Western Iceland is the land of the Sagas, the folklore that every Icelandic person seems to know in minute detail. We stopped at Eriksstadir, the birthplace of Erik the Red and also the home of Leif Eriksson, the first European to set foot in North America 500 years before Columbus.
Not to be disappointed, such a famous historical site has been recreated with the local farmer/Viking tour guide, his faithful sheep dog, and large souvenir stand not too far away. As this was early in the season we arrived to an empty place, and were treated to a long dissertation on Erik, his life, and his exploits around eastern North America. Our blond Blundstone-wearing Viking guide, with no other customers to entertain, transitioned his speech from the past to the present, and filled us in on current Icelandic politics, eco battles with alumina smelters, and Iceland’s exemplary foreign aid donations to Third World countries.
The Snaellness Peninsula in south western Iceland is home to the Snaefell Mountain, which was the inspiration for Journey to the Center of the Earth. Stykkisholmur, a small village half way along the peninsula, is the main access to the Western Fiords, in northwestern Iceland. We stopped there for a delicious lunch and quick tour around the town. It was here that we saw the most unusual form of transportation, a teenager traveling around on springed blades.
We camped at Olasvik, near the western tip of the Peninsula. This was our first encounter with an Icelandic liquor store. Most liquor stores in rural Iceland are run by the government and are open about one hour per day Monday through Friday. We kept missing the window of opportunity to by beer or wine at a moderate price, and had to pay a premium in a restaurant if we wanted alcohol. However, in Olasvik, we managed to get there when the store was open. Marg went in and explained that she wanted to purchase two cans. However, the store keeper, obviously unused to a request for such a small amount proceeded to bring out two six-packs. She was the first person we met who spoke no English, and therefore, only through sign language was Marg able to explain that she wanted two cans, not 12. The beer did taste good!
The last day of the Ringroad tour saw us take a slight detour, as the headlights of the car had only a high beam setting – something we discovered a few days into our trip. In Iceland it is mandatory to drive with headlights on. We thought that this was the case with the car, except that people kept flashing us. We stopped to see whether there was a problem, and sure enough both headlights did not work with the normal beam. This would prove to be problematic, as we were supposed to drive through a 6 km tunnel back to Reykjavik. The alternative was an extra hour around a fiord. We opted for the latter, and had a pleasant drive back on an almost deserted road.
Once we reached back to the main road near the city, we noticed a huge increase in traffic heading out of town. This was the first weekend of summer, and the locals were heading out of town to go camping! We had missed the crowds!
Back in Reykjavik we reflected on the past week; the wide variety of landscape we had seen, interesting people we had met, history that we had learned, and surprisingly great food that we had eaten. These elements combined together made for a truly memorable experience in the land of fire and ice!