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Fasten your seatbelts it's going to be a fun ride

Monday, September 5, 2016

Iceland. Part II. Riding beyond the wall....

These are some general shots of the land in Iceland. 
The highway one (1) that goes all around the island is also called the rim road because it generally hugs the fjords up one side then over a small narrow one lane bridge that you are supposed to stop at before crossing to see if there is a car coming the opposite direction
then back up the other side. 

Most cars just play chicken at the bridges.
Most have hard edges and always some gravel. 
Most are concrete but once in a while they are planks of wood.
They are never fun to cross.
We've crossed maybe 60 of them in total. 
I hate these things. 
They certainly didn't go over budget on them. 

And depending on which way the wind is blowing, 
we usually have a head wind going in on one side of the fjord 
and a back wind coming back out on the other side. 

Lots of landslides. 
The tops of peaks are rocky and then hundreds of feet of loose rock.

Perfect long turns you can see through. 
Generally no sharp turns.
Well the 7 or so hairpin turns in Iceland have so far been on dirt roads and at steep angles. 
And each time it was raining so the roads were slick. 

There are also what they call blindheads. 

Those are peaks in the road where you can't see on the other side.
Instead of just leveling the road out, they follow the natural curve and put up a sign.
Guess its cheaper that way.
This was fine until my bike started to stall when downshifting.
A 450 lbs bike that isn't rolling is awfully heavy to hold up.
Especially in strong winds which are every day and all day.

Doug picks up a rock from every place he goes.
He found this heart shaped one and told me to bring it back for Arka.
I laughed and walked away.
Looking back I should have kept it as a lift for my side stand because its too short and I have to really push hard or hop on at velocity to get it upright. You'll understand later. 

Random black volcanic rock all by itself.

The remoteness of this island is sometimes creepy.
The "towns" or communities are spaced out evenly and quite small.
When riding there are some different rules of the road.

Gas. Fill up often and before you get to half a tank.
These bikes have very small tanks.
Doug ran out once and I went and got him a 7up bottle of gas.
It also helps to know how much distance you can travel on a tank.
We are still wondering that everyday. Oh adventure right?

Food. Stop at the first place you see for food.
Don't circle around looking for the perfect place. 
Stop and eat.
Hotels are usually best, not in terms of price as they are the most expensive, but their menus have the greatest variety, they serve just about all of it all day and the quality is usually good.

Had this lamb stew.
Blew it out within minutes of the end of the meal.
Sometimes the bacteria is just the wrong kind. 
Doug had the same emergency run to the toilet.  
Still it tasted good.

Then stopped at the next 'town' for Petra's rock collection.
And let me tell you there are plenty of rocks here in Iceland.
Less than 10% of the land is suitable for farming.
And there are 600,000+ sheep and 300,000 people. 
On the dirt roads I am glad to see the rocks, at least we have some traction.
Never thought I'd aim for the gravel section of the road.
But it's either that or riding on snot. 

Every town in every fjord has some boats or a marina.
And each restaurant menu has the fresh catch of the day.
I've had:
Blue Ling
Wolf fish (this is one heck of a cool looking fish and delicious)
Arctic Char

For a girl who doesn't like fish....that's not bad. 

Once in a while we see trees. 
Not the trees we are used to but some little ones.
They have somehow managed to survive the incredibly high winds.

I just love these crazy long words.
Listening to Doug try and pronounce them is hysterical.

Found some dirt roads too.
They call them gravel but it's more like hard packed dirt. 
Which turns to snot when they are wet. 
And we did plenty of these snot covered roads. 
The mud is so thick on my gear, it flakes off when it dries. 
It's kinda fun being dirty for a while. 

The Icelandic ponies are just everywhere.

And they are usually laying down.
Kinda unusual behavior for horses but then again, its always windy and cold here.
So even though they have shaggy coats, I think they do it to keep warmer.
Or they are just lazy. Whichever one works for me.

Arrived at our pre-booked Askja Guesthouse on a fjord. 
These little cabins were out there on a peninsula. 

Our place was shaped like a barn.
They use corrugated tin for the outsides of the buildings.
Every place I walk into, I feel like I'm in an IKEA showroom.
It's minimalism to the extreme. 
It's neat actually.

Icelanders aren't a smiley bunch.
Generally aren't very friendly the way we think of friendly,
 but they will go out of their way to help you.
They are also very calm and accommodating.
When I forgot my passport in the inside pocket of my laundry,
the lady drove across town (well it's less than 1 km)
to bring it back to me instead of letting me get it the next day.

Sometimes we have a private bath but often it's a shared bath.
And the showers have these cool dials for the intensity of hot water.
Straight from underground thermal heated water.
Iceland doesn't believe in scald guards, so watch out when you fiddle even a little with the knobs.

Gindle. Chilling.
These little twin beds are all the same.
A small quilt on top.
A pillow.
Reasonably soft and never saggy.

We were two buildings away from the best restaurant in town.
You would never know from the outside. 
This was a working fish harbor house back in the early 1900's. 

Cool sliding 'speakeasy' style door.
Yep that's my shadow. 
With my viking beanie. 

The boys getting served.

The upstairs is a bit of a museum. 
The original kitchen. See the wood burning stove in the back right corner?
Washboard and metal tub for laundry.

Original bunk beds the fishermen slept in.
Complete with pocket knife scraped initials. 

An old table with writing instruments and random tools.
And what looks like Thor's hammer. 
I think Thor did take some time off from the latest Avengers movie.

These are the original glass buoy.
Before there was plastic, these were made out of glass and it helped the nets float.
One of these things weighs a lot, imagine bringing in a wet net, full of fish with glass buoy's. 
Oh that's another thing, Icelandic men are wiry and strong. 
No beer bellies here. 

Sheep's horn.

This is the lower area. Nice hun?

The bar is literally a dingy cut in half. 

Butter is served on a cold rock.
This butter is even better than butter from Quebec.
I'm bringing some back in my luggage. 
And salt, salt is a big deal here.
Lava salt and Nordur Salt
A special process of using geothermal heated water to get it flaky. 
Nearly everything here is created in a sustainable method. 

I had fish. Again. Forget which kind now. 
Who cares, it's always delicious.
Caught that day in the water just in front of our guesthouse.

The next day we took off for lake Myvtan.

But I just had to stop to take photos of this guy's house. 
I think they believe in elves. 
There is a lot of urban legends that Icelandic people believe in Elves. 
This person makes up for their irritated neighbors who won't admit it.

Now the side stand on the bike. 
Let me explain.
See that ridiculous lean?
Whenever we stop, I have to walk around to find just the right rock.
Push the bike back upright.
Slide the rock under the side stand.
And carefully drop it on top.
What a pain!

And the bike I started with was the one Neil is now riding.
It was slightly taller which made it all the harder.
So we spent a half hour swapping gear on the bikes.

Off to lake Myvtan.
Stopped for photos of the high plateaus we sometimes rode. 
It was a nice break from riding up and down a single fjord over 30-45 mins to only go 2 km.

But not before seeing the Dettifoss falls.
These are the most massive in terms of volume of water. 
There is an East road there and a West road there. 
It said the East one was best. 
It was mostly OK but let's just say we were all glad it wasn't raining yet.
The clouds were getting darker and the forecast told us it would catch us eventually.

This time we did take the footpath down. 

See the piles of rocks to the right in the photo below?
That's OK if you don't, they are hard to spot. Just keep looking.

These are old markers left to help people navigate in bad weather before the roads were built.
The idea was that they were spaced just so that you could see them 
and not get lost by following them.

The other thing people told me is that if someone traveled using them, they were to set a new rock on each tower to mark the had passed that way and that's really how they were created.

You pick the story you like best. 

In the distance.

They are usually at least a meter high.
Apparently the snow doesn't get that thick here.

Some geo-thermal plant out there harnessing the power and heat coming out of the ground. 

Next stop, one of Doug's choices. The cow cafe.

It's a real working farm so they have cows grazing in the back.

And the calf's are inside.  

Another weird Icelandic thing.
They never bring a bill to the table.
Nope. You have to get your ass up out of your chair, 
no matter how nice and expensive the restaurant is, 
you have to get up and pay at the counter like it's McDonalds.
Weird and annoying.

I scored at this place.
The waiter said the lamb shank was very good.
And there were two sauces with it.
The are really big into sauce here. 
That green stuff is what they call 'salad'.
There is never any dressing.
This particular leafy instrument of torture had the texture of hammered metal in my mouth.

After a full belly....rode on a dirt road and got a little lost trying to find Guesthouse Brekka.
Doug commented "after losing your ass farming, it's better to cater to tourists".
We see farms with these wooden cabins.
They are probably imported. No trees on Iceland, remember?

Very nice restaurant up at the top building.
Each one of these places always has a meal hall.
The food is always delicious. 
There really is no better feeling than arriving to a clean bed, hot water shower and good meal.

Cute arts and crafts.

Door stop.

Toe buster floor sills. 
What are they you ask?
Well they are an incredibly stupid and mostly European phenomenon.
For some reason, nearly all door thresholds have a 1-2 inch lip.
Every doorway inside the house has them.
This one is between the room and the bathroom.
They are perfect for busting toes, or in my case toenails.

On our way to see the lake, this is when Doug ran out of gas.
So while those two went back on the 7up bottle of gas to that station to fill up
I circumnavigated the lake.

Not sure I like these panoramic photos.

so here is the normal one.

And the bugs. OMG!
It was a biblical hoard that rivaled Alaska and Eastern Turkey.
I kept my visor down just to not suck one in.
I did already snort one up a nostril.

Found a cheap triple for the night. 
A triple is a room with 3 beds.
It's hundreds of dollars for one of these rooms.
And all the hotels book up days in advance.
If you don't book in advance, you are screwed.
Close up of the cheap triple. 

The weather held for the first 5-6 days.
Mostly sunny.
Heavy winds.
Cold (but heck it's always cold).
Any BTW a local just told me this has been the warmest summer in years.
Then day 6, the rain started.
We spent our days riding through rain.
Slipping and sliding on snot (dirt roads) in the freezing cold.
We get up, get wet. 
Stop for lunch. 
Check in. Dry everything out.

I wouldn't be anywhere else. 
With the heated gear, my hands are warm and upper body 
and my feet are freezing cold from the rain but I like having cold feet. 
Plus those awesome motocross boot wool socks I bought in New Zealand 
still keep my feet warm even though they are soaked. 

Then before checking into our dorm style room in a converted school.
At the end of the next dirt road, I found magic.

Hut for changing and admission.

Both guys misunderstood the sign. 

The view.

And a natural hot pool on the ocean.

That island has puffins. 
I should have taken that $120 boat ride out there.
When I got to the Latrabjarg cliffs later, they had already migrated away.

Then back into town for dinner. 
Doug and I shared a fish trio.
Yep more fish.
It's either lamb or fish.
Oh and don't forget the sauce, this time some garlic creme sauce.

Servers in this country are quite different.
Mainly they perfectly time the initial delivery of your meal 
and the follow up check in to make sure everything is to your liking.

They don't ask "do you need anything else".
They ask instead "how do you like the food".
To me that's pretty different than everywhere else I've eaten.
They want to know if you like it, not if it's actually good.

Think about it. 
Didn't occur to me at first but then after having nearly perfect meal after perfect meal, it made sense. Oh and they make sure you have everything you want at the beginning of the meal, 
not halfway through it when its too late to say you need ketchup.

We ate at the blue house because the only other restaurant in town, across the street, wasn't open.
That one was red. 

Woke up to heavy rain clouds the next day. 
Our destination. Rekjanes. 
Doug pronounces it "Rek-a-Jane's"
It's pronounced "Rek-Yen-Nes"

But first, some photos of the mud-fest.
It got worse than this, at least you can still see the license plate and lights.
I had to use boiling water to get it off a couple days later.
It's like cement.
And tastes like you'd imagine cement would taste.
Why am I eating mud? 
Well the visor was so fogged up that I had to ride with it open.
My face was literally splattered with mud.

This place looked like a Russian Siberian concrete military outpost.
The floors had piped hot water. Quite common in Iceland in fact.
Walking around barefoot felt amazing. Just watch out for those stupid door edges.
There was steam coming out of the ground everywhere. 
It felt like the end of the world.

The rooms were at least 80 degrees.
Which was great for drying out our gear. 

Funny looking sign for bathing requirements 
before entering the largest geo-thermal natural pool in Iceland.

Olympic length.
Top layer of water was super hot. 
Lower layers were cooler.
And there was one ding dong doing facetime for nearly 2 hours. Loudly.
I tried to cut him out of the photo on the right.

The next day we started out with heavy cloud again and a light drizzle.
Paved. (for a bit)

Abandoned farmhouse.

Here come the boys.

These little churches dot the landscape.
In the westfjords there seems to be one for everyone farm.

Just before the dirt and just in time for the rain, stopped at this cute bakery.

Original owners who imported the house from Denmark and they still had the original keys.

Specialty here is waffles. 

Cool old photos of the fishing town a hundred plus years ago.

The buildings are often painted cool colors. 

Helicopter made out of Heineken cans.

The boys bathroom sink was a bidet. hehe

And back to snot.

Same shot but with my 2013 Dust to Dawson decal from my Alaska ride.

Came across a gorgeous waterfall.
Probably the prettiest.

There is my camelpak again.
Fill'er up!

I love this photo of Doug.

He's a bit of a contemplative fellow and with that back drop, well.....

The color of the water is just amazing.
Just like New Zealand.

Later that day, found a restaurant and ordered lamb with veggies.
I actually got some this time. 
Oh and a sauce.

Then we found our guesthouse.
Turns out we rented the whole house.
Doesn't look too impressive from the outside.
But inside there were 3 bedrooms.
A comfy living room.
A well stocked kitchen.
And fast Wi-Fi.
We decided to stay two nights.
The homes are so far apart and remote that they have their own road signs. 
We were staying at Bjarkarholt in the community of Krossholt. 
About 8 houses.

These cattle/sheep guards are everywhere. 

This place was nestled deep in a fjord.
Geeze, this island is nothing but fjords. 
With an unobstructed view of the ocean. 

Walk another 100 feet and I saw this.
Guess what? A natural hot pool right on the beach!

View back up the fjord.

Stuff the pig with a 500 bill....

Had it to myself.
That is, after the drunk, over giggly French girls left.
I didn't let on that I knew everything they commented on me about.

So I was here for about 2 hours.
Decided I would build my own rock pile.

It's about 2 inches high.
It's actually quite hard to build a rock pile that doesn't fall easily.

The next day I spent with our hosts, the owner of the house jumped on my offer to pay them to take me out to the famous Latrabjarg cliffs where the puffins nest. 
We didn't see puffins but we some some other cool stuff.

Inside of house. 
Complete with view of ocean.
The boys clicking away on their cell phones. 

I get 3 beds to myself!
And Grindle.

Kitchen reeked of lamb. 
Its like a whole lamb was grilled in this kitchen.
That's OK. 
I love lamb.

That's our host, she shared some local devil's whiskey complete with hand picked wild blueberries.
On my last night in Iceland I ordered a craft manhattan cocktail with these blueberries.
I could have drank myself to death they were so good.

Doug reveling her with stories.
He's got lots of stories.
When he's along I spend half my time giggling.
The funniest one on this trip was when I mentioned the restaurant had free coffee or tea.
And he said 'no coffee for me'. 
Doug doesn't drink coffee.
And the guy at the table next to us asked why.
He looked at him real serious and said,
"because it turns your hair grey". 

Gorgeous but deadly beaches. 

And the famous beautiful cliffs.
Truly breathtaking.
It was a long, snaking, slick, scary road to get here.
But from the passenger seat of a local's truck.
It was fun.

Notice that point jutting out in the photo above?
The second photo below is a close up.
That's the 'start' of the cliffs that measure over 30 km long.
It's the oldest part of Iceland.
The first parts of volcanic earth to protrude from the ocean.

Every year, the soft soil drops sections into the ocean.

The warning signs suggested to get on all fours and crawl to the edge.
There was also a white painted strip to remind people of the danger.
My hosts told me the year before a man was taking photos looking down, 
(just like I did to get this photo).
And he got disoriented and just fell over the edge. 

My friends for the day.
She packed lunch of sandwiches and hot chocolate.
She was so cool!

There was this old navy plane from WWII!


They cut the wings off.

Not sure why I took so many photos of this plane but anyhoo.

Lot's of boats pushed ashore.

Then they took me to a museum that turned out to be pretty neat.
All kinds of stuffed animals. 
The museum had this really nice puffin T shirt.
It was $45. 
I still regret not buying it.
I just can't get over how expensive everything here is.

This is the original equipment for a daring real life rescue of a stranded ship 
on the cliffs back in the 40's.
There was a film that we watched.
A filmmaker recreated the whole thing and during filming of that film, another ship was stranded up on the rocks and the film crew went to watch another rescue by locals just like the first one.

This is a cup to keep a man's mustache from getting liquid on it when drinking. 

Meat grinders and all kinds of kitchen implements. 

Old pharmacist bottles.

And these are puzzles.

This long hook is what they used to hunt puffins.
Yep, they eat them here.
Local's tell me it's like duck.
It's a red meat.
Never did get to eat puffin.

Eagles here are huge. 
They often nab small sheep.
Our host told us her brother's son was picked up by one and carried a few feet 
before it decided the boy was too heavy to fly awya with.

This boat had particular historical significance.

Came back to the house and we went back into town for dinner.
A Triumph Tiger 800 XC pulled up just like mine.
I was nearly giddy. 
After babbling to this Italian guy for a bit realized he didn't understand a word. 

Fish. Forgot which kind. 

The next stop was nothing special. 
It was a cold wet day. Didn't really take photos but did stop at this cute cafe.

Got up the next morning to go to our last stop.
The B&B wasn't impressive (from the outside).

Or the inside.

There was this jet shower that seemed pretty cool, 
that is until I found out the local town pool and hot tubs were right next door. 

Here's the sign I've learned to look for.
Icelanders I think spend a lot of time in these pools.
It's their way of living in a harsh, cold and dark climate most of the year.
The facilities are always amazing.
Clean. Warm. All the amenities you need.
Soap, towels. dryers. etc.
Admission is usually on $5 (or less)

I had it all to myself.
No chlorine. 
Just smelled of sulfur.

I walked out there by the steam to see where the water was coming from.

Indoor courts.

Weightlifting room.

The place was deserted.

Locker room for changing.

And the shower with scary hot water. 

Fed by the natural gushing hot water coming out just behind.

The next day we took the last 70 km road back to Reykjavik.
We went under the water through a tunnel that was pretty creepy.
We visited the opera house inside for Doug to inspect. 

We had cocktails with Sveinn, Atli and Elin.
Wish I'd taken a photo but I was feeling pretty sad that the ride was over.
2 weeks just was not enough although I guess I didn't really want to ride in cold rain anymore.

Atli commented on a nasty smell of blue cheese and I had to admit it was me.
When I was crawling around the edge of the cliffs in my pink sweats I knelt in a lot of bird poop.
Ah who cares, I'm washing my gear at the hostel later that night.

So, visit Iceland. Cheap flights on WOW airlines 
(or MOM depending on how you look at the carpet).
Bring lots of cash.
You better like seafood or lamb or it's hamburgers for you.
If you are single, great, those small twin beds are perfect.
Bring tight fitting hats and plenty of rain gear.
Oh and bring lots of cash.

And I leave you with the iconic photo of the metal sculpture of the viking ship of Reykjavik.
In the rain. 

Farewell Iceland.