Jul 10 2019

Fjörður and Foss

Published by at 8:24 am under Travel

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Before we bade farewell to the Hotel Látrabjarg’s Joél and Karl at 10:00, we struggled to decide whether or not we were going to make the trip to the bird cliffs after all, before veering north for Ísafjörður (“ice fjord”). The weather was foul, with rain, fog and powerful winds. The famous puffins would probably not be visible. We began to drive along the gravel road, Molly again at the wheel. It wasn’t until we reached the junction for Látrabjarg that we opted to give it a miss. We had gone way out of our way to get to that region—and spent a ton on an extra-expensive car with enough clearance for that road. Strange how things unfold. I didn’t mind, and a little part of me must have been relieved as well. Molly took the disappointment completely in stride, as is her wont.

She drove through steady rain and what must have been gale-force winds up and down mountains—nearly treeless, past patches of snow, lakes, streams, falls, sheep, and lupines—and alongside misty fjords.

I’d hoped for clearer weather for the sake of my photographs, but there was also a certain subdued beauty to what we got. We followed steep, narrow, slick-muddy, curvy roads with precipitous drop-offs. No problems, though.

Today we didn’t do our recent ritual of visiting scattered villages and exploring scenic places, but instead passed right by interesting fishing towns like Þingeyri and Flateyri. The weather was bad enough, and our upcoming drive long enough, that we pushed on. We stopped only when we encountered a rare pullout spot along the road, so we could take pictures. There’s a yellow sticker on the passenger-side door that warns one to hold on tight to the handle when getting in or out, because otherwise the door might snap right off in a gust.

I said we made no stops, but there was one exception. We took the short detour to the Dynjandi waterfall, the biggest in the Westfjords. It actually consists of seven distinct falls, each named things like Hríðsvaðsfoss, Hæstahjallafoss, and Strompgljúfrafoss. My pictures came out awful and flat because the light was terrible (and I’m not a clever enough photographer to know how to overcome that). But, as my mother might say, The pictures give an effect.

When I saw Molly on the edge of this precipice (maybe higher than it looks), I controlled myself and didn’t say any of the words of warning that tried desperately to escape my lips. Instead, I turned and walked away. When she caught up with me, I suggested she give me the car keys. You know, just in case.

[Photo by Molly]

We continued over the mountain on Road 60.

And then Road 60 reached the dramatic fjord called Dýrafjörður.

Forget the road to Látrabjarg; far and away the scariest part of the drive has been the Vestfirðir Tunnel, which we entered about 15 kilometers before we got to Ísafjörður. It came up on us suddenly. The road just vanished into a hole in the cliff. Well and good, until I realized that a) it was six kilometers long, b) it was very very dark, with glare off the windshield so I kept getting disoriented (luckily as just a passenger), and c) it was one lane for two-way traffic. We were charging along at 50 or so kilometers per hour and, up ahead in the darkness, we’d see a set of headlights coming toward us. I couldn’t tell if they were tucked into the side of the tunnel in a pullover, or if they were charging right at us as though in a game of chicken. Molly had asked me to take a video of it, so I, white-knuckled, obliged. Without realizing it, afterward I didn’t turn my camera off, so you can hear the whole thing: my running commentary as I entered this chamber of horror. Luckily, people pulled into ill-lit, car-sized recesses to let us pass.

The experience put to the test my promise not to be a back-seat-driving butthead. I succeeded. In a a calm voice that belied my true emotion, my commentary ran thus:

  • This is creepy.
  • Glad I’m not doing it.
  • This is really awful.
  • Whoops.
  • I’m glad I’m not driving.
  • It’s so hard to see.
  • Uh oh… you’re a little close to the wall. Excuse me.
  • Good job.

Molly, fortunately, was unconcerned and competent as she navigated through the bowels of the earth. At one point, there was an underground T-junction leading off to a place called Sudereyri.

We arrived at 3:20 at our slightly funky, very homey little apartment above a café in the central part of little Ísafjörður, where we each got to have our own separate rooms, enabling Molly to be free of my snoring and early morning wakings. Our quarters weren’t quite ready for us when we arrived, so the owners comped us a coffee as we waited till 4:00.

We attempted to return our big old mud-encrusted car to the little airport, but there was a distinct lack of Avis attendant. So, on their instruction, we left the car parked by the tourist information office and deposited the key with the woman at the desk.

Our apartment was right in the center of the small town, on the main street at Aðalstræti 22.

View from AirBnB Window

The first thing I did on arrival was to use to the loo. The toilet immediately broke. It wouldn’t flush, and it ran steadily. It was still misbehaving when we walked along the harbor toward our dinner restaurant, Húsið, where we both had a delicious, creamy fish soup (with cod and shrimp, and allegedly lobster not in evidence).

Let me tell you about tomorrow’s plan. For seven months we’ve had a reservation for a hike that the guides call “moderate” but I call “brutal”: a climb of 537 meters (1,762 feet) from the boat to the top of what may be the highest cliff in Iceland, where Arctic foxes roam, and back down the other side. Once you get going, there’s no turning back. The adventure begins with a boat ride out the fjord and into the ocean (Greenland Sea?), and around a point called “Hornstrandir.” For six months I’ve been preparing for it: hiking with Molly and with friends, and making weekly treks up Marin Avenue, the steep street by my house that climbs 922 feet in 1.8 miles. Eventually I bumped up my walks to twice a week. Thirty-one times since the first of the year have I trudged up the boring, tiring route, plugged into audio books, most recently Jane Eyre. All in preparation for this one hike.

So guess what? While we were eating our soup, Molly got a text from the tour operator: trip canceled. Weather. The seas were too rough for us to cross without severe nausea. Not to mention the wailing winds and steady drizzle and omnipresent fog while ascending and descending the cliffs.

When we got back to our lodging around 10:00, we found the toilet still broken, pouring with water at an apparent rate of several gallons a minute. The woman in the café said something about people being too rough on the flusher, but I’d barely touched the thing. The latest word from our proprietor: the plumber was confounded by the problem and needs a part that can’t be procured in the Westfjords. Instead they’ll bring up a bucket, presumably (I hope) to use for sloshing water into the toilet for a manual flush. And we can use the bathroom of the café downstairs until 11:30 tonight and after 8:00 tomorrow. But what about my usual nocturnal visits to the loo?

To compensate for our WC deficiency, our AirBnB host offered us a free drink at the café. It was, of course, bright and sunny out, so I didn’t realize it was 11:00 p.m., with only half an hour of bathroom access left. Oh well. I tried an Ísafjörður microbrew called Dokkan Brugghús IPA, and Molly sampled an apple cider, as we enjoyed listening to Icelandic conversation all around us. Molly has taken to answering questions in the affirmative with a “Já!” (pronounced “yow”), so that one can barely distinguish her from a local.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Fjörður and Foss”

  1. Molly says:

    The drive from this day was perhaps one of my favorite moments, even more so because of the weather. Funny how we each have our own distinctive favorite moments!

    Oh, let’s go through the tunnel again, let’s do.

  2. Elana says:

    Your pictures are so great. The first fjord with a tiny (Molly I think?) in front and the biggest waterfall in the Westfjords oh myyyyy! I would very much like to see the tunnel video.

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