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Posts Tagged ‘Ásbyrgi’


Day 8 was difficult. It was characterized by hunger, inconvenience, frustration, helplessness, and weakness. It was a travelling day. All my hitchhiking has told me that when you wait forever, then there’s somebody coming that you’re supposed to meet, but this day’s struggle was really hard to see the silver lining in (although it appeared, eventually).

We started out on the road before noon, headed now back toward Reykjavík, having sorta tasted most of the southern coast of Iceland. Almost immediately, a guy with a dog pulled over who was going to Vík, however…. there was another hitchhiker ahead of us, who had oddly walked far down the road away from us, to a bad place to stand (in my opinion), and hadn’t responded to my yelling into the wind at him/her. I did the honourable thing, pointed at the hitchhiker who’d been there before us, and waved goodbye to the guy with a sheepdog in a zippy car.

Then we waited for two hours before anyone else stopped.

Who stopped was a pair of Italian men in a tiny car that was full of stuff, reticent about our chances of fitting in their vehicle. I was NOT about to let them go too, now, so we wedged ourselves in, with our backpacks on our knees, and a limited view of each other and our hosts. The Italians were hilarious though- super nice, adorable, and adoring (the colour in my hair- “bella, bella!”). The smaller one (“I’m an assassin!”) kept up a running stream of song and commentary and swearing in Italian and English, mixed with questions and short stories fired into the backseat and punctuated with outbursts of abuse hurtled out the window at any hapless sheep we passed, while the other, more sedate one drove at a leisurely pace, with frequent stops for pictures. We couldn’t really figure out if he didn’t like the sheep, or just enjoyed screaming at them, but at any rate, it was all so funny we laughed until we cried, until it was just a perpetual state of achingly funny entertainment.

We made it to Kirkjubæjarklaustur,that's the salad, lower right. hoping to find something to eat. After frowning dubiously at the hideously garish hotdog menu of the gas station for awhile, the four of us looked at each other and piled back into the car, to go down the road to a eating place recommended in our trusty Lonely Planet books (his in Italian, ours in English). This place was an odd cafe/bar hybrid where the staff was utterly disgusted to see clients walk in the door, and the food was just weird! I ordered a caesar salad, and I confess this was the first caesar sal"I swear, I'm an assassin!"ad I’ve ever had that included canned black olives, canned pineapple tidbits, sundried tomatoes (haha! my spellcheck called them “sundered tomatoes”), and cocktail sauce for dressing, all on a bed of iceberg lettuce. Not one single ingredient corresponding to a caesar salad as formerly known. This salad definitely expanded my “caesar salad” consciousness. I took a picture of it, and ate it. Did I mention how hungry I was? The bowl it was served in was really cool though; all the bowls were like ufos crossed with art deco chairs. After an hour of clowning around, we got back in the clown car and headed for Vík, where we parted with the Italians. They were on a decidedly more unhurried schedule, our legs were atrophying from holding our packs on our laps in their little car, and I wanted to make tracks while the sun shone.

I made the excuse of wanting to explore Vík, which was true, but it was raining when we got there (so much for the shining sun), Derek was manifestly getting a cold now, and tramping around on seacliffs in the rain fully loaded was unappealing. So we bought food with fervour at the first real grocery store we’d been in, in Vík, almost too much to fit in our packs, and got back on the road. This time was better.

We got an “instant ride” from a shockingly good-looking, talkative sheep farmer and his quiet wife, who took us to Hvolsvöllur. They were really helpful, telling us stories, telling us about the annual evacuation practice that the residents of Vík do in the event of another eruption or flood (after releasing all their animals, they have to mark their farm as evacuated, so any potential rescuers know where to direct their energies). There is also no speed limit on the highway in the event of a disaster. Just get the hell out, afap. They told us (well, he did) that their favourite place in Iceland was Ásbyrgi, where Óðinn’s horse “put his foot down”, and gave us a battered postcard of Askja caldera, along with a whole bunch of practical advice about what to skip and what was underrated, that influenced lots of our choices. He also gave us the most valuable tip of our entire trip, that shaped the whole rest of our stay: two website addresses, the equivalent of an Icelandic Craigslist, and the tip that since the crash, people were renting out their second cars privately in order to make ends meet, and you could rent a car privately for a week for what it cost commercially for a day. It killed me that I didn’t get either of their names when they dropped us off, although Derek said we could always find them by word of mouth in Vík. I would have loved to thank them; they were magic.

Our next ride, a German/Icelandic international translator, took us to Selfoss, confidently assuring us that there was plenty of summerhouse traffic to Laugarvatn. On the way he suggested a short detour and took us off the path to Urriðafoss, a giant waterfall that almost no one goes to see. It’s not exactly in a pristine setting, it has something to do with hydroelectric generation, but it is huge, unexpected, loud, and impressive. He just grinned at our delight in the understated way we were getting used to from Icelanders, took pictures of us standing in the wind and the roar of the water, and then took us back to the road and to where we were going.

We were aiming for Laugarvatn at this point. We were on our way to Reykjavík, to sort out the drowned camera and because the next day was the Reykjavík marathon/ Culture Day, but I was pushing for making this day hold some adventure in its own right. I was trying to squeeze in the Golden Circle on the way back to the city, but we had taken so long to get back here from Skaftafell, that we’d toned it down to just hopefully hitting the hot springs at Laugarvatn. This was a mistake; seriously trying to push the river. However, it all seemed to work out in the end.

We got a ride from a young mother and her two children from that windy corner at Selfoss (sunny again though) in the late evening, opening her hatch and reshuffling all her cargo to fit us in, too. The people who were picking us up were turning all my hitchhiking assumptions on their head, and they all played out new generalizations: they will always pick you up if they are at all able to, they will take you out of their way to show you something cool if they think you might miss it otherwise; they are very well-traveled and know their country very well, and love it passionately. True to form, she turned off to stop for us at Kedir caldera, a small volcanic caldera totally out of sight off the road, with a blue eye of water at its base. I say small, but it was big enough that none of us could throw a rock far enough to land in the water. Even the kids talk English. I talked about Björk in the backseat to her son (I was pronouncing it wrong), and she drove us through a lush country speckled with little cottages- summerhouses, to Laugarvatn, and dropped us off at the hostel.

The hostel was full. No vacancy, try the other hostel. Full. The hotel: full. The hot pools (still never been in one!) closed 15 minutes ago. Hot pools are not an evening pastime for Icelanders. By now, Derek looks like he’s dying, we’re starving, it’s late, and now, we have no where to sleep. We walked down the road towards Geysir, me begging Derek for another 15 minutes on the road, to maybe get to the next town where there was a nicer campsite (according to the book). The campsite in this town was apparently notorious for partiers, and in fact, we could hear it thumping as we approached. Not to mention, the wind was blistering.

We saw our first Icelandic horses here, though! Three of them, eyeballing us from where we stood on the shoulder from across the road, so we visited. They were very sweet; friendly and cute, bumping shyly for pets.

After 15 minutes, I walked up to the “art galleri/bed and breakfast” that we were hitchhiking in front of and asked for a room before asking the price.

This would be the last night I spent under a roof in Iceland, although we didn’t know it at the time.

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I woke up in my bag on the ground under a bright sky in a desolate landscape.  Derek had caught some sleep in the car, eventually.

DSCF5844We drove to Húsavík, which was very close, hoping for the Skuld café, but it was closed.  Nearly everything was.  There was a small mall of hutches of competing whale watching tours with big colour banners overlooking the harbour, bristling with boats.

We were approached by three blond high school boys with unusually poor English, who asked us a half dozen questions off a list and recorded our answers on  a clipboard.  They couldn’t explain what their project was to us, though.  We explored the church, and happily, found a quality bakarí to start the day off with a sugar bang.
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We drove on right past the Phallological (Penis) Museum.  Derek was much relieved that it was closed.  I was disappointed because this museum promised to be one of Iceland’s  weirdest, but alas, it was just too early in the day for penises.  This museum is in Reykjavík now.
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To Ásbyrgi.  At the visitor’s center there, a super sweet blonde girl with a big smile did her best to teach me to say Jökulsárgljúfur and then gave us a run down on the sights in this park, now included in Vatnajökull national park to make the largest protected reserve in Europe.
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We started at Ásbyrgi, a natural amphitheatre of cliffs rising straight up from the plateau.  From the top of the cliffs, you can see the formation is a perfect hoof print, where Óðinn’s horse Sleipnir accidentally touched down.  Inside the ring of the cliff, there’s a maze of paths winding through the shrubs and birch trees around little lakes and small streams of water pouring straight out of the cliffs.

Besides the hidden people, there were these crazy birds!  We first noticed them in the parking lot. White gulls, but they seemed either injured or horribly inept, because they would take off with very dramatic flapping and then crash land with a big skid on their chests.

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It was a very alarming and loud, unsubtle performance.  I think we heard them before we saw them.  After each attempt the bird would lie there for a while or walk into the bushes a bit and sit there IMGP1743breathing heavy.

It was weird that there was more than one of them at it, but still they seemed greatly distressed.  Luckily there were signs posted saying Don’t try to help the fulmars.  It’s normal.  This is what they do.  Or words to that effect.

This happened to be the time the juvenile fulmars left the nest and found their way to the ocean, about 3 km away.

Hopefully they got better at flying on their way across that distance, because it hurt to watch them at this stage, skidding across the gravel.

One crashed right into a tree.

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A drive south, on the better road west of the long gorge that is the central feature of this park, we stopped at Vesturdalur to walk around the basalt formations.   The black rods of basalt form every kind of shape, arches and caves and walls.  This is a very beautiful place, and a cozy inviting campground at the head of the hiking trail, too.

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We carried on south and walked to the river again at Katlar, a delta in the river of rocky columns with the river rushing around them.  It’s a big area with little bridges across marshy spots and the waterfalls Hólmáfoss and Urriðafoss.

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IMGP1843It was a day of big fosses.  Hafragilsfoss is huge and sends up a big spire of mist.  We were looking down on it from the viewpoint.

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And Dettifoss, at the bottom of the park, is the largest volume waterfall in Iceland.  The plume of mist is so big it’s wet everywhere, and you get wet standing near it.  Which you can, stand quite near, and photographers can be seen everywhere disregarding the rope suggestions and standing out on the shelf of slick flat rocks at the edge of the water, which is hammering over the drop with such violence the water makes arrowhead shapes as it falls, and it’s tremendously loud.

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On the other shore, the contents of a tour bus were walking around, looking insect like and vulnerable hopping about on the rocks above the gorge the water plunges into.  People were scaring me.

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We walked upstream to see Selfoss too; on the way there are little black sand shoals where only a little water gets diverted from the main plunge, purple pumice lava that is amazingly light weight, it’s just so full of air, and farther upstream basalt cliffs above the river.  I bellied out to look over one, and saw writing in the sand on the beach below.  I want to know how those people got down there.

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IMGP6055The basalt columns were shearing away from each other, cracking along their geometric seams, some of them standing alone where they’d separated from their neighbouring columns.  It all seemed dangerous.

So much water and so much risk.

As the sun was starting to set over Selfoss while we were there we drove fast from there to Krafla, on a packed gravel road through a long monochromatic dead zone where thankfully we could go fast.

Turning towards the Krafla power plant, where the big pipelines arch over the road like inchworms, we stopped first at the Stóra-Víti crater.IMGP6044

Derek took some sheep-in-the-sunset pictures and I climbed to the rim of the crater. IMGP6079 Seized by a spontaneous urge, I started running around it, and then once I started, I had to run the whole thing.  It wasn’t easy, the rocky trail went up and down the parabolic curve of the rim.  This was the first time I opened into a run since me last knee reconstruction, and I felt strong and whole and invincible.  There were some interesting white hot pits fed by the geothermal plant behind the crater, too.
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All lit up by that, I advocated for running from the parking lot to Leirhnjúkur, where we hung out in amazement with the steam hissing from the lava heaps, a field of black lava riddling with steaming cracks and dangerous white hot ash pits.  The paths aren’t exactly marked, but they are pretty evident, compacted gravel.  Wrong steps off the path though, and you can feel the heat under foot through your shoes.  I was carefully touching the sharp rocks, amazed by the warm air and steam pushing its way out of the ground.  Derek took pictures of the sunset and the moon through steam.  Awesome.

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It seemed to be a greater distance back down to the parking lot, and we saw some of those strange birds that we saw on Day 14.   They were on either side of the trail making soft questioning chirps.  Er?  We could hardly see them, but they were white on their undersides  It was hilarious to see only their bottom halves on the move, like pants walking around.  It was completely dark when we got back to the car.

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We drove in the dark all the way back to Akureyri and got into the campsite in the middle of town.  I was very tired but hungry too, and I made pasta while we set up our tents.  The campsite was wide awake and lively still, but didn’t keep me awake.

More great photos of this day are here.

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