So, having gotten a good night’s sleep and with many more layers on, I ventured out to my pick up location at 8:30 am. Here’s the light level in Iceland at the end of January.
I was well caffeinated and breakfasted, but still… the darkness made me want to climb right back into my well-appointed Icelandic bed. Nevertheless, onward! Picked up by a shuttle and transferred to a central meeting place. Our tour group was headed north, out of the city, toward the region of Bogarfjordur in the west part of the country. I should have taken pictures on the drive. Again, not quite thinking at that hour. Picture big, snow covered mountains coming right down to the shoreline. Oh, here’s a picture. It’s kind if crappy. Better pictures ahead, I promise.
Our driver gave us a fair amount of history as we drove. Though I’ll admit, I did not enjoy her mentioning that many Icelanders were nervous to enter the great tunnel that goes under Hvalfjardargong (Whale Bay) when it was first built. They are not claustrophobic. It’s just that it’s a very long, deep tunnel. And there are earthquakes here. But Icelanders seem to have gotten used to the idea. Now drivers don’t think twice about it.
Swiped that picture from Wikipedia. Apparently, the bay is not white and frozen year round!
We went under it. No earthquake.
Next we stopped at the largest hot spring in Iceland, Deildartunguhver. Two hundred liters of screeching hot water PER SECOND. Used for municipal purposes plus now a swimming facility has been built there.
Don’t touch the water. It’s hot.
Next, to the lovely Hraunfossar. A series of falls streaming out of a lava field. The water was the most extraordinary color.
By the way, it was cold. I had on many more clothes this time, but it was still cold. Here’s what the paths looked like:
See the path? Not really?
My point exactly.
Luckily, lunch was next. We stopped at the hotel, restaurant and hot springs at Husafel. This was the first of many surprisingly good meals. A very simple buffet was set up for travelers to come in, grab a spot at a table, eat a quick but tasty lunch, then head on to their next adventure. It was a lovely spread of fresh salads, good bread and soup. I chose a traditional lamb stew. The stew was so good I went back for more. I sat at a table with an American couple who now live outside London. We chatted off and on during the drive, then intermittently at the stops. Another two people joined our table – one an American attending the same conference as me, the other an Australian lady. She relayed her experience of the previous day when her mini- bus went off the road and into and into the ditch. The passengers were preparing to hoist themselves out through the driver’s window when a truck (with big tow cable) pulled over and was able to right their vehicle.
Ah yes. I forgot to mention that just after our drive through the scary tunnel, our guide began to relay some more interesting facts about our route: that it often became so dangerously windy, signs had to be posted at either end with current wind speeds. If too high, drivers were not permitted to drive the section until conditions improved. She said something like “At 35 km per hour, you must wait and not drive the road. But do not worry. Today the wind is at something like 30 km per hour.” She barreled right along. Snow and ice streamed horizontally across the road. I tried to knit my socks and ignore the slipping sensations I was sure I felt. Our guide seemed completely unconcerned. She talked about the history of the area, the original settlers, how this Viking killed that one and then there was retribution by the other one. She got us safely to lunch and therefore all was well.
After our lovely meal, six of us broke off to go to the nearby lava cave. The friendly American couple geared up to go up onto a nearby glacier. I believe there was a third group going out somewhere as well, but I lost track of their destination. We jumped in yet another van and were driven out into a wide expanse of white nothingness. Really, everything, everywhere was snow covered. It was beautiful but odd. I kept wondering “What color is Iceland REALLY, under all that snow???
We exited the van to find ourselves at a tiny, box-like building, set in the wide expanse of white nothingness.
We waited for our guide, were issued helmets with lights and hung around for a while. Luckily there was a dog.
Finally, finally, we got underway. A very, very, very tall and happy Icelandic geologist introduced himself as our guide and beckoned us outside. We followed after him, tromping through the snow. In fact, I tried to tromp in the footsteps of the people in front of me because there was not much of a path. Oh, did I mention our guide advised we keep to the path so as not to step off into “very deep snow”? I was wondering what a 6’8″ Viking geologist might think is deep. But just as I was contemplating if anyone actually could SEE a path, I realized that we were heading out into the wide expanse of white nothingness ahead.
And then, out of nowhere, there was suddenly something!
After this point, I stopped taking pictures. It was hard to shoot in the strange light. I was also very caught up in what our guide was saying. He was SUPER enthusiastic about all this geology stuff. And though I usually could not be interested in formations and lava and sediments and whatnot, he was so engaging I couldn’t help but enjoy it all. Really, he was something like a cross between the Muppets’ Beaker and The Swedish Chef. So we had a good time. I’ll just tell you about these two things:
The lava tunnels were made by hot lava, moving along a deep channel, whose top layers began to cool and harden while deeper layers below continued to flow. Section by section, the topmost layers cooled, hardened and formed a ceiling. Meanwhile, the hot, flowing midsection continued until finished and emptied, leaving the “ceiling” layers above and intact. Pretty cool stuff.
We got to have that quintessential cave experience where all the lights are turned off. You experience utter black. It’s strange and a little disconcerting. But also enchanting.
Then we made our way back to the cave entrance and up into the wide expanse of white nothingness again for the cold and windy tromp back to the building.
Saving grace? While others were still at their afternoon excursion, we lava cavers got to go get in the thermal pools there at Husafel. Freezing cold trudge in the windy nothingness followed by happy sinking into hot water, steam rising off the pools around you and off across the surrounding snow drifts. That’ll do, pig.
(A reference to the movie Babe, where the farmer wants to say “congratulations” and “great job” and “you’ve really come quite a long way”, but merely says “That’ll do”. I think he’s a Yorkshireman.)
I don’t have pictures of the pools. Phones and water don’t mix well. Instead, imagine me immersed up to my nose in hot water and relishing every inch of it.
Leaving you now with a bit more white nothingness and a shot of the road conditions. Eek. Since then, I’ve learned that your roads and temperatures in the States haven’t been much better! People, soak in some hot water as soon as you can! It will cure what ails ya.
This was the afternoon on which I first began thinking maybe renting a car was not such a good idea??? In fact, as we left the lava cave, three folks in a rental car slid off the road right in front of us. Yep! Decided! I’m definitely NOT driving in this stuff. I’d do it at home, in my own car (a Subaru), on roads I know (likely plowed), and with help not far away (Joe! Anna! Rancho Viejo neighbors!!! Help!) But driving around Iceland in a rental car looking for someone’s studio or home or an address I can’t pronounce on Sunday and Monday? I. Think. Not.
We reluctantly left our hot water to meet the van at 4:30. It was time for the drive back to Reykjavik. Losing light and drowsy from our soak, the return ride was a quiet passage through the white landscape. The hotel, when we arrived there, looked warm and promising. With visions of dinner, a beer, a book, and bed dancing in my head, I went in.
Next up: Walking and walking and walking and walking and walking in Reykjavik. Well worth every step.