After our morning dip in the hot spring, we drove away from Flókalundur. Earlier in the morning (when Grumpy Bear was still sleeping), I had gotten a hold of someone from the car rental agency and explained the mishap with the tire. He had told us that one of their service partners was located in Patreksfjörður. Patreksfjörður is one of the bigger towns in the Westfjords, population 770.
“It’s called Stormur. It means Storm in English. You will turn left into the town. It’s on the right. It’s a low building. There is a Toyota sign on it.” The North American in me wanted an address just to be sure. But I knew that if he told me over the phone, not only would I not understand what he was saying, I would never have been able to write it properly. It seems that every place or street name in Iceland is at least 17 letters, about half of which are not pronounced. So I went on faith.
And sure enough, it was all the description we needed.
It took us about an hour to get to Patreksfjörður and the guys at the garage took us immediately. The young mechanic was a little shocked at the state of the blown tire. Luckily, he had a new tire in stock. (How long would it have taken a tire to get to here from wherever??) We only needed to buy one (in Canada, you have to buy tires in pairs) and we drove the car onto the platform so he could change it right away. I also asked him if he could check the other tires for air and to make sure they were safe. My confidence in this little car was waning. He thought there was a leak in one of the other tires and asked us if we wanted him to remove the tire and do a proper check on it. Looking ahead to the roads we were going to be on – hell, yes! I stopped him for a moment and I said, “You need to be really honest with me. Is this car going to make it to Isjafjörður?” There is one road to Isafjörður, our most northern destination. Most of it is unpaved and it meanders over and around at least 6 fjords and according to the map, we would be passing three emergency shelters (which are found at the top of the mountains, equidistant from the two closest towns). Basically, this drive isn’t going to be an easy one. The young mechanic considered for two seconds too long and slowly said, “Yes. But drive carefully.” In the end, it cost us about $132 for a new tire and the labour. So much better than I was expecting!
I’m not a person who has regrets. I really feel that regret simply diminishes the excitement or beauty of what actually happened. But I was starting to regret renting this little car. However, I didn’t voice my regret because we really needed this little buggy to pull us through and I was starting to feel that if the car felt my negative energy, it would indeed fail. So we spoke to it lovingly. We gave it a name – Elfis. Every time we crested a mountain, we gave the dash an encouraging pat on the shoulder. At every campground, we hugged the steering wheel and told Elfis that he was a great car and he was doing an awesome job. Maybe Elfis felt the positive energy because he continued to get us up ridiculously high mountains and over miles of washboard surfaces, we were able to dodge sheep, terns and all but one snipe (but come on, we gave it lots of time to get out of the way and it chose not to. Darwinism, I say.) Elfis took us the entire perimeter of the Westfjords with no more problems.
As we left Patreksfjörður and headed north, I was a little sad that we weren’t able to go south to the Latrabjarg Bird Cliffs, the cliffs where you can get ultra close to puffins. That had been on our list of things to do, but we had to bypass it and continue on to Patreksfjörður for the tire. I suppose we could’ve backtracked and added on some time to our driving for the day but we knew the journey that lay ahead of us and we wanted to tackle it while we were fresh.
The roads were indeed scary.
Here’s a short clip of some of the driving conditions Bob negotiated on our way to Þingeryi, our final destination for the day.
Here are some photos I managed to take while in the car. The roads were so unpredictable, it was difficult to anticipate when we’d come to a safe place to stop. Often we didn’t notice until it was too late. The last thing we wanted to do was to hit the brakes too hard and lose control on these gravel roads, going downhill on a hairpin curve.
We arrived in Þingeryi, a small village of 340 people what looked on the map to be about halfway to Isafjörður, at around 3:00 pm. For some travellers, this is early enough to take a good look around this tiny village and then head out again. But we had decided to stop here to sail on a Viking ship and eat at a Viking restaurant the next day. We wanted to have some crazy fun and watch Viking servers fight each other when they weren’t serving guests and then sail the fjord for a few hours on a beautifully crafted ship.
After setting up camp (which now only took me about 10 minutes), we went for a walk to see the town. We stopped into the tourist information office and asked about the Viking ship. The woman’s demeanour became frosty. “It’s not here anymore.”
“Oh, that’s too bad,” we said. “It looked really interesting.” I got the feeling we were discussing a touchy subject.
“Yes, it was,” she continued. And then with a trace of disdain in her voice, “But the man who owns the boat went to Reykjavik last year and said he would only stay a year. And he hasn’t returned.”
“Oh.” Awkward silence. “And…uh…we heard there was a Viking restaurant?”
“That is gone too.”
“A Viking festival?”
“Not this year.”
This is when we realized that the Viking ship we had seen in Reykjavik was the one from Þingeryi. I know they’re getting more business down south in the city but paying to ride the Viking ship in Reykjavik amid ferries, whale-watching cruise ships and massive fishing trawlers simply can’t compare to sailing the wild waters up here in the rugged, remote and breathtaking Westfjords. Losing that attraction was probably a blow to the tourist trade in this tiny village. Perhaps all of these things will return next year since these attractions are listed in all the tourist information we’d found in print and online.
There was another event happening the next day though and it was a 55 km mountain bike ride. The idea of cycling the mountains that we just drove through to get here is absolute madness. But, in fact, we passed cyclists every day in the Westfjords and noticed books with cycling routes and maps for sale in the tourist shops and restaurants. I really love cycling but my city is about as flat as the world gets. I can’t even imagine trying to do these mountains!
As we walked around the town (village, really), we noticed this large, green, two-storey house that was beautiful. It is a restaurant but the building is a historical one in the town. It was advertising lamb tagine starting at 6 pm. (If you’re not familiar with tantagine, it’s a North African way of cooking named after the earthenware pot in which the meal is cooked.) Sounded delicious! But it was only 4 pm.
So we stopped at the gas station to pick up some groceries for a mid-day snack. Because, in small towns like this, the gas station is like the general store, the one store with everything. We bought sausage, one tomato and half a cucumber (no, really, HALF a cucumber!) and headed back to the campsite to relax in the beautiful sunshine with a glass of wine to help unwind from the crazy drive. (And I wasn’t even the one driving.)
At 6 pm we went back to the restaurant called Simbahollin for lamb tagine. This building was originally a general store from 1916 to the 1970’s. Then it was a number of different shops. In 2005, a young couple from Belgium and Denmark bought the house and started renovating it. They’ve opened as a coffee house in 2009, keeping the history of the building very much alive in its architecture and found artifacts. They are famous for their Belgian waffles.
Now they also run horseback riding, mountain bike rentals and the Westfjords Art Residency.
It seemed like the hub of this wee town. They had a large outside seating area, an interesting wall made of pallets and an old bus converted into restaurant seating, beside the building. We were certainly not alone. The food was served in the tagine, cooked with moroccan spices and served with rice and salad. It was filling and the spice kept us warm as the temperature cooled into the evening.
We chose to sit outside as the weather was absolutely spectacular. I don’t know if we were lucky or it’s usual even though the Westfjords is fairly far north, but the weather we had been having was sunny and very warm; it was around 16-18°C every day. We didn’t experience the cold winds that we felt when we were in Reykjavik or West Iceland and not a single day of real rain.
After dinner, we wandered back towards the campsite. We had discovered earlier that the campsite, though surrounded in trees, was actually right beside the shore. We went for a walk and found the remnants of the outdoor Viking restaurant and some beautiful scenery.
We settled back into camp for the evening with our books, journals and maps. Our only plan for the next day was to continue our journey around the Westfjords and enjoy the day in Isafjórður.