A Gift from the West Fjords

“When you see the waterfall,  continue through onto the small dirt road west. Drive 10 km until the road ends, you will arrive at our farm.” Those were the directions our airbnb host sent us before we embarked on our journey through the West Fjords of Iceland. Though slightly ominous, the directions were perfect. 

 

    I’m always looking for an experience “off the beaten path.” I want to be isolated, have my own unique experience. Before leaving for Iceland, I was told, that if I wanted that unique experience, that I should just head west to the West Fjords. I didn’t do much research beyond that. I figured that as I ventured westward, adventure would find me. I was right. We left Reykjavik at 7am. On our route was about two hours of driving along route 1 before we’d even reach the beginning of the West Fjords, and from there, another 3 hours along a single lane dirt road circumventing the fjords until we reachedthe farm, our final destination for the day. The road was destroyed from recent seasonal rains. I was, admittedly, a nervous car passenger, with the narrow roads winding cliffside, but add in all the potholes, and I was terrified. I could envision us turning a corner too quickly, plunging into the ocean, or perhaps worse, stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire and only the slightest idea of how to change a spare. These fears would subside overtime we’d climb the mountains to the most amazing vistas overlooking fjords of purple and green, rising out of the clearest turquoise ocean. While the drive was harrowing, the view was awesome. All nervousness aside, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

After winding along the road for hours and cheating death for what seemed like days, we approached the “waterfall,” the one from the directions. It was the Dynjandi Waterfall, one of the most famous in Iceland, and certainly the prized jewel of the West Fjords. It cascades down stories of tiered rocks until it empties into the fjord below. On the approach, you see where the waterfall begins as a small trickling stream, and as you descend along the road, the massive waterfall appears. It seems to grow as you approach until when standing at the bottom, you can hardly see the top. We then turned down the dirt road, finally within a few kilometers from our destination.

 

    The “small dirt road” was more of a path than a road, and made the previous single lane road look like a highway. Somehow the wildsheep managed to stand cliffside on the six inches of shoulder separating the road from cliff below. We knew that we only had 10 kilometers to go, and though this was a seemingly short distance, it felt like it went on forever, until suddenly the farm was there, and the road ended. On the front door was a small note, taped on that read, “The door is open! Please come in and remove your shoes.”

 

    Upon entering, we were immediately greeted by our host Liljia with a warm embrace more reminiscent of a friend you hadn’t seen in a while, rather than a stranger hosting you for the night. We were shown around the house. There was a large kitchen, dining room and living room on the first floor. It was cozy with large windows looking over the fjord. There were stuffed icelandic critters throughout the space, a baby seal, an arctic fox, and a bird or two. It was simple, but immediately felt like home. Upstairs were four guest rooms, all simple, but distinctly cozy and the most luxurious large bathroom. 

 

    After being given a tour, Liljia encouraged us to go explore the farm. The farm was a horse breeding farm and the stallions were kept near the house, while the females could venture away to the valley to feed during the summer. She told us that the horses loved to be cuddled and that Icelandic horses do not eat carrots or apples, but love bread.  They loved us too. After petting the horses and receiving a horse lick or two, we ventured to the shore of the fjord. As we walked along the water, seals would pop their head up and watch our moves with the most intense curiosity. They were having a seemingly great time and were eager to have new visitors. If only the water wasn’t arctic, their play was very enticing. We were the only people in sight. It felt as though we were inhabiting a private world.

We walked back up to the house, passing the geo-thermal swimming pool, ready to make dinner for the evening and curl up with a book in the living room. Dinner turned into a communal affair with all the guests sharing food, talking about travel experiences, upcoming plans, and how special the farm was. Discussions turned briefly to politics, the sustainability of fashion, and even the recording industry. Liljia had in her past been a music executive in London, and was very passionate about sustainability. In just a few hours, it became clear that we had all become friends, not just acquaintances staying at the same home for a night.

 

    I retired early for the night. I had a plan to rise with the sun and venture to the fjord for sunrise. The fall weather in Iceland had meant particularly cloudy skies, so I was pessimistic that I’d get any sort of show, but I figured I had to try. My alarm went off at 7am. I looked out the window, saw the beginning of the most spectacular sunrise and within five minutes I was dressed and out the door. The sky put on a display of purple and pink, reflecting off the fjords and clouds. The ground was lit in the most golden yellow, and the water glistened in the most perfect blue. As I stood along the water, taking in the most glorious of mornings, in awe of what felt like a gift from nature itself, seals in the fjord popped their head out of the water. It was as though they were trying to say “good morning,” or “Góðan daginn,” in Icelandic. The sunrise lasted almost two hours and I spent the entire time walking up and down the fjord taking in the ever changing light and magical quality of the morning.

I walked back to the house, where Liljia and her partner Arni had prepared the most spectacular Icelandic Breakfast spread. There was skyr, juice, coffee, tea, fruit, an endless variety of smoked fish, toast, vegetables and pastries. I’ve never seen such a breakfast spread. As we sat at the dining room table eating breakfast, I asked Liljia about the farm and the origins, how they ended up there. It just seemed so remote, so hard to get to, there were no other farmsaround… I was curious how Laugabol came to be. Arni told the story, how he had owned the farm for years as a summer getaway, then a few years ago, he began breeding horses for the tourism industry and it became his main home. He thought that it was the most remote farm in Iceland, as it is completely isolated for six months of the year when the roads through the West Fjords are closed due to snow. During the winter, the farm is only accessible by boat and receives mail twice a month. To me, this sounded like something out of a book, from a way of life lost years ago.

 

    I asked Liljia what made her decide to open their farm to Airbnb guests. She sighed, then started with her story. She needed a change from the city life, so she moved to the farm, then she decided that she wanted to see all the seasons at the farm; to live at the farm through the winter, to experience the solitude. Then when it came back to Summer, she didn’t want to go back to her job, so she decided topost the farm on Airbnb. She thought no one would come. Maybe she’d get 20 guests through the summer, with the farm being so remote. Of course, she was wrong, having hosted almost 700 guests over the summer, she was blown away at the response. She let us know that this night, was the first night she had any vacancy this season and that the following Saturday, 3 nights away would be the last night of the season. The roads would be closing soon and the farm would once again be isolated from the rest of the world until next spring when the roads reopened. Lillie sighed, I suspect from the sheer exhaustion of a summer spent hosting hundreds of guests, but also with a little bit of sadness that such an experience was coming to a close.

Liljia and Arni suggested that this first season might also be their final as hosts, but as they hugged us goodbye, they invited us to come back whenever we like. And with that, it became clear to me that what had started as a simple booking, for a place to stay, turned into something much greater. We had made great friends and experienced a unique facet of Icelandic life. Every minute spent at Laugabol Farm was a gift from the West Fjords.