Iceland 2016: Day 5, Car Trouble in the West Fjords

On Wednesday, June 22th, our only real task was to make it from Patreksfjörður to Ísafjörður and hit a few stops along the way. Iceland was playing Austria in Euro 2016 that afternoon with a chance to advance to the knockout round, so we were hoping to reach our destination in time to catch some of the game on TV with the locals. After our staying out so late the night before, we slept in and hit the same restaurant (there are only two in town) for lunch and, more importantly, free WiFi. A few dozen Instagram posts later, we were on the road.


This was set up to be an easy, relaxing day. We only had to cover 170 KM and we had all day to do it. The weather was gorgeous. We drive around a fjord, go up and over a mountain, enjoy the beautiful views, drive around another fjord, stop at a hot spring or waterfall, etc. Can't go wrong. That all went up in steam as we got to the top of our first steep climb and realized that our rental car had completely overheated. That lovely view above is the spot where we broke down.


Rental cars are expensive in Iceland. For one thing, you have to get a big, sturdy 4x4 if you want to go anywhere interesting. Plus they probably take as much of a beating as any rental cars in world. And you end of spending so much time in them that planning your rental is one of the most important pre-trip steps. We had certainly spent quite a lot of emails picking out just the right rental for this trip. Then, as we're driving away from the rental place near the airport on day 1, we realized that the driver's side door didn't close all the way, likely due to somebody opening it while parked facing downwind. The sound of the wind was annoyingly loud, and it would have let rain in all over the place, so we were on the phone immediately with the rental place. Luckily they had a replacement available for us in Reykjavik. It was an older model, a little smaller, and missing some of the features of the SUV we started with, but at least it was water tight.

So that's how we ended up with an SUV with a hole in the radiator. The rental company wanted us to drive back to Patreksfjörður where they had a mechanic who could work on it. We told them we weren't going to double back, we had to be in Ísafjörður by the end of the day. So they gave us the address of a different mechanic, one in the next town, just at the bottom of the hill, Bíldudalur. After letting the car cool off a little, we coasted down to town.

The little town of Bíldudalur (Pop: 166!)


We parked at a gas station that wasn't open yet, and called the rental car place again to let them know that there was no street in Bíldudalur with the name that they had given us for the mechanic's address. Oh, did we say Bíldudalur? They thought we had said we were heading for Búðardalur! No mechanic in Bíldudalur. We were ordered to wait there for the mechanic from Patreksfjörður to drive out and meet us so he could look at the car. Now we had a few hours to kill in a town we had just been planning to pass right by. At least it was 70 degrees and sunny.

Eating ice cream and working on the car.

A fishing boat returning to the harbor.

It was so hot I actually went wading into the fjord to cool off.

The Church in Bíldudalur. Despite our free time, we did not visit the Sea Monster Museum.


After at least 90 minutes, the mechanic finally showed up. Diagnosis: hole in the radiator. We took extra water and anti-freeze so we could top it off as needed. Otherwise, all we could do was drive carefully and especially not push it on the long climbs. In fact, for the rest of the trip, whenever we had to drive uphill, we turned the heat on full blast in the cab to let excess heat off the engine. So that was fun.

The car played such a big role on the trip that it felt like a member of the group. Please enjoy this short album of our rental SUV's vacation:


When we finally got back on the road, it was already past 3 PM. We wouldn't be catching that soccer game later. We pulled over to the shoulder of the road to grab one last picture of the quaint town of Bíldudalur.

One thing you have to look out for, especially in the West Fjords, is an assault by Arctic Terns. They nest on the ground near the coast, and they are nasty. They don't like anyone coming near them and they attack with very few questions asked. Just for the crime of pulling over to take a picture, we were soon swarmed by the evil birds. Thank God for our trusty rental car! We hightailed it out of there before having our eyes pecked out.

Arctic Terns in Attack Formation.


We had almost reached our first scheduled stop of the day. It's just a few KM past Bíldudalur on the main road, but before we got there we decided to make an impromptu stop when we passed this beautiful, nameless (as far as we could tell) waterfall. Iceland has so many amazing waterfalls that this one doesn't even register as a tourist attraction. The water was as clear as I've ever seen. And since we were already in our suits for the next stop, Badger and I took a little dip too.


We eventually made it to Reykjafjardarlaug Hot Pool, our third hot pool in five days. There is a natural spring here, and a swimming pool that's filled by it. Unfortunately, the pool was closed for maintenance so we could only soak in the spring itself. And the spring was hot. Just about the limit of what a person can stand. There were two American tourists here already, who helpfully offered that the only way to get in was to just plop all the way down, rather than try to ease in. And it worked, well enough. Once you were in, it was OK. We lasted about 10 minutes. When Badger stood up, he looked like he had a bad sunburn on any skin that had been in the water.

The valley with the hot spring. Not much else going on here.

Mark only dipped his toes in, then walked around the area a bit taking pictures. Of course, he was dive-bombed by an Arctic Tern for his troubles.

Getting out and drying off was a much more pleasant experience than it had been the first day, at Reykjadalur. In fact, with the temp about 70 degrees and very little wind, we were standing around in wet bathing suits in Iceland and we were too hot! It was quite the invigorating experience. Maybe not that invigorating, Badger, please put your pants back on.


Our next stop, the main attraction of the day, was Dynjandi waterfall. Dynjandi, which means "Thundering Noise" in Icelandic, is the thing to see in the West Fjords. You can't read or see anything about the West Fjords without it being accompanied by a picture of Dynjandi. And now that I've seen it, I get why. It is impressive in person, much more so than in pictures. At 99 meters tall, the power is astounding when you're standing at the base. And then it splits into a series of smaller waterfalls on its way to the fjord. Photos and video probably can't do it justice, but we'll try anyway.

View from the road on the way to Dynjandi.


Our next stop was Hrafnseyri, the childhood home of Jón Sigurðsson, the "Icelandic George Washington" which is now a museum. Directly across the fjord from Dynjandi, you can still see the waterfall from Hrafnseyri, although it takes about an hour to make the drive. It would have been around this time that the Iceland - Austria game wrapped up; too bad we didn't get to see it in a bar full of locals. Damn you, rental car.

A small hydroelectric power plant on the road between Dynjandi and Hrafnseyri.

Dynjandi from across the fjord.



We didn't have too far to go from here. Up and over one more mountain pass and then one more fjord to drive around. We were treated to one final stunning view as we came over the pass, of course. If you look closely at the picture below, you can maybe tell that the road passes through a purple field in the distance. So naturally we had to stop, again, in a crazy field of lupines for more pics.

Hiding in the Lupines


We made one last unscheduled stop as we passed by the little town of Flateyri to check out their unique avalanche protection system; huge 'A' shaped mounds on the slope above town that direct any avalanche around the town and into the fjord. Unfortunately we couldn't see them due to fog, but we did stop to see (and smell!) the giant fish-drying racks you occasionally encounter around Iceland. Then it was on to Ísafjörður and a much later arrival than initially planned, but at least the car got us there.

Mmm, fish jerky.

Colorful boats in Flateyri.

Love this picture. Lupines like melting blueberry ice cream running down the crevasses of a hillside above a farm in the West Fjords.