Europe, Hot Springs, Iceland, Waterfalls

Heidi and Kubo Do Iceland – Day 9: Soaking up the last of the Westfjords

Iceland Day 9 – September 9, 2018

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Day 9 marked the near halfway point to our grand Icelandic adventure, and one of our first days to really “sleep in,” which was a nice treat.  There wasn’t a lot on our itinerary for our last full day in the Westfjords aside from a couple of cafes and bakeries, and a hot pot soak in our destination for the day, Drangsnes.

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Views at the Tungudalur Campground, which we didn’t see the night before due to arriving after it was dark. Bunárfoss waterfall is above the campground, and the river runs through it.  

Fog and light drizzled greeted us in the morning, our first taste of rain in five days.  I guess the good weather luck had to run out sometime, right?!  I wanted to try an Icelandic bakery out, so we opted for breakfast and coffee at Gamla Bakaríið in the town center of Ísafjörður.

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Nice directional street sign in Ísafjörður.
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Our breakfast sweets and coffee at Gamla Bakaríið

After scarfing down our apple and blueberry loafs, croissant, and delicious coffee, we headed out to get our day started under the cloudy skies.  Even with the clouds and fogs, the views remained spectacular as we headed south out of Ísafjörður on Road 61.

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Still water in the harbor as we left Ísafjörður.
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The low clouds added to the already impressive beauty of the Westfjords’ cliffs and mountains.
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Short tunnel through the rock on Road 61
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Lonely farms, some abandoned, some still occupied, dot the isolated scenery.
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Morning rush hour in the Westfjords
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Autumn colors in Hestfjörður along Road 61

As we wound around Hestfjörður, we noticed at least ten cars or so stopped in the middle of the road, their occupants out and staring into the fjord.  We stopped, and got out, and saw a couple of whales swimming in the fjord!  We snapped a few photos, and realized that the faster we got out of this traffic mess, the more clear roads we’d have in front of us, so Kubo carefully maneuvered around all the cars that turned Road 61 into a parking lot and we continued on.

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Couple of whales in Hestfjörður

As Hestfjörður turned into Skötufjörður near Hvítanes, we stopped to check out a popular place that seals hang out.  I’ve since decided that seals are some really weird animals… so clumsy and inefficient when out of the water!  Alongside the parking area was a picnic table with a plastic container filled with homemade jams and an honor-based payment box.  Since we were already planning on stopping shortly at Litlibær, I resisted buying some, but I thought it was a sweet idea and I hope all the travelers who take some jam really do pay.  (The elves are watching, you know!)

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Watching the clumsy seals on the shores of Skötufjörður near Hvítanes.

The main destination I wanted to see on this day was Litlibær, an old turf farmhouse that was originally built in 1895 and has since been restored and is part of the national museum system.  Litlibær has become known for their homemade waffles and sweets, and a great spot to stop and grab some coffee, and even a homemade souvenir or two.

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Litlibӕr was built in 1895 and was shared by a couple of families until 1969. The family who owns it now runs a small cafe out of the building now, and also sells handmade items.
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Litlibær and Skötufjörður

One of the owners, Sigríður, greeted us when we entered, and after signing the guestbook we were seated and placed our order for coffee and waffles.  Since the cafe also doubles as museum, there are many photos and artifacts hung around on the walls, which were interesting to read.  Immediately I noticed how low the ceilings were, and I had to duck in some areas… and I’m only 5’10”!

Sigríður quickly brought us our coffee, which is hands down the best coffee I have ever had!  Normally I put a ton of creamer into my coffee – a good quarter to half the cup will be creamer in order for me to like it… I didn’t even have to use creamer!!  And the goodness continued on when she brought out our waffles and homemade bilberry and rhubarb jam.  Even the whipped cream appeared homemade.  Even though it wasn’t that long ago that we had eaten breakfast, Kubo and I scarfed down our waffles.  Kubo went and asked Sigríður, who responded with delight and a massive smile to his request.

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Our homemade waffles, whipped cream, jam, and coffee at Litlibær. The walls are adorned with photos of the people who lived here throughout the years, and other historical items.
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Sigríður serves up a second helping of waffles, much to Kubo’s delight!

After we were done eating, we looked around the rest of the turf house, and went upstairs for a peek as well.  Upstairs is where I’d give myself a massive knot on the top of my head on a door frame that definitely was not intended for someone of my height… another wound to add to my elbow that I had cut open at Djúpalónssandur!

Naturally, I couldn’t leave Litlibær without buying some bilberry jam to bring back home and another lopapeysa, this one in mainly white with black details.

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After a quick peek to see what there was to see outside at Litlibær, we continued on, in and out of the fjords, stopping when things caught our eye.

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Cute house on the shores of Skötufjörður.

I got quite excited when Drangajökull, the Westfjords’ only glacier, came into view.  Apparently I had never seen a glacier before in my life judging by my excitement!  Kubo found a large area to pull off so we could grab some photos. Drangajökull is Iceland’s northernmost glacier, and sits on the sparsely inhabited Hornstrandir peninsula.  It is also the lowest altitude glacier in Iceland, sitting entirely below 1000 meters, and apparently is the only one that isn’t shrinking.  I dunno, I just think glaciers are so cool because it’s almost like they’re living!

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Drangajökull seen across Ísafjarðardjúp, and near Ögur on Road 61.
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A rare sight, the two-land suspension bridge over Mjóifjörður, which opened in 2009.
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Secluded Vatnsfjarðarkirkja, built in 1912.

In and out, around, and around the fjords we continued as the sun began to shine a bit more, with Kubo impulsively turning off at the sign for Reykjanes to check out what was there. Reykjanes sits on a narrow peninsula between Ísafjörður and Reykjafjörður.  Reykjanes I found to be interesting… I thought it had a “Soviet vibe” to it, which Kubo agreed with me about.  I don’t know, just plain interesting.  There is a hotel, apartments, campground, swimming pool, sauna, gym, restaurant/bar, gas, and hiking trails on premise.  Really, quite a lot!  And a very interesting man wearing only a towel, cigarette in one hand, a beer in the other.

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Building and hot springs at Reykjanes.
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Reykjaneslaug

We didn’t swim at Reykjaneslaug, though looking back I wish we did.  Nonetheless, it was a good spot to stretch our legs!  We continued around the fjord Ísafjörður (not the town!), and the skies cleared up to brilliant sunshine.  Shortly after we started around the other side of the fjord, Kubo stopped again at a pull off, and we got out to explore.   We followed a lightly traveled bit of single track, and around the corner a beautiful waterfall on the Gervidalsá river greeted us!  I never could find this waterfall on any maps or a name for it, but perhaps that is better… hidden gem for sure!

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Gervidalsá flowing out to Ísafjörður
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Our hidden waterfall discovery on the Gervidalsá

Kubo got the crazy idea that he wanted to swim in the freezing cold glacial water, so he stripped down and jumped into the lagoon that forms at the bottom of the falls.  Needless to say he didn’t stay in the water for too long, but he was very happy he could say he swam under a waterfall in the Westfjords!

Back in the van, we continued on and began the ascent up Steingrímsfjarðarheiði, a mountain pass that reaches 439 meters on Road 61.  We would pass some cyclists, which I find so awesome for taking on Iceland’s roads and weathers on heavy touring bikes!

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Nauteyrarkirkja, built in 1885, on the way up to Steingrímsfjarðarheiði
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Cyclists taking a break at one of the shelters on Steingrímsfjarðarheiði.
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Waterfall and winding road on Steingrímsfjarðarheiði

Steingrímsfjarðarheiði is a decently long pass at 21km, and plops out at the end of Steingrímsfjörður.  We continued straight, heading towards Hólmavík, which is home to the Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft.  Because hey, I needed to see those necropants with my own eyes!

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Hólmavíkurkirkja, built in 1968
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Seiður fountain near the harbor in Hólmavík.

The Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft (Galdrasafnið in Icelandic) is definitely an interesting place.  Admission is 950 ISK, which isn’t shabby.  I have a little bit of knowledge about witchcraft in the early days of the colonies in the U.S., so it was interesting to learn about Iceland’s witchcraft history… though I must admit, it left me a bit creeped out, a bit not understanding what I had just read, and a bit just scratching my head going “huh.”

Without further ado… the necropants!  (Which are, naturally, just a replica.)

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Necropants: “If you want to make your own necropants (literally; nábrók) you have to get permission from a living man to use his skin after his death. After he has been buried you must dig up his body and flay the skin of the corpse in one piece from the waist down. As soon as you step into the pants they will stick to your own skin. A coin must be stolen from a poor widow and placed in the scrotum along with the magical sign, “nábrókarstafur”, written on a piece of paper. Consequently, the coin will draw money into the scrotum so it will never be empty, as long as the original coin is not removed. To ensure salvation the owner has to convince someone else to overtake the pants and step into each leg as soon as he gets out of it. The necropants will thus keep the money-gathering nature for generations”. (From Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir’s blog)

Well then… let’s keep on moving!

I think the one thing that creeped me out the most was the story of the Tilberi, or “milk sucking demon.”

It goes a bit something like this… Snakkur or tilberi are made by women in the way that they steal a rib from a corpse at the cemetery. On Whitsunday, they steal a piece of copper, which they break from a church clock. Then they pluck wool from between the shoulders of a newly sheared sheep, which belongs to a widow. They then enwrap the wool around the human rib and the piece of copper and keep it between their breasts. Next time they go to communion they spit the sanctified wine out and into the wool with the rib and the copper and the tilberi is thus created.

The tilberi gets its nutrition from suckling on the women. The women are easily recognized by their limp and the sanguine teat-like wart on the inside of their thigh, on which the tilberi suckles. To get rid of a tilberi: let them pick up all the lamb droppings on three highland pastures and bring to the women – then the tilberi explodes! (This creature cannot stand the holy number 3).

From a distance, the tilberi is long and inflated, convex on both ends and moves very quickly by putting one end at a time on the ground while twisting and turning. The butter of tilberi can be recognized by making the sign of the cross in the butter with a finger and if it explodes into small pieces, then it is the butter of a tilberi. Hence the custom that when women knead the butter they make the sign of the cross in the butter with a finger”.

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A thigh nipple for a Tilberi…

On that note… look at this adorable Smurf house in Hólmavík!

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Brightly decorated house in Hólmavík

With our minds chilled with stories of Icelandic witchcraft, we backtracked a bit on Road 61 north to turn onto Road 643, which would take us to our stop for the night, Drangsnes.

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Selströnd coast with Steingrímsfjörður
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Grimsey island seen from the Drangsnes campground

We arrived in Drangsnes at quite the decent time, so we set up camp and I whipped up a big batch of spaghetti, which we ate outside in the sunshine.  Since we had some extra time, we decided this would be a good day to get caught up on some laundry.  All seemed well with doing laundry until the washer finished and I couldn’t get the door open.  I waited for the meter to run out, and it still wouldn’t open.  Though strange, we thought it needed more time on the meter so we added a bit more money, and ran it through another spin cycle.  Still nothing.

Uh oh.

The washer door would not unlock.  Another American couple was eating in the common room, and joined in on helping us with our laundry debacle, and we soon became “famous” in the campground.  I was about to cry, as I really like my clothes, but thankfully Kubo was there to be level headed.  The groundskeeper had come around to collect more camping fees, so Kubo grabbed him to come check out the washer.  The door handle to the washer would end up coming off in the groundskeeper’s hands, so he called up a repairman.  Now, I was totally thinking it would take days to get a repairman, much like in the U.S., so I continued to panic.  Kubo, being the sensible one, fetched a couple of butterknives from Carl, and got to work trying to trigger the latch on the washer.  Luckily, he got it to release the lock mechanism, and we were able to rescue our clothes… just as a repairman showed up!  (I guess even in a village of a few hundreds there’s a washer repairman!)  This is when I declared a ban on doing laundry ever again in Iceland.

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Kubo getting ready to perform surgery on the broken washing machine at the Drangsnes campground.

Clothes rescued from the washer and bellies full of spaghetti, we began short walk down to the infamous Drangsnes hot pots around dusk.

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Elf house and church on a lawn in Drangsnes
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Drangsnes hot pots right on the shore of Steingrímsfjörður

The Drangsnes hot pots are three tubs filled with differing temperatures of water.  They are free to use, and there are bathrooms, showers, and changing facilities across the road at the main swimming pool.  Kubo and I stopped off at the changing rooms first, and took a quick shower before heading over to the hot pots.

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Kubo swimming in Steingrímsfjörður. He must like cold water or something!
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Drangsnes hot pots, looking out into Steingrímsfjörður and the distant Gálmaströnd coast.

We made more German single serving friends, Caroline and Tommy, who shared stories of their recent several-month-long road trip through the U.S. What’s really awesome is they talked about being on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, and also the route through Colorado they took to get there – our backyard!  I never thought I’d be in a hot pot in the remote Westfjords somewhere by the Arctic Circle talking about the Wind River Reservation with two Germans!  We’d soak for several hours, drank some beers, and enjoyed the warm water and good company.  Kubo would even jump in for a swim in the fjord after seeing some others do it.  I was happy to judge him from a warm hot tub!  When we went to leave Kubo befriended some Czechs, who shared some shots of some godawful liquor with us, which also led us to the conclusion that all the other tourists in Iceland are either German or Czech, because those are the two cultures we kept running into.

To wrap up our last night in the Westfjords we walked back in the darkness and thick fog to the campground, where we tossed the clothes in the dryer and took some quick showers before going to bed around midnight.  We’re going to miss you an awful lot, Westfjords!

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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