Iceland day 4: Road to Akureyri

A road trip in Iceland isn’t much about going from A to B but it’s mostly everything in between those points. I know this is a sentence so abused that its meaning is getting a bit weak, but I really mean it: at times we had to really control ourselves not to stop every 10 minutes.

The fourth day was fully dedicated to the 400km between Grundarfjörður and Akureyri so we decide for a couple of detours and allowed ourselves a few other extra stops.

Lonely church in Iceland

The Elusive Seals

The first target was Osar, the seal sanctuary. We decided to take the road that follows the border of the whole Vatnsnes peninsula, a welcomed change to the monotone Ring road. A quick look at the map situated at the beginning of the road revealed more seals-spotting areas, we were heading to an overdose. We drove eagerly until we found the first seal shaped sign; a sharp steer to the left and we’re walking towards the shore, scanning the rocks and the shallow waters. No sign of life there, but maybe we were too close to the ring road, so we moved on to the next sign. Seals were nowhere to be seen there either; maybe we were still too close to the busy road and maybe it was not the right time of the day. And so went the hours, accumulating self-excuses and frustration at every stop where, without fails, we would only find crestfallen people and stupid birds.
We finally reached Osar, where both the Rough Guide and our mini-guides swore that there would have been dozens of seals “lolling on the beach“. From the car park the foot path splits: seals to the right, something else to the left. To procrastinate our disappointment we went left where we reached a terrace overlooking a dramatic cliff. Few meters away, in the blue waters, stood an improbable rock formation, like to portal of an ancient civilisation. It was quite remarkable but when you have wasted more than an hour, on an already long day drive, to see non-existing seals, that’s just a fucking rock.

Seals at Osar, Iceland

Lolling or more likely laughing at us!

When we finally reached the sanctuary we couldn’t hold a bitter sarcastic laughter: a bunch of seals dozing on a beach on the other bank of the river. Honestly we had a better point of view from the road above, because from beach level they could have as well been a heap of rocks. A bloody waste of time.

Where have al the herrings gone?

Siglufjörður herring factoryWe left Vatsnes, whose stunning natural beauty we could not fully appreciate. The second detour of the day was taking us to Siglufjörður, a fishing port and Iceland most northerly town. We would have feasted on their fresh-off-the-boat fish and drove the few miles down to the farm, north of Akureyri, where we would have spent the night. After a claustrophobic, single-lane tunnel we reached the bay where Siglufjörður lies, an isolated little village with weathered yet brightly coloured houses, located in a dazzling fjord just 40km south of the Arctic circle.
Two things we didn’t consider: 1. it was Sunday and 2. it was already 6pm, so we actually saw the last food shop close its doors while pulling the hand brake of our car. Moreover we didn’t read the guide properly, where it says that this used to be a busy herring-fishing hub, but not any more. But it’s still a fisherman town, in fact we saw a small boat unloading its silvery catch. There was nothing else left to do than following the locals to dinner in one of the only two places open, neither of which sadly had fish in the menu but just burgers and greasy pizza.

Surreal night

After dinner we hit the road, yearning to leave this rather unsuccessful day behind. The 82 was newly paved (it wasn’t even on our map) and we quickly reached Arnarnes, the farm where we were staying for the night. After being shown to our van by a friendly German girl, whose friendliness would gradually but quickly fade at each encounter, we finally set to sleep. The van was really nice, the view on the fjord was marvellous and the bed surprisingly comfortable, but the curtains did little or nothing to keep the light out. It was the first time the sky was clear since our arrival and, being so far up north, the sun never left us. Although utterly confusing it was fascinating to wake up at 3am and see a light globe hovering low over the waters, inundating the fjord of a surreal light.

Vintage van in Akureyri
We only found out too late that Eyglò – the lady running the place – offered home-cooked dinner. The main was not cheap, 3000ISK, but the options also included Svið, the traditional boiled sheep head, and it would have been a good opportunity to eat in a proper house.

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After being in Rome a few times without even looking at the Coliseum I realised that there's more to travel than sightseeing: meeting the local culture is what, 10 years later, determined the birth of this blog.

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