An Italian girl who fell in love with Iceland when she was fourteen

Francesca Almasio
  • Hiking Lónsöræfi
    Hiking Lónsöræfi
  • Hiking Lónsöræfi
    Hiking Lónsöræfi
  • Hiking Lónsöræfi
    Hiking Lónsöræfi
  • Hiking Lónsöræfi
    Hiking Lónsöræfi
Wednesday, 11. May 2016

We at Hit Iceland met Francesca last summer hitchhiking on the Ring Road from Kirkjubæjarklaustur to Reyðarfjörður. Fortunately, we were driving al the way to Neskaupstaður, only a mountain pass away from Reyðarfjörður.  We fount her story fascinating as she had traveled to Iceland with her parents fifteen years earlier and completely fallen in love with the country and the Icelandic nature.  After that, she has been in Iceland a few times for work and travel. We were also impressed by all the places she had visited in the Highland.  Again while driving the seven-hour drive, when she told us that she had met her boyfriend Carlos from Spain in Iceland, we had to love the story.  Francesca was kind enough to send us her story and images from Iceland to share with our readers.

Brush her teeth with mom in the morning wearing flip-flops on the snow

My first time in Iceland was in August 2000 when I was 14 years old. I came with my parents and two cousins on a road trip (it was on a tour that my parents had booked from Italy and my first ‘real’ experience of travel.) We spent two weeks traveling the Ring Road and part of the Highlands. One of my fondest memories is when my mom and I woke up the morning of 15th August to a snowy landscape and had to brush our teeth wearing flip-flops on the snow. The evening before, on our 4x4 bus, we had crossed a large part of the country, which we hadn’t been able to see because it was already dark. We only knew that we had come to a cozy mountain hut. On the next day, which I used to associate with fireworks and a rather big family dinner at my grandma’s summer house in the Alps, what I experienced was totally unexpected and highly fascinating for a teenager who loved nature.

A land of beauty and unpredictability

There are other things I link with my first trip in Iceland, such as strange little cottages with grass on their roofs (which I’d learn to call turf houses in my later trips), the basalt pillars of Skaftafell, the swans at the Tjörnin pond in Reykjavik and the fact that we weren’t able to go out to sea and spot any whales in Husavik (due to the fact that all the snow and rain that had fallen when staying in the Highlands had made some roads impassable. We had to take a huge detour which left us with no time for whales) and of course, bathing at Landmannalaugar. The beauty and unpredictability of the country had made that 14-year-old girl decide that she wanted to move to Iceland, or at least spend part of her life there!

Returned as an a volunteer for SEEDS Iceland and met her boyfriend Carlos from Spain

It was twelve years before I could return. I applied for an EVS, a program run by the European Commission, and I became a volunteer for SEEDS Iceland. I spent seven amazing months running work-camps for international volunteers on farms and institutions around the country, meeting some amazing people, including the person I now live with, Carlos, who shares my passion for Iceland. I went back to Landmannalaugar with him and hiked to Thorsmork and Skogar. Then up the Highlands again to Karlingarfioll and Hveravellir.  We found our way out from the fog thanks to a Fox in Hornstrandir, we finally saw the whales of Husavik on a chilly day of October and found plenty of other precious hidden gems spread around the country. One of them is a place called Laugarfell, in the highlands of eastern Iceland. It is a hot spring located at the foot of a hill and, next to it, a cottage with accommodation.

Working in at Laugarfell in the eastern Highland in Iceland

My second work camp with SEEDS took place there. I shared the experience of marking hiking trails with a group of Italians and Estonians. I kept in touch with our hosts, Pall, Hildur and Dagbjort, and two summers later I went back to Laugarfell to work for them, this time with Carlos. I arrived in June when the area is still covered in melting snow, nesting pink-footed geese and crossed by reindeer which are moving from the lowlands to the highlands.  Working at Laugarfell gave us the opportunity to go on more hikes, including a memorable one from Laugarfell to Stafafell, into Lónsöræfi, at the end of July.

Hiking Lónsöræfi and the weather was a surprise

Our first day was spent hiking along the wetlands of the Eyjabakkar, with the top of the mountain Snæfell covered in fog but always watching us, seeing swans and families of geese waddling on the last patches of snow next to the river, or even climbing the glacier. We were not exactly sure where to. We got to the first hut, Geldingafellsskáli, as it was already getting dark. The sun was completely gone as the clouds coming down from Vatnajökull were getting lower and lower. We went to bed quite early, excited about what the next day would be like. We had the feeling that it wouldn’t be like the ones I was used to in Andalucia but, once again, Iceland managed to surprise me. When I got up at 5 am to go to the toilet I noticed that something had changed overnight. I was walking on snow! I felt like I was fourteen again. A layer at least 5 cm thick was turning everything white, and snowflakes kept on falling from the sky, well until 12 o’clock, when we finally decided that the snow wouldn’t stop us. We decided to stick to our plan to reach Egilssel, the next hut, as we had only a few days off from work. The fog made me feel sick for the first two hours as it always does when I go skiing, and it’s foggy. We walked, or rather hurried, up and down the hills, seeing only low clouds interrupted by the appearance of herds of ghost sheep climbing snowfields. Then we started our descent to Egilssel, which is located on the shores of Kollumúlavatn, and it started to rain heavily. By the time we got to the hut, we were totally soaked.

Tough and unpredictable but rewarding

Luckily there was another group of hikers who had got to the hut some time before us, so there was already a fire roaring in the fireplace.  Late in the afternoon we enjoyed a walk down the valley into a fairytale-like landscape, as it was clearing up a little. After four hours of ‘darkness’, we were back to heaven: fast running streams, waterfalls, glaciers and mountaintops poking out of the clouds. The following three mornings we woke up to rain, sometimes very heavy, sometimes less heavy, still we were able to enjoy some quiet moments and scenery. Among these; Trollakokar, the rhyolite hills up Mulaskáli, chilling in the hut where we were the only guests with an Icelander hiking with her two fun kids, stop to camp in a clearing in the beech wood before the canyon at Stafafell, which was special to us because we had been there two years earlier.

The rewards of hiking

As always, the wilderness of Iceland faced us with tough moments but rewarded us in return. What happened at the end of our hike, on the Ring Road by Stafafell, says it all.  I was feeling so cold and miserable that I doubted any car would stop to give us a lift to Djupyvogur when a cyclist shouted ‘hey, hi!.’I looked up and I saw the same guy from Texas we had hosted in Laugarfell a week earlier. That cheered me up a lot, even if he couldn’t take us where we were headed! Half an hour later someone did and shortly after we were having coffee and cakes at a café, ready to hitch-hike to Dettifoss to start our next hike to Asbyrgi but already thinking of going back to Lónsöræfi.