Iceland, A Remote Land without Time, 2017

Iceland is a remote land of many birds and few people. Most of it is covered with green pastures and moss covered lava rocks. We traveled about 5,000 km around this wild country in eight days. Every single region was sublime with unique plants, birds, glaciers, geysers, craters, deep earthly colors. The people's friendliness and sincerity kept amazing us.    

Day 1
Reykjanes Peninsula to the Souhtwest
While driving from the Reykjanes peninsula to the Souhtwest the rugged terrain turned to lupine covered meadows and hills with green patches crawling up at their bases. 

Close to the airport, Blue Lagoon takes its icy color from silica deposits. Ladies with white masks (offered as part of the simplest package)circle it's warm waters surrounded by black lava rocks.

We had lunch at Eyrarbakki, a small quiet fishing village. A few locals were painting while gazing at the tide pools among black rocks at the shore. The town consisted of only a few short streets of dirt and aluminum houses in dark rusty colours like many other towns in Iceland.

The lava plain of Pingvellir National Park covered with wild flowers is softly carved with the meandering Öxarà river. While the tectonic plates of Eurasia and North America are continuing to separate, a dark chasm cuts deeper into the earth. The area was abundant with birds like golden plover, common snipe, Arctic tern, harlequin duck, eider duck, pink-footed goose. We learned by experience that photo stops by the road might be quite dangerous with aggressive Arctic tern pecking on heads when they think we are too close to their nests on the ground.

Day 2
The Southwest 
The Southwest region easily accessible from Reyjavik has less of a remote feeling than the rest of the country. It is known for the waterfall Gullfloss and the hot springs in Geysir. Gullfloss waterfall is impressive with cool clouds of spray that can be seen from far. It is certainly refreshing to walk under this cool spray of water.

Bless the tourists pushing and gathering around the Geysir geyser erupting every 10 minutes. I am thankful they were absent from less known locations. For every Icelander four tourists visit the island every year. The population is about 330,000.

8,000 years ago lava outpouring from an eruption created a still unearthly dark coloured valley. Through this valley a dusty road takes one to Stöng where an excavated Viking long house stands which is open all the time. Not knowing what to expect we walked further on the road to the direction of Gjian. In perfect contrast to the dark colours of the surroundings, a green secluded heaven awaits there with streams of small waterfalls curving around small patches of earth covered with low, sturdy wild flowers. 

Day 3
From the Southwest through Southeast to the East Fjords
The small wooden cottage we stayed in Tungufell was part of a horse farm where the two lively owners breed horses for competitions around Iceland. The owner, while driving us through his 1,500 acre land, told us about how he used to listen to eerie folk stories when he was a kid and how he still sees elves and strange things during the darkness of the long winters. 

After departing from them, we climbed the bright green cliffs to walk behind the back of the Seljalandsfoss falls. Arctic terns perched on steep cliffs were gazing at the many people getting soaked by the sprays of the powerful water. 

Icecap Eyjafjallajökull was the first of the many impressive glaciers that can be seen from the road in both the Southwest and Southeast Regions. In most of the Southwest, the Ring Road 1 runs between a black sand beach and green clothed cliffs with delicate waterfalls.  

Grass-roofed earthen houses along the road are hidden beneath colossal rocks. We spotted storm petrels, oyster catchers, pharorahs and whooping geese while driving.

A steep stairway takes you up the side of the Skógafoss fall to the smooth hills above the river feeding the fall. The path climbs up gently. At the top you can lay down on the soft grass to enjoy the breathtaking views of Myrdalsjökull icecap together with sheep doing the same thing. 

Dyrhólaey is a protected nature area perched above steep cliffs that has become a temporary nest for migrating seagulls. There is also a natural rock arch here. My daughter, who is 12 and is a bird lover patiently waited before she was able to spot a puffin from far below. 

The town of Vík which was 6 km away was our next stop. There we walked on a beach blacker than black to come back to their landing spots on the green cliff rocks they were sharing with the seagulls.

Just when we started to head back to the car my daughter saw a puffin as close as ten meters on a rock. He dried his wings for a few minutes before he gracefully flew with his red legs apart to show his white chubby belly. 

The Southeast region is dominated by Europe’s largest icecap Vatnajökull. At Lake Jökulsárlón, at the receding light of the approaching midnight, floating icebergs resembled wizard boats in faraway seas. The seals and flocks of barnacle geese did not mind the cold waters of the lake. 

During the silver nights of summer, animals stay awake in Iceland; sheep keep grazing and birds keep singing. We kept exploring until midnight every single day in the deceiving pale nightlight until we fell into a sweet exhaustion. On our third day we drove about 400 km from our horse farm cottage in Tungufell in Southwest through the Southeast to Djúpivogur in the East Fjords and through the mist coloured glaciers poised in flow, tiny steaming creeks, red roofed farms, large moraines and only a few adventurous souls. Close to midnight a thick fog settled down and left the horses bewildered. 

Day 4 
From the East Fjords to the Northeast 
We were now in the East Fjords. A morning stroll around our cottages in Bragdavellir up from Djúpivogur took us to a beautiful waterfall with not even one soul except birds. A golden plover kept a respectable distance but did not bother to hide its location while showing off with regular calls. 

We drove along the Fjords by the coast road through several dormant fishing towns to Egilsstadir and arrived at the charming town of Seydisfjördur for lunch. The colourful houses brought from Norway during 1930's were scattered along the hills that turned into snow-capped mountains. Supposedly most of its 700 inhabitants are involved with the herring industry during autumn. 

On the way back from the same road we walked on the soft grasses of the hills jumping over streams off of the thousand waterfalls. Here is a song I wrote there while enjoying the lacy waterfalls. 

If I was a goatherd,
I would lay down all day long,
I would sing with the birds 
I would talk to my goats
I would become the rain one day
Then I would come back 
As a waterfall 
And I would smile 
To the meadows 

We then drove along the south edge of the Northeast region. The green soft hills were now replaced by a high plateau of dry unearthly rock surface. The long stretches of grey surface felt like the most isolated area of Iceland until we reached Hverir before descending to the north shore of the Greenland Sea.

This a geothermal area recalled Dante's inferno with loud steaming vents and boiling mud pools. 

At Myvatn Lake green covered islands decorate the blue green waters. There are paths through a lushness of trees and flowers leading to the lake rich with birdlife. We saw Barrow's golden eyes, red-breasted mergansers and tufted ducks. 

At Húsavik where we would spend the night, we were closer to the Arctic circle more than ever before. We had tea in our hotel's café at midnight while playing games with my daughter and enjoying the snowy mountains crimson with the never setting sun.  Simple and clean wooden rooms with fishing themes and shared bathrooms; Tunguvellir guesthouse was lovely. I started my "wish collector" installation project here with the Mexican-Icelander photographer  working at this hotel. This will be another conceptual installation that I am excited about.

Day 5
From Northeast to Akureyri, Húnaflói, Skagfjördur and the West Fjords 
In the morning of a bright sunny day, we took a whale watching tour on a traditional Icelandic oak boat in the Skjálfandi Bay.  We saw five humpback whales! They were gently surfacing to dive back again gracefully showing their white flute.  Harbour porpoises and white beaked dolphins were swimming in schools of seven or eight. We spotted black guillemots, puffins, fulmars, black-headed gulls and Arctic terns.

Akureyri is one of the largest towns in the North. We stopped there at a chic café (Café Laut) inside a botanical garden with unusual flowers from around the world. 

Iceland is so amazingly beautiful there are no incorrect routes. We drove through Húnaflói and Skagfjördur on Road 1 through haystacks, and meadows with Icelandic horses and their babies. Then we drove through meandering roads with aimless sheep on abandoned farms in the West Fjords. A salty taste on our mouths we passed forgotten churches visited by only sea birds. Under the intense sun of nine o'clock at night we arrived at Hófmavik where we had a quick dinner before arriving at Djúpavîk to spend the night. 

Day 6
The West Fjords 
All locations in Iceland are so amazing that it is hard to leave places in the morning. We were not able take the ferry from Nordurfjördur to Hornvík because it travels twice a week for a two hour journey along the coast to north and it was not happening on that day. So we decided to make changes in plans, canceled the second night at our hotel and made a new reservation in Isalfjördur. The owner did not take the cost of the second night and also asked his brother in-law to repair our flat tire. They said it was quite common to have a flat tire around here on the bumpy which are not accessible in winter. 

We then drove through high plateaus covered with patches of snow and deep finger like fjords with eider ducks, kittiwakes, black-backed gulls resting along the seaweed lined shores. 

Where the roads turned around the ends of the fjords were meadows disappearing in green carved deep by waterfalls. In the inlet just before we arrived Isalfjördur we walked on a path used by many shy sheep with the smell of the sweet flowers and our soaked winter hats to reach a tall waterfall hidden in black rocks. As we walked I tried to savor the view of the valley ending in two dainty waterfalls fading in fog. 

After dinner at Isalfjördur we drove to Bolungarvik for a final hike of the day at around 10:00 pm on a road not recommended for normal cars because of frequent land slides. 

Day 7
From the West Fjords to Snæfellsnes and the West 

West Fjords resemble a sea shell with many deep inlet curves consisting of the fjords themselves. We started the day by a visit to the Arctic Fox Center in Súdavík which was a whaling station in 1900's. An exhibition at the Center was educational on legal hunting of foxes to protect Icelandic sheep. A law in 1295 required sheep owners of six and higher to kill a fox or two cubs or else pay taxes which would pay hunters to do the killing. The rules have not changed much since then. 

The village of Sudureyri cast under the shadow of a high fjord is known for being in dark without direct sunlight for the longest time in Iceland during the four months of winter. When they see the first rays of sun every year on February 22’nd they celebrate with coffee. 

After seeing the largest eider duck colony in Iceland past the town of Myrar we stopped at Pingeyri, at a café at the town's entrance where they serve waffles and homemade rhubarb jam. In between two fjords here above the "West Fjord Alps" the road curves up to a high pass which was mysterious looking in the thick fog of the afternoon.  

At the western point of Iceland is Látrabjarg, where black cliffs sharply rise above the sea and chubby cheeked puffins sit comfortably below the top of the cliffs. They were not bothered with us being just above their nests only a meter away from them. We were able to see all the decorations on their red-orange beaks which they get to keep only through the breeding season. There were also couples of screaming fulmars sitting on their eggs and razor-beaks feeding their chicks. These were delightful moments for all of us.

Day 8
Snæfellsnes and the West 

We started our day in Snæfellsnes with a short climb up to the Saxhóll crater that erupted 34,000 years ago. 

Then we visited the Djúpalonssandur beach near Dritvík with scattered pieces of corroded iron which once were an English trawler wrecked close by in 1948.

A little further down the road, Malarrif had remnants of playground structures together with a tall lighthouse and two high rock pillars. 

Púfubjarg offers beautiful views of sharp cliffs inhabited by screeching kittiwakes, fulmars, herring hull, black backed gull and guillemots.

The path from Helmar to Arnarstapi starts with a cave like arch in the sea where we could see kittiwake babies sitting motionless under their mothers. The path then continues with eeri lava rocks covered with lichen and, ends at cliff tops covered with low Icelandic flowers such as roseroot, creeping thyme, yellow marsh marigold, common sea thrift, and common yarrows. Below the cliffs are sea birds nesting on the flat tops of basalt rocks. Some with puffy babies that once in a while stand up to stretch their tiny legs. 

Kirkjufell falls is one of the most photographed places in Iceland and it was our last stop before dinner at the nearby town of Grundarfjördur.


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