Reindeer Hunting in Lón

reindeer

reindeer

After a summer of catching no fish and forgetting how to use my own two feet (I somehow feel I´ve become welded on my horse and haven´t had to walk myself anywhere since June), a reindeer hunting trip sounded like a perfect idea. In Iceland, there is a short reindeer hunting season at the end every summer, split into nine regions around East Iceland, where permits for around 1000 deers are given out to hungry hunters. Four of my friends had a permit this year, so we made a group of 9 to hike around svæði 7 and look for some unsuspecting herds.

how to cross a river in a car

how to cross a river in a car

The first day went terribly – we planned to wake up at 4, but slept in til 8, because of low-lying fog and thick rain clouds. After sitting around with our 5th cup of coffee by noon time, we decided to try and start hiking into the valley so that by the time we were up in reindeer country, the clouds would be gone. That also didn´t turn out so well, since the rivers were swollen to large from all the rain fall and we couldn´t drive in as far as we wanted. Intsead we had to walk, and cross quite a few more smaller rivers with soaked feet, some 12 km and up 800m, only to face worse weather, with steady rain and wind so strong it was blowing me over.

how to cross a river on a man

how to cross a river on a man

We found no reindeer that day, just a tuft of hair, some old poo, and footprints that could have just been from the guy walking ahead of you. So, the next day the hunters set out again, this time at 8 am, and by 3 pm, still not a single reindeer in sight, but the same rain and freezing cold instead. It looked hopeless by that point, with only a few hours left before nightfall to shoot 4 deer. But then, a herd was finally found, and two hunters claimed their lives then. The last two weren´t shot til nearly 8 pm, with sunset already on the horizon, and the next few hours involved alot of tired, sweaty, men, taking turns carrying half a bloody deer back down to their jeeps. They finally managed, only to find a flat tire on one car, and after a few more delays trying to tetris the deer on laps and under carseats, we finally had a celebration dinner at 2 am.

Now the meat is hanging somewhere to be processed, and in the next few months, reaping the benefits of reindeer steak will never get tiring. I most look forward to the reindeer skin I get to cuddle with this winter, to keep me from getting cold on the long, dark, winter nights.

The Most Remote Places in Iceland

Þórisvatn in Sprengisandur

Þórisvatn in Sprengisandur

After traveling the East fjords, the north-east started calling, as I got very curious to see how much more remote and lonely the valleys and seashores must get. Starting in Vopnafjörður, I drove around Melrakkslétta, where they say you are (literally) only a stone´s throw away from the Arctic Circle. Its also the border where East Iceland meets North Iceland, one of the least densely populated areas of Iceland, and even at 5m above sea level, the scarce vegetation looks like the highlands up at 600m. I can´t really say much what the vegetation was like at 600m because the only high mountain pass I drove over on the way to Vopnafjörður was covered in such a dense, grey cloud that you couldn´t even see the yellow sticks marking the road, or have any perception of going up or down. We knew we were on our way down the mountain when we had to start using the brakes in the car, but nothing we could see or decipher with our eyes would have given us a sense of direction.

a half a boat

a half a boat in Melrakkslétta

Bakkagerði and Þórshöfn were not such impressive towns, maybe because of the bad weather, or maybe because I didn´t meet a single other person in either town. Raufarhöfn was the perfect place to call home for the night, after we found a place called Sunset Guesthouse, which is actually just the private home of Magnea (the picture perfect Icelandic grandmother figure!). Langanes peninsula, which sticks out from Þórshöfn, was surprisingly one of the most memorable places I´ve ever visited in Iceland. Its basically empty, open space, with amazing bird watching opportunities and a few inhabited farms which clearly appreciate being remote and untouched. Most of the roads lead to dead ends and empty houses, and only a horse would have been sufficient to finish exploring the lonely corners of Langanes.

Skinnalón

Skinnalón

I discovered the most beautiful setting for a summerhouse at a sea-side farm called Krossavík. Its gates are usually locked but we happened to be at the end of the windy dirt road at the same time as the farmer was haying the land, so he let us in to explore. We kind of sorta broke into the farm at Skinnalón, since the little Skoda car we were driving actually fit under the chain blocking the road. There were more deserted farms than working farms, and almost no paved roads, during my roadtrip to Melrakkaslétta, but on the way out from Kopasker, we arrived back to the reality of traffic and tourists. We decided to take the bad road south past Dettifoss, and indulged in the Blue Lagoon´s little sister, the Mývatn Nature Baths.

driving between Hofsjokull and Tungnaellsjokull in Sprengisandur

driving between Hofsjokull and Tungnaellsjokull in Sprengisandur

A few weeks later, there was one more important place to visit, to satisfy my curiosity of the remote and middle of nowhere: Sprengisandur. Its the never-ending, black desert highland pass between the middle of Iceland, bordered only by huge lakes and Europe´s biggest glacier. The landscape is so sandy and black it makes your mouth feel dry just by looking at it, and we were unlucky enough to get a flat tire in the middle of it, at nightfall, without a  lake or river in sight.

Nýidalur

Nýidalur

The moutain safety guys saved us the next morning, and we carried on to Nýidalur – the only green valley in Sprengisandur. We went hottubbing in the geothermal pool at Laugafell, and went fishing for nothing but seaweed at Svartá and Kvíslavatn. The only other human interaction we had was with the same two mountain safety guides at the refuge hut, and we just saw a couple of cars pass us when we were stranded roadside, but Sprengisandur gave me a new-found respect for the large, lonely, and sometimes dangerous vastness of Iceland´s highlands. I can only imagine what life was like for Icelander´s before road travel and cars – then men rode horses across Sprengisandur, a week or two long, with barely a bite of grass to eat! I highly recommend any traveler visiting Iceland to get off the ring road and explore the empty middle and lonely corners of Iceland´s beautiful landscape one day.

See more pictures from North East Iceland here.

The East Fjords of Iceland

IMG_6938

driving the winding roads into each valley

On one of my only weekends off from riding, I wanted to take advantage of living so close to the eastern fjords by taking a 2-day roadtrip around them all. They´re some of the highest, most snow-covered mountains in Iceland, and zigzag in and out along the coast, but roads rarely make it all the way around the fjord peninsulas to connect each valley. Thus, you end up with a bunch of 1-way-in-and-same-way-out cities, sometimes totally isolated from the rest of Iceland because of snow, with some mighty scary dirt roads leading you from the valley´s harbours into the moutain passes between them. One of these towns is Seyðisfjörður, which doesn´t even have a population of 1000, but its the port connecting Iceland and Europe for ferry goers, so its a pretty important place to stay connected to. Its one of the most picturesque towns in East Iceland, since the entire drive down into the luscious green valley has a river and its many waterfalls dancing along roadside. Its also a culturally active center, taking part in the annual Eastern Iceland Jazz festival, and hosting the week-long arts camp youth festival LungA. I visited the famous blue church and was lucky enough to hear some young musicians practicing a piano-accompanied solo, and her voice resounded like an angel in the tiny wooden church.

Seyðisfjörður

Seyðisfjörður

Mjófjörður was the most remote valley we drove into. Its hardly even counted as a town, but a small village of only 35 inhabitants. The steep, narrow, winding dirt road down the valley is only open in the summer, and in winter, its only possible to leave or visit Mjóifjörður by boat from Neskapustaður. The boat doesnt run when the road is open, so we had to drive back out of the valley, over the mountains and through Reydarfjordur and Eskifjordur to get to Neskaupstaður (a 94km drive instead of a 10km sail). The weekend we were exploring these valleys was the height of summer perfection as far as weather is concerned, and the temperature reached 27.5°C in Mjófjörður – the hottest I´ve ever seen in Iceland. Children were swimming in the sea and there wasn´t much more to do than just lay in the grass, suntanning, to enjoy the good weather.

Kirkjubær Church Hostel

Kirkjubær Church Hostel

Reyðarfjörður was a more industrial town, not as beautiful as neighbouring Eskifjörður, but the Icelandic Wartime Museum (Íslenska Stríðsárasafnið) was worth visiting. Stöðvarfjörður, a little village of 190 residents, boasts the famous stone collection of Petra, a woman who collected stones all her life and has them on display all over her rock garden. There´s also a tiny little church on the hill that has apparently been deconsecrated since its now operating as a guesthouse; it only costs 5000ISK per night to sleep at God´s old home. Fáskrúðsfjörður was also a quaint little fishing town, the former residence of many French fishermen up until WWI. We went to the old French Fishermens house after closing, and though it was too late to visit the museum officially, someone had forgotten to close or lock the doors, so we politely peeked in and then shut the door properly.

Petra´s Stone Collection

Petra´s Stone Collection

Everywhere we went was sunny and warm, but in the evenings, a thick fog always fell over the fjords and hung low over the sea bays. We tented seaside by a small flowing river, so we had fresh water and also a beach to go swimming in the next day. We ran into one mink on the shore, and otherwise saw no further than a few meters in the dense fog. The cool nights were always welcomed, and the only town we got stuck in fog during the day was at Breiðdalsvík, which was also perfect since that´s where we decided to soak in the hottub and the misty clouds around us just made it all the more cosy. After a wonderful, summery roadtrip around the east fjords, Im starting to think I´ll have to go back and visit in the winter, just to see the other weather extremes, and of course, to be able to take the boat from Neskaupstaður to Mjóifjörður.