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The Iceland Ring Road and Other Adventures

  • Submitted by: Ben, United Kingdom
  • Submission Date: 20th Jun 2008

Iceland – April ‘08

Iceland had always fascinated me – it has geology, snow and Vikings – what more could anyone want? It’s also a little bit off the beaten track and rather expensive, but as it remained one the last areas of Europe I had yet to explore it was about time to get over there and see what’s what. With a population of only 300,000 and an area a little larger than Hungary Iceland is the least densely populated country in Europe. It boasts of fire and ice, in the shape of volcanoes and glaciers. I go in search of both.

My main companion this time is Lisa. A mass spectostrophist when she doesn’t want to talk to someone; a healer of child cancer when she does – Lisa is soon to be Dr Lisa upon completing her PhD. She and I have been friends for about 10 years, but this is to be the first time we travel together.

Preparations were minimal despite several afternoons devising strategies. Brief plans involved Reykjavik, a car, a drive around the island and sea-monsters. The Rough Guide served as our constant companion throughout the two-week expedition, providing phone numbers for hostels and useful tips on what to do.

Friday 11th April
Mostly London

It began early. Once again I sat in departures in Guernsey airport cursing my decision to book a seat on the BE900 at 7am. Bourne partly out of a desire to depress costs but mostly out of fear of fog, not only did it mean an early morning; it also gave me some 11 hours to kill between landing in Gatwick and departing from Heathrow. This was indeed a tough challenge to stave off boredom; I rose to it mostly by way of newspapers. Around lunch time I cracked and ate at Burger King. I wish I could say I had a reason. I wish I could say that everywhere else was closed. But it gets worse – as I ate my bacon double grease burger I found someone’s abandoned edition of The Sun. Chavtabulous.

I was already tired before I left. Late the night before it occurred to me that if we were to drive around Iceland then having satellite navigation might be a good idea. A little internet abuse initially seemed to yield my prize – electronic maps of Scandinavia. Unfortunately it took over 4 hours to download. Yet more unfortunately it turned out the next day that according to my sat nav Iceland is not actually part of Scandinavia. Blunder.

After a few hours in Gatwick I made the trip over to Heathrow. Quicker by coach, but cheaper by train. I grabbed a few minutes sleep on the tube – something I can’t normally manage. Eventually time passed and I met Lisa in Heathrow.

Once through to departures we had dinner to use up English currency. I struggled with my pizza – the spatula-thing that was provided was a poor excuse for a knife and just not up to the task of cutting up ham. I bought travel insurance over the internet – a process made mildly stressful by the slow speed of the computer. I had just 10 minutes to fix my insurance online and it just didn’t want to know.

Lisa and I agreed a compass would be a useful thing to have, so we went looking. No luck. In one shop the nice lady thought we might want to have a pair of compasses for drawing circles… I managed to bite my tongue and saved the scathing wisecracks until we were around the corner and out of earshot. We bought a bottle of Vodka, scared by horror stories of the cost of a drink in Iceland. I briefly mused on the possibility of attaching a keg of Guinness to my rucksack above or below my sleeping bag.

We boarded. The film Juno was played on the monitors. It wasn’t too bad, as I remember; but then I don’t feel well qualified to judge on account of falling asleep sometime before the end. 3 hours or so later and we’re in Iceland. First step was to grab some cash for the bus transfer – I reckoned on the nearby ATM rather than a smash and grab, despite the trickiness involved in currency conversion.

Iceland uses the Icelandic Króna. Thanks to a fortunate (from my perspective at least!) drop in Iceland’s credit rating the pound stood at roughly 150Kr. Expensive – particularly if you’re a drinker - but it could’ve been a lot worse… A pint (sorry, half a litre) of beer costs in the region of 7-800Kr, if you can afford two pints then you can afford to stay a night in most hostels or eat in a cheaper bistro.

The bus ride to the hostel was longer than I had expected. For some reason I had it in my head that we were flying into Reykjavik itself. My head was wrong. Keflavik International airport lies about an hour south west of Reykjavik – that would be an hour if you take a car or alight at the first stop of the bus. Our stop, the Reykjavik City Hostel, was the last, although we had no idea of this. Like any self respecting 11 year old I gleefully led us to the back seat of the bus, and then slowly but surely everyone else got off. Did this bus really go to the hostel? Apparently yes it did, but not before we asked the driver if we were really on the right bus. He laughed at us.

Check in, locate room, sleep – we arrived around 1am. It’s a good enough hostel. 6 beds in the dorm, 2 Germans, us, and a little while later 2 drunk Spaniards. One of them fell out of their bed later on - I checked for long enough to see that it wasn’t Lisa and went back to sleep.

Saturday 12 April

We had a relative lie in after yesterday’s journey. When the shower became free I oh so gracefully climbed down from my top bunk and slid into the bathroom. As I stood under the water my first thought was “Eyyy, I’m showing in eggs!”. It was nasally obvious that the water in Reykjavik has a high sulphur content. Reykjavik itself translates as “Smokey Bay”, and is so named after the columns of steam that rise throughout the city. These columns are caused by the same geothermal activity that powers the city. Clever indeed, but the shower water stinks.

Before leaving I made contact via the Lonely Planet website with Karo the Austrian. She had similar plans – rent a car and explore Iceland. We met her whilst we stole breakfast in the morning. I say ‘stole’, perhaps misappropriated would be more suitable – we thought breakfast was included, in the end it turns out it was not. We got away with it, while we met Karo briefly before she left on her way. Her parting words of advice included watching out for sullen Icelanders. It was a shame our similar plans were just slightly out of sync, although she did have some crazy ideas about sleeping in the car.

The hostel came well equipped with a guitar and with a Herculean effort I managed to get it in tune (missing machineheads and epic stiffness). Buoyed by my success we went for a walk into town. 130,000 people live in Reykjavik, but the city centre is very small, easily explored within a few hours.

First we walked from the hostel along the coast into the centre, passing the Sun Voyager – a metallic sculpture representing the Viking longboats used by settlers. It turns out that Iceland is full of strange sculptures. Some I like, others make me wonder if the local primary school outreach program had gotten involved.

A large church perches on top of a hill, a landmark visible from most of Reykjavik. As the city goes it is up there with the most impressive buildings. It houses an impressive organ and a collection of Iceland art. We weren’t there long, it was coming up to lunch time. As we walked back down through the main shopping streets we passed a few restaurants – the first one I looked in offered dishes at upwards of 5000Kr (£33). We didn’t go there.

We went to the supermarket. Lunch consisted of the all too familiar cheese and salami sandwiches, except that Lisa was a vegetarian and had to pass on the pig. This was going to get pretty dull pretty quickly! We ate in front of a lake, ducks joined in, and it was cold. A mention must go here to the uberducks – those duck-shaped beasts that roam the water… I can only imagine there was once a species of duck living near Chernobyl, and then they came to Iceland. Or else they are direct descendents of dinosaurs. Big ones. Big ducks.

Coldness as much as interest drew us to the National Gallery. I couldn’t honestly say it lives up to it’s name but it was warm alright. At the time of writing it houses just two exhibitions – both of which appeared to be predominantly targeted outside of my artistic comprehension. If phallic fabric sack monsters or blobs on the corner of canvas are your thing I imagine this is excellent. Otherwise, go there on a cold Reykjavik afternoon for a warm coffee break.

After scouting out suitable dinner venues we headed back to the hostel for a few hours before hunger took hold. Rather classily, modest amounts of vodka and coke were consumed from out of an orange juice bottle. Vodka is still nasty, whatever you drink it with or from. I’m going to lay off that for a while.

Presently Lisa and I returned to the Red Chilli in central Reykjavik. It was maybe 8pm and the place was…. Deserted. Actually no one there whatsoever. We took this as a sign of local people voting with their feet and began the for another, livelier restaurant. Our search took us along the main street. Seeing as Lisa is a vegetarian attention was paid to veggie restaurants – she had heard some horror stories about food in Iceland only ever consisting of meat and fish. Lies. The only vegetarian place we passed had no menu on the outside and ergo expensive! Although we very nearly gave up in frustration of only one waitress, the bistro we ended up in was nice. A very strange music selection though…

Back in the hostel we were serenaded by the most persistently bad guitarist I’ve heard since I was in school. If he’d stumbled through the first two bars of Stairway to Heaven just once more I fully expect the guitar would have grown arms, dropped a string and garrotted him there and then. A little harsh, but music shop staff all over the world would have cheered. Bedtime.

Sunday 13 April

We slept in too late to have breakfast – probably for the best, really, since we didn’t pay for it… But didn’t it all kick off while I was in the shower! At some point a Spanish girl’s olive oil went missing. Yes, olive oil. Disaster! So she all but shook and newly arrived Australian awake to accuse him of steeling it. There were demands to open his bags and everything! Shocking stuff…

I blagged some milk to have with cereal bought from the supermarket yesterday. It was UHT and therefore just wrong. We spent the next hour sorting out car hire. On the internet we found slightly cheaper deals, but in the end we elected to avoid hassle and accept the rates the hostel offered with their affiliated company. The car would be ours from tomorrow.

Today, however, we were booked on the “Golden Circle” tour. The area to the east of Reykjavik contains several of Iceland’s interesting sites, to be visited in a kind of circle, hence the name. The “Golden” bit is clearly the product of advertising… The previous night it snowed, and it continued to do so today. A lot. If I got a bit excited I might even call it a blizzard. We drove to Pingvellir national park behind a snowplough.

This feels like a good time to bring up the alphabet. While the Icelandic character set is predominantly Latin a few runic symbols remain. The P in Pingvellir serves as an easy way to differentiate Iceland newbies from those who have been around a little while. It is actually a Þ character – looks like a ‘P’, sounds like a ‘Th’ as in Thor.

Pingvellir national park contains the site where the Eurasian and American continental plates are slowly pulling apart. At a speed of 2 cm a year the effect of this is lost among erosion, but it is interesting to note that Iceland grows at roughly the same rate as my fingernails. The rift valley is something different – as though the rock has been somehow cleft apart; if Moses had been leading the Hebrews though tricky lava fields, I imagine we’d have something similar.

The bus stopped and we trekked through the rift valley before meeting up with it again the other side. I am given to wonder how different it looks in summer, as today it was mainly white, a feature accented by a landscape all but bereft of trees.

Our next stop was Gullfoss, an impressive and wide waterfall. I think it would be best to refer to photos at this point, or at least postcards of Iceland – many of which feature this spectalular sight. On the downside, however, the air was thick with snow. I was sporting a fleece hoodie underneath my coat, hood up over a thick hat, and even so it was difficult to look up for more than a moment. Stepping off the paths was a risk, all too often resulting in losing a leg in snow above the knee. Lisa and I made an agreement that we could throw one snowball each; mine was perfect, back of the head into the hood - score!

Even in the Christmas-card-winter conditions I wanted ice cream in the café stop off. Still I threw all thoughts of tasty, tasty Magnums aside and settled for an altogether more suitable hot chocolate.

Geysir is a place. It’s also the site of Geysir and Strokkur – the slightly smaller but very frequent geysir. Basically, it’s well named. Geysir the geysir is one of the largest in the world, the third or fourth, I believe, after Steamboat and Old Faithful both in Yellowstone. Strokkur, however, erupts far more frequently – every 6 minutes or so. I took a video of it erupting that I’m very proud of, captured beautifully… Even as I turned around to show Lisa how clever I was she pelted me with her snowball! Touché.

We returned to Reykjavik via a volcano called Kerið. Once again I fear this may be a far more impressive sight in summertime. As it was, it was a big white crater – nice enough but the omnipresent whiteness somehow detracts from the image. Apparently the acoustics in the caldera are so good it’s been used before as an open air concert site. Not today.

The drive back concerned us. Less for our safety during that particular journey so much as the matter of fact manner in which our guide pointed out all the stranded drivers at the side of the road in their striken vehicles. Jovial comments such as “Ah look there’re people still in that one” did wonders for our driving confidence in tomorrow’s rental car. We asked if driving around the perimiter of Iceland was realistic this time of year, the ominous reply: “[laughter] come back in May!”. Blunder!

A long day such as this requires lazy food. Lazy food arrived in the shape of a pizza ordered to the hostel from Dominos. As I ate, I played a couple of games of chess with an older German guy – easy. We sat with Adrian, the Australian unfortunate harrassed by the Spanish girl earlier in the morning. Nice guy, teaches in London. The three of us looked for the northern lights on a tip from our tour guide earlier. After figuring out which way was north, we stepped outside at intervals. Disappointingly, nothing doing tonight. I went to bed with a sore throat.

Monday 14 April

My throat wasn’t any better this morning. In fact, it was quite painfull. As much as I don’t like to admit it – I’m poorly. But what can you do? Screw up my face and brace myself every time I need to swallow and then just carry on, of course!

We took delivery of a shiny Honda Jazz later that morning. We named it Jeffrey, as in ‘Jazzy Jeffrey’. A few interesting things popped up, more or less as expected – Jeffrey is left-hand drive. Neither me nor Lisa had ever driven such a vehicle before. Iceland: a land to learn new skills. We took Adrian with us to the Blue Lagoon geothermal pool as we departed Reykjavik to explore the rest of the island.

Lisa took the first driving shift… and scared the bejesus out of me! Being surprised when you hit speedbumps is a little bit funny, if not confidence inspiring. Unfortunately Lisa does not respond well to criticism of her driving, and did not appear to appreaciate my audiable gasps of alarm as (to my genuine surprise!) we missed a curb wall by basically nothing. We drove on, I felt fear.

Navigating out of Reykjavik turned out to be more difficult than expected. After ending up next to a lighthouse on a small peninsula we consulted a map to take stock of where to go. Some 15 minutes later we arrived back at the very same lighthouse feeling a little bit silly. No mistakes this time – we were soon out on the highway and heading south to the Blue Lagoon.

The Blue Lagoon is fed by the output from a nearby geothermal power plant and is another of Iceland’s most prominent attractions. It’s also the reason I brought swimming shorts with me. As a swimming pool it is quite large and quite shallow, at no point deep enough that an average adult couldn’t stand on the ground without drowning. With the perfect bright blue skies, the overlooking snow-capped mountains and the steam rising from the water at 40°C it really qualifies as an otherworldy experience… and that’s before you feel the ground underfoot – there were some very real fears, thankfully unfounded, that it might have been made of poo.

Aside from the relaxing atmosphere the Blue Lagoon also boasts a wealth of other minor atractions. First of all we tried the waterfall – supposedly sitting underneath it allows the water to massage your back. Well it does, to some extent, but it’s more of a gimmick than anything else. Next the steam room. Now I’ve never been a fan of saunas, and this was no different; a few minutes after entering steam was pumped through the wooden floors making me yelp and everyone else laugh at me. It wasn’t long before I made a hasty retreat back to the waterfall.

The waters are rich in silica and sulpher, and supposedly good for your skin. To improve your conplexion yet further you can apply silica mud to your face for 5 minutes. We all did this, although Adrian was swiping it off after 15 seconds in some discomfort, with Lisa not far behind. So in another, more accurate account, I did this, feeling very metrosexual. I also managed to get some in my ears and so compromised my hearing for the next half hour. It made my face (and earhole) tingle, I noticed no other effects.

Parts of the pool are merely warm, other parts are actively hot. After exploring the perimeter during which I managed to get a nasty scratch on my foot from swinging under a bridge (read behaving like a 10 year old), we lay by the edge for some time before getting out to take photos and indulge in ice cream.

The area is surrounded by lava fields, partially snow covered. From the viewing areas on the roof of the complex we took photos and cooled down. My skin was already itching on the sides of my neck and on my hands. Soon enough it was time to leave. We said our goodbyes to Adrian who was heading back to Reykjavik and left him in time for him to catch the bus.

And so began my first Icelandic driving experience. Operating the gearstick on my right was the biggest challenge, on one forgetful occasion I reached with my left hand to shift up and operated the electric windows instead. Back home I drive an automatic these days… Remembering to stay on the right of the road became second nature after a while, barring a few occasions. Thankfully the country roads are all but deserted most of the time and there was no one there to notice my immidiate side-of-the-road transgression.

We drove to Vik, a small town (of some 300 people) in the south of Iceland. The roads were not so good. Before an hour had passed the asphalt had turned into gravel – severly limiting the speed at which I felt comfortable driving a rental car I didn’t want to scratch. After a little while longer however, this ceased to be an issue because I was driving on ice! But for the yellow posts at each side of the road it would have been difficult to tell where the road actually was! Some 3 cars passed us in 2 hours, one of which was a large pickup that smothered one side of Jeffrey in filth.

Things ought to have gotten better once we reached the ring road – the route that more or less follows the coast all the way around Iceland and was to form the basis of our trip. They did not, however. In an effort to make up for a long time driving slowly I picked up the speed a little, and was content to follow a local driver. Which was fine, until both I and the driver in front got done for speeding. 22,500Kr (£155) on the spot fine in the back of the police car, thank you very much and please have a good holiday in Iceland. I felt compelled to point out that I wasn’t having a particularly nice time at the moment, this caused him to shrug and send me away with a leaflet instructing me to stick to 90 kph. I had been doing 112. Sigh…

The snow started as we finally pulled into Vik. We had to call for instructions as to how to find the hostel, when I did it turned out that the owner was in her car just down the road and asked “can you see me flashing the lights?”… well yes I could. A small town, is Vik! I had no appetite for food, and went almost straight to bed feeling rotten, itchy and poor. Apparently I snored.

Tuesday 15 April

I woke feeling slightly less sore, but a lot more stuffy. Sniff. We had breakfast looking out to a threatening sky. I conspired to bite my tongue and gave myself an ulcer. Doh. In the dorm room I spoke to a couple of Irish guys about snowmobiling. One of them was called Paddy… of course.

We drove to Skogafoss for the first stop in today’s waterfall-centric itinerary. It’s quite impressive at some 70 yards tall and 30 wide, and forms a neat geometric rectangle. Yep, that’s a waterfall alright; I’d know one anywhere… Legend has it that a chest full of treasure is hidden in a cave behind the waterfall. I approached close enough to sneak a photo of the bottom, but by there I was getting soaked – I didn’t hang around.

Stairs lead up the hill beside the waterfall. A lot of stairs. I’ve never been one to decline a good staircase, they being to me as a drainpipe is to a rat. Up we went. From the top you can see the edge of Porsmork national park. Hiking is supposed to be good here, but that is largely a summertime activity. For us, there was a boggy feel underfoot, enough to discourage me from going too far. Before long it began to rain and I was a little concerned about the slippery metal steps on the way back down.

We headed west to Seljalandsfoss. It too is a waterfall; good, but not as impressive as the other. And now I’m running out of words to describe waterfalls, so lets head back to the hostel for a sleep.

I slept. It was the sleep of the damned; fitful, not refreshing. After a little while I gave up and joined Lisa in the kitchen – she had just met a German called Sebastian. Sebastian is quite a guy; he’s doing essentially the same trip as us but on a bicycle. He was also wearing a ‘finisher’ t-shirt from some German marathon. Only 4 of us were staying in the hostel this night, the final guest, a Dutch civil planner called Charlotte soon joined us.

Sebastian wanted to hike. He pointed out of the window at a nearby hill and suggested we all climb up it. Lisa went with him. Charlotte and I considered a map of Iceland she had and swapped travel stories. It was a silly map. It showed some of the roads, and had large ghost pictures liberally pasted around the country. One such ghostie was placed just next to Vik, leading me and Charlotte to ponder if Sebastian was actually something paranormal. We decided he was probably a manifestation of pure bravery.

The map also contained small blurbs about sites of interest: where the sea monsters hang out; which count escaped from baddies in a barrel of yoghurt and which island to swim naked to in order to prove one’s manliness. Very useful information - particularly to Sebastian, one expects.

Lisa returned after around 20 minutes with tails of Sebastian not breaking stride even in knee deep snow. After a further 90 minutes when we feared our paranormal German friend may be lost Charlotte pointed out the window with a cry of “look! A manifestation!” – he had returned from a nearby peak. Impressive. We spent the next few hours before bedtime discussing the potential for Iceland to migrate (yes, really!).

Wednesday 16 April

By the time we got up Charlotte had already gone. After breakfast we wished Sebastian all the best and left for Skaftafell national park. Skaftafell is Iceland’s second largest national park and covers nearly 3,000 square miles. It’s most striking feature (from the edge, at least) is the glacier Skaftafellsjökull. However from the visitor centre it’s quite difficult to judge how far away the edge of the glacier actually is, I reckoned anywhere between 1 to 10 miles. So we had to go and find out.

The trail to the glacier edge is marked with wooden lemons on sticks. It is roughly a 25 minute walk along a trail and then a short climb over the landscape formed by the receding ice. Lisa hung back, muttering things about crampons and guides, my own thoughts went something along the lines of ‘bugger that, this here’s a glacier and I’m getting on it. Fuelled by Neurofen I was feeling extra keen, so despite the tricky ground I climbed up onto the glacier itself.

Upon the glacier I managed to make myself very dirty. I had suspicions about a patch of ice, wondering whether or not it was solid enough to stand on, so I developed ‘The Rock Test’. Basically it involves throwing a rock at the ice and seeing if it breaks or bounces. My rock didn’t just bounce, it skidded into a patch of mud and splattered me. Blunder.

I pressed on, dirty yet fascinated. I hadn’t anticipated the sounds of the glacier – mainly dripping noises. I expect this is only because I was standing on the edge. And glacier’s are full of holes! Some tiny and some like rabbit holes, all made from sharp ice. Generally I had no trouble walking and climbing across it, the dirt more of a problem than any ice. Although sometimes ice breaks under you, which isn’t so nice. Still this was an amazing experience, just up and climbing onto a glacier… Nice one.

On the way back we build a few cairns – piles of stones for the trolls to live in. Our first were small, although mine wasn’t too bad. And then we built a much better one. A cairn both I and passing trolls could be proud of. After walking away we realised that it didn’t have a door, so I scratched one on using a chalk-like rock I found. It was complete, a masterpiece to last the generations.

Sandwiches for lunch, and then onward to Hofn, the impossible to pronounce largest town in eastern Iceland. Radio in Iceland is not all that it might be, consisting mainly of Michael Jackson covers interspersed between long breaks of Icelandic chatter. It wasn’t really working out for us, so I played music from the tinny speakers of my mobile phone, holding such treats as Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’. Rock on! Unfortunately it also contained some 50 tracks of actuarial exam revision, perfect for sending drivers to sleep. We stopped for petrol on the way and had to wait while men came down to open it.

We arrived at the hostel in Hofn around 4pm. The hostel manager arrived around 5pm. We checked in at the same time as Julie, an English woman travelling alone. She warned us about the tourist information centre and gave directions to the supermarket, so that’s just where we went. If you will allow me a brief amount of discontinuity, whatever hours the tourist information centre claimed to be open… lies. We returned several times, seeking information on glacier tours and snowmobile rides. Each time, no dice, nobody home. Julie had managed to see them, however, so they’re around sometimes…

Lisa and I went for a walk to the headland, where I demonstrated my stone skimming prowess. We passed a series of bizarre sculptures, in Hofn just as in the rest of Iceland, leading us to wonder if school children had been let loose with chunks of spare metal. Meanwhile, we built Henry the Snowman. As well as an effective way to break up a snowball fight, Henry was a fine snowman. I wish him well. Between the troll home cairns and Henry, this was an industrious day!

I cooked pasta, with a tomato and mince sauce. Actual cooking, although there wasn’t enough tomato. As I finished up cooking two girls entered the kitchen, Michelle and Chantal from Switzerland but living in Reading (unhappily) and London (more contentedly) respectively. After eating I returned to the kitchen to wash up and we got talking. After a few hours my new Swiss friends produced a bottle of wine as we discussed British attitudes to living abroad and bribery, amongst other things. One surprising question involved what factors to consider when adjusting discount rates for property valuation, and I thought I’d left all that behind!

Michelle and Chantal got quite animated when I brought up the subject of Nazi gold when going through the limited things I know about Switzerland. Most exciting of all though (albeit with a little more loss of linearity) was Chantal’s photos, one of which is of the very same cairn that my own fair hands built in Skaftafell. Of course I didn’t see these until I came home but it was a happy discovery!

The hostel was mostly empty, so Lisa elected to sleep away from me and my snoring. I’m still full of cold. At one stage this evening I let out a nose-busting sneeze that would define 10/10 on the Kreckler-Saeed scale of lung busting.

Thursday 17 April

Mornings had by now become fairly routine. Shower, faff, breakfast while deciding what to do for the day. After going through the motions we headed for Jokulsarlon, the nearby glacier lagoon. But we drove past it. Twice. Finally, on the point of giving up we noticed a signpost cunningly hidden behind a bridge and we were there.

There is a tourist centre not far from the ring road, and of course it was closed. Immediately upon leaving the car park we were met with deep snow, only thinning out on the shore of the lagoon. The shore itself is at first pebbled, moving on to chunks and formations of ice. The lagoon is fed by the glacier Vatnajökull, and icebergs are legion, floating gently in the deep water.

Perhaps 15 minutes after we arrived we caught sight of seals playing in the water. Looking more closely we could see a whole colony of seals lying on a bed of ice in the distance. Jokulsarlon is yet another picturesque postcard-suitable image of Iceland.

Walking around through and surrounded by so much snow became a chore for me – the bright sun dazzling and quite uncomfortable for me in my sickened state. We drove back to the hostel where I tried to sleep it off while dreaming of fold-together motorhomes. Meanwhile a series of phone calls established that Hofn was basically closed for the winter and anything fun such as arranged glacier tours or snowmobile rides was off the menu until summer.

When I emerged Lisa and I went to check on Henry. We followed an opposite route to the day before, but in the sunlight a lot of the snow had melted. Henry remained, but barely, a shadow of the fine figure of a snowman he once was.

I had no appetite still, and elected for drinkable yoghurt over the spag bol leftovers from yesterday. This yoghurt was popular with me for the entire holiday, since I was introduced to it by Sebastian. If it is good enough for such a hero then it must be fine. Although Sebastian was also seen eating Haribo so this may be open to debate…

Completely alone in the hostel we spent what remained of the evening playing board games and watching bad tv. Wine was involved in moderate quantities, most of a bottle of Funky Llama having been left by Michelle and Chantal from the previous evening.

Friday 18 April

The brief plans we had originally made involved doing exciting things in Hofn, so once we established that this was only going to work out if we were prepared to stick around for another few months we hit the road. The Eastern Fjords had been described to us as pretty and worth a look, so we headed for Seydisfjordur, the town on the East coast where the ferries come in.

It’s a relatively long drive from Hofn, so we stopped for lunch in Djupivogur – a town which I can only describe as ‘a town in Iceland’. At some point in the last few days Jeffrey had picked up a chip in his windscreen, it annoyed me, drawing my gaze all the while I drove. Djupivogur is mostly of note for providing the backdrop to the most disappointing citrus-related incident of my life to date. A selection of oranges I had bought from a supermarket turned out to be demon oranges; all but impossible to peel. By the time I’d got through the skin (fortress) all I was left with was mush. And that would be mush with seeds in. And the juice proved to be remarkably greasy and resilient to being washed off. Harrumph.

Having been disappointed by dodgy Icelandic roads before, we elected to stay on the ring road that hugs the coast rather than take a short cut inland. Essentially we were hoping for tarmac over gravel roads. Ultimately we were disappointed, gravel it was, frustratingly slow lest we add further damage to Jeffrey’s already abused chassis. On the plus side by this stage the car was protected by a thin but very real covering of filth. What had began the week as something silver had become something brown. It made Lisa fret and repeatedly threaten to break into some cleaning.

We passed reindeer along the way, Lisa was excited. Julie had told tales of spinning her car and running off the road on the way into Seydisfjordur, thankfully we had no such excitement even as we drove next to ice walls up to 4 yards high. The new hostel there was being refurbished when we arrived, so we were given keys and directions to an alternative.

And what an alternative! The owner is clearly a hippie, plain to see by the Moroccan themed living areas. Again the hostel was empty, allowing me to let my inner child loose on the wooden floors by taking run ups and skidding around the place. But then it turned out that the hostel was not actually completely empty, being in fact the same building as the town hospital. I didn’t realise this until I disturbed a nurse while exploring. Blunder.

Rather strangely, almost every room in the hostel had an open window, and the heating on. While this does achieve some kind of equilibrium it seems rather wasteful, leading me to wonder if Icelanders are in favour of some climate change – perhaps to extend the summer tourist season? The upper floor has a kind of balcony / patio area, but this was covered in 2 ft of icy snow – bit of a no go for the time being.

We went for a walk around Seydisfjordur. It’s a pretty town, surrounded by snow-capped hills on three sides, the fjord on the other. Water makes up a lot of the scenery, the town playing host to a lake as well as the river into the fjord. We stopped by a shop to pick up food, I took the opportunity to buy sunglasses and avoid some of the snow glare.

In the evening we noticed something a little bit unexpected. On a nearby hill is the name of the town in large lit-up lettering, a la Hollywood. Except that it’s quite a long name, and only part of it is there, a bit like… ‘Holly’, only ‘Seydisfj’. I burnt my finger cooking a frozen pizza.

Saturday 19 April

We had been getting the feeling that Iceland was all a bit samey. The time had definitely come to do something fun and exciting. Instead of that, we drove. Firstly to Egilsstadir to search for sea monsters.

Legend has it that in a nearby lake a sea monster the like of Nessie lives and holds sway. The lake in question was frozen over when we went to investigate, however. I was initially cautious but after the lake passed the rock test (it bounced, didn’t sink), I ventured out a little further. I was still cautious as I walked up to where my rock lay on the ice. I picked it up and threw it out even further into the lake. It still didn’t break the ice, so I walked up to my rock again and used it to write my name in the ice. I felt so brave…

Back in Hofn Julie had recommended the supermarket called ‘Bonus’. These stores are painted yellow, and the ‘o’ is actually a picture of a pig. It is a bit like an Icelandic version of Lidl or Aldi. To us it became something more, sadly. We bought lunch there, and also a ‘Family Guy’ edition of Uno.

It was a long drive West to Myvatn, the interesting and yet all but unpronounceable frozen lake. Myvatn is the site of much adventure, offering snowmobile rides and even go carting on the ice. So much promise… Of course when we arrived on a late afternoon in May everything was closed. The one thing we did stop for was a section of the ground that was literally steaming. Weird. A sign professing to lead to ‘Bjarg’ tourist information led to yet another ‘Out of season’ message, this one quite obviously attached to somebody’s house.

As we trudged back to the car resigned to yet more tourist ignorance a softly spoken man appeared from a door at the top of the steps at the front. It was Mr Bjarg (he probably had a real name too), and he told us about the local area, even suggesting that we stay 5 days and offering us a room. Very ambitious, Mr Bjarg! I didn’t actually hear a great deal of what he told us, instead finding myself hearing birds and wanting to yell “Speak up, man” at him. But that would’ve been rude, so I waited until his monologue stopped and reversed the car back up the muddy, icy driveway. Lisa told him we already had somewhere to stay when he offered a room, this was a fib. At some point we were fairly confident he mentioned snowmobiles and waved down the road somewhere.

Seeking more information I headed into one of the two nearby hotels and the hobbit in there and received a nice straight answer. 20 minutes along the shore of the lake and we were at the centre of all things fun. We booked snowmobile rides for the following day, with a brief argument over whether or not to share a snowmobile. I didn’t come to Iceland to quibble over £20, and I wanted my own – at the cost of offering to pay he extra for Lisa as well. Grr.

Having spent the last few days in empty hostels we were keen to meet some other people. With this in mind we drove to Akureyri, the second largest city (ahem, village) in Iceland, with expectations of people and fun and nights out. On the way we found Godafoss, the waterfall of the gods, no less! And yes, it’s very good. Wide and powerful, and with only a relatively mild danger of death standing on the icy edges. Iceland should certainly top the bill for any European waterfall hunter. Our hopes of fun and company were in vain. We finally got hold of the hostel about 10 minutes away from town, only to be told that we can’t stay there.

We drove to the hostel anyway, hoping for a misunderstanding. Everything seemed more or less empty. I called the hostel woman again, it went something like this:-

[Me] Hi, I was hoping you had room for 2 people in your hostel tonight
[Hostel lady] Sorry, is not possible
[Me] Oh, but why not?
[Hostel lady] ehmm (pause) is full
[Me] Actually I’m outside it right now, it looks pretty empty to me
[Hostel lady] ehmm a bus is coming soon
[Me] Of course it is… Thanks bye

That’s not quite verbatim but it gives the idea well enough. Grrr. Neither me nor Lisa believed her for a second; seemed like she was just a bit too lazy. So we rang around ALL of the guesthouses in Akureyri with no luck. This was especially surprising (not to mention disappointing) given that the Rough Guide explicitly told us that we’d have no trouble finding a place to stay here. I can only conclude that there’s some kind of secret accommodation society meeting going on tonight and they couldn’t check anyone in. Yes, that sounds about right.

So we drove back to Myvatn, having managed to stay in a guesthouse managed by Billy Connerly’s twin Max (seriously, if he’d dyed his beard purple I’d have been convinced). Actually it was a decent place to stay, clean, comfortable… No one else was in though, sadly. Worse than that, the supermarket was closed by now so we had to make do with what we already had – pasta.

We spent the evening playing Uno while Lisa hit the vodka – I decided that I couldn’t face it anymore and jumped back on the wagon. In between we did some hand washing (I was desperate; it was wash by hand or start reusing socks) and I took a call to rearrange the snowmobiling time for tomorrow. It was a bit of a disappointment of a day, really. At least I won at Uno.

Sunday 20 April
Lake Myvatn

Lots to do today, at last! First step, the Mud pots. We headed back to where we’d been the previous day with the steaming ground. There wasn’t a great deal to do there, just look at steam, interesting as it was… It did have a hot waterfall though! And also a large cauldron type construct which I presume is filled with water because of the steam, but I couldn’t actually see the water the air was so thick!

The nearby volcano of Hverfjall looms nearby, I fancied it. We drove down several dirt tracks before finding the correct trail, and it wasn’t the easiest of drives! Jeffrey’s lack of ground clearance didn’t help. I got us about a mile down before it became impassable – actually the drive was a lot of fun, all the while planning where to put the wheels not to get us stuck, I enjoyed it. We got out of the car there to walk, but in the end declined the climb thinking between us that it might be too hard or take too long. I was disappointed, I could’ve done it I’m sure.

A look in the guide book confirmed that we hadn’t actually seen the Mud pots at all in the morning, so we went back to try again with more success. Those who remember the film ‘Labyrinthe’ may recall the ‘Bog of Eternal Stench’, and that bubbling pool of reeking slop is perhaps the best comparison I can come up with. The sulphur smell is almost overpowering; it made Lisa go a little bit green. The Mud pots are undoubtedly an interesting natural phonomona, but in nasal terms they have to rank among the very most offensive.

Back on the way to the snowmobiling place we headed for a walk out to a lava cave, formed when the outer surface of a lava flow hardens and the liquid lava within drains away. It’s actually a really nice walk in the snow to get there, after some initial misgivings about the state of the gound. It allowed ample more opportunities for me to demonstrate that the best way to negotiate a slippery slope is to just run down it like a child, waving your hands up in the air and potential twisted ankles be damned!

After lunch we arrived a few minutes early for our snowmobile appointment. It is actually run from a hotel, and I passed the time playing a piano there. Partway through my favourite Chopin Nocturne I was called away to meet Freddie, our guide. We donned heavy overalls and listened politely while Freddie explained about safety and slowing down, although I wasn’t particularly interested just then. It was time to go.

We rode over the frozen ice of lake Myvatn. At first I found cornering to be quite difficult, turning and leaning not quite going in sync. I very nearly came off trying to change direction at 70kph, but after that I soon got the hang of it. Snowmobiles are amongst the fastest accelerating land vehicles given their relatively light weight and grip. Although our loaners were not the souped up machines of James Bond I got mine to 100kph easily and onto 105 when I tucked myself down to reduce air resistance. It was expensive, but in my view money well spent – a really fun experience.

As I grew in confidence I began to aim for the bumps in the snow; if you hit them with enough speed you end up airborne. I decided that the trick was to abandon the idea of using thumbs on the throttle and just grip it tight with my whole hand -this mean constant acceleration and maximum speed, but reduced risk of falling off the back when you fly.

After the obligatory tourist photos we headed back to the hotel and walked to the nearby Pseudo craters, smaller craters formed by steam explosions when lava flowed over wet ground. Not quite as good as the caldera I’d expect to find at the top of Hverfjall but fun nevertheless.

So we headed back to Akureyri to stay in the very same hostel we were turned away from the night before - of course there was no evidence of a bus party. On the plus side, the lady there did do my laundry for no cost. We ate at the dubiously named Grief Inn (might have been Greif but who’s counting…), which was actually fairly nice. I had my first beer in a long long time while we discussed work ideaologies.

Back in the hostel I was able to check on the status of the Guernsey election – my dad is up for election but the polls weren’t open yet. We played Uno and watched tv in the common room. Also plus points to the hostel for allowing us to talk to more people.

Monday 21 April

I woke up to a weird dream. My friend had lost her foot in an accident – cut clean off. Many people were fussing around and she was taken to hospital, but in the confusion no one remembered her dismembered foot! Luckily I was on hand to rescue it, put it on ice and take it to the hospital, whilst driving on a snowmobile!

After breakfast we headed first to the church – designed by the same architect as the one seen in Reykjavik only not as good – and then to a forest – remarkable only in that such things are rare in Iceland. In the past the country was more tree-covered, but as people needed building materials and land it gradually became more deforested. And now the people are attempting to complete the cycle and are planting more trees again. Outside of Akureyri is one of the first of these planned forests, in which we went for a walk. But it wasn’t a long walk – each step was a gamble; would you stand on firm ground or would your leg sink to the knee. It became frustrating rather quickly. I tried to run through deep snow – there a few things so tiring.

As we stopped for petrol I mused on how it is possible to tell Lisa’s mood from her walk. Today she could be observed walking with a dose of flouncing tinged with purpose, this meant mild exasperation brought on by failing to operate the pumps and having to get help. To be fair, those pumps can be pretty tricky, several times I operated them by pushing all the buttons and hoping for the best.

We weren’t sure where to spend the next night – a toss up between Saeberg and Osar. Saeberg is more on the way, and Osar is claimed to be near a seal colony. Saeberg is well on the way back toward Reykjavik on the ring road. In the end we drove to Saeberg purely because we missed the turning to Osar. What we found was another empty hostel. Stranger than that, it was unlocked. We took advantage and stopped for something to eat there.

Then we drove back to Osar after all; a trip in search of seals that only brought much frustration. Gravel roads and rental hatchbacks don’t go together so well, and it was gravel all the way. A four hour round trip averaging 40kph, and only that fast because after a while I began to care less about the underside of the car and more about getting away. By the time we arrived where the seals ought to be we decided that unless they could arrange themselves into some kind of amphibious pyramid formation with the top ones juggling their own young, then the drive was not worth it. In fact the promised seals were just about visible, far far away on the other side of the bay. Getting down to see them was a non-starter.

I drove for hours. Every so often I would get a bit more adventurous and speed up a little before another rock would hit the underside of the car with a fearsome crack and make me slow down again. It’s a fine way to get truly fed up, particularly when the objects of the trip were so distant. As we eventually arrived back in the Saeberg hostel I swore that if I saw a seal wriggle it’s way onto the road in front of me I wouldn’t even slow down.

We found a frisbee in the hostel and played with it into the evening before it got too cold. Later on, I made the Uno score 3 – 0. Champion!

Tuesday 22 April

We began with another early drive. We had a few days in hand before heading home so we decided to visit the Snaefellsnes peninsula northwest of Reykjavik, although when the roads again turned to gravel we considered giving up on the idea. But we pressed on to Stykkishólmur, there’s not a lot there, but it does have a cool space-age church.

We booked ourselves into the hostel in Grundesfjorder and on the way stopped at Helgafell, or Holy Mountain. In pagan times this was supposed to be the entrance to Valhalla – of course we had to take a look.

“Lisa, why have you got dogs?”, I asked as we climbed the 73 m ‘peak’. Lisa was confused, but despite there being basically nothing else around, Lisa really was by now accompanied by 2 very real dogs. I like dogs, and these ones were friendly, so that’s cool, but the more pressing question is what were they doing there and where had they come from? As we continued upwards, one dog left, and the other became our companion. Of course I naturally assumed it was a manifestation of Loki or something. Indeed it is said that the Norse god Odin will grant three wishes to anyone climbing Helgafell, provided they climb in silence and descend the east side without looking back. I’d already ruined that with my dogs question, but it was nice all the same. At the top is a stone construct, presumably the gate to the domain of the gods. We took photos there, but our canine companion wasn’t interested in coming in.

While we were back in Vik, Charlotte told us about the Berserkjahraun – the story of two Berserkesr - warriors who were able to go into a trance and feel no pain. Berserkers were feared by ordinary folk due to being a bit unstable, and when one fell in love with a king’s daughter the king wasn’t so pleased. The king set an impossible task for them to prove the Berserker’s worth to marry his daughter, that task being to cut a path through the lava. Of course they succeeded, thus creating the Berserkjahraun. The king had them murdered anyway, the scoundrel.

Lisa and I never did find this Berserkjahraun path; it laying down a ‘usually passable in a 4x4’ track. I tried to drive us there anyway, stopping every so often to consider tactics for the next difficult section of snow. Eventually I judged that the risks outweighed the rewards, even though it meant driving the same disaster area again to return to the main road – but in reverse! Again the driving was fun, despite Lisa’s fears.

We checked in at Grundesfjorder, decent hostel, nice location. And people! Actually we met a Hawaiian girl we’d seen before in the Reykjavik hostel, had a chat for half an hour and all was right with the world. Hawaiian girl recommended some walks and Lisa and I headed off.

Church mountain sits nearby. A mountain that looks a bit like a church, surprisingly enough. It’s set out a little bit to see, though, so we didn’t fancy climbing that. Instead we started up a nearby hill on one side of a small river. Waterfalls roared (well, murmured) at intervals up the hillside. I got the idea in my head that I wanted to cross the river and take a look from the other side. As I looked up I could see shallow parts of the river with some rocks in; couldn’t be too hard, could it?

Lisa gave up - I continued alone. Each time I found a potential cross point it turned out it was too deep, or the river was at the bottom of a ravine. I pressed on, and the grass turned to snow as I got higher. As I reached a stage where the river forked I got a message from Lisa pointing out that I had the room key in my pocket. Blunder. By now I was tired anyway, and going further up would mean eventually crossing two ravines, so I had a rethink. Not to be defeated I crossed in the end by climbing down to the riverside, taking off my shoes and socks and wading through. I’d like to remind you that this is water coming down from snow covered mountains and it was cold! Nevertheless I felt good as I swung myself up on the other side.

Hiking back to the hostel wasn’t so easy either, not wanting to go through the wading ordeal again I negotiated another smaller stream by rolling a boulder into it and stepping onto it to jump over. May not sound much here but it was both inspired and challenging and at the time I was most proud of myself.

Eventually I returned, ate a pizza and then settled down to watch ‘The Importance of Being Donald Duck’. Yes really. The hostel has a small video library, consisting of our cartoon choice and some dodgy-looking films about kinky Germans. There were a bunch of other people in the hostel, and while we were asleep some others came into our room. They were gone by the morning, we never met them.

Wednesday 23 April

The Swedish hostel manager (arrived to work in a factory several years ago and decided he didn’t want to leave Iceland) pointed out some sights for the day. Our first point of interest lay on the end of the peninsula in Öndverðarnes and involved a search for whales. I misjudged the temperature outside and went without my coat. We walked down the path to the beach, me shivering. No whales. I jogged around and clambered over some rocks to look out in a different direction, found somewhere sheltered and looked out to see. There were definitely movements out in the distance and I’d like to think they were some kind of whales but in reality they could’ve been anything (read probably boats). Lisa meanwhile braved death to find a sea cave further along the shore, by this time I’d found both more effective shelter and a jazz radio station in our car. Cool.

It’s both a blessing and a curse that Iceland is developing it’s road network. A blessing in that future visitors will experience the benefits of asphalt, but a curse in that we had to drive through the road works. It’s like driving on gravel, only more like pebbles. Thankfully it didn’t last too long. Charlotte told us a story of how when she’d been driving in the same area she’d come up against a hill of rubble in the road and thought she had to turn back, only for a man to tell her to wait. 5 minutes later the pile of rubble had been flattened into a beautiful new road section. This didn’t happen for us.

On the road back to Reykjavik we stopped first to admire the pagan monument of Barður Snæfellsás (protects from evil, so he does) and the nearby white textured coastline complete with caves. Historically houses in Iceland have had roofs covered in turf, the grass keeping in place the soil that acts as insulation superior to alternative locally available building materials. Some of these houses stood nearby – not some tourist attraction, people’s homes. They caused me to wonder if they have to mow the roof.

As well as trolls and fairies, Iceland is also said to be home to leprechauns, particularly on the Snaefelsness peninsula. Try as I might, and no matter which holes I peered into, they and their pots of gold all eluded me. I settled for the photo opportunity provided by an unusually black church set in front of the mountains behind.

Iceland is a predominately Christian country, and like most of the houses in rural areas (read all of Iceland!) the majority of churches are pre-fab constructions. It took a little while to notice that each village appeared to have the same church, with 3 windows to each side and a small tower at one end.

I saw our first speed cameras in Iceland driving back towards Reykjavik in the Hvalfjörður tunnel. The tunnel shaves an hour off the trip, and when it was planned caused residents on the northern side to be concerned that the promised relative proximity of the capital would adversely affect trade. They seem to be getting on alright, thankfully.

And so we arrived back in Reykjavik’s city hostel, the round trip of Iceland completed in less than two weeks. We returned Jeffrey’s keys, Lisa still fretting about the filth. The hostel receptionist assured us that this was a common state for returned vehicles. Thankfully it seems that we got away with the chipped windscreen. So far…

Still more to do, though – we booked a horse riding trip for the next morning and made friends in the hostel. Ola, who’s name may or may not include accents, sat with us in the kitchen for a while. He’s 19, from the Swedish island of Gotland and dreams of being a doctor. For the moment, he’s on his way to work on a farm some way out of Akureyri and polish up his Icelandic.

Remaining in the kitchen we were soon joined by Paul, 27, from the Wirral but working for Shell in the Hague and Barry the American who is on the last stop of a 14 month round the world trip. Paul and I shared storied of off-road driving and commiserated in our shared experiences of speeding-tickets. Soon enough two Norwegian girls Maria and Ina, both 23, joined us. And then vodka happened.

It was a good evening spent making new friends. At around 11 o’clock I got news that my dad had been elected into the government in back home in Guernsey and we all celebrated. Barry and Ola were leaving for their various adventures the next day and were first to retire. Paul, Ina and Maria went out into town soon after midnight and Lisa and I piked off to bed with horse riding to follow in the morning. We arranged to meet up the next day for dinner.

Thursday 24 April

We had to be up fairly early to catch a bus out of the city to where horses awaited us. It was to be my first time on horseback, but I figured that little girls rode all the time and if they can manage alright then I would be just fine too! Once again we donned oh-so-sexy overalls, the weather outside a threatening grey with fine misty rain floating down.

An American family (the women, at least – the men had all cried off, apparently) provided company for us as we waited for our Swedish guides to make the necessary preparations. My horse had a silly and unpronounceable name that sounded a bit like ‘fidgety’, so I called it ‘horsey’ instead. In response to not being able to learn his name Horsey ignored me all the while we rode outwards. No matter if I kicked, clicked or clucked this horse couldn’t be less interested, determined to follow the horse in front at his own pace – usually leaving a large and ever expanding gap. At intervals one of our guides would come and hurry Horsey up, encouraging him into a testicle-endangering trot.

Icelandic horses are famous for their additional gait. After walk, trot, canter and gallop, the Icelandic horses may break into a tolt. The tolt has the same sequence of footfalls as a walk, only is quicker. This means that there is no stage of suspension in the air and therefore less jolting. Horsey tolted only a little though, and to be honest I found it quite hard to tell.

We stopped for a few moments after the horses waded us through a river. We were a group of 9 plus instructors, although as we stopped we were a group of 8 because Lisa’s horse wasn’t interested in going through the water and she had to wait on the other side. Again I had no problems at all mounting and dismounting – what’s all the fuss about? Well another of the group found that out while falling flat on his back! One of our American companions stood in to take photos for me, with the slight hitch that the we all headed off before any could be taken! I had to retrieve my phone (camera) when we finished. On the way back something clicked and suddenly I was in control of my horse. I’d still give out a warning to anybody who thinks trotting is comfortable however – particularly if they were born with boy-parts.

Back in the hostel we sat on the sofas with Paul, Ina and Maria. Paul was… not so well, and had even been crowdsurfing during their night out. Howard (Canadian, 27, banker in London) joined us after a while, and with those same 6 of us the “Fabulous Crew” was formed. We saw Julie again, freshly back from Greenland, but then lost her before we went out for food. On Howard’s recommendation we arrived at a pleasant restaurant and ate Mexican food (lots of!). A kind bystander offered to take what ended up in all likelihood being our only respectable group photos…

… Because after the meal came the bar. And then the other bar. And then… I’m not quite sure after that. Howard became increasingly ‘fabulous’ as the evening wore on; he’s gay or I’m a Somalian. Which only makes his attentions to Maria more confusing.

Icelandic nights out are quite a thing. Late to get started but full-blooded none the less, the beer is extortionately expensive, but it stops no one. Icelanders are big drinkers, but very friendly and happy to talk to any tourists. We took it in turn to show off our favourite dance moves, with Ina’s one-legged squint ‘n’ twist the group favourite. Paul and Ina paired off, and it was 2am before we returned.

Friday 25 April

It was a slow morning spent with a sore head. Lisa got up earlier to go shopping, I was having no part in that. I passed the morning playing guitar. Quietly. Meanwhile Howard had organised an apartment in the city centre in preference to the hostel for the remainder of his holiday and invited us over for drinks later on. As afternoon drew on I met up with Paul and we took a taxi into town to meet up with the girls and the five of us went whale watching. The visitor centre displays expanded whale top trumps – a photo of each species of whale with data statistics such as length and weight underneath.

Rather untactfully the very same boats that were one used for whaling have been refitted and are now used to show the whales to tourists (although I believe whaling is about to begin once again, so says the Icelandic government… Booo). Thankfully we picked a calm day to go to sea, but cold! We took up a position at the very front of the boat, cameras at the ready as the crew called out where to look.

It was an interesting trip, with minke whales surfacing as close as 30 yards from the boat. Harbour porpoises could also be seen in their droves. Puffins were also there to be seen, although the larger humpback whales were not around. After a while we retired back below deck one by one to shelter from the cold. Afterwards we had lunch in Café Paris and talked a lot about gay people.

Following lunch we all agreed to meet up later on to go to Howard’s apartment as a prelude to another night out. Then the girls continued their shopping while Paul and I again took the lazy option and taxi’d it back to the hostel. More reading, and I picked out I Wanna Be Like You from the jungle book on the guitar in honour of a Spaniard called Louis. Louis is a 37 year old music teacher with some “interesting” views on marriage (Spanish women reach their late 20s and then snare some innocent, unsuspecting man outside a bar and make him have children before leaving him 7 years later. All of them.) and is a hostel fixture, often seen running around in short shorts for no discernable reason. A good man is Louis, good fun.

At the last minute we talked Louis into coming out with us to Howard’s apartment. Frank the Irishman joined later too. Frank, 30, has come off the back of a 20 day, multi-continent sponsored pub-crawl. Our first conversation was about the merits of Wes Brown as a right back.

It was a fantastic night involving many bars (one of which is reputed to be owned by Damon Albarn of Blur) and many drinks. I met plenty more people - honourable mentions go to John the dwarf, Roger and Marie. Highlights include my £100+ credit card bill for drinks, breaking up a potential fight, the Howard vs Maria fabulousness contest and Marie, 25 and also from Gotland. In the end I was last to leave and walked back to the hostel in broad daylight, arriving sometime after 6.15am.

Saturday 26 April

I slept for some 2 hours and then struggled out for breakfast with Lisa and Maria. ‘Tired’ doesn’t fully convey the lack of enthusiasm I felt for pretty much anything. Even so it was time to leave, we said goodbye to Maria – the others were nowhere to be found – and we took the bus back to Keflavik airport. We flew home, parted company in the Tube and our holiday drew to a close.

Of course I had a fantastic time in Iceland. My favourite parts – climbing onto the glacier Skaftafellsjökull, snowmobiling, the off road driving and hiking in Grundesfjorder and hanging out with the ‘Fabulous Crew’ in Reykjavik. Lowlights would be getting caught speeding and getting ill!

Thanks to Lisa for being a great companion all the while. Thanks to everyone else I met for all the memorable times.

Iceland. Stunning locations around every corner, amazing experiences and stupid roads.

Appendix – Things Sebastian Did

• Rode around Iceland on his bicycle
• Hiked to the top of Myrdaljokull glacier and returned in time for tea
• Swam naked around the northern isle of Drangey, keeping alight a burning torch and singing the German national anthem – to prove his manliness
• Fathered children merely by breathing on local girls
• Toppped Mt Hekla to see if it really was the gateway to hell. Laughed in the face of the devil and strolled off whistling
• Confirmed trolls really do exist in Iceland. Wrestled six at a time for sport.
• Surtset wasn’t formed in 1963 by volcanic activity – Sebastian found it underwater and dragged it back up
• Rode astride two reindeer with a foot on each and his bike slung over his shoulders
• Built a 10ft snowman and named it Behemoth. It got up and walked away
• Whittled a tent out of his sleeping bag when stranded in snow
• Had a stareout with a snowman and won
• Spent 2 weeks living in an orca
• Many believe Geysir is a natural phenomenon. Sometimes it is caused by Sebastian’s sneeze
• Rode a seal to Grimsey
• Sebastian doesn’t get cold; the rest of the world warms up
• Spent a night sleeping in haunted Kaldbakur – the ghosts were too afraid to come out
• Carved his name into a glacier so it could be seen from space
• Taught the Icelandic horses their fifth gait
• Found the highland pass blocked with snow and attached a scoop to the front of his bicycle to rescue tourists
• Met the sea monster in Lagerfljot and agreed to keep it’s secret