One of the reasons I chose Nordic Visitor to help us plan our trip was that they offer “optional extras”, itinerary activities you can add on to your daily schedule.
Our second day we snowmobiled on a glacier. This was my first time on a snowmobile and it was not exactly what I’d expected. Because it was raining and on the warmer side, it was more like spring skiing in upstate New York and the four of us (and our guide) spent a lot of time fishtailing and skidding around. I was awfully glad I wasn’t the one driving and I’m absolutely positive Neil felt the same way! The higher we went, the less visibility there was; it was like being inside one of those snow globes after someone gives it a vigorous shake. Needless to say, we did not get to experience the “breathtaking views over South Iceland”. I don’t regret doing it because now I can truthfully say I was brave enough to traverse Myrdalsjokull Glacier. My recommendation would be that, if this is a top-priority activity for you, book it in the winter rather than the “shoulder season” like we did.
We signed up for two boat rides, one on an amphibious boat (another first for me) among the icebergs in the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. The other was a whale and puffin watch in Husavik. The whales were among the missing on our three-hour cruise but the puffins were nesting and out in full force. Iceland is home to more than half of the world’s entire Atlantic puffin population and is often referred to as “the puffin-watching capital of the world. A common misconception is that the puffin is the country’s national bird; it’s actually the Gyrfalcon. Nonetheless, not only are they adorable; it’s extremely rewarding to observe them in their natural habitat.
The memory I will treasure most is my Icelandic horse ride. Right from the start, I really wanted to experience the hills and dales of Iceland sitting on one of these magnificent animals. Our trusty Nordic Visitor agent signed me up (my husband preferred to sit this one out) with Hestasport for an hour and a half ride on a sunny Sunday morning. It was a small group and our guides, Maude and Sarah, were experienced horsewomen, lots of fun, and determined to give us a ride to remember. My horse was called “Mane” which is another characteristic of Icelanders-calling things exactly what they are. Bet you can guess what Mane’s most notable feature was! I managed to mount her without falling off the other side (lol) and paid strict attention to our safety lesson. Then off we went to explore the scenic Skagafjorour Valley. These sturdy horses are incredible. They’re surefooted on any terrain, from picking their way over loose rocks to navigating the rushing waters in the creeks to plodding through thick mud in the fields. The saddles used in Iceland aren’t the Western or English ones we’re used to in the US. There’s no saddle horn; you hold the reins and the horse’s mane if needed. Our trail leaders took us through all five of the horse’s paces, including the famous tolt, the “fourth gait” unique to Icelandic horses which is every bit as smooth and effortless as I’d heard it would be.
These horses reminded me a lot of the people of Iceland. They’re friendly and highly responsive but definitely know what they want (Grass! To gallop!) and go for it. They have boundless strength and great endurance. They love being outdoors in any weather. And they’re individuals, but are invested in their team. The horse and rider live and work in harmony here.
When I got back to the barn, it turned out that I wasn’t quite finished with my sturdy equine friends. From the man at the reservation desk, I learned all about Iceland’s strict quarantine laws. If you want to show your horse overseas you have to sell them there, neither they or their equipment is allowed back in the country. He offered to show us The Last Ride, a documentary about one horse owner and his beloved stallion, which he believes humanizes this dilemma. We didn’t have time to see the whole thing but I found the bond between Kraftur and his owner so powerful and the quality of the 2009 film so outstanding that when I returned home, I jumped through multiple hoops to track it down and see it in entirety (special thanks to “the other” Arni Gunnarsson).
If the town of Husavik sounds familiar to you, that’s probably because it is! The movie, Eurovision (Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams, 2020) takes place and is filmed in Husavik. One of the songs from it was a contender for the Oscar’s. Check out this live performance:
Sadly, the song didn’t win but this grassroots Oscar campaign will give you a sense of native Icelanders’ pride and sense of humor.