The Land of the Midnight Sun

As the sun finishes another lap
In the northern sky, I watch the shimmer
Of its light glimmer on the ocean’s sap.
I know the night will only get dimmer,
So I can sit out here a bit longer,
And from my well deserved drink, take a sip.
As a distant brewing storm gets stronger,
And threatens to give the air a sharp nip,
I will breathe in deeply this last moment
As I wait for its coming arrival.
For the sun in the sky has not been spent;
I will bear witness to its survival.
What else can I do on this grassy shore,
But enjoy the scene that’s been laid before?

One Long Summer

It has been a long time since I have seen this view, the city of Amman from my back porch. I spend a lot of my time during the school year looking over this perch, and it has been almost ten weeks since I have been back. When I was younger, this was a normal amount of time for summer break, but the schools have slimmed them down a bit. There are numerous reasons for this. Schools wish to have more breaks during the school year to help reduce the pressure that many students feel at certain points of the schedule. Districts also wish to reduce the summer slide when students put the books down and pick up the game console controllers. It is also a long time to be a way from work, and by the end of it, people are bored, no longer being productive about anything in their lives. This is the reality for many schools around the world, but for me this year, it was not the case. There were a couple of complications with the way the holidays landed this year that complicated things, and extended the summer. The school I work for now also does not believe in the smaller breaks, following the work hard, play hard philosophy. Because of these things, I have had a long summer to explore the world.

When I first thought about what this prospect of a long summer meant for me, I started to think about how I would spend my time. Most of the time, I head back to the United States and visit with family and friends, but there is a limit you can stay at a place before you wear out your welcome. I prefer to have my time spent with these people to be quality time, and not just passing the time. Also considering that the last couple of years had made travel difficult and I now had an opportunity to see a part of the world I never had before, we made arrangements to spend the first part of the summer in Iceland.

Iceland seemed lie the perfect place to go in a world still getting over its post-Covid hangover. The danger of the disease still lurked around every corner even though right before we boarded the plane to start on our travels, the United States followed suit with a lot of the other countries in the world, and decided to no longer make having a negative PCR test part of flying into the country. Everything was coming together to make for a great summer of travel. Still, it was going to be nice to be in a country without many people in it and the main attractions that tourist go and see being outside. We didn’t even need to worry about catching the disease in hotel rooms because we spent our time traveling around the island in a camper van and rarely did we have contact with other people.

Still, this did not make our travels easy in Iceland. We ran into rain and cold weather during most of our three weeks we were there. The people we did interact with told us time and time again that Iceland was experiencing the coldest June in thirty years. It created some challenges along the way, and there were many nights that we were huddled up in our van staying warm in our sleeping bags while waiting out the rain and blowing wind that was beating itself against the side of our vehicle.

Still, there were plenty of moments where the sun came out and we took advantage of those times to gaze upon the beauty of Iceland. It was the perfect way to start this long summer. I was able to let go of all the stress and pressure that comes with the school year, and concentrate on something else. I didn’t have a lot of down time that usually comes from vacation, but it was okay because I had plenty of time later on to take advantage of that. I also did not experience a lot of heat, but I knew I would eventually run into it when I made it to the second part of my trip Oregon in the United States.

But the Pacific Northwest can be a fickle place as well. My father-in-law is always telling me that he never expects it to get warm in Oregon until after the Fourth of July, and not to get mad if it doesn’t happen until after the fifteenth of the same month. Well, this summer put that saying to the test. I would like to say that I had made it all the way to the 24th without experiencing a day over 90, but that was not the case.

There were two days early on in the month where we traveled down to Tucson, Arizona to attend the wedding of a couple of friends from both Korea, and Jordan. We ran into day over 100 degrees there, but if they weren’t that hot in mid-July there, I would have been worried. The wedding wasn’t an actual wedding either. The happy couple had gotten married the previous summer to allow them to move to Jordan without any trouble. The problem with that first ceremony was that it only involved a handful of people due to the speed in which it happened and the fact that the world was still in lockdown during the summer of 2021. This time around was a celebration of a marriage that had already happened, but it was with all of the people they would have invited if it wasn’t for those strange circumstances surrounding their first ceremony. It was more than just a celebration of love because a lot of the people invited to the ceremony were also people I had worked with in Seoul, and had not seen since I had left that country. It became a reunion as well from people who live all over the world now. The world had moved on from Covid and was willing to get back together again. All of these things were expressed in that tiny ceremony, and it was one of the highlights of this summer, right around the halfway point of my time off as well.

I did not get to enjoy the heat for long though because it was back to the Pacific Northwest, and though I got a couple of days in the high 80s in Central Oregon, we left that behind to go up to the Puget Sound of Washington. Being so close to the ocean so far north meant cooler days, and nights where we actually built a fire to enjoy the evening outside. It was around this time that I was hearing about the heat that the rest of the country was experiencing and I felt really lucky that I kept avoiding it. I was even able to dodge that bullet when those temperatures finally hit the Pacific Northwest by making the jump to another part of the country, but I knew that I had a long way to go this summer, and there was no way I could avoid it forever.

But I wasn’t that far north to enjoy the weather. It was for another celebration that was put on hold because of, once again, Covid. My in-laws had been planning a little getaway for their whole family to celebrate one of them hitting a significant milestone in age, and both of them celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. This trip had been scheduled early in 2020 before Covid became a worldwide pandemic. I remember many conversations from that year about whether the trip should be canceled or not. It is funny looking back and thinking that it would have been a possibility in 2020, but I am sure many people had the same kinds of conversations. I am just happy that we were able to eventually get to celebrating these moments, even if they were a couple of years later; they were still important, and still needed to be recognized. I am sure that there were a lot of people around the world who also wished to make up these lost moments for the last two years, and that was probably the reason that travel was so crazy this summer.

It wasn’t just the visiting of family and friends that returned to a sense of normalcy this summer. Business was also getting back to the way that it once was. Some considered this a good thing; whereas, others thought that something could have been learned about the way we conduct business from the last couple of years. As a teacher, I am required to take class to keep on top of the latest developments in education, and they have been annoying the last couple of years. I have had to sit in front of a computer, and watch a tiny screen as some trainer babbled on about what I should know. This is not a good form of education. It is easy to get distracted, and all of the teachers I had in this kind of experience, rambled on about nothing for way too long. I get a lot more out of the experience if I show up and have face to face conversations with my colleagues, and interaction with the person running the training. This summer, I was able to enjoy that kind of experience again. During the end of July, I flew to Wisconsin to have some training on English Language Learning with the WIDA Institute. It was a great trip, and I got a lot out of the experience, and am looking forward to more like it.

Though I appreciated the in-person conference, I understand why things have changed for companies all over the world. A lot of money has been spent on office space over the years, and they have learned that this is not necessarily needed. They are beginning to see that their employees will get their work done from their homes, and there is no need for somebody to watch over them to make sure they are doing their work. These companies are starting to recognize that they do not need to spend a lot of money on office space, and have their employees commute into work every day. They can have happy and productive employees and allow them to make their homes their workspace. This rethinking of the way we do things is one of the effects of the last couple of years. Both the old and the new ways have advantages and disadvantages to them, and it is interesting to see how the world makes the changes because of the adjustments that needed to happen the last couple of years.

Of course, as anybody living in the United States over the summer can testify, it was impossible to escape the heat that gripped a lot of the country. It was only a matter of time before I ran into that heatwave in my home state of Colorado. I enjoyed it at first, but of course, heat is always oppressive and I found that spending my time indoors was more comfortable than being outside in the heat. Still, it was nice to make it back home and have the chance to visit with family and friends. The time always seems so short for this, and I try not to fill it up with too many other things that would take up my time.

But of course, you can’t head back to the place where you used to live and that has a part of your life still at it, and not have some business that you need to attend to. For me this time around, it was with my storage unit. It had been getting to be a mess from years of just rummaging through it without me giving much thought to how well I organized it after I had left. The company I was renting from was also raising the price, and it was getting to be a little ridiculous with how much I was paying per month. So I spent a couple of days going through all of the stuff I had left behind, so I could move it to a new storage space that was more reasonably priced. There were moments with it that had a nostalgic feel to it. I was looking at stuff I had not seen in over seven years and it brought back some great memories. Of course, there was a bunch of other stuff that I went through and wondered why I had kept it for so long. When it was all said and done, it was great that I had gone through it all, and my stuff was a little more organized.

It was a great and busy summer, and it was a great time to make up a little bit of what was lost over the last couple of years, and I feel that a lot of people had the same idea with their summer. I was lucky to avoid the heat that many other people had run into on their summers, but in the end, we were all able to form some great memories with the adventures we had. It is back to the grind, and based on the adventures I had, I am ready to take on that challenge to build up to that next time I get to go out and have another adventure. Until then, keep on

The Happy Camper

The kitchen is over in the corner,
And the water comes from pumping by hand.
The dining room table is a loner;
It wobbles when you wish for it to stand.
Across the way is the room for living
Which is really nothing more than a couch.
Underneath it you can keep your clothing,
What we call our convenient storage pouch.
At night, it turns into a single bed
Where two of you can cuddle together.
The back door id where you will rest your head,
Safe against the cold, Icelandic weather.
In here, across the island, you’ll scamper,
Ready to become a Happy Camper.

Happy Campers vs. Go Campers – Iceland by Camper Van

One of the best ways to enjoy Iceland is to rent a camper van and spend the day driving from sight to sight while spending the night in one of the various campsites that can be found all over the country. If you are planning a trip to Iceland and you are thinking about going this route, there are a few things that you need to know about traveling this way. If you want to get that information, look at my post about tips for traveling by camper van. If you are interested in knowing which camper van is right for you, I have a comparison of two of the bigger and more affordable companies that can be found just outside of Reykjavik, Happy Campers and Go Campers.

Organization

Both companies use the same type of van for their smallest version of a camper, the Nissan        . It is really funny to get in the driver seat of both vehicles and have it feel exactly the same. They do have all the bells and whistles that you need to drive comfortably and safely, but as soon as you get in the back of the vehicles, the organization of them change dramatically.

Happy Campers tries to make the back of their camper vans to feel like a mobile home. On the side behind the driver’s side they have a couch that at night can be folded down to become your bed. Underneath this, they have some storage space that they claim is easily accessible, but this is not the case. The lifting and lowering of the couch becomes a chore if you store the wrong stuff in this part of the camper van. The side behind the driver’s side is where they have the kitchen area. This consists of a sink, more storage space for dishes and pans, a place for the stove, and the refrigerator. It takes up a large portion of this side of the van, and if we used the couch more, it would have been a comfortable way to cook. Unfortunately, there never seemed to be enough space in this camper van. We spent a lot of our time moving stuff from the front of the van to the back of the van depending on whether we were driving or settling down for the evening. Granted we took too much of the extra, such as the bedding, a table, and chairs which we should have scaled down on, but I think that the way the van was organized, we would have had to continued to do this with our stuff anyways.

Go Campers went for a more stripped down approach. The kitchen equipment is located in the very back and you have to open the back doors to access it. It definitely puts it out of the way, and as long as the weather holds out, it is a great location for this stuff. Unfortunately, this was not the case while we were in Iceland, and it made cooking in this camper van a little bit of a chore. Still, most of the campsites have kitchens that make for easier cooking, so the fact that we used the kitchen so little made this one a better one for the overall organization of the van. The bed is folded up and placed on top of the kitchen equipment. When bed time rolls around all you have to do is pull the bed out, climb on in, and get some sleep. Our stuff became a little disorganized in the back because there is a huge open space in between the back and the front where we put all of our stuff. The bed just covers up all of this stuff, so there was never a need to move all our stuff from the front to the back every evening.

Though they both had their flaws, I do believe that Go Campers organized their vehicle better than Happy Campers make it the better choice in this category.

Comfortability

Let me start off by saying that being a six foot two man, living in a camper van for three weeks will never be a comfortable experience. With that in mind, I still got some wonderful nights’ sleeps while on the road. This was due to the fact that we rented sleeping bags with the van, and did not rely on the duvets that they gave us with this rental. I do believe that this was one of the most important things that we did on our trip to make it more comfortable, but it did add to the overall cost with both companies.

The front of the car was comfortable for both vans as well, and both were organized the same way. They both had nooks and crannies that allowed you to put all of the important stuff that you needed while driving, and there was not much difference there. It was the beds and the movement in the van that mattered when we stopped.

In the case of the Go Camper van, there was a lot more freedom of movement and I did not feel as cramped inside. There was also a lot less of the moving stuff from the front to the back as we prepared for either driving or the night. They did only supply one door to exit the van at night, so if the person sleeping on the left had to get up in the middle of the night to use the facilities, they were forced to wake up the other person which was a poor design. The bed also had wide open edges on either side that I some times felt threatened that I will fall off. The heater was in a more wide open space though which allowed for more access to the heat, and the lack of windows made it very dark in the land of the midnight sun.

The Happy Camper van did have windows which made for a feeling that you weren’t staying in a cave. They did give you some blinds for the windows to make the space dark during the evening, but they did not close well enough and you could never make it dark enough at night. The bed also fit in almost perfectly to the back of the van with the kitchen adding a nice space to put your stuff at during the middle of the night. The bed was a little skinnier which sometimes caused some struggle for the fight for space at night, but it was still big enough for a good night sleep. The door on either side of the van made for easier entrance and exit access which was great for the middle of the night as well.

For the most part, either van had some flaws with its design which made it difficult to completely get comfortable, but that is part of the appeal of traveling this way in the first place. Despite this fact, I would still give the edge to Go Campers but it made things a little more simple to move around in which was much appreciated after a long day of exploring Iceland.

Friendliness

Both companies did a great job when getting us to our camper vans. They had somebody come and pick us up from our hotel and take us to their office so we could go through the paperwork and start our adventure. Both companies did not do a good job of getting us back to where we needed to go after we dropped off the van. Basically we were on our own, except Happy Campers did supply a shuttle once a day to the airport which was nice. Otherwise, we needed to pay for a cab which are ridiculous expensive or to work our way to a bus stop with all of our gear if we wanted to get anywhere. Both companies are not located in central locations with Happy Campers being the further out of town, but they are located closer to a bus stop. Figuring out this problem would be nice for both companies to figure out because it was a struggle both times to make it where we needed to go.

As far as the people helping us out and making sure we understood what was required of us, there was one that I felt more comfortable with. Happy Campers were more willing to answer our questions, and had a more warm and inviting office that when we left, and made for a better overall experience. They were a bigger company with more vans, but that did not take people away from giving us the help we needed when we needed it. At Go Campers, it felt like we were rushed through a little more, and it wasn’t because both places weren’t busy. They both had about the same amount of customers, and employees to help out those customers, but Happy Campers took that little extra time to make sure we were ready to head out on the road than Go Campers did.

Price

Of course, this is a really important thing to consider before renting a van especially in a country where things are really expensive to begin with. Considering you are getting the same van for each company, and both of them gave us coupons to N1 gas stations for free coffee, there is not a lot to say about the differences but the bottom line.

As of July 2022, Happy Campers 90 Euro a day/ Go Campers 129 Euro a day. Both include heaters, and kitchens. They both had strong batteries that would allow us enough power to run those heaters and kitchens when we needed them. So if I was just looking at the cost, Happy Campers are obviously the choice to go with.

Extra Perks

Both companies have a list of items that you can rent with the van that can supply you with the experience that you are hoping for. These can be anything from camping chairs, French coffee presses, tables, coffee mugs, and bedding. You can get wifi as well, but we found that all we needed was a SIM card at the airport when we first arrived, and had enough GB of data to make it through a three week trip with some even left over at the end. The prices between items were very comparable between the companies, but there is something you want to keep in mind when you add these extra bonuses. Whatever you rent, you have to carry around with you, and that will take up precious space in these vans. So before you keep adding on the comforts of home, thing about the size of the item, and if you will really need it. There is nothing more annoying than spending each night rearranging the whole van so you can be comfortable. With that in mind, Go Campers recognized this and would warn people if they kept adding things that would make their vans more crowded. Happy Campers just kept on adding it on to the bill and pulling it out from the supply.

They both had a pantry of food left behind from other campers that you could grab for free. This was a great perk, and an easy way to get started on our trip. Happy Campers’ pantry had more of a selection but this was probably because of the size of the company as opposed to Go Campers.

Happy Campers also gave free gas for the camp stove which was a life saver. The stoves were not always needed though because many of the campsites had a kitchen with a stove that you could use instead, so I do not know how important this really was.

Happy Campers also had a stack of flannel blankets and allowed each customer to take two for free. This was a great perk, and we used those blankets on a regular basis, and felt the absence of them when they were gone.

Overall

Once again, both companies were great, and which ever one you choose, you will not be disappointed about it. It really comes down to what is important for you when you make the choice. For me, personally, it came down to how comfortable I was in the van. With all things put into consideration, I would lean more towards using Go Campers again in the future rather than Happy Campers. Because of the organization of their van, it was easier to move around in, and I enjoyed my experience with them more because of that.

Either way, Iceland is a great adventure, and you will want the right camper van for yourself to make the most out of that experience. I know this will not cover everything, but I hope it helps you out a little bit when you make that important decision when flying off to Iceland for that adventure.

Camper Van Tips for Iceland

One of the best ways and also most common ways to enjoy Iceland is to get a camper van and drive the Ring Road. Along the way, there are many campsites where you just park your van and then just camp for the night. Some of these campsites are right in the heart of some quaint Icelandic towns; whereas, others are out in the middle of nowhere, and no matter where you go, you will always run into crowds. Despite this, there are things that you can do to make these crowds more manageable, and the time that you spend at these campsite more enjoyable.

Be Early

This is the most essential tip I can give, especially if you are coming from some other place than Europe. There are a lot of Europeans in Iceland, and they are pretty much already adjusted to the time zone. They are on vacation and want to take advantage of the ability to sleep in a little bit later than usual. Because of this, the camps don’t get moving early in the morning, but around 9 o’clock, things start to get busy in the kitchen and bathrooms. Considering that there are limited burners, and showers, this means if you start moving around this time as well, you will have a harder time accessing these things. It is amazing how easy these things are to access if you are up and moving as late as 7 o’clock. 

It adds another little extra bonus. You will be pulling out of camp before everybody else which means that you will be getting to the sights earlier as well. Sometimes you will be at extremely busy locations all by yourself until the middle of the day which makes it feel like you are truly in the wilderness that is Iceland.

Another bonus to this practice is that you will also arrive at the next campsite before everybody else. There are many times that we showed up at our campsite at 5:30 or 6 and basically had our pick of the sites, but by the time 8:30 rolled around, the campsite was so full that we would have ended up at the worst spot available.

Buy Pre-Seasoned Meals

We spent some time at home before we left getting a couple ramekins together with the spices that we thought we would enjoy the most when we arrived in Iceland. On our first day we ran to the grocery store to buy some food for the trip. We thought that we would have to find various meats and then prepare them at the camp at night. On a whim, we picked up a couple packs that were already marinated. They cost about the same, and little did we know how good they would be. We liked them so much that we bought more of them and were pleased each time. The best part of these pre-seasoned meals were the fact that they made cooking exceptionally easy.

Basically, it made us feel like we were eating something good instead of the ramen and hot dogs that seem to be the typical fare that is found in Iceland. They do cost a little bit more, but if you buy your food at Kronan or Netto, these meals will not break your budget. We still squeezed in the cup of noddle of hot dog every once in awhile, but this made our meals in Iceland so much better.

Park Close to the Facilities

This one goes hand in hand with being early. If you are moving an hour or two ahead of the crowds, this means that you will arrive at your next campsite before everybody else, and get your pick of where you want to stay. Some camps have some amazing views with them, and they are great places to sit, have a cocktail, and enjoy your dinner. And on nights where the weather is going to work with you, these are going to be the places where you are going to want to park. However, Iceland weather is unpredictable. There were many nights on the trip where we went to sleep with the sun shining, only to be woken up in the middle of the night under a wind storm and a torrential downpour. Of course, it worked the other way as well.

When the weather is great, traveling in a camper van is fun and exciting. When the weather is terrible, living in a camper van is a challenge. The nice thing about most of the campsites is they have facilities where you can get out of poor weather. Some of them are bigger than others, and it is not fun to make the trek there through this inclement weather. This is even worse when you wake up in the middle of the night and have to use the facilities. I would suggest trying to find that place that gives you the amazing view, but also allows you easy access to the facilities, especially if you know that weather is the going to be terrible that night. It won’t make it better, but you will have to deal with the weather for shorter amounts of time.

Run the Heat before Bed

A lot of the features of the camper vans run on batteries. In this modern age where people are always looking for ways to charge their devices, and the fact that you will want to run a refrigerator all the time to keep some of your food cold, it means that you will have limited power that you can tap into. Some of the camper vans, such as the company, Happy Camper, supply a battery that charges with the spinning of the tires. The guy that rented the car to us, told us that it should give us enough energy to keep the heat running all night long, but we discovered that this wasn’t actually necessary. This isn’t the heat that comes out of the front console of the car, instead, it is a big blower right under the bed that just cranks out hot air. It does take a little bit to warm up the whole car, but once you get the car heated up, it takes some time for it to cool down as well. Because of this, if you run the heat for an hour before bed and you get some good sleeping bags, you should have enough heat to keep you comfortable for the whole night.

The reason for this is quite simple. If the battery for your van dies, you are not moving further on your trip. Though there are a bunch of people at the campsites that could help you if this becomes a problem, this might not always be the case. We did run into a couple of people out in the middle of nowhere whose battery had died, and luckily we had some jumper cables to help them out, but in one case, they had been there for quite some time. The rental companies do give you a number to call if you do break down, but there were a couple of places where we ran out of cellular service. The bottom line is that you do not want to get stuck in the middle of some place because you wanted a toasty camper van instead of power in your battery.

Enjoy the Sun while You Get It 

Part of the reason that we decided to go to Iceland is because we had a friend a couple of years who went, and the pictures she brought back with her were stunning. She had sunshine for the ten days she was there and she was smiling underneath the warmth that it brought.

This summer, we were constantly told that Iceland was experiencing the coldest summer that it has had in thirty years. We rarely saw the sun, and there were many days where we were under five different layers, including rain gear, to go see the sights in the wind and rain. We were excited when we saw the temperature reach 4 degrees Celsius, or about 40 degrees in Fahrenheit. It did not prevent us from having a great time while we were there, but it was a much different experience than the one enjoyed by my friend.

With this in mind, when the sun did come out and we had those warmer summer temperatures that Iceland usually has during the summer, it was an amazing experience. It did not always last long, so when the sun did come out, we made sure to get out of the camper van and enjoy it. Iceland is one of those places where you have to take advantage of what is given you, and when you do that, those moments will become your favorite ones on the trip.

Bring Slide Sandals

This tip goes closely with the place where you park, and enjoying the sunshine. You will spend a lot of your time in Iceland wearing hiking boots. It is the safest way to see a lot of the sights, and they do keep your feet warm. But when you get to the place where you are going to stay for the night, you are going to want to take these boots off and stretch those feet for a little bit. During these moments, you will want your feet to be as free as they possibly can. This is where slide sandals come in. They don’t necessarily need to be slide sandals, but something that you can easily slide on and off.

There are added bonuses to having shoes like this with you. If you wake up in the middle of the night, and have to go to the bathroom, it is a lot easier to slip on these sandals and run off to the facilities than spending the time putting on your shoes again. They can also be used in the showers. All of the showers that I saw were always well maintained and clean, but this did not mean that you wanted to take a shower in your bare feet. The slide sandals give you that little extra protection, and they always dry off quickly. If you bring a pair of these with you, you will find that you will use them more often than you would have thought, and you will be happy that you have them with you.

Shower When You Arrive

Anybody who has ever spent time in hostels in Europe knows how busy the showers get in the morning. People tend to line up just so they can look their best for the day ahead of them, and there are times when you will wait a good hour before you can get your turn. Iceland campsites are no different. I was really surprised at the amount of people I saw making sure that their hair was perfect, and they looked good in their hiking gear. Didn’t they know what they would be doing the whole day? They would be hiking, sometimes in bad weather. They would not look good at the end of the day, so what was the purpose of standing in line to try to look good in the morning? Also, there were not that many showers to share in the first place. Some of the campsites only had one shower to share which made the lines longer and harder to endure.

When I first started on the trip, I was one of those people waiting for the shower, but as the trip progressed, I learned something. When I made it to the campsite, the showers had just been cleaned and nobody was waiting in line to take a shower. I also felt dirty from the day of running around seeing stuff, and really wanted a shower at that time. It made more sense to me to take the shower when I first arrived at the campsite instead of waiting in the morning and battling the crowd. It was not as if I was going to dirty myself while I was at the campsite, and I could wash away the grime of the day. I was also ready in the morning to move, and we beat the crowds because we were able to get out of the campsite that much quicker that everybody else. I am not saying that this is the way you should do it for other European countries, but I found that it worked best for Iceland.

Traveling Iceland in a camper van is an adventure, and the best way to see all of the sights on your own terms. It took me a little while to figure out how to make it work, and I hope these little tips help save you some time and pain as you figure out your camper van when you get to Iceland. It will give you the adventure that you are looking for without the trial.

Sleipnir’s Footprint – Asbyrgi, Iceland

Iceland is definitely the land of canyons and waterfalls. Most of the time they are together to create a dramatic landscape, but in the case of Asbyrgi, the Shelter of the Gods, it is just the canyon that creates the unique formation. Rising out of the tree covered area are two foreboding cliffs that together create a horseshoe. There is the large cliff that curves around a smaller one. 

The story behind this formation is that Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir once planted one of its giant hooves at this spot. For this reason, there are two of these amazing cliffs and a canyon there for anybody is Iceland to explore. And this is a great place to explore.

First off, there is a great camping facility that can be found there, so people can take a couple of days to explore the region completely if they want to. The facility takes in the camper vans, and tents, has showers, and clean bathrooms, sports WiFi, and even has laundry facilities for those who are running out of clean clothes on their long voyage across Iceland.

There are also three great hikes for different skills levels that should please anybody. The easiest one travels on the floor of the canyon and takes anywhere between a half an hour to an hour depending on how long you want to enjoy the duck pond that can be found at the end of the trail. The second longest one takes you on top of the small rocky outcropping in the center of the horseshoe. It will take you to the top of this outcropping and give you some amazing views. It is easier to make it to the top than you would think as well because there is a path that will take you up there without any problem. The longest hike will do the same thing, but it follows the path of the outer cliff and is a lot longer. I did not do this hike, but I was told that it takes anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours to accomplish and it will return you back from where you started.

Asbyrgi is not on everybody’s list of places to visit on a trip to Iceland, but if you find yourself in the area, it is worth the stop. It might even be worth an overnight stay, giving you more than enough time to explore all of the nooks and crannies of this unique geological feature. It is one of those quiet places in Iceland that surprised me that more people did not travel to, but I was really happy that I made the time to get out there. You should make it a part of your itinerary as well.

Three Weeks in a Camper Van

My first major trip that I took was a fifty day exploration of Europe. My wife and I loaded up small backpacks and travelled to ten different countries in that short period of time. This was before the superfluous cellphone, so we had to hunt down internet cafes to keep in touch with people back home, and find directions to our next hotels. It was a fast-paced experience where we spent only a couple of nights in each of the many towns and cities we visited. We stayed in hostels, small hotel rooms, and even once at a grandmother’s spare bedroom. It was a great experience, but by the end of it, we were both exhausted.

This was when we were a lot younger and filled with an excess of energy. We have since gone on a lot of other adventures around the world. Some of them compared to the same pace, especially earlier on in our travels. As we grew older, we realized that this crazy pace was a great way to see a lot of things, but we could not keep it up for too long. We have since decided to take a different approach to our travels. It has been more of staying in one or two places for longer periods of time, and really getting to know what those places have to offer. But when you take a trip to Iceland, this is not the way to see it. We couldn’t just sit in one city and take small day trips if we really want to see all that it has to offer. Instead, we went for the option that more people took when visiting this faraway country, we rent a camper van and went roaming around to see the various sights while sleeping in a different camp ground every night in order to make sure we were able to cover all the ground. It forced us to go back to that go-go-go kind of travel that we left behind in our younger days, and it reminded me of the benefits and disadvantages of traveling this way.

First off, it is important to understand that there is a lot to see in Iceland, and if you stay in Reykjavik you can see a lot of cool stuff, but you will miss out on even more. Yes, many people see Iceland this way, but getting the camper van opens up those far away places that can’t be reached for on day trips, and adds the potential for more adventure. It allowed us to get off of the beaten path, and leave a lot of the tourist crowds behind. We were still able to see all of that cool stuff around Reykjavik, but go beyond that to the farther reaches where sometimes it felt like we were the only people that had seen that sight.

It also set us up for a lot more adventure. They come in various packages out in Iceland. There are the obvious ones where you go to visit one of the various sights and take the short hike to get out there, but there are those other one that only happen to you because you happen to be in the right place at the right time. Some of these adventures were fun for us; whereas, others are ones that we will look back on and laugh about. My favorite one would have had to have been being chased by an over-protective ram that was looking out for his lambs as we wandered close by in a large field of grass. It was never dangerous, but it forced us to take a longer way around so we did not disturb their grazing.

The food also offered other kinds of adventures. Most of the time, we were only able to afford fish and chips or hot dogs if we went out for a meal, but there were other times when we splurged on a good meal. My favorite had to be in the port town of Seydisfjordur where we ate at a fusion sushi restaurant which is often considered the best sushi restaurant on the island. I went thinking it would be like any other sushi restaurant that I had been to with the really fresh fish that they are able to find on the island, but they do things a little bit differently there. I was able to get a couple of great rolls, and there were some Korean dishes available on the menu, but the one item that we could not miss was the Hot Rock Sushi. A long time ago, the chef found some great volcanic rocks that they heated up with a gas torch. They then gave us some raw fish that we cooked on the heated up rock. It was different, but worked really well with the traditional soy sauce and wasabi.

Another dining adventure came outside of the town of Olfus called Ingolfsskali. It is housed in a traditional Viking longhouse and just by entering it, I felt like I was walking into the story of Beowulf. The place does not only offer great food, but it has a place outside where you can participate in axe throwing and archery. We weren’t allowed to take part in this feature the night that we were there because of the high winds at the time, but I am sure that there are enough times that you can see people throwing axes outside.

The food they serve is traditional Icelandic fare with silverware that looks as if it was recovered from the sight. They have many fish dishes as well as beef and lamb. There are definitely two types of crowds that make it to this restaurant. The earlier crowd is more of the family crowd, but things get a little more rowdy as the night progresses giving the longhouse even more atmosphere it deserves.

The influence of the Vikings is found everywhere on the Iceland as well. Some of them are authentic; whereas, some of them were created for movie sets, sometimes used, sometimes not. One was built by a movie studio next to Stokksnes black sand beach for a movie that was never completed. It still stands there and is open to the public to explore. Though I know that it has been built recently, it still feels authentic as it sits next to this otherworldly landscape.

It is that otherworldly landscape that is the real feature of Iceland. There are thermal-pools, waterfalls, cliffs, and beaches made from ground down volcanic rock. Everywhere I went, I felt as if I was a part of some movie set that was designed for another planet or another time. It is easy to see why so many movies and television shows are filmed out here, and the people of Iceland take advantage of it. There are many place where I felt as if I was in another story, instead of traveling around this country in the far north in nothing but a camper van.

The landscape would never take off a chance to remind me that Iceland was created from two continental plates converging together and creating a lot of volcanic activity in the process. All of the lava rock and black sand that is found everywhere forms unique formations when in hits to cold north Atlantic water. It creates these unique formations such as square columns, and lumpy fields of moss covered rocks that look like something out of Middle Earth. It makes the travels from each place just as exciting as arriving because it make you wonder what it is you will really see.

This is includes the waterfalls that are all over the place. Coming from Jordan where water is a precious commodity that should be conserved, it jarred me to see so much water. After the first day in the country where I saw waterfall after waterfall, I thought I would get tired of seeing them all of the time, but this was never the case. Just like the landscape, there are so many different kinds of waterfalls that each one that I visited was its own kind of experience. It made me think that maybe this island should have been named the land of waterfalls instead of this misnomer that it has been given.

Despite all of this amazing scenery and things to do, there is an important thing to understand about seeing Iceland from a camper van; it is not an easy experience. It is the perfect way to get from place to place and not worry about where you will be staying in the evening, but it is a small confined space. It can be hard to move around it, and with the ever changing weather, it is not always to best place to escape from it. This form of travel is for the sturdy, the romantic, and the youth of the world. It is a challenge that changed me for the experience, and one that was not always easy. My advice to anybody that wants to see this country through this kind of experience is to do it while you are young, and it will become one of those trips that you will never forget. It gets a little harder to do the older you get, and at moments, I was not having the fun I would have had in my youth.

Despite this small warning, Iceland in a camper van was a trip that forced me to transcend the simple, comfortable life that I had become accustomed to. I will always look back at this trip with fondness, and I will never forget all of the amazing things that I was lucky enough to see. It was the true adventure that I had not had for a long time, and it reminded me of what holidays could be like. I think on my next trip, I will go back to that slower pace, but every once in awhile, I think it will be important for me to get out there and try something new because these are the kinds of events that change us for the better. I am glad for this adventure, but I am also glad that I am back in a nice, warm home where I do not have to live in such a cramped space. The three weeks in a camper van made me appreciate that simple fact even more.

Thanks Iceland.

Witchcraft and Sorcery – Holmavik, Iceland

When I first made it out to Iceland, I was picked up by my hotel for the first night from a transport van, and as soon as our driver started the vehicle, I was introduced to the culture of Iceland. A heavy metal song that I had never heard before started to below out of the speakers as the singer shouted about the importance of thunder. Of course I was curious about what I was listening to, so I looked at the dash and was to the song we were enjoying was called, “The Son of Odin”. At first I thought it was just a silly coincidence, but the more I wandered around Iceland, the more I saw that the people of Iceland still hung on to their Norse roots and there was a lot of evidence about how much their lives were shaped by this mythology. This was not more evident when I made it to the town of Holmavik on the edge of the West Fjords and visited their museum, The Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery.

Of course, being a big fan of fantasy literature and Dungeons and Dragons, this was a must do for me. I will admit that it is not a place fore everybody, and it is a little quirky, but it is really interesting as it explores the use of witchcraft in this corner of Iceland. Grimoires and strange spells were more common in this part of Iceland during the 16th and 17th centuries than you would have suspected. Many of the traditions stemmed back to Norse mythology and what they would do in order to get what they wanted, and this museum went through this history, explaining some of the runes used, the spells performed, and the people burned at the stake during this period.

Like I said, this museum is not for everybody. There is some very explicit sights that can be found there, and it could easily scare younger children. They do not hold anything back as they show sea rats, dead bodies busting through the floor, and a skin suit that was taken from the lower half a dead man and used to gain wealth for the sorcerer who wore it. Each exhibit caused more shock as I went through the museum but it was fascinating what extent people took in order to survive in the harsh conditions of Iceland, and how much they held on to these old traditions in the face of a country that was under the umbrella of Christianity.

If you do find yourself in the West Fjords and wish to see this museum, it is not hard to find. It is off of the main road, Highway 61 when you get into Holmavik which you pretty much have to drive through if you wish to visit the rest of the fjords. It costs about eight U.S. dollars for admittance to the sights. All of the explanations of the pieces are written in Icelandic, but if you ask, the attendant at the museum will give you a book that corresponds with the numbers of each spot and translates it into English for you. It is also connected to a restaurant and a book shop that has a lot of books over the runes you will see and the history of the area. If your stomach can handle it, it is worth a visit, and will change the way that you look at Iceland. Like many of the countries of the world, it will highlight that dark past that is always on the edges of what you see, but can’t really get to the heart of. 

The West Fjords – Iceland

If you want to get off the beaten path and see a lot of what nature has to offer you want to go to Iceland. If you want to get away from the tourists that had the same thought as you did while you are in Iceland, you go to the West Fjords. Geographically, it is the oldest part of the island, but it is the area that is least developed. Because of this fact, many of the tourists don’t want to wander out to this part of the island, and because Icelanders won’t see many tourists there, this is where they like to go to get away from it all for a little while. Either way, it is a great place to visit.

There are a couple of way of getting out to the West Fjords. You can take the highways out of Reykjavik and drive the five hours it takes to the heart of this part of the island, or you can catch the ferry from Stykkisholmur to Brjaenslur and with the driving involved to get to the two ports and the three and a half hour boat trip, it takes just about as long. The big difference is what you expect to do along the way. The ferry is very relaxing, but keeps you far enough away from the islands, so there is not really anything to see; whereas, driving could take a little longer with the stops that you can make along the way. I think that it is best to drive one way, and take the ferry the other way. I like taking the ferry back because the sense of adventure is still with me on the beginning of a trip and I just want the more relaxing approach on the way back.

Driving between the towns in the West Fjords is pretty easy during the summer months. I am told that they get a little more difficult during the winter months because clouds can dip down and cover a lot of them in fog and rough driving conditions, and considering that they are extremely windy, it could make for a white-knuckle drive. Still, anywhere you drive in the West Fjords, you are going to see some amazing scenery, just understand that you will be driving for quite some time in-between places. If you wish to go to any of the many sights that are out this way, the driving conditions can change drastically. The roads to these places are rarely paved and sometimes hug steep cliffs. I would like to say that people take a little more caution on these types of roads, but from my experience this is not always the case. You might want to double you driving time if you are traveling down one of these roads because it always takes longer than what Google Maps says it will take.

The sights are worth the drives though. I know that there was a lot that I missed while I was out there because I only had three short days to explore the West Fjords, but I do think I hit a couple of the highlights. On the western most tip of all of the fjords, there is a cliff that stretches out for fourteen kilometers. There is a path that you can hike along it that allows you to follow the largest bird sanctuary on the island. It is a great place to see puffins even though these are not the only types of birds that can be found out there. When I was there, there was a good amount of tourists, but it did not take long hiking along the trail to put many of them behind, and I was also able to get some good pictures of puffins in the meantime.

There is also Dynjandi, a waterfall that is named after a bridal’s veil, partly because it looks like a bridal veil. This is the easiest of the sights to get to, and there are even tour busses from Isafjordur that will make there way out to it. You can miss the crowds if you make it there early in the day, and it might be a good thing to do because the path that leads to the best viewing spots is a little tricky, and it does not stop these tourists from making the attempt even though many of them probably should not. 

You can also find the largest beach in all of Iceland in West Fjords. It is located at what I consider the best campsite in the West Fjords, but you do not need to camp there to enjoy the beach. It is the only one that I encountered while I was out there that was not made of black sand. Volcanic activity is not as strong in the West Fjords, so the scenery does not always have that ominous look that the other parts of the country might possess. It is fun the walk along this beach on warmer days in Iceland, and there are many spots where you can see clams digging, and seals swimming just off the shore. Beware that the midges are pretty common in the summer at this spot, and you might have to avoid herds of sheep who are also frolicking on the beach.

If you wish for a little civilization, there is a the town of Isafjordur which boast a cultural museum, many fine restaurants, and a micro-brewery. There are some great campsites also in this town as well as comfortable hotels, so it could be a great stop if you want to get out of the camper van for a day. Be warned that cruise ships do make this as part of their stops, so the town can have a influx of people for a little bit while they are docked, but even with this, it still does not feel that crowded if they are there.

Of course there are a lot of other interesting things to do out there, such as visiting the oldest bookstore owned by the same family for over four generations, seeing the hot pots and dipping a toe into the warm water, or checking out Iceland’s oldest steel boat which ran ashore to rust way back in 1986. Around every corner there is always another surprise in this part of Iceland, and if you really want to enjoy the place that Icelanders enjoy than this is the place you want to head to. Just make sure you have a few days to explore because there is a lot to see once you get out there.

Dettifoss, Iceland

I think about all of those science fiction movies that I have seen, and I always wonder where they find such alien landscapes. It is not as if movies have advanced far enough yet to fly across the universe to other planets so they can film there, and I know that it costs a lot money to create a world digitally from complete scratch. So far, the only movie that I can think of that has done this with any amount of success has been James Cameron’s Avatar. Every other science fiction movie has to find locations somewhere on this earth that to the casual viewer would still transport them to another planet.

I remember watching the opening sequence of the movie Prometheus, and thinking that the place they were at could not be real. There is no way that a waterfall could be that big, and there is not a place on earth that could have a rocky landscape as the one depicted with the odd designer. It had to be digitally created, and if they did so, they did a really good job with it. Well, I soon discovered that I was wrong about it, and there is a place on this earth that looks like it belongs on another planet. Who knew that I would find it in Iceland?

On the high plateau a little north from the Myvatan area lies Iceland’s second largest river, Jokulsa a Fjollum, and a short fifteen walk across a bleak landscape that looks like it might be on Mars will take you to this immense waterfall, Dettifoss. Once there, there are many different platforms and locations to take in the majesty of this sight, and it is definitely worth the trip.

If you do go, there are a couple of things that you need to know about the location. 

When I was there, it was pretty warm outside, and I was getting a little hot on the walk over to the river. As soon as I got to the river, the wind picked up, and there was a constant spray from the waterfall. This made for cold and wet conditions. You will want to wear layers of clothes and make sure that outer layer is waterproof. 

Because of the constant spray of water coming from the river, the path can be at times muddy, and the rocks can be slippery. You will want some good footgear that will prevent you from slipping and falling.

Lastly, the area breeds these tiny bugs called midges. They don’t bite, and they aren’t even that big. But there are a lot of them, and during the walk over, they were constantly flying into my face, into my eyes, and even up my nose. In other words, they were extremely annoying. If you stop at any of the convenience stores at any of the gas stations before you get there, you should be able to buy a head net. They will keep all of the midges out of your face, and make the hike over more enjoyable. Yes, they look goofy, but if you are planning to explore the Myvatn afterwards, you will want these hair nets because the midges are all over the place there. When you get closer to the river, the wind and spray keeps the midges away, so you can get those pictures that you want, but until then, they really help with you sanity.

All in all, Dettifoss is an incredible waterfall, and worth the side trip for the hour or so that you spend there. So if planning a trip to Iceland, make sure to add this place to your itinerary. You won’t regret it.