Posted by: jeanne | August 15, 2014

(some of) the hostels of iceland

i was in iceland for almost six weeks during midsummer 2014, and stayed in several places, and in several hostels, and this is a post i promised to do so that i can say my truth about my experience, fyi.

i used booking.com for all my bookings, simply because every place was listed on it, and you could save your activity (for a bunch of comparisons of what-if potential routes and stays), and of course it had to be free.  and have wifi.  and be on a bus route.

anyway, i had three days when i first got to iceland, and then i took a bus up to olafsfjordur, which is two bus rides, and that’s a big thing.  because they only came once a day, or less frequently, especially on the off season (they’re in season from june to september, roughly, and the high season is july and august).  once i got to olafsfjordur, i stayed in an art residence; basically an apartment with as many resident artists as there are bedrooms and studio spaces.  i stayed there for a month with eight other artists in three different houses, in a fishing village of 800.  it was bliss.  and then i had four days after my residency to get to reykjavik and come home.

the options are wide when you have 3 days at each end.  you can go on that glacier snowmobile and monster truck trip if you want to.  you can rent a car for a couple of days and go out to snaefellsness.  or do the golden circle tour and see all the most popular sights there are.  you can party until dawn in rekjavik.  you can also camp, and hitch, but for the purposes of this blog we’re going to never mind the lowest cost way of getting around.  we’re also way never minding the 5 star hotel route, either.  it’s hostels all the way for me, except when they are booked out, which happened.

i decided that since i was interested in lava, volcanism, tales of giants and little people, rather than hooking up in reykjavik with some series of strangers that i would hardly remember the night before when i awoke the next day, and would never be able to pronounce their names right, i decided to stay out of town, as close to lava fields and elves as possible, so i stayed in hafnarfjordur, a port city just south of reykjavik which is just part of reykjavik at this point, just with lava.  people who live there would disagree.  but i did notice that it was far more quaint, you could see the history of the town, how it spread, how it coped with being smack in the middle of a lava field from i think 7000 years ago.  i really enjoyed it.  it was a hike from the bus stop at hellisgerdi, the heavily wooded park right on the hill overlooking the harbor, the last bus stop before you got to the bottom of the valley and crossed the river.  i don’t mind hikes, even with a backpack and a laptop bag, especially when every little house is worth photographing and every twist of the walking path brings another scene of ancient lava boldness and subtlety, even tho my hips were starting to hurt, having spent most of the day in the plane sitting in one cramped position and being ill like i always am when i travel (my sister insists on antihystamines before travelling, and i’m pretty sure i had loads of on the way back, thanks lisa).

anyway, i stayed at the lava hostel, or hraunbyrgi in icelandic, and it was wonderful.  it cost $72 for two nights.  i was in a 6 bed dorm, which is three sets of bunkbeds, and took advantage of the fact that i was the first occupant in the room, i took a three hour nap and then went walking to absorb my surroundings.  it was in late june, so it was 24 hours of light, and so i went for a walk down the road, until i came over the rise where you can see reykjavik from there, gardabaer, i believe.  very pastoral.  with horses.  and walked back.  the first of my three hour hikes.  my feet hurt if i walk much more than that, and then my hips hurt, and then my shoulders hurt, and at that point i risk getting a migraine, so three hours sounds good to me.  then a cup of tea and a bite to eat.  but i digress.

the lava hostel is all wood, the inside of a farm building of some sort from when hafnarfjordur was just ships and sheeps, and not a bedroom community of lovely dwellings with wonderful landscaping, and a lava hillock in every yard, and sometimes they don’t even try to tame the lava, and just have a small cliff in their front yard, and side yard, and back yard too, with room for the house maybe carved a little into the hill.  with kind permission from the elves.  because there are elves all over the place in hafnarfjordur.  anywhere there is lava, there are elves and trolls, just hanging out watching you walk thru.  and you never notice them.  i don’t either, but i have a great imagination, and i am convinced of the reality of things we can’t see.  like god and things.

the bedrooms are wood, and clean.  the bunkbeds are wood, and they’re from ikea, and as such they are flimsy with frequent use, and seemingly rather hastily slapped together, with the slats unpinned to the rails.  it was all very comfortable, however, and one of the lucky things about being in a hostel is that sometimes you are the only one in the room for the night, and can spread out.  other times you are one of eight, or gasp sixteen in a room, male and female, quiet and asleep and gone before you wake up, or chatty snorers who come in drunk at 2 and stumble over every possible thing in the dark.  it’s a toss of a coin and your karma that determines what you get.  but it’s cheaper than a hotel.  i paid $36 a day, five days after the summer solstice, when everybody parties and there is a festival somewhere to celebrate official no darkness at all.  it was really pleasant.  tho the wifi was problematic upstairs, and went down a couple of times, the staff was pleasant and helpful, spoke flawless english and had all sorts of information when asked.  the location made it great – the view over the campground and lake and huge bowl shaped park of nonlava trees and grass – and in the other direction, lava mounds and odd strange weird terrain right down to the sea.

there is a one-ass kitchen, a fridge, washer and dryer, and plenty of room to hang out and write your blog, or play board games.  the premises are used by the boy scouts, which have historically used the place, and so it’s got a large meeting room and a fire pit.

frodi's house this is the house of the elf frodi, who resembles a troll, in hellisgerdi park

the thing about a hostel is that you are sharing with other people.  they are backpackers out to see the country, people in rented cars ditto, even people on business.  old people, people with kids, gay people, people from every country.  and everybody is quiet and respectful of others, and cleans up after themselves, and makes their own dinner, keeping their own things in their own spaces in teh fridge.  it’s a great place to meet people, but nobody minds when you keep to yourself.  it is unlike a regular hotel, and also unlike tent camping.  your things are safe in your room, you don’t have to worry about anything being stolen, and quite often people leave things behind – food, equipment – that you can use for free.  if you don’t like camping, you’ll like a hostel.  if you don’t like being isolated in your hotel room, then you’ll like hostelling.  if you’re a five star hotel type and don’t want to mix with anybody who’s not on your social level, then you won’t even consider a hostel, but then i probably don’t know you (with apologies to my sister and daughter).

i was very happy to stay in hafnarfjordur for two days when i first got to iceland.  i got a welcome card that let me ride the city busses for free, and so i could go anywhere i wanted.  plus, the grocery store was just a hike thru the lava back to the main road, and i got used to doing that pretty much every day.  there’s no reason to stockpile food when you’re travelling; you want only what you need for dinner that night, coffee and the cream to go in it for breakfast, and something to snack on.  so frequent visits to the store are part of the experience.

then i moved to reykjavik for a night, because i had to be in position to take an early bus with all my worldly goods, and didn’t feel like walking much.  i had put my big rolly case in storage at the bsi terminal so i wouldn’t have to take it to the hostels with me, but for this last night, i got it out of storage and took a taxi to my hostel, then got some strong young thing to lug it up a flight, and repeated the process in the morning, on my way to the harpa concert hall where the sterna bus terminal is.

IMG_0636 these are the trolls of the viking shop in reykjavik, just down the street from my hostel

the hostel i stayed in was close to both terminals, and it was cheap enough – $43 for one night, sounds expensive but it’s the high season – but that’s all that was good about it.  it’s called the reykjavik backpacker’s hostel, and it’s right smack dab in the main shopping street, which is usually closed to traffic.  it’s also the street that has the most bars, and is well known as a party street in a party city.  also, it was the quarter finals of the world cup, and also a saturday night.  so the cards were stacked against me.  the dorm i stayed in – an 8 bed dorm – was nice, and clean, but the bunk beds were metal and squeaked, and were flimsy enough that i in my upper bunk had some fear of tipping the whole structure on top of me.

but that wasn’t the bad part.  the others in the room came in silently and went to sleep, and got up when i did and all packed up their stuff in the hall so as not to bother the last people in the room, who were now in one bed only waiting for everyone else to go away so they could have sex.

but that wasn’t the bad part.  the bad part was the party downstairs and outside.  the backpackers hostel is over a bar.  no, let me be more specific.  the bottom floor of the hostel is a bar.  the upper floors are rooms, with the usual kitchen, bath, and sitting room facilities with wifi.  but the wifi only went to the second floor, and there were i think five floors.  the bad part was the party all night long.  it started with the game, when every time there was a goal the house shook with the roar of the people cramming the bar.  it went on until the game ended, with partyers downstairs in the bar, and outside in the benches and seats in front of hte bar (and directly below our window, which we had to keep shut, which made the room stifling).  the bar seemed to be open until 2 am.  that’s when the heavy wooden front door stopped slamming every two minutes as someone left or entered.  it didn’t quiet down then, because the party simply moved to the streets, and at this point, from 2-6 in the morning, it was drunken people walking down the road shouting and singing, so still there was no sleep to be had.  outside quieted down at 6 in the morning, but it was still loud in the building, because all the drinkers moved inside to finish their drinking before going to bed, and so their loud drunken voices echoed thru the building until i got up and told them to go to bed.  at that point i dragged my bags downstairs to check out, and found a guy with a bleeding and bandaged foot asleep at the bar.  just to tell you what kind of night it had been.  i couldn’t get out of there fast enough.  it’s great, i suppose, for a young person looking to stay up all night and make new friends you won’t remember.  but i’m old, and i detested it.  my fault, of course, for choosing so badly.  but what did i know then?

so if you’re not like me, then it’s the best thing going in reyjavik, but people also like the new kex hostel, and others like the hostel near the campground.  but i liked the capital inn, which is a little south of town, and the lava hostel a short bus stop away from town in hafnarfjordur.

IMG_0627 a used-to-be house now part of the shopping street of laugarvegur, opposite my hostel

i got another taxi with my bags down to the harpa and waited almost an hour for my bus.  better to be early than to have to rush.  it was quite nice looking at the water and the really great looking mountains on the next peninsula.

IMG_0625 the harpa concert hall, a magnificent example of tumbling blocks.  it’s where i picked up the bus to akureyri thru the highlands

after that i journeyed north to akureyri, the second capital of iceland, with about 30,000 people.  a monster town.  it too has a backpackers hostel, right on the main shopping street, but there was no problem with noise, and all the folks in my 8-bed dorm room were asleep when i got in, so i be’d silent and unpacked in the hall.  downstairs is a bar, below that is a kitchen and dining table – both highly adequate and capable of serving the millions of people that come thru there in the summer.  it was crowded, but built for crowds, like the one in reykjavik, and so it was great, because i experienced the frathouse version of one city, and the sleepy hollow version of the other.

the beds were comfortable, and i don’t remember whether they were metal or wooden, but it was late at night and i was up and out for the first bus to olafsfjordur, at 8 in the morning.  they have a luggage storage room right on the ground floor, next to the back door that is the quickest way to the bus stop, so i left both rolly bag and backpack there and just took what i needed for the night, then picked it up on the way out.

indiancurryhut the fabulous indian curry hut, with the best nan bread in iceland

fyi, the picture below is of the room i had in olafsfjordur all month of july.  it was very comfortable, with a pillow-topped bed on an old fashioned heavy metal frame.  a pillow and duvet, and a bath towel and handtowel were included, and there was plenty of stuff (cosmetics, food, art supplies) left by previous artists.  the heat was adjustable and the windows opened, and there was no need at all for the electric lights until close to august.

IMG_0878 this is my room at listhus artist residency.  i got used to the pink, and chose the room for its 2 opening windows

however, the end of my stay finally came, and i went back to akureyri for a night, staying again at the backpackers hostel, which might be the only hostel there, i don’t remember.  it was the cheapest, however, and the closest to the bus stop, because again i had the big rolly bag.  but – wonderous miracle – the sterna bus line agreed to hold my rolly bag in akureyri and bus it to reykjavik at no extra charge, so i was able to continue my travels only toting a backpack.  i guess you could use that information if you were going to be staying somewhere for awhile and didn’t want to be burdened by your luggage.  you have to ask, of course, but that’s how you get anything in life.

because of an accident i had during my last week in olafsfjordur, i found myself a sudden convert to the idea of heated swimming pools near the arctic circle.  it’s wholly counterintuitive, but what a great idea.  i will either do a post, or expand on this one, to say how marvelous the idea of swimming in iceland, and why you shouldn’t hesitate while you’re there, like i did.  i wasted three weeks without a proper soak.

IMG_2293 the pool in akureyri, including lots of hotpots, multiple lounging (baby) pools and a sauna

the picture above is the pool in akureyri, which is amazing, and only costs isk600, which is like 5 bucks. i’m afraid i overdid the overhead shoulder massage jets and paid for it the next day – on the road – with a migraine that meant i missed most of the landscape of the northwest of the country.  but oh well.

IMG_2287 the back of the oldest house in akureyri

akureyri is steep, and rather grand, and they’ve got a great botanic garden (with a species of bamboo hidden in the bushes, tho you might have to ask a senior gardener named marta where it is).  it’s so big i got blisters wandering around.  plus i had banged up my elbow in a fall the previous week (some unseen being pushed me, i’m sure of it).  it’s a large town, and people love it, and they’ve got the indian curry hut down the street from the backpackers hostel, across from the pylsur hotdog stand (gotta have a hotdog when you’re in iceland just because, i don’t care if you never eat hotdogs at home.  they use 3 sauces, for one thing.  and also have some of their softserve icecream, because it’s made with icelandic cream and it’s really smooth.

i took the east circle passport on the sterna line.  altho the sba bus took me on my first leg.  some icelandic person said that sterna and sba eat each other. i went on the kjolur route thru the highlands on the way to the residency, and continued to the eastfjords and the south of iceland on the way back to reykjavik where i’d started.

when i came back to consciousness after travelling all day with a migraine, i was at my first stop, at djupivogur, about halfway down the eastern side of the country, which is all fjords – majestic fingers of the sea between impossibly high and carved mountains, with a little strip of land, maybe, that people live on.  i really loved djupivogur.  it’s small, and it’s set among the lava fields, and there’s not much to do there but hike (which you can say that about olafsfjordur as well as vik), but the hikes are why you’re there.  the scenery, the landscape, and then the people.  i loved the people.

i was still getting over my migraine when i checked into the hostel, which is a new one, in the old post office building which means it was well built and practical.  it was very clean, and the people who run it made it more like home than a hotel.  each room was named, the four bunk beds in my dorm were made of welded steel, and wouldn’t have crumpled even in a big earthquake.  the beds were new, and quite thick, there was a water glass on each dresser.  there were household decorations around – some knit house socks for anybody whose feet were cold.  there was shampoo in the shower and the corner of the toilet paper was folded into a triangle.  and somebody had made waffles that morning and put out the extras for anybody to eat.  i wasn’t hungry, but napped for a couple of hours, and then dressed for an evening walk, took my camera and my sticks, and went out to greet the evening light.  i think i had the butter and jam sandwich i’d made before leaving olafsfjordur for the only meal i ate, and i ate it on the walk up the hill behind the town to the communications towers and a good view of the whole fjord, which was full of little islands and lakes, and has been silting in for centuries, such that the open water port that was first incorporated into the town of djupivogur in the 1500s was now a cute little landlocked lake where millions of birds nest over the summer months (don’t go down there without walking sticks with which to defend your head from the arctic terns).  then i walked back to the hostel, arriving before the two germans who were sharing my room got back from dinner.  it was a great sleep.

when i woke they were already gone, so i left the packing until later, and went to walk around until checkout, after which i would have until the bus came at 2 (except it came at 4 and i had misread it) to walk around.  no long hikes, just pick a direction and walk.  i could have gone by the coast and the bird walk, but i was more interested in the lava fields, so headed out of town back along the main road, where i happened up on a gem and mineral collector with a museum called “bones sticks and stones” and run by a quirky, interesting guy named vilmunder.  he knows a lot about elves and trolls, as well as the geology of iceland, and has this wonderful border collie that wants you to throw his ball up the hill without hitting the sculptures of animals and huldufolk.  his house was on the way to the lighthouse, which is a pleasant (and boggy) walk to the shoreline, with cliffs and tidal pools and wheeling seabirds that don’t quite clip you when they come to tell you they wish you’d leave.  i spent all morning going there and getting back to pack up.  but checkout was noon, and the bus was supposed to leave at 2 (but didn’t).

so i had a great talk with this guy, and really connected with the lady who runs the hostel (and dig her assistant, one of many kids with the aplomb of stars, speaking flawless american, and already learning how to run the family business).  so i think i love djupivogur the best.  oh and i ran into one of my residence-mates, a guy from california named frank.  some of the residents flew from akureyri to reykjavik, a few, like me, took the bus, and frank decided to hitch and stay in campgrounds, and was taking 9 days to get to reykjavik (i was taking 4), and was having a great time.  he was just finishing setting his tent up when i was beginning to wait for the bus, so we went off for soup  (and bread) and coffee.  then i went up to the grocery, which contained a design store (iceland is crawling with designers, and they’re so creative.  i love icelandic design), where i saw the most amazing costumelike dresses involving fish leather and various other leathers and furs and featuring the color black in all its variations, including white.

turns out i was 2 hours early for the bus, so i was grateful that the guy in the information house let me put my backpack (and all my food in a plastic bag tied on), and walk around the harbor for awhile.  i got that photo of the house on the harbor at that point, and decided to make a painting of it.

IMG_2364 a picture from the harbor at djupivogur

and then it was off to hofn.  it was my introduction to a completely other side of iceland.  until now i had experienced busy coastal port, empty bleak beautiful highlands, a bunch of geothermal spots and waterfalls, and that wonderful fjord of olaf’s where i stayed a month and really got to know the place and people (i’ll be back), and i’d been along a glacial river (asbyrgi to dettifoss) and over endless lava fields in teh middle of nowhere, and across an active earthquake / volcano zone and around glorious lake myvatn and over more endless waste to the east coast.  and once i got to the east coast, it was like the rest of the landscape near the sea, with high lava mountains and low boggy plains.  but now the shoreline took over, and extended way out into the sea.  the south coast is the main outlet for the largest glacier in iceland, vatnajokull, which takes up a tenth of the island.  so every time a volcano (katla, hekla, eyjafjolljokull, etc) goes off, being under glaciers (except hekla), shit melts, and flows suddenly to the sea, sweeping everything before it.  much of the south coast is glacial river, which means vast expanses of gravel cut here and there with snaking, twisting streams that all form a river whenever shit melts.  a river that regularly washes out the road and the bridge, and has taken whole towns with it in the past.  at the moment the roads are all good, but part of it washed out earlier this year (i think) and it took them a week to repair it (throwing up a temporary bridge so the tour busses and other traffic wouldn’t have to ford the river (omg can you see your luggage washing down the river as your tour bus fills with water? it had happened to the bus i came north in, the trip before mine.  the hold was still thick with mud.  imagine the passengers’ faces when the hold was opened after the journey).

so hofn.  it means harbor.  it’s the only port on the south side, and was settled as a way of bringing merchandise to the farmers of the rich rich fertile non-glacial-river part of the endless coastal plain that is the south of iceland.  gravel, grass.  water, sheep.  (cows, grain, hay).  to the interior it was all mountain, glacier, barren desertlike post-glacial-riverbed, trolls, troll doors, unstable scree, fantastic ice-carved mountain teeth blocking out the sun because they were so high up.  by the time you get to hofn, the glaciers are all the way across the long stretch of grassland, and look rather puny in a photograph.

but now you’re not just in a protected bay up some magical looking fjord, you’re along the atlantic ocean, and the ocean behaves here just like it does along the barrier islands of the east coast – the waves roll in from a long way away, regularly crashing on the shore, with dunes and dune grasses (and lupins), and not a tree in sight for an endless view of the ocean and the atmostphere above it.  except the beaches are made of volcanic sand, and are black.  so black that they show up the patterns of the waves breaking upon them like someone doing a timelapse of lace making.  it’s spectacular.  so here, there’s no hiking into the mountains, because they mountains are too far to reach without motors.  but the sea is right there.  and i had the fortune to stay in a hotel, an actual hotel guesthouse, right down on the harbor, with the large fishing boats.  because i chose a bank holiday weekend – festival time in iceland – to come to hofn, and there wasn’t a hostel bed to be had – back in march when i booked these rooms.  i had to get a hotel room, guesthouse kvammur and it cost me a bunch – $147 for a night.  but i paid it because there was no alternative.  and i enjoyed it.  the bus route from akureyri to hofn dropped me off at 5 in the evening, and the bus to reykjavik didn’t leave until 7:30 the next morning, so i had to stay somewhere.  for this reason, i briefly considered getting a tent and going camping for my trip around iceland.  it would have been considerably cheaper, but it would have had to be a really good tent (don’t take a $20 tent to iceland), and i would need a ground pad and cooking equipment, maybe a stove, and a water bottle, and a bigger pack.  so no, i paid for a hotel.  not a hotel exactly.  an upscale hostel, where they provide breakfast and you can’t really store your food and use their kitchen.  i had a room to myself, and the bed only had one set of duvet and pillow and towels on it, and the other was stripped, so i knew i wouldn’t have a roommate.  which i was still trying to suss this out.

anyway, i got dinner at a restaurant up the road, called vikin, and it was okay.  i had a very nice lobster bisque and a greek salad, and added french fries with garlic sauce that i got mostly for the garlic sauce because the fries had this seasoning stuff on it i had no idea what was in it.  and a beer.  i spent a million dollars on dinner, but by now i was used to spending millions and not making a fuss inside or out.  and then i went for a walk.  i went up to the local hospital, but they were closed (holiday, after 4 pm).  so i took the bike/walking path down by the lagoon area between hofn and the glacier, and even tho it was late in the evening, had it all to myself, because it was really cold, and windy.  the weather was altogether different from the little enclosed fjord in north iceland where the weather tended to come drifting down one of the hanging valleys so you could see it coming.  at hofn it was mist, and banks of clouds that drifted in from the ocean.  and a bitter wind, perhaps associated with the massive glacier you could see in the distance from everywhere.  the path ended, or turned inland for a bit, at this nice lava outcrop that just happens to be a troll face.

IMG_2521 a troll at the end of a walking path in hofn

and then the sterna bus (that leaves from the campground across the street where the sba bus left me last night) left hofn and we visited a bunch of glaciers and dramatic landscape (jokusarlon) all the way to vik, which is the southernmost settlement in iceland, and gets the most rain.  it has no harbor, tho it is right on the beach.  it was put here to supply the farmers, and i guess the boats must have been small to have beached and gone back out thru the surf.  the beach is eroding quickly, because there hasn’t been a huge glacial flood for some time to run all that sediment out to sea a kilometer or two, because the last one made the beach grow very large, and the town followed it out.  now they’ve got deliberate planting on the beach, and a groin, hoping to divert the ocean’s encroach.  they’re planting some sort of beachgrass, and lupins, which are really essential for reclaiming land, tho some of the locals don’t like it because it’s invasive.  but invasive is the point, and it also enriches the soil, so i like it.  but i don’t live there and berry season hadn’t yet started so what do i know?

IMG_2857 the upper meadow at vik

i loved vik.  it’s got 300 people, and it’s right on the magnificent black sand beach that goes for miles and miles and is only interrupted by that mountain to the left of the photo above, which comes right down to the sea and ends in 2 trolls towing a 3-masted ship and several sea stacks.  vik is piled up on the hills beneath this massive mountain (which until recently had a loran station on top of it).  so there are two environments – in the shadow of the cliffs, and pastoral meadows.  i have not seen this kind of upper meadow landscape before.  the fjord where i spent my time exploring was limited.  you could see the end of the valley, it loomed above you and offered hopelessly optimistic possible routes to get up and see what was on the other side.

but in vik, once you left the beach, you quickly reached this endless series of high pasture that went right to the foot of eyjafjolljokull, which you can make out in the distance, given that the white coating on those jagged mountains in the background is actually the glacier, and you’re looking off maybe 8 miles, maybe more before the mountains start.  the massive hulk of lava to the left foreground is only one of a few large lava stacks that have not been washed out and covered up by thousands of years of glacial flood, which brings rocks the size of houses to an almost microscoping sediment down to the ocean, covering and building up these amazingly poetic hills and dales, all covered wtih late summer grass, the seedheads of which flowed like the wind and rustled like silk all around, the only other sound being the birds and the sounds of my walking stick hitting pebbles of icelandite, which is plentiful in this spot.  i collected some nice specimens.  it’s like obsidian, but not clear, more like black marble but spalling in that circular way glass does.

the hostel was a secondary building to the hotel, called the welcome puffin, costing $79 per night.  it was a converted house, still keeping the character of the house when it was lived in by a family.  it being a nice day (meaning not raining), the doors were all open, and there was a nice air in the house.  a good spirit, restful and comfortable.  a nice kitchen down in the basement, with old fashioned equipment that still worked like it had in its heyday.  it was a lovely farmlike kitchen, with all the tools and implements you’d want.  the halls were the old halls, with old wooden floors, and a narrow staircase from the basement that wasn’t a problem to haul stuff up.  it was all quaint and kind of rundown, but as tidy and neat as all hostels where i’ve stayed; tended by the owners and their entire family, fussed over and taken pride in.

the guy at reception went out of his way to help me, and did me some favors about printing things out, and was so concerned for my comfort that i was almost embarrassed to be old and weak.  i really did need him to haul my pack up the stairs, and he had no hesitation offering.  and the next day, i witnessed his wife and children cleaning the place, stripping all the beds and putting on new linen, dusting and sweeping the floors, emptying the trashcans, cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms.  it’s a task that takes hours, and that’s why my room wasn’t ready for an hour after i got there, and why i had to be packed up and out by eleven the next morning (i think, maybe 12).  i paid $79 for a night there, and was actually in a double room by myself, so i took the bottom bunk and set up to write a blog post with my evening, after hanging out at the beach and looking at the cool lava and the wonderful waves.

the next morning i walked off up the hill and got close to the mountain on one side of the valley.  since vik is in the direct path of the glacier’s floods, if the big one goes off, the residents have frequent drills on getting up the hill to the church, and above that to the graveyard, if the bells should sound that a flood is on its way.  i went  past the church and up a horsefield, following horse tracks, and then path stakes (thanks for marked paths everywhere).  it was a wonderful walk, again unlike anything i’ve found in iceland.  and even tho this was the smallest of my stops as far as the town size, and despite the fact that there’s only the beach, the mountains, and the meadows and that’s it, i think i may like vik better than even djupivogur, maybe better than olafsfjordur.  i don’t know if a month of it would drive me crazy; probably not if i want to do nothing but work, sleep, eat, walk, and go to the grocery.  i wonder if they have an art residency in vik?  or djupivogur?

then it was endless road past sandur and fjoll, and finally we started hitting civilization, sort of, and then a last large mountain to cross and we could see reyjkavik in the distance.

when i got back to reykjavik, i dropped my luggage off at the bsi lockers and checked in late at the capital inn, (cost $35) in between reyjkavik and hafnarfjordur, and if you want to, you can hike out to nautholsvik, the geothermal beach that’s close by.  i didn’t have time.  the checkin desk is open until 2 in the morning, and was staffed by the cook, because it’s a restaurant too, and serves breakfast.  he was a character, very nice, but very busy handling the kitchen as well as the front desk.  this was a real hostel, with a modern building that looked purpose built.  i went down to the basement, where there was an enormous kitchen and dining area, a pool table, and large shower and toilet/sink areas.  the dorm rooms were huge, with maybe 16 beds.  i fortunately snagged a lower bunk.  the beds were metal, and kind of rickety, and the guy above me, when he came in at 2 in the morning, sagged and squeaked the metal web holding the mattress up.  it was full of perhaps czech kids travelling around, with a few germans and a handful of french tourists.  the ones who weren’t already asleep when i got there were in the kitchen talking.  i had last minute things to do, skype calls to make, papers and other items to organize before my flight the next day. when i was ready to lay down, i had to be quiet, and navigate to my chosen bed in the dark, and then lie there and listen while two people whispered loudly to one another.  but meditation is how you get to sleep when it’s busy out, so i just breathed in and out until everybody else was asleep, and i could get some rest.

so, in all i stayed in 7 different hostels (and a guesthouse) in all sorts of places around iceland, and here’s what i have to say about that.  it’s so worth it, if you like people, if you want to keep to yourself, if you need quiet or are the one coming in during everybody else’s sleep time.  it’s a bed that’s safe, and a shower and a place to make some food, and a place to hang out and do whatever it is you have to get done.  it’s not fancy, it’s not luxurious, you don’t have a personal servant to tend to you, you have to pack and unpack, be cook and bottle washer.  it’s you and everybody else, and it is what you make of it.  of all the places i stayed in iceland, i got the least attention, bordering on uncaring, in the large hostels in the large cities (especially reykjavik and akureyri backpackers), and the best reception, attention to detail and homestyle atmosphere in the smaller places (vik and djupivogur).  they were all good, but i am now fond of vik and djupivogur, and some of that fondness stems from the restful sleep i had and the personal contact and feeling of caring i got from the owners of the hostels.

when i go back, i’m going to check out a camper, but will still have to stay in some hostel at some point in the trip, and i’ll write more.  in the meantime, i hope every hostel person i met has a lot of luck and good fortune, that will naturally attend them because they’re good people doing good things, and they deserve it.

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