It’s 7 am. I’m sitting in the Reykjavik airport wondering if the entire last week of my life – my Iceland road trip – was real. Was it all a dream? I simply can’t see how I could have done so much in a mere six days, nor how such deep and powerful connections could have been formed so quickly. I can’t quite fathom that the daylight never ceased to be, or how beautiful that thick fog could appear over the tall mountains – and how when the weather cleared up and showed that blue blue sky the landscape altered so drastically. While we opted to adventure by way of hitchhiking, you can find the best golden circle tour in Iceland to see all the highlights. Of course there is always the Snaefellsness Peninsula – a lesser known and great place to travel around as well. Still, my journey took me in different directions.
How can one drive a few minutes and see the world around them change that much? From the ocean side to lava fields to mountain tops and glaciers and icebergs (though I sadly missed Fjallsarlon) to that thick spongy moss covering the rocks – every bit seemed better than the last. Every moment was incredible. Could it have been real?
I suspect it was, but I’ll never know for certain.
June 16th – Flight from Atlanta to Reykjavik
I was tired on the flight. I mean I was REALLY tired. I had spent a week lazing on the beach in Jamaica before a lengthy flight back to Florida, followed by a hectic day of packing, and then bussing to Atlanta to fly out. I had a seven hour layover in Toronto, and it was nearing the end of it. I needed a final smoke before going behind security. As I puffed away, I began chatting with a lovely woman from London. After talking about her vacation and my odd lifestyle for a good 15 minutes she reached into her walled, and handed me $70. She just… gave me… $70. I was shocked and ecstatic; I knew I didn’t have much money to spend in Iceland, so it was a nice surprise, but more than that it was the reminder, the renewal. The kindness of strangers that happens on a daily basis in my life (albeit only occasionally in a financial way) was back in full force. I thanked her profusely before scampering away to catch my flight.
June 17th – Arrival in Iceland
Although it was the crack of dawn, I felt far too excited to have the much needed airport nap I had planned. No, I would hitchhike straight out of the airport. I was to meet my buddy, Courtlen, the following day. Courtlen and I met nearly two years ago in New Zealand when we couch surfed with the same host, and had been chatting quite a bit. One day I emailed him telling him my upcoming plans; he’s the only other nomad I know, and I figured I’d let him know my current game plan on the very off chance we might run into each other in Europe. But when I told him of my plan to spend a week in Iceland along with the dates I’d booked he freaked out – he was planning to be in Iceland on precisely the same dates as me. Clearly a hitchhiking adventure was in order.
I was picked up right away as I left the airport, but I was headed away from the main highway. My ride dropped me off, and I soon realized that a. there were precisely zero cars on this road and no humans at all (despite the ten or so houses sitting to my right), and b. I did not have enough clothing for this country. To make matters rather more interesting, my shoe decided to break. A good few inches of the sole completely disconnected from the rest of the shoe as I walked on the wet ground. These were my only pair of shoes, and buying new ones in this expensive land was simply out of the question. What could I do but smile, take in the scenery, the ocean smell, and walk with my backpack that felt like a ton of bricks to my out of shape body?
After about 45 minutes of walking (which warmed me up significantly at least) a German traveler pulled over. First stop: intercontinental bridge! I was so excited for this to be my first stop in Iceland. The intercontinental bridge is a place where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. Well, not exactly. They’re moving apart from each other at a rate of about 2 cm per year, and the Icelandic people, being bad ass and all, put up a bridge connecting the two in this place. It was incredible to walk across, happily thinking, “I’m in Europe! …now I’m in North America!” Which was, of course, followed by walking down below on the black dirt thinking to myself, “I’M NOWHERE!”
I carried on with my new German friend to some geothermal springs followed by a short hike to a cliff with thousands of birds perched upon it. Iceland was looking amazing already. But by three in the afternoon both mind and body died. They were done. They screamed (weakly) for me to find a bed, warmth, sleep. I didn’t know where to stay in Reykjavik, so I just stayed near the airport instead. I paid for a hostel for the night with none of the attached guilt of a broke backpacker caving for an expensive hostel room – I had the money the lovely English woman had given me.
June 18th – Reunited
I woke up and located some electrical tape to “fix” my shoe. It wasn’t elegant, but it did the trick well enough. Before long I heard Courtlen’s voice in the lobby of my hostel, and we hit the road after a most excellent first hug in almost two years. We decided right off the bat to more or less wing everything, but first we had to get to the ring road – the main highway that goes around the whole of Iceland. Our second ride brought us to our first of many waterfalls in Iceland, but not before telling us how he often saw Bjork at the gas station from which he picked us up. Iceland is small.
Our next ride was Jess and Nile, a couple from London. They asked us where we were headed. “Wherever you’re heading!” we happily replied. This would turn out to be our way of hitching the country, and it did wonders for us. We got along so well with these two that we stuck with them for most of the day, checking out another waterfall and a lake, but most importantly seeing Geysir. Geysir is the geyser for which all other geysers are named, and was incidentally the first geyser I have ever seen. So that was pretty freakin’ rad.
Eventually we parted ways from our new friends, and headed to a town we had heard had a hot river. We were cold – a hot river sounded pretty amazing. As we walked through the town, we saw a restaurant with a geothermal kitchen – they cooked everything using geothermal heat. In fact, geothermal springs are the source of most or all heating in the country, as they pop up everywhere. As the week went on, we would see steam rising out of streams in the middle of nowhere all day every day. It was truly fascinating. The hike to the hot river was a bit too much for me on that first day, so we camped next to the lower portion of the river for the night.
Just as we’d set up, a middle aged Icelandic couple wandered up. “Hello!” we heard them call out. “Hello!” we happily replied, popping our heads out of the tent. Then they told us we couldn’t camp there. My body was worn out, and it was a hell of a walk back out of town. This news was distressing. I had been told that it was legal to camp anywhere that wasn’t private property in Iceland, but when I shared this I was informed that we were in fact on private property. Fuck. After a bit of a chat, though, they let us stay the night. This is Niceland, after all.
June 19th – Some warmth
Who would have thought that a country named Iceland would be so cold? Erm… yeah, so I should have brought more (or warmer) clothing. Thankfully we had been told by an American couple who had given us a lift the previous day (and given us chocolate covered Oreos) about a free hot pool that was heated geothermally, and they had even drawn us a little map. We would later give this map to other travelers, happily sharing this amazing spot. We got a lift in, and walked for 20 minutes or so before reaching the pool.
Holy. Shit. This pool was in the side of the mountain, surrounded by nothing but nature. Mountains sprung up all around us with so many waterfalls they were impossible to count. I’m pretty sure we lay in the warmth sipping on wine for a good three hours of so, until there was nearly no one left in the pool.
As we walked out I began to get really, really hungry. And a bit hangry, let’s be honest. We sat down and had some beans. I tell you, cold brown beans and chick peas have NEVER before tasted so incredibly delicious to me. I was revived.
We hopped in a car and backtracked half an hour or so, going with our philosophy of heading wherever the ride was going. While Courtlen went to scope out a place to camp, I sat outside a restaurant happy but exhausted as could be. A Dutch man came out of the restaurant. “Do you want some wine?” “Sure!” I replied ecstatically. He returned with a bottle and some glasses, pouring me and Courtlen each a glass. When we went to return the glasses, he filled them up again. Then he gave us a couple of beers.
Meanwhile, Courtlen had done better than find us a camping spot; he found us a place to squat. I had never squatted before, but I was more than keen to try the new experience. More importantly, shelter meant we wouldn’t freeze so much. We wandered over to the large shed he had found, climbed in through the glassless window, and pitched my tent on the soft ground of hay. It even gave us a bit of shelter from the light, as darkness simply did not exist at this time of year in Iceland, which can be confusing to a camping body. Then we checked out the dumpster behind the expensive grocery store, and Courtlen scored us some free goodies.
Little did we know what was in store for us the following day – it was only going to get better.
June 20th – Old friends meet for the first time
Loud music boomed out of the car as it pulled over. A shirtless American guy stepped out while his hoodied friend popped his head out of the car. We knew this was going to be a fun ride, and stuck with our usual we’re going where you’re going. Bryan and Alan had been in Iceland for a couple of days partying in Reykjavik, and now it was time for their three day road trip wherever Iceland intended on taking them. We squished into the backseat with our backpacks on top of us, not minding the tight space one bit. We saw a massive waterfall, and decided to all go check it out.
As we were approaching this majestic site Bryan remained shirtless (and somehow was not shivering to death in the cold, cold Iceland summer). Alan looked over at him. “Your nipples look like David Bowie’s eyes.”
This pretty much became the team motto.
An Icelandic girl a friend had put me in touch with had told me about another waterfall nestled behind this huge tourist attraction. We ventured on, and found ourselves at the most beautiful waterfall of them all; it poured down from within a cave, water trickling heavily down the moss covered walls. It was a sight to behold.
We carried along to the black beach – a beach covered in black pebbles along with crazy block shaped rocks rising as the backdrop to the scene. Soon we were all climbing up this and that, taking millions of pictures, and generally laughing the day away.
We stopped in Vik for some food. They had the most delicious looking vegetable soup, and I was starved for something that wasn’t bread or granola. The body needs more than one food group as it turns out. I ordered some soup, and the lovely woman behind the counter poured me a bowl, adding extra bread. It would be my first meal in Iceland.
But my card wouldn’t work.
I tried it again.
Card wouldn’t work.
She looked at me and smiled. “You can just have the soup.” “Really?! Are you sure?! THANK YOU!” I happily took my soup, and frolicked off to the table to join my friends, gleefully explaining what had just happened, and sharing my bread with them. As I took my first bite of the best soup I have had in a very long time, the woman looked at me. “Is it good?” “Yes! It’s absolutely delicious!” She smiled, “Here, have another bowl.” She gave us a second bowl of soup, along with even more bread, and we all feasted. When it came time to leave we couldn’t find our soup angel to thank her for this delicious gift. We headed outside, and scribbled a note on the back of a boarding pass:
We walked back into the café, and handed her the letter. As we walked off, we saw her and her daughter reading the note as they both smiled, and our soup angel leaned over to kiss her daughter’s forehead. She had made our day. We had made her day.
We carried on with our new pals, reaching a massive glacier. There were many hikes to choose from, and I was positively exhausted. I’d spent the last three months lying on a couch in Florida – my terribly out of shape body was aching from my introduction to Iceland, though my smile remained. Bryan and Alan wanted to do a several kilometer hike, and there was no way I could handle it that night. I politely said I couldn’t do it, expecting that this would be where our paths parted; they would do their hike, while Courtlen and I would hitchhike on to find a place to sleep for the night.
But that’s not what happened.
Bryan and Alan, also being rather tired from partying the previous night, as well as being generally awesome and understanding, decided to carry on with us. We could all hike tomorrow instead. I hid my shock, but I was completely amazed they opted to continue with us rather than go forward with their initial plan. And I was incredibly happy – these guys were absolutely awesome.
We were really close to the glacial lagoon – the number one thing I wanted to see in Iceland. It’s this massive lagoon fed by a glacier. Pieces of the glacier chip off, creating an iceberg filled lagoon. I was already infatuated with icebergs after seeing my first ones in Newfoundland last summer, and couldn’t wait. As we drove along there was a large hill in between the lagoon and the road, and suddenly we all caught a glimpse of the lagoon. We all exclaimed in unison at this site, and instantly parked.
It was incredible beyond words. Iceberg after iceberg filled our view, some teeny tiny floating towards the shore, while others towering so high and large we imagined them to be ice castles.
Boys being boys, Bryan and Courtlen made a pact: they would both pee on an iceberg. This involved getting into the freezing cold water and swimming out to the nearest iceberg, which wasn’t far, but you know, glacial water. While Alan stood atop the hill cooking a salmon dinner, I filmed Bryan and Courtlen hopping in the water, laughing at their insanity. Within a few seconds Courtlen was out, opting to pee on a piece of ice on land. Close enough.
Bryan, on the other hand, fully dunked himself under water, returned to shore, got his camera and beer, and returned to the freezing waters for a selfie. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty impressed by this. Despite his efforts, he couldn’t stay in long enough to get to the iceberg to pee on it either. I’m pretty sure his pee was frozen solid anyways. He followed Courtlen’s lead, and peed on a piece of ice by the shore. Just as he was about to hop back in, still determined to at least touch an iceberg (though I’d explained that they FLIP so this is DANGEROUS, but then so is hopping in glacial water with nowhere to properly warm up), we heard a loud CRACK.
The iceberg they were trying to get to split into two massive pieces, which surely would have injured the two insane men. Fortunately, we got to view this amazing feet of nature from the safety of the shore. This shall forever be known as the time that Courtlen and Bryan’s pee broke an iceberg.
The boys, freezing cold, put their clothes back on hoping to warm up. Courtlen looked over at me. “Danie, can I ask you a favor? This might sound sexual, but it’s not.” “Um, okay?” “Can you sit on my feet?” I burst out laughing. “How on earth is that sexual?” I sat on his feet to warm them up before we returned to Alan, who had been viewing this entire insane scene from atop the hill.
We returned to the car, and put Courtlen’s underwear out the window to dry. We drove along hearing the flap, flap, flap that only underwear flapping in the wind can produce. To boot, we still had salmon in a box which was sitting on the air vents, causing the entire car to smell like fish. Alan stored it in the glove box to help the smell. Just imagine this scene: you’ve got Bryan and Courtlen still rather cold, underwear floating out the window, and salmon in the glove box as we leave a glacial lagoon listening to the only CD we had: the Into the Wild soundtrack. This soundtrack will always be associated with the days spent with these boys in Iceland.
We found a nice spot somewhere or other, and camped out for the night.
June 21st – Solstice
I think Courtlen and I needed a Bryan and an Alan. Bryan and Alan needed a Courtlen and a Danie. Naturally, the team carried on together for a second day of shenanigans.
We backtracked, and in so doing noticed that the icebergs from the lagoon floated down a river out to the ocean, where many large chunks sat atop the shore… where you can easily touch them and pee on them without freezing your feet off. Oh, boys. Of course, they all took the chance to pee on an iceberg. I mean, I don’t think many people in the world can really say they’ve done this, so why not? A theme began: what cool shit could they pee on next?! Being the only female of the group, I put myself on camera duty for all such opportunities.
We headed back to the glacier we were at the previous night, and picked out a hike. I was feeling refreshed, and although not in the greatest of shape, I was totally up for the challenge. We reached a fork in the road right at the beginning, and someone told us it was indeed the trail we were looking for, but it was a loop – one way was steeper, the other way easier. Before Alan and I had a chance to think, Bryan and Courtlen ran away, yelling, “RACE YOU!”
I looked at Alan. “I’m so not racing them.” “Me neither.” We had a lovely hike up, up, up into the mountain with a spectacular view of the glacier and surrounding area. But where were Courtlen and Bryan? We mused at the fact that we really shouldn’t have let those two run off together – they needed a voice of reason. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had reunited with us severely injured… or with ten million epic stories of nearly dying.
Meanwhile, Alan had given me a pot brownie. I didn’t feel it until the adrenaline subsided from the hike we had done, and we reached the bottom. As I stared at the map of the park, trying to figure out where we’d gone versus where they’d gone, I started getting high. I mean I started getting REALLY high. I felt gooooooood. Life was gooooooood. This map was gooooooood.
Alan went to have a shower while I was stoned, stoned, stoned sitting outside. He returned, and looked at me. “I’m going to buy you a shower.” “REALLY?!!!!” My cold, dirty, stoned self could not have been happier. I frolicked off to my stoned hot shower before returning to the car to feast on muesli and watch an old John Wayne movie with Alan. Because what else do you do when you’ve lost your friends in a glacier park? It was only logical.
Eventually the guys returned, having gone on a long trek in nothing but their boxers (as you do). We carried on to god knows where, and explored moss covered mountains and lava fields. Then we returned to the hot swimming pool Courtlen and I had visited, before I eventually passed out in the car, succumbing to the glory of the weed brownie. Meanwhile, the men went back the geyser, and peed in it. Safety first, right? Then they peed in a waterfall. I started wishing I had a penis to join in the fun. Isn’t all anyone wants to pee on epic shit? ISN’T IT?!
June 22nd – Day of epicness
We woke up around 1 pm on the side of a highway, as we’d all crashed out pretty late, and failed to find a nice place to camp. Truth be told, though, even a mediocre spot to camp in Iceland is pretty damn spectacular. We headed to a pond which was supposedly a continental rift or something – I have no idea. By this time I was just following the guys, knowing full well that wherever the day led us, it would be amazing.
There were people scuba diving into this crystal clear water, which was 2 to 3 degrees Celsius. The people diving were wearing huge thermal outfits within their wet suits. It was cold in there.
Naturally, the guys peed in the pond (no scuba divers were harmed in the making of this trip). Then they contemplated jumping in. They were hesitant, but wanted to. An older man came along, and asked if they were going to jump in. When they were unsure, the man called them pussies. Sigh. That was enough of the push they needed.
All three men stripped down to their boxers, and climbed up the little cliff to jump in. Meanwhile, a van full of tourists was cruising past, and stopped at this site. The tourists all waved, and the van backed up to get a better view. A family on the other side of the pond started yelling, “Jump, jump, jump!”
When Courtlen, the first to go in, surfaced from the water, he swam quickly to shore exclaiming, “I made a mistake!” This of course didn’t stop the other two, and eventually the trio all jumped in twice. I hang out with crazy people. And I love it.
We spent the next few hours driving to the Hell Hole, or Hell’s Kitchen, which was not actually named either of these things. That, however, did not stop the guys from asking people for directions to the Hell Hole, which of course did not lead us to what they were looking for. We stopped for coffee, which included… free refills. With an S. RefillSSSSS. We all had four or five coffees, and by the time we returned to the car we were positively HIGH. It was probably around 8 pm by this time, but with the sun never going down, and Bryan and Alan flying out early the next morning, we were going all night.
We climbed on top of something or other, which was not the hell hole, but as always had amazing mountainous views, with snow to walk on at parts, and a huge glacier in the background. The boys started trying to throw large rocks into a pond far below, and when Bryan finally made it – now remember we’re all still high as hell on coffee – we all made a huddle, singing as loudly as we could, “We are the Champions”. It was quite the moment.
We carried on towards the mythical Hell Hole that didn’t seem to exist, and found something that looked like it could be a hell hole, and was likely a small extinct volcano. As we returned to the bottom, another car pulled in. We ran over to them as they exited the car, hoping they could guide us to the hell hole. There were three guys and a chick, and the chick and I started chatting about how the guys always run off as we’re slipping around trying to get our balance.
Suddenly we realized it: THEY WERE ALTERNATE US! OH MY GOD THEY WERE ALTERNATE US! Bryan and Courtlen took turns frantically running back and forth from the GPS in the car, back to Alternate Us and their map, trying to figure out how to get to the hell hole or somewhere. I don’t even know what was going on. We were apparently figuring shit out with the help of the us from another universe.
We sprinted away from Alternate Us, giving them a stove and some salmon, and yelling, “WE LOVE YOU! REMEMBER US FOREVER!” Alternate Us were great, and probably thought we were insane because, you know, we are.
We couldn’t find wherever the hell we were going, and time was starting to be crunched. Alan and Bryan had to get the rental car back to Reykjavik by 5 am, and flew out at 7:45 am. But we needed one last adventure. And it wasn’t going to be in Reykjavik, despite the hear tell that they had delicious vegan food in Reykjavik.
Alan played around with the GPS while looking at a tour book, seeing what we could do. Then he found something we could make it to in our time frame, but Courtlen told him not to tell us what it was. It would be more epic as a mystery. Alan obliged.
We followed the GPS for a couple of hours, until it told us we were a mere 20 km away. YES! SO CLOSE! WHATEVER IT IS WILL BE AMAZING!
We had been taking the car on all sorts of roads that were so not meant for that little car, but Bryan magically guided it up high gravel hills, filled with bumps and dips and giant rocks, without once getting stuck. But now we saw a river in the middle of the road. Really, GPS? Really? We wanted to go check it out, just in case we could cross the river. We could see the main highway on the other side of it, and wondered why the hell the GPS ever took us off that road. But as we approached, driving through the muddy grass, the car stopped.
We were finally stuck. After all of the crazy roads we had taken, it was in our last few hours that we got totally and completely stuck in the middle of absolutely nowhere around 1:30 am. First we tried just pushing the car – Bryan driving, while the rest of us pushed on the front to try to reverse the car to the gravel road. But as we gave it that first shove, the wheel in front of me splashed me with mud.
Not a little bit of mud.
I was completely and utterly covered all over my pants and sweater. They were my only pants, and my only sweater, and I wouldn’t be able to wash them until I got to Norway a couple of days later (though I dreamed of visiting the Faroe Islands on my way, alas, I really couldn’t afford it… I could barely afford Norway and Iceland). I knew I’d be stuck in them, and I would be rocking up at my friend’s place completely filthy – not to mention flying like that.
And I laughed. I just burst out laughing. I remember a past version of myself who would have totally freaked out, but what could I do? I was covered in mud, the car was totally stuck, it was freezing out, and it was absolutely hilarious. We all teamed together, no one freaking out, just smiling and focusing on the task at hand until we eventually unstuck the car. While we were stuck, Alan read us the description of what we were trying to get to: lava tunnels. Mother. Fucking. Lava tunnels. Deep, deep lava caves. God damn it, it would have been amazing.
By the time we got out of the mud it was 2:30 am, and we still had an hour and a half drive back to Reykjavik, so we started heading in that direction for a few minutes before Bryan and Alan started chatting. “We could still make it…” Courtlen and I sat silently in the back – we weren’t on a time crunch. This was their decision to make. But if anyone could do it, it was this crew.
Bryan turned the car around, following what we could only hope would be paved roads guidance from the asshole of a GPS system. We decided that if we didn’t find the place – which we were told had few signs by Alternate Us – by 3:20 am, we had to turn around. We just wouldn’t have time. We started driving down one of the worst gravel roads of our journeys, complete with giant rocks, big hills, and massive bumps.
It was 3:17 am. We had three minutes to find the thing before we had to head back. Ahead we saw a sign.
The guys ran out of the car.
Suddenly I heard one of them yell, “ICELAND’S LONGEST LAVA TUNNELS!!!!!!”
We made it.
As the guys wandered into the cave a little ways, my shoes were slipping and sliding on the snow and ice covered ground, while the cold seeped through my broken shoe. I opted to enjoy the entrance and then wait in the car for them. But first? I peed on the snow at the entrance to the lava tunnels. Who needs a penis to get in on the epic pee fun?
And be sure to check out this article for tips on planning a trip to Iceland!