DAY 2 – SEPT 9TH, 2010
Yes, there is the Golden Circle of Iceland, but why limit yourself to what everyone else does whilst on vacation? I believe there is something to be said about the road less traveled especially in the frostiest of locations. We’ll visit there later.
To the South: Driving the 1 out of Reykjavik took us to Selfoss, the gateway to the southern region of Iceland and our first venture outside of the city. The south of the island contains volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls and pristine beauty. We didn’t know much about where to go or what to do, but a full tank and a trusty map would lead us there.
What we immediately observed was steam rising from lush green hillsides, distant mountain silhouettes, small farms and many of the famous Icelandic horses I had read about.
Icelandic horses are quite a bit shorter in stature than the quarter horse and their thick fur coat makes them appear fuzzy. Perhaps it’s the shaggy manes that tend to cover up their eyes. We observed a curiosity and friendliness in these horses that you might find in the occasional well- trained horse, but with the Icelandic it seemed a part of their breed. Pulling off to the side of the road outside Hella we found ourselves with the full attention of several horses immediately coming to the fence to greet us. They loved to be pet and they loved to groom one another with their teeth that projected out at an angle. Perfect for scratching and grooming their friends. I left that field hoping someday for my own land and few of these personable horses to love.
Another observation of the south is the incredibly large rivers bringing the melted snow to the ocean in mass quantity. The width of the rivers, how quickly they moved and the dark ash, which flows to the banks, was unlike any rivers we have seen. Driving along this volcanic region observing the rawness displayed the drama of this area in shades of green and gray.
To get closer to the coast, we took 255 and with one wrong turn found ourselves seemingly edge of nowhere. Gray drizzle, deep ash, one small white building, large black boulders and silent construction vehicles sat in stillness at a dead end. A small scramble up the boulders revealed the sounds of waves sloshing against breakwaters and views of low cloud-bank to nothing; we had an idea of where we might be.
You can take a ferry to Vestmannaeyjar, a small archipelago off the south coast via Þorlákshöfn where we had arrived. Unfortunately it was too gray a day to see the smoke billowing from these highly volcanic islands, but perhaps we’ll make the journey when we return.
As mentioned earlier, waterfalls snake down the green hill of the southern landscape far more frequently than we had anticipated. In fact some seem to appear without a source, cascading from cliffs of sloped prominence. One such waterfall is Seljalandsfoss. Wildly popular, you can walk from the front all the way behind the falls guarding the camera from the damp in between shots.
Reconnecting with the 1, we discovered the one location that most people now know Iceland for: Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that disrupted flights to and around Europe for weeks. It’s quite easy to pronounce according to Wikipedia: ɛɪjaˌfjatlaˌjœkʏtl – right. The top was covered in cloud, but taking a small gravel road that followed a river lead us a closer distance to the ash laden base. Not only that, but we could see that, like most rivers in the area, there was a concerted effort to move ash in order that the rivers would not redirect completely and flood nearby farms and villages. We certainly hope their efforts prove worthwhile.
On to Skógafoss, one of the highlights of our entire Iceland experience. This waterfall is a monster. As you drive down a gravel road called 222, assumedly towards Mýrdalsjökull glacier (not visible on a overcast day) you approach this perfect waterfall, one that you imagine we’d fearlessly play in whilst in the Garden of Eden, but here on earth, you know you could be crushed in a moment if you waited at its base. You certainly could. There is no fence or restrictive signs preventing anyone from running to its cascade. We got as close as possible, until the mist was too much for us jean and gore-tex laden tourists. Perhaps if we had the head to toe waterproof garb that we saw all the other tourists wearing, we would have been more prepared, but a bit more like tourists.
Drive the loop towards the farm on your way in to Skógafoss and you too, might encounter the mystery of cow utter slings or whatever they are. Like old women in a field, these milking cows carried on consuming grass with utters supported by canvas straps. Picture provided here. Bizarre.
A unique feature in the south of Iceland are the turf and cave houses of earlier days. Rústshellir (Rútur’s Cave) is in Hrútafell said to be the oldest extant man-made residence in Iceland is on the 1 to Vik and worth the stop.
We are always keen on making it to the furthest most point in any direction in every location that we are in. The most accessible ‘furthest point’ in Iceland is the coastal village of Vik, a charming hamlet with one stunning black sand beach.
What I love about black sand beaches is the stark contrast they play against white seabirds and sea foam and light gray of fog. I love that when the waves retreat, you can still see variations of sand color when a small stone or shell has clung to the shore and the heavier sand particles are protected in its tiny shelter. They rest there until the next wave advances, dragging the particles by force to their underwater prison. The battle is completed when, overtime, the heavier sands join the vast army of their finer counterparts. The waves always win.
We wandered on this dark beach listening to the waves and the seabirds and loving the way the fog hugged the shore cliffs like the Oregon Coast. We were delighted when the sun slowly emerged to highlight the dramatic rock formations and sea cliffs.
It was getting late. We knew by the time we arrived in Reykjavik, the grocery would be closed and we still needed a main dish. The idea of steak made our mouths water. We found a small grocery and made our way to the meat section. We grabbed what appeared to be a marinated beef steak. Upon further investigation, we discovered we had chosen whale meat, likely Minke: When in Rome…or in Iceland rather (call us animal hate mongers, but the whale wasn’t half bad).
Anticipating the evening’s meal we stopped at the small red roofed church on the hillside above the village; lovely stained glass in the windows and simple interior. We knew it was no mistake this little church had been built on the highest point of the village. We prayed that this ‘city on a hill’ would burn bright and bring revival to this nation.