The allure of a perfect campsite

I’m not quite sure why I seem to be writing so many posts about the physical act of camping. It seems that, being in such a lovely environment, I would be more drawn toward poetically describing the beauty of the place. And I am, certainly. But there’s something about camping itself that forms such a foundation of my time here.

I don’t know, maybe it’s that choosing where to camp ultimately has so many consequences, some intended, some not. Or maybe it’s because selecting where I will spend the night is really the most important decision of the day. Other adventures I undertake are so very serendipitous. I’ll pass a signpost, pull my car over, look up the Icelandic name in my book to see what I might miss, then either go on or turn the car around to have a look.

Choosing a campsite is much more thoughtful. Should I pick a paid campsite? Do I need one with a shower? Do I need electricity? Does it have wifi? All seem like such important questions when this is the part of the day when I’ll actually be still for eight to 10 hours. What must I have?

The third night here it was the siren song of a heated shower that drew me to a nice little campsite. It even had the requisite shrubs surrounding each campsite (something I’ve found is extremely important to break the wind as it howls across this treeless land). I rested well and slept long.

But it was the fourth night that I was truly lucky. I had imagined staying near Mývatn lake, a popular tourist spot in the northcentral part of the country. I had plotted and planned all day how I’d drive around the lake to find the most commodious location possible.

It must have a washer and drier, I thought. It must have wifi so I can add another post. I felt so satisfied knowing exactly how I would structure my camping experience that night.

Then I arrived at the lake. Yes, it was stunningly beautiful with forested banks and the irregular rock formations that signaled geothermal activity at some time, but it was also overrun – with tourists. Bus upon bus loaded with camera-toting tourists mainly content to chug along in their mammoth vehicles looking at the views. The problems for me arose when they disgorged from the buses — like ants pouring from an anthill after you’ve stamped on it.

This place would be no good for camping.

So, after circumnavigating the lake (just like the tourists in their immense buses) I drove on.

In only a few kilometers I noticed the hillsides filled with a few more trees and a pretty valley. A small town of pristine red-roofed white buildings appeared, as did a sign for a campsite. I took the road. My car topped a small hummock and I saw it. Perfection! Shrubbed wind-breakers with soft grass to cushion my bed. The minute I stepped outside my car to inquire about prices, however, I was attacked. A swarm of tiny black insects flew into my mouth and clung to my face. They didn’t bite, but they were quite annoying.

The campground owner’s son, mowing the grass with a mask like a beekeepers’ hat over his head, came over to answer my question. Yes, it’s midge season, he said. And it’s an especially bad season this year.

Do you have laundry facilities, I queried.


Do you have wifi?

Only in the bathroom area. You could sit at that table and use your computer, he said pointing to a nearby picnic table.

But, the bugs!

Well, I guess you could sit inside on the toilet and look at your computer, he replied with a smile.

It seemed to have nothing I had previously checklisted as necessary. And then there was this cloud of insects.

It seemed it would again be the road for me.

But, when I turned to go I saw a tiny, tiny wooden cabin on the hill little bigger than a child’s playhouse.


What’s that, I inquired.

That’s our new cabin we’re trying out.

How much? I’m alone and can use my own sleeping bag, I said, remembering that my guidebook had stated that people with cabins and guesthouses would often cut the price if no linens were used.

Half price for that, he replied.

I asked for the key.

When I opened the door, it had the pleasant odor of newly cut wood. About the size of a small dorm room, it had a double bed with a large and comfortable mattress, a tiny table, two chairs and a window overlooking the valley. I was sold.

Then to add icing to this wonderful cake I’d been served, the campground manager pointed the way to this small town’s thermal swimming pool complex – according to the guidebook, one of the best in Iceland. I took an hour-long hot soak in the satisfyingly warm water.

In the middle of the night (although the sunshine belied the time), I awoke to a pounding rain on the cabin’s metal roof. It crossed my mind what a miserable morning it would have been to have to deal with a wet tent and potentially sodden bedroll.

I smiled and went back to sleep.

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