Destination Dalvik. Population: 1,400 (Sheep population? Double that figure.)
I’m almost disappointed to report that our northwesterly loop of Iceland (after leaving Lake Myvatn) was void of obsessive-compulsive road closure checks, manic meteorological banter with fellow travelers, snowstorms or impromptu sandstorms for that matter. By the time we reached sleepy Dalvik, the wind speed was nearly zero and the sun bathed Eyjafjordur and Svarfadardalur in buttery, hopeful light.
After being immersed in the serenity of Lake Myvatn’s isolation we couldn’t bring ourselves to find a hotel in Akureyi (pop. 17,500 by contrast). Though, had we been drifting through during the summer, I’m certain Kim would have been keen on a round at Jadarsvollur. With the solstice you can play golf around the clock in perpetual daylight—and, golfer or not—there has to be a thrill in booking a midnight tee-off and playing in broad daylight. (In late June the 36-hole Arctic Open is played here).
There was also the Lonely Planet promise of curry huts and Thai noodles and a trendy joint called Rub 23 that my sister was seduced by. Diners get to create their own custom rubs (marinades) for their fish or lamb. As tempting as a fiery feed of butter chicken was, or spice-massaging some mutton, we pressed on to Dalvik. I had been convinced by a thumbnail photo of the Vegamot cottages in my glossy brochure stash that we should stay there. The Lithuanian kit houses looked like cutesy red Lego cabins at the foot of the mountains.
When we arrived, a note on the door of Vegamot suggested crossing the road and asking one of the gas station attendants where the innkeepers might be at. They would know, and/or, phone Heida. Which they did. Our other option, the Foss Hotel, had simply closed up shop altogether due to the predictable plummet in tourists, so, we were really putting all our chips on Vegamot.
Heida was an Icelandic Meryl Streep doppelganger. It was her 49th birthday that day, and, she insisted that we pop in to her cafe at the end of the street (in pointing distance) for happy hour—which would be hours long, until close. We concluded later that Heida was the Trump of Dalvik with a cafe, Vegamot cabins and the downtown hostel under her reign.
There was room at the inn. Did we want to go whale-watching? Her husband led tours—we could go that very afternoon.
Kim and I skipped the whale watching offer. I’m not saying every whale tour is the same, but, I had seen them in Kennebunkport and Kim had been whaling in Provincetown. Also, we had both been whale watching in classic summer temps. The rough sea and cheek-chilling single-digit forecast was not putting whales at the forefront.
We also skipped the Byggdasafnid Hvoll museum—though I was naturally fascinated by the lure of visiting the Johan Petursson room. Petursson was a local giant (7’7), and the museum housed artifacts from his days as a circus act and (drum roll here) taxidermy. Every museum, bar and restaurant in Iceland has some mangy sinister-looking stuffed thing. Arctic foxes that look rabid. Wilting ptarmigans. Fish with globby eyes and stiff fins.
Kim thought the hike around the Svarfadardalsa lake across from our cabin would be more rewarding in the end. And after circling the mirror-surface of the lake with binoculars trained on whooper swans and godwits, she was right. We didn’t see a single person—we had the lake and most of Dalvik to ourselves.
After the 8K slog we exhausted our cracker and cheese supply and heated up tomato soup in our kitchenette (that was not built for the likes of Johan Petursson). Our ‘en suite’ was very functional in that you could sit on the toilet and brush your teeth at the same time as the sink was within spitting distance.
And, from the toilet, the hot plate and boiling soup was also within sight.
The shower, in the adjacent rental loft (Heida’s great-grandmother’s home), was an instant lesson in human origami. At a generous one metre squared, if you dropped the bar of soap while showering, there was no bend-over space to retrieve it.
Regardless of bending design glitches, Heida’s strong design chops were a nice change from the somewhat sterile Scandinavian-take many Icelandic hotels adopt. Poking around great-grandma’s (a space available for 4-6 people) was like snooping, even though it is a rental unit. Grandma’s vintage hair rollers are above the sink, her dressing gown hangs on the door. The stacks of mid-1800 books, bibles, tin cups, iron crosses, reindeer hides and milking stools were a far cry from any Ikea showroom.
Showered, souped and crackered we walked down the main drag to Heida’s kaffihus (slowed only by head-butting cat traffic on the sidewalk).
Happy hour was happy indeed. We met Heida’s football-mad husband, Bjarni, whose mop of hair deserved a museum of its own. The cafe was the kind of space I wish we had in Galt. The ambitious couple (though Bjarni would say it’s all Heida’s insistence) plan to re-open the abandoned live theatre that is part of the building. We pulled up vintage tractor seats and slugged the local craft brew—Kaldi. Adding to the small town embrace—the Kaldi brewmaster arrived to much fanfare and found a stool at the bar next to us.
Bjarni gave us a crash course on whales (many of the whale watchers had barfed the day before due to the choppy waters confirming our wise decision to opt out), hot dogs and Icelandic real estate. We were staying at “Vegamot” which translates to ‘crossroads.’ All houses in Iceland have a family ‘house name.’ If we were to send a letter to Bjarni, there would be no house number or street name. The letter would be posted to Heida and Bjarni at Vegamot, Dalvik, Iceland. Which means the letter carrier would have to be the town’s nosey parker or a real Rainman with names.
Our happy hour performance wasn’t at its optimum. After one Kaldi we felt like we needed toothpicks to keep our eyelids pried open. We were sacked and back home to our red lego hut by nine.
Besides, we had shark to eat the next day and caves to climb into the dark belly of!
*Additional tidbit: Every August Dalvik hosts The Great Fish Day. Locals and travelers alike are invited to rub elbows and gills with the fisherman and fishmongers that make the daily catch a reality. Tables and grills down at the marina groan with the FREE all-you-can-eat buffet of catfish, herring, redfish, salmon and shrimp.