Tuesday, 3 October 2017

welcome to Trumpland

There's no shouting, there's no guns. Just some very polite crew members directing us off the boat and into the arms of the smiling female border patrol.   It's the stuff of fantasy.  Of course it's fantasy.  "Into the arms".  Who are you kidding?  But they are really polite and friendly - unlike the regular immigration officers I've come across on my previous two visits.  The critical question comes - how long do we wish to stay in the US?  Six months, we chorus.  We have the visa in our passports, we know we can stay six months, but we also know that it's at the discretion of the immigration officer at the border. I've coached Gayle not to mention a) Cuba b) all the friends we hope to visit c) Trump.  The border patrol officer looks us over in a pleasant, interested fashion, the way the other passengers on the car deck have.  What does she see? A middle-aged white couple on bikes with a lot of luggage.  Do we look respectable? tick. Do we look islamic? cross. Do we look wealthy enough to stay in the U.S. for six months? hmmm..... 
We are referred to the office staff who need to do 'a couple more things' i.e. check our fingerprints and facial recognition - the US government took this data when we went to the embassy for the visa interview back in March.  The man processing us now asks us more questions.  
Why six months? becasue we travel real slow..... So that we can cycle to the Mexican border.  
Where will we go? who knows, we keep changing our minds Down the east coast and then over to Texas and New Mexico.  
What will we do when we run out of funds? weep Teach English in another country like Viet Nam or China. 
From where will we travel back to the UK? who knows?? From Mexico.  
Is there any reason why he shouldn't grant us a six month stay? well, we really don't like your president.....  Umm, no.
We watch avidly as he finds a blank page and stamps our passports.  We get the six months. 
We are in.

Monday, 10 July 2017

the rest of Iceland in a paragraph

"Oh bugger, I'm never going to catch up with this blog."

"Well why are you writing so much?  You could write up Iceland in three posts."

 ..................................................................................

So, 
 
We take a dirt road through the highlands.  We meet some other cyclists.  It rains hard.  Then it's windy.  We ride a long way.  Then we head up to the Western Fjords.  But we stop at Holmavik for a rest.  We see some whales.  We decide to head south.  The weather is pretty lousy.  We camp in trees.  The sun shines - it must be Sunday.  Finally we reach Reykjavik where we stay with Unnur and Sveinn and the sun shines a lot.  Then we catch a plane to Montreal.



insert obligatory geyser and waterfall photos here
 

Monday, 19 June 2017

pause

We ride into Hvolsvöllur from the pleasant back road which has taken us past a few farms.  It's a lovely quiet rolling road and it gives us a view of the village hidden under a canopy of trees.  It's a weird and wonderful sight on an island that distinctly lacks trees. On the way out of the village, back on the ring road, we pass a large stand of new trees.  We take a look.  It's a perfect camping spot, so we stop early.  In fact, it's such a good camping spot we stay for three nights.  The weather is blustery and wet, but more importantly there's a service station nearby with free wi-fi.  It's time I started writing this blog and Gayle wants to upload her photographs to Flickr.  
 
a rare modern church in a small village

We take it in turns to sneak out of the woods and back along the main road to the petrol station.  It's one of a national chain, N1, and they're located all around the ring road.  They're very useful for us - we can do laundry, plug in and charge while we're using the wi-fi and we don't have to spend a penny because they're usually busy.  They are staffed only by children, most of whom are producing deep-fat-fried fast food.  The cheapest item on the menu are hot dogs and quite a lot of the customers are chewing on these.  

classic hand-knitted jumpers go for £200
Now we really do feel like hobos.  We could live like vagabonds here for a year probably, without being discovered.  It's a good opportunity for us to have a break from the cycling and gird our loins for the next stage - the highlands.

our home sweet home
Gayle gets an e-mail form her sister, who has been here a couple of times.  She writes in response to a comment from Gayle about how most tourists just seem to drive around in their vehicle, stop, take a photo, then drive on.  Her sister points out that we are doing just the same thing, but much slower.  "It's just the same, but slower" becomes our catchphrase over the next couple of weeks, as we struggle with the elements that make Iceland a challenging place to cycle.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

waterfalls

the campground dog looking for food
Skogafoss are one of the falls that appears on the tour itinerary for every tour group heading along the southern route.  We arrive early as the clouds are lifting, but the place is already heaving.  The village has a youth hostel (dorm bed £50 each per night - member's rate), a small shop (a butane gas cartridge is about £20) and a campsite that ranks as one of the worst in the world.  For about £30 you can camp in the carpark of the waterfalls.  You will be surrounded by visitors walking around your tent going between toilets, falls and vehicles.  And there's little shelter from the wind.

going to see the top of the falls

We brew up to one side of the carpark and have breakfast before having a little look at the waterfalls and moving on.  Neither of us is particularly comfortable with the volume of people.  However. it is fun people-watching.  Further along the main road we take a turn off along a track to a place up a small side valley.  After a short walk along a rocky path we come to the swimming pool mentioned by the Russians.  It's spring-fed by hot water and it seems that it is well-known.  Despite the rustic set up (a tiny blockhouse for changing and nothing else) theres a steady stream of people coming and going.  I am disappointed.  The water is not so hot.  However, we do get a free wash, albeit without soap.  The pool is fantastically dark green and sinister.  The surfaces are soft and furry with algae.   After a good soak we dry off and move on.

hanging on for dear life at the deep end
Not far away are more falls.  Same big carpark, same long line of tourists completing the triangle of vehicle-toilet-falls.  The twist to these falls is that you can walk behind them as a path cuts into the rockface behind.  I am feeling a bit blase about these places now.  It's all so ho-hum-ha.  There's got to be more to Iceland than these 'honey pot' places.  Gayle checks out prices at the food van in the carpark.  Twenty quid for a sandwich and cake.  The van is staffed by teenagers.  Where are all the adults?  Gone somewhere warm for the summer?


Determined to break off the ring road we follow the side road northwards.  It soon turns to a dirt track that suddenly becomes a ribbon of loose rocks.  It's barely navigable.  However, there is an old bridge crossing the huge wide river beside the road.  There are large rocks placed to stop vehicles using it, but we can see from tracks that locals still do.  We check the map.  On the far side is an an enormous open plain.  Except, in the near distance, an isolated hill, the larger brother of the one on ourside of the river.  These two hills are the rocky incarnations of legendary figures mentioned in the Icelandic Sagas.  Or so I imagine.  I really don't know.  While I'm trying to invent some myth about why they are located here, separated by the river, Gayle is halfway across.  On the other side we camp beside the dyke which is preventing the river from moving even wider across the plain.  After only cycling twenty minutes off the ring road we are suddenly in a quiet empty place. It's wonderful.


In the morning we continue north along a rocky dirt track that brings us to Glugafoss.  These falls are little visited but are quite unusual as the water has formed a chimney into the rock and then worn 'windows' into the chimney.  The water gushes out of three separate windows.  Not a coach tour in sight, too.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

the call of nature

We're happy to reach Vik.  It's at the southernmost tip of  Iceland's south coast and when we've been looking at the weather it definitely seemed to be the point at which we would start getting sunnier days.  So of course we expect the rain as we close in on the village.  We don't expect to see David stood outside a campground along the road.  We thought he'd be well ahead of us now.  He's smoking a cigarette and looking a little disheartened.  Who wouldn't be.  Cycling here is tough and it must be even tougher on your own.  Nadine, the cyclist we met on the ferry, has written saying that she now calls the island Scheisseland because she's had so much rain and bad weather - lots of headwinds.  After a brief hello and goodbye we leave David debating whether to stop at the campground or not.  "He probably didn't smoke before he got here", Gayle comments.
shabby chic

Outside the supermarket are four loaded bikes.  It's drizzling but one of the cyclists chats with us.  They're Russians.  Aha, we think.  "Where did you camp last night?" we ask.  Er, just over there, at the end of the street, Ivan tells us sheepishly.  "A lady told us it wasn't really allowed, but it was raining....."  Ivan is happy to share some tips - free hot baths along the route and in Reykjavik too.  They've been battling the headwind going east but of all the cyclists we've seen, they look the most determined.

Leaving Vik on one of those steep climbing roads that you always find leading out of coves, we pass the road display board telling us weather conditions on the passes ahead.  The only problem is that we don't know where the passes are on our map and we don't understand the code of the display.  We soon find out. 
shabby
Towards the top of the climb the wind whips up behind us, helping us along.  And then it gusts sideways and pushes us both across the road.  There's traffic in both directions so you can imagine how frightening this is.  The wind is so strong we can't trust ourselves to ride.  There's nothing to do but get off and walk.  And walk.  And walk.  We even walk down the other side, because there's no leeward side - everywhere is exposed to the wind.  We drop into a short valley and ride for a bit before struggling up a short climb at the other end.  It's very tricky and the road is not very wide.  Cars try to squeeze past us and oncoming traffic as we wobble uphill and I snap.  I start shouting and swearing and waving my arms and basically stop the cars behind us.  I am utterly outraged.  They wouldn't come so close if we were pedestrians or motorcyclists - why do we deserve such a lack of care or respect?  I sum my arguments up into some short, pithy and angry curses, which are blown away on the gusting wind as soon as they leave my mouth.  


Over the hill we look out aghast at a wide open plain, not a sign of shelter anywhere in the distance.  It's raining again now, and we can see a turn off in the distance which might lead to shelter behind a mountain, but it's miles away.  Dropping down to the bottom of the hill, we spot a church next to a couple of farmhouses.  So we veer off along the track and hide behind a small outbuilding next to the church.  Relief.  No wind, just a touch of rain.  We try the door handle, no luck.  Gayle goes over to the church door.  No dice.  We stand around for half an hour contemplating the situation.  Maybe we could just camp here in the church carpark?  Gayle goes off to ask at the farm.  The old fella who opens the door doesn't speak English but directs Gayle to the neighbours.  Yes, they tell her, no problem.  Result.  The ground is rock hard and covered in large pebbles but with a bit of groundwork we have a shelter for the tent out of the wind.  Phew.

shelter from the wind

The relief of the evening is not borne through the morning.  The wind has died and the rain has stopped, true.  But after breakfast there is one morning ritual that remains undone.  I am a creature of habit, and after breakfast I am usually to be found, trowel in one hand, bog roll in the other, looking for a quiet spot to 'phone my broker'.  We head off along the road, out into the big open plain, through fenced off fields separated from the road by big ditches.  There is nowhere to hide, nowhere to go.  The call of nature is loud and cannot be ignored.  We get to a roadside restplace, one where drivers can pull in.  These come along every 50kms or so, and they sometimes have a picnic table.  They are always in windswept exposed positions and this one is no different.  However, the road at this point is about two or three metres higher than the surrounding land.  The road sometimes resembles a dyke, and the restplace has a slope out of sight of passing vehicles.  So off I go to answer the call.  I am just finished with the old 'buff and polish' when Gayle calls out.  Perhaps my lookout had drifted off, but her warning comes too late.  I turn around to find a car parked just above me, and the driver getting out and quickly looking away in horror.  There's a whole family in the car and I guess they change their minds about getting out to stretch their legs when they see the view.  I get my shorts back up super fast and dutifully refill the hole.  But oh, the indignity, the shame.

the long empty road

It's now illegal for cars and campervans to camp at the roadside or anywhere other than a campground and the reason is simply that too many tourists were just going to the toilet everywhere.  For some reason no-one has thought to provide more toilets.  What price a chemical toilet at every reststop?   I think I'll write to the Head of Tourism about this........

and the occasional wonderful view


Friday, 16 June 2017

getting warmer

So here we are on the island of 'fire and ice' and we are yet to see a volcano or anything volcanic.  Until today.  We are riding through an enormous volcanic lava flow which comes from the highlands and flows out to the coast.  It is now set solid, frozen in time, a field of black tuff now coated in an irridescent green moss.  Our road cuts across it to Kirkyboojie.  This is not it's real name, but we are struggling with pronouncing Icelandic names and Kirkjubæjarklaustur hardly trips off the tongue.  

"try not to look so gormless"
 Kirkyboojie is significant primarily for it's supermarket.  But we are also interested in the Hot Pot.  Now, this might come as a great disappointment to all the many visiting Chinese tourists, for whom hot pot is almost a national dish, because in Iceland a Hot Pot is something you get in.  The country has invested heavily into building swimming pools in many small communities and these all have hot tubs and sometimes saunas too.  We are itching. almost literally, to have a wash and a soak.  The day is grey and cool and the pool and tubs are outside, but this adds to the pleasure, as the hot water soaks through our bodies and warms us to the marrow of our bones.  Mmmmmmmm.  It's not busy - a few locals and tourists from the hotel next door. WE chat to a local young man who runs 'adventure tours'.  He complains about rising house prices in Reykjavik and how tour companies are copying each others ideas and itineraries in the new tourist boom.  The currency gets stronger,  the tourist numbers this year are over 2 million, and prices rise.  He predicts a bust in the near future.
most farms look abandoned or only with a few sheep
When it all gets too hot we get out and do a bit of laundry.  There's even free coffee in the foyer.  Then it's back in for that lovely heat again.  By the time we get out I feel like Mr. Softmint.  Over at the supermarket there's a Spanish couple on touring bikes. They seem a little subdued and monosyllabic.  We can tell they've been riding into a headwind all the way from the airport at Keflavik - right in the south-west corner of the island. Duro, muy duro.


Kirkyboojie sits right in the middle of this rather stunning lava flow which came from a huge eruption from a series of vents in the earth's crust in 1783.  It is considered to be the largest eruption of lava in world history and was the largest disaster to hit Iceland.  Over 8 months the gases and ash cloud led directly or indirectly to the death of about a quarter of the whole population and the effects were felt across Europe and North America.  I read later that in New Orleans even the Mississippi froze over that winter.

It's late afternoon and we realise that lava, hot or cold, isn't actually ideal camping ground.  But just as we're tiring and our morale is dipping and the inner warmth we built up from the hot pot is starting to fade, we sense the lava thinning out.  Sure enough, we see a stream and ground that isn't coated in lava.  It looks like a place the road builders dug up and disturbed which has now overgrown.  Behind a hillock we can camp out of sight of the road and just over another hillock is a large slow-moving stream.  That'll do for the day.
...at last

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

the maddening crowd

It's a glorious sunny day.  Our dampened spirits have been lifted by Margot's kindness and now the weather is perfect for our visit to Jokulsarlon a.k.a. the Iceberg Lagoon.  This is a place where one of the huge glaciers coming off the ice cap here ends in a lagoon.  Huge pieces of the ice break off and float about before heading for the exit out to sea.  And the waves then wash the icebergs up onto the shore.  It's quite a dramatic sight, on the beach, because the sand is black from lava.




We arrive mid morning and there's plenty of activity around.  We realise that for many people flying into Iceland this is probably the most eaterly point they will come to.  And the place is quite a drawcard.  We spend a little time walking around the shore of the lagoon and away from the carpark where there are less visitors.  The beach scene is fabulous.  



When we return to the road we become aware of an increase in the traffic.  This is definitely the endpoint for the majority of tourists.  Thankfully there is a nice easterly tailwind pushing us along, as this is also the stretch of ring road with no communities (shops).   We get a good long close up of some of the glaciers pouring off Vatnajokull.  We turn a corner and ride onto an enormous fluvial plain - a rocky landscape formed by the glaciers carrying rock debris out of the mountains and the huge rivers sweeping out to sea.  It's impressive but quite boring to cycle.  Happily we have some distractions- such as the turf-roofed church in a little hamlet.   And then we meet a chatty Italian cyclist coming the other way.  He looks frazzled and he tells us he's been fighting a headwind all day.  We do our introductions "I'm a man you welly" he tells me.  I look askance.  "Emmanuel" he explains for me with the English pronunciation.  As we have the wind with us we crack on.  The road has been built up on a raised dyke along a large part of this coastline.  It's flat but there's not much of a hard shoulder.  The flatness means we can see quite a long way ahead but even we are surprised that the bridge we see in the distance turns out to be over five kilometres away.

Eventually we get across the fluvial plain and come to another turf-roofed church.  But this one is on a farm and the gates are closed. We leave our bikes anyway and go for a look around.  The farm is abandoned.  Back at the gates an Icelandic family turn up.  The man cries out "What's this nonsense!"when he sees the 'private property' sign. "This is a national historic site!" he declares, before they all troop up the track.  Just along the road we find another abandoned building and a footpath that leads us to a little rocky alcove that is perfectly sheltered from the wind that has pushed us over the 100km limit today.  This spot is one of Gayle's typical finds.  It's an ideal location but it requires a little more effort - in this case lifting our panniers and bikes over an old fence before pushing up a rocky escarpment to reach it.  Worth the bother?  Of course it is.  There's not a soul for miles.

Monday, 12 June 2017

a warming moment

It's a lousy day - the road crosses a large featureless bay sitting under a grey sky.  The rivers we cross are black and menacing, the mountains seem harsh and unwelcoming.  It's cold, very cold. To our left is the sea, sometimes close, sometimes far away.  There's no respite from the elements.  We put on our wet weather gear before we stop for lunch at a roadside picnic table.  Tourists in a four-weel drive pull in but don't get out, don't say hello.  We gobble down the cheap tasteless bread smothered in, and this is the brightest spark of the day so far, delicious blackcurrant jam. 

but the winner is .... mcvitie's dark chocolate digestives


On we go, the road pushed back out to the coast and around yet another grassy and rocky headland.   We wave to the sheep.  It starts to rain.  And then, the Vatnajokull ice cap comes into view - a large snowy white expanse layered over the mountains on the horizon.  We pause at a pull-in where there are some stunted firs - the first we've seen for a while.  Gayle goes off to explore the lay of the land and reports that it would do for the night, even though it's only mid-afternoon.  Down below us is a farm, hotel, restaurant and museum.  We decide to wheel down to the restaurant and see if we can get dry there.  Inside a coachload of Chinese tourists are finishing off their late lunch.  We pretend to look at the postcards for sale and check the weather forecast displayed on a TV screen.  A young woman asks if we need any help.  We ask her a question, she divines we are cyclists (perhaps the helmets give us away, or the drowned-rat look), and tells us that she too is a cyclist.  Margot arrived here with her partner from Poland exactly as we have done, and stayed to work ever since.  She is now running the restaurant and kindly offers us a hot drink, invites us to sit down at a table and then brings us cake too.  Such a sweetie.  She knows what it's like.  


this is why Gayle usually takes the photos

After drying off we check out the museum, which is a small but fascinating display about the life and work of Þórbergur Þórðarson (in Icelandic the letter Þ = Th), a man who grew up on this isolated farm and then left to become one of Iceland's greatest writers and thinkers.   Around the usual heritage stuff such as the old wooden house he lived in and a model of his study are many quotes from Thordarson's books.  These have been translated briliantly.  It turns out to be a real gem of a place.  Thank you, Margot.

It's about to start raining when we leave, and we quickly ride back to the road and then push into the trees to camp - trying to preserve that bit of warmth Margot has filled us with.

in the morning

Sunday, 11 June 2017

where there's hofn

Iceland has one main road - the ring road - route 1.  There are other roads crossing the island and sprouting off to the coastal extremities and these are the ones we want to find.  We are starting southwards and Nadine wrote to us about a dirt road that shaves off a hundred kilometres, misses a tunnel and more importantly, gets us off route 1, if only for a day.  The downside is it takes us over another high pass.  Are we ready after yesterday's traumatic experience?  Yes, of course.  Now we think nothing will be as bad that.

Just after setting off Davide catches up with us.  He stayed at the campsite last night after stocking up at the supermarket, although he observes that another supermarket is only a day's ride away.  We ask him how the prices compare with those of Switzerland.  We remember that many Swiss drive into Germany to stock up on groceries.  Same prices, he tells us, but lower quality here.  We realise that our currency has weakened since the Brexit referendum whilst the Icelandic Krona is strengthening on the back of their tourist boom.  In one year, the pound has dropped a third in value in direct comparison.  No wonder the bread's so expensive.  After reflecting on the egregious state of Sterling Davide whizzes off down the valley and we follow at a more leisurely pace.  

The valley is wide and we circuit around one side of a large and distant lake.   We're surprised at the number of conifer trees but this region turns out to have the most forest of the island.  We read that the government is trying to reforest Iceland and return it to the state it was before the Vikings arrived.  Or was it to before the last Ice Age?  It seems that it's wrong to blame the Vikings for stripping the island of trees - although it's possible they finished off what little was left.  
looking back
Up ahead the valley narrows and the peaks of the surrounding mountains seem to close in.  They are capped in dark clouds and we can see rain in the sky in the side valleys and all ahead of us.  Happily it moves away as we get nearer and when we hit the dirt road and start climbing the sun comes out.  It's a gentle climb but the dirt road is being 'groomed' by a young lad in a big machine.  Basically he is tipping a huge amount of fresh earth over the road and then scraping it flat, thereby filling in all the potholes and leaving a beautiful carpet of thick soft soil.  I'm sure he knows what he's doing, despite his young age, but it makes for a crap cycling surface.  


At the pass a shower catches us and then we have the most incredible descent through a valley with wonderful rock formations.  On both sides the cliff faces of the mountains are tiered in great waves of rock. It looks like petrified lasagne.  And the road drops vertiginously at times like a washboard, pot-holed luge run.  I don't know whether to look up or down.  At the foot of the climb we find an unused track and camp with a view of the fjord we have arrived in.  Easy and thrilling - what more could we want today?
 
the picnic sign is very misleading - there is never a tree, just a single windswept table

Riding on to the next village in the morning and we find the road is rollercoasting rather steeply.  It takes us all morning to ride only 25km.  Are we so unfit, or just not used to that kind of up and down?  We find David at the supermarket brandishing some brocoli. Already we have decided we can't afford meat, cheese, butter, chocolate, beer, wine and most vegetables.  Our lunches consist of bread and jam with crisps and biscuits - a binge-eater's feast.  Dinner is pasta and a simple sauce with onions and One Other Veg. 

crap food, great views

Now we're back on the ring road and following the south-eastern coastline.  This consists of a series of fjords and wide bays with big mountains coming down to the coast.  Sadly the tops are always wrapped in cloud and this makes them featureless and uniform.  If only the cloud would lift.  During the day there's wind and showers but in the evenings the wind tails off.  We find some nice camp spots off the road, out of sight of the regular traffic.  It's permissible for cyclists to camp wild but not for car or van drivers.  Most of the traffic seems to be tourists in small rented vans and these are legally obliged to use campsites.  The campsites we see usually resemble grassy carparks with little shelter from the wind.  They're often by the road and look rather unpleasant.  And it costs £30 to camp. As Gayle puts it "that's an expensive shower".  
 
no services, no charge

The wild camping turns out to be one of the best parts of the day.  It's hardly getting dark at night - the sunset is between 11 and 12 at night - and the weather always seems to improve in the evening.  We seem to get showers frequently in the morning but can wait for the tent to dry out - a short wait if our sheltered spot is not so sheltered.  The worst part is lunch - with absolutely no shelter to be found from the elements - we often eat our jam sandwiches sat on the grass next to the road.  In between there's some cycling - which is quite enjoyable as the traffic is not heavy and the coastline is rather dramatic and beautiful.  We pass lonely sheep farms, some of which advertise accommodation.  It seems an isolated part of the country and we like it.


no drivers spotted these reindeer when we stopped to watch them
Icelandic B'n'B - demand outstrips supply these days
After a short wet day we awake to big clear skies and a gusting easterly wind.  It blows us along towards Hofn with the last shop for 200 km.  There's a busy supermarket where all the staff look about 14 years old.  There's also a quiet tourist office where we can get on-line and check the weather forecast. The fifteen year-old boy working there tells us "Tomorrow there'll be sun and showers." What about the wind?  He taps his keyboard and then pulls a face.  "The wind will be strong and...er...here, have a look yourself."  The wind map on the weather website shows the region covered in a series of randomly pointing arrows.....

After a bit of surreptitious laundry in the bathroom we set off down the road with the wind on our backs trundling us along easily.  It's our first sunny day and the mountains are all clear.  And to top it off we find a great little spot to camp. After a rocky start Iceland is feeling good.


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

the proof is in the pudding

The ferry glides up the fjord.  The hillsides are green.  The sun is shining. There are occasional, isolated, cottages. So far, so tourist brochure.  On the quayside we pedal to the front of the queue at the customs post.  A nice customs officer stops us only to say hello and give us some words of advice.  It snowed last night on the hills and it's a little bit windy on the tops.  Have a nice time in Iceland. 


The ship is still disgorging all shapes and size of vehicle as we head off.  There are bikers, car drivers, VW campers, bigger camper vans, overland vehicles all belching black fumes, and more camper vans.  Davide is a young Swiss guy riding a bicycle.  He disappears quickly.  We pause at an atm and then join the merry throng which is convoying up the road and out of Seydisfjordur.  We pass by an electronic display board which we don't really understand.  It says -2C  and SA8.  We'll learn.

the board shows weather conditions on the pass ahead

Very soon we have left the pretty village and are climbing.  We expect this. We have to cross a pass of 640 metres to reach the next town.  The road starts to switchback.  There is a steady stream of vehicles that pass us after coming off the boat.  There's a gushing waterfall off to one side.  As we ascend the clouds descend to meet us halfway.  It seems like a fair deal.  Drizzling, mizzling. 
looking back
 And then we're at the top at last where it starts to snow. And the wind howls in our ears.  But at least we can start heading down.  Except the road just continues straight ahead, neither climbing, nor descending.  Ahh, the infamous Icelandic heidi - a high plateau pass. A bloke on the ship warned us about heidis - he told us to make sure we don't get caught on them in bad weather.  We look about us.  There are frozen lakes and fresh and old snow.  The road stays clear.  We pedal on.  And finally the view of the next valley opens up before us and we are looking down on Egilstaddir.  We quickly put on more layers.  The snow has stopped, but the wind is buffeting us.  Gayle quickly disappears down the switchbacks, but I'm finding it hard to brake with frozen fingers, and have to stop to warm them up.  We drop down into clumps of dwarf pine trees and purple lupins.  It starts to rain.  We pedal hard until we reach the town and make a bee-line for the tourist information office.  It's a perfect haven, a port in a storm.  Warm, dry, with seats and tables to eat at, toilets.  Did I mention it's warm?  Outside it's cold.  We start glowing almost as soon as we get inside.

Welcome to Iceland.  It's the 6th of June and we've just endured minus temperatures and a taste of the Icelandic wind.  But we've survived!  We feel triumphant after this baptism of ice.  After a very long lunch we go to the supermarket.  The shop has been gutted by the gannets in the campervans.  There's one loaf of bread left on the shelf.  It costs about £4.  Ooof.  It's not often I openly weep in public, I can tell you.  After walking around in a haze for a while we emerge with a couple of bags of food and an overdraft. We cycle off along the road past the campsite and find a little spot behind some trees off the road.

cheap but cheerful

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Stone

At the ferry terminal we quickly unpack our stuff and take it in turns to burn out the hand dryers in the toilets to get our socks and underwear dry.  So many people think we are brave, setting off on bikes to travel around the world.  If only they knew..........

Well, as it turns out, some of them do.  


After checking in we are directed to the front of the queue outside where the cars and camper vans await the go ahead to board the ship.  Freight is being loaded rapidly and we are all waiting on one side out of the way.  We start chatting to Willemijn and Tom, who are in a small VW van, and who we met in the hold of the ship on the morning we all alighted here.  

And then a man walks past carrying a plastic shopping bag.  We are not sure if he's a passenger or not.  He pauses, looks us over and then approaches.  He quietly asks us a few questions, finds out what our plans are.  When we mention Cuba his eyes light up.  Oh, we'll like it there, he assures us.  He's cycled there.  He's cycled in many countries.   His name is Steyn.  "It means stone, in English."  He pauses and reflects for what seems like an uncomfortably long moment.  Then, looking right into our eyes, he says "You have chosen this life."  We are struck deeply by this observation from a man who we have only just met.  It's a comment that possibly says as much about him as it does about us.  Or is it simply that he knows.  He understands us.  It's a very special moment for us.  


The last couple of nights have been spent 'commando' camping in the town in shitty weather and left us feeling flat.  Gayle isn't feeling well.  We are outdoors so much and sometimes the outdoors is not a welcoming environment.  We can't wait to board this ship so that we can shower and wash our sweaty clothes.  And yet this is what we want.  We want to be here.  Steyn understands us.
Clearly he is barking mad too. 


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