Tuesday, 25 August 2015

ICELAND in a week for only 100€. Who said Iceland is expensive?

Seljalandsfoss. The most beautiful waterfall in Iceland in my opinion 

On the ring road in 6 days in Iceland
Exactly 6 nights is what I had in Iceland. I knew I was cutting it pretty short with my ambitious plan to go on the ring road…but it was already in my head and no chance getting it out.  

SECRETS OF THE ICELAND RING ROAD
A full loop around Iceland on the Ring road - Route 1 is 1340km (830 milkes)— is the only route that circles the island. It feels like someone put the most amazing natural phenomenon I’ve seen around the world in a blender: volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, icebergs, geysers, geothermal pools…all crammed onto this island. If you are not that impressed by one, you are just a few hours from the next. And you cannot do it by bus…the buses don’t go to the sights..thy only go from town to town…unless you are on an organized tour but that’s is not something that I would ever do anyways.
So either you need to rent a car (it will cost you minimum 500€ for a week, petrol on top) or if you are travelling alone just hitchhike. It is very common there and Icelanders are pretty nice and stop often...plus they are super proud of their country and want to show you more than whats written in the guides. Sometimes they would go out of their way just to show you some hidden view or local event that you would never find on your own.
I did try to team up with other people and rent a car together before getting to Iceland but it was so complicated that I quickly gave up. And hitch hiking was my only chance to see as much as possible in a week.

COST. Even when it is expensive it could turn out cheap.
I think most of you done a fair bit of travelling would agree that Iceland is probably the most expensive country in Europe together with Norway…(and Europe is probably the most expensive continent with a few exceptions here and there. The good news is that even in the most expensive country you can travel cheap.
Flight cost aside, all I spent in Iceland during my 1 week stay, was 100€ making a loop around the island . I changed 140€ at the airport but when I got back I had some crowns left so got 40€ back for them. In total I spent 100€ which includes a 10€ bottle of wine I bought as a present for my first Couchsurfing host at the airport. All food, accommodation, transport is included. Well I did hitchhiked 90% of the time, and I stayed in hostels only 2 nights but I think I did pretty well anyways.
1 EURO – 150 kronas

KEFLAVIK AIRPORT.
The flight from Barcelona to Reykjavik with WOW air takes 4h10min and I was very surprised to find out that the one from Boston is also only 4h..Somehow I always thought of Iceland as part of Europe but it turns out it could be closer to the US.
Landed at 1,25am Icelandic time on the 2nd of Sept. Pretty stupid time but that’s the low cost airlines, can’t complain… Also the Bardarbunga volcano had just erupted and I was happy enough to have made it to Iceland as all the flights were cancelled the day before. Soit was neither to try to make it to the Reikjavik, nor to have a sleep. I decided to try the second though, at the airport…Wasn’t the only one..Not for long though cause they came to wake us up at around 4,30am because the check in was about to start it was inappropriate to lie there…bastards! So I moved to one of the chairs and the atmosphere was completely different at 7 am when I woke up: flooded with American soldiers.
Temperature: 7-11 C. I literally came from the beaches to what we call winter in Barcelona..but it was expected. Warm hat and gloves – obligatory. 
Before and after


Day 1. Airport - Reykjavik - Hveragerdi - Golden Circle - Hveragerdi. 
First glance at Reykjavik

Got quickly a ride at the airport to Reykjavik with an American guy who was coming to go salmon fishing somewhere in the north and then easily found another ride to Hveragerdi. Hveragerdi is a land of thundering waterfalls and steaming hills, where water spurts as well as forming pools, only 40 min north from Reikjavik. 
There my CouchSurfing host Maria Anna lived. I literally just dropped my bags in her house and headed to the Golden circle, probably the most popular thing to do in Iceland, being so close to Reykjavik. It is a classic tour that comprises Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and the geyser and hot spring area around Geysir. I got a few rides with tourist, was lucky to find this Polish couple and did the whole circle with them.
Here is where the Polish couple picked me up
The Polish couple in Thingvellir

Geysir

Geysir
Gullfoss
Gullfoss
Maria Ana and her dog
Got back to Hveragerdi quite late but luckily it gets dark late so was able to make it “home” before it gets dark. Maria Ana was such a nice host. Or should I call her Maria Anna the savior as she  actually planned my route around Iceland. Working as a tourist guide so she is quite familiar with both the touristic sites and hidden gems in Iceland. I wasn’t sure whether or not I will be able to make the loop on the ring road hitch hiking in only 6 days but she encouraged me to do it, often hitchhiking herself to the northern side of the island to Akureiri  where she was studying. 

Day 2. The route was Hveragerdi hike - Sellfos - Hella, Seljalandsfoss - Skogafoss - Dyrholaey - Vik -Kirkjubaejarklaustur. 
As Anna Maia suggested next morning I went on a hike to find the hot spring river. The climb is about 2 hours and it's pretty challenging mostly because of the weather and almost entirely uphill. You are rewarded with amazing views, waterfalls, and geothermal pools and springs all around. Towards the end of the hike, just when you're thinking that you took the wrong trail and ready to quit, the trail takes a turn and then you see a spring running through the valley that is indeed, hot. The weather wasn’t great and I made it all wet, covered in mud to my waist…But it was all worth it. 



Hot spring river. Right in the middle of nowhere

Seljalandsfoss

I left Maria Ana´s house pretty late (had to dry my shoes after the hike, they were completely soaked. One thing I realised is a must do in Iceland is that you do have to book your bed in advance. Every single hostel or hotel that had affordable beds in the next 300km was fully booked. Finally I was lucky and managed to book a bed for the night in a hostel in Kirkjubaejarklaustur (just try to pronounce it), which was 210km away and there were so many plcaes I had to stop and see on the way. 

Seljalandsfoss might not the biggest waterfall in Iceland, and not the tallest either. But it is the most beautiful waterfall I think. It felt very magical walking behind it.


Waiting again. got a bit stuck here...



Skogafoss
Skogafoss
Dyrholaey Arch is an obligatory stop along Iceland's South Coast. The turnoff to Dyrholaey from Iceland's Ring Road is located 12 km west of the village of Vik i Myrdal. A paved road leads south over a dam and ends after nearly 6 km at the lower viewpoint. It´s a shame I couldn´t go to the giant basalt columns but it was almost sunset and had to hurry up. 
I got dropped off at the bus station in Vic to take my first and only bus in Iceland. Made it to the hostel in Kirkjubaejarklaustur (would buy a beer to anyone who is not from Iceland but able to pronounce it!!) just when a group of 15 Polish guys were making a feast in the kitchen. I think the receptionist just had a quick look at me and at them, and gave me a private room instead of the dorm bed I had booked just for the same price. Probably he also imagined what I pictured in my head – big Polish guys taking turns snoring all night. 


Day 3Kirkjubaejarklaustur - Skaftafel - Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon - Hofn - Reydarfordur - Egilsttadir - Seydisfordur. The goal was to reach Seydisfordur by sunset, the music and arts hub of east Iceland. 
I was really really lucky getting a ride for almost 500 km with this old guy who was going to see a friend in Nescaupstadur. One ride that took me all the way to Egilsttadir, stopping at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and Skaftafel nature reserve and passing through all the fiords on the east coast. I sure had luck that day. landscapes and colors were constantly changing and I took so many photos that now I can´t even choose which one to post. 



When you're heading to Iceland, you obviously expect to find ice.. even in the summer. But probably not that much, ice in all shapes and colours and they change as the sun oor the clouds move in at particular angle… Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is one of the most amazing natural wonders of Iceland. As soon as you arrive, you're hit with unspoiled nature where huge icebergs calve off Vatnajokull, the largest glacier in Europe. 

Still 270km to go

Almost in Seydisfordur
Seydisfordur
A place of singing waterfalls and peculiar characters, Seydisfjordur is a welcoming town booming with creativity and full of all kind of berries that no one eats (and they are so delicious!!). Inhabited by about 700 people, lots of them artists, musicians and craftspeople, the town acts as one big family and everybody is welcome. If you visit only one town in the Eastfjords, this should be it. The multicoloured wooden houses and the surrounding snowcapped mountains and cascading waterfalls made Seyðisfjörður the most interesting place in whole Iceland for me.
And here it is Seydisfordur...I made it
Matching

I couchsurfed with a guy from Belgium - the only couchsurfer in town who came 6 years ago and just stayed working in the hospital as a cook...There was  more guests - a French couple who were going the opposite direction to me on the loop - clockwise. We exchanged some tips where to go and what to see from what we´ve done so far and it turned out that I was going to stay with the same host they stayed with in Akureyri. It was a very clear night and we were constantly checking for Northern lights which is the thing I wanted to see the most, even though I knew it was too early...but no luck. imagine my disappointment next morning when I was told by a group of French guys that they saw them....right there in Seydisfordur, where I was...I am such an idiot...who knows when I will have another chance to see them :(!

My lovely host from Belgium

There were all kind of weird projects everywhere...



What I personally loved the most was the amount of berries everywhere


Day 4. Seydisfordur – Egilsttadir – Mivatn lake (so many things to do) - Godafoss - Akureyri
Saying goodbye to Seydisfordur




Hverir
Lake Myvatn. You can easily spend 2,3 days only doing the hikes around lake Myvatn or visiting all the sights. Just so much to do and again, lots to wild berries to eat. I started with the hot mud pots area Hverir (one of the hottest in Iceland), then the Mt Krafla and Viti crater. I think I did quite a lot for the short time I had but also I did get lucky as while in the Grjotagja fissure met a group of 4 from Germany who invited me to join them while exploring the area (they had a car!) and they were also heading to Akureyri afterwards. So we climbed together to Mt Hverjall and walked around the rim of the crater (it takes an hour) and then visited Skutustadagigar - an easy walk through pseudocraters.

Viti Crater





Grjotagja cave. water was way too hot..you can barely dip you tows for a few seconds

Mt Hverjall

Skutustadagigar


Godafoss
Akureyri. The capital of North Iceland greeted me with viking beer and whale steak - loved the first and probably won´t try the second again. My host Steinn left me the keys for his house and waited for him until he comes back from work in the Viking beer factory. He used to go to Barcelona a lot and was really happy with my present - a fuet. 
I liked the town a lot, very vivid and kind of stylish, I wish I had the time to stay longer.
Unpronounceable



Day 5. Akureyri – Osar - Hvitserkur rock. As I made it that far only in 4 days, I decided that I deserve a break. As much as I wanted to go to fiordland, even i knew that it is very risky to go there hitchiking...out of the season not that many cars go that way so didnt wanna risk missing my flight...especially when Bardarbunga volcano was still blowing lava and it was very unclear whether or not there will be an air ban. So day 5 was supposed to be short in km. My initial plan was to make it to Saeberg Youth hostel because of the hot tube they had outside but I got stuck in Osar. 

Leaving Akureyri I got a ride with a very interesting guy who told me so much about Icelanders and their lives and habits. He even made a stop so I can see the typical for this time of the year Réttir - traditional Icelandic sheep round up. Every September, all over Iceland groups of farmers and horsemen with their mountain king or queen herd their sheep down from the summer pastures in the highlands down to “Réttir”, large corrals where the sheep are sorted. They grab them by their horns, mount them and drag into the the right section.
The way they recognize old sheep and lambs is by a special ear marking. After the sheep are sorted they’re taken to their home farms for the winter. the kids also seemed to enjoy it very much.

Youth Hostel Osar. This is an ideal hostel for those looking for a peaceful getaway with beautiful sunsets, wildlife and unspoiled nature. But after seeing the famous Hvitserkur rock and the seals colony...there is not much to do there. Icelandic legend says it that the rock was a troll who forgot to retreat from the light and was turned to stone in the sunrise, though from some angles it is said to look like a dragon drinking from the water. looks more like a dinosaur to me but anyways...And not having a car myself I kind of got stuck there as the only visitors coming this way were staying in the hostel so had no choice and had to spend the night there.




Day 6. Osar - Saeberg - Reikjavik. My only goal for the day was to make it to Reykjavik which seemed relatively easy. I just couldn´t get out of my head that hot tube in front of the black sand beach that the Youth hostel in Saeberg had. Knowing that I cannot stay there (my flight was the next day) I still decided to go. Hitched a ride quickly to the turn off and then walked the few km to the hostel and simply asked them if I can use the hot tube. Of course was the answer :)) 
It made my day...I left so charged and thankful.



Waiting again
Day 7: Reykjavik - Keflavik airport. At the end I made it to the capital of Iceland and had exactly one day to explore it. The weather wasn´t great, pissing down with rain but I discovered what the best thing is to do in Iceland when it rains. The public swimming pools. I knew that every town has its public outdoor swimming pool which has nothing to do with normal swimming pools. I would call them spas. God, they are amazing! So many little hot tubes with different temperature, water slides, big and smaller pools....it is just incredible. And it costs nothing, real cheap (I think around 4-5€) when in Europe you pay at least 45€ for that.
I couchsurfed with Martin who was working during the day but in the night we spent some time talking and it was nice to hear more Icelandic stories from him. 

No, I didn´t see Puffins, they were already gone :(
I still wonder if they exist. maria Ana was convinced that the elves helped her many times in the mountains and I am more to think they exist

Harpa concert and conference center was pretty nice!

My last day I spent walking around the city more, meeting Martin at the theater where he works and heading to the airport. My flight was not cancelled, the volcano was only spitting lava but not ash this time so everything was good. Can't think of any other country which offers scenes of such unusual beauty. So full of colours and unique views but also very intense week. And yeah, you can travel Iceland on a budget - only 100€ in a week and a whole circle around the island! It is possible!

The cheapest flights in Europe