June 22nd, 2013 marks Day 1 of mine and Dillion’s journey across The Atlantic on our way towards Mongolia and Day 38 of our career breaks (his first, my second) otherwise known as self-inflicted unemployment. Our first stop on what has now become anywhere from a 6 month to an 18 month journey is Reykjavik, Iceland due to the workings of the enterprising airline, Icelandair, which allows free stopovers en route to Europe. Even after this four day stopover, Iceland still remains a mystery as the first thing you learn is that there is entirely too much to see and do in this country. For the sake of our sanity and budget, we spent our time in Reykjavik exploring museums and acclimating to a life of camping rather than scramble to see every corner. We thoroughly enjoyed everyday we spent here even though some complained to us that we didn’t see enough of Iceland. Still, knowing about all of the possibilities left us with a desire and strong motivation to come back one day when we’re not as financially constrained.
Even with the recent collapse of the economy, Iceland still remains an expensive destination and as such, living on a budget is quite a challenge for the alcoholic drink loving backpacker. With this in mind, we followed the advice of the locals and made a quick stop in the duty free store at the airport to pick up a sufficient bottle of rum for keeping warm as well as a carton of cigarettes that would most likely prove useful somewhere along the journey in Ukraine or Russia where the cops are known to pull over tourists for an innocent bribe.
The Flybus, as you would expect, was as efficiently run and convenient as it was expensive as one of few options for transportation to Reykjavik from the airport. One tip though is to book a return trip, assuming you plan to leave Iceland eventually, to save 500 krona (USD 4.12), or better yet, book only to the bus terminal and walk to your accommodations, again assuming this is logical and pain free, to save even more.
Normally, I wouldn’t think that a bus ride at midnight into a city wouldn’t offer much in the way of scenic views, but here in Iceland when the sun doesn’t set in the summer, this isn’t the case. The volcanic landscape had a very eerie feel and I was starting to think that there might be some truth to the existence of the hidden people or as we outsiders call them, elves. This is one interesting fact you learn on the informative video on the plane about Icelandic culture – about one half of the population here believes in the hidden people. Furthermore, it’s also not polite for a foreigner to suggest that it’s a tall tale. We later learned from a cousin in London that Alcoa allegedly had to hire a consultant to certify that hidden people were not living on a site where they had planned to build a facility. There’s nothing like financial dedication to reaffirm your beliefs! Back to the bus ride though, the landscape, unlike anything I’d seen before did have a very mysterious appeal to it which was amplified by the perpetual dusk setting. It seemed as if we were on the moon and that we could bounce our way through fields if we so desired.
We arrived at the Reykjavik campsite which was right next to a hostel and set about fulfilling our two needs of shelter and nourishment. Dillion took care of pitching the tent and I took off in search of the nearest grocery store open at 2:30 in the morning. Again, this would normally seem to be something you wouldn’t recommend doing, but given this is the one country where locals recommend hitchhiking as a safe alternative to travel, I didn’t worry at all. I did however feel completely creeped out by the combination of silence and daylight. It felt like 5:00 anywhere else in the world where it was just light enough to walk around without a flashlight, but not a single creature was stirring. What felt even more odd was when I actually came to an awkward stop at a crosswalk to let a car go by. We were the single two car and pedestrian on the road in Reykjavik and we just happened to meet at the same time in the same place. Once at the grocery store, I bought the standard mix of chocolate, nuts and juice to tide us over for snacks until the morning.