Episode 4 (3rd part): Hvoll, an inhospitable youth hostel

Posted by on 07/04/2011
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If you’ve ever seen the ocean waters hurrying upstream for ransacking–as if living creatures, as if soldiers for the plunder of a defeated city, as if looters after the wreckage of a vessel–the spoils of a glacier’s end, there aren’t many more scenes left in Nature capable to stun you too much.

When we managed to pull ourselves after the outlandish sights we had witnessed, we carried on our driving, quite excited by the experience but knowing that nothing else would be close as amazing as what we had just seen. And certainly for that day, our enjoyment had finished, because soon after we left Jökulsarlón it started snowing and getting dark.

Despite the snowfall wasn’t too heavy, we had to drive quite moderately, and there were some moments when we wouldn’t see further than ten metres ahead. Of course our sightseeing had ended for that day’s journey; we were simply heading for the next hostel, Hvoll, whose location wasn’t so obvious. We had phonecalled previously and asked for directions, but the guy who replied was somewhat slack, like if he didn’t care about guests; his explanations weren’t neither detailed nor clear: fourty four kilometres after Skaftafell (a national park) we should take road 204 to our left. But, with the snowfall, the highway notices weren’t easy to read–nay: not easy to see, and we were forced to an even slower speed and a closer watch.

hvoll

Last strech of fourth stage: from Jokulsarlon to Hvoll hostel

It must be said, for the praise of the Icelandic meteorological service, that the snow came just as forecasted: firs a light snowfall at dusk, then clear for a while, then a second snowfall, moderate. Se we were lucky to see the sign to road 204 more or less where it was expected. Unfortunately it wasn’t a paved road, but just a track, very snowy and quite rough, as if for a tractor or a four wheeler; certainly not suitable for a small Polo. Our landlord should have warned us about it. Besides, nothing could be seen there in the dark; no trace of an inhabited place except for two separate faint lights in the distance, like farms in the middle of nowhere. Where did that path lead? Were we on the right way?

We called the hostel again for confirmation. Yes, it’s about three kilometres far; you’ll see some lights was the laconic answer. So, we proceeded for around one more kilometre until we came to a fork. Now what? Shit! That damn guy could have been more explicit. We had to call him a third time just to hear: fork to the right. He wasn’t a talker, you can bet. The track had many potholes and was covered by snow, so we prayed we wouldn’t get stuck. A couple of times considered turning back and trying to reach the next hostel, in Vik, before reception closed. I knew that youth hostel from a previous trip and I knew exactly where it was, and their friendly staff. But we were tired and didn’t feel like driving one or two more hours that evening. So we went on.

Finally we saw a notice: Hvoll, and just a bit further was the place. We rang the bell, the door opened and we were ‘welcomed’ by the unfriendliest smile I’ve ever got in Iceland; and right away we were requested by the landlady, with the same unkind smile, to remove our boots. At once we didn’t like her. Then, when checking in and asking the money, she just gave us a piece of paper with the total amount, which was much higher than we expected. We asked for a detailed invoice, and then she played the fool a couple of times pretending she didn’t speak English, while her husband–who did speak it fairly well, as we knew from our phone calls–played also the fool pretending he watched a football match from his easy chair. But we insisted and she reluctantly gave in, writing the invoice. Hence we could learn that what so much increased the total price was the linen rent: 900 crowns per person, one third of a bed’s price, and not a towel included. We regarded it as very expensive, but days later we learnt that it was normal in Iceland.

Once the transaction finished, she showed us the actual hostel: it was another–rather ugly–building, some one hundred metres away, which looked like a hangar or a barn. Inside, though, it was very new and neat. Too new and neat–I thought to myself–and not cozy: right after the entrance door there was a large dining-hall like the one you’d find in a school, furnished with three long rows of adjoining tables, each having four chairs upside down on top. In the opposite wall there was a long worktop with all kinds of electric kitchenware and abundance of plastic baskets to label and store the guests’ food, and through a door by the worktop there were two kitchens, full of cutlery, dishes, saucepans and other utensils. Through another door in the left hand wall of the dining hall there were the rooms, each of them having four beds and just a ridiculously small electric heater, switched off, so our room was freezing until it got heated up a few hours later; and the four toilets, three of which were locked down and couldn’t be used.

All of it was as tidy as it was unwelcoming, not only because of the locked toilets and the cold inner architecture (evidently designed by someone who knows nothing about youth hostels), but mostly because the whole place was full of notices requesting the guests all kinds of duties, stating lots of bannings and with long lists of rules to obey, the most ridiculous of which was the prohibition of staying in the premises from 10 am to 4 pm. Guests were asked to keep out of the hostel during six full hours! Supposedly because of cleaning. Unbelievable.

Anyhow, the most annoying of all the issues about Hvoll hostel was the total absence of internet. No possibility of getting online. In all my years of travelling, since the popularization of the internet I had never known of a youth hostel without it. Not even in poorly civilized countries. Therefore we considered this fact utterly unacceptable, and particularly bothersome since it deprived us from the possibility of checking the weather for the next day, an essential task on an Icelandic winter tour.

Besides us, there were only another group of guests: an excursion of Asians that had rented a 4×4, which didn’t look too sociable. So, being away from any physical or virtual amusement, the only thing we could do for the evening was to eat up the rest of our supplies and go to bed, with the idea of waking up early the next morning and getting ready for the last stage of our trip: the golden circle. We went to sleep persuaded that this disappointing hostel was not up to the standards of Hostelling International, and wondering how the organization could have associated it.

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