The fall and recovery of Covid-19 times in Iceland, summarised so far

The rise of a pandemic in Iceland was awfully creepy, watching the city of Reykjavik first, then the whole country, spiral into one big ghost town. We never made it to complete lockdown, but as the number of cases ticked higher and higher, our voice of authority Víðir pushed us off the streets and into our homes. The first public hit was March 15, when a gathering ban was put on meetings of 100 people or more. This affected some events and some businesses, but people took it quite light heartedly. Then, only a week later, March 22 saw the gathering ban crash down to 20 (except for basic needs like grocery shopping), which affected everyone. The day to day lives of people, especially with a 2m social distancing rule, was taught, and learned, but every day we realised more ways in which this could affect us. We couldn’t´t get our hair cut. We couldn’t´t go to the bank without an appointment. There were no bars or pubs left open. The pools had shut. Hotels were deserted. Flights were cancelled, and even the airport became empty.

the abnormally empty streets of Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur in downtown Reykjavik

The new cases of Covid-19 spread faster than people were recovering, and at our highest rate of infection just before easter, around 1600 people had been affected. But, the pandemic then began to fall, with Icelander´s having the quietest, loneliest easter weekend imaginable, and a full 6 weeks later, the total number of people infected with Covid stands only at 1806. Today the numbers show only 10 deaths, with a mere 2 active cases left. The statistics and numbers on covid.is website are worth checking out for more facts and stats and to keep up with the rest of Iceland´s recovery news.

quiet and calm times like this means everyone is home looking for a new hobby. Seakayaking was mine, what about yours?

After the first week of April, we were still holding our breath. The numbers were going down but there were still new cases every day. It wasn’t´t until May 4th that we saw the first real light at the end of the tunnel shine, and at midnight that day the gathering ban was increased to 50 people and salons and some spas could reopen. Many people went for a manicure or to meet their chiropractor, and lots of sanitiser and latex was still floating around. At midnight on May 18th, the public pools reopened, and lines of people (with 2m distance between each other) waited outside thru the night to get in for an overdue soak. The pools are restricted to 50% capacity until tomorrow, and then 75% capacity from June 1 until June 15 when they can open at 100% capacity. June 15th will also be the day tourists may begin trickling in, with a promised test-on-arrival system put into place to replace the mandatory 2 week quarantine currently in place for all new arrivals to Iceland.

On May 25, the gathering ban was increased to 200 people and public gyms and bars could finally reopen. The 2m social distancing rule has become a guideline instead, and people are asked to follow it if they want, but restaurants and bars are not expected to accommodate the rule for everyone. With 200 person events now allowed, there seems to be a funeral in every church, and some postponed baptisms, birthday parties and weddings are beginning to fill up the empty venues.

the height of covid lockdown was a perfect time to get out to the quiet countryside. Here is Hofsós in perfect peace and tranquility.

Though Covid is not over, Reykjavik feels a bit like Covid never happened. It´s hard to hear all the struggles others around the world are still in, and watching the number of cases still grow some places. Even in Iceland we had 1 Covid-case confirmed only two days ago, and though it wasn´t announced on the radio every hour like it used to be, we are all still aware. Icelander´s are tough, and being resilient means we are still careful, but its nice to start being able to touch and hug people again. Not everyone is there yet, but things have almost returned to normal in my day to day life. And what impeccable timing – I believe I speak for all locals when I say we are so ready for summer, especially a whole summer in Iceland without tour guiding and no tourist traffic in all our favourite places!

Things I actually did in quarantine

my view from self-quarantine

Here´s the list I made during quarantine of what was actually happening, day to day. I hope it´s at least amusing, if not relatable, to some of you.

  1. Counting grey hairs. Looking too closely in the mirror and realising I´m going grey. I´ve gone from none to multiple.
  2. Making amazing brunches, with all kinds of liquids, including champagne. It´s a great reason to get out of bed.
  3. Baking banana bread. Lots of it, and a different recipe each time to keep it fun. I tried normal, chocolate gluten free and vegan.
  4. Playing in the kids park on the handle bars, hanging upside down. In running clothes.
  5. Avoiding people on my bike, trying to keep a 2m passing space and almost always running into the curb or onto the grass.
  6. Dreaming about going to the pool, but they´re all closed. Thankfully I have access to a hottub in the backyard of an empty house in Kopavogur.
  7. Sitting on my yoga mat, mindfully thinking about doing yoga. It’s a form of meditation.
  8. Opening 30 bottles of wine, of which 15 were off. Then drinking the good ones. I´m best at that.
  9. I made an advertisement on the Icelandic online classifieds to find horses to ride. (If you or anyone you know is in isolation that has a horse, I can go to the stable for them!)
  10. Looking for dogs to walk and finding out that everyone is walking their own dog these days. Hiking without a dog is almost as much fun. But if you or anyone you know has a dog they cant walk, let me know!

Things to do in self-quarantine

1. Google how to get a 6-pack in 2 weeks. Attempt it every day, without ever getting one.

2. Consider writing a book. Or continue writing one. I’m going to try to finish mine.

3. Go for a run every day. A walk with a few running steps counts too. Especially if you’re dressed like a runner.

4. Finally go thru all your canned food you never use. Make lots of tuna salads and breakfasts with baked beans.

5. Spring clean. Disinfect your porcelain toilet and windex your mirrors, vacuum and mop, and put things in the laundry that you never wash, like your bed sheets.

plenty of time to sit on my yoga mat and think about doing yoga

6. Make impossible goals for yourself like: learn to do the splits, or do a handstand unsupported. Practicing is fun either way.

7. Window shop online for all the things you wish you had with you in isolation. For some, it’s a ukulele. For me, it’s a hottub.

8. Self-groom. A lot. Shave and cut and pluck and paint everything you never have time to do.

9. Imagine redecorating your apartment. Every wall or piece of furniture seems changeable or improvable.

10. Make lists of things to do, like this one, and get a lot of satisfaction checking them off. Ticking boxes feels so productive!

Winter season in Iceland

I’ve been working with Backroads for a couple of summers now, and this was my second winter. It’s been a good winter – snow storms, minus 10 degrees and plenty of northern lights. The day light is short, with sunrise after 11 and sunset before 4, so there’s a small window of opportunity to be active outside. We’re meant to hike, snowshoe, glacier walk or horseback ride, and the weather doesn’t always cooperate. But when it does, its a winter wonderland out here.

Ion Adventure Hotel, the first night of our Northern Lights trip

I had a week of trip preparation, where me and the trip expert practiced all the hikes and visited all of our vendors. Hotels, restaurants and farms took us in with open arms and we had luck with weather almost every day. Once the first trip started, we lucked out with northern lights 5 out of 5 nights, and the trip couldn’t have gone better.

our hike at Skalakot Boutique farm comes with free dog company

The second trip ran over the worst storm Iceland has seen in years, with power being cut off across the north of Iceland, and up to 4 meters of snow burying horses alive. We were on a small spit of the south coast where the only open road in the whole country was a 10km stretch of highway 1 exactly around us. It was incredible to be able to stick to the plan, hiking and glacier walking despite the rest of the country being on lock down, and our only inconvenience was staying an extra night at Hotel Ranga since we couldn’t get to Umi Hotel.

a nearly completely frozen Oxarafoss, a special site even for Icelander’s

The third trip was over New Years, and we rang in the New Year together at Hotel Ranga with our group and the staff that have become more and more like family after so many nights at the hotel. There were two guests with birthdays on January 1st, so there was plenty to celebrate, and we saw Northern Lights in the morning before sunrise on our way onto Solheimajokull.

Thorsmork covered in White and a sunrise turned sunset to make it even more beautiful

The next trip won’t be until March and April, when the daylight hours are triple what they have been so far. It’s better for flexibility and certainly makes driving thru snowstorms easier, but there’s a certain charm in visiting Iceland in its darkest hours, and the feedback from guests has always been rewarding – what a magical country we live in to be able to enjoy it in the midst of horrible winter storms and still come home smiling.

Roadtrip Iceland, in the plumber car

My new found home on wheels has offered so many opportunities for travel, and because of tour guiding work, I haven’t been outside of Iceland since before May, so roadtrips in Iceland where the greatest way to play. My 2-seater car, with a mattress, fridge and sink, has been fully kitted for an impromptu roadtrip thru Iceland at any moment; two friends have been lucky enough to become the plumber car’s first guests.

my home on wheels, under Hekla

I met a couchsurf host in Geneva who was on his way to Iceland for a few days, so we decided to test the home on wheels together for the first time. We drove the golden circle, had pizza and beer at Skjól, and hottubed til the wee hours of the morning at Hrunalaug, which hadn´t yet run dry. We met two Romanian workers from the Geysir shop who offered endless entertainment, and a yoga photographer from LA who I´ll probably see again in the future for a yoga workshop in Iceland. That night we slept near Fluðir on the banks of Thjorsá river, and carried on the following day on a hunt for more hot pools.

Hjalparfoss

We visited a pool that I´ve still never quite figured out why it got deserted, but it´s just there, all alone, rundown, perfectly swimmable. We went to Hjalpárfoss, which I hadn´t realized I´d never been to until I was there, looking at something I´d never seen. We drove south, under Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull until we reached Seljlanads country, and thought we´d be sneaky and sleep close to the sea on a dead end farmer´s hay field road a couple of km´s west of the infamous US Navy DC plane crash at Solheimasandur. On our midnight walk west, we realized there were a few too many unbridged rivers to make it. He´ll have to come back to see it net time.

the perfect secret lagoon

I made a friend in Thailand last November with a handful of Americans on a Travr trip, and she was coming from LA for a week long vacation to a place she´d never been, or even considered going, so I planned a full circumnavigation of the island for her… and my car. We left Reykjavik headed for the north over Kjolur, and spent our first night in Blondudalur. We arrived quite late, after a midnight dip in the Hveravellir hottub, so my pregnant friend Kristine was already sleep. When we woke up, she was gone, and her man, and it took some time to realize that they had left for Akureyri hospital, since she had gone into labour.

super preggers Kristine in between conractions, with permission to leave the hospital for a little photo shoot and virgin mojito action

We carried on to Husavik, where we visited Geosea until closing, and camped, illegally, in their parking lot, after having one too many beers at the swim-up bar. They woke us up in the morning with a knock on the car door, politely asking us not to “camp” in the parking lot.

Lauren and I at Geosea

The next night we went to Egilsstadir, my former summer stomping ground, where Nielsen Restaurant has been making waves. Run by a friend, the former head chef Kari of Michelin-starred Dill, it was a treat to eat so well, for so little, in a quiet, countryside town.

Head chef Kari at Nielsen restaurant

We drove to the bottom of Fljotsdalur to Egilsstadir farm, the last inhabited farm in the valley headed southwest to Snaefell and the foothills of Vatnajokull glacier, to stay at the Wilderness Center. My former boss and friend Denni runs a museum, guest house and viking sauna there, surrounded by horses and reindeer. We ended up, fireside, sharing stories and grass, before falling asleep in the back of the campervan, a place that had started to feel more and more like home.

at the end of the world, Obyggdasetur Islands, aka the Wilderness Center in East Iceland

The next morning we had intended on sleeping in Vik, but one of the first and worst rainfalls of the summer had started coming down like hell on earth, so we just kept driving to Reykjavik and crawled into my warm, dry bed in Reykjavik, feeling slightly as if we had cheated on the plumber car. Its hard to say, but I´m sure my apartment was happy to finally have some cuddles too.

The start of a real summer

Most people can agree that summer in Iceland isn’t much of a summer event. I’ve always said that my annual winter season is June-September in Iceland, and summer happens the other 8 months of the year in warmer, tropical countries south of here. But lo and behold, June came as a surprise.

the last of the snow hanging on after an early onset of a warm summer

Compared to last year, when it rained basically every single day of the month of June and the recorded sunshine hours for the whole month had already been surpassed in May this year, this June was hot, warm and dry, day after day. It was so dry the bugs didn´t make it out – there were no midge flies to be seen – and the dust clouds in the highlands would blow all the way to Reykjavik. We’re also talking about 24 hours a day of this – the sun never set so it went on and on and on and still, I woke up every day with a rain jacket and woollen lopa peysa ready to put on when the weather would finally crack.

Thingvallavatn

June saw the highland roads open early, but an emptiness remained on the well-beaten tracks of tourist trails, since tourism was still reeling from Wow air going bankrupt in April. Hotels and restaurants were still not at 100% operation, but finally there was breathing and playing space for Icelander’s to enjoy the best summer on record in over 40 years. The number of hotel rooms and tour operators may actually have been enough, for the first time since 2008, this June.

a beach day, under the glacier

However, there are always 2 sides to a story, and June was the worst month in 40 years for the salmon rivers. The most popular, productive fishing rivers had no water, and thus, no fish, and men who had paid over $1000 per day in fishing permits had resorted to just sitting in the fishing lodges drinking fine wine and smoking cigars on the patio. Some didn’t even bother to go, and fishing lodges all around Iceland sat empty for days at a time. But think about the salmon – where did they all go? Or didn’t they come at all? I hope they managed to spawn… or at least I hope they didn’t all die.

oh the places you’ll go… in a nice Icelandic summer!

I have to admit that the best part of the summer wasn’t the weather, but my life in it. I finally have a home I can call my own. It’s a wonderful place to keep all my stuff,  although I still feel very little need to be there with it all. That’s why I bought a second home on wheels – a Ford transit connect that used to be rented out as a campervan, fitted out with a sink, water pump, solar-powered fridge and a  couch that folds down to a double bed.

my home on wheels, the plumber car!

It kind of looks like a plumber’s car from the outside, a non-descript grey with no windows except at the front and back. I’ve added a table and chairs, a permanent stash of drinks and food, a yoga mat, hiking shoes and poles and a bathing suit and towel to make the car travel ready at the drop of a hat. I have probably spent as many nights in the car as in my own bed, and I’m still not sure which I prefer. Perhaps the winter will bring me back indoors a bit, we shall see.

Downhill skiing in Iceland

Iceland is a deceiving name – we don’t have that much ice, or even snow, and our mild, sea-tempered winters barely keep anything white or frozen on the ground. People may think it’s a skiing destination, but we don’t really have mountains worth writing home about either, but a few big hills around the north are still definitely worth a visit.

Tindastóll, just outside of Sauðárkrókur, is now home to the longest run in Iceland, thanks to a new T-bar lift opening a couple of weeks ago. A few kilometers further north is Ólafsfjordur, home to arguably the shortest runs you can find in Iceland, but the only ski area that’s actually right in town, walking distance to the city center.

Siglo t-bar

Next door is Siglufjordur town, a great valley with four, excellently-planned t-bars. During easter, there’s even an apre-ski feel when the ski hut gets an alcohol license during the Siglo Freeride festival and thru til easter.

Dalvik has a couple of t-bars, but Id say, as a snowboarder who tried, the second one is only accessible by skiers. The view down to the sea and fjord is spectacular on a clear day, and you’re only a few km’s away from Akureyri. There you’ve got Hlíðarfjall ski area, which is open more days a year than other skislopes, with consistent snowfall and a large enough community to support its running costs.

skiing Dalvik is much easier than snowboarding

All of Iceland´s ski spots charge a similar price, with passes sold by the hour (around 1500-2000kr per hour) or day (4000kr). The 5×5 skiiceland.is offer sells you 5 days to 5 resorts (Olafsfjordur, Siglo, Tindastoll, Hlidarfjall and Dalvik) for around 20.000ISK. If you’re feeling really spendy, and prefer to ski privately, there’s always Deplar Farm hotel, where checking into the all inclusive resort includes all activities – even ski equipment and helicopter time to take you heli-skiing anywhere you please.

heli-skiing helicopter ready for take off at Deplar Farm

If none of that sounds worth it, then just take the short 20 min drive from Reykjavik to Blafjoll (if and when its open) where you can run up and down the same runs half a dozen times before getting bored, so long as you’re willing to wait longer for the lift up then it takes to ski down.

Backroads Leaders in Iceland

Backroads, the World’s #1 Active Travel company, is seeking seasonal Trip Leaders to lead and support our award-winning biking, hiking and multi-adventure vacations in Iceland and throughout the world. Our leaders enrich each trip with their personality, drive, passion for travel and the outdoors, while providing outstanding customer service and sharing their love and knowledge of the area. Multilingual and well-traveled applicants are encouraged to apply.

Benefits of a trip leader:

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3.Competitive Daily Rates & generous Gratuities
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5.Outdoor Gear & Clothing Discounts
6.Medical Benefits
7.Personal &Professional Growth

For more information and to apply please visit our website:
https://www.backroads.com/leaders-in-iceland

Winter is not coming

Today was the first day the nights are longer than the days. We had no summer in June or July, and finally it arrived in autumn. The first snow dusting the tops of Esja mountain Reykjavik fell last night, a month later than last year. But its still in the teens, and the sun has been shining more hours today than all 30 days in June.

looking for sheep in the highlands is easy to do when theres almost no snow

The sheep gathering has begun in most corners of the country. The north began rounding up the first week of September, but riding in a tshirt and getting sheep to waddle home one hundred kilometers in a wooly bunch is unusual. Wearing sunblock on a ride in the highlands when you know there’ll be frost at night seemed unconventional, but totally necessary.

some stubborn sheep have decided they wont be chased home and found an impossible place – a common problem when the weather is this nice

The northern lights, however, arrived much earlier than normal. This was the soonest I’ve seen them, August 15th, and again the 17th and 21st. The entire sky turned flickering shades of green on September 3rd, much to the delight of 29 Swiss tourists I woke up to see them.

biking by the Blue Lagoon on an extra sunny day

Biking around Reykjavik has been glorious, now that there’s finally good weather. Though its strange to remember that nightfall has crept up on us, and biking home at 9pm without headlights makes me feel uneasy, especially knowing that next week it will be dark by 8pm. It’s a shame that Nautholsvik, the local man-made beach with a hot tub and steam room, is open every day and free only during the summer season, which they’ve decided ends August 15th. That was probably the first day of summer, but now its only open 4 times a week and costs 650kr to use.

riding to the beach is a must on a sunny autumn day

Winter is not coming, since its finally summer in September. Autmn has yet to arrive, with the grass still green and the trees still full of luscious leaves. I hope autumn comes in winter, and winter gets skipped right to spring. But that’s pretty wishful thinking in a country that typically has 2 seasons – winter, and not winter.

Iceland in the World Cup 2018

Iceland only formed their first men´s football association in 1947, three years after becoming independent from Denmark. Since then, a few talented souls have made careers as players abroad. The best known footballers were arguably Gylfi Sigurdsson and Eidur Gudjohnsen until 2018, but now a handful of faces from the national team have become international prodigies. Birkir Bjarnason has become the familiar face of 66°N; Rurik Gislasson has become a heart throb world wide, loved even by the enemy when Iceland tied Argentina in their first World Cup game; and Hannes Halldorsson the goalie definitely deserves MVP for that first game where Messi just coulnd’t get past him. Now, they have rewritten football history, becoming the smallest country to ever qualify for the world cup, and risen from being ranked 133rd to 22nd within FIFIA.

watching the World Cup games from Ingolfstorg

The World Cup hype started two years ago during the Euro 2016 qualification. We started by playing Portugal, Hungary and Austria. We tied Portugal and Hungary 1-1, but beat Austria 2-1 to make it into the quarterfinals. The newscaster reporting on the Austria game nearly lost hist sanity (and his voice) and this youtube video is definitely worth listening to: it gives you a glimpse of what every Icelander was feeling in that moment. Then we beat England 2-1, (that video is also a must see) another incredible victory, and France finally put out our unstoppable fire with a humbling 5-2 loss.

The World Cup in Russia 2018 crept up so slowly, but the hype never faded, and the planning and suspense was constant. 66°N designed special clothing for the games and Icelandair painted the plane into an Icelandic Flag that flew the team over. Both of our national airline carries made special schedules and flew direct routes to each one of the first three games. And a sea of Icelandic-blue fans flocked to the various stadiums in Russia to watch the games live, sing in the stands, and clap and cheer the ‘HÚH!’

The games started well: June 16 we tied Argentina 1-1, in an impressive display of defence. June 22 we faced Nigeria, perhaps with a bit too much offensive, underestimating their plans of kicking our butts 2-0. The Croatia game on June 26 was powerful, in fact, unbearable to watch, because we really had it. We played so well, and we had the chance to edge ourselves into the quarter finals if we had just sunk one of those goal attempts. It wasn´t until the last seconds of the game that we believed we weren´t going forward. However, watching Croatia make it to the final and knowing how we played them gives us all the more reason to be proud of Team Iceland and their first performance at the World Cup.

For the sake of Reykjavik´s very few reasons to congregate outside in the city centres and the prideful, social unity of a country over one sport we witnessed this summer, I sincerely hope we make it to every Euro qualifier AND world cup in the future. Thanks to the team for giving us such incredible representation, and even more reasons for tourists to keep flooding our talented little country.