As some of you know, my partner and I spent last week camping around Iceland. Iceland is a place that has always interested me and it was kind of a dream come true to visit. This trip was the best in my life, it is nice to still have some “bests”, even better than my first Burning Man (though it is difficult to compare and contrast the two).
As the experience has marinated in my mind I have been struggling with how to share this experience. There were a lot of events and reflections that made this trip so important to me and it is difficult to figure out how to blog about it. In the end, I decided to use the writing technique I did with my book and just do it chronologically. When appropriate, I will go on tangents about my thoughts on a particular subject. Oh, and you can find some of our pics on our Instagram pages (@peterneiger and @anna_kale_27). We are still sorting through the pics on the camera but you can get an idea of what we saw/experienced via Instagram.
First though, here is a list of things that we were really, really happy that we had with us.
- High quality waterproof hiking boots
- Waterproof camera
- High quality cold weather gloves
- A highway map
- High quality cold weather sleeping bag
- A Jackery (or other battery storage for the phone)
Several of those items were quite expensive but they are lifetime investments. I’m going to hike a lot of trails, sleep in a lot of cold places, and take pictures in a lot of wet places. I don’t think you need high quality, expensive stuff to adventure (just like I don’t think you need an expensive bike to cycle cross country) but they are good investments if you plan on a lifetime of wandering.
And here are some things that we wish we had/knew:
- Camping utensils (we own them but forgot them)
- A basic knowledge of the language
- A more hardcore vehicle for Highland exploration (more on that later)
- An Icelandic/English dictionary for grocery shopping
- A car phone charger (again, we have several but forgot them)
- A travel credit card or a chip card with a PIN. You can’t buy gas with a credit card in Iceland unless you have a PIN and most credit cards in the states use a signature instead.
Day 1 – Saturday, August 25
We landed in Reykjavik at about 6am. Well, technically we landed in Keflavik but everyone called it Reykjavik. Due to the time zone change and our day-long layover in Boston we had only slept about 2-3 hours and that sleep was shitty plane sleep. Oh, but we did see the Northern Lights from the plane, so that was cool.
So, we were tired but the sun was up and we were ready to roll.
Our first stop, SADcars to pick up our rental, a beat-up grey Jimny that would prove to be a loyal, if somewhat frustrating, companion for the next 8 days. Once we had our vehicle we really didn’t have any solid plans. We had two reservations, one for a hostel on August 26 and one in Reykjavik on our final night, but other than that nothing was set in stone. Our “plan” was to simply head north for a bit and then east and then along the southern border. That would allow us to see the touristy stuff on the Golden Circle and explore a bit. Camping is available everywhere so we didn’t worry about finding a place to sleep.
The drive into Reykjavik was the first time that I really felt like I wasn’t in the US anymore. The different road signs, words I couldn’t pronounce, and the general friendliness of drivers was foreign to me. Luckily, we had a paper map, our phones showed our GPS location despite being in airplane mode, and all the signs in Iceland are pictures and most are pretty intuitive.
Unfortunately, “most” is not the same as “all”. Once we got downtown we were bombarded with signs that varied slightly and were difficult to interpret. What does a sign with a single red line across it mean? How does that differ from two red lines? These are all questions that we should have answers to. Which brings me to my first Iceland lesson:
Lesson 1: Familiarize yourself with road signs before arriving in country.
(I took a shit ton of notes, including several pages of lessons. Some of these are unique to Iceland but I think most of them are applicable for all international travel.)
Eventually, we figured out how to drive and get around without killing anyone. I am a big fan of roundabouts and stop lights that give a yellow warning before turning green. Traffic control in Iceland is pretty awesome. Hunger was hitting us so we grabbed some breakfast at basically the only vegan friendly place that was open before noon (not a lot of breakfast restaurants in Iceland) and then went to the grocery store to stock up. Grocery stores were our best friend because they were cheaper than restaurants and being vegan limited our options. Luckily, we have two years experience traveling without modern appliances and we know what food to stock up on.
Being vegan actually made the trip easier for us because it acted as a filter to all the options. Every decision we make goes through a number of filters based on our tastes, preferences, finances, convenience, ethics, etc. Our veganism is ethics based so we can quickly cut out any restaurants that don’t have vegan options. Then we factor in where the place is located and what options are available.
Of course, decision making involves both binary filters and degree filters. Binary filters are simple “yes/no” filters that allow us to reduce options. Do they have vegan options? No, then it is gone. Degree filters, on the other hand, are a bit more complicated because it requires weighing options relative to each other. One place is 7 miles away and the other is 8, which do we choose? There isn’t enough information to really make an informed choice because things like menu options and price matter. So, do you go to the place 8 miles away with 10 vegan options or the place 7 miles away with 8 vegan options? It all depends…
Anyway, being vegan cut out a lot of the headaches because we could focus on the 3-4 all vegan restaurants that were available in Reykjavik. I was actually really surprised how vegan friendly Iceland was though. Almost every restaurant had an explicitly marked vegan option or two and the prices for vegan food were on par (or sometimes cheaper) than meat options.
After we had full bellies and a carload of food we headed north. We tried to find some allergy medicine for me because my body was acting weird but we couldn’t find any. We later learned that medicine can’t be sold in grocery stores or gas stations, only in pharmacies. It was kind of weird not to find that in a grocery store but find underwear hanging on the walls and lube prominently displayed at the cash registers with the gum and other impulse buys.
The roads we choose were pretty sparse and we picked them based on how scenic they looked or what random experience might be along that way. Due to this technique we found the town of Akrans that had some cool lighthouses that you could climb up. After that we headed out to Glymur Falls to hike up a few miles along cliffs to watch water obey the gravitational pull of the Earth. It was an amazing site and the pictures we took don’t do any of it justice (this is a regular occurrence in Iceland).
Up until this point we had not really ran into tourists. That would change in the future when we discovered there are basically two types of tourists in Iceland: Boots and Buses.
Bus Tourists tended to be older, stay in hotels, and take buses all around the Golden Circle. They shuffled off the bus, walked a few feet to a beautiful site, took a picture, and then shuffled back onto the bus. We knew that a location would be crowded and that we would leave fairly quickly when we saw a bunch of buses.
Book Tourists tended to be younger, camp out, and wander off the normal paths. They hiked along random trials, pushed their way through the rain to reach a glacier, and were mostly found in the southern parts of the country away from the Bus Tourists. These were our people.
By time we got to our hiking stop point it was starting to get late. We cracked open a couple beers, drank them and rested for a bit, and then we hustled down the mountain. We had passed a campground on the road earlier that day so we headed back there where we set up our tent, paid our fee (about $15 per person, which was pretty standard), had sex, and then went to sleep.
Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?
Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions: pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”