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This is PART 5 of a series dedicated to my trip all the way around Iceland. If you want to see the previous parts leading up to this, be sure to check out PART 1, PART 2, PART 3, and PART 4 where the south, east, and north all get explored 🙂

Well, we left from Akureyri in the north and hit the road for the longest trek of driving yet. Our car really started to struggle during this leg of the journey because the radiator was out of coolant so we had to stop every 100 miles or so and top it off with water. Our destination was the Snæfellsnes Peninsula which was about 5 hours drive. But the constant stops made the drive a lot longer.

When we were about an hour and a half or so away from the little fishing town called Stykkishólmur, our car officially over heated and we were stranded for about 30 minutes in the middle of no where until it cooled down. I remember the wind being so hard that I had to hold the hood of the car in place with all my body weight while Paul topped the radiator up with water so the hood of the car wouldn’t actually blow off. The gusts ranged between 50-60 miles an hour and as you can imagine made it damn near impossible to photograph anything! But, despite the horrible wind, this was the longest we had seen blue sky throughout our entire journey around Iceland up to this point. And that made us feel a bit better about our circumstances.

When we were finally able to get the car back up and running, we followed the map and the only road that took us to Stykkishólmur was a dirt track that we were stuck on for over 70 miles. It was pretty straight on for the majority of the time but the whole road was filled with pot holes and the wind still wasn’t letting up either. So, we had to push our almost-dead-car to its absolute max while also driving very cautiously. It. Was. Insane.

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I remember finally being able to see the fishing village off to the right probably about 15 miles or so in the distance… but to get to it we had to curve up down and around a small chain of mountains to finally get there. When that almost-dead-car finally rolled into that town, it felt as though victory bells started playing for us. The wind was still relentless and our car officially overheated again but this time we were stranded in a village that actually had access to food, shelter, and things to do.

We originally planned on camping but with the gail force winds we decided to look into some local places to see if there were any openings for a night. Luckily, we found one little place with a perfect little double bed suite that we took shelter to. Our bodies were completely worn from all the stress of the day that we barely made it back out the door. But we did. Ate at an amazing little restaurant (had a pasta dish there where I ate more in the single sitting than I had in the past 2 previous days!) and explored the little village for some picture taking. I’m so glad Paul made me get out of bed and explore around. He told me I’d regret it later if I didn’t – and he was so right.

PS: If you’ve seen the movie Secret Life of Walter Mitty, this is the village they used as a filming location for when Walter goes to Greenland 🙂


On our little walk through the harbor we noticed that this cliff pictured below had a staircase that led up to a small, red lighthouse offering what had to be a great view of Stykkishólmur. And also, being on the village side of the cliff acted as a major wind breaker from the wind coming out of the north. So, of course we headed up that way before the sun set.


At the top of this little cliff was a nice little sitting area with some stones place around right behind a small hill. I set myself up in that little area so I could take a time-lapse video of the clouds moving across the village while there was still light. And it was a complete bonus to be sheltered from the unbearable wind.

While we were sitting there, two girls ended up sitting down on the ground with us to also take shelter from the wind. So, of course, we all got to talking.

One of the girls was from Germany, the other was from Puerto Rico and with Paul being from the U.K. and me from the states, it felt as though we were from all corners of the world. And what a strange place to all find ourselves meeting in.

We got to talking about photography, what we had been doing during our travels so far, where we’d been… all that kind of thing. And the girl from Puerto Rico asked if we had seen the Northern Lights yet. We explained that the cloud cover and weather had made it impossible during our travels around the island to even try and see a single star, let alone the northern lights. Apparently though, these two had stayed in the SW during their travels and the rain and weather wasn’t as bad for them. So, they luckily had a chance to see the northern lights – on more than one occasion!

The girl further explained that the solar activity from the sun was at an unusually high level for this time of year in September and said that if we are up between midnight and 4am we’ll probably see them – as long as clouds stay away of course.


So, Paul and I made it a pact to try and see the northern lights that night and get a chance to see another side of Iceland we hadn’t yet. Although the wind was bad, the sky stayed pretty clear so we were feeling pretty optimistic about it. Our new friends offered us a ride to our little hotel after the sun finally set, we gathered our stuff up, and I laid down for a few hours sleep. Paul was so excited though he stayed awake the whole time looking out our huge hotel room window.

Just a few minutes past midnight, Paul started to see a green glow off in the distance. He excitedly awoke me like it was Christmas morning and I peaked outside for myself. The glow on the horizon almost looked like a moon aura but I had never seen that color before. So I quickly grabbed my camera stuff, we both bundled up in lots and lots of layers, got back to our car which was able to actually start, and drove just outside the village for a crisp, clear sky void of any artificial light. It was the most magical sky I had ever seen and sure enough, we faintly saw the northern lights dancing across the sky above us. I had never seen anything like it before.


I remember sitting there with my camera mounted to my tripod and having to hold down my tripod with all my weight because of the wind gusts. It was still sweeping across the coast between 50-60 miles an hour making the wind chill about 20 degrees. Made taking these pictures some of the hardest I’ve ever taken since each exposure was 30 seconds long. Totally worth freezing myself over it though and I’m so glad I took the time to take these photos because a huge part of my pregnant, tired, sick self didn’t want to battle the elements. I guess it just means this baby is going to be a trooper after this whole experience ❤


We stayed out there for nearly 2 hours in the cold taking photos and just soaking it all in. After we gathered ourselves and took in all we could, we headed back to our hotel where our happy hearts could sleep soundly. And we surely did ❤

The next day we woke up to our wonderful hotel owner providing breakfast to the guests over some Icelandic oldies music and after making a comment to her about how much I loved it to her, she just gave me the CD. It was so sweet! Her and I talked for quite a while before packing up and hitting the road. She taught me a little about the Icelandic language, how to actually pronounce Stykkishólmur (Stick-ish-olmer), and even about their beliefs in the magical beings of fairies and trolls. It was the perfect way to start our next day’s adventures.

When we made our way out of the hotel, we noticed that the wind had finally passed. There was just a slight breeze, the sun was shining, and the sky was just partly cloudy. This was the most beautiful we had seen Iceland during our whole trip so far. So, I was eager to get on the road and get some photos taken!

Right when we pulled out of the village, we got a new perspective of what we drove through to get there. And with the sun actually shining and no rain hiding the mountains in the distance, I was able to see a skyline that was unmatched by anything I had ever seen before. So we pulled over on the side of the road and took some photos of it all before snaking our way around Snæfellsnes Peninsula.


On our way around Snæfellsnes Peninsula, we circled around Snæfellsjökull which  is a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano with a glacier covering its summit. I’ve never heard of anywhere else in the world where a mountainous type feature was both a volcano and a glacier. What I also find interesting is that this particular volcano has unusual levels of magnetism. A lot of locals believe it to be the meeting spot of extra-terrestrials, one of the 7 auras of the earth, and also, Jules Verne used it as the entrance to the center of the earth in his novel Journey to the Center of the Earth. Whether any of the local beliefs are true or not definitely gets my curiosity soaring 🙂

The wind started to pick up once again and also, our car was struggling to the max. Even moreso than it was the day prior while we were making head way to Stykkishólmur. Our car officially crapped out on us for the 3rd time by overheating as we pulled into the parking lot at a place called Hellnar. So, we decided to give the car a rest and go on a hike that would take us along the coast. We had a PBJ lunch before hitting the trail, layered it up once again, and fought through the elements for some beautiful picture taking while our car cooled down.


After spending a couple hours hiking along that 2 mile trail, we got back to our car fearful if would start up or not. Fortunately it did. So we hit the road and tried to knock out as many miles as we could.

The wind continued to build up once again and we were back up to gusts that were ranging between 50-70 mph now. It knocked and kicked the car all around and our car was seriously struggling. This was probably the most stressful part of our entire trip and it was hard to even talk since Paul’s driving took so much concentration. We decided it would be best to make our way back to the ring road and get as close to Reykjavik as possible and just camp wherever we could find – or when our car would finally crap out and needed a rest again.

We made our way to about an hour and a half away from Reykjavik when our car finally crapped out. But this time, it wasn’t because it over heated. We sat for about 30 minutes trying to get it to start again and it just wouldn’t. Paul tried all sorts of tricks he knows to get it jump started and nothing was working. So, it seemed official. Our car was dead and we were stranded in the middle of absolute no where.

I went through the glove box and found the paperwork that we originally got from our rental car company – SADCARS.COM (yes lol it’s actually called that). There was an emergency contact number to call so I grabbed my phone, found a spot where I had a single bar of reception, called them up and arranged to have someone come and tow us out of the no where we were stuck in.

I remember Paul and I having to wait nearly an hour before someone finally showed up. But eventually, a gigantic Icelandic man who barely spoke English showed up in a Toyota Land Cruiser with a trailer hitched to it. The trailer had a hand crank and the man had to crank it himself onto the trailer. Nothing electric. Communication was very hard between us and the man but in so many words he was able to tell us that our car was completely busted and it needed to go back to his shop.

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We eventually rode in the guys Toyota Land Cruiser back to his mechanic shop in a little village just north of Reykjavik. With his English being very bad, he had to call someone from SADCARS to arrange new transportation for us, and to translate for us.

By this point though, we only had 2 days left in our trip. And with us being so close to the city and the hotel we were going to be staying at in Reykjavik being in the center of town, we asked SADCARS to just get us to Reykjavik, booked an extra night in our hotel, and stayed there for 2 days instead since we wouldn’t really need the car to get around the city. And the owner of SADCARS himself personally drove us from our stranded spot to our hotel in downtown Reykjavik. So really, in the end, it kind of worked out for the better!

So thanks SADCARS for being so professional and taking care of us ❤

We didn’t make it to our hotel though until about 10pm. We also had to unexpectedly throw all the stuff out of the car and into random suitcases because of the rush of the situation. We rolled into our hotel room covered in dirt, smelly, 4 gigantic suitcases, camping equipment stacked all over, and just so much unorganized crap that a lady at the hotel helped us get our stuff to the elevator. When we finally made it to our room, we crashed nearly instantly.

The next morning, I remember waking up to a room that looked like a camp store vomited all over the place. I tried to tidy stuff together but I quickly remembered that we still had a day left to explore. So we showered up and headed out for some breakfast and exploration instead. And honestly, it was nice to just explore at a relaxed pace with no where we needed to drive to, rush off to, or be present at. We could literally just…. be.


I remember standing there in that spot above and just really taking in all the morning light glowing across the bay. We were blessed with such beautiful weather in comparison to what we had dealt with through the whole rest of the trip so far and I was able to soak in so much gratitude that my heart felt fuller than it had in a long time. Traveling truly is the one thing that money can buy that makes you richer in all the best ways.

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We continued on exploring the beautiful city of Reykjavik with all its artistic graffiti, American food (lol), shops, and a lively city life that almost had a small town feel strung into it. The city only has about 200,000 people so even my home town of north of Cincinnati has a larger population. But it made it beautiful to me. And again, it was nice to finally be wearing some nicer clothes, feel clean, and just soak in some human life after so many days on the road. We had the best fresh caught Atlantic cod for lunch, ice cream as a snack, and even found a super awesome new bag for me that I now use on a daily basis. Reykjavik kind of stole my heart away.

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We ended our time exploring the city by going up into the tower of the most famous church called Hallgrímskirkja. The church offered some extraordinary views of the city and the nice weather made us even happier to enjoy it all. ❤


I’m kind of sad to say that this is my last Iceland post. And it makes me feel as though the trip is officially over all over again. And it’s hard to put into words all that this trip really meant for me…. but all in all, Iceland turned out to be the most epic and adventurous trip I have ever been on. And on a more serious note, it marks the end of a chapter for me. I started my traveling at the ripe age of 17 and this trip was me at 25, which to me climaxes my early 20’s. So to a part of my life coming to a close I can look forward to the new one with no regrets, a hopeful heart, and a huge smile on my face knowing I completed just about everything I set out to do.

So Iceland, thank you for being that for me. Thank you for showing me how
beautiful you are, how magical, and even how rough mother nature graces your lands.
Thank you for giving me the adventure that fueled my spirit and fed my curiosity such a great satisfaction that I can feel a lot more settled in my soul. Thank you for all the crazy, the reassurance, and all the showing off that reminded me how beautiful this life is. And how my part of it is so small. One of these days, we will meet again. 

And one last thing, I did put together a video from all the footage I collected on our travels around the island. Have a watch below 🙂

Iceland 2015 from Brooke Townsend on Vimeo.

‘Til next time,


3 comments on “ICELAND: The West

  1. Wonderful,

    Keep it close. : )

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    A pair of komainu, the “-a” on the right, the “-um” on the left

    Komainu (狛犬?), often called lion-dogs in English, are statue pairs of lion-like creatures either guarding the entrance or the inner shrine of many Japanese Shinto shrines or kept inside the inner shrine itself, where they are not visible to the public. The first type, born during the Edo period, is called sandō komainu (参道狛犬 visiting road Komainu?), the second and much older type jinnai komainu (陣内狛犬 shrine inside komainu?).[1] They can sometimes be found also at Buddhist temples, nobility residences or even private homes.


    1 Symbolic meaning
    2 History
    3 Foxes at Inari shrines
    3.1 See also
    4 Variants on the komainu theme
    5 Notes
    6 References

    Symbolic meaning
    An un-gyō komainu

    Meant to ward off evil spirits, modern komainu statues are almost identical, but one has the mouth open, the other closed. This is a very common characteristic in religious statue pairs at both temples and shrines. This pattern is however Buddhist in origin (see the article about the Niō, human-form guardians of Buddhist temples) and has a symbolic meaning. The open mouth is pronouncing the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet, which is pronounced “a”, while the closed one is uttering the last letter, which is pronounced “um”, to represent the beginning and the end of all things.[2] Together they form the sound Aum, a syllable sacred in several religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

    There are however exceptions to the rule in which both komainu have their mouth either open or closed.[3] The two forms are called collectively a-un[4] and individually as a-gyō (阿形 lit. “a” shape?) and ”un-gyō (吽形 lit. “un” shape?).
    A Ming Dynasty guardian lion in the Forbidden City

    Komainu strongly resemble Chinese guardian lions and in fact originate from Tang dynasty China.[5] The Chinese guardian lions are believed to have been influenced by lion pelts and lion depictions introduced through trade from either the Middle East or India, countries where the lion existed and was a symbol of strength.[6] During its transportation along the Silkroad, however, the symbol changed, acquiring a distinctive look. The first lion statue in India appears around the 3rd century BC on top of a column erected by King Ashoka.[6] The tradition later arrived in China where it developed into the guardian lion that was later exported to Korea, Japan, and Okinawa.

    During the Nara period (710–794), as in the rest of Asia, the pair always consisted of two lions.[7] Used only indoors until the 14th century, they were made mainly of wood. During the Heian period (794–1185), for example, wooden or metal pairs were employed as weights and door-stops, while at the Imperial Palace they were used to support screens or folding screens.

    During the early Heian period (ninth century), the tradition changed and the two statues started to be different and be called differently. One had its mouth open and was called shishi (獅子 lion?) because, as before, it resembled that animal. The other had its mouth closed, looked rather like a dog, was called komainu, or “Koguryo dog”, and sometimes had a single horn on its head.[8] Gradually the animals returned to be identical, but for their mouths, and ended up being called both komainu.[8]

    Ubiquitous as they are now at shrines, Komainu have been used outdoors only since the 14th century.[7] In Asia, the lion was popularly believed to have the power to repel evil, and for this reason it was habitually used to guard gates and doors. In Japan, too it ended up being installed at the entrance of shrines and temples next to the lion-dog.[9] As a protection against exposure to Japan’s rainy weather, the komainu started being carved in stone.

    The shīsā (シーサー?), the stone animals that in Okinawa guard the gates or the roofs of houses, are close relatives of the shishi and the komainu, objects whose origin, function and symbolic meaning they share.[10] Their name itself is centuries old regional variant of shishi-san (獅子さん Mr. Lion?).[4]

    Starting from the Edo period (1603–1868) other animals have been used instead of lions or dogs, among others wild boars, tigers, dragons and foxes.
    Foxes at Inari shrines
    A pair of foxes at an Inari shrine

    The most frequent variant of the komainu theme is the fox, guardian of shrines dedicated to kami Inari. There are about 30 thousand Inari shrines in Japan, and the entrance of each is guarded by a pair of fox statues.[11] Often one, and sometimes both, has a sūtra roll, a key or a jewel in its mouth. (Sūtras are Buddhist texts, a fact which attests to the Buddhist origins of the Inari cult.[11])[12] The statues do not stand for the malice the animals are proverbial for, but for the magic powers they are believed in this case to possess. Sometimes the guardians are painted, and in that case they are always white.[11] White foxes are messengers of the kami, who is sometimes himself believed to be, and portrayed as, a fox.[11] Although visible genitals are rare, the left fox is believed to be male, the right one female.[13]

    Often the foxes wear red votive bibs (see photo left) similar to those worn by statues of other deities, for example Buddhist god Jizō, from which one expects some kind of favor in return.[11] In this case however the bibs seem to be purely a rite, whose origins are unclear.

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