An Icelandic Saga: Reykjavik Nights
I'd intended to be lazy, once I arrived in Landmannalaugar at the top end of Iceland's famous 57km Laugavegur trail.
I'd completed the trail--and the 25km Fimmvörðuháls hike just to the south--over three days, the last two of them solo, and as I waited for my friends to join me a day or so after I finished, I figured I would sleep a lot, eat a lot, soak in the springs and do a little reading.
I was beat, and the idea of hiking any more didn't really appeal.
But that lasted, oh, about a night.
Landmannalaugur features a number of pretty spectacular day hikes from the campground, and midway through my ostensible day of rest, I found myself tackling the Bláhnjúkur mountain, whose trail was visible to the southeast whenever I poked my head out of my tent, and whose summit I found impossible to resist.
Without my pack, the roughly six km, 320m hike seemed like the proverbial walk in the park, and I really enjoyed it, even with clouds setting in at the summit.
After reaching the top, I posed for some pictures and then chased some of the ubiquitous Icelandic sheep down the backside of the mountain toward the vast lava field I'd crossed the day before on my last lap into Landmannalaugar.
By the time I got back to the campsite, it was early evening, and I was anxious to be reunited with my friends--Jason, Darren, Daulton and Krystin--who'd done Fimmvörðuháls with me and were renting a car from Reykjavik to pick me up.
To actually drive into Landmannalaugar requires a couple of pretty deep and gnarly river crossings, and I'd been watching tourists bug out at the first of them all day, so I wandered across the little foot bridge to wait for my friends there.
At around eight in the evening, they showed up in a little RAV4 that could have made the crossing, but discretion being the better part of valour, they decided to park and hike in. I'm pretty sure I hugged them all, and interrogated them eagerly about what they'd done while I was hiking.
(They'd gone back to Reyjkavik and had showers and eaten actual meals, and I won't lie and say I wasn't a little bit jealous.)
Anyway, I'd missed them, and it felt pretty damn good to be reunited.
We spent that night at Landmannalaugar, enjoying the hot springs some more as Darren, Daulton and Jay made friends with some of the locals who worked the Mountain Mall--a store/coffee shop located in a trio of old buses.
I went to bed early, as I always do on these things, and woke up late, as I tend to do as well. But the others got up early and enjoyed another dip in the hot springs, and that afternoon we tackled another of the local day hikes, Brennisteinsalda, which required hiking back across the lava field along the Laugavegur trail, and then breaking off to climb a short summit just off the main path.
I was glad my friends got to experience the terrain, which was much different than the stuff we'd seen on our first day of hiking. And I was glad, too, that the injuries that had prevented them from doing the main part of the hike with me had cleared up enough that they could enjoy this part of Iceland that was so different from anything I'd ever seen back home.
With Brennisteinsalda summited, we packed up the rental car and bid Landmannalaugar goodbye, and Darren drove us like a rally car racer over the sinuous volcanic road to the highway and the nearest restaurant, where I devoured an orange and a hamburger and fries in rapid succession.
Our plan for that night (a Friday) was to drive to Reyjkavik and check into the hotel that Jay had found for us, where we would stay until our flights back home on Sunday afternoon.
The gang had designs on hitting a restaurant that served whale, puffin and horse meat, and also trying out the Icelandic capital's nightclub scene, particularly the infamous Kiki Queer Bar.
Personally, I hoped to buy a t-shirt from the Icelandic Penis Museum (conveniently located a few blocks from our hotel), and to visit a craft brewery I'd read about in the in-flight magazine on the way over, Bryggjan Brugghús.
Darren, meanwhile, wanted to visit the local record stores, and to buy an authentic wool sweater.
Oh, and we also wanted to eat a famous Icelandic hot dog, since it seemed like something you'd do in Reyjkavik.
And I'm pleased to report that in every matter except for the penis t-shirt, we were successful. (In a rare moment of maturity, I decided buying the shirt would be juvenile and silly; also, the styles on offer weren't, you know, earth-shattering.)
But Daulton did patronize the penis establishment and make a purchase of his own in the gift shop, so we can at least take pride in supporting a local cultural institution.
We definitely supported the local gay bar, partying at Kiki's until nearly dawn. I lost my voice belting out Robyn and Rihanna at the top of my lungs, and Daulton's cowboy hat was a real hit. We all staggered home, collapsed into our beds, and nearly missed checkout the next morning.
That afternoon, after a strange and expensive (and, honestly, mediocre) lunch in Keflavik, near the airport, we returned the RAV4 and checked into our flights, and after some last minute souvenir purchases in the duty-free store, it was time to say goodbye and board our flights back home.
I can recommend Reykjavik, and Iceland in its entirety. The trip was not cheap, but the Laugavegur hike is something I'll cherish for the rest of my life.
And the night at Kiki's Queer Bar with Jay, Darren, Daulton and Krystin, I'll cherish that, too, but for different reasons. Certainly it was a trip of a lifetime, made all the better by the good company, with a special shout-out to Jay's meticulous planning and preparation.
I had a wonderful time, both on the trail and in the city, and as we hugged goodbye in the airport I was sorry to see my friends go, and sorry to be leaving such a marvellous country.
But maybe I'll go back someday, and next time I'll skip the hot dogs--but I will buy the damn penis t-shirt.