On the path of a meaningful life

Texts, photographs and videos by Claire B.

Sustainable buildling and light habitats. to transform the act of building and rethink our relationship with living things.
Transition tales. towards an ethical, sustainable and united future.
Travel dispatches. discovering the world between solo journeys and life experiences.
Creative approach. photographic work and videos.

25 September 2019

The enchanted fjords

Cycling the Westfjords from Staðarskáli to Ísafjörður.
Ísafjörður, westfjords, Iceland © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

The bus drops me off at Staðarskáli, at the bottom of Hrutafjördur fjord. Just at the beginning of the large peninsula with the many fingers that make up the West Fjords of Iceland. I took the bus from Myvatn, then Akureyri to avoid the road. The main road N°1 filled with cars. It is almost 8pm and the wind makes the ten kilometers to go, to reach Bordeyri and its tiny campsite, very tiring. I pitch my tent in the falling night, shivering in the biting cold. September has arrived and with it, winter temperatures. I have decided to spend my last three weeks crossing the Westfjords and go hiking for a few days on Hornstandir. The last few weeks before winter conditions make the journey too difficult.

And Iceland is playing with my limits. Following the hilly coast the next day, from Bordeyri to Holmavik, I thought of giving up. Giving up this country so inhospitable, so cold, with the constant exhausting wind. The difficult road, the headwind and a heavy downpour exhausted the little motivation I had left. And despite the landscape that is becoming more beautiful, I dream of a more welcoming country. I dream of the Alps and Provence in France. Of trees, of place without wind and with warmer climate. I pass difficult passes, rising to 200-300 meters. Enjoying the landscape of the small fjords that begin to emerge and the road right at the edge of the water but running without delay under the pressure of the strong wind. I go back down the other side. Then start the next climb. Again and again. I am exhausted and yet I pedal. Drawing in my last strength to reach Holmavik. 105 kilometers on the counter. My biggest day on a bike. It is in hardest moments that one is capable of greatest exploits. Yet I could have camped at the edge of the water stopping late afternoon after sixty kilometers. But something pushed me to continue and join the village. The prospect maybe to take the bus to reach Isafjördur and drop the crossing by bicycle.

But there is no bus anymore. The last one passed yesterday. Today is September and the bus Holmavik – Isafjördur no longer passes. The tourist season is over. A morning full of questions about the course of events leaves me pensive and I attack the road around noon. I have decided to continue cycling. A long climb stretches in the valley to reach the plateau 500m above. I pedal at the speed of a snail. A car in the opposite direction stops a few meters from me. I see an old gentleman coming out, seeming to observe me and taking picture of me. “You’re almost at the top” he shouts at me. “Good to know,” I answer with a laugh. He seems blown away by my effort, my feat, to climb the slope. “This is unbeliveable! For me! I can not… “. I answer him, passing him slowly, that it is quite tiring and wish him a good day.

“Have a good day!”
“You too! Do not drive too fast!”
“I’ll try!”

The top finally appears, covered with pebbles. A desert. The plateau seems to extend for kilometers. I distinguish the Drangajökull, a great white mass shining in the distance. In the descent, vegetation explodes with colors. Red, orange, green. It is Autumn. There for only a few weeks. The small Isafjördur fjord stretches out before me. The city of Isafjördur, my destination, is still more than a hundred kilometers away. I look for the campsite listed on the map, but I can not find it. I pedal along the water on a small battered track looking for a sign. But nothing. Under the golden light of a perfect late afternoon, I filled my gourds in a river and set up my tent on the edge of a small church. Right by the sea, in the tall grass, bathed by the sun, relatively protected from the wind. Heaven. There is a small house at a hundred meters but nobody inside. Probably a summer residence. Tons of birds squeak in the evening that settles and I let myself be invaded by a feeling of well-being. The weather is beautiful and I found the most beautiful place to camp in Iceland. I regained my spirits and the worries of the morning now seem very far away.


The sea mist in the morning.

The sea mist mixes with the fog on the heights of the small hills around me. My tent is covered with a thin layer of frost. The sun is hidden by the clouds and the places are a little less idyllic this morning than last night. The church is still here. I get ready in my tent trying to forget the cold. The flames of the stove boiling my water for breakfast warm a little the atmosphere. I eat my small portion of cereal listening to the birds singing on the water a few meters below. A mini 4×4 has also found shelter for the night near the church. The owner is still sleeping inside wrapped in a sleeping bag. I continue on the beautiful road along the small fjord. The mist rises slowly and the sun warms up. The weather is wonderful.

A multitude of birds, wild swans, Common Eiders, Cormorants, Seagulls, Gulls, Guillemots, Arctic Terns bask at the edge of the water, throwing themselves into the sea as I pass. And always the orange-red vegetation. I have the impression of pedaling in a more austere version of what I imagine to be Scandinavia. I feel so good in the middle of this beautiful landscape. At the bottom of the fjord, the big cliffs are cut out by waterfalls and streams. I continue in the other direction, with headwind again. The road is harder in this direction but I forget the difficulty losing myself in the contemplation of the landscape. With this beautiful weather and this “abundance” of vegetation, Iceland does not have much in commun with the landscapes crossed previously. But for how long?

I go along the small fjords one after the other. Mjóifjörður. Skotufjördur. An elderly couple, out of a big motorhome to stretch their legs, talk to me in Icelandic. They hardly speak any English. Further on, a cemetery of cars appears next to a small farm in the bottom of a small valley. A ton of cars whose metal body shimmers in the sun. Tonight too, it is bivouac on the edge of the fjord. There is almost nothing along the 300 kilometers separating Holmavik from Isafjördur. I hesitate a few times before finishing, pushed by the sun that disappears behind the mountains, to plant my tent near a household also without inhabitants. It is a lot less colder tonight. The wind has stopped and I feel good again in the middle of the tall grass a few meters from the water. The place is a little less heavenly than the previous one but just as nice. Especially after another big day on the bike. I fall asleep listening to ducks that cancan a few meters from me. But something is poking along my tent waking me a few times. Probably a field mouse.

I finally fell asleep and the droplets falling on my tent woke me up slowly. A small shower passes above, followed by mist and finally the sun. But I am not on the right side of the fjord, I do not have the sun. There is no wind this morning and like last night the temperatures are not so cold. I welcome this change with joy, hoping it will last for several days. Each fjord is a discovery. All similar but different with their own atmosphere. After Skotufjördur, I drive along Hestfjördur and then Seydisfjördur. The cliffs are getting higher and higher. One looks like a gigantic steamer with its slender chimneys stretching towards the sky. The road alternates between passages in heights and passages right next to the water. I like this proximity with the sea. This tiny passage between mountain and ocean. But I have trouble moving forward. I am slow. The wind, the climbs and the cumulative fatigue of the last three days, probably. Today also it is beautiful weather and I do not regret having finally decided to continue my crossing by bike. Of all the landscapes visited in Iceland, the Westfjords are for now the ones I prefer. A wonder of every moment. The road is small and relatively few cars disturb my peace.

Sheep, wild swans and coastal birds.

Crossing the fjords and bivouac by the sea.

A big climb and Alftafjördur is revealed. Even more beautiful than the previous ones. Even more majestic. The mountains are giants rising on each side. The places seem to have been shaped strangely. Cuts, hollows, big ridges. The remains of ancient glaciers. On the other side, the small town of Sudavik stretches along the coast. I thought to stop there for the night but the prospect of being able to catch the ferry tomorrow morning from Isafjördur to Hornstrandir, make me continue. About twenty kilometers more. I cycle along the cliffs right at the water’s edge looking at the cliffs of the Grunnavik Peninsula in front and those of Hornstandir appearing behind. And then I turn to finally enter the Isafjördur fjord. Blinded by the light, I stop my bike and contemplate the breathtaking places. What is this landscape? This hidden pearl at the very top of Iceland? This enchanted place? This area where my father came twice on a trip. The places are even more beautiful than before and I spend my last kilometers taking photos. Large holes dot the cliffs on either side of the bay. Naustahvilft, the most impressive, overlooks Isafjördur. For the locals, the hole was caused by a female troll running at full speed to return home before the sun rises and turns her it into stone. But exhausted, she would have sat down to rest on the side of the mountain leaving an impressive hole. Troll or glaciers, it does not matter.

The orange mountains bathed in light reflect on the water drawing an extraordinary painting. And in the middle of the bay, in the middle of the water, the small town of Isafjördur spreads its colorful houses. I like the area instantly. I feel like I have reached a place I was looking for without knowing it. A place where I have already come years ago, but I don’t remember. A trip with my parents forgotten in the depths of my memory. But I do not have time to linger. I have to pack my hiking bag and leave my bike at the hotel. Tomorrow morning I go on a four-day hike on Hornstrandir, the peninsula to the north-west, for a last hike in Iceland. I will enjoy Isafjördur on my return.

Four days later, Isafjördur is still here under cloudy skies. I appreciate the return despite the less beautiful weather. From the windows of the almost empty guesthouse, I look at the ballet of cars and the orange mountains. It is a day of rest. A day in slow motion. In the center of the village, there are still some old houses made of colored sheet metal. I go up to Naustahvilft, the hole in the mountain to enjoy the view. A whole group of Alpine Ptarmigans are foraging in the heathers. Their paws covered with white feathers look like winter boots. I have about a dozen days left to finish the bike ride across the Westfjords. Under a mixture of rain and sun. The next part of my travel seems to call me. It is time to finish.

Arrival on Isafjördur under an absolutely magnificent light.

The village of Isafjördur from Naustahvilft.

A rock ptarmigan.

The Isafjördur Valley in early Autumn.

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Chapter V. Confrontations

Ísafjörður, westfjords, Iceland © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization


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Highlands, Scotland © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

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Highlands, Scotland © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

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