I saved my favourite part of Iceland til the last–the wondrous western Westfjords. I don’t know if my photos capture what I loved about it. In fact, I’m sure they can’t. So I’m going to try write about it.
Imagine land, shaped like a hand with a hundred fingers. On the surface of this hand are mountains, huge volcanic creatures of rock, slicing one after another into the sky.
Imagine a road, mostly gravel, that wends its way along the edges of these innumerable fingers, sometimes ascending, switchback, precarious, and other times at sea level, rock studded water outlining every turn.
Now imagine the sea, a grey silver presence, silking in between the fingers, stretching out into the horizon.
These are the western Westfjords of Iceland. We spent only a day and a night driving through this landscape, stopping every few minutes to take photographs and shoot film (when it was safe to pull over–no mean feat), and once for a delicious dinner at the “town” of Flókalundur, which has zero (count ’em) residents, one gas pump, and a four-room hotel with a restaurant serving aforementioned meal.
I spoke to our waitress at the restaurant, a fresh-faced young woman, whose mother owns the hotel. She grew up about 60 km west in another town (presumably with more residents), and was helping her mother out at the hotel while the last of the summer travelers came through. When I asked her about her home town, she hastily explained that she was now based in Reykjavik and working for Icelandic Air, confirming that young people everywhere can’t wait to get the hell out of wherever they grew up and move to the big city.
The Westfjords are difficult or perhaps impossible to traverse in the winter, unless you have some major off-road vehicle action (we did not). Some roads on our map were marked with a happy sun, indicating they were open only in the summer. And although we were there in September, close enough to summer and with decent temperatures, a local advised we not take one of the roads because it was “very bad.”
Even our usually trusty internet-to-go WiFi router (that we got from the rental car company) went dark through much of the Westfjords, although I am very grateful to it and to Skype, for the time we reached Bjarkarlundur Hotel in the Westfjords, at 1 a.m. in lashing rain, and all the doors were locked and the windows dark. There was a note on the front door to call Stefan for any emergencies, along with a seven-digit number, and thank god, the cell towers and router and Skype-out and iPhone all conspired to rouse the poor man from bed and let us in.
Iceland has a population of 320,000 in an area of 103,000 sq. km. This makes it the most sparsely populated country in Europe, especially when you consider that 118,000 of those people live in Reykjavik. Almost 700,000 tourists visit Iceland every year, half of those during the summer months. So you’re way more likely to bump into a tourist than an Icelander, especially if you’re out in the wild. But in the western Westfjords, we saw virtually no other cars on the road, sometimes for hours, and other than some road construction workers and our Flókalundur waitress, almost no people.
Maybe it’s because I did most of the driving in the Westfjords (Josh shot some gorgeous footage including this poetry video which is set in the Westfjords), but I sometimes have the sensation that I’m there still, bumping over the rocky roads, sea on one side, mountain on the other, lovely lonely landscape everywhere.
Abeer Hoque is a Nigerian born Bangladeshi American writer and photographer. See more at olivewitch.com.