I laid in my top bunk under a hand-woven blanket watching the sunlight trickle in through the far window. I smiled to myself as I heard the light ba-ah-ah-ing of sheep in the distance mixed with the faint breathing of my two new friends laying in the bunks next to me. We had all stayed together in the same room the night before even though we could have each had our own room in the place. I had chosen the room on the east side strategically so the sunlight would warm me up in the morning. What I did not anticipate was the emotional warmth I would feel when Carolina and Fabrice decided to stay in the room with me. We were becoming fast friends, and now it was like we were children away at camp together.
The day before we began our Ring Road trip by detouring around the Golden Circle. Today we planned to get back on Route 1 to see some waterfalls before reaching Vik for the night. Today was also the day that I was to learn how to drive manual—finally! I had always wanted to learn. Most cars for rent (especially the less expensive ones) are manual in Iceland. So with Fabrice and Carolina as my teachers and nobody around on these country back roads, this was my opportunity.
Driving down the unpaved country road from Fljótsdalur hostel, I parked us at Gloggafoss, a waterfall we had visited the day before because Carolina and Fabrice wanted to see it again in the morning light. I wandered over the fence and across a farm field to check out a second, unmarked waterfall that was next to it a couple hundred meters away. Approaching it, I watched two sheep take a morning draught from its waters at the top of the hill. I called out to another group of sheep on the hill to the right of it. “BAAAH!” I shouted. “BAAAAAAAAH” it called back. We shared a moment. I spun around to take in the 360-degree view.
Hopping back in the car, Fabrice took out a piece of hardened earth he had molded the day before from the mud at Geysir. He had carved eyes and a smile into it while waiting for Carolina and I to come back from a short hike. It had hardened overnight. Placing it on the dashboard, we giggled at how silly it looked. “Let’s name him Earl. Earl, our road trip mascot,” I suggested.
The three of us, and Earl, set out for one of the first major waterfall stops along the Ring Road: Seljalandsfoss. Icelanders at the couchsurf meet up informed us that it was one of the few waterfalls that you can walk behind. As we walked up to it, I realized I probably should have worn my rain jacket. The wind whipped the spray of the falls along the path as we walked beside it.
We explored a bit further down the path past the waterfall and found a large hole pressed into the side of the cliff next to a smaller waterfall. Carolina was the first to go off the path to explore it further. “Let’s be trolls!” she said. We rock scrambled up to where part of the fall was rushing down and hopped across rocks to get to it. Once there we sat inside, admired the moss-covered rocks, and had a photoshoot.
On the way to the next waterfall, we pulled off the road along the way to capture the landscapes in our memories and with our cameras.
We came upon the Skógafoss fairly quickly, stopping at the last second to turn into it. From the road it was difficult to see that the morning light bent its rays into the mist of the falls at the perfect angle to create a full rainbow. As we got closer, a second one formed. Double rainbow! Looking at it head on, we could make out the full circle, too. We felt incredibly lucky to have such great weather and be there at the right time of day to see such a sight.
At this waterfall, you can climb up the side to gaze down on it from above. My quads burned as we ascended the many steps to the top. The views were worth the effort.
Feeling satisfied with the many waterfalls we had seen that day, we pushed forward to the town of Vik. We were not sure where we were going to stay, but we wanted to get there early enough to have some lunch and explore.
Soon, we turned a bend in the road and Vik was revealed to us. A quaint town built into the valley and up a hill between enormous cliffs next to the ocean with rock formations jutting out of the water in the distance. Thousands of gulls were flying on the thermals in front of the cliffs. We drove immediately down to the black sand beach. Once out of the car, each of us took off in different directions: Fabrice put on his headphones and stayed up on a ledge near the car, Carolina strolled next to the crashing waves, and I walked to get close to the rocks and took a seat on the sand.
One of my favorite things to do is simply sit and think and observe. I watched as a couple strolled next to the water down the beach and down around toward the cliffs in the distance. Fabrice, who is a drummer in a band back in Quebec, was tapping out a beat peering off at the horizon. I glanced in Carolina’s direction and she was holding something in her hands, but I couldn’t quite make out what it was. Soon Fabrice wandered over to me, and then we saw Carolina approaching. She was holding a bird that looked much like a seagull—a Larus Gull. It was injured in some way. She put it down and it inched away from her cautiously, but kept gazing up as if trying to understand. We decided to leave it alone and let nature take its course.
The next mission was to find a hostel. Without luck finding an inexpensive one with availability in Vik, we decided to leave Vik behind and make our way to the next town where a guesthouse had availability for us for a reasonable price.
Don’t worry, I don’t think we ever once even attempted to pronounce the name of this town. Instead, let’s call it Kirk. On the way to Kirk, the landscapes were different than a lot of what we had been seeing. Fields of lava rocks and mounds sprinkled with or completely covered in moss stretched out from the road on both sides.
Soon we turned left into Kirk and followed the main road next to a small river alongside the town. We found Klausterhof Guesthouse at the very end next to a small waterfall (Systrafoss) that dumped down the side of a moss- and grass-covered mountain. After dinner at possibly the only restaurant and bar in town, we grabbed some beers and ascended the side of the mountain to check out our surroundings.
At the top, we were surprised to find a lake called Systravatn. Systra means sisters in Icelandic. The story goes that nuns used to bathe in the lake. One day, two nuns saw a golden comb reach up out of the water. One dove under to go after it and never came back up. The other rode a horse into the water after it. Neither one of them were ever seen again.
The three of us crossed the rushing water of Systrafoss and planted ourselves at the edge of the mountain, our seats cushioned by airy, mossy grass. We chatted about life, shared stories, and felt lucky to be in the company of good people with beers in our hands. The air chilled as we watched the sun fall behind an overcast sky on only our second day.