Picking up where we left off: Day 1 of the Ring Road 2.0

By January 3rd, 2024

Jetlag is not good for your health. It causes you to stay up ungodly hours and makes you eat all the snacks in your hotel room. In this case, it was a box of mochi washed down with half a liter bottle of apfelschorle while contemplating how you’ll be staying awake during a full day of driving.

Today, the itinerary included a stop at Arnarstapi to revisit some seaside view, and drive around the Snæfellsnes peninsula. My travel buddy, Leny and I packed up and checked out of our Reykjavik hotel and loaded our stuff in the car. We grabbed some breakfast at the hotel before starting the drive.

I’m still not emotionally recovered from the last time I drove through the Hvalfjörður Tunnel the last time I was in Iceland. Unfortunately, if we were to stand any chance of getting around Snæfellsnes to Kirkjufell before dinner time, I would have to do it a second time. We stopped by the Akranes Folk Museum for a bit to check out the old houses and a primer on Iceland’s history as a fishing community.

The museum and maritime display
Inside one of the historic, well-preserved houses

We spent a good couple of hours walking around the museum and were able to get into one of the well-preserved houses filled with antiques. I had always complained about how cramped my previous apartment in West Seattle was with just my cat and myself in a one-bedroom place. Walking around inside the tiny houses filled with stuff, I can only imagine how it was back then housing an entire family.

Along the way, we noticed a lot of horse farms right by the road. We saw many horses and sheep as we were driving. And since I constantly have the urge to pet any willing furry animal I run into, when we spied a bunch of horses huddling by the fence up the road, we just had to pull over and say hello.

When a horse looks at you just begging to be petted, why would you resist?

I would have happily stayed for hours with my four-legged friends, but we needed to make our way to Arnarstapi, the gateway to the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Before we got there, we stopped at Búðakirkja, a tiny, wooden church built in the middle of a lava field back in the 19th century. It was the perfect place to stop to have some lunch before going to Arnarstapi.

The “black church”

Visiting Arnarstapi felt a lot like visiting an old friend. Hardly surprising, considering my last international trip prior to this one happened to be in Iceland as well. We spent the early afternoon walking around the trails and checking out the view over the ocean. After working up an appetite, we stopped by the cafe across the street for some afternoon munchies and an ice cream.

Bárður Snæfellsás Statue
One of the many interesting rock formations carved out by the ocean waves through hundreds of years

There was a waterfall I visited in the area from last time that I had wanted to revisit. I had previously dropped a pin on a spot on my map thinking it would be the place. It looked like the trail I remember taking. When we got there, it turned out to be a viewpoint from where we could see Snæfellsjökull. The view was pretty amazing but the wind was beginning to whip up. Knowing the area has a tendency for weather going bad at a moment’s notice, we decided to be on our way right after taking a couple of photos.

Snæfellsjökull from a distance

We made a quick stop at Saxhóll Crater to stretch our legs. I never really liked stairs, especially ones without railings. But Leny wanted to go check it out. The view from the top of the crater wasn’t half bad.

The view from atop Saxhóll crater

We still had a bit to go before reaching Grundarfjörður, where we would be staying for the night. I was hoping to do a bit of night photography of Kirkjufell after dinner, so we decided to get back in the road. We got to our hotel with time to spare so we spent some time freshening up and looking for a place to eat. We grabbed some dinner at Kaffi 59 and chilled for a bit before heading out to Kirkjufellsfoss.

Kirkjufell at dusk

It was getting to be a long day of travel and the jetlag was beginning to catch up. Leny also wanted to come back and visit the park early the next day. So, we decided to head to our hotel and catch up on sleep. Overall, I would say it wasn’t bad for our first full day along Iceland’s Ring Road.

Into the Looking Glass and Out to the Garden

By September 10th, 2022

Some places you visit once and check off your list without another second thought. But, once in a while, you visit a place that captures your heart and calls you back again and again. This is Iceland for me. I first visited in 2017 with a bunch of friends and I have come back twice more since then. This trip will be iteration number three.

You have probably (or probably not) read the series about my last visit to Iceland. I had gone by myself and drove the Ring Road, Iceland’s main highway that circles around the country. I saw and photographed many beautiful sceneries along the way, and was blessed with nature’s amazing light show towards the end of the trip. That was my last international trip before the pandemic that changed the world and how we travelled.

Now that things have settled into a new sort of normal and travel restrictions have began to ease up, I felt safe to go abroad again. The original plan was to hike Scotland’s Western Highlands over 10 days. Unfortunately, things could not conveniently fall into place for me. But, I had my vacation approved and the travel itch had hit me like a freight train. Iceland became the perfect plan B. I still had sights to see and things to do.

I already had experience booking a road trip from my last visit so planning was much easier this time around. Also, as it happened, one of my previous travel buddies found out about my trip and wanted to tag along. She seemed the type to be up for the same sort of adventures so I brought her along this time.

Travelling alone versus having a travel companion, despite how similar your personalities seem to be, is quite the contrast. You can’t be as spontaneous as you like, especially when they are dependent on you for transportation. Dinner plans take a bit more discussion. Fortunately, we both share the same interest in food and she is just as adventurous with local cuisine as I am.

Our first day was spent getting ready for the drive, buying supplies (aka road snacks), and recovering from jetlag. We did not do a lot of adventuring around the city but I was lucky enough to score a room with a decent view.

Like a looking glass into the garden

After a not so quick stop for groceries, we holed up at our hotel for the day. It was raining so we did not feel like exploring the city just yet. Instead, we spent the day looking up places to visit in the city after our roadtrip. We did, however, try out the local versions of vietnamese food and mexican fare for lunch and dinner.

So good I ate it before I took a photo

Day one for this trip feels like a prologue to the main story. This time around, we will be driving the Ring Road clockwise and will start with Snæfellsness and spend the night near Kirkjufell with a plan to do some night photography of the mountain. Hopefully, the gods will grant us some good weather. In the meantime, enjoy some photos of the plane ride over the Arctic.

Mountains, Gandalf!!!
The sun rises for our latest adventure
Rolls Royce jet engines over the Arctic
I finally had tacos!

Chapter 8: Howling winds, darkest nights, and a surprise of a tunnel

By February 19th, 2021

Today began much like any other day this week except the room was comparatively nicer than the ones I have stayed in although the bed was just as comfortable as ever. It will be my last day before returning to Reykjavik, back to the hustle and bustle of city life. Today is certainly going to be filled with adventure way after the sun goes down.

I never thought I would ever miss hotel buffet breakfast. This would be my first time in a week. The fare is still similar to what I have partaken in the past week. The plates were a lot fancier, I suppose. There’s a bunch of folks who seem to be from a tour group congregating on a table nearby. At least I get to people watch while I eat.

After breakfast, I pile my stuff back in my trusty rental, crank up the tunes, and set my course for the next stop: Snaefellsness peninsula. I plan to drive the main road going around it and stop at the tourist spots. Hopefully, I can get there early enough before the tourist throngs overwhelm the place.

As is typical of this adventure so far, I start the day with a waterfall. And oh what a waterfall it is. From the road, I can see the stream of water coming down from the edge of a cliff at the top of a mountain. It cascades down several stages, winding this way and that before turning into a peaceful stream in the middle of the grassy field.

The grandeur of Bjarnarfoss

It’s a short hike from the parking lot to a spot in the field where I could safely set up my gear and take some pictures. As I am getting to the middle of my photo shoot, a couple show up in a car at the parking lot. I watch them hike up the trail while I wait for my camera timer.

The wind is brisk today, just as the weather app on my phone predicted yesterday. I am bundled up warmly. I came prepared… I hope. I have been told that weather in the peninsula can get quite unpredictable. In any case, I have plenty of layers in my car should the need arise.

There is a tiny chapel just across the way from the waterfall. A short drive up the road and I get there just as a busload of tourists show up. I don’t mind the company. I am painfully aware of how close this place is to the capital. The church itself is also quite well known on social media so I am not at all surprised that it gets all this attention.


My third stop for the day is yet another tourist stop. There does not seem to be much to see from the parking lot other than an overpriced cafe. I need to make a pitstop so I buy a bit of lunch so I can use the restroom. The soup is not all that bad. It helps me warm up and the bread was filling. Sitting at a table by the window, at least I have a view of the Atlantic.

There is a profusion of trails in the area. Some lead to rock formations erected hundreds of years ago by men long dead and forgotten. Some lead towards the cliff edge where you could see the ocean below. I opt for the latter.

There is something to be said about the power of water and its persistence. If one were to upgrade the game of rock-paper-scissors and added water, I’m sure it would beat all three. Time and the incessant ebb and flow of tide make the most wondrous rock sculptures.

One of the amazing seaside rock formations in Arnarstapi

After enjoying the ocean view for a bit, I decide to explore the other trails. I find one that leads up a hill to a man-made rock formation. I stop to read the plaque for my daily dose of Icelandic history and the usual photo op.

Bárður Snæfellsás looking over the peninsula.

Getting back in the car away from the whipping wind, I set up directions for the next stop. This one is a waterfall that seems to be a bit out of the way. The drive to the coordinates for the “parking area” feels a bit sketchy. The road is just wide enough for my rental and full of loose rocks. I doubt a tourist bus makes it this far. I look up at the sky and I am noticing it slowly getting darker. I check on the car snacks. It looks like I have at least enough to last me the night should I get stuck in bad weather. I touch my gps device with the built-in SOS button for reassurance.

It takes me a while to figure out where the “parking area” is. As it turns out, it is nothing but a wider notch on the rode obscurely flanked by a nondescript picnic table. I pull up on my rental and angle my car to make sure I don’t block the road. There is a faint walking trail notched into the hill with moss-covered rocks on either side. From the map, it looks like the trail should end just before the waterfall. With a twinge of trepidation as the sky slowly begins to look menacing, I set off and follow the trail.

I find the waterfall with little trouble after about 20 minutes of trudging uphill over loose gravel and the occasional mud puddle. I do my best to avoid stepping on the moss flanking the narrow trail. I am rewarded with having the place all to myself for a few precious minutes. A little while later, another hiker shows up with his camera. He is nice enough to set up his gear across the way from me and even asks me if he is in the shot. We spend a few minutes in companionable silence, each engrossed in our own photo shoot.

Klukkufoss, if you can find it.

I hike back to the car and trundle down the rocky road back to the main highway. My next stop is going to take quite a bit of driving. At least the view out my car window is not all bad. The sun is also starting to peek through the clouds. A few minutes away from my next stop, I spy a waterfall in the distance. I did not notice any signs on the road pointing to it. I pull over to the side of the road and notice a car in the distance driving past it. I follow it with my gaze to where it turned to get on the highway and make a mental note. I start up my car and head for the turn out and make my way to the waterfall as close as I can get.

Svödufoss from afar

The road runs between some farms and I see a few horses just hanging out by the fence. At one point I drive by a couple with their car parked at the side of the road. The girl is having her photo taken next to one of the horses who managed to get their head through the fence for some human attention.

I find a small parking lot near what appears to be a small park close to the waterfall. I could not see a trail I could safely walk in to get closer to the waterfall and the wind is beginning to pick up. I have to be content with appreciating from afar.

As I am driving back to the highway, I notice a bunch of horses huddled together. I find a spot to park my car off the road and take a few snaps. This one looks like it’s vamping for my camera.

Work it, horse

My last stop in the peninsula is one of the more popular ones so I steel myself for the throng of people that will likely be there. It’s already late afternoon and the stop is not too far of a drive from the capital. Thankfully, it is just past a small town. I need to make a quick pit stop, replenish my car snacks supply, and gas up. After some convenience store shopping, I get back on the road and head for my final stop.

Majesty comes in threes

The numerous photos online and on social media hardly do the place justice. Despite the crowds, it is still a majestic place. The mountain gracefully arcs in the distance over a meandering stream cascading down the hill in several levels. The fall colors bring warmth to the eyes despite the gray skies and blustery wind. A nice end to my week-long adventure before rejoining civilization.

The lower falls are also nice

After spending about an hour taking in the rugged beauty around me, I get back in the car. Music blaring, coordinates set, I head off to Reykjavik. As I get closer to the city, I am seeing more cars on the road. The google maps app is telling me I will be at my destination in the next half hour or so. I begin to get confused. From my car I can see a big body of water between me and the city. I do not know of any ferries in the area nor do I see a dock or large boats on the shore. As I kept driving down the road, it dawned on me like an M. Night Shyamalan plot twist. There is a tunnel. Underwater.

I stamp down the rising panic in my head. There is no way I can stop in the middle of the road. I must keep driving. Down into the tunnel I go. I try not to think about the millions of gallons of water on top of me separated by nothing but concrete and the miracle of human engineering. I can’t drive fast enough to get out the other end of the tunnel. There is a speed limit and everyone else is abiding by it.

I breathe a huge sigh of relief as I finally make it out of the tunnel and back into the waning afternoon light. Eventually, I make it down the highway and find myself downtown. I am able to find a parking garage a block away from my hotel. Lugging my stuff down the street, I head for the hotel and check in. As soon as I settle in to my room for the day, I am left with only a few minutes to grab something to eat before I need to be at the pick up point for the final part of my adventure. Packing my gear into my backpack and bundling myself into my winter jacket, I head out. After a quick stop for a hotdog dinner from the street, I find my way to the pick up point and wait.

The Northern Lights tour involves the most impressive all-terrain vehicle I have ever had the pleasure of riding in. Imagine if a shuttle bus and a monster truck had a baby. The wheels on this behemoth can probably get over anything. The best part, however, is the inside is nice and warm and cozy.

After about a half hour on the road listening to some dad jokes and the occasional history lesson from the tour guide, our group find ourselves in the middle of a farm with the lights of the city twinkling in the distance. I start setting up my camera gear and aimed it at the sky above me. Suddenly, colors start bursting from the horizon. Wave after graceful wave of blues and greens punctuated by occasional bursts of red and orange. The sight was overwhelming. I was thankful for the darkness. I prefer ugly crying out of sight. After I manage to compose myself enough, I finally start snapping away. As my camera fired one timed shot after another, I just stand there, breathless and overwhelmed by so much wonder.

Words fail me.

Chapter 7: Old Churches and Sea Dragons

By January 4th, 2021

The rural air is certainly doing wonders to my sleeping. I have been waking up feeling more refreshed each morning this week. There was breakfast prepared by our kind host today. I will be sharing the repast with two other guests, a couple from South Korea who are also doing the same adventuring that I was along the Ring Road.

After breakfast, my next stop was going to be one of the oldest turf churches in Iceland, Grafarkirkja. It was maybe a half hour off the main highway in the middle of a field. It faced north into the Norwegian Sea and behind it you can see rolling hills and mountains of Iceland’s interior. It was indeed a very contemplative place.

If I had views like this, I would probably root myself here as well and grow moss.
The view north from the church

After visiting the church and maneuvering the process of driving up to the gate, getting out of the car with the engine running, opening the gate, running back to the car to drive through the gate, and repeating the process to close the gate behind me, I was finally back on the road. This time, I was on the hunt for something other than turf churches and waterfalls. I am off to find a sea dragon.

The sea dragon in question is called Hvitserkur. It is a rock formation found on the northern shores of Iceland that resembles a stone dragon (or a warty rhino, depending on how you look at it). There is a low cliff you have to maneuver down from the lookout point to get to the shore. It was especially challenging since most of the steep slope has eroded and the soil is the sort of loose rock that cannot be trusted. I had to ungracefully lower myself down the steep slope with my butt on the ground. My broken ankle did little to help my progress. Eventually, I managed to make it down to the shore. I am hoping it will be easier climbing up than it was to climb down.

Chessy wanted to prove he saw a dragon
Last shot before packing up my gear to escape the incoming tide

After taking photos of the dragon to convince myself it was real, I began to notice the tide slowly starting to come in. I have been often warned by locals about tricky waves that can suddenly pull you into the ocean if you are not careful. I hastily packed my gear and began the climb back up the cliff. Thankfully, it was easier going up, albeit no less ungraceful. On the way back to the car, I ran into the couple from the horse farm in Akureyri. I barely recognized them being all bundled up in their thick jackets and hats and scarves. We said hello and I made my way back to my car. I had a quick lunch before heading out to my next stop.

Kolugljúfur Canyon is an amazing stop on the way to the Snaefellsness peninsula. There is a meandering river that passes by pastoral farms and cascades down into a gorge. The water has done wonders with carving through the basalt turning it into a canyon that fantastic beasts of imagination could call home. I would not be surprised if a dragon lived down there (or a warty rhino).

Rock may be harder than water but water is persistent

I was initially planning to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the Snaefellsness Peninsula before bedding down for the night in Borgarnes. However, I wouldn’t be spending as much time exploring the peninsula as I did not want to be stuck out there or on the road in the dark. I had been told that the weather on the peninsula can be quite intense and unpredictable this time of the year. I decided not to chance it. I can always retrace my route north and do a loop of the peninsula the next day. Reykjavik was less than an hour away from Borgarnes so I could easily make it there tomorrow after a full day of sightseeing in the peninsula.

My accommodations in Borgarnes were beginning to phase me back into city living. This was far different from the quaint and cozy farmhouse cottages and hostels I had stayed in all week. It had all the feel of the typical hotel room. Also, it felt nice having my own bathroom for a change.

I feel like the Walrus AND the Carpenter
Lamb over frites with a salad afterthought

For dinner, I had mussels for starters. I had not had shellfish in a while so it was quite a treat. I mopped up the juice from the mussels with fresh bread. Main course was lamb chops (of course) on fries with a side salad. I washed everything down with the local brew. I had a long day tomorrow so I decided to turn in early. Also, there was a tv in my room. I did not realize how much I missed having this modern amenity.

I was about to start winding down for the day when I began hearing a commotion in the hallway. I had seen in my phone app that the northern lights had a high chance of showing up today. I decided to get dressed and see for myself. The hotel grounds was swarming with noisy excited tourists with their cameras incessantly flashing so I decided to walk around town to find a nice quiet spot to myself.

I found a spot just a few feet from a row of houses. It was a nice dim place with just enough light for me to set up my camera. Unfortunately, the northern lights were not as bright as I hoped so I did not get any good pictures. It was still good practice for when I go on the group tour tomorrow. It was pretty cold and windy outside so I decided to go back to my hotel room and rest. On my way back, I found a new friend.

Also, just relieved that moving black shadow in the middle of the road was not a skunk.

I never pass up an opportunity to pet a willing cat, especially one as fluffy as this one.

Chapter 6: Through the time travelling tunnel I go

By November 30th, 2020

After the usual breakfast fare of bread, dried meats, egg, and coffee, I packed up and headed out to my next waterfall.

One wonderful thing about Iceland is there is phone coverage everywhere. I relied mostly on my phone for driving directions since day 1 and even in the seemingly middle of nowhere, I was able to find a phone signal with a decent data speed. It has been really handy especially when trying to figure out where the next gas station is.

My waterfall of the day, Godafoss, was quite the package deal. Aside from the big waterfall, there were smaller ones downstream that were also worth seeing. The area was a web of walking trails and you could spend half the day just traipsing about up and down the paths.

Godafoss’s main waterfall
One of the smaller falls seen from the bridge

I was able to find a path going down to the main waterfall that I could get close enough and be right by the water. Just as I got there, I got a video call from my mom. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology and ever available cell service, I was able to show her around and gave her a courtside seat to the waterfall.

Smaller ones also dot the trail
Thundering waterfalls

I was able to hobble a little better on my ankle but after a couple of hours walking the trail, it was beginning to ache so I decided to rest in the car. It was still too early for lunch so I decided to forego the nearby restaurant and drive to my next stop. I could probably just live off of my car snacks until I got to Akureyri.

On the way to Akureyri, you have two choices. You can take the long way around the mountain or you can take a shortcut under it. The GPS, being in the habit of guiding me down the shortest path from point A to point B took me under the mountain. It was quite a long tunnel and took me a few minutes to get from one end to the other. I didn’t find it unnerving until I got to the outskirts of town and sat down and found a map that made me realize where the tunnel went through. I have finally decided I do not like long tunnels at all.

It was lunchtime when I got to Akureyri so I decided to fill up the car and grab something to eat. I was also able to find that a nearby museum was open so after having lunch, I decided to visit it. There is also a historic tourist stop close by that I have been reading. Before heading down there, I found that there was a turf church about a half hour’s drive from town so I decided to head there.

The turf church

Saurbæjarkirkja is a turf church built in 1858 in the Eyjafjörður region of Iceland. It is one of only six turf churches still in existence in Iceland today. There is a small cemetery right next to it. Across from the church, there is a compound with a few buildings that look like something you would find in a sheep farm. The area appeared to be a bit isolated and was giving off a “Silence of the Lambs” vibe for me so after taking a few photos, I decided to head back to town. There’s a local museum I was hoping to see before it closed for the day.

The church and the building across the way.

The museum was an interesting one. The upper floors had modern art installations while the lower floors and basement were dedicated to the town’s history and seafaring articles. I am not a big fan of modern art so after I did my regulatory passing glance of the upper floors, I headed down to the history section. There was a lot of interesting things to see.

Monopoly gameboards were a lot more interesting back then

Seafarers back then (and probably some folks these days) were a superstitious lot. They believed the ocean was filled with enormous sea monsters, each one more scary than the next. As if the constantly rolling sea, bad weather, and even worse food from the galley weren’t enough to make life at sea unbearable, there is also the daily threat of being eaten alive by a kraken. The stress would probably drive me to drink on a daily basis.

Mermaids were supposedly a lot less Disney-esque in real life

Life on land was no less interesting. Judging from the display, town life had its struggles as well. I always found it interesting how people were able to thrive without today’s comforts. Despite being a bit removed from the rest of Iceland, Akureyri flourished into a bustling seaside community.

Chessy wanted to play general store
Waiting for the mad hatter and the rest of the gang

Entrance to the museum also included access to the nearby Nonni’s house and the chapel. The house was very interesting. There were no other tourists around so I had it all to myself for quite a while. Going through the cramped rooms and tiny hallways I was able to get a glimpse of what life was like in the 1800s. I could only imagine living in that house in the winter with no central heating, no insulation in the walls, no Amazon grocery delivery, and only the heat from the stove and layers of scratchy wool clothing to keep you warm. It makes me appreciate the creature comforts most of us take for granted on a daily basis these days.

Nonni’s house
Mornings were for coffee and… basically the whole coffee process took all morning

The chapel was a small one, perhaps just the right size for a tiny community back in the 1800s. It was a nice, quiet spot for contemplation. After a quick photo op, I spent a few minutes sitting inside and enjoyed the solitude before heading out to my accommodations for the night.

Spending a few minutes in quiet contemplation

It was still a couple of hours before check-in time so I looked for a bookstore or cafe to hang out. Luckily, there was a place that had both. I bought some books and spent the afternoon at the cafe with a slice of cake and some coffee to stave off the afternoon slump while reading a paperback.

Cake, coffee, and a good book. What more do I need?

Tonight’s bed is in a guest house that is part of a horse farm. It’s about a half hour drive from town in the Skagafjörour region. As I was getting out of the car, I was greeted by the owner’s adorably friendly dog. There were no restaurants nearby so I figured I would spend the late afternoon exploring Akureyri and have dinner in town before turning in for the night.

Pre dinner onion rings
When in a fish town, you order fish

Dinner was at a gastropub I noticed while I was at the bookstore. Seeing as it was a seaside town, I figured I would try the local fish. Food was scrumptious as usual. I would have loved to have a second beer with dinner but since I will be driving back to the guesthouse, I decided against it. I figured the day’s adventures would be enough for an easy send off to dreamland.

Chapter 5: Halfway ’round the bend and I missed the pancakes by two days

By October 27th, 2020

There was no breakfast buffet this time. At least there was hot water for my thermos and for my morning coffee. Luckily, I had come prepared. Breakfast was spent in the car after parking by the church for one last photo op of rainbow lane before the tourists start waking up. Also, I wanted to leave some room for pancakes and coffee from a turf house in the middle of nowhere. I hear it’s a special experience.

Good Morning Rainbow!

I had spied a waterfall on the way down from the pass driving into town. I planned to make the stop there on my way over. I was the first car parked there so I was able to enjoy a little bit of solitude and had the waterfall all to myself for a good half hour before other folks began to filter in.

Random roadside waterfall

From the waterfall, I made my way to a seemingly random left turn along the main road to a 20 minute trip down a dirt road with something special at the end. Along the way, I passed by a two-for-one special on waterfalls. It was quite a bargain so I decided to make a stop.

Two-tiered special of the day
lower falls

Back on the road, my phone somehow managed to find the correct turn-off from the highway. It was an interesting drive down a rocky road with nothing but more rocks on either side of the road. every crest of the hill promising something just beyond it. After 20-plus minutes of bouncing around, I came to a small farm by a lake. I could see two little turf houses and a couple of sheep grazing by it. Unfortunately, the sign informed me that I missed pancakes and coffee by about 2 days. Summer season was officially over so the residents have closed up shop for the year. Well, I’m here already so I might as well explore a little bit.

Looks cozy

I found a guy staying at one of the turf houses and he told me in heavily accented, slightly broken English that he is renting the turf house for a few weeks. He found it through one of the homesharing sites. I figured that would be a great idea for my return trip.

Missed the pancakes. Try again next time?

There were no pancakes but there were two very placid sheep munching along. I slowly approached one and propositioned it for a photo shoot. It was very obliging. I decided I would perhaps risk life and limb and pet it. If I got injured, I hope my Garmin emergency service could airlift me out of there to the nearest ER quick enough.

one sheep
two sheep
Making friends in the most random places

The lack of pancakes was a letdown but petting my first Icelandic sheep made up for it. I decided to motor down to the next town and gas up my car and perhaps grab lunch before heading to my next waterfall.

Thankfully, I had managed to get a decent brunch before getting back on the road. It turns out the road to one of the viewpoints for Dettifoss was going to be an ordeal. From the turn-out, it was 45 minutes of bone-jarring driving along a rocky and muddy road riddled with enormous and deep potholes. Thankfully, the rental was up to the task even if I could not say the same for my back.

Detiffoss side A. Saving the B-side for next trip

I decided to forgo visiting the viewpoint on the other side of the waterfall. It was promising to be another 30+ minutes down another rocky road and I had a hot springs reservation I wanted to make sure I could get to. I decided to head to Myvatn. I still had a couple of stops to make before my reservation at the hot springs and I was beginning to feel lunchy after the 90 minute F-road ordeal.

Lunch was a lamb burger at a cafe next to a tourist attraction. Dimmuborgir is a maze of trails winding around amazing lava and rock formations. Unfortunately, all the jostling from the road to Dettifoss left my injured ankle sore so I had to forgo the hike and sat down to lunch instead. At least I could see some of the park out of the cafe window.

yet another lamb-burger
enjoying the trail from the window

There was also a little cave with an underground hot spring that I had been hearing about so I decided to make my way there. The road going to the cave was a nice drive through some interesting rock formations. The cave itself was tiny and the much-hyped underground spring was a bit underwhelming. There were signs discouraging tourists from taking a swim (dangerous!). Also, the cave being tiny, the many tourists milling about made it feel more unpleasant. Besides, where I was going promised to be way nicer than this one.

It looks so much better than it smells.

After checking in to my quarters for the night and charging my equipment, I decided to recharge myself before dinner and headed for the hot springs. It proved to be a lot less crowded and a lot more pleasant than the Blue Lagoon. Since it was a further drive from the capital, fewer tourists make it there. Chessy and I had a good soak and relaxed in the water for a bit. I actually had to fight to stay awake in the water since it was putting me in a mood to nap.

Chessy getting ready for a relaxing dip
Getting wet and not too wild

After the relaxing soak, I headed back to my room to check on my equipment and get ready for dinner. The guesthouse staff recommended a restaurant down the road. I also noticed it was close to a church. Maybe I could do another photo shoot before turning in for the night.

Dinner did not disappoint. I had a starter of some smoked fish on local bread, the soup of the day, and a fish entrée that was delightful. Just as I was finishing up dinner, one of the diners just coming into the restaurant announced that everyone was missing the amazing sunset outside. I was able to capture a shot just as the sun was disappearing into the horizon.

Course 1 of 3: smoked fish on local bread and a healthy slather of butter
Course 2 of 3: Lamb stew aka soup of the day
Main course: Fried local fish with potatoes and fresh greens
catching the last sunset of the day

I decided to make a quick stop by the church while the light was still good. It was peaceful and quiet apart from the whinnying of a horse in the distance. One could not help but feel a little contemplative. I said my thanks for another wonderful day before heading back to the guesthouse for the night. After the relaxing soak and the good food, I was ready for bed.

evenings are also for contemplation

Chapter 4: Mysterious Eggs, Lighthouses, and more Waterfalls

By September 27th, 2020

Waking up to the morning light filtering through the window and the sounds of farm life is not so bad. I rested well last night and had no trouble from my ankle. It might have been the delicious dinner washed down with beer.

I started packing up for the day and realized my sweater matched the bathroom shower curtain. I just had to take a picture for posterity.

Just blending in with the local color

The day’s plan was pretty loose today. I thought perhaps I would spend the first half of the day in Vestrahorn. I read there were a lot of interesting things to see there.

The weather was not up to being cooperative. Everything was foggy and it was drizzling on and off. However, I was determined to find a few waterfalls on the way to Seydisfjordur. This time, I thought maybe I would throw in a few lighthouses along the way.

Whale bones collected from the coast through the years

Vestrahorn is the perfect place to see just how raw and beautiful the landscape is in Iceland. The jagged peaks bathed in low clouds and fog are calling to be climbed. However, I am not a climber of mountains. I hurt my ankle climbing a wall not even 10 feet from the ground right before the trip. Those peaks will have to wait for another day.

The Peaks of Vestrahorn

I was able to get to a parking area close to the Stokksnes lighthouse. A short walk to the rocky shore rewarded me with an amazing vantage point. I could watch the Atlantic waves crash onto the rocks below. The wind was brisk and cold so after I snapped a few photos of the lighthouse, I did a little bit of exploring among the rocks before I sought shelter in the car. Other tourists were beginning to filter in as I was leaving the parking lot.

Stokksness Lighthouse

Next stop in Vestrahorn was the Viking Village. Most articles I have read of the place say it was a bit “staged” and not worth the trouble. Fortunately, I have a habit of ignoring reviews. I figured if I was to be underwhelmed, I might as well be there for it.

Viking home with waterfront view

It was not as bad as the online reviews claim. It actually felt like taking a trip back in time. I was expecting to even run into a few gruff, bearded vikings while walking around. As long as you don’t squint too hard and look too closely, you might just find it magical.

Manning the gates
Hold the door

I read about a town that had stone eggs by the seashore. It sounded interesting so I decided to check it out. Along the way, I stopped at the Hvalnes Lighthouse. I suppose if I were a sailor in the daytime, the orange paint would be hard to miss.

Hvalnes Lighthouse

Eggin í Gleðivík is Icelandic for “eggs in Gleðivík”. There isn’t really much other than a row of concrete eggs lined up along the shore with plaques to read on each pedestal. In better weather, it would look more dramatic with the mountain peaks from the fjord across the water in the background.

Stone Eggs. Dragons?

After several waterfall-less stops, it was time to get back to the chase. Sveinsstekksfoss was the next stop. Also, the coffee and constant rain was beginning to get to me. Time to find a pitstop. Thankfully, there is a porta-potty station close to the waterfall viewpoint.

Lower falls

After a quick potty break, I went exploring by the falls and snapped a few photos. I had to find a way through the rocks without getting my socks wet in the water. My ankle was finally beginning to feel better so rock-hopping wasn’t as arduous.

Lunch break with a view

After spending my lunch break among the rocks, I followed the road up the hill to get to the viewpoint and was rewarded with an amazing view.

Sveinsstekksfoss from the viewpoint

The highway wound by coastlines and along cliffsides. When I got to the junction for 939 just past Folaldafoss, Highway 1 was closed and there was a sign for a detour through 939. Since I was heading that way anyway, I wasn’t too worried. I figured if I got lost, I could just look for the nearest town and find a place to stay the night. It was only early afternoon but it was getting pretty dark.

Folaldafoss on the detour

Sometimes, detours give us the best surprises. The road through 939 was quite rough but the rental was up to the challenge. It made me miss driving my FJ cruiser back home.

The detour eventually brought me to Egilsstadir. I was running low on car snacks so I decided to make a stop for some supplies. There’s a museum I was hoping to visit in town but it was closed by the time I got there. After a fuel stop, I decided to head for my accommodations for the day in Seydisfjordur.

The drive to the fjord past Egilsstadir winds uphill. I do mean UPHILL. The road switchbacks up the mountain and the peak was pretty foggy in late afternoon. The limited visibility all around made me feel like I could be driving down a road with steep drops on both sides. For a girl who is afraid of heights, it’s not a lot of fun.

After checking in at the hostel for the day, I took the rental car around the quaint little town and did some sightseeing before dinner. Other than the usual lamb dinner, I also tried the reindeer croquettes.

Reindeer croquettes. Cue the “other reindeer” jokes

After dinner, I figured I would take some pictures of the iconic church and the colorful close by. A little walk along the town center also rewarded me with a memorable “good night” photo before turning in for the day.

Good night Seydisfjordur

The Ring Chapter 3: The lambs were not so silent

By August 24th, 2020
Morning light over Vik

The morning light filtering through the window woke me up. I packed up my stuff and loaded my bags back in the car. There was breakfast this morning. It was typical Icelandic tourist breakfast fare similar to yesterday. As usual, I loaded up on the breakfast buffet and even managed some hot water in my thermos for some coffee on the road.

Breaking fast like a hobbit

My next stop was Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. I have never heard of the place and had no idea what it was going to be like. However, at this point, any place I have stopped has been gorgeous. This one involved some driving on rocky roads down lush green meadows. The day was becoming quite drizzly but this time I was a bit more prepared. I managed to find a grocery bag to keep my camera dry. Today is off to a good start.

Parking at the bottom parking area that my saved directions led me to meant there was some uphill hiking. Thankfully, my ankle was beginning to feel much better. My hiking shoes were helping keep it steady as I ambled up the trail. The Aleve I took after breakfast was also beginning to kick in. Making it to  the top of the canyon, I was rewarded with an amazing sight. I could see across the canyon and could spy a waterfall somewhere among the cliffs. Everything was covered in green. Rock formations reminiscent of secret caverns leading to fairy lands made me feel like I was in a scene from Lord of the Rings. I was half-expecting to run into Arwen or Elrond or even Tom Bombadil.

Secret doorways to the lands of faerie
Were I a braver soul, I would stand on the earth’s edge and look down below

After I walked around the trail at the top of the canyon, I decided to head out to my next stop. I stopped at the nearby down to gas up and buy some road snacks and drove through the foggy morning to Vatnajokull National Park. Along the way, I drove through miles and miles of lava field on both sides of the road. Lava fields covered in moss and fall-colored foliage. It was hard to keep my eyes on the road. Despite the thick fog , I could still see enough to appreciate how even a seemingly empty expanse can be so beautiful.

A peek of the great glacier tongue

Eventually, as the day grew warmer, the fog burned off enough that I could see the glacier from miles away. I managed to find a roadside stop where I was able to park my car and snap some photos.

Stopping for another snapshot

When I got to the park, it turned out that from there, it would require a bit of hiking to get to the more interesting spots. The maps at the park showed trails to breathtaking waterfalls and rock fields. Since I felt I did not have a whole day to spend here and there were still a few stops to make before tonight’s bed, I added the stop to my list of places for my next visit. I did, however, peruse the selections at the information center. I managed to buy some books I know the kiddos will love.

I did not manage to get up close and personal to Vatnajokull but I managed to find a F-road that took me within a short walk of Svínafellsjökull glacier. There’s a plaque commemorating a couple of adventurous souls that went missing in the area a few years back. I paid my respects and vowed to be careful. There was barely any tourists in the area so I was able to enjoy some quiet moments and had the glacier to myself. I even managed to hear it calving in the distance.

Just me, Chessie, and a lot of ice

After meditating on the beauty of nature, I got back on the road and decided to do a different kind of soul searching. I headed for Hofskirkja in the tiny town of Hof. It’s one of the turf churches scattered all over Iceland. The wind was beginning to pick up but it was still nice and sunny. I managed to have the area to myself for a few minutes before other tourists began to trickle in. It was beginning to get a bit windy for my comfort so I figured I would hole up in the car and have a quick lunch before heading for my next stop.

Chessy on a meadow by the turf church
I wonder what they used this stone for

Jokulsarlon Lagoon is another popular tourist stop. The parking lot was full of cars when I pulled up. I was beginning to feel a bit peckish so I bought a hotdog at the parking lot food truck. The lagoon was a nice stop to watch seals playing in the water. From there, it was a short walk to Diamond Beach so I decided to leg it instead of driving the car down and hope for a parking spot. The seashore was littered with ice in all shapes and sizes. It looked like a giant spilled a bag of diamonds on the beach. I’m guessing that’s where the name came from.

Shine bright like a diamond

Today did not involve a lot of stops but I had spent more hours on the road than the past 2 days. It was late afternoon by the time I made it to the guesthouse I was staying for the night. The guesthouse turned out to be a sheep ranch. Driving through the farm to the guesthouse in the slowly darkening afternoon reminded me of the sheep farm from Clarice Starling’s origin story in Silence of the Lambs. I hope the rooms are cozy… and soundproof.

That approach is one way to set the scene

The farm turned out to be quite adorable. My room had the modern amenities and the bed was quite comfy. This definitely made it to my “must visit again” list. It felt nice to have my own bathroom and shower and be able to lay around in so much space.

I’m afraid I was unable to save this lamb.
… or this slice of chocolate cake.

Dinner was amazing. I ordered the lamb (of course), washed down with beer, followed by chocolate cake that the guesthouse owner made earlier that day. It was nice listening to my fellow guests talk about their adventures. Just as the beer was starting to send me off to sleepyville, I headed to my room for some much needed sleep.


The Ring Chapter 2: Sometimes all you need is a grocery bag

By July 25th, 2020
I woke up on my second day on the (Ring) road with dawn filtering through the curtains. I slept with the window open and nodded off to the feel of cool mountain air last night. My ankle was starting to feel better. I had less pain with walking. Hopefully I won’t end up hobbling around all day. I did not have very many stops to make and the town I will be spending the night in also has local sights to offer. I packed up my stuff and got dressed for breakfast.
The original breakfast club
Breakfast was a buffet of local breads, cheese, and cured meats. There was also fruit and boiled egg. I filled up on breakfast and pocketed a couple pieces of fruit for my lunch and spent a few minutes looking around in the lobby and reading area. I had explored the hallways of the guesthouse yesterday and inspected the antiques on display all over the second floor. It turns out this place was formerly a schoolhouse. After checking out and loading up my stuff in the car, I was back on the road. Just a little ways down from the guesthouse I came to a bridge. The sun was just beginning its climb. The morning light peeking through the clouds treated me to a beautiful view of the lake where my dinner from last night had come from. I just had to stop and look around. Chessy even had a little photo shoot among the local flora.
Mornings are for coffee and contemplation, and random photo shoots along the road
I made my way to one of the popular falls along the main road: Seljalandsfoss. I had visited the place before with friends as part of a tour we took during my last visit. I wasn’t able to go behind the falls at the time as our stop was a short one. This time, I can spend as much time as I wanted exploring the area. It was still early in the day so there were not very many tourists milling about yet. You can even see the top of another waterfall further up the trail.
Gljuifrabui peeking over the canyon
You can walk the trail up to the waterfall, continue on behind it to the other side, and keep walking further down the trail to the other waterfall, Gljuifrabui, which empties into a canyon, before circling back to the parking lot. The path behind the falls was wet, muddy, and slippery and my ankle is still a mess. What could possibly go wrong? I managed to avoid another injury as I slowly climbed around behind the waterfall with the rest of the early sightseers. I was able to get close enough to the canyon down the trail before my ankle started to protest. I decided to save this one for the next visit.
The struggle of a waterfall chaser: water droplets on the camera lens
Behind the scenes
My second stop for the day was another popular tourist stop so I decided to hightail it over there before the tour buses began arriving in droves. Skogafoss is another well-known waterfall in South Iceland. I had also visited this one before but just like the previous stop, there was not enough time to look around. I was able to get close enough to start worrying about getting my camera drenched with glacier water. I kept having to wipe my lens and tuck my camera under my jacket. Between the drizzling rain beginning to get heavier and the splash from the falls, I was impressed my poor camera survived the ordeal and still works to this day. As I was making my way back to the car, I saw one savvy tourist with a plastic shopping bag around her camera secured with a rubber band. I made a mental note to add a plastic bag to my kit the next chance I get.
I had a closer shot but all you would see would be water
I skipped going to the Skogar Museum and the plane wreck. The former I had already visited before, the latter required a long walk and my ankle was not quite up to the task. A few weeks prior to my arrival in Iceland, part of the basalt columns in Reynisfjara beach had collapsed and that section of the beach was closed to tourists. Since I had also been there before, I decided to skip that one as well. I will make sure not to miss them on my next trip, however.
Brooding is a semi-permanent mood here
I arrived in Vik in the early afternoon. Vik is a quaint little town that is slowly gaining popularity since most of the tour buses stop here for lunch before heading back to Reykjavik. Icewear, the popular purveyor of woolen goodies in Iceland has a factory and store here. There is also a black sand beach here where you can see the pillars off the coast of Reynisdrangar and Reynisfjara. After checking in at the hostel, I decided to explore the town and head to the beach for some pictures. It was still a little early for dinner so I decided to do some shopping at the Icewear store. I hear wool hats make great gifts. Also, I was on the hunt for yarn. I had always wanted to knit myself an Icelandic wool sweater.
Chessy shopping for souvenirs and living their best viking life
A meat and potatoes kinda girl
This certainly is not Olive Garden
Dinner at Sudur Vik restaurant was quite a feast. I had the lamb (of course) with potatoes and the soup of the day. It was all washed down with the local beer. Before heading back to the hostel to bed down for the night, I made a quick stop at Vik i Myrdal Church, also known as Reyniskirkja. I had glimpsed the church on my last visit from afar as our tour group was stopping for lunch and the photos I had taken of it then did not do justice. I needed redemption of another kind.
Reyniskirkja as it watches over the town
Good night, Vik
At the hostel, with the lights down and everyone in my room getting ready for bed, I was able to snap a quick photo of the town below me. The night lights of Vik will do just fine for tonight.

The Ring Chapter 1: Waterfall Chaser

By June 30th, 2020
A lyric from my youth: Don’t go chasing waterfalls. Please stick to the rivers and lakes you’re used to. I was never one to follow instructions when there are more interesting rabbit holes to explore. When I told friends, family, and co-workers I was going to drive Iceland’s Ring Road all by myself, there was a ripple of collective concern. By now I had gone on several camping trips into the woods all alone. I thought it was time I tested my ever-lessening limits as was true to my nature. In the spirit of transparency, however, I will admit that I did not go into this blindly like a meteor hurtling through the atmosphere. I have learned important lessons about the value of preparedness. I have learned the hard way on many occasions. So I booked everything ahead of time, traced a course along the road, read many travel blogs, mapped out and downloaded GPS directions to my planned stops, and bought a GPS device that will track my entire trip.
… and planning on making plans about plans on plans.
Unfortunately, I suffered a nasty fall while bouldering a few days before I was to leave. I had to rest up my ankle so I could at least hobble with some dignity. I guess I won’t be doing much traipsing about during this trip. Lucky for me, by the time I was to leave, the swelling from my ankle had gone down to where I could at least wear shoes. Walking was still painful and I had a significant limp. I reminded myself I had overcome worse things before. So I gritted my teeth, packed my bags, and boarded the plane for an 8 hour plane ride.
Fighting jetlag? Gin helps… a lot!
I landed in Iceland 16 hours after I boarded a plane for an 8-hour flight. Time zone change wreaks havoc on my brain. It helped me ignore my throbbing ankle as I hobbled through the airport to get to the shuttle that will take me to my rental car. After a hazy few hours of trying to figure out if I was on the right shuttle (I was not), figuring out a way to call the rental place with my mobile phone, getting to the rental office, filling in paperwork, sitting through the rental car spiel, and taking a quick moment to figure out how to drive a car that was not mine, I was on the road. First stop was the grocery store. When travelling in a car, one needs car snacks, and coffee. At this point in my life, I will need a lot of coffee.  
The Jeep of the week and my travel buddy.
Reykjanes, the town southwest of the airport and where I picked up my rental car, looked quaintly dreary on a drizzly morning. The mood reminded me of every other Nordic movie I have seen on television. It made you think of floating in a muggy, gray soup but when you open the car window, the air was crisp and cool. I can taste the ocean. It is close, I just know it. Driving south from Reykjanes through Reykjavik made me nostalgic. I was just here with my friends a few years back. That was the trip that made me fall in love with the land and I had since longed to return (and plan to keep returning). I just got here and I am already planning my next trip. My first stop was Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. Why not start off by seeing 2 tectonic plates in one stop? There’s a visitor center with the requisite information booth, gift shop, and snack bar. The fall colors had just started coming in.  
Fall colors on tectonic plates
Proof of life
Thingvellir is Icelandic for most scenic council-house ever.
Oxararfoss was my first waterfall stop. It is not only a beauty of nature but a wonder of man’s early ingenuity. The Oxara river that feeds the falls was actually channeled by men in the 9th century into the Almannagja ravine to provide water for the Icelandic Althing from as early as the 9th century.
The first waterfall I see, a man-made cataract of majesty. Sometimes, man and nature can make beautiful scenery together.
After a few hours hobbling around the park, I decided to make sandwiches in the car for a grab and go lunch and headed off to Strokkur hot springs to see water that went a different way – up. Geysir is Iceland’s famous geyser as Old Faithful in Yellowstone is the United States’. The sulfur bubbling up from the hot springs filled the air with a smell like someone who had one too many deviled eggs decided to let rip a long one. Don’t worry, the beautiful scenery will help you get over the smell pretty quickly. One lesson I learned: when it comes to geyser-watching, stay upwind.
Either someone ate one too many deviled eggs or that is a hot spring.
I spent a few minutes in the Geysir center shopping for some souvenirs and brought home a wool blanket. I also tried the ice cream. It was the late afternoon slump and I needed a quick sugar fix before I got back in the car. After surviving an 8-hour flight and limping around with a sore ankle, I deserved a treat. Besides, you shouldn’t take Aleve on an empty stomach.
Midafternoon slump? Have some sugar
A side of artwork with my ice cream
My next stop was Gulfoss, my second waterfall of the day. Its a tiered cataract located in the canyon of the Hvita river. There is a story about a lady named Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of Tómas Tómasson, who was so determined to preserve the waterfall and its natural beauty from development that she threatened to throw herself down the river. Despite the story being nothing other than propaganda, there is a monument to her somewhere along the trail to the falls.
To be fair, she does look like one not to be trifled with.
After enjoying the view and snapping a few more pictures, I was starting to feel the jetlag. Also, the Aleve was beginning to kick in. I fugured I should probably get to my last stop before I get too tired to drive. I hobbled back to my car and headed for my room for the night.
Some people frolick in a meadow. I would tiptoe-frolick in this reading area.
Heradsskolinn is a schoolhouse turned guesthouse in Laugarvatn built in 1928. It sits by a lake brimming with fish. There is a sign by the door before you enter, reminding guests that it is a shoes-off home. The floor is still the original 90+ year old polished wood. The current owners are determined to preserve its historic beauty for many more years.
I wonder if the radio still plays the classics
The furnishing and decor have been collected and preserved throughout the years. Stepping into the guesthouse felt like travelling back in time. The bookcases lining one of the walls in the reading area are filled with old tomes both in English and Icelandic. While looking around, I could not resist flipping through one of the weathered-looking volumes just to smell that old-book smell. It brought back many happy memories and comforting sensations from my childhood. The smell of yellowed pages are yet to be replicated by the latest Kindle model in the market.
Have a seat and travel through time
Turn up the old Victrola, gonna dance the night away
For dinner, I was thinking of ordering lamb. In a land where sheep outnumber Iclanders, lamb is more of a staple food. However, the restaurant staff were enthusing about the fish. As it turns out, the fish being served tonight, as with every other night, was fished from the lake I could see just outside the window. I am an island girl at heart after all. I cannot pass up good fish. I had to have it for dinner.
If fish and veggies were this good when I was a kid…
Now that I was finally full with good food and good beer, my exhaustion from today’s plane ride finally came knocking too loud for me to ignore. I finally settled in for the evening. Besides, how can I even resist this really comfy looking setup?
Comfy and cozy for the evening.
I am already excited to wake up in the morning to the gorgeous view outside my window. Time to recharge my gear and my self. First day of my first major solo trip down. Tomorrow, more adventures await.
Good night, rolling hill of cooled lava and beautiful greenery.