Iceland, 20-25 August 2016

Day 4: Wednesday, 24 August

Up at 7:30. Breakfast at the house - muesli, toast, cold cuts, cheese, boiled egg, cinnamon scone, and a plum. We loaded up the car and left at 9:00, headed in the direction of Akureyri. It was another foggy morning. Bergþóra explained that when the cold water met the warmer temperature of the land, the fog happened.

As we crossed the long causeway/bridge toward Akureyri, I noticed there were lots of birds scattered across the mudflats out into the white mist, and large shoulders I could actually pull off onto. We stopped here from 9:15 - 9:30 and pulled out the scope, and I saw my first Redshanks, and lots of Black-headed Gulls.

Redshank 7
Eurasian Wigeon 2
Greylag Goose 4
Black-headed Gull 175
Lesser Black-backed Gull 2
Unknown foggy ducks 4

In Akureyri we stopped for gas, which gave me the opportunity to finally get a shot of the heart-shaped red traffic lights. Later in the day I was very glad we'd decided to stop here in the morning, as there was no "civilization" our whole way through the Westfjords. I wondered where the people who live there get fuel.

Blönduhlíð
A bit into the drive, at 11:10, I saw horses and a barn right next to the road, and across the road from there, a small triangular church with a place to pull off. The sun had come out, and it had turned into a beautiful day. I stopped for pictures of the horses, and there was a surprising amount of bird activity as well. A Redwing was perched on a fencepost by the horses, and I could hear more in the few trees across the road. Done with the horses, I crossed to check out the church yard, where a Meadow Pipit finally allowed us good looks, and a few others flew over. Another car stopped then, and all the people in it disappeared into the church, which made me realize this might be a good stop for a bathroom break. It was, which was a lucky thing later on when we entered the Westfjords and discovered no place to stop for hours, and the churches there were locked. We left here at 11:30.

Blöndúos
At 12:20 we stopped at Ömmukaffi in Blöndúos for lunch. I had cauliflower soup and an Ommi-burger, which was a fairly basic burger, and true to descriptions I'd read, Icelanders use some sort of creamy orange dressing reminiscent of Russian on their burgers. I had an espresso macchiato to keep me going - wow was it terrible. A tiny thing, true espresso, I suppose, and note to self: I don't like espresso. That was seriously bitter, and required digging out some chocolate back at the car to try to erase that taste.
We left there at 12:55.

I made an impulse stop at the Vatnsdalsá River for a panorama of the countryside before heading into the Westfjords. Noticed after pulling over that this was the place we'd stopped in the morning two days prior when we saw the swans, but on the other side of the bridge.

Today's weather was variable, with some sun, some clouds, and some fog. No rain, thankfully.

Westfjords
From the Ring Road, we took a right onto 68, heading north into the Westfjords. This road skirts Hrútafjörður, with the water to the right, often down an incline from the road, and mountain slopes climbing up to the left. At 2:05 I pulled over just before one of the 1-lane bridges when I saw there was a gravel patch that might have even been intended for people to pull off onto. I should note here that these 1-lane bridges come up occasionally without much announcement: you just have to notice, and then give way if you see someone else approaching on the other side, closer to the bridge than you.

This spot has no name near it on Google maps except I can see that Sæberg Hostel is located across the fjord and slightly south from this spot. However, despite it being a random stop, it was worthy of birding note and if I pass that way again, I'll jump off at it again. Here, a stream cut down through the rock on the far side of the road from the water and worked its way under that 1-lane bridge, into the fjord, and here we watched a small group of Eurasian Oystercatchers. Three were hanging out together just across the outflow, but when a fourth tried to join them, twice they drove it off. Black and white Common Eiders floated in small groups out in the fjord, which here was narrow enough to look like a wide river. Prior to this, I'd only seen brown ones, and didn't realize they could be marked so contrastingly. These were males in eclipse plumage, which they go into after breeding. For anyone bird-curious, here's a page showing photos of a wide variation in their plumage.

While here, another Whimbrel flew by, and a Redshank. A few Great Cormorants were out on a thin rocky island, and a flock of geese flew by, most likely Greylags. I don't think we saw the other possibility at all, which was Pink-footed Geese.

Stopped at a church with "Prestsbakki" on a signpost from 2:50 - 3:12. It was locked, so we couldn't use the toilet there, but we watched gulls and a pair of loons out in the water here. Poppies bloomed bright orange next to a nearby building, being pollinated by big fat bumblebees that I tried but failed to get decent photos of with my telephoto lens.
eBird list

Along 68 north until we turned west on 61, we experienced three lengthy stretches of dirt/gravel that were slightly nerve-wracking, but not too bad. There were hardly any cars that passed us, so I didn't have to hold my breath and pray too many times "pleasedontthrowarock pleasedontthrowarock pleasedontthrowarock…" If I think back, it seems like maybe 25 cars in total passed us going the other way the whole drive up 68 until 61. I didn't hear any rock impacts. It got a little hairy in the last gravel stretch, which was at a higher elevation and with more curves, but that stretch was a little shorter than the others. They were around 15-21 kilometers (9-13 miles) long.

After driving for miles and miles we finally found a hostel to stop at to use the toilets. No one was there, but the door was unlocked, so we let ourselves in and found them. This was Broddanes Hostel, at 4:40. While I was outside waiting for Bill, a woman drove up, and I felt the need to explain what we were doing there. She looked at me kind of funny and stated, "There are toilets in Hólmavik." To which I replied, "We couldn't wait that long!" I had told her we'd been driving for hours without seeing any place to stop. She seemed okay with it, but I was surprised she suggested waiting that much longer. People who live so remotely must have a different concept of space and time. We had no plan to continue on to Hólmavik, anyway, unless we got desperate. Anyone driving through the Westfjords needs to stop before entering for fuel and a toilet! I'm just glad we started the day with a full tank.

I made another random pullover to the shoulder because I actually COULD, right near the water at Stóra Fjarðarhorn from 5:10 - 5:25, and we checked out the ducks we could see out there. Here we saw two species of duck new to our Iceland list: 22 Longtailed Ducks and one lone Harlequin. Also the ubiquitous eiders, as well as a few Great Cormorants and a Redshank.

I stopped to photograph sheep at 6:00, but for the most part picked up the pace now, and I switched my head to try not to get so distracted by the scenery and wanting so much to stop, since it was getting later and we had a way to go yet.

I couldn't help but stop at Verzlunarstaðir, from 6:33 until 6:44. The long narrow rock formations jutting out into the water caught my eye and I wanted to photograph them, so made an exception to my forward momentum. The forms of these were unlike others we had been passing, so I thought them worthy of the stop. Thankfully the road surface there was fairly even with the gravelly land that went out towards the water there, so I was able to pull off. The only birds we saw here were four swans, but the scenery was rugged and beautiful.

Here's the Dermandar panorama made at this stop, in which you can see the road as I've described it, raised but for this rare opportunity to pull off, and with its regularly-spaced snow stakes along the edges. I'm not sure now where I got the name "Verzlunarstaðir" - maybe from Google Maps when I dropped the pin.

I'd been noticing black mountains off to my left for a bit, and while driving through the town of Borgarnes, I caught a view of them across the water down a neighborhood street. This mental snapshot percolated in my mind for about five seconds before I found someplace to turn around and go back for the shot. I parked on Garðavík street at 8:20, from where I had a wonderful view of the mountains lit by the lowering sun across the water. I took my photos and we checked out the few birds: 3 Ringed Plovers and 7 Redshanks poking around on the mudflats near the shore.
Here's the Dermandar Panorama.

Reykjavík
Approaching town I could tell we were both at the end of our ropes - too little sleep, lots of trip excitement, pushing hard for several days, and now to find the hotel in the dark, hungry and likely too late for dinner. We arrived at the T10 Hotel at 9:30, both of us completely exhausted. Parking was a challenge; I think people just drive over the curb because there was otherwise no room to maneuver. We had been instructed to check in at the hotel across the street, but there wasn't really one "across the street". We found Hótel Hafnarfjordur across and down the block: that was the one. It was late and I guess the reception for T10 was closed. It was too late for restaurants, so we drove down the road to fill up the tank, and got Quizno's subs, which we brought back to the room. Got in and settled at 10:30. Ate the subs, prepped for tomorrow.

T10 Hotel
This hotel was weird and I didn't like the vibe. It's in an office park of warehouses and businesses. The room was clean but so tiny we had to put our bags in the entryway. The twin mattresses had only room for one tiny table between them, the far one against the far wall and the near one against a tall bureau, and the mini-fridge was shoved between the foot of the far bed and the wall, with the TV above it. The lack of space made the process of repacking and arranging stuff in our bags a challenge. I think this hotel might be meant more for business people on short trips with small luggage, though other reviewers said their rooms were large, so perhaps this is what we get for being cheap. "Cheap" in quotes, as lodging in Iceland is relatively expensive, with almost everything costing over $100 a night. This room cost $93. Comments I've read say Iceland is becoming an ever more popular destination, so I guess prices and availability will only get worse.

My review of the T10 is on Expedia. If you want to read it, click the link, find the reviews, and it's the one titled "Basic Lodging". I was tired and cranky and kind of hated the experience, but tried to take my state of mind into consideration and write a more neutral review. Photos on Expedia do show that other rooms are considerably larger; if you decide to stay here, you may want to make sure you get one with the amount of space you would like. In general, I would consider this a "just passing through" point, not a place to stay a while.

We finally got to bed at 12:15.


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