We woke on our last full day in Iceland to a shimmering conjunction of sun and moon. Once again the Northern Lights had delivered for us. Forget bars, cocktails and dancing, it’s nature in all its astonishing glory that turns me on. I sometimes look at my hands turning them over and over, how did these come about? Of course I know, but then looking at the complicated world around us we humans have created with our extraordinary brains, the roads we drive on, the ways we communicate, the clothes we wear…I am blown away by the very fact of our existence. Stripping back the view to the natural, unadulterated world I feel I can breathe more easily. We may not survive our ruinous ways but the world will get over us.
The Kast had been a good place to stay if only the staff had been a bit friendlier. We spread out the map. It was going to be a long drive south skirting past Reykjavik then west again and up a bit to the furthest tip of the Gardur peninsular – 3 hours give or take and a short hop to the airport.
“I’ll drive” said Tessa “my turn.”
“Ok, if you’re sure?” I suspected we’d end up on the motorway again.
The road hugged the coast. I scanned the sea for whales, it was our last chance to see a humpback. That would be the proverbial icing.
As we neared Reykjavik we were indeed on the shiny new motorway and sped along the long tunnel under the sea between peninsulas. I glanced at Tessa, she was doing really well. I kept shtum, judging it better to say nothing as there was nowhere to pull over. I’ve always admired that she can drive all over England on A and B roads selling her jewellery avoiding the heebie-jeebies the motorways give her.
Some places have an ‘end of the line’ feel about them even when they don’t have a railway station. Gardur is one of them, with bleak small-town charm. Supermarket, school, public leisure centre with gym and pool, not much else. It was easy to find the Lighthouse Inn, you basically drive to the end of the world before Greenland. For the second time on the trip the receptionist there was not only very friendly and helpful, he was Icelandic.
“Eyjafjallajokul” I said, “is that right? I’ve been trying to get it right all week. It’s a task I’ve set myself.”
“Very good” he said pronouncing it far better than I’d actually achieved.
“We’re early would it be alright to check in now?”
“Sure. I’ve put you on the righthand side down the corridor. You should get the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights from that side, they were amazing yesterday.”
Tessa wanted to walk into town to buy gifts in the shop. We could use the coast path and whale scan as we went and check out the swimming pool for later. It soon turned into a trudge through bleak suburbia, the wind buffeting us as we searched for the leisure centre. The shop was a supermarket and we stocked up on apples, instant porridge pots for the morning and smoked salmon for Lesley who’d driven us to the coach stop and would be picking us up the next day. The pool was an easy find with its tubes of coloured plastic coiling around the outside.
“Can we use the pool later?” The man on the desk looked alarmed and went to find a younger colleague. I don’t suppose there’s much use for English on the peninsular. It’s not exactly a tourist hotspot despite being just up the road from the airport and poking out into the sea offering a possibility for Northern Lights, whale and birdwatching.
“Sorry, closed for renovation. There’s another public pool in Sandgerdi? It’s only a short drive?” Strangely, though I’m practically mermaid, I couldn’t muscle up the enthusiasm. I think it was the call of the whales, all I wanted to do was walk along the coast path, binoculars at the ready, scanning, scanning, scanning.
Instead we saw ricks wearing hay nets that looked for all the world like a row of hairy mammoths bending over to feed.
And a wonderful old car that reminded me of the vintage car that drove me to my second wedding. The museum in the background, run by a middle aged Thai hippy woman, was quirky, stuffed with second hand ‘vintage’ clothes, cheap Thai jewellery, 70s dresses, battered leather coats, matted wool jumpers etc. It reminded me of the charity shop back home. Hard to see how come it was there and how it could survive on Gardur.
We walked along the coast path, both of us enjoying the desolation.
Wondering what was behind the old rusted door?
Show me a rusty door and I’m happy.
As for whales? There were none. Hard as we scanned it looked like it would be the one disappointment of the trip.
From the lighthouse you could imagine you saw Greenland if you looked hard enough. How many lives must it have saved over the years from the cruel north Atlantic seas?
Sadly the little cafe attached to the base was closed. A hot chocolate would have been just the ticket.
We dined at El Faro the cheery Lighthouse restaurant finding it packed and buzzing at 6pm. We probably weren’t the only ones with an early flight.
The waitress came to take our drinks order. Tessa, a flexitarian, didn’t hesitate a second to order a fizzy drink made with snail slime the waitress encouraged her to try. “Good for the skin” said the waitress “full of collagen.”
Tessa took a sip and beamed. “Mmm, super,” she said.
“Red wine please” I said.
We clinked glasses and toasted a highly successful trip packed full of adventures.
“Do you realise you drove on motorways, twice,” I said “and you were fine weren’t you?” She agreed that it hadn’t been a problem.
“So what do you think? Iceland? Great for a visit, but a bloody nightmare to live here permanently unless you’re in Reykjavik?”
The long dark nights of winter, unpredictable weather and knitting would get to me in the end. According to one of those airport books that joke about a country’s characteristics Icelanders don’t talk to their neighbours. Perhaps that’s why there are so many Icelandi-Noir murder dramas.
Next morning we quickly downed our porridge and left the inn before dawn, collecting the packed breakfast the inn kindly provided; it would do for lunch. We left plenty of time to go through the rigmarole of returning the hire car and getting it inspected, which was fortunate because I got thoroughly lost driving round and round the car park areas in the dark failing to find our particular returns area. We had a map and it might have been fine in daylight but in the dark it was very confusing.
“Bet it’s over there” I said, “there are some petrol pumps. Didn’t the receptionist say there were pumps near the returns area when he advised us it would be cheaper to fill up in town last night?”
My intuition had worked before and it did again.
“Petrol at £80 for 3/4 a tank? How do people here survive?” I said bending double to treble check we’d retrieved all our kit out of the car.
“Um” confessed Tessa sheepishly “actually, might not have been that much. I think I was looking at the heat gauge not the fuel level.”
Whilst we might be novices at this hire car business, and getting used to driving on the ‘wrong side’ of the road we are both exceptionally good at going with the flow, getting along just fine, being flexible and making the best of all the opportunities that come our way when we travel together. Do I recommend Iceland to you? Absolutely I do. Just look at all the pictures. I’m already thinking “I wonder what the North is like? I understand there are spectacular geysers and excellent whale watching….