A good travel guide is an essential item inside a travelers backpack, specially in developing countries where information is often unreadable or missing. More than the sights and the monuments, it’s the small things that are the result of the shared knowledge of those who passed the same paths we are now crossing: cultural details, daily routines or just the fundamental bus schedules. even if one chooses to ignore those tips and decides to go on a “slow and bumpy” bus trip (more on this soon).
But never this seemed so obvious as one time in Iceland. We were arriving atÂ Egilsstaðir, me and Pixie, the daughter of Australian hippiesÂ (hence the name…) that had been traveling throughout the Old Continent for the past months, right after finishing college. She was needing a change from the man-made landscape of Central Europe, I was seeking a desolate place away from everything to clear my head. A country in the middle of nowhere, slightly larger than Portugal and with only 300 000 inhabitants seemed ideal for both of us. That’s what we had in common, that and our taste for star tattoos, Pixie had been doing one for each country and the last one was still fresh: a a star with the IcelandÂ colors on her right elbow.
We left ReykjavíkÂ a couple of days before, driving my rented Toyota Yaris through the nearly barren landscape of Northern Iceland (a car that later would reach places many other wouldn’t dare to go and return to tell about it),Â our destination was Akureyri, the capital of the North, Iceland’s bustling second largest city withÂ its 16000 inhabitants, a place that would be our base to see the sights nearby. For Pixie it was the first time in a place with cold weather, a late Summer in Iceland means temperatures around 9Âº C and often lots of wind, so she was wearing all her clothes, literally… On the other hand she reacted like a little kid every time a snowy peak was on the horizon. But for me it was different, what was keeping my eyes wide open was nothing, the emptiness, kilometers of having just the road ahead, almost no towns or villages, just the occasional farm, with its pretty little house in the middle of the pasture, no signs or reminders of how far have we drove and. The only guarantee that we were on the right way toÂ AkureyriÂ was that there was no other road or crossing that we could have missed.
All this wilderness rapidly created an habit I followed for the rest of my stay in Iceland: ending the day comfortably at a nice place drinking aÂ comforting cappuccino. Actually it’s the kind of thing I do everywhere, like having a Singha beer by the Chao PayaÂ river at Bangkok just before dinner, one of those reminders that I’m actually on vacation from my ” 9 to 5″ job. That’s how, at a cosy cafe/bookstore at Akureyri, I found my favorite photo book of Iceland (and definitely one of my favorite book covers) while having a tasty muffin with a hot cappuccino.
I was keeping that newly found habit alive atÂ Egilsstaðir, the city where me and Pixie would part ways: I would stick to my round the island road trip, she would stay a few days wwoofingÂ at a farm nearby. We went for a warm drink at the first place we found, much needed after driving for hundreds of kilometers at Iceland’s highlands, IÂ had the elaborate and fancy cappuccino cup but resisted the temptation of having one of those beautiful cake slices I could see from my side of the counter. As we left the cafe looked at me at told me “I’m glad you didn’t had that slice of cake” and shown me a paragraph of my own guidebook:
Come here for great coffee, but avoid the food! It sounds really yummy on paper, but in reality it’s watery, claggy or tastes of onions.
I never knew if the guide was right or not…