Windswept and interesting. Iceland 2000 part three.
The three zombies step back as the bus to Reykjavik comes to a dusty halt. We load our gear, hand over 4,500 kroner to the driver and climb on board. The coach is warm and comfy and stops at lots of interesting places en route. I point something out to the other two only to find that they are sleeping like the proverbial baby on the seat behind me so I wander around Jokulsarlon with its icebergs and distant glacier with only a coffee and a doughnut for company.
I am thankful not to have missed my last chance to see this incredible place. The proximity of raw nature and human civilisation is a feature of Icelandic life and Jokulsarlon is just one example. The main road around the country passes within a hundred metres of this large glacial lagoon filled with icebergs, trapped in a meltwater lake at the foot of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier which rolls down from the main Vatnajökull icecap.
The icebergs calve off from the glacier and bob around the three-hundred-metre-deep lake until they melt enough to drift out through the shallow exit and into the Atlantic Ocean. While the bergs shrink, visitors can enjoy the scene from shore or take boat trips out amongst the ice. It is even possible to sail under the edge of the Breiðamerkurjökull in a small boat and explore the underside of the glacier if anyone is feeling brave enough.
Today though I have neither the time nor the cash to indulge so I finish my coffee and step back onto the bus.
At Reykjavik bus station we pack so much gear into a taxi that I decide against the squash and walk out to the campsite, taking the time to enjoy the novel feeling of being surrounded by people again. We clean up and head out to enjoy Saturday night in the capital.
This is both celebration and goodbye. Pete leaves in a couple of days following which Colm and myself will trek from Hveragerði to Þingvellir National Park before we too go our separate ways.
For the next two days we go into full-on tourist mode. The BSI office at the bus station has a ‘Tour of the week’ which is one of their regular bus excursions but half price. We take advantage of this to go out whale watching from Keflavik.
The trip was great. No whales but we did see dolphins and lots of seabirds and the guys on board were very informative and friendly. Back on land we wandered around for a bit before sprinting for the bus back home. As we take our seats, Colm realised that he had left his daypack in a café and dashed off again to get it. He arrives back at the campsite three hours after us to much general hilarity.
Pete and I spend his last day in the town of Hafnarfjörður which grew as a fishing port before developing as a freight terminal. In contrast to the wildness of the general landscape, Hafnarfjörður, is carefully laid out in a tidy, indeed genteel way. ‘Nice’ would be an appropriate adjective. The streets were clean and cared for. Keflavik in contrast was a bit rougher around the edges and had a more ‘frontier, industrial’ kind of look to it.
We had lunch in a very fun bar which had taken the Viking theme as far as they possibly could. Goatskin tablecloths, beer horns and Viking pictures everywhere. It managed somehow, to be cheesy without being embarrassing which was quite the achievement.
The best bit though was the busload of elderly Italian tourists eating lunch, bedecked in their cardboard Viking helmets complete with horns. They sang some Viking type drinking songs as they quaffed their mineral water, sparkling wine and lager from plastic horns and seemed to be having a great time. Colm missed this momentous sight because he had come down with some kind of bug and was staying mostly comatose at the campsite for the day.
Pete wakes me at half past four in the morning to say goodbye and head off to the airport. Colm surfaces at seven twenty and we pack up for a few days hillwalking. Catching an early bus, we get out at Hveragerði. Unlike my earlier visit we take the time to look around the greenhouses and the geothermal trail. Exhausted by the effort we then head to the café for tea and buns and a bit of last-minute route planning.
For no particular reason we choose to head up Graendalur and fairly quickly find a good spot to camp. This is an extremely volcanic valley with hot springs, steam, mud and above all the most incredible colours. It was also where we felt the first earthquake of the trip. Probably nobody local even looks up for tremors that don’t destroy at least half a street but it was exciting enough for us.
We settled on an early camp as Colm was still suffering and we weren't under any time pressure but no sooner had we sorted out the tent when the heavens opened and rain came hammering down. There can be few joys as joyous as the joy of someone who has just avoided getting completely drenched.
When the rain stops, we explore the valley. Walking through the sulphurous, steam we follow the river upstream and are rewarded with views out across the coast and the surrounding mountains. The cliffs at the top require a bit of scrambling and the ascent brings us out by two little streams where we stop for lunch.
One of the streams is hot water and the other freezing cold. I end up soaking my feet in the warm one while drinking soup made with water from the other. We cross over into the neighbouring valley of Reykjadalur and wander around to complete the loop back to the tent.
Next morning, we retrace our steps to the head of the valley and strike out towards Þingvellir. The landscape is different here once we drop down from the hilltops. Still very Icelandic, still weird and still very impressive just different to the smoky steamy area we had just left behind us. Everything is a bit greener and although it is every bit as rocky it is now ‘differently rocky.
Þingvellir is a rift valley. Tectonic upheavals have pushed some areas upwards and these uplifted blocks form cliffs and canyons across the landscape. The seismic shuffle also produces lots of lower areas that become lakes including Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in the country. We pitch the tent by a river and wander upstream to have a look around.
This is one big playground for outdoorsy types. We climb around some cliffs and stroll along a grassy riverbank to yet another impressive waterfall. If all the scenery here was the waterfalls, there would still be a steady flow of visitors. They are everywhere. Tall ones, wide ones, hot ones probably even musical ones somewhere for all I know.
We walk along the shore of Þingvallavatn and make easy progress toward the Þingvellir National Park visitor centre at the Northern end of the lake. At one point we leave open ground for a wide dirt road. Something about being on an unvarying trail though seemed to sap the energy from us and we end up trudging along like the undead for twenty kilometres until a miracle happened and a white Nissan, containing two women and a baby stopped and offered us a lift.
As they drove, they pointed out features such as the place where a Danish king killed ‘witches’ and gave us a condensed history lesson before dropping us at the café by the visitor centre. Two hours of coffee, cake and chocolate and we were once again a pair of happy bunnies.
After this public display of gluttony, we up sticks and head off once again. A short hike leads to a lovely campsite by the Oxararfoss waterfall. This is, inevitably, yet another beautiful cascade and our evening is spent scrambling around the cliffs and sightseeing before we retire for dinner and a brew.
Next morning, we set off under a grey damp sky and the weather comes and goes. The plan is to walk to another river that looks like a decent camping spot on the map and then on into the capital the next day. A couple of kilometres from our destination a Lada estate stops and a guy asks if we would like a lift. Well! Would we ever. We pile in and in no time at all we are back in the city and back at the Laugardalur campsite.
By now, both Colm and myself are dog tired. Physically and mentally, we are slow and worn down. We spend much of the following morning in the swimming pool which at ISK200 or about £2 sterling for as long as you like represents one of the greatest bargains available to anyone in the country.
I swim a little but spend more time in the hot pools and the jacuzzi just taking it easy and re-charging the batteries. Today is the national independence celebration. We catch a late band in the main square and do a bit of mingling before heading quietly back to the campsite one last time.
Tomorrow I fly back to Scotland and then who knows what will happen after that. This has been a spectacular trip and now that the rush of excitement and danger is over, I feel my spirits droop a little.
It would be easy to be overtaken by anti-climactic feelings but that would be doing the country, the adventure and my companions a disservice. We challenged ourselves against a harsh environment; put ourselves in a stressful situations and came out the other side tired and unbroken with a new knowledge of an amazing country and memories that will stay with all three of us for a long, long time.
We didn’t change the world but this part of the world changed us in small ways and those small changes will be a part of us for life.
This was my second visit to Iceland. There would be another the following year and I will undoubtedly be back again at some point in the post-covid future. If anyone is seeking adventure or enjoys the rawness of nature and wilderness up close, I would highly recommend it as a destination worthy of your consideration.
This is the third and final post about this Icelandic trip. The first two are here on bebee.com:
The pictures below were taken after we had come off the icecap and had no more than a single beer.
Thanks for reading.
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