Wild Westfjords

A room with a view

August 6-10, Westfjords, Iceland

The two young Parisians sharing a farmhouse with us at the base of the Vatnsnes Peninsula were trying to conceal their amazement/horror as I single-handedly attempted to scrounge up a passable meal for our two kids.  It was 11pm and the sun had finally slipped into the Arctic Sea beyond the valley where we had managed to find possibly the last free room within a forty-mile drive.  The wind outside rattled the panes with its characteristic whistling and moaning, and, at that moment, between mouthfuls of smoked lamb and cold noodles, Kendley decided to echo its cry.  Ryan had driven off with the farm proprietor in an effort to change the second flat tire we had experienced in nine days and nearly 1,050 miles of driving through Western Iceland.

“So,” the French guy asked tentatively, “what made you want to do this; to travel with your young children?”

I struggled to find the appropriate response.  Images of our overstuffed car, bursting with tattered regional maps and saltine cracker crumbs crowded my mind.  My thoughts flew to tonight’s (and last nights, and the night before) sleeping arrangements, which involved all four of us clustered in a heap of sleeping bags across three small mattresses. The French gal sensed my hesitation, but suddenly shielded herself just as Kendley landed her bowl of noodles on my lap.

Ollie sat up straight in his chair and answered on my behalf.

“Well, in this country, you might not know it, but they have sea monsters, and we came to Iceland to look for them.  So far, I’m the only one who has seen any sign of them.  Today my mom stepped in a piece of their poop while we were hiking on the beach and she tried to tell me that it was sheep poop, but it wasn’t.  It was covered in green slime! That’s sea monster poop!”

The hunt is on…

His answer didn’t translate as well for the French as it did for me.  I broke into a wide, acknowledging grin.

“He is right, actually.  Sea monster poop is pretty easy to identify.  You see, without our kids, we’d be absolutely lost out here.”

With that, Ollie launched into a ten-minute dissertation on Icelandic sea beasts that had had gleaned from a visit to Skrimslasetur in Bildaldulur, and I occasionally lent my input to his description of the geography of the Westfjords, including which fjord was rumored to be the most monster-infested.  We had just spent the past four days on the narrow country roads that horseshoe around the finger-like peninsulas and their respective fjords in Iceland’s most remote and least-traveled Western frontier.

A long walk along Iceland’s steepest cliffs

The Látrabjarg cliffs had practically hummed with birdlife – particularly puffins and Kittiwakes.

Puffin love

Natural hot pools were discovered tucked away at the edges of fjords.

105 degree F pool…naturally

Vast plateaus rose precipitously from the sea, and, as we skipped from fjord to fjord, every hill-crossing promised otherworldly realms where trolls still lurked.

Old, abandoned cowsheds stood in stark relief against the fjords.

A room with a view

A number of waterfalls were respites amid the monolithic terrain. Dynjandi was a graceful veil in a lichen-freckled landscape. One perfect day, we climbed a small canyon to where an unnamed waterfall fed a small fjord. On our return, we discovered wild blueberries growing in the heath.

Nameless waterfall near Hestafjordur

Time had slowed here and we had eased in to a quieter place.

Back at the hostel, I finally answered our new friends.  “Iceland is to be shared, don’t you think? It’s as much a gift to us as it is to our children.”


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