Exploring Iceland’s Ring Road Part 2: The Westfjords
“I could stay here,” I think. “I could live here.” But rarely do I contemplate the reality of such grand ideas because it’s always a one way road back to reality.
Instead I imagine, purely and without complication of critical thought. I imagine my single idyllic night here was representative of a lifetime, as surely a lifetime could be spent sipping beer in an outdoor jacuzzi on the western shores of Iceland, with splendid views of Snæfellsjökull volcano’s peak rising above the chilled waters of the north Atlantic. Everything seems better here, and so at least for the moment in this magical place, I imagine, “Yes, I could live here.”
And then reality finally recovers its grasp in this dreamlike landscape a scant 90 miles outside Reykjavik. We came here to circumnavigate Iceland, all 850 miles of the Ring Road, and what a shame it would be to end our journey so soon after the outset. It’s time to move on.
We set off again northbound by way of our rented car. The ground quickly comes alive with color as we drive past beautiful palettes of vibrant autumn hues. Pavement gives way to dirt, some of it pothole strewn, much of it mountainous. I’m sure we’d fully awake to the perils of our course if not for the wonderful distraction of the scenery. Temperatures drop with increased latitude as autumn reds change to brown, yellows saturate, and greens vanish entirely.
It’s all to be expected as we head away from popular Highway 1 in favor of a far more remote part of Iceland: the Westfjords. Uncommonly visited, the area is so alien in its geography and so seemingly devoid of life in parts, that it was formerly used by Apollo astronauts as they prepared to walk on the surface of the moon.
It’s not so much the distance as it is the difficulty involved in getting here which makes this place so remote. Isafjordur is a full day’s drive to anywhere, and the road trip is not for the faint of heart. Splendid views come at the price of navigating difficult, unpaved roads along cliffs suspended high above the water. The driving seems endless as we pass fjord after fjord, the apparent magnificence of each fading as hours elapse and childlike complaints of, “are we there yet” replace the childlike awe that was inevitable upon first entering this region. Eventually though, we arrive.
Approaching in the evening, the scenery is striking. Tungsten city lights dance on the deep blue waters of the bay, symbiotically combining to form an impressive feast of complimentary colors. Clouds slowly move overhead as the blue sky of impending nighttime cedes to darkness. A cold wind adds excitement and romance to the scene, and perhaps a bit of dread too.
This place is stunning in a lonely sort of way, a place where modern, first world amenities like running water and high speed internet interject themselves into a most remote part of the world. Only campers and the highest caliber of adventurers should really probably belong here, yet on arrival we savor a glass of wine with our roasted puffin dinner and order another glass from the hotel staff before retiring to our warm and comfortable room.
As I drift asleep, my mind again wanders. This place seems like any other Icelandic town, unassuming, friendly, and pleasantly, unexpectedly easy. I’d hardly know how remote a place this is if not for the difficulty involved in getting here.