Europe, Hiking, Hot Springs, Iceland

Heidi and Kubo Do Iceland – Day 7: To the edge of the world at Látrabjarg & the horsemeat tale

Iceland Day 7 – September 7, 2018

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A gorgeous pink and red sky greeted us when the alarm went off, and we got ready to set out on our first full day in the Westfjords, eager to see what all these “scary” roads and remote sights had in store for us.

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Sunrise in Flókalundar
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The Westfjords bring their best to the waterfall game!

However… had to start the morning with a good ol’ geothermic soak!  The Krossholtslaug (or Krosslaug as it’s sometimes called, though there is another Krosslaug in a different part of Iceland as well) was just a short jaunt from Flókalundar in the small settlement of Kross.  This is a two for one deal, with the concrete Birkimelur swimming pool (built in 1948) neighboring the more natural feeling Krossholtslaug hot pot.  There were some changing rooms, but they were locked.  The best part?  We had the hot pot all to ourselves the entire time!!  Krossholtslaug doesn’t get the attention Hellulaug does, and I am thankful for that!

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Krossholtslaug in the Hagavaðall tidal flat.
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Birkimelur swimming pool next to Krossholtslaug. The changing rooms are not open all the time.
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Nothing like getting the hot pot all to ourselves with this great view over Hagavaðall and Breiðafjöður!

Kubo and I soaked up the warm goodness and views for quite awhile, once again having to force ourselves to leave to continue on.  Onwards and upwards on Road 62!

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Road 62 as it ascends Kleifaheiði, the mountain pass between the Barðaströnd coast and Patreksfjörður
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Nearly every mountain pass on a highway in Iceland has one of these signs at the start that has the name, length, max elevation, and max grade of the climb. I also like how it looks like my name is part of all these passes… but really heiði = heath.
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Typical Westfjords scenery from atop the mountains. You can see cairns in the middle of the photo. These are found all over Iceland, and represent way finding markers, most of historical importance as they mark the traditional routes before there were roads. Kleifaheiði off Road 62
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Kleifabúi on the top of Kleifaheiði. It was raised by the workers who helped build the road in 1947.  Supposedly it is Hákon J. Kristófersson, a farmer and a congressman from the farm Hagi.
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Road 62 descending towards Ósafjörður, a small finger of Patreksfjörður. Road 62 continues to the town of Patreksfjörður to the right, and Road 612 branches off the the left to Látrabjarg.
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This cute little guy was sunning himself in Ósafjörður right at the junction of Roads 62 and 612. The tide was out so we were able to walk down the shore to get quite close.

Mountain pass views and seals aside, our first major stop was the Garðar BA 64.  This former whaling-turned-fishing vessel is the oldest steel vessel in Iceland and was built in 1912.  For nearly 70 years it sailed, until finally being deemed unsafe in 1981 and it was run aground in the Skápadalur valley and left to rot.  It made for a good chance to stretch our legs, and for me to stress out about if Kubo had a current tetanus vaccine or not (boys will be boys, especially when given a rusting steel boat to explore!).

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Garðar BA 64 beached in Skápadalur valley, where it has sat since 1981.
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Kubo trying to help the ship out by pushing it back into the fjord.  He put forth a valiant effort, but alas you can still find Garðar BA 64 on the beach.

Our fill of boats complete for the day, we set out on Road 612, which would take us to Látrabjarg.  This road would finally give us a taste for the “true” Icelandic gravel road, complete with things such as:  complete lack of guardrails, hugging cliffs above deep fjords, hairpin turns, narrow width that cannot fit a big truck and a camper van at the same time, and scared foreigners.  Kubo attached the GoPro to Carl’s windshield, and we set off!

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Hugging the cliffside on Road 612 headed towards Látrabjarg
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Road 612 isn’t all that wide, and this road grader was taking it all up, as the song “Don’t Let it Pass” came on our Spotify. I think Alanis Morisette would say, “Isn’t it ironic, dontcha you think?”
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A very small settlement that I cannot find a name for only a few kilometers from Látrabjarg. As you can see, residents have fashion their own speed limit sign along with a fake speed camera!  This reminds me of the very small town I grew up in, which had a fake police car sitting alongside the road to discourage speeders.
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Seeing white sand beaches is weird in Iceland after hearing about nothing back black sand prior to arrival! Hvallátur beach
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Breiðuvíkurkirkja and Breiðavík Beach

Up and over, around, and down, and we finally arrived at Látrabjarg, our main destination for today.  Látrabjarg’s claim to fame is two part:  birds (mainly puffins) and being the westernmost point of Iceland and Europe, if you ignore the Azores.  Honestly, I don’t know where or what the Azores are, so I’m fine with Iceland making the claim to the westernmost point!  Because the puffins had nearly all flown away by the time we made our trip, and I’m not much of a bird person otherwise, we were mostly here to soak in the views and feeling like we were standing on the edge of the world.

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They don’t mess around with the warning signs in Iceland! I think this one means “You can fall, just not on dogs” Ha!
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Látrabjarg… westernmost point of Iceland, and Europe if you exclude those pesky Azores. Bjargtangar lighthouse is in the background, and is the westernmost building in Europe… take that, Azores!

It was windy, cloudy, and chilly when we first arrived, so Kubo and I layered on the clothing big time, only for the sun to come out about 5 minutes into walking up the cliffs. Typical Iceland for ya… this is why I’m happy Kubo bought the jacket he did, as it has big pockets to hold all the items of clothing I’d end up stripping off.  I swear, I’ll never get dressing in Iceland right, I always have too much clothing on!

Hiking trails run close to the edge of Látrabjarg, and supposedly it’s possible to hike all the way to Rauðisandur, miles away.  If memory serves me right, we’d only walk about a mile up, with plenty of stopping to check out the views.  As we were making our way back down, I’d run into our single serving friend from the previous night at Hellulaug, Andy!

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The Látrabjarg cliffs stretch 14km and reach elevations up to 441m (1447 feet) above the ocean below. Hiking trails follow the edge
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The Látrabjarg cliffs house millions of birds every year. The puffins were all gone by the time we visited, but there were other species still flying around.  Locals traditionally (and perhaps still do) scale the cliffs to collect eggs!
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The only “safe” way to get close to the edge of the cliffs of Látrabjarg is to lay down in order to distribute your body weight more broadly. The puffins like to burrow into the cliffs, which makes the edges weak.  And let me tell you, it’s a LONG way down to the ocean, and I don’t think you’re surviving that one!
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Clouds cleared up, giving us sunny skies for exploring Látrabjarg
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We definitely could’ve taken a nice nap in the sunshine at this point on Látrabjarg!
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Látrabjarg with Bjargtangar in the background
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Látrabjarg

Naturally, Kubo and I both worked up an appetite hoofing it up the trail, so we cooked up some eggs and bacon to make breakfast burritos.  I declare these burritos to be the westernmost burritos of Europe that day!

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Fjord upon fjord upon fjord upon fjord leaving Látrabjarg on Road 612.  This is why driving in the Westfjords (and other parts of Iceland) takes so long as you have to weave in and out of the fjords.

This is an out-and-back drive, so we got to soak in the views of Road 612 going the other direction.  We made a quick pit stop at the Kárnafit campsite, which is just a little ways from Látrabjarg to use the toilets and check out the beach.  I was shocked at how clean the toilets were, complete with fully stocked paper!  Back in the U.S. I’m use to any toilet facility “out in nature” to be in a varying state of grossness, but toilet after toilet in Iceland was proving me wrong that this was a universal thing (aside from Þingvellir and Seljalandsfoss, which had some of the most disgusting toilets I’ve ever used in my life).

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Hvallátur beach. There is a small, free campsite across the road here called Kárnafit. It has a few toilets and that’s about all… but they were insanely clean! I really wouldn’t mind coming back here and camping – I bet the sunset is amazing and it’s so remote.
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The town policeman of “the little settlement that remains unnamed” of Road 612 sure looks mean and serious about catching speeders!
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Feeling like the top of the world and edge of the world on Road 612 on Kóngshæð

On an impulse, we decided to check out the Egil Ólafsson Museum (Minjasafn Egils ÓIafssonar að Hnjóti).  Admission is 1000ISK for adults (less than $10USD).  I can’t really describe it better than the museum’s official website, so here ya go: “At the Egil Ólafsson Museum at Hnjóti by Örlygshöfn there is a unique collection of remarkable memories from the southern West Fjords, which tell the story of seafaring, agriculture and daily life. These objects provide a good insight into people’s struggles and the resourcefulness and self-reliance efforts that people had to make in the face of difficult circumstances. There are many interesting things to be found at the museum, including his hat Gísli on Uppsala and objects related to the salvage at Látrabjarg 1947.”

The museum truly has an impressive collection of artifacts and really gives you insight on life in this region of the Westfjords.  There is also a big exhibit about the 1947 rescue of survivors of the British trawler Dhoon, which wrecked near Látrabjarg, and the local Icelanders who facilitated their rescue.  There is a small cafeteria and some souvenirs for sale as well.  Nearly everything was in Icelandic, but it was pretty easy to get the gist of things.  The feral sheep exhibit did provide a handout in English.

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Egil Ólafsson Museum
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Egil Ólafsson Museum
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Exhibition at Egil Ólafsson Museum about a herd of sheep that went feral
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Old US Navy airplane at Egil Ólafsson Museum.  According to the woman at the museum, Egil acquired this when the US closed their Keflavík air base.

Our last main stop of the day before our campsite would be Rauðisandur.  Now, by this point I had seen golden and white sand beaches in Iceland, so it wasn’t necessarily the reddish sands that were calling to me.  No, I’ll admit… it was the drive down Road 614 the beach instead!  Silly steep with 180 hairpin switchbacks seemed like the perfect adventure for Kubo and I to tackle, since we actually like these crazy roads Iceland offers up.  Road 614 does live up to its reputation, and I can see how the overwhelming majority of tourists would be scared by it, especially in anything but perfect weather.  Hell, I’ll admit that I’m happy I had Kubo to drive me on it!  I would like to ride up it on a bicycle one day, I think it would be one killer hill climb.

Anyways…

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The infamous Road 614 to Rauðisandur
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Nice hairpin on Road 614 (and waterfall!) on the way to Rauðisandur

We decided not to walk out to the beach, and instead spent some time taking photos of Saurbæjarkirkja, which was moved to this location in 1982.

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Saurbæjarkirkja near Rauðisandur, below Hraunshnúkur peak
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Saurbæjarkirkja with Skor in the background.
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It’s been a few days without a sheep photo, so here’s one to show that they live on the beach, too!
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I see you, beach sheep!
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Beautiful waterfall near Rauðisandur, with layers that remind me of Hengifoss.
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Rauðisandur

After driving around a bit at Rauðisandur, and Kubo finding a new hat abandoned on a fence post to replace the one he lost on the ferry the previous day, we set out to Bíldudalur, our stop for the night.  We made a quick stop in Patreksfjörður at the gas station to use the free car wash brush to give Carl a quick bath after all the dirt roads he had been driving all day.  Many gas stations in Iceland have these free brushes you can use, which is another testament to just how much damn water Iceland has!

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Fishing equipment in Patreksfjörður seen from Road 62.

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Hálfdán mountain pass on Road 63 between Tálknafjörður and Bíldudalur

Bíldudalur is a small village of just a few hundred residents, and whose main industries are fishing and sea mineral processing.  We arrived about 30 minutes after the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum closed, which was a little sad.  Bíldudalur sits on Arnarfjörður, which has numerous monsters living in it (sadly, our only sea monster sightings in Iceland would be my own toy brachiosaurus that I travel with).  With the museum closed, we left Carl parked and decided to explore the town on foot, something we really hadn’t done at this point in the trip.

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Bíldudalskirkja in Bíldudalur
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Bíldudalsvogur and the other fjords of Suðurfirðdir (Fossfjörður, Reykjarfjörður, Trostansfjörður, and Geirþjófsfjörður). These are all smaller fjords that branch off of Arnarfjörður

Bíldudalur really isn’t too big, so it didn’t take us long to do a tour of it on foot.  Evening walk done, we set out for the campground, which is behind the town’s sports center.  We were the first campers to show up, and I realized just how “out there” we were when the woman at reception pretty much only knew a handful of words in English and I could tell she was just answering “yes” to every question because she had no idea what we were blabbering on about.  In circumstances like this, I always feel horrible that I do not know Icelandic (and am too shy to say the handful of words and phrases I do know), as I’m the visitor to their country and shouldn’t expect English.  But we got our transaction done!  Before arrival I was not sure if this campground would be open, as there was little information online and they never replied to my email seeking information.

To my utter joy, we were able to camp next to a Blaabjerg inflatable trampoline, which are found all over the place in Iceland!  With excited squeals, I yanked off my shoes and jacket and got to bouncing!  I seriously think these should be everywhere in the U.S., too, but sadly Americans like to sue for every little mishap so I can only imagine the liability.  However, I’m pretty sure I have room in my backyard to install one… and bonus, it cannot fly away in high winds like a normal trampoline!

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Our campsite at the Bíldudalur sports center, complete with a trampoline and fjord!

Once I was done bouncing, I set off to shower inside the sports center while Kubo got camp ready.  For dinner he was eager to grill up the steaks he had bought a few days prior.  He swore up and down to me they were beef, “because they look like beef.”  I finally grabbed the package and got out my phone and used the Google Translate feature where you can take a photo.  And that is how I added the word for horsemeat to my Icelandic vocabulary.

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This… is… NOT… beef

My next round of business was to Google “is it legal to eat horsemeat in the United States” because that’s logical to do when you’re eating it in ICELAND.  (Answer is… kinda… there’s no inspected slaughterhouses, but it’s not like the police will coming knocking on your door if you eat some.)  Eating horse is quite a taboo thing in the U.S., as I think horses fall into what we consider the “cute animals with cute faces that we keep as pets” category that makes them a no-no to eat, much like dogs and cats.  However, I recognize that this is much different in Europe, where it’s common to eat horse.  Kubo is an adventurous eater, so he was all about grilling up his newly discovered horse steaks, and I agreed that I would partake in eating them.  Because when in Iceland… (and I was hungry).

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Kubo getting ready to add more salt to the already salted horsemeat.  Because we didn’t take the time to translate the word “saltad” on the packaging.

Kubo left me with the rice boiling as he went to shower quickly, and then it was time to grill up the horse.  Just about this time three local children decided it would be a lot of fun to harass us.  Hey, I grew up in a town of 100 people, so I totally get the boredom thing, it was understandable to an extent!  The kids sat down at the picnic table with us, and would say something in English, and then start yapping away in Icelandic.  One kid kept asking us to feed him dinner.  Finally Kubo broke out his dad voice, and they scurried away, only to return, appearing to taunt us in Icelandic.  Kubo finally got them to leave for a little while by responding in Slovak, which sent them running like they saw a sea monster, ha!  By now there were one or two other campers on the other side of the sports center, so the kids went off to harass them.

And yay for us, the horse was done!  So we thought… I mean, neither of us knew how long horse had to cook.  I tried googling it, without a whole lot of success.  Bravely, I took a bite, squashing out the thoughts of the cute Icelandic horses out of my head and how I was breaking some big bad American cultural taboo.  Surprisingly, I found it to taste a lot like wild game meat I had before, like deer or elk.  It was a tad on the salty side due to all the extra salt Kubo put on it, but not bad!  I ate all of my portion, woohoo!  I then proceeded to horrify friends and coworkers back home with my tale of eating horse.  I’m pretty sure they all figured they had lost me to Iceland forever at this turning point!

Naturally, the bored children found their way back to us, plopping down with a dead bird in a bowl at our table.  Kubo’s serious dad voice came out and they ran off again, only to come back asking if we had seen their missing cell phone, and jumping on the trampoline, which I had semi-regretted demanding we park next to.  Kubo, being a good sport, try to assist them in finding the cell phone in the dark as I ready our sleeping bag for the evening.  Finally the kids found their phone and made their way home, and the Blaabjerg deflated for the night.

Whew.  Time for us to deflate for the night as well.  Goodnight, Westfjords!

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Trying out one of the Blaabjerg inflatable trampolines that are ubiquitous at parks, schools, and sports centers all over Iceland. So much fun!

Follow along on our entire 19 day Iceland road trip adventure!  Click here for a comprehensive itinerary, with links to each day’s adventure.

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