Considered the “capitol of northern Iceland,” Akureyri sits at the Eyjafjörður fjord and is the second largest city with just under 18,000 people. We decided to make it our first and only two-night stopover after Mývatn’s flies ran us out of town the night before.
Fabrice and I had no plans except to make new friends again since the group we met the night before had split up and left town—Canada and England were traveling south and France, Germany, and Wales were traveling to the northwest fjords.
We had a great experience hanging out with them so we were craving more interactions just like it. Good times with new people can be rather addicting!
Having missed out on the hot springs in Mývatn, we decided to go to the Akureyri public pools. While these were not exactly natural hot springs, they were a welcomed alternative to dealing with the flies!
On the way to the pool, we got to witness a bit of the charm of Akureyri. Small parks and cute shops lined the streets.
The pool did not allow cameras inside so imagination will have to suffice here. There was a large, heated lap pool, several smaller heated pools at various hot temperatures in gradually hotter increments, some small slides and larger waterpark type slides, a hot tub, and steam room—all in a fenced-in area outdoors.
Unfortunately, the waterpark slides were shut off so we could not use them, but we still could enjoy all the many other options. Several Icelandic locals were there that afternoon taking a dip despite the outside temperature only being about 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Other travelers also populated the waters, such as Pascal, a man from Fabrice’s hometown of Quebec. He was traveling solo in Iceland on vacation from his job at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. We chatted with him in the pool for a while and found out he was staying in our same hostel.
We met up with him later on and walked to the supermarket together to pick up dinner. This was the night that Fabrice and I cooked minke whale. We made too much food and shared it with Pascal who offered wine and played his guitar—a fair trade.
The hostel bar was having happy hour after dinner so we all grabbed beers and sat down at a table for four. At this table sat our fourth recruit—an Icelandic native of Reykjavik named Hreiðar who had just moved to Akureyri to try out living and working there for the winter. We all had a very difficult time correctly pronouncing his name but he smiled at this and seemed to appreciate our effort.
I learned he had spent the last several months benefiting from the generosity of friends who offered their couches to him as he searched for a new place. He had only recently found an apartment a short bus ride away in Akureyri and a job that includes taking care of the beginnings of what will be new forest planted around Iceland.
When happy hour ended, Hreiðar invited us to Café Amour for a later happy hour there. We followed and were delighted by the bar’s ceiling with crudely painted images of nude people.
The four of us had many laughs together,.
Later that night, Fabrice chatted with a young woman name Valentina from Italy who was staying in one of the bunks in our room. We learned she was on her way back south in the direction we were heading the next day.
In the morning, the three of us headed toward our next destination: the small town of Borgarnes. Valentina had been in Iceland for several months, traveling around the country mostly by hitch hiking and making some extra money working in a hostel. She was on her way back there now.
On Day 6, we wove through valleys and across pastures with the wind pushing strong against the car on the road.
A few choice farmscapes enticed us to stop and admire the views, including a time when we said hello to a couple as they herded sheep into a pasture.
As we drove, the three of us learned more about each other and our cultures. We talked about language and ways of saying different phrases since there were three different native languages in the car.
This led to conversation about the culture of romance in each of our countries, our personal beliefs about the world, and our individual passions. In the vein of one of my travel objectives—learning about how people achieve self-fulfillment and social justice—I asked Valentina what she was passionate about in life.
This question led to a deeper discussion among all of us about what we think we want to change in the world. Valentina hopes to preserve the world’s natural beauty by one day working for an organization that designates certain areas as off limits for building.
Fabrice also hopes to protect the environment from the negative effects of profit-hungry industry by promoting awareness about the long-term profits of investing in environmentally friendly technology to prevent expensive mishaps (e.g., oil spills) from happening later. “Corporations and industry are too short-sighted—only thinking about the immediate profits. Then they end up hurting the environment and paying more to clean it up later. This is a problem in Quebec.”
We all agreed—getting people to see the long-term rather than the short-term effects of their actions is a challenge in each of our countries and across many different social issues.
We said goodbye to Valentina at a crossroads where she would catch her next ride and then we made our way down the block to our hostel. Borgarnes is a quaint town that sits on a penninsula between the northwest fjords and the Borgarfjarðarbrú bridge which connects to Route 1 back to Reykjavik.
We got lunch at Café Kyrrð, a cute, family-owned café with a homey, country feel. Sitting in comfortable chairs, we ate quiche, salad, and sipped tea and coffee off a coffee table as if we were just sitting down in grandma’s living room.
That night, we met a couple from Germany in the kitchen as we cooked some pasta for dinner. They generously offered a spice for us to add to our meal which had just the right kick and flavor. We learned they were heading to the pool in town and suggested we join them. The pool was smaller than Akureyri’s but this time the water slides were running.
The air was growing colder as the sun was already setting on the water just over the fence beyond the pool. We jumped out of one of the hotter pools and scurried up the stairs of the slides in single file, our heated bodies steaming in the chilly air. We jumped, one after the other, into the warm splashing water through the tube and down into the pool below.
Four adults giggling like school children, we repeated this behavior over and over until we were too tired and grew too cold to continue. Back in one of the heated pools, we all chatted for a while until darkness reigned above in a sky full of clouds.
After the couple left, I chose to do a few laps in the pool in solitude. I used the time to think to myself and reflect on my six-day road trip. Tomorrow we would be heading back to Reykjavik and I would be spending my last night there. So far, I had met so many wonderful people during these last several days—and especially over the last two days.
I felt so lucky to be in a place where making new friends who had such rich backgrounds were so accessible and equally as adventurous and open as I.
Some were friends I would continue to be in touch with—like the camping musicians we met in Akureyri who would also be on their way back to Reykjavik in the morning. But some would disappear into the past, probably never to be seen again—like the German couple we had just giggled with up and down the water slides.
Regardless, these encounters have made my road trip all the richer—much more so than if I kept to myself and traveled alone.
Before I left for my year of deviation, many people were surprised to hear that I would be traveling solo. “Don’t you want to see these places with someone to share in the experience?” My response was always, “Of course I do. And I will with people I meet when I get there.” This trip is about opening my horizons from as many angles as possible, including deviating from my usual social patterns.
Traveling solo forces me to have conversations with new people, learn about their passions, and grow from my encounters with all of them. I can only imagine whom I might meet next, and that’s all a part of the adventure.