“Where are you going?” he asked from the driver’s seat.
“Thingeyri,” I replied. A confused look appeared on the man’s face.
“Thingeyri,” I said again, this time changing the intonation in my voice.
“Ahh, Thingeyri! Yes, I can take you there!”
I had been standing alone by the side of the road for two hours, hoping someone would give me a lift. Earlier that morning I’d taken the ferry to Brjánslækur, where I naïvely assumed the bus would align with the ferry’s arrival. But after landing, the dock master corrected that assumption: there wasn’t a bus until 6:30 p.m.
I looked at my watch. It was 11 a.m.
Crap, I thought.
I raced to the top of the dock in hopes a car would pick me. But as the cars exited the ferry, driving off to complete their journey, none did. Scores of other people walked toward waiting cars filled with friends and family. They too ignored my jutted-out thumb.
Alone, I went into the ferry terminal, ate some soup, and ventured back to the road. To my left was the empty dock and, past that, a vast, tranquil bay that shimmered on this sunny day. To the right side of the road were farms, sheep, and rolling hills. The only sign of human activity was the little red ferry building where, if all else failed, I could stay until the bus came.
No cars passed.
And waited some more.
In the distance, a car.
I stuck out my thumb.
As the car passed, the driver looked at me but didn’t slow down.
A few more cars passed as if I wasn’t there.
It was a beautiful, warm, clear day — the first that entire week. The sun shone bright above, and the sheep grazed in the meadows. I decided to walk to the gas station, six kilometers away. Maybe I would have better luck at the crossroads.
I stopped often along the way to marvel at how quiet it was. The only sounds were the wind and my footsteps. I was in no rush, and the serenity and calm of my surroundings made the long walk bearable. I passed black sand beaches filled with sheep — even they knew to take advantage of the weather. Streams that started in the glacial mountains ended their journey in the salty bay.
At the crossroads I saw a family eating at the picnic area. Maybe they would give me a lift. I made sure to look in their direction often.
Hours passed. Cars came up the main road. I stuck out my thumb but the drivers shrugged, turned on their blinkers, and headed off in the wrong direction. The family continued to have the longest picnic ever.
Finally, as they packed up their picnic, the family looked over at me. This is my chance, I thought. Please go my way!
They got in their car, turned toward the crossroads…but then went right, heading to Reykjavik. I needed them to go left, toward me and Thingeyri!
I was defeated and hungry. When I had hitched Iceland’s main ring road, rides were abundant, but here they were nonexistent.
I was ready to give up, trudge back to the ferry building, and wait for the bus, but then, like an Icelandic angel descending from heaven in a gigantic steel cage, Stefan stopped his SUV and picked me up.
Stefan drove like Speed Racer. The road was in rough condition, opened only a few weeks ago due to a late winter and cold spring. There was still a lot of snow on the ground. “In the winter, this is all snow and you can’t drive here,” he said.
The road turned to gravel as we whizzed through the mountains. I was jostled up and down as we hit a few potholes, and I closed my eyes as we took turns too fast for comfort, hoping he would notice that and slow down.
He did not.
But for all the discomfort, I stared agape at the landscape that unfolded before me. Around me were melting glaciers, with rivers of clear blue water cutting into the snow. To my left were huge valleys where waterfalls fell down mountains into rivers and snows disappeared under the summer sun, leaving the growing grass a bright green. On flatter ground, the water pooled into lakes, and travelers stopped to take pictures.
Stefan and I talked a bit. His lack of English and my lack of Icelandic made long conversation difficult but we shared the basics. He was a fisherman from Reykjavik and married with four kids. “Triplets,” he says giving me a “right, I know” look. He was returning to Thingeyri to prepare for another ten days at sea.
During the journey, he pointed out landmarks and searched for the English word to describe them. I helped him when I could. I’d poorly repeat the word in Icelandic, Stefan would correct me, and I would fail again.
We drove through the mountains into a thick fog. When we could barely see a meter ahead, he slowed down, taking his time to drive the mountain road. As we crept along, I occasionally glimpsed the snow-covered precipices we would careen over if he wasn’t careful. I was relieved Stefan had finally decided to drive with caution. As we made our way down the mountain, the fog lifted and he pointed to a small town ahead. “Thingeyri.”
He dropped me off at my guesthouse and we said good-bye — he was off to sea, I was off to hike the mountains.
The next morning I awoke to see the fjord and mountains, clear of fog. As I hiked up Sandfell Mountain and enjoyed the beautiful day, I thought fondly of Stefan and his willingness to help a stranger my side of the road. Wherever his boat was, I hope he was filling it with fish and knew that somewhere out there was lone traveler eternally grateful for the experience.