There are three towns in Iceland I have been really interested in visiting: Reykjavík (of course), Akureyri (because it’s the second biggest town), and Ísafjördur, which is in the very northern part of Iceland’s West Fjörds and it has only 3500 people. On the other hand, it is by far the biggest town in the West Fjörds and it is known as a hotspot for music and art. Some very famous people come from Ísafjördur, including the president of Iceland and Mugison, the toast of the Icelandic music awards show last week.
It is therefore fair to say that I was quite excited at the prospect of being sent there to write a piece about the export market for fresh fish. The idea was to meet the fishing boat at Ísafjördur and follow the fish all the way to the table at one of Belgium’s pricier restaurants. Cue the Icelandic weather.
With a cancelled flight to Ísafjördur on Sunday, Palli, our photographer, decided we should drive there in a hire car and await a flight back on Monday. This was a sensible enough idea, and although battling for five hours through snow and ice in the dark wasn’t the greatest thing in the world, we got there safely.
After a deep slumber in the local hotel, we were ready to talk to people about fish, and take lots of photographs as the catch was offloaded in the early morning twilight. The weather was windy, but the air was clear, and as the sunlight began to illuminate the town, I became aware of the mountains.
There are lots of mountains in Iceland-- in fact I’m looking at one right now-- but the mountains that dwarf and envelop the town of Ísafjördur are tall, dark and imposing beyond description. Even photographs may not be able to convey how dominant and dramatic they are.
By the afternoon, the weather was windier than Sunday, and it became clear that we would not be able to fly back or be in time for our connection to Belgium. I was only a little bit upset though, because now I could actually see the terrain we had passed the night before – and I had the opportunity to drive.
The only way of preparing yourself for driving in a blizzard over unpaved mountain roads is to...? Actually, I don’t think there is a way except to do it and keep your survival instinct at the fore.
Down to only three studded winter tyres after a puncture, the weather got worse and worse, eventually resulting in a spin. But the two guys in the car behind pushed us back onto the road in just a minute or two without even putting their jackets on or seeming the slightest bit stressed.
It is this hardy nature and helpful community spirit that helped the Icelanders to live and flourish in this harsh land. And while the city drivers here are as crazy as anywhere, it’s nice to know you can still rely on the kindness of strangers in the icy beyond.
For the record; we are actually going to continue our journey this evening-- stay tuned.