Heavy Metal Road Trip: Iceland Northern Route

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESI’ve already written here and in other places about the close-knit Eistnaflug festival that drew me (and about 200 other foreigners) to a remote fjord in Iceland in July. Iceland really only has one main road outside of Reykjavik – the Ring Road, which, you guessed it, rings the island. The north route along the ring road to the Eistnaflug festival is only slightly longer than the south route; both take a solid day of driving. I would rather see as much of the country as I can.

I caught a ride in a festival-sponsored van driven by the man responsible for Iceland’s Wacken Metal Battle. The organizational skills required to pull off a national battle of the bands was in evidence as we embarked on a customized, two day, heavy metal road trip (south route to Eistnaflug as described here) around Iceland’s ring road. This post is about the northern part of the circuit.IMG_20140713_222719646

At first glance, the north of Iceland is not as metal as the south route with it’s black sand and giant blocks of ice – the north is too pretty. Lake Myvatn hosts stories of an Icelandic Nessie, but I couldn’t imagine anything sinister in such lovely surroundings. But right across the road from the lake is one of Iceland’s most metal tourist sites, the Dimmuborgir. I’ve never really listened to the area’s black metal band namesake, but eyewitness stories studio shenanigans was the right way to wander through the Dark Fortress’ maze of lava formations.

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Heavy metal loves resistance almost as much as it loves the underground. In 2014, Iceland erupted (sorry) into controversy over the question of maintenance fees. Wait, this is important. Icelandic law has protected free access to nature as a right for centuries. While the glut of foreign tourists has necessitated maintenance of these sites, the current system of charging for tickets has about the same legal standing as the men in India who set up road blocks and start charging “tolls.”

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We stopped at a geothermal area (I think it was Hverarönd) where one of these admission gates had recently been established. While our host argued with the gatekeepers, demanding (and eventually obtaining) the phone numbers of those responsible, the response of the guests in the van varied. Those who had been there before drank beer in the parking lot. I took pictures with a zoom lens and observed the action at the gate with as much interest as the steam bubbling up from the ground. But my favorite response came from the French label executive who nonchalantly stepped over the fence and proceeded to explore the area at leisure while politely remaining on the paths.

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After political action, we returned to the underground. Literally. Well, actually I looked over the edge in a nauseated cold sweat while the others climbed 35 feet below the surface of a lava field to soak in a geothermal pool. I wrote about this experience here.

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Gođafoss is not the most spectacular waterfall in Iceland, but to my eyes it is the most beautiful. When I saw it, I felt a thrill incongruously combined with a deep sensation of peace. I’ve always said I could never live anywhere outside of walking distance to good coffee and Thai food, but I suspect that I could live without a lot of things within sight of that waterfall. It is also pretty metal. The waterfall takes its name from the legend of a heathen Lawspeaker who resolved that Iceland should abandon the old gods and threw all their statues over the falls.

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We stopped in Akureyri for dinner and the final game of the world cup. I wrote about it here. I don’t know if there is anything metal about Akureyri, but I loved what I saw of it and can’t wait to go back.

After Akureyri, we didn’t stop much. It was the middle of the night, and as we moved south it became almost dark. We passed through an area of rich farmland; another landscape that doesn’t look very metal. Had it been daytime, we might have detoured to the Snorristofa to see the place where Snorri Sturlason lived and was murdered. There we could have learned about the bloody period of anarchy known as the Sturlung Era, which led to Iceland’s subjugation by the Danes for the next seven centuries.

But since it was night, I did get to see an Arctic fox dart across the road.

It was after 3 a.m. on a Monday morning when we rolled into Reykjavík. Our host had to be at work in five hours. They dropped me at KEX hostel on their way to the airport. I dragged my bag up the stairs to the lobby where a group of travelers on big leather couches chatted quietly over beers. I waved out the window at the van as it pulled out, headed to the airport. But they didn’t see me. My heavy metal road trip had come full circle. I was back in my home away from home.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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3 thoughts on “Heavy Metal Road Trip: Iceland Northern Route

  1. Pingback: Eistnaflug: The Movie | gemma D. alexander

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