When EPI and I and EPI’s father drove across Sprengisandur last week we spent the first night at the a place called Hotel Highland, billed as “the only luxury hotel in the Icelandic highlands”. EPI’s father had called ahead to book a room for himself, which cost a paltry ISK 15,300 per night [USD 197/EUR 125], and sleeping bag accomodation for EPI and me, which cost ISK 2,900 [USD 37 / EUR 23] per night. Neither of us minds roughing it – especially since ‘roughing it’ in sleeping bag accommodation in Iceland generally just means that the bed has no duvet and the bathroom is in the hall.
Hotel Highland is utterly remote; however, just before you get there you come to another place offering highland accommodation, called Hrauneyjar. As we drove past, we noticed that place was hopping – loads of tourists sitting around outside drinking beer and generally having a swell time, by the looks of it. Very inviting.
Meanwhile, the Hotel Highland, located a few kilometres up the road, was absolutely dead. Not a soul was visible on or around the premises, and the reception was deserted. We waited a little while in the tiny vestibule that served as a lobby, completely at a loss, until a bunch of French tourists started piling in, who had just arrived on a bus. At that point, a young woman appeared in the reception and proceeded to deal with our booking. She spoke no Icelandic and seemed very confused about what to do with us. Disappeared again, then came back and announced to my father-in-law that he was in “Room 13” [dumdum], whereas EPI and I were in “L-House. Outside, back there. L-House.”
So we go back outside, EPI’s father holding the key to his room which was attached to a piece of wood with the room number burned into it with a magnifying glass, and proceeded to look for both Room 13 and L-House. Round and round we walked, until EPI and I arrived at low ramshackle building that looked like it could be L-House. His father, meanwhile, wandered off to look for his room.
Words can hardly describe the dismay that filled our YT as she cast around L-House. A more apt name would have been ‘Bleak House’. It was a shack that had originally been slapped up to house temporary workers at the nearby power harnessing station, decades earlier. And it was showing its age. Curtains were torn, the rods were askew, sections of beds were falling off … everything was makeshift and shabby, although – to be fair – relatively clean.
But the worst was yet to come. Back outside, we found EPI’s father – who, incidentally, is 82 – standing in the parking lot in a state of semi-shock. Seems he’d finally found Room 13. He’d stuck his key in the door, opened it, and been accosted by a terrible smell. The room was a mess, the curtains were drawn, and there was a shape on the bed – the shape of a man on his back with his mouth gaping open, who was “either deceased, or passed out,” according to EPI’s father, who was visibly upset.
At that point YT took the lead and decided that we should go back to Hrauneyjar – with all its living, breathing people – and try to wangle a couple of rooms for the night. We left the key to Room 13 in the empty reception and drove back to Hrauneyjar, which – as before – was a hub of activity. So much, in fact, that it took us about 20 minutes to find someone in charge. Finally a plucky, assertive woman with a big Pink Panther tattoo on her neck came along and announced herself as the manager – not only of Hrauneyjar, but also Hotel Highland. Score! So we related our misfortune, she shook her head woefully and got on the blower to the invisible people back at the hotel. “Who is in room 13?! Who is in room 13?!” she demanded to know, before commanding, “Well, get him out of there!” Apparently – she told us later – they have these sorts of problems from time to time, where people get pissed out of their skulls up in the middle of the highlands, don’t check out when they’re supposed to, and when the hotel staff tries to evict them, refuse to leave because: “I can’t drive! Where do I go!?”
So anyway, by way of apology she declared that EPI’s father should be placed in “Suite No. 2” back at Hotel Highland [there was no room at Hrauneyjar] in place of Room 13. Suite No. 2 turned out to be pretty nice – it had its own bedroom as well as a living room with – JOY! – a pull out sofa bed that EPI and I could crash on [imagine our relief in escaping decrepit old L-House]. The ‘Suite’ even happened to have a little patio out back on which we were able to prop up our little travel BBQ and cook up some lamb filets with baked spuds and stuffed mushrooms. Indeed, we were happy as clams in ‘Suite 2’ and didn’t even mind that things were, shall we say, a little on the malfunctioning side, so much that my FIL, who has travelled all over the world, dubbed it the ‘Soviet Suite’. We washed our hands in the bathroom sink and next thing we knew we were standing in a puddle of water – almost as much water dripped from the pipes as came out of the tap. We reached out for a towel in the bathroom and the towel rack fell down on one side and just dangled there. There was no knob for turning on the shower in the tub. But of course, to us these were merely charming little quirks, considering all that had gone before. And you can bet that we drank a hearty toast to the man in Room 13.
Perfectly sunny and amiable, but with a chilly wind that sort of kills the fun. It’s 14°C [57F] right now, and sunrise was at 3.51 [it was blazing sunshine when I drove to the airport at 6 am to pick up AAH], sunset due for 11.14.