Circumnavigating the Ring Road


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Europe » Iceland
May 22nd 2016
Published: July 26th 2016
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The plane hurdled over the familiar barren plains of moss covered volcanic rock as it approached Keflavik airport. It took only two years, but I was back in Iceland. The last time proved to be an unforgettable adventure with many new friends. I don't often return to the same countries, especially after visiting them so recently, but Iceland was different. This country had some of the most fascinating scenery I had ever seen, and I was eager to see more. My previous trip took me to the capital of Reykjavik, through the golden triangle, and to interesting experiences around the Snaefellsness Peninsula. Iceland isn't a big country, but that was only a minute chunk of it. Thanks to cheap fares offered by WOW air, I was back and this time I would be meeting my parents as well. I hadn't seen them in several months. Dad was on his way to visit Uncle Ronny in Copenhagen, and took advantage of a stopover here. And then he convinced Mom to come along too. We were going to be road tripping as much of the island as we could.

Day 1

Mom found me as I exited the terminal building. It was mid afternoon. Dad was nearby with the rented car, a red Hyundai Elantra hatchback. It was great to see everyone and we hit the road immediately, heading towards southern Iceland. We caught up while Dad drove along. It didn't take long for the gorgeous Iceland scenery to begin to impress. This is a land of only about three hundred thousand people, two thirds of which live in and around Reykjavik. The rest of the country is sparsely populated and the entire middle part of the island is really only accessible by special 4 x 4 vehicles or glacier specific vehicles. About 15% is made up of glaciers and many volcanoes, some active. They are strewn about and are the direct contributors to such incredible landscapes. I quickly took on the role of navigator and we made it through the town of Selfoss and found Route 1. This is also known as the famous ring road that loops itself around the island. Mom and Dad had arrived a few days earlier and had already explored parts of the capital and Western Iceland. We stopped often to capture moments with our cameras. We didn't really have a destination in mind, except that we would go counter-clockwise along the ring road and stop wherever it looked interesting.

We reached the coast and caught a glimpse of Vestmannaeyar island. We considered taking a ferry over to it but there were no more ferries leaving that day, as we found out through another tourist who had a hotel booking there but couldn't reach it. The beach was made up of fine black sand and the wind was fierce, blowing it all over the place. We continued on and found a neat looking waterfall (foss in Icelandic) in which one could walk around and see it from the other side. We spent loads of time here. By now it was close to nine at night and it was still as bright as ever. In fact, by this time of the year it never really does get dark, just kind of dusky. This meant we could take advantage of incredibly long days. We needed to find a place for the night, and stopped to check out a place called the South Iceland Guesthouse. We ended up ordering some bowls of soup and were shocked at the prices. We decided that we would simply go to supermarkets for the rest of the trip. They only had one room left, with a small bunk-bed. Mom and Dad shared the down bed, while I got the top. Dad did not sleep well this night.

Day 2

The next day we had a delicious breakfast in the common kitchen and then hit the road again. We only got a few kilometers before stopping at the famous Eyafetlajajokull volcano, which violently erupted back in 2010 and pretty much disrupted much of Europe. Some guy that was there began to explain the circumstances behind that eruption. Then we reached Snarfoss Waterfall, which was wide and beautiful. We walked along to different vantage points and then climbed to the top for an overview. Mom and I hiked out into the hills and followed the river. About a half hour later, we descended back down and got to see a rainbow over the falls. Our next stop was along the beach coast at Sólheimasandur. We noticed there was many cars stopped so we pulled over and followed the people who were taking the long walk towards the black sanded beach. It was a four kilometer walk each way, and we didn't really know what we would find initially. It turned out to be the wreckage of a plane crash from 1973. Apparently the craft had been a US Navy DC plane that ran out of fuel and was forced to make a crash landing on this very beach. Everyone survived the impromptu landing. We explored the inner and outer part of the wreckage and then took the long road back to the car. The winds were brutal, maybe blowing at between 50-60 kilometers an hour. At times I thought they might blow me away. Half our driving day was already gone and we had only done about 30 kilometers, but it was worth it. That's the thing about Iceland, you can literally stop every five minutes in awe. We got into the small town of Vik and resupplied on gas. We still had a long drive ahead of us so we hit the road again with purpose, but still stopped periodically to take photos. It was overcast and began to rain. Much like Scottish weather, the weather here in Iceland can also change quickly.

We carried on for a while, and drove along the mighty Vatnajokull glacier. A little later we stopped by the Glacier Lagoon and got to witness many floating ice chunks in a lagoon that was fed by the glacier itself. It felt like you were somewhere in the arctic, until you remind yourself that you aren't so far off. It was still overcast but somewhat bright when we reached the town of Hofn. We had passed by the southern part of the glacier by this point. Hofn didn't have much in it, the grocery stores were all closed and even the gas stations had run out of bread. We continued on to a place about 25 kilometers further called Stafafell. There was a guesthouse here and it actually turned out to be pretty nice. It was on a sheep farm and was quiet. There were other people staying there but we never saw them. The common kitchen was large and relaxing. We didn't have much food but it would be enough for our dinner and breakfast the next day. Of course there was tea.

Day 3

The journey brought us to the cute town of Djupivogur and we checked out the marina and had some stunning views across the water. Then we met a really helpful woman at the information center and she gave us some great ideas for our onward drive. We were now entering the visually riveting region of eastern Iceland. The eastern Fjords are one of the highlights of any ring road trip. We drove along as the mountains towered over us. We descended in and out of several fjords and marveled at the beauty. You can guess that we stopped a lot! This went on for some time until we hit a tunnel leading us towards the inner land of Route 1. The tunnel was 7 kilometers wide and bore straight into a mountain. It was an impressive feat of engineering to be sure. We were now heading to the town of Eglisstadir, the biggest town in Eastern Iceland. We were in dire need for supplies and luckily we arrived here before anything closed. We found that this town had a Bonus, which is a discount supermarket and really makes eating in Iceland somewhat affordable. This shop had saved me on my previous trip here. Plus Bonus had a ridiculous pig mascot that looked hilarious. We stocked up and then headed slightly out of the town to our accommodation for the night. This place turned out to be amazing! It was a log cabin with pretty much everything you could ever need inside, and it was also super modern. Mom made a nice fish dinner and we enjoyed the hell out of the place that evening. Probably one of the best places I've stayed at thus far in my entire backpacking trip.

Day 4

The next day we made our way north west, towards the highlands. The initial part of the journey really looked like the Scottish Highlands I had experienced just a few short weeks ago. That's why they call them the highlands? This area had nice rolling hills with snow peaked tops, and was very devoid of any plant life. We found an interesting waterfall and hiked to it for a while. Then we continued and gained more and more elevation. We were surrounded by a snowy desert and many snow covered mountains. Every single day so far had brought incredible and different scenery. We were now in Northern Iceland. We carried on for a few hours along the winding Ring Road, until we were close to lake Myvatn. We stopped at a geothermal area with many active areas sprouting out steam. There was some gurgling mud in some areas. At this point Mom had to take a piss really bad and just went behind some rocks. This would be the first of many such situations. We continued on over a ridge and reached the lake itself. We went along the north of the lake and then found another waterfall called Guofoss. This one was pretty wide and could have been a miniature version of Niagra Falls back home. After that we headed into the second biggest town in Iceland; Akureyri with a population of 18000 people. Pretty damn big by Icelandic standards. We had gotten so used to small villages that this one came as a shock. We drove through the main streets and then went a few kilometers outside and found our guesthouse for the night. There was a nice shared kitchen right outside our door and we had another fish meal, this time cod.

Day 5

We started out pretty late and went back into Akureyri. We went along the downtown area and checked out the church. Then we walked along the walking street and found some Gremlin statues and got some shots with them. We went to the welcome center and got more info about the next part of our trip. We decided to head north from town as far up as we could. We stocked up at Bonus and then took off. Along the way we passed some cool cliff-side scenery and even saw a helicopter that had landed along a cliff. We carried on up and up and eventually reached some tunnels that cut into the towering mountains above. There were several of them and some were quite interesting in that there was only one lane! If you saw an oncoming car, you had to pull over and let them pass. Luckily you could see vehicles coming from a distance. This went on for many kilometers. When we emerged we saw the town of Siglufjorour. This northern town used to be a large fishing center for herring until it went into decline some decades ago. We stopped at a lookout and had lunch there which consisted of sandwiches with cold cuts and cheese. Once we got to the town we spent some time taking various photos of birds, although we were never able to find the elusive puffin. We continued on to our most northernly point and found a lighthouse just sitting there. The Arctic circle wasn't too far off from here. This was the most northern point I've ever been to. There was also some horses just chilling out along the cliff-side. I love Icelandic horses as they're just so calm and friendly. We got right up to them and pet their manes. Then we continued around the peninsula and headed back down. Along the way there was more awesome scenery of course. The wind had picked up and it was a bit more chilly stepping out of the car. We hit the next peninsula and then decided to head up and around that one to see what was there. Unfortunately, it wasn't nearly as exciting as the one we had just explored, and actually felt more like driving through a rocky desert for a while. One interesting thing did happen though; a horse ran at a fenced area and then jumped it. Then he stood, staring at our car for a few seconds before taking off down the road. We continued on and around for about 73 kilometers on unpaved road until we hit the town of Blonduos. We had a view of the beautiful western fjords on our right the whole way down. We stayed in the town at a nice apartment style accommodation that, through a mix up, actually cost more than it should have. We had a good dinner that night.

Day 6

Leaving Blonduos behind, we continued down towards the Vatnsnes peninsula. Large bits of road gravel flew up and covered the car in dirt. The entirety of it was unpaved. This one was very interesting in terms of landscape and we caught some views of many more mountains. Along the way there was an interesting holed rock jutting out of the ocean. Dad and I walked right down to the beach and took some shots, while Mom went for a run. Then we circled around and heading back down we saw some blobs on the rocks sticking out in the water. I couldn't see what they were but Dad was sure they were something. We took out our zoom lenses and were able to see that they were seals. We parked the car and then continued along by foot, cutting through a farmers property until we reached the shore. There many of the seals seemed to spook, and some jumped into the water and same towards us. One of them stayed on the rock and we got to observe it for a while. We headed back and a kilometer later there was an official viewing area. There were a lot of seals there too but they were a lot farther away. We went down and out of this peninsula and then continued towards the western coast. We passed the town of Budardalur and headed north before turning onto the unpaved road of the jutting landmass situated between the Western Fjords and the Snaefellsness Peninsula. We didn't really know what to expect so we started on the southern point and worked our way around. We got to see many islands off the coast and at times it looked really surreal. It took about an hour to get around the entirety of it and then we backtracked southward the way we had come. It was mid evening by the time we got to Lake Haukadalsvegur. Two years ago, me and some travel buddies I had met sneaked into a hay filled barn and spent the night, not far from where we were now. With my folks being here, we wouldn't be doing that, instead we got a cozy cabin with a kitchen. We ate a rice and bean dish for dinner. Tea in the evening and then bedtime.

Day 7

We headed towards the Snaefellsness Peninsula. I had done the entirety of it when I was last here and had been blown away. Mom and Dad had done the western half before I had arrived. We headed down an unpaved coastal road towards the town of Stykkisholmer. On the way we stopped multiple times to check out some scenery. We halted the car and walked down to the water to see an old, and abandoned, rusted shipping vessel that was moored along a close-by island. Small rocks and plant life littered the coastal line. We had to walk along some watery marsh land to get there. Then we entered the town of Stykkisholmur with its cute buildings and red lighthouse on the top of a hill with views of the many scattered islands in the distance. We stopped at Bonus and gassed up. The car ran on diesel fuel and was able to get more than 900 km on a tank! We descended through western Iceland and made our way inland towards Husafell which was an area rich in volcanic activity and as a result has lots of interesting magma rocks and a river coming down through rocks and a distant glacier. It formed a long series of waterfalls. We spent a bit of time here taking shots and walking around. It was pretty windy and overcast. By now it was already the late evening (but obviously still light out) and we had done a respectable amount of distance, but Dad wanted to check out the famous erupting Geysir. Somehow they had missed this site when they had visited Gulfoss, before I met up with them. We had to backtrack and then head about 60 kilometers inland. On the way we saw an incredibly large reddish moon. Mom was very tired and kept falling asleep. We arrived there late and watched the Geysir erupt a few times. I had been here as well last time, but now because it was so late in the day, there was practically no one else around, which was nice. Every couple of minutes the geysir built up pressure and then erupted high into the sky. After this, we headed back towards Reykjavik. We bypassed the city on the way to Keflavik. It was weird seeing such a big town compared to what we had been used to along the rest of Iceland. We had done over 500 kilometers alone just today, and had completed the ring road circuit of Iceland. The journey around the ring road itself was more than 2500 kilometers.

Day 8

We found a parking lot near the airport where we could park and get a few short hours of sleep. On the way we found a place in a gas station to wash all the dirt and grime off the car that had accumulated. Dad had to be at the airport at around five in the morning to catch his onward flight to Copenhagen. He got all his stuff together and then we dropped him off at the airport. I then drove the car back to the rental place nearby and Mom and I slept for a few more hours (or tried to), until the place opened. I was groggy as I woke up again and gave the keys back in. The rental place then gave us a ride to the airport. We stayed there for hours and hours waiting for our afternoon flight. It got long, and outside was probably the warmest day yet that there was while in Iceland. We caught our WOW air flight back to Montreal, capping an amazing road trip through some of the best scenery one can experience.



Epilogue

I had spent the last four and a half months traveling the world. The journey started in India (with a 10 hour layover in Helsinki on the way) and continued through eleven more countries, and ultimately concluded when I left Iceland and arrived back home. I experienced countless kilometers by various means; planes (15 including connections), cars, rickshaws, buses, trains, boats, camels and other types of transport along the way. Mainly I used my two legs to cover an incredible amount of distance. I got lost in urban sprawls, crossed deserts, hiked and climbed thousands of feet of elevation, viewed the highest peaks on the planet, surfed and swam in pristine water and walked glorious beaches, peered under the ocean to view life in the depths, checked out desert metropolis', got to see age-old architecture and ancient empires, and experienced more types of weather than I care to remember, and rarely slept in the same bed or couch (or piece of ground) for more than a few nights.

I met incredible human beings, many of which are now my friends. Countless people impacted and helped me in such positive ways. A few opened up their homes and brought me in. At different times I was surrounded by Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Agnosticism, and Atheism. Some even believed in elves. Places I had been warned about turned out to have some of the friendliest people I had ever met. I was constantly reminded how diverse the landscapes and wildlife are that make up this planet. I'll quote a friend I traveled with in Nepal who said, "It's so amazing how different, but also how similar, the world is. But then you realize that the world, and all of us in it, are made of the same stuff!" Very true.

Anyone can travel and see the world if that's what they really want to do. It doesn't take exorbitant amounts of money. And there's no right or wrong way to travel; only personal preferences. I'm always grateful to have the opportunity to indulge in exploration and travel. And I hope I have the time to keep doing this for a while. I'll sign off now and let India to Iceland 2016 fade into history...


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26th July 2016

what a well written blog....and the fact that i was there to witness the beauty in person, made reading this blog even more epic.....thank you for sharing...many more happy trave;ls
28th July 2016

I've enjoyed Following your travels...
from India to Iceland. Thanks for sharing.
28th July 2016
Siglufjörður

Siglufjörður
I absolutely love this shot. Ir's a cracker Danny.

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