Journal: Nov 6 – Hvammstangi, Iceland

At 5 a.m. the skies in Iceland in November are still black. The black indigo smears the sky and for some cosmic reason, I’m startled awake. My soul nearly jolts from my skeletal frame. But nothing was there in the darkness. 

I stared into the blackness listening to the pitter-patter of the rain. Sometimes the melody would last for minutes. Then, suddenly stop. Other times, only seconds. I eventually fell back asleep and woke to the sun finally peeking through the clouds and warming me. 

The treacherous winter storm should siege against the western shores again. I had planned to trek further north deeper into the Western fjords, but I was skittish about the idea of driving 100-plus kilometers on gravel roads far from villages. Nearly abandoned in some parts. 

I was reluctant to say goodbye to Stykkishólmur. It had quickly become the fishing village I’d established roots in — or imagined my ancestors living, anyway.

Deep sea fishing boats in Icelandic Harbor

This colony of beautiful rainbow houses advertised itself as a close-knit community without truly saying anything at all. It’s as if the homeowners congregated each spring to determine whether the farmer, fisher, or tailor would have the purple house for the next three years. It would be considered debauchery if Joe down the street painted his house a mustard yellow only two shades off of Gardur. Gardur, of course, had the standing tradition of being the only yellow house on the street. Together they ensured a kaleidoscope of colors. 

Gardur, my new-found home, was on the original cobblestone street of the city. The cobblestones instantly transported me back to a time before me. It was vivid. I nearly pinched myself. 

Before leaving my new beloved home, I take in one last view from above. The best locale was the orange lighthouse standing sentry on the hill overlooking the fishing village. 

As I hiked to the apex, I was nearly swept seaward by the strong gusts of wind and torrential rain. Not hurricane-strength winds today, but it still felt as if the Nordic Gods were in the middle of some hot-headed shouting match. Within 10 minutes, I was soaked — all seven layers of me. 

Better luck next time. 

Heading to Hvammstangi

The view was immaculate as always. The wet rain ironically saturated the colorful earth around me. The brown hues were no longer faint or lifeless, they burst with excitement and vigor. The black lava rocks emerged less often. Instead, dramatic waterfalls frequented the view through my windshield. 

I made a pit stop on the side of the muddy road for an impromptu, self-portrait photo shoot. Behind me were the shaggy Icelandic horses with waterfalls gushing in the background. I balanced my tripod on the passenger seat of the Ceed-kick and snapped over 75 pictures through the rolled down the window. People must’ve thought I was crazy, unable to see who or what I was posing for. 

After cruising on muddy, gravel roads for 100 km, I managed to escape — oh how I rejoice — and I made my way towards Hvammstangi, the land of seals.

Hvammstangi, like Stykkishólmur, also embraced a bay. This time, a tributary to the Arctic Ocean. Rolling into Hvammstangi I noticed the village lacked the gusto that Stykkishólmur had. The houses were still painted in brilliant hues, but more lackluster. Immediately, the village depicts the hardships that these locals felt. 

Each house seemed to tell a story. Whether it was “under-kept” because the sailor was at sea, or because the family couldn’t afford it, the tale was splash across the wooden exterior. Yet, the town didn’t seem dingy, just more authentic. There was a lack of glamorous Instagram opportunities, but rather a plethora of rawness and local charm. 

In my limited amount of sunlight, I drove to the bay and admired the Arctic Ocean’s enormity. I had never been this far north before, yet I’ve never felt more connected or in tune with my inner self. I didn’t feel lost. In fact, I felt found. 

Trying to blend in with the locals 

Here was my moment, to finally interact with the locals. 

Determined, I parked outside the local grocery where all the advertisements hanging in the window decorated in the poetic Icelandic script. It was clear that English was not the first language here

I was giddy with excitement that I might be able to mutter my first Icelandic sentence. Also, not knowing I would experience my first culture shock. 

They took no pity on this American. The number of shoppers in the Icelandic grocery store certainly exceeded the building’s fire code. No one seemed to care. They all expertly maneuvered around each other. No one dwadled. All movement synchronized. I was obviously the clumsy dancer who was disrupting the flow and intruding.  

At the checkout, I flubbed my way through an easy Iceland greeting. Fear ensnared me when asked, “Handbært fé eða inneign?” After miming, I concluded that they meant cash or credit. I left the shop with, I assumed, frozen peas and cream of mushroom soup and slightly bruised ego.

A virgin to Iceland’s Northern Lights 

South of town, a troop of cabins beckoned me home — just for the night. 

Cabin No. 7 was chilly in a crispy, first camping trip of the fall mood. It reminded you to ask Santa for wool socks at Christmas and to thoroughly enjoy a warm beverage. 

I camped out next to the radiator and bundled myself in a blanket cocoon. With a full belly of questionable ingredients that tasted delicious regardless, I drifted off to sleep. 

My phone buzzed me awake, alarming me that the Northern Lights were emerging from their slumber. Peeking over the window sill a faint, milk green Northern Lights danced in the evening sky. 

The sky didn’t glow emerald-green or remind me of the Wizard of Oz. In fact, the neighboring constellations seemed to shine brighter than through Arctic-anchored phenomenon. 

Regardless, I watched the hazy green mirage plié across the horizon. After 10 minutes the sky reverted back to their former ink-stained self. 


Quirky Globetrotter

Hi! I'm Martha! The mastermind behind Quirky Globetrotter a feminist travel blog. Quirky Globetrotter is devoted to telling narratives devoted to female solo travel and hidden gems worldwide with an emphasis on intersectional feminism and how that impacts travel on a global and local level.

12 thoughts on “Journal: Nov 6 – Hvammstangi, Iceland

  1. I love this narrative style of writing! I felt like I was right there alongside you. I loved your description of visiting the local market. It reminded me of visiting a little neighborhood market in Romania. I tried to choke out some words, but they all looked at me indifferently and paid no mind. Thank goodness it wasn’t as crowded as your experience was, which gave me some time to wander around and figure out their system of buying produce!

  2. I think it’s brilliant that you wrote this as a journal entry. It’s timeless and will always be relevant and will always inspire others! You are a brilliant writer. I’ve never seen posts on any part of Iceland other than Reykjavik, so I liked learning about somewhere new. I now that you feel your ego was bruised in your supermarket exchange, but I think you did better than most people did! The important thing is you tried and went in with the right attitude, plus it’s a really great experience and insight into the REAL culture! Great post.

  3. Ever since I found out that Iceland was one of the filming locations for the Game of Thrones I wanted to go visit it. I also want very badly to see the Northern Lights. I went to Alaska hoping to see them, but had no luck. It sees you were luckier than me, but where is the picture?

  4. Journal-style blog posts are such a refreshing change for the travel sphere! I enjoyed reading your post. Iceland is very high on my bucket list and your post is making me want to visit even more.

  5. I really enjoyed your style of writing in this article on Iceland. I felt as if I was with you in the local market. The Northern Lights is on my travel list. Was that an app that advised you about the Northern Lights or had you set a wake up call?

  6. I love your writing style. You really made your experience come alive and I feel as though I were there with you. What an adventure on the road and in the grocery store! I would love to see photos from your roadside photo shoot 🙂

  7. I enjoyed your writing style! It felt personal and relatable. It sounds like you had an amazing time in Iceland. It’s high in my bucket list, and those views sound amazing.

  8. Beautifully written Martha, it makes me feel like I was there with you! I didn’t see enough of Iceland when we were there and what a shame. It’s places like this where you get a real sense of local life, and the difficulties with the language too! It’s amazing that you’re so out of a comfort zone, and your photos are fab!

  9. I like your style of writing. You made me waiting for what is happening next in your journey. Anyway, it’s interesting to find the whole city of Gardur decided which color they’re going to use for their houses for the next 3 years though. And I can only imagine how beautiful it was the road to Hvammstangi. Wish to visit Iceland in the future.

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