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Iceland Photo Safari

The first few days in the city were a great way to acclimate, and now we’re ready for the beginning of ICELAND PHOTO SAFARI (BABY), a chant Jake invented during our first “photo safari” in Colorado, almost 2 years ago!!!! sheesh how time flies.

It was our last morning waking up in the Reykjavík apartment which was bittersweet. Though last night the streets were booming with party animals, which kept Jake and I up later than we would have liked. I seriously think we are grandma and grandpa with how much sleep we need and how much we don’t like the noise of those young hooligans (that are probably actually older than we are!).

Anyways, we worked it out with the Rent.IS company for them to pick us up directly at our place by 9AM. Just enough time for a quick Skyr and coffee breakfast and some last-minute packing to get out the door just in time. He drove us back out towards the Whale museum to their HQ office. We told him all about our sailing adventures and upcoming plans while in Iceland and beyond. We learned he was from Denmark and moved to Iceland 12 years ago to start this business. He was super nice!

After some quick paperwork we walked out to check out RV(recreational van) Bosco as we dubbed it. Its called the Renault Traffic 3, a french model-van equipped with some pretty badass customizations! The inside was very modern and minimal with a great fold-down kitchen table-into bed, a cute little kitchenette type area and some decent storage compartments built-in. The van is manual, so that means Jakey will have to take the reigns since I’m a new school gal. And we even have our own wifi and GPS so it should be easy to navigate!



Everything about the van was similar to SV Bosco, so we felt extremely comfortable right away. As Jake started her up and pulled out of the parking, he noticed something creaking and mentioned the clutch felt strange and within 5 seconds something else popped…a huge screw behind the clutch fell off before he even got out of first gear! Not a great start (just like Bosco to give us trouble!). We walked back into the shop to call the guy who came back out to try to figure out what he could do, if anything. And since there are no more vehicles to rent (they were currently all taken), we didn’t have much choice, so hopefully this part isn’t THAT important! After a quick eval, it was deemed to be not a big deal, marked off our sheet and then said if there’s a problem just take it to any station and they will fix it on them (that’s nice). I guess that part isn’t important? We shall see.

It figures that something would break on us..remind you of anything *cough – boat – cough*. Take 2 and we’re off!

It didn’t take long for all of our food and gear to fly all over the place – gosh this is more and more like the boat its kind of hilarious. We found the compartments, while they work great when the van isn’t moving, were terrible at keeping food in place, because everything was super slick and there were no rails or fiddles to hold anything. We tried to rig a safety net with the suitcases which kind of worked…its a process.

we navigated the roads back to our apartment to grab the last of our stuff and now to figure out where to go next? We didn’t drive very far only about a block and Jake parked in the first spot at “Bonus”. This time we opted to stock up on a few more goods (and now we know what we like here) before we leave the city proper.

It took a little while to get the hang of everything. Driving in a new country is hard enough, but with a huge van and manual shifting (which Jake hasn’t done in years) and with our stuff continually flying off the shelves all the while trying to navigate was kind of crazy. Once we actually got out of the crowded city and found our main road: Hringvegur, Ring, or Highway 1.

We were very happy to be in the camper this van feels more like us…the apt was nice but I like this better. Freedom of the open road. At times it would randomly downpour and get very cloudy and foggy, or windy and cold. The weather really does move fast around here, even more than in Boulder.

It was so pretty every single turn would bring into view a new picturesque masterpiece. We stopped at one overlook so I could take some pics but it was so windy and cold, so I had to rig everything up in the van. It took awhile to get settled. There were some adorable sheep (billy sheep we call them) and long-hair Icelandic horses. We saw some small volcanoes and then it started to downpour and rainbows sprouted from the ground. All of this stuff is what makes Iceland so fun. Its constantly changing.


We stopped at the next town, Selfoss, to find the infamous Icelandic hot dog. And the place was packed! We started with 1 hot dog (to start) and asked the woman how to order them in true Icelandic fashion. She said, 2 dogs with everything is what you want. They are more like fancy german sausage than the hot dogs we know in America and they are covered with raw onions and crunchy onions, sweet mustard, a brown ketchup and red ketchup. The hot dogs are as good as they say – better! We will definitely double-down next time!

There really wasn’t much of a plan other than to head north towards the “Golden Circle“, which is probably the most visited area in Iceland by tourists and travelers. This is due to its excellent location near Reykjavík and stunning attractions including Þingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall, and the geothermal area in Haukadalur, geysers Geysir and Strokkur, which erupts every 10 minutes.




Sidenote: Iceland has become wildly popular over the last few years, case in point the original geyser called Geysir is empty of people until only a couple years ago and today it is JAM-PACKED with tourists. We met a guy at our camp in Skjól who said many of the beautiful places in Iceland have been ruined by tourists so that now locals keep special places a secret, so as not to ruin the magic. A place that has only 300,000 locals but over 1 million tourists at a time definitely makes an impact.

It was weird to be in a traffic jam on the way up to the waterfall and back down toward our camp sight in Skjól. The camp grounds were nice. The WC (water closet) has proper toilets and sinks and a shower and an area in the back to wash dishes, which was very handy.

Here comes the rain again. It was super cold so we rigged the heater in the van (which was EXCELLENT). That was when I broke out our map, a pen and our little travel book while we sipped hot tea. It was a perfect time of day to figure out the next place to go…tomorrow.

Jake was the chef on RV Bosco, as he has mad camp-cooking skills. We whipped up chicken cordon bleu with salad and tomato. it was very yummy, but we kind of wish that we brought our own pots and pans, because the ones provided suck. We did bring our handy collapsible tea pot from the boat and our mugs, which were great. The butane was a pretty poor heat source for cooking, as its very sensitive to temperature changes.

As the camp ground started to fill in, we noticed several people doing some tent-camping. An older woman was camping with her daughter for the last 3 months, they’ve been hitchhiking around the country. There was another couple from the Netherlands that ferried their RV over from Denmark for an extended vacation. A ferry would be fun!

All-in-all it was a really great first day/night in the camper van. This van is great but it could use a bit of thought on some of the design-choices. Perhaps just a few minor things to improve the shelving so things don’t fall everywhere. And our fridge was tiny and did not stay closed unless we put something in front of it. But otherwise its pretty good.

I was glad that it came with a full assortment of sleeping bags and blankets because it was frigid at night. We turned off the heater just as we climbed into bed.

Snaefellsnes

Last night seemed promising for a great, quiet night. But sure enough, an army of campers rolled in late making tons of noise. Though we both fell asleep quickly, I kept waking up as the campers kept banging their doors and cooking food and chattering. Thank goodness I brought ear plugs!

BRRRRRRRRR…..it got cold last night. Only 35 degrees and it rained most of the night. That just added to the chill and it was hard to get up in the morning. Thankfully our little heater worked wonders and warmed the van in a short time.

Skyr and granola for a quick mini-breakfast with some hot tea and coffee. We ate fast so we could get on the road fast. It was funny because last night there were so many cars here, but apparently everyone was up and about early so no one is left.

We drove back down passed Geysir and then into Þingvellir National Park, where we hoped to do some hiking today. The drive was so pretty, but it was gray and wet and cold. When we finally pulled up to the main entrance, we noted that there were lots of cute sheep and mountains and lakes and lava fields and waterfalls and even the ocean! No wonder everyone comes to Iceland its paradise for nature-lovers.



We stopped at only a couple pullouts along the way because we find its difficult to slow the van down going 90kmh with manual transmission. That and there is not a real shoulder on the side of the road, so often we will be driving too fast to slow and stop, and its hard to turn around. So we did miss a bunch of photo opts – but just like the weather – there is no shortage of perfect picturesque terrain here when the sky cleared.

Lunch was good but it’s a struggle to prep food in foul weather in a small van. Our stuff is scattered everywhere and it’s hard to stay organized…even harder than the boat if you can believe it! Plus it’s cold and wet. Soup was the best medicine and salami sammies with caesar dressing! Cleanup was kind of a B** poor Jake stood in the rain and spilled apple juice all over our coats and we broke a jar of tomato sauce. I think Jake picked up the Iceland curse, or just the perfect storm of klutziness.

We struggled to escape Þingvellir and took a few wrong turns before getting back on the road toward Snaefellsnes Peninsula and western Iceland. Holy cow it was such a gorgeous drive, if only the weather was just a little better to take pics.

The drive was about 3 hours. Once we got off the ring road we didn’t encounter much traffic. We saw Reykjavik from across the water and had a fun drive under a 5 km tunnel under the water which was cool…but we didn’t realize we had to pay a toll on the other side…we actually were in the wrong way lane with no way to get over so with no way to stop and turn around we ended up not paying…whoops.

The last bit of the drive followed the coast and the seas were raging. I was drenched after running out to take some quick video for maybe 10 seconds.  

Ólafsvík was a pretty cool sea-side town with an amazing waterfall that was right next to the road. Just a few miles further is Hellissandur and our camp ground. The wind was blowing over 30 knots (haha) so we were rocking a lot. I’m not positive, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this van could blow over in wind slightly stronger than this. Hot tea helped warm our bones. I wish I packed a towel since its so wet and everything we’ve been wearing is wet. 38 degrees and raining hard isn’t ideal for hiking around. Tomorrow shows clearer weather, I’ll believe it when I see it!

Thank goodness the prediction came true. We had semi-clear skies, with only thin cloud coverage, but I think we will be free of rain at least this morning! Another frigid morning at 34 degrees. Our little heater is amazing though. We were so excited about the prospect of good weather, we made a breakfast burrito feast and then were on our way.

Now officially in Snæfellsnes National Park, it was gorgeous. Sheep were baaaaaad because they weren’t behind their fence, but roaming all over the street. Zero cars and tons of spectacular sights made the morning drive perfect. We stopped off at a crater to hike to the top (which was way cool). Hiking up here totally brought flashbacks of shows like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones to mind.

We continued along and found what looked like a decent pullout to take pics. Then followed that rhythm for the next couple of kilometers until we reached an interesting volcanic peak on our starboard (its still hard to shake boat lingo). It was interesting because it was all black and a shorter peak but still steep and then we saw a perfect lighter brown ring along the edge…we followed the short road and parked at the base. I realized the lighter ring were actually stairs…all the way to the top! These weren’t normal stairs either but really wide and very short like just 2 or 3 inches tall and apart from the next stair. It took awhile to get to the top because there were so many shallow stairs but they were too wide to comfortably take 2 at a time. 



At the top was the remains of a huge crater left to nature and completely grown over w grasses and moss. The clouds rolled in and the wind was frigid. There were a few splashes of rain but this was too cool.

We followed the terrain of sea to one side and sprawling cliffs on our other. There were so many scenic places…I felt bad telling Jake to pull over every few minutes so at times I just tried to snap shots from the car. We found a pretty cool cave that looked like you could hike up and into it. So we pulled over and there were a few other cars nearby. The hike was amazing. Pretty black laval rock covered in rich green moss and shrubbery that lined its surface. There was a small river carved out of the center of the cave entrance and of course, a waterfall.


After our detour, we saw that there were a few options for our return toward the main road. We opted to take the “scenic” route (hopefully the road is okay). It was gravely but totally worth it to go up through lava fields and mountain peaks and down a REALLY steep bank. There was a nice large volcano out in the distance and some pretty fun ruins, that would be perfect feature in Iceland Photo Safari (baby).



Kirkjufellsfoss was the last of the tourist spots along our path. Obviously it shows, because all of a sudden masses of people were everywhere. I broke out all of my fancy camera gear, ND filter, stand and remote and we spent about an hour doing a photo shoot. In retrospect the big camera setup is such a pain but it makes for great photos!




By now we were a bit photo’d out if you can believe it. We stopped in a nearby town for double dose of hot dogs *yummy* and then up to a little town called Hvammstangi, with a gorgeous camping area and fjord. This little town only has about 500 residents and our camp ground was up on the outskirts in a secluded valley. Now if only it was less cold (or wet).

I opted to take a shower at this place, which proved difficult. Showering in camp grounds here is very bare bones. And its hard because there is never anywhere to hang your stuff, and the floor was really cold. Thankfully the water was hot due to geothermal natural hot springs everywhere. Iceland is perfect for Photo Safari. All we need for it to be perfect is for the clouds to thin and maybe get a glimpse of the Northern Lights.

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