Located on the shoreline at the bottom of Eyjafördur in the north of Iceland, Akureyri is a lovely, small and rather quiet town; although with 17,000 inhabitants is the second largest in the country, after Reikjavik, ten times bigger.
After the pitiable adventure passed during our first day’s journey, we devoted the second one to get our strength back: take pictures, relax in the swimming pool, find some solution to the car problem (trying by the way to get a good discount off the rent), reschedule our trip, sort out some other little issues, do some errands we deemed necessary and go out for a well deserved beer.
Traditionally, horses have been very important animals in Iceland, having played an essential role in the history of this country. With their stamina and particular endurance for very cold climate, this sturdy, short and hairy breed of equines have helped the inhabitants of the island stay afloat for over centuries, either as workforce for labouring the land, as the only means of transportation or even as a last resource against starvation during the really hard times. Therefore, we shouldn’t be amazed at the veneration–or at least respect–these people have for their horses. However, with the advent of the engines and the increasing farming mechanization, nowadays there’s not much use for them except for leisure or tourist riding. What do Icelandic do with the rest? Because there are too many…
Upon asking some locals, the first thing they told me was that they use them for riding; and when I pointed out that, despite this being such a popular activity here, the horse livestock is yet larger than the demand for riding, I was informed that they’re sometimes also used for farm work; but only after once more suggesting that still 75,000 horses in a country of 300,000 people are way too many horses for just riding and farm work, my interlocutors said that–well–those ones not good for other uses are sent to slaughtering houses and the meat industry. By then, I had clearly understood that Icelanders don’t like to admit that they eat horses, perhaps because–as they say–you don’t eat your friend.
But Benito and I don’t have any horse friends, so there we went for some horse meat, which we found to be quite tender, very soft tasted–and ridiculously cheap. Probably there are still many Icelanders that refuse to eat their traditional good friends.
With its two outdoor warmed-up swimming-pools (one for sport, one for fun), two water chutes, four outdoor hot tubs, plus a steam bath, the brand new Akureyrar sundlaug is luxurious, and I bet that such spa-like installations in my own country (in case they exist) would be considered top-notch, and probably ten times as expensive. But even so, one could never experience the same sensations as in Iceland: swimming under a snowfall in an outdoor pool at 28 ºC, or bathing in a 42 ºC hottub getting the snowflakes on your head, face and shoulders, are unique feelings. Then, alternating 65 ºC steambath rounds with some minutes of chilling out (and I really mean: chill out!) at –8 ºC in the snow, leaves your body so relaxed that you can then go sleep twelve hours in a row without budging.
As to the car, when we phoned the rental guy he told us that, sorry, he had forgotten to inform us that the engine thermostat was missing (which is why the inside heating was very feeble, as the engine got never hot enough). Quite a negligent oversight, of which he didn’t even seem to be aware. So, we had to either give up our trip, because you don’t want to drive through the Icelandic winter without heating in the car, or improvise some botched job; which is what we did, by choking the water hose with a strong piece of wire and then attaching some cardboard to the radiator grille.
For completing the day’s journey, that night we had the chance of gazing at the brightest full moon of the past years (according to the news) reflected upon the calm sea, and the city lights of Akureyri mirrored on the waters of the fjord.