Iceland Day 5 – Thursday, September 11, 2014
Eastfjords, Lake Lagarfljót, and the Highlands
It was nice to have breakfast at the hotel this morning instead of
another PB&J sandwich. That way, we can save our PB&Js for
lunch! Arnanes Country Hotel offered what we found to be the
typical Iceland breakfast spread, not expansive, but definitely
adequate: cereal, milk and “sour milk” (don't know, didn't try it),
coffee, juice, limited fresh fruit (very ripe banana, watermelon)
and a few vegetables (cucumber slices, tomatoes, red bell pepper),
cheese slices, cold cuts, a selection of breads, and boiled eggs.
Oh, yeah, also caviar in what looked like a toothpaste tube and a
bowl of what was probably herring (didn't try these either).
Glacier view from
Árnanes Country Hotel
The hotel also offers horseback riding, and I took some pics of the
Icelandic horses hanging out behind our room prior to checkout.
Before leaving the area, we returned to Hofn for some clearer views
than we had last night.
A few kilometers east of Hofn, we passed through a tunnel and
officially entered East Iceland, just south of the Eastfjords. This
is a desolate place, far, far from anything, on a rocky coast by a
frigid sea. We stopped for 10 minutes at a lighthouse beside the
Ring Road, the only major highway in the country, linking
everywhere to everywhere, and not a single car passed by during
this time in either direction!
As I've said, the Ring Road is the only major highway in the
country. Even so, portions of the highway in the east are actually
gravel, and one-lane bridges (and one-way tunnels) are common
throughout Iceland. Whoever gets to the bridge first has the right
of way. There's just not enough traffic to justify building a
It was over 100 kilometers from Hofn to the next town, the little
fishing village of Djupivogur, population 460. Djupivogur has a
cute harbor with colorful boats, and artistic displays abound
throughout the town. Icelanders are apparently very creative during
the long winter months. We found sculptures and murals all over the
country, in even the tiniest of towns.
Interesting Factoid: Teigarhorn, just outside of Djupivogur, is the
site of the highest temperature ever recorded in Iceland, in 1939,
30.5 degrees celsius (87F).
Eggin í Gleðivík (Eggs
of Merry Bay)
Mt. Búlandstindur at
We left the Ring Road at Breiddalsvik to continue up the coast
along some more fjords. We almost passed through Stodvarfjordur
without stopping when I spotted some interesting graffiti and had
to turn around. The artist was clearly making either an
anti-whaling or pro-whaling statement. I think probably the former,
but I can't be sure. Iceland is one of only three countries that
still permits commercial whaling. (The others are Japan and
Norway.) Honestly, I think it's more of a “you can't tell us what
to do” thing than anything else.
Whale graffiti in
Reydarfjordur is home to a big ALCOA smelter. We viewed it from
across the fjord but didn't drive into town. If I want to look at
an ALCOA plant, I can do that at home.
Reyðarfjörður - Pretty
place for a smelter
Leaving the fjords for the time being, we drove to the most major
city in this region, Egilsstadir, population 2,270. The whole town
wreaked of manure. Really, you've got to put your pig farm or
whatever right in town? You don't have enough land to place it
elsewhere? I'm glad we didn't plan to spend the night here.
Egilsstadir was the first place we'd had a chance to stop at a
Vinbudin, Iceland's government-run liquor store. The Vinbudins are
sparsely located and have limited hours, so it took us until day
five to find one during opening hours, or what I took to calling
“the golden hour.” Due to Iceland's abusive tax rate on alcohol, it
is extremely expensive. A 6-pack of domestic beer will set you back
about $30, which is still way cheaper than at a bar or restaurant,
where a 500-milliliter (pint) draft starts at $8-12 and goes up
from there! A 700-milliliter bottle of the “cheap” local liquor is
about $50, and if you want a bottle of Jack Daniel's, you're gonna
have to sell a kidney. Still, we made a couple of purchases...
Next on our agenda: the circumnavigation of Lagarfljot, Iceland's
largest lake. At 20 square miles, it's big enough for its own lake
monster, the Lagarfljot Worm. I kept my eyes open but unfortunately
didn't spot it. Shoot!
Sunny day at
The biggest forest in Iceland, Hallormsstadaskogur, is on the east
side of Lagarfljot. We were relieved to see trees after days of
seeing so few. It's truly a proper forest, even though the trees
are kind of skinny. At one point we stumbled upon a logging
operation, and the logs were about as big around as my arm. As they
say, “If you're lost in an Icelandic forest, just stand up.”
I'd planned for us to hike to Hengifoss waterfall today, but last
night we decided to skip it to save time. The hike would take at
least a couple of hours, and we had other places to explore. So I
was thrilled to spot Hengifoss from Rt. 931. I didn't know it was
visible from the road! It was pretty far away – we were on the east
side of the lake and the fall was on the west – but I'll take
At Rt. 910 Tom turned on what our map showed as an “F” road (4WD
only), but it turns out it's now paved. The road rose steeply from
the lake, reaching an elevation of over 700 meters. Yeah, that's
only 2,700 feet, but believe me, it's a whole different weather
system up in the Icelandic highlands. There it was extremely windy
and 45 degrees, whereas by the lake it had been sunny and
approaching 60. The landscape was stark, and we had great views of
Vatnajokull, the third-largest ice cap in the world, and Snaefell,
the highest mountain in Iceland outside the glacial regions, at
1,833 meters (6,014 feet).
We followed Rt. 910 for 57.5 kilometers to where the road ended at
the dam for the Karahnjukar Hydropower Plant, built to power
ALCOA's smelter that we saw earlier today at Reydarfjordur. At the
dam, we were as close as you were allowed to get to the ongoing
volcanic eruption at Holuhraun, about 24 miles away, and the sulfur
dioxide in the air made our eyes burn. The ash cloud was obvious to
the west, and it made for a spectacular sunset later on!
Kárahnjúkastífla Dam -
Note the ash cloud
It was getting toward evening, so we hightailed it out of the
highlands, filled up with gas in Egilsstadir, and then headed back
to the Eastfjords and the town of Seydisfjordur, where our room for
the night awaited.
Rt. 63 between Egilsstadir and Seydisfjordur is breathtakingly
beautiful and breathtakingly frightening. We paused at the top of
the highest non-tunneled mountain pass in Iceland to look back at
the lake, then drove past crystal high-altitude lakes formed from
the still-melting snow hanging on from last winter, and then
descended into a valley of uncountable waterfalls. The descent was
hair-raising, down switchback after steep switchback on a narrow
two-lane road with no shoulders, but it led to one of the prettiest
places we've ever been. There was nowhere to pull over for photos,
so I'll just have to keep it in my memory forever.
Our room for the night was at Nord Marina Guesthouse in the little
fishing village of Seydisfjordur, population 675. When we drove up,
I thought we had found the Beirut of Iceland, but the inside of the
place was actually nice. We got a large room with a private bath
and a shared kitchen for $103. We learned from the old man with
missing fingers that runs the place that our guesthouse was a
former herring-processing facility, but when the area became
overfished, they still had to make money somehow, so they turned to
tourism. The place has character! It was right on the dock, like
take-a-wrong-step, fall-in-the-fjord close. Awesome!
I made some spaghetti with speck (salami) for dinner and we had a
couple of decent beers we'd bought at the Vinbudin, Kaldi Dokkur,
389 ISK each. I'd also bought a bottle of Brennivin, an Icelandic
liquor, which translates to “burning wine.” I kind of liked it.
It's a clear, unsweetened schnapps flavored with some kind of
Sign our guestbook