Wednesday, June 1, 2011

IS - Southwest

June 1                   Wednesday                        Iceland                 Southwest                                         

Disembarking couldn’t have been easier.  A stewardess held back the hordes of serfs and peons so that we Saga Class passengers could make our illustrious alighting.  Not that I’d ever let elitism get to me; I was the only one who said “thank you” on my way out.  Every flight I’ve ever been on: everyone says thanks on their way out.

My checked bag was among the later ones onto the carousel, where it emerged sporting a sticker reading indicating it’s the last bag (for the handlers at Dulles) with a big smiley face drawn on.  I sailed through customs (when in Europe: just go through the green line!) and immediately spotted my name listed on a sign being held by my rental car folks.  I walked with a dude to the shuttle & we drove about one minute to the rental place.  If this were any other country: they’d make you walk that distance; it was so short… though if this were the USA: there’d either be a moving walkway or you’d have to walk for 20 minutes in several directions before making it there.

I picked up my small Toyota, which I’d soon come to find to be bigger than most other rentals on the road… and yet I paid the cheapest rental fee I could find, even beating Lonely Planet’s estimates.  After some time spent resorting my bags, my first destination was the Garðskagi lighthouse (or pair of lighthouses: one old; one new) on the northwest corner.  It was here where I learned what I forgot: mittens.  I forgot mittens.  While it was just a touch cool & overcast at the rental agency, this place featured a downright frigid ocean wind; so cold I’d have thought Santa had decided it was high time the rest of the world gets to know what it’s like to live at the North Pole.

I missed a few stopping points along the western tip of the Reykjanes Peninsula owing to my difficulty in discerning tourist signs & driveway signs, the latter indicating what I can only assume to be the name of the property owner.  While I’ve since gotten the gist, at this time it seemed that every single gravel road leading away from the highway was a tourist destination… so few in my guidebook; but so much intrigue!  Except none of them looked at all interesting, I fortunately didn’t go attempting to visit any residences.  (“Wow, a real Icelandic kitchen!”)

It was in Grindavik where I attempted to track down some food and an ATM.  Alas, the ATM wasn’t working & I also couldn’t find any of the restaurants suggested by Lonely Planet.  I spent one and a half hours in this small town attempting to find any of the guidebook’s food recommendations &/or a working ATM… nothing.

Making my way east on Route 427, I pulled off onto a large gravel area and succumbed to a 30 minute nap.  I awoke to both sun & warmth.

Snow became readily visible in the mountains as I traveled along Route 417 approaching 407.  However, with some areas discolored by ash from the recent Grímsvötn eruption & other parts the purest white: the alternating three colors of black mountain, gray ash, and white snow made the mountains appear as if they were in 8 bit.

Thirty minutes later, approaching Hveragerði, I made my first sighting of trees.  Iceland’s soil is rockier than New England; if anything, it’s more rock than soil… New England at least strikes a decent mix.  So throughout much of Iceland only grass and moss grow with abundance.  Hence why farms here are really just livestock farms, to which horses and sheep are the predominant critter of choice.

In Hveragerði I found myself a working ATM.  As is always the case on every trip: I was foiled by the vile PIN question.  American cards don’t use PINs, so I only have to remember what it is once per year.  After two attempts at guessing I gave up; I didn’t want to risk losing my card.  I’d try it again in the next town.

I was apprehensive about heading into a grocery store & trying to buy things – just in case my card itself wasn’t working – but I figured it’d be a good test so that if it didn’t work; I could just return the items.  Fortunately, it did work… and oh wow, how I love strawberries that haven’t been treated with growth chemicals.  When it comes to strawberries: smaller is better… all the same flavor, but packed ever more densely.

The next town – Selfoss – had a bunch of ATMs, but I wasn’t sure if they communicated together.  I wussed out of future attempts this day: my card was working at buying me things; no need to ruin a good thing if it ate my card.  I bought pizza at Gallerí Pizza in Hvolsvöllur, consisting of a homemade dough, garlic, oregano, pepperoni, cheese, sauce, and grease.  I chatted with the water: a guy in his late teens or early 20’s and nice to talk to… he helped me iron out a few key Iceland phrases – particularly “thank you” (“Takk fyrir”; pronounced “tak-freer” with the a pronounced like “ah”).

I diverted down toward Bakki – or more specifically a ferry port just east of there – to nab some photos.  I’d seen Vestmannaeyjabær (an island off the coast)  for much of the trip; always out in the distance.  All along the way: a couple clouds hung over its landscape as if mountains in the air.  Now here was the closest I’d gotten… and it made my list of places to return to should I have spare time at the end of my trip.

Onward to my hostel, I arrived one and a half hours before closing & settled in just beside Skogar’s waterfall.  I got to chatting with my three roommates (out of seven beds!), which included a French couple in their 20’s and a woman from southwest Scotland whom I’d estimate to be in her 30’s.  I alerted them to the solar eclipse and soon headed out, myself.  I traveled back toward the road to Bakki  as I knew this would be the best place to catch a sunset & my best hope to see the sun setting at the horizon rather than mountains.  Alas, it disappeared behind some horizon-level clouds & I couldn’t discern any eclipse… but good sunset photos!  I just wish the volcano Hekla had still been visible.

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