Iceland Road Trip – Chapter Two: Rotten Shark Attack

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Breakfast of Champions

Since Icelanders are descendants of bloodthirsty Vikings – just look at Gregor Clegane aka “The Mountain” – they need a big ass breakfast to get them axe-wielding through another day at the office. Forget about paleo gluten-free granola cookies. Instead they eat skyr, a yogurt-like dairy product on steroids. This protein bomb is based on an old Viking recipe that now plays a vital role in Iceland’s breakfast culture. As a famous saying goes: “A life without skyr is a life half lived”.

According to Viking sagas, seafarers Erik the Red and his son Leif Erikson would not embark on their great adventures without a shitload of skyr. It was even used as a trading product with the indigenous people of North America after Leif had set foot on their shores, nearly five centuries before Columbus would rediscover it in 1492. Now Jersey Shore is the single most important distribution hub of skyr protein shakes.

jersey-shore-skyr

Rotten Shark vs. My Stomach  1 – 0

After a royal amount of skyr and a glass of pure water from Kirkjufellsfoss we are fueled up for another Icelandic delicacy: rotten shark. The meat of the Greenland shark is poisonous when fresh but can be consumed after fermentation, a process which removes the toxins from the flesh. Due to a large amount of ammonia, shark meat (hákarl) has a putrid smell which first-timers may find gut-wrenching. Even Gordon Ramsay couldn’t keep it down when he tried it on the F Word. Sounds like a perfect lunch!

KirkjufellsfossOn the way to Stykkishólmur we stop by the shark museum in Bjarnarhöfn, nestled deep inside a spectacular landscape of lava fields. I summon my inner Bear Grylls to combat this dreaded rotten meat treat. To our surprise the flesh itself doesn’t taste too bad, just a bit fishy, but not in any way as described as the world’s most disgusting food. And the aroma, oh well, expect a full-on assault on the nostrils of a SWAT-team drenched in a barrel of industrial cleaning product. Just keep a bottle of Brennivín (local spirit) on the side. Alcohol will make it more tolerable, like alcohol always does.

rotten sharkThe Westfjords: Uppercut Knockout

Doped up like a true Viking on skyr, hákarl and Brennivín, we take the ferry in Stykkishólmur to continue our road trip into the Westfjords. The Westfjords are a total knockout: its dramatic fjords cutting deep into the rugged peninsula and golden sand beaches remain little-explored gems. Poor unfortunate souls who stick to the ring road, a bliss for those who want to escape the masses and venture off the tourist radar.

From the ferry port of Brjánslækur our Toyota Yaris wiggles its way through mountain tops and down to the red coloured beach of Rauðasandur. We plant our tents on the coastal stretch with a stunning view over the azure lagoon and the sound of thundering waves which keep us company at night.

Rauðasandur beach-2 Die Hard Puffins

Right now we’re in puffin territory. As I mentioned in my last blog post, our goal is to meet the priestly puffins. But there’s one small catch: the end of August is not the peak season to watch these sea parrots, on the contrary, by then most of them have already left for an indian summer break. Nevertheless, hard-boiled puffins can still be spotted in late season.

So this morning we went on a puffin scouting spree along the black cliffs of Breiðafjörður Bay, but apparently they have already flown away. We feel like the old rusty steel ship rammed ashore at Skapadalur valley. We continue our road trip and absorb Iceland’s unsurpassed views with a matching soundtrack that reflects the solitude and stark beauty of the Westfjords.

Skapadalur shipYou may wonder, how do we mentally deal with such a devastating disappointment? Well, a lovely 32°C geothermal pool called Reykjafjarðarlaug will do the trick! This naturally heated swimming pool is surrounded by enormous fjords and you can soak in the sweeping ocean view with a well deserved cold beer.

Crossing river in the WestfjordsReykjafjarðarlaug hot poolTrail by Kombat

Totally relaxed, we drive to Dynjandi waterfall, the Westfjords favourite page 3 model gracefully cascading down over a 100 meter high clifftop. The base of the main waterfall is the perfect background for a Mortal Kombat sparring session. I try several brutal finishing moves but my friend D. triumphs with a fatal Van Damme kick. After all, Jean-Claude is the god of cloud karate.

Dynjandi waterfall in IcelandEscape from Þingeyri

Next morning: Hello shower! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Freshly shaven we go to Simbahöllin in Þingeyri to have lunch. Some would say that a pipin’ hot chocolate drippin’ waffle straight outta Belgium isn’t lunch. Oh boy, how could they be more wrong. You fools.

High on sugar we summit Sandafell mountain and I start daydreaming about a second waffle. Obviously, the craving of another sugar fix kicked in. Damn, my mind is playing tricks on me. J. & D. take me back to the car and drive the hell out of cursed Þingeyri. Next thing I know we’re in the charming fishing village of Norðurfjörður, one of Iceland’s most remote corners with a population of only 30 people.

Nonetheless, this tiny settlement is home to one of the country’s most dramatically located geothermal pools, Krossneslaug. Settled into a backdrop of the majestic Krossnessfjall mountain it provides an endless view over the icy Atlantic, and if you’re lucky, you may spot a seal with a herring between its teeth. The perfect way to end the day that I almost went cold turkey on waffles.

Krossneslaug westfjords in iceland

Next up you can read about how we experienced the rawness of the natural elements and how the national self-confidence of Holland was shattered into 1000 pieces. Winter is coming.

General information:

  • Ferry from Stykkisholmur to Brjánslækur: leaves twice a day at 9 am and 3.45 pm (with a stopover at Flatey)
  • Reykjafjarðarlaug: Reykjafirði, Arnafirði (no entrance fee, changing facilities and open 24/7, all year long)
  • Simbahöllin: Fjarðargata 5, 470 Þingeyri (try the Belgian waffle at your own risk)
  • Krossneslaug: 524 Norðurfjörður (450 IKr entrance fee, changing facilities and open 24/7)

 

 

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