04 October 2017

My Scandinavian Adventure: Iceland—The Ring Road

Day 3: Reykholar to Latrabjarg to Dynjandi (pt. 1)

There are days in your life—and you hope they are good ones—you know you will never forget even as they are happening. This one, 15 August 2017, was one for me. An all-timer. I still shudder and tear up a bit as I pore over the pictures and my notes for this blog post. And that's why it will take two posts. Please forgive.

For orientation, we woke up in a lovely town called Reykholar situated at the base of Iceland's Westfjords. We knew we were in for a longish day so we got an early start. Breakfast of Skyr (Viking yogurt, yo!), local bread, and tea in our van. We drove the fjords on the southern coast of the Westfjords peninsula, in and out of the fingers, up and down the steep mountains sweeping down to the ocean inlets. Fjords Fjor Days. Again, this is off the beaten Ring Road path and is sometimes referred to as Ring Road 2 ('RR2'). At a certain point the road forks (see below), the right turn continuing the RR2, the left, a gravel road, heading out to what's sometimes called the Westernmost point of Europe (ex the Azores): Latrabjarg aka the Puffin Cliffs. Naturally, we took the left.

We bounced and jounced along teeth-rattling, bone-jarring gravel roads for about 40km of spectacular scenery. Fjords, sea cliffs, waterfalls, villages, and magnificent beaches. Then we came to the end of the road at a lighthouse and parking lot perched atop 500+ ft. cliffs overlooking the North Atlantic Ocean. The hiking trail begins there and travels steeply uphill along the sea cliff edge for miles. Some claim it is the longest stretch of sea cliffs in the world. Some claim it is also the highest. Whatever. It is dramatic. We made sandwiches and headed out.

Oh, and did I mention that there were PUFFINS!!! We had read that the massive colony of puffins that summer on these cliffs usually leave by the 15th of August to migrate to warmer climes. We were worried because we all really wanted to see them. (Daughter-in-law Wisdil is a waterbird biologist, FYI). We got lucky. A few stragglers remained. A nice German couple I spoke with told us that the birds swarm there in mid-summer. BTW: Puffins are amazing creatures. They fly, they nest in these remote sea cliffs, they float on the ocean, and they dive to fish!

It was a nearly perfect day: roughly 60-65º F., light gusty winds, interesting clouds, sunny and bright. I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the tale. (Seriously, you'll want to click pics to embiggen them.)

The fork in the road to Latrabjarg: RR2 goes across the causeway way down there at the head of the fjord, the road to the Westernmost edge of Europe continues on around at the base of the mountain.
The gravel road to the Penguin Cliffs and a double rainbow beach. If this beach were in the tropics, it would be world famous for its beauty. Crowded. Today? Here in Iceland? Empty.
Golden Beaches. We did see local folks sunbathing in bathing suits, however.
Near the beginning of the hike along the cliffs at Latrabjarg. Note all the bird guano on the basaltic cliff face.
I've said it before here: you really want to hike with me.
How's this for drama?! People close by are kneeling to take photos of puffins. Hikers fall off these cliffs and die—it's anywhere from 1000-1500 ft. straight down. But the thing is, you can crawl right out to the edge and lie down in the soft grass and wildflowers and look over at the Puffin nesting spots.
PUFFIN PORN! (h/t Wesdom who won the family Puffin photo contest. My iPhone camera was not up to the task, even though this guy was only about 6-10 ft from us. He just stood there and posed calmly for everybody to snap his pic.)
Wesdom contemplating life.
Heading back to the parking lot which is the Western tip of Iceland. Did not want to leave this spot. The fam had to drag me off this hike. Could've stayed for hours more.
Leaving Latrabjarg, mid-afternoon, after a couple hours of breath-taking hiking and gawking. 
The fjord town of Bildudalur from the deck of Vegamot restaurant where we had the best meal of the trip. More about that tomorrow.

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