The North and the West

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May 10th 2022
Published: May 10th 2022
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I again woke Dennis up in the middle of the night so we could head down below in the camper and close the pop top, with the winds 30mph or more. With the storm brought a beautiful fresh blanket of snow across the stark volcanic landscape of the Lake Myvatn region. The land of ice and fire.

This region is another area full of steam vents, mud pots, fissures and calderas. As you gaze off into the vast horizon the steam billows up from a multitude of areas. We visited the Grjotagja Cave, the grotto where Jon and Ygritte bathed in Game of Thrones, and around , a volcanic rock wonderland full of petrified trolls, and the where the Yule Lads hang out around Christmas. Icelandic tradition tells of the mischievous Yule Lads, the 13 sons of a child eating troll who have inspired the dwarf lore around the world. They have names like “spoon licker” and “window peeper” and deliver gifts in children’s shoes for the twelve days before Yule. A recent survey conducted showed that over 50% of Icelanders believe in Elves, Fairies and Trolls. I questioned this high number as really serious until I saw small “fairy houses” in numerous yards all across Iceland. A fairy house looks just like what you’d think it is. Here and in other Nordic and Celtic lands the folklore is so imbedded in the culture, and now many of the old traditions have seen a resurgence in modern times while many are embracing pagan traditions again that have long been outlawed.

We spent my 44th birthday visiting the Myvatn nature baths, the north’s less busy and cheaper alternative to the blue lagoon. We soaked in the milky blue geothermal pools for a few hours until we were throughly dehydrated, dizzy and our skin started to prune.

Our night was spent in the north of Husavik, closely staged for our whale watching trip the following morning. The seaside campsite was our favorite so far, 66.12 North, which is owned and operated by Bjorn, a friendly and funny old Icelander. From our site we could see three different lighthouses in opposite directions.

The following day we left for our zodiac boat whale watching trip, donning our survival suits. Thankfully the weather cooperated and it was as nice of a
day as you could expect out in the Arctic circle. It was early in the season for whale watching, with most of the migratory species arriving in June.

We saw thousands of puffins who have just recently arrived to nest here within the past couple weeks, along with a pod of Arctic white beaked dolphins who resemble more a small whale than a porpoise. Mother Nature held back on producing any whales though, and we received a lifetime return for another tour. Happily Iceland is committed to ending their commercial whaling in 2024, being one of only 3 left who take part in the practice anymore. I read that the only ones left who eat whale anymore in Iceland are the tourists, or for exports to Japan.

We finished driving through the north and rounded to the west passing countless more waterfalls and glaciers. We spent the night at the desolate and deserted Saeberg hostel, complete with 2 incredibly hot and beautiful seaside hot pots, our favorite campsite of the trip. Dennis even braved the cold and jumped into the icy fjord’s water and back into the hotpot, cursing the whole way.
We had the place completely to ourselves for several hours, making us question whether or not it was open and if we were going to be the victims of some Icelandic version of Camp Crystal Lake in Friday the 13th. The caravans started arriving later that night so we could peacefully sleep without arming ourselves with kitchen knives.

Our final full day was spent traveling the Snaefellness peninsula, an hour outside Reykavik. We stopped by Eirikstaddir, the homestead for Erik the Red and his son who discovered of the Americas, Leif Eirriksson. The peninsula was covered in lava fields, with a dramatic large glacier topped volcano in the center. The crater of the volcano was the entry point in Jules Vernes’ journey to the center of the earth.

We did a few last hikes on some beautiful black beaches filled with petrified trolls and elf churches. Elf churches are lava rock formations that are supposed to have magical energy. Come to find out these elf churches are so significant that protestors are quite vocal and will impede road construction projects, causing the government to have to move the rocks or go around them.

Throughout our trip we listened to hours of podcasts about Viking history and the Norse sagas, not realizing the depth of what such a rich and complex culture it is. They are the world’s storytellers and Iceland in particular now produces more writers than any other country in the world. With every country we travel to instead of taking one off the list it only seems to lead to a few more new ones that we look forward to visiting one day.

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide

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