Michael Phoenix heads north to explore the Land of Fire and Ice.
“No luck. No luck… No luck.” Cars and sleepy minutes crept by under the heatless morning sun. Folded out thumbs bent up towards the middle of nowhere Icelandic sky. I looked up at the mountain, stuff frozen melting northern glaciers, sildenafil woolen jumper itching. Waiting on a ride.
Making our way around Iceland: where giant spidering monster trucks will never give you a ride; where little fish on one kroner coins wink valueless eyes; where hot water smells of sulphur and carnivorous is an honest word; where the sun doesn’t rise or set but just hangs or hides and time is defeated.
It all started on a toy airplane to Reykjavik full of hot pink air hostess uniforms shimmying down the aisles kindly asking us to remember to stop screaming if we found ourselves falling through the sky to an almost certain watery grave, generic and to admire the fashionable cut of the hopefully never (ever) to be used emergency life jackets. That’s quite exactly how it went. We flew with Wowair, a new budget airline.
When we escaped we walked out into the fluffy bearded hug of Iceland’s capital city. It’s a circle in the south west corner of the country that makes up 200 000 of its 320 000 population. Really there is no one in Iceland, but its streets are louder than you think. They’re very clean too and all seems to lead to water somehow. A storm blew in while we were there and roared at the worried wooden houses. We stayed in a friend’s house for two nights and saw everything there is to see but Iceland is not about its cities and we made for the road. I carried our little fold up triangle house on my back and she carried our food. Two warmish sleeping bags too. (Not warm enough – Iceland)
Route 1 circles the country in 1,400km. It phases between strong black tarmac road leading out of Reykjavik, and falling failing mountain paths made of brown dirt that trickles down the eastern fjords. We followed it the whole way, through and past amazing unpronounceable places carried in the cars and vans and the chicken smelling trucks of kind strangers and pressed upon tourists and crazed lunatics who in the end just let us and helped us live. We stood at road sides and wondered upwards and on cliff sides gazing downwards, all the time making our way somewhere with thumbs and sandwiches and chocolate bars and strong liquid night time spirits. On the south coast we sat cross-legged and happy waiting an hour for a ride looking up at Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier. In the north we crowded in back seats huddling knees, and leaned down from the mountains into ice water near Akureyri.
In Iceland we often found ourselves alone on the road, but eventually we always got lifts, and the trick is to know or at least believe, that you always will in the end. Sometimes there would only be one or two cars every half hour and while you wait the country surrounds you and you notice. We were two, but we travelled with the heaving geysers and the black sand beaches and the devil cut towering mountains and the waterfalls that fell from them. If you stopped at one point in the Icelandic countryside and just stayed, you would get lost where you were and forget about everywhere else. It happened to us in two nights, with our tent door opening to Lake Myvatan. On the third day we stumbled upon the road again and realised we had to keep moving. Momentum is important on long hitch hiking journeys. If I could do it again I wouldn’t take a return flight.
Along the way we searched for whales and found them well-hidden so broke promises not to eat them. We found tied up locked in hot water springs made up of crushed black stones and foamy milk blue water that smelt until we got used to it. We stood at the bottom of wind tunnel valleys and asked silent farmers for food and rode a single 300km lift where she slept in the back seat whilst I sat in the front exhausted and wanting to but instead having to talk and so found out things and told her later: stories from the Viking saga’s; planned visits to sadly emigrated children – married and working and never coming back to Iceland; and the names of all the mountains, which are the only things I from the adventure that I ever expect to forget.