Living in a remote village at the edge of the Arctic Circle – Part 1

Ísafjörður: 66°04′29″ N

Population: 2,624

I realize I haven’t written in a few months. Lots have happened since I came back from holidays. To start with coming back home from Europe was hectic because the weather is unpredictable in Iceland. I love road trips, however, driving in Iceland in winter puts you’re driving skills to the test. For the first four hours, my roommate was driving on a perfect sunny day on the highway. Conditions were optimal; however, I knew what was ahead of us as I had driven to Reykjavik a few weeks earlier. As soon as we entered the mountain pass, bad weather and near zero visibility. My roommate stopped the car and said you drive, Ok, I drove for five hours in intense driving, going through the valley, I couldn’t see anything as wind and snow don’t mix well. Then you must drive through the fjords on icy roads where you never know if you will end up in the ocean or in the ditch. With a total population of 372,520, Iceland is sparsely populated, help can take a long time to come in case of emergency. Furthermore, there is no network over the mountain passes. In January, there are only 4 hours of daylight, so you are most likely driving at night and there is no lamp post out of the ring road. Driving Reykjavik to Ísafjörður is an adventure. The reason I had to drive in the first place was that my 40 min flight was cancelled due to bad weather. Just a reminder, that when you have an international flight, you need to make it to the capital and the only other option is driving if the roads are open of course. I don’t think people realize how remote I live and how difficult to get out of the village it actually is in winter. Don’t be fooled by the 5h37 minutes stated on the map, that’s most likely in summer. All four times I have driven has taken me between 9 to 12 hours and given me a lot of stress.

People assume I live in Reykjavik, the capital. I don’t as you can see on the map, I live in the Westfjords in the North. There is no traffic light in town, and we don’t lock our houses, cars or bikes. I don’t carry a wallet as I pay for everything with my phone. Going across town is a maximum of 12-15 minutes on foot. The beach is 30 seconds from my house, and the bay is about 1 minute’s walk. We have 2 supermarkets (one in town and the other one further out). We have one cafe, a few restaurants and bars, a cinema, a gym where I do my CrossFit and a swimming pool. We have a ski mountain (cross-country and downhill). Although this year, we haven’t had much snow. We can watch the Northern lights regularly from September to March.

Another misconception about Iceland is that it’s very cold. Perhaps, it’s the country’s name that brings the confusion. By all means, it’s not the tropics, but I haven’t been cold so far. I’ve only been here for one winter, but the weather has actually been quite mild. The average in January is 0ºC. Only in the last few weeks, we’ve been having -11ºC temperatures, but nothing like the cold at home. I’d say the wind is what surprises me the most. When it hits you at 60 km an hour, you have to struggle to keep going forward.

Living at the 66th parallel means very little daylight in winter (Dec 22 is the shortest day with only 2.7 hours of sun) while summer is known as white nights (July 3rd with 23 hours of sun). The third picture below was actually taken in the morning (around 9am if I recall correctly). I love watching the different colours of the sky in winter. I actually was always amazed that we hardly had any daylight. The reality is we didn’t see the sun for 2 months as it doesn’t rise high enough to go over the top of the mountain. I remember the first day I actually saw it, I was at the restaurant and all of sudden, I screamed THE SUN!!!! I even scared the waitress, she wasn’t expecting me to scream like that. It was such an unusual scenery. We take it for granted when we live in the South.

Northern Lights pictures taken by Carmela Hernandez Ramos – March 2023

Now that I have given the geography and landscape of my town, I will write part 2 later as to how I actually feel living in such a remote environment. I will also give you an update on my studies and how far along I’ve come. Hope you enjoy reading this blog.

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