Iceland. What used to be a rare destination is now all the rage, and with several airlines offering nonstop flights from many cities around the world, getting there is easier than ever.
If The Land of the Midnight Sun is in your travel plans this summer -- or if you just want to make a date with Iceland and your traveling armchair -- I invite you to check out my book, Pam on the Map: Iceland. It's a travelogue-style book (with an easy, blog-esque flavor) in which I detailed my own travels to the small island country in the summer of 2013.
Many of the Iceland travel guides I've found focus on the same points -- the Golden Circle, the south, Reykjavík -- so in my own travels I tried to find some lesser-known spots, further from the beaten path. Even with all the research I did before my trip, though, there were still destinations I missed. Therefore, at the end of each chapter I noted what I would do differently if I visit again. Make that when. Iceland is a destination that seeps into your psyche and stays with your soul.
The following excerpt from Pam on the Map: Iceland is from the opening chapter, "Arrival."
Finally, I see a young man coming through the door, looking rushed, a placard in hand. Is that my name on it? ... YES! My Route 1 knight in shining armor. He has arrived.
He is a lovely young man, dark haired and bright eyed, but when he tells me his name I am still flushed with the excitement that he's arrived at all, and it doesn't register in my brain. I can't guess his age, either, other than "young." I'm not good at guessing ages anymore. I always assume everyone is about my age, but I keep getting younger (don't you?), so it's hard to tell. People my age look so old! I don't look that old, surely. Neither does he. He just finished his first year in law school, that's about all I know.
When he drives me from the Placard Zone to the Route 1 office, Car Rental Guy (as I shall now call him) explains that "We don't have an office, really. We have a WAN."
Really? They have a wide area network? I am confused.
"You have a what?"
And then, it dawns on me. A VAN. V for van, pronounced like a W by some Icelanders. I know this because in preparation for my interview with Reykjavík's mayor, Jón Gnarr, I watched several videos of other interviews he'd given previously. In one, he talked about the "Wikings" that came to Iceland. And I'll tell you, it's a good thing I heard him say "Wikings" before meeting him, because I am certain I wouldn't have been able to suppress a giggle if I'd first heard him say it in my interview.
So Route 1 does not have an office but a wan. Car Rental Guy and I go to the wan, sort of a camper wan, really, where he gets me all hooked up. When I made my reservation online, I had declined all the extra types of insurance a person can get -- gravel insurance, ash insurance, Super Duper Extra Insurance, etc. -- but in my weary state, Car Rental Guy talks me into gravel and Super Duper. Who knows. He does say he doesn't really think ash insurance is necessary, although I swear to you instead of saying "ash," he said "ass." At any rate, my ass is uninsured for the duration of the trip.
Car Rental Guy gives me a very thorough rundown of the car and the insurance and my rental, and then he pulls out the Big Map. (This is not a euphemism; it's really a map. It's a big map, and right on the front, it says, "Big Map.") He then suggests places to see, circling them on the map as he goes: Grindavík, Fimmvörðuháls, Skaftafell, Jökulsárlón. In the north, he circles Dettifoss, Húsavík, Ásbyrgi, Mývatn. On a scrap piece of paper, he writes "Places: Silfra at Þingvellir, Kerið."
He mentions Lagarfljót in the east, to which I reply, "home of the worm!" Car Rental Guy looks at me with a bit of surprise and a bit of delight.
"Not many people know about the worm," he says with what I'm sure was a touch of admiration. The Lagarfljót Worm is Iceland's Loch Ness Monster; it's said to be a football field long, with many humps. It's been noted in literature since the 1300s. So it must be real! Supposedly sightings of The Worm portend natural disaster, so I guess I'm hoping not to see it. But I'll drive by on my route. I nod as he writes down: Lagarfljót.
And then, with no great hug or anything to commemorate the intimate time we'd just spent together, the thoughts on Iceland we'd shared, the moments we'll always cherish, we parted ways.
A few thoughts about car rental: When I first started thinking about coming to Iceland, I investigated car rental prices and was a bit shocked at the cost, but I mentally prepared myself and added it to the budget. Then, for a variety of reasons, I didn't make my reservation. When I finally got around to it, at the beginning of June (for an end of July/beginning of August reservation), the prices seemed to have doubled. Ack! I about had an apoplectic shock at that time. It then occurred to me that a place like Iceland, where tourism is growing, has a finite number of cars, and when they're gone they're gone. I realize that's true of all places, but in my mind it makes sense, right? I mean, if you're in Washington, there could be cars coming and going from Oregon or Idaho or even Canada. But Iceland is pretty isolated. What it has is more or less what it has. (The rental companies do note you may not take their cars out of Iceland. I found this quite amusing until they mentioned the ferry to Norway. Okay, check, not planning to go to Norway, and not planning to drive into the ocean, so we're good.)
From setting off a hotel fire alarm, to getting a luxurious in-water spa massage, to going on a "traditional Icelandic ice cream car ride," to interviewing Jón Gnarr, "the most interesting mayor in the world," Pam experienced it all on a two-week summer journey that took her all around the outer edge of Iceland. Armed with a two-wheel drive car, a persnickety GPS, and a goal to discover the heart and soul of the country, Pam broke out of the boundaries of Iceland's popular Golden Circle to travel the full Ring Road (the road that circles all the way around the country), and beyond.
In Pam on the Map: Iceland, Pam brings readers along on her trip as she discusses all things Iceland, including the restrooms at Keflavík airport, the Ring Road and travel infrastructure, the treacherous gravel roads and Highway 939, the omnipresent waterfalls, hot dogs and fermented shark, and the history and culture of the country and its people. Pam stops to talk with locals about their views and opinions on Iceland, tourism, writing, the economy, soil erosion, and happiness.
Filled with wit and wanderlust, Pam on the Map: Iceland offers one woman's perspective on traveling around this tiny island in the far north Atlantic Ocean.