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All this spectacular scenery to poop on.

All this spectacular scenery to poop on.

Poop anywhere, and leave toilet paper all over.  Streamers of T.P. are so attractive in their delicate minimalism, and when the rain transforms the paper to a white crust of papier maché it creates the alluring natural effect of a white barnacle on the pristine lava rocks.   It’s reassuring for anyone who passes along a path to find signs that someone else has been here first, so mark the way as safe with a turd and a big clump of T.P.!

Shower improperly at the pools.  To really raise some hackles, put your suit on before you go in the shower and run past the water.  Be careful to get a wee bit sprinkled but not get your hair wet.   Why waste all that fresh hair gel from yesterday? Why not go for more glares, and act all weirdly prudish trying to not look at the naked people!

Act like you own the place.  So what if birds nest here.  You, vs. birds?  Those birds, they can dig new tunnels to nest in, it’s so much more important for you to walk out there on the grass past the signs.  Erosion problems?  Pfft.  Obviously the path isn’t so eroded it can’t take just one more visitor.

Anyone behind a counter is here to serve you, so use a commanding voice, preferably loud, and demand to know where the bathrooms are, why the bus isn’t on time, and where’s the salad dressing.  Queues are for chumps.

Drop your litter everywhere.  There are hardly any public trash cans except for at gas stations, so of course that means you can throw your litter everywhere.  In the parking lots, into the waterfalls, and in the ditch anywhere you pull over.  It’s so windy in Iceland,  the wind will pick up all your trash and carry it to where it can hang up in some thorns or on a fence and dramatically improve someone else’s photos.

Cigarette butts don’t count as trash, so feel free to drop and stomp them into the rocks and rivers.  They slip so handily into the cracks in the porous lava rocks it’s almost as if they were meant to be, and they add a much needed contrast to the pure blacks and reds of the stones underfoot.  Butts in moss- now that’s fine art.

Nota bene:

The sundlaugs are minimally treated with chemicals, and that’s possible because everyone who uses them scrupulously cleans themselves.  That means showering like you’re at home, naked, soaping everywhere and shampooing hair.  Like you’re at home- that thoroughly. There are signs in every pool explaining the procedure in 5 languages.  Figure it out.

Take some responsibility! Collect your trash and wait for an appropriate place.

I think I’m going to have to write a rant about proper toilet paper use in the wild.  It’s a problem the world over, it seems.

Suspicious sheep are watching you.

Suspicious sheep are watching you.

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11 Northern lights over Skaftafell

Determined to make it to Skaftafell, we were riding (our bikes) late at night across the sandar. The great expanse of grey sandar, a thousand square kilometers of volcanic ash and gravel coughed up by the eruption of Öræfi, is eerie and beautiful in the dark, silent and glittery with the numberless rivulets of water finding their way to the sea.  There is no option to camp in the sandar, so once we entered it, we knew we had to make it the whole way.   There was no traffic but the big trucks that haul after dark, and they were few and far between.   My brother was far ahead of us in his truck, and we were riding hypnotically side by side and talking, comfortable knowing we could see traffic in either direction ten miles away.  There are long wooden bridges with grated metal decks crossing the rivers.  Some seemed a half mile long.   The last one was mangled and tossed aside by the water in 1996 when Grímsvötn erupted, and there are some twisted steel beams like modern art on the side of the road there as memorial.

Just as we passed there, the indigo sky opened up in Northern lights, and we overtook my brother, who was parked taking pictures.  He said he could hear us coming by our excited whooping and shrieking at the sky.  Over and over the waves of lights flickered through the sky, brighter than moonlight, gorgeous.  We were cold from riding hot and stopping, but we couldn’t stop watching the lights, and we posed for some pictures with our bikes.  Late in the night, we rode the final miles to Skaftafell, looking forward to the flat camping and hot showers we knew to expect there, and the thunderous cracking of the glacier next to the park.

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12 Invited upstairs for tea at the herring factory museum in Siglufjörður

The town of Siglufjörður was wet and cold when we got there, but when we were looking around the herring factory museum, a man came out, said it was closed for the day and he was tired, but he would open it up in the morning around 8.  Interested, we decided to bed down early and visit the museum in the morning.  It was a good choice.  We soaked at the pool, the hostel was wonderful and we had it to ourselves in the off season.  In the morning we went around to the museum again.  A young woman turned on all the lights for us and left us to our own devices.  An hour or so later, the man from the previous day came downstairs, talked with us and then invited us upstairs for tea.  There were a couple of other men there, directors, or sponsors?, and the young woman. They shared tea and cookies and talked about the administration of the museum,  the history of saving the property, and scrounging up the parts of other abandoned herring factories that were being scrapped to reassemble the museum as it is now, housed in multiple buildings with the multiple functions the factory had.  About three hours passed before we’d seen it all, and I left with a children’s book written and illustrated in exquisite watercolours by the same man who invited us for tea- the museum director and driving force of the whole project.  I wasn’t able to find him again to have my book signed, though.

13 Bowling in Akureyri

There’s a very prominent bowling alley on the strip of museums of all sorts that have sprung up on the road to the airport.  Since we were resting up in Akureyri and enjoying the sundlaug and buffet at Bautinn, we thought we’d try out some bowling.  Nothing prepared us for Friday night at the lanes.  It was crowded with young people, but not just young people.  There were ladies dressed to the nines and eyeballing the boys two lanes over, the booze was flying (literally- glasses of beer smashed on the hardwood), there were catastrophic drunks, we got invited to a party, a scuffle broke out, and there was some majestically abysmal bowling.  Clearly it wasn’t about the bowling skills at all, since it didn’t seem to matter if a ball even made it down the lane it was meant to or any lane at all.  It was pretty typical style for nearly everyone to hurl the ball out and release it at eye level, where it would smash down painfully onto the lane and possibly make it down to the pins.  More than once someone wiped out and hurtled themselves into the gutter.  It was a mesmerizing spectacle.  It was also the first time I’d bowled tenpin, so I thought that was pretty cool.  It was so totally fun we came back with my brother the next night, and that’s how we missed the significant earthquake that knocked plates off of shelves and shook the earth all around us in the north of Iceland.  Everything was shaking and rumbling already in the bowling alley, and we had no idea.  In retrospect though, there was one patch of time where half the lanes malfunctioned at the same time, resetting pins inappropriately or not resetting, and not counting the scores or returning balls.  That was probably the moment of the earthquake.

14 Jolaöl and Jolaskyr

Besides the off season perks of having special attention as the only tourists or else empty hostels to ourselves, the best thing about being in Iceland so late in the year was the Jolaöl, and the hilarity of trying to pronounce it.  Already knocking back the familiar Egil’s Malts like nobody’s business (tall cans of non-alcoholic orange flavoured stout-esque non-beer), one day in Mývatn there were these blue cans that we hadn’t seen before.  Wow!  Jolaöl was the tall blonde version of Egil’s Malt, perfectly sweet and bubbly and orangey-beery.  Technically a soda, although it tastes more like a beer, this blew away every soft drink I’ve ever had (except OOgave is pretty darn good too).  It’s a special holiday beverage, appearing just shortly before Christmas.  We promptly started buying it 12 at a time and freaking out when there were no cans left in the back seat.  Especially incredible had cold with a hot pool. Likewise for specialty Christmas products was Jolaskyr- skyr, which we were eating pounds of daily, packaged with Santa Claus on it, and flavoured with candied apples!

IMGP395415 Vík in the sunshine

Vík, or more specifically the famously recognizable rock formations at Reynisfjara and nearby Dyrhólaey, is notorious for being socked in, grey and overcast and rainy.  In 2010 we passed through a total of four times and had the same weather every time.

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This time, the sun was out in full force, warm on the black rocks and black sand beach, and the stacks were bright and formidable in the sea, haloed with swirling birds.  My brother and I  climbed over the piles of huge black rocks, farther and farther from the main beach in the low tide, finding little coves of pebbled beaches strewn with bones and bird bodies, until I could see Vík and was sure I could get all the way around the point by the beach.  My better sense prevailed – my bike was at the parking lot, and by the time we got back out to it, the weather had changed, surprise, surprise.

IMGP137616 The amazing proprietor of a hotel in the Westfjords

who told me No he couldn’t rent me a room, they were all closed for the year, and the restaurant was closed too.  He called a restaurant in the next town to see if they were open and could feed us, and when they were not, then said Well maybe I could feed you some bread, and salad, and maybe there’s some soup.  He produced a wonderful meal, then told us we could sleep in the gymnasium if we wanted, and by the way there was a ping pong table.  Best night ever!

IMGP363617  Derek learning to drive a gas vehicle.

He’s only ever driven a diesel before, with the ultra-slow accelerator response, so his first time in a gasoline vehicle was like the Formula 500, and it was a pretty large truck.  The first two days were full of peeling away with a screech from green lights (Ooops, sorry.  I hardly pushed it!) and very abrupt halts (Ooops, sorry.  Wow, these brakes really brake).  It was pretty funny, especially when I was coaching him on the drive out of the parking lot from the people we just rented it from:  Okay, just barrrrely touch it.  Errrrk!  Whoa!!  I barely touched it!  Are all gas vehicles like this?  This is what people are driving in all the time?   Uh, yeah, it is!  Watch out for the sidewalk there-  Errrk!   Did they see that?  Ummm, yep.  They’re watching.  I wanted to email a week later- your truck’s still intact!  I just about died laughing.  But he got used to it and no one and nothing got hurt.   I wanted to email a week later- your truck’s still intact!

Also very special was:

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Sleeping in caves.  There was one big enough to set up two tents in, right next to the road, dry and open, and another half full of snow that we threw down sleeping bags in the bottom of.

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The solar powered drink dispenser in the middle of nowhere- wonderful!

Hotel Hellisandur and the fancy buffet of exotic foods and meats.
IMGP3545Walking on the beach by Hvítserker, where 24 seals bobbed in the water watching us and following us along the beach, popping under the water if you made eye contact.  Psst, we’re being watched.

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Current structures

We went to Iceland for two months in 2012.  I didn’t saddle myself with any grand expectations of how much I might blog about it, considering how the last time worked out (took over a year to write about it).   I posted a smattering of pictures like these, but it’s probably high time to report on the overall trip.

Don’t plan to cycle in Iceland after September 15.  When the fall, haust season is described as being “beautiful, getting windy and rainy”, it’s not “a little bit of wind, picturesquely causing the grasses to wave”.  It’s gales and gusts of wind blasting down the fjörds that can blow motorcycles off the road (saw it happen), and shake a vehicle like you’re in a riot.  Wind you can’t walk in, that beats a tent up badly.  It’s rain, all right, hammering sheets of it.  Then in the beginning of October, the rain switches to snow.  Blizzards, since the wind doesn’t abate.  Late October and November, we had some serious run-ins with road closures.  Not only do some storms close half the roads in the country for a day or two, but some roads permanently close after the first good snow, cutting off lots of fascinating places (forget the highlands).   Plus the days are getting shorter.  So if you’re considering cycling in the shoulder season, don’t.  Iceland is trying to extend the accepted “tourist season” with marketing, because the numbers of tourists pouring in are rapidly escalating, meaning higher volumes and greater impact on their natural sites.  They want to spread out the visiting, but the weather- jeez.  They call it tourist season for a reason.  I’m Canadian, and I found it daunting.  It bears repeating: Don’t plan to cycle in Iceland after September 15.

Iceland is still stunning, breathtaking, and elemental.  There are still lots of cats. Apparently, they grow bananas in Iceland.  During movies at the theatre, they turn it off halfway – just hit pause mid-movie, mid-action sequence, mid-sentence – for intermission.  Everyone mills about, stretches, gets more popcorn, and uses the rest room.  This is the most fabulous thing ever, and I so so wish that some bold North American theatres would try such a thing.

There is a much, much greater variety of foods in the grocery stores – markedly different even from 2010.  Cell service is complete, with nearly no service-free zones in the whole country, and just unbelievably cheap.  We spent less than $50 total on sim cards and plans for all three of our cell phones for two months, all the text and data and talking we could need.

Gas is ridiculously expensive, in contrast.  There was an odd trend in effect of US flags, and stars and stripes being used all over clothing.  I didn’t get a satisfying explanation – only a guess that it was about the cultural difference where Americans spray and wave their flag on absolutely anything and everything, while in Iceland there are super strict rules about any reproduction and use of the flag.  Rules which are followed.  In October, we almost never even saw a flag outdoors, because the days were so short it seemed to not be worth their while to put one out and take it down mere hours later.

There are still thousands of gorgeous, stocky horses, and hundreds of thousands of sheep.  Those were mostly behind fences this time, though, which was much less exciting.  It was so fun in 2010 to see them popping up everywhere.   Any still at large this time were hastily being collected, after the major storm around Akureyri that killed so many sheep so early this year.  Seeing wagons jammed with fleecy lumps was a regular sight our first weeks on the road.

There are more guardrails and ropes now.  Iceland has noticeably suffered from the impact of tourism, and it made me much much more aware of my impact.  In the same places where there were no barriers and I ran unrestricted around on the grass in 2010, now I saw worn paths, erosion, and bare compacted areas flawing the landscape.  I got very angry at my husband when he stepped over ropes, and livid at groups of photographers in the hot destinations (Vík) who stepped en masse over ropes marking nesting areas.  Photographers, of course, are above rules when it comes to getting the perfect shot.  That really made me laugh, too.  Ten side-by-side nest-trampling jerks with fat lenses on tripods, all pointing at the same rocks, all waiting for the same sunset, all about to capture minor variations of the same picture.  And this was off season!

On the plus side of going late season, there were fewer tourists cluttering up the place, and once we got out of the hot zones (the southwest, Akureyri), we saw nearly no tourists at all.  Campsites were nearly all shut down, but then, most of them were free.  So if you want to camp in the snow, with no facilities, it’s generally free, and we saved a great deal of money this way still having the convenience of flat, private, hassle-free mid-town camping.  Because of the inclement weather, we opted far more often (vs. only once last time) this time to pay for a room, and guesthouses are abundant.  However, lots of them are closed after Sep 15 or 30, and that meant a lot more advance phone calls.  They were somewhat cheaper for being off-season.  Iceland doesn’t rely too much on “indoor attractions”, but almost all of the museums also closed after late Sep.  Don’t fret, though, the Phallological museum, the Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery, and I think Skogasafn, are open year round.

We were there a long time, and encountered a lot of people.   There were lots of friendly Icelanders still, proud of their country and happy to share it, but to make a general statement, the natives are sick of tourists.  I thought it might be because we were there late, everyone who has to interact with tourists has had a full three months of dealing with idiots and is ready to have a peaceful winter speaking only Íslensk, but I fear it’s a deeper fatigue of the invasion of útlendingers (outsiders).  Iceland’s tourist industry is not that old, a welcome upsurge and new infusion of money after their much-publicized crash.  Lots of people are capitalizing on all the people and foreign money discovering Iceland’s incredible nature, but this is coming at a price.  At any rate, it made me very sad to see the changes happening.

Also sad for me, I didn’t get much practice with my Icelandic, that I’d spent a lot of time working on.  Naturally spoken it’s about a thousand times faster and sounds different than it does on a CD, but I still could understand much more than anyone assumed, and I very often could have said what I meant in Icelandic but chose English instead, because it was vulnerable to try, and I was very rarely indulged or encouraged.  In retrospect, I feel great kindness and gratitude to the native speakers who did exchange a couple sentences with me at the beginning of our trip.  Not too much later, I’d given up, and settled into using my Icelandic only for avid eavesdropping, reading, and translating.  I got the weary “Oh great, you learned ten Icelandic words  from a book and you’re using them badly” expression paired with the response to my question in disgustingly perfect English so often it crushed my desire to try, and I started conversations always in English.  That made me sad and frustrated when I knew enough to have said it all in Icelandic, albeit imperfectly pronounced.  That was easy to think afterwards, when someone had been sweet and open, but in the split second of deciding which language to begin in, without knowing if the topic would go outside of my range or if I’d get that withering look, it was too scary, and I reverted to English only.

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In the morning the full house erupted rather at once.  Notable events of the morning: the hut keeper didn’t recognize me, and was obviously perplexed how I’d gotten into the place during the night without him noticing.  The female occupant of the bunk above ours tried to climb up the wall because I was blocking the way to the ladder (the long table down the center of the hut could either be walked around or sat at, not both at the same time- the space was too tight).  She was using admirable climbing form, and had her feet above her hands before the sideboard she was grasping gave way and she crashed full onto her back to the floor.  I broke her fall a little, and the Belgian snatched a cup of tea out of her path preventing multiple scaldings.  She leapt straight up, mostly embarrassed, but it was a hell of a crunch.  She thought she’d killed my brother I think, but it was just his backpack.

Rustling around all the other hikers trying at once to stuff bags and get awkwardly out the door, we got ourselves packed and squeezed out, chatting for some minutes on the deck with an Icelander who was thrilled to be escorting two American friends over this hike.  The climber girl who had fallen on me, and her boyfriend, in fact.  He rhapsodized about fiskar (dried fish) with butter, and proudly shared some orange flavoured Icelandic chocolate, creating instant addicts out of us.  The morning was clear and crisp, a “bracing” cold, and the mist was scuttling away so we could see where we had been the night before- an expanse of rolling hills pocked with those mysterious pits.  The strange bowls were created by the action of the sun on the layer of ash heating the ice beneath, he explained, and we marvelled at this phenomenon.  He pointed out the path we should take down- one of many threads of footprints spidering away from the hut.  We could see the tracks of a Cat through the ash that must have brought supplies.  He warned us that the first half of the walk down was numbingly boring, and at that we set out into the grey ash desert.

A couple of km down we checked out the “free hut”.  It was a  corrugated iron shack cabled down to bolts in the ground, with an A-frame outhouse heaped in rocks to keep it from blowing away too.  The door opened on an enormous mound of garbage, behind that a filthy plywood floor.  The wind was whistling piercingly through the joints, rattling the windows, and banging the door against its latch.  Not inviting.  We agreed, we were glad we had paid for the Útivist hut.

The Icelander had been right: for a good while the walk down hill was pretty monotonous, following the treads of the Cat, which met a road, which rolled ever onward downhill through this desert of ash.  Slowly, the severe landscape changed.  Green was introduced, and on our right, a creek was making itself known in a cleft that got deeper and louder every time we paused and stepped off the road to look down into it.  Soon it was a foamy, milky rapids, and later, cleaner, with swirls on the surface that betrayed the speed and depth of the water now.  We crossed the river once on a footbridge, and for the rest of the way, the river stayed on our right.  Near that bridge we saw our first fox tracks in the ash, and shortly after that it got green.  Where there’s green, there’s sheep, so we saw lots of sheep and even more sheep evidence on our way down.  The sheep all stared back at us, usually while chewing rythymicly.

Today’s hike was very, very easy.  Going downhill generally is.  It was a steady, gentle slope.  The river beside us, the Skóga, grew larger and fell over a series of falls.  Not little waterfalls, either.  Considering we were descending a moderate grade, it wasn’t logical how again and again, we’d encounter a huge raging waterfall.  An interpretive sign at the end of the road would tell us there were 21 falls on the route we walked this day.  There were at least that many.  The frequent long stairstep falls probably didn’t count.  Unique, gorgeous, calendar beautiful falls, every one!  It was an abundSo terrible.  The battery would get one snap and then turn off- no time to adjust settingsance of beauty that seemed so excessive and extravagant that it became humorous.  Derek started saying “Oh, just another foss” at each, next, extraordinary spectacle.  “Oh, another foss” was something we said with a grin and shrug quite often the whole rest of our trip, as Iceland turned out to be truly thick on the ground with world class waterfalls.  Sometimes we’d hear the roar a ways off; sometimes the sound would be blocked by the land, or we’d turn a corner to discover another, suddenly.  Sometimes the trail would wind to the base of a foss, sometimes you would see one below you from the top of a cliff.  At every one we were just killing ourselves that we had no camera at all at this point to preserve it with, and we’d just pause and stare instead, trying to fix it in memory.  The sound and the mist and the “good ions” made for a very peaceful day’s walk downhill.  It was quite far, but not at all hard.   The nearer we drew to Skógar, the more oncoming hikers we saw, some out for a day hike up the Skóga, some setting out for Básar.

Most of the time we were walking through trenches in the grass that were sometimes hip deep.  The walking trails had compacted down, digging a ditch through the sod.  This turned out to be characteristic of trails everywhere in Iceland.  When they got too uncomfortably deep, a new trail would start right beside it, so in softer places there would be two or three trenches of varying depths with obvious historical order.

Our hike terminated at Skógafoss, a 62m waterfall missed by few tourists, because it’s readily accessible right off the Ring road at Skógar.  We came on it from above, climbing a stile, having a dizzying look down the falls, and at the backs of the gulls circling in the mist and nesting in the mossy rocks.   It was like reentering another world; as a tourist attraction, Skógafoss is very well traveled.  The steel stairs to the top of the foss are a revolving treadmill of steady foot traffic at all hours.  We were grubby, backpacked, and all serene from solitude and exercise.  Who were all these people?  Society has benefits though- we beelined to the visitor’s centre to immediately plug in our camera batteries and eat, as we had budgeted very accurately for food.  In other words, we had none left.  Menu options?  Minimal.  Fries.  Chocolate.

After the recharge, we went back to the waterfall and climbed it again to get some pictures.  Then we got on the road and hitched out of Skógar, headed to Vík. Vík is supposed to be a must-see for exceptional basalt columns rising out of the ocean at Reynisdrangur, and the sea arch at Dyrhólaey, and I really wanted to take this in, but we never did.  Ironically, we ended up passing through Vík FOUR times, but sadly it remained a list item for “next time”.

This time, it was raining, and we lucked out on a really long ride who was going straight through to Höfn, so we did not stop in Vík, but took the ride to Skaftafell.  This super friendly guy who was thrilled to stop anywhere we we curious about to take a picture, and who talked endlessly about the beauty and history of his country as we drove through it, just happened to be former CEO of one of Iceland’s big three banks.  Yep, all in a normal day for him to pick up a couple of unwashed Canadian backpackers in the rain.  He totally resisted my attempts to draw him out on the topic of Iceland’s recent, crushing economic crash, however.

It was hard to grasp the magnitude of the event from ground level, but this drive crossed miles of sandar -devastation created by the jokülhlaup of the 1362 eruption of the volcano Öræfi.  This sandar, Skeiðarársandar, is the largest in the world, a 1000 sq km floodplain of sand deposited by billions of gallons of water released from the glacier by the volcano’s heat beneath it.  Even to say you could see it from space is an understatement.  A smaller but more recent jokülhlaup event in 1996 took out all the bridges across it like they were made of matchsticks (see picture).  When we later saw it from a height, the grey plain is so large that it fades into mist at the horizon, and is totally impossible to take a picture of.  It’s just so big, it’s all that you see, for as far as you can see.

At Skaftafell we were greeted by a huge, modern, bustling visitor’s centre, gift shop, and regimented square acres of green lawn for a campsite, which we promptly set our tents up on, in the shadow of a green mound of a mountain.  Our tents drew comments, based on their resemblance to alien spacecraft.   I didn’t think they were that weird, but I guess, a bit different.  Derek did a  lot of research before buying our tents, based on weight, ease of setup, and packability.  I loved mine.  Derek spent an inordinate amount of time fidgeting with his, usually every night, trying to get it perfect.  Both of them were ultralight, set up pretty quickly, and dried out very fast, which was perhaps the best feature, since every day we’d wake up in heavy dew if not rain.

Tired from the hike, we got showers (cold), didn’t do  laundry (huge lineup), charged all our accessories (“chargers found plugged in here will be confiscated”), and ate in the cafe.  The cafe served coffee, sheep soup, cake, skyr, and junk food, all shockingly expensive.   I stocked up on skyr, cheese, and chips.  My love affair was skyr was just beginning; Derek had already had enough.  We watched the looped movie about the ’96 jokülhlaup, repeatedly.  I kept falling asleep in it, waking up, and then watching it again to see the parts I’d missed, only to nod off again, until i gave up and went to bed.  Well, first: I was craving a hot spring, we were hitting a week here without having been in one, and everyone we talked to was raving about hot spring this and that, so I hitched up the road to a pool noted in the LP that was supposed to be very nice, only to arrive just as they were closing for the night, alas.  It was dull, rainy, and we couldn’t see a thing for the heavy fog, but we were content to crash.

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I was up with the first sunbeam to a gorgeous, cloudless day.  I jumped on laundry, although making the electronic washing machine work was a bit of a time-consuming challenge, and several other early risers got involved with me pushing buttons, before the thing miraculously came alive.  After that I was a relative expert, and had to start the thing repeatedly for other foreigners.  (Hold this button for ten seconds, then press this one and this one at the same time, then release the first while holding this other one, then wait 5 seconds, then press this one). Really. Or at least it seemed like that.  It was like arcane knowledge passed down between travellers.

I felt blessed to be able to watch the mist coil away from the grass, lift off the mountains and the glacier, to reveal for the first time where we actually were.  I made good use of my Thermarest chair (essential), ate skyr, and made notes in the white space borders of our LP guide, as I was still bereft of my journal.  The ground was drenched with dew and very cold on the soles of my feet, as I made frequent barefoot missions to confirm that the laundry STILL wasn’t finished.  Eventually I gave up and hung all our socks on the bushes and the guy lines of our tents, in good company with all the other campers.  Something is up with their laundry.  The first time I spent $16 and three f@#king hours to do one load of laundry I thought it was anomalous.  The third time it happened,  laundry ceased to be that big a priority.

After leisurely awakening, we decided to spend another night based here, bought new tent tags, then left around 10am for Jokülsárglón, a little further east down the Ring road, getting a ride from a French/Swiss couple with barely enough room for themselves and their gear in the car, let alone us.  But hop in!

Jokülsárglón is another site of stunning beauty easily reached off the Ring road that could be considered a tourist trap.  They definitely process a great many tourists that come for a quick lap in the amphibious boats, a few pictures, and maybe a waffle.  What it is is a great glacial lagoon formed by the ice melt off a tongue of the (inconceivably huge) Vatnajökull glacier, filled with little icebergs calving off the glacier, then drifting slowly towards the sea.  The ocean’s tide backwashes into the lagoon,  so it’s partially salt water, and the seals come in for respite too.

Good tourists, we promptly hopped aboard the next amphibious boat departure, price be damned, which drove into the water and toodled around among the icebergs, preceded by a zodiac there to find a safe route.  A beautiful Icelandic girl in a skidoo suit with a river of blond hair told us in perfect English how quickly the glacier was retreating now, 100s of meters faster every year, but that was ok, because global warming wasn’t happening fast enough for Icelanders.  She held a big chunk of ancient ice with bare hands as she talked, then passed it around for the photo ops and smashed it up on the deck of the boat into little chunks for us to nibble on.  I really liked the amphibious vehicle, and the transition from water to land, as you could feel the engine switch to the axles again and drive out of the water(no one else seemed quite as excited as me so I tried to keep a lid on it).

That was the Jokülsárglón tourist experience.  One can also walk leisurely around the banks of the lagoon and take pictures from the land.  Other interesting facts are that they filmed parts of Tomb Raider and Die Another Day here, and to do so they artificially froze some of the lake, and closed off the lagoon from the ocean (!).

The icebergs are gorgeous: stacked layers of white and blue and turquoise with streaks of black ash, and different degrees of opacity, depending on how the ice was formed in the glacier and the pressures exerted, on how long they’d been in the lagoon and how recently they’d rolled over, and on the vagaries of the sun’s action upon them.  We could have taken 100 times as many pictures here as we did, and Derek’s not having his DSLR hurt.

From the blue iceberg lagoon (time limited offer- will no longer exist in 25 years or less), we inhaled waffles with jam (breakfast was non-existent at Skaftafell, although sheep soup would be reheated later, ten bucks a bowl), and walked across the bridge and the road to where the lagoon really comes out to meet the sea.  Glistening, perfectly clear and intricately sculpted pieces of ice like we had sampled on the boat were washed up everywhere on the ash-black sand beach, looking for all the world like a black and white photo even in colour.  We spent some time here, taking pictures of the millenium-old ice in their last days as ice before returning to water, handling the smooth rocks and waiting for the other hitchhikers to be picked up before we got back on the road.

We got a ride back to Skaftafell with an Austrian couple.  I don’t remember any of it.  I was making a habit by this time of falling asleep as soon as I got in a vehicle or a movie.  It was starting to make me worry.  So weird, but as soon as I put the seatbelt on, it seemed, I was struggling to stay awake.   Still early in a sunlit day, we seized the opportunity to go on a glacier tour.  Only the beginner tour (“Intro to glaciers”), as we couldn’t afford much else.

Before that tour departed, we ran over to see the glacier that we were essentially camped beside, a short walk off the visitor’s centre to the oozing spread of ice reaching down towards sea level, and the canyon it had created.  The plain before it was rugged, scraped and sandy, with some rugged shrubbery, pools and rivers of cement, and an awesome view up over the cracking, pressured ice near the bottom to the expanse of snow and ice that Vatnajökull is.   There’s something about that much ice that can silence you with power.   It’s not silent though, it groans.  All night, it sounded like far off thunder, the ice heaving in the night.

Vatnajökull is vast.

We have some glaciers in Canada.  You can walk around on them and drive on them and even go on a very similar guided tour.  See the rocks that are mossy on all sides, see the cauldrons formed by whirlpools.  But Vatnajökull is larger than PEI (a bit smaller than Cape Breton), the same size as Lake Titicaca, with ice a kilometer thick.  All you can ever see of it at once is one little finger of it reaching between mountain ranges.

Our glacier tour was really lucky, there were only the two of us plus one crazy Isreali (non-stop clowning around), with our quintessentially Icelandic guide (rugged, blonde, stoic), who was also very indulgent, letting us climb down into any of  the maligns and crevasses, and climb higher and higher on the glacier, although he was really unhappy when we came down to see a family of tourists clambering around on the ice in running shoes.  “I will not rescue you when you fall in”, he spat, disdainful of fools.  On the way home the tour bus even paused at a gas station/grocery store, for us to buy bananas (a miracle!), rice (lifesaving!) and tomato sauce (hallelujah!) for dinner, which the Icelander approved of.  “College food”, he nodded.


We were starting to notice the food in Iceland, or rather the lack of it.  There’s plenty of chocolate and plenty of ice cream, but there never seems to be much choice for veggies and entrees. Between Vík and Höfn (150 miles), there seems to be two places to eat.  The visitor’s centre (sheep soup again?) and the Jokülsárglón cafe.  Waffles.  Delicious, but they’re two mouthfuls apiece; start with three per person.  This was a hungry day.  A person cannot live on skyr alone!  Not at this pace, anyways.

Back at our campsite in the lee of ridiculous vistas, we made rice, and saw the couple who had left us to our own devices at Gigjökull again.  Iceland is a really small world, for tourists at any rate.   Skaftafell is a major hub.  Oh, there’s that other hitchhiker, the one that had the Vík sign (wave); oh, there’s that Austrian couple again, (wave, “Hi!”); oh, there’s the unusually tall Belgian… you see other travellers over and over again at different hikes and campsites, and on the road.

After wolfing down dinner for four between the two of us, we went for a hike up to Sjónarsker.  Buried in the hills above us was Svartifoss, foss of a thousand postcards.  It was a long steep walk down to it (after walking very high up), and along the there were several other unique little fosses- long ribbons, wide washes that fell in steps, and there was a mossy structure that seemed to house a now-disused hydro-electric generator.   This was one of my favourite fosses of Iceland, although it wasn’t all that swashbuckling, considering the majestic curtains of water we’d already seen.  It was just… special.  It was like a cave, the bowl of space that held the fall, damp with mist held in the air and dripping off the black rock.  It’s the black basalt that makes this one so unique, all the columns of hexagonal rock for all the world like a church organ turned to stone. In the river’s spill out, there were piles of boulders, all hexagonal, different lengths, different dimensions, but all black, all six sided, everywhere you looked.  Amazing.

Sandar, as far as you can seeWe lingered around that strangely “holy” pool and its quiet trickle of waterfall for awhile, then carried on up and out of the ravine and across the top towards the glacier again.  This was a profoundly magical place, something I’d only visited in J.R.R. Tolkien’s imagination.  After gaining altitude, we could see over the sandar, the surviving evidence of power on a biblical order, and then we were in a maze of trails and boardwalks through short trees and thick hedgelike bushes.  It was exactly like being hobbits.  I would lose sight of my brother ahead of me, then would see him bobbing along among the twilit green.  The sun started to set in the west, silhouetting the peak behind us and setting the whole sky and the smattering of clouds ablaze in colours that would change by the second.  In the other direction, the setting sun was lighting up the snowy alpine of the mountains beyond the glacier with pinks and oranges and blues that looked fake.  Us, tiny creatures in between, wandered among the shrubs, laid on the moss that felt thick as muskeg, and ate blueberries by the handful, giving up on capturing any of this on camera.

This area is intricate with hiking trails.  I really don’t know exactly where we went, or how far, but we climbed for hours.  The sun seemed to never set, and we just kept going.  Eventually we reached the lip of the glacier-formed canyon of “our” finger of Vatnajökull that terminates at Skaftafell, so we knew where we were.  We were so high here, looking down from the cliff onto the ice, almost small below us, and across the wide canyon at jagged, majestic mountains.  I was seized by an urgent and totally illogical urge to summit Kristínartindar, a conical, steep peak with a clear trail up it,  although it was nearly dark.  It was right there!  So close!  Derek groaned; we argued.  Derek put his foot down and talked me out of it, after I tried to talk him into letting me go alone.  At this point, the sun was well below the horizon, but there was still light, a dreamy, glowing kind of light that seemed to come from everywhere.

I bargained with myself I’d climb here again in the morning (I did not), and headed down with Derek.  About an hour down, and descending started to seem just as hard as the ascent, plus we were in total darkness eventually, with meek headlamps, and it was gnarly.  Wet and slippery, rocky, craggy, and thick with strong, stubborn trees.  By the time we made it back to camp, my legs were jelly.  Sleep hit hard and fast, and the glacier went on thundering through the night.

The Extra photos are really worthwhile for this day: click here

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Day 9 was worse.

The Galleri B&B was gorgeous.  Luxurious, in fact.  I highly recommend it.  It was a bit out of character on this trip, an extravagant exception to sleeping in tents, but it was necessary, especially since Derek’s cold could either get better or really bad at that point, so it was important to have a comfortable warm sleep.  We had long hot baths, drank lots of hot tea, and slept as long as possible.

In the morning, breakfast was served in the gift shop, a mixture of food that Icelanders eat and what they think Americans eat.  Very cute, and ample.  I had multiple waffles, still making up for lost time and perpetually hungry.  The gift shop was full of beautiful handmade things, lots of them made by the two beautiful (blonde) daughters of the proprietors, whom we saw flitting about and who’d let us into our room in the night.  We lingered there for awhile, bought a few things (made more mental notes), and reluctantly got on the road in the late morning.

I wanted to go to Geysir, because we were “this close”, Derek wanted to get into Reykjavík to catch some marathon day events.  For awhile we played both sides, darting across the road to stick out thumbs at any vehicle passing, either way.

This did not work out.

After finally committing to definitely going to Reykjavík, and then walking all the way out of town, we still waited, and waited, and waited…  We took pictures of the sheep grazing in the median, and laughed at them.  The sheep moved on.  We decided there was more traffic going off the split to Selfoss than the more direct way to the city, so we moved over to that arm of the roundabout.  And waited.  And waited.  What traffic there was appeared to be horse trailers going to þingvellir, to the pony show we’d heard about.  There was no bus, unless we got to Selfoss.

In the afternoon, we got a ride.  Partway to Selfoss.  It was starting to look dismal to get into Reykjavík in time for the evening fireworks.

Then the guy with the stuffed Komodo dragon in the backseat (some vague explanation involving a strip club) picked us up, and things started looking up.  He drove like a demon, and took us right into town.  We asked about a Pentax dealership, and he took us straight to an Elko, the equivalent of a Best Buy.  Unfortunately, they don’t deal in Pentax, but here’s the address of the place that does.

On the city transit to get to the campground (more waiting), and finally, to set up our tents and drop the packs we’ve been standing around wearing for hours.  On the bus again to find some food (more waiting) downtown.  Happily, we chanced upon this amazing quasi-Indian cuisine place with a mad salad and soup bar, all fantastic ingredients.  SO good, and the first time I got full in days, it seemed like.

We wandered along the crowded downtown Laugarvegur to take it all in, saw some good music (and some bad) and then I got the bright idea of taking advantage of the free Culture Day public transit, and going to pick up our suitcases from the BSÍ.  We went and got them, then got on a couple of the wrong buses going in the wrong direction, got yelled at by a power-tripping driver for standing too close to the door, and finally made it back to camp just after the more cautious couple who decided to wait for the right bus. note- two sweaters in the same picture, and that was an accident!

The buses were all off schedule, crowded, and unpredictable because of the holiday.  On the bright side, the BSÍ guy “remembered me”, remembered what luggage was ours (!), and then charged us for about half the time we’d left it there, with much winking.  I didn’t remember ever seeing him before, but I was grateful for the break in this expensive land, and happy.

Nearing dark, we headed back downtown for the fireworks.  Everyone was wearing Icelandic sweaters (a fashion statement that has no boundaries at all) and there were many handheld beers walking around.  Various street vendors and performance artists were doing their things.

One cooler art piece we noticed was spontaneously shed shoes and pants lying in little heaps in the street.  We didn’t see any pants actually being shed, but over and over, you could spot shucked clothes left behind.  We saw the rather talented blue ninjas tumbling and running through the street, and ran after them a ways to keep watching them, with several other kids.

Mainstage, in the heart of downtown, was blaring abominable music, but the hill above was the best place for the fireworks, so we joined the throng converging to wait and jockeyed for a place to set the tripod.  Children swarmed all over the sculpture of Ingolfur Arnarson and teenaged couples snuggled in the grass.

Icelanders even do fireworks differently.

In Canada, say, firework displays start tentatively, maybe with a bit of a teaser, then they escalate to the big stuff, with some pauses in between, with some attention to colour combinations, with some obvious planning of how two effects might overlap to best evoke ooh and aah, and then there’s a notable crescendo, culminating in an obvious finale- the big bang.  Then everyone knows it’s definitively over.

Well, Iceland fireworks aren’t like that.  They start cold, without warning, just as strong as they finish; just a full-on withering blast with no pauses, no crescendos, no altering in any way of pace, as though a small army of people is dashing around lighting fuses willy-nilly as fast as they possibly can, until they run out of explosives, at which point it all just stops dead.

It was possibly the most interesting display I’ve ever seen.  It was about as much TNT as three Parliament Hill Canada Day shows, all used up in an action-packed 15 minutes straight of constant explosions, just puking out fireworks until -pht- all over.   Derek and I look at each other like “WTF just happened?” then look around at everyone else, cheering and folding up the lawn chairs.   For them that’s normal.  The atrocious main stage act resumed belting it out, and the crowd started to disperse.

Wow.  Iceland.

This was the biggest party of the year in Iceland, but we just wandered slowly back to our camp, people-watching.  The streets were closed to vehicles; the crowds were as thick as a subway at rush hour; strollers were as thick on the ground as teenagers weaving among the crowd, and almost everyone suddenly had a can in hand.  It was like a family friendly folk festival, only with booze, blackouts, and an ambulance fighting through the crowds to reach an unconscious drunk.  Amazing.

It was a bit anti-climactic to make hot chocolate between our tents and go to sleep while a city-wide party raged, but Derek didn’t seem inclined to seek out a drunken good time, and I was more than happy to concur.

Yeah, boring.  Cities rattle me at the best of times, and crowds worked up to that pitch unsettle me big-time.  Even in this amazing place, I was emotionally exhausted by the whole thing; sad, shaken, tragic, overwhelmed with wanting and hunger to BE more.  I had a serious case of not enough; not pretty/young/successful/bold/talented/rich enough- a sure indication that I’ve let the city get to me.   I felt terrible too, guilty that my choices had screwed us up right and left, gotten us stuck and dragged us all over wrong turns for two days, and now my brother was sick and without a camera.  I went to sleep in my clothes, waking at 5am feeling like I hadn’t slept at all, resolved to surrender.  Surrender.  Surrender.

All night the wind chimes hung in the tree between our camp and the next sounded like cutlery clinking, and I dreamed our neighbouring campers were eating.

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Up at 6:15 and out of my alien spacecraft at 6:30.  I transferred our laundry to the dryer (thinking ahead), and went back to Laugardalslaug.  This was the perfect time to be here.  It was all old people, who knew the ways of the pool.  I managed the whole process correctly, following by example, sat stewing stoically in the hot pots with the old birds, and even used the hair dryers and lockers properly.   Back to camp, I started breaking, packed the car, waked my bro and retrieved the laundry.

Off to the camera store.

This is a matter of perspective.  Was it tremendously lucky that they had the exact same model camera as Derek’s flooded DSLR (only one of them), and that it had recently been reduced by 500kr, or did it really suck that it was still roughly twice as much as he’d got his on eBay?  It didn’t take very much discussion.

We bought it.

I tried to strong arm them for a further discount (pre-arranged; Derek said “I can never do that”; I said “for a thousand bucks, I can”), but there was no dice.  This is Iceland, she said.  Things cost more here; suck it up.   To preempt any suspense, the other camera came back to life (but waited until it was back in Canada to do so), and we recouped plenty of the cost, eventually.  But even without that compensation, that camera was totally worth it.

We left with the exact same camera, well, two actually, slightly a weird feeling, but one new one, working exactly like the old (new) one, now packed back into the (new) box.   All the lenses and accoutrements matched perfectly.  Derek was as overjoyed to have his camera back in his hands as I was to be driving.  Back out towards þingvellir, assured that it was worth seeing, on a now familiar road, under a cloudless sky.  Free to choose our destiny, and able to stop anywhere we pleased.

It was a very good morning.  We were bursting with happy and excited again.

At þingvellir in the blazing sun we walked around the historic area.  I really wasn’t feeling the whole “original democracy” legacy of this place, where the landowners and tribe leaders of Iceland’s history first gathered to argue, barter, revel and agree on early laws in the shelter of the natural ampitheatre of rocks, but I really liked the rocks, and we wandered far down a fissure away from the ”central attraction”, then back along the water of þingvallvatn (vatn= lake), looking at ducks and the elite summerhouses, to the little þingvallakirkja (kirkja=church) and cemetery at the bottom of the rift.

We wandered rather circuitously and timelessly around the paths and rivers in the sun, then back up through the Neðrivellir to the big, grandly flagged platform that now stands at the Lögberg, and up through the grand rift Almannagjá that’s as wide as a road.  This place is a tectonic boundary where Europe and North America are tearing away from each other (well, all of Iceland results from that fault and the associated volcanic activity), and here (as in other places in Iceland) you can see the ground literally splitting apart.  It’s sobering.  You can look down into the cracks in the earth’s crust at your feet.  Wow.

I had no patience for the cutting edge multimedia centre at the top of the hill, but let me tell you, the WCs were amazing.  Don’t miss those.  The entire wall of the bathroom was glass, a window looking out into the plain.  All the sinks and faucets were strangely suspended and automatic- you just waved at everything and it worked.  It was striking, like a magazine or art gallery, only with the whole room wide open to the wild with that glass wall so large it didn’t seem to be there at all.  Very impressive.

We drove around the other end of the park to look at Oxarafoss.  Yep, another foss.  I liked this one, I wanted to climb right into it, and it was very strong and blustery, so I got very wet creeping around the edges like Gollum at the pool of Ithilien.  We took some fun pictures and took some pictures for the other group of tourists there, quietly eating lunch on the rocks.  Remarkable- we were only a few hundred metres down the way from the logjam of tourists at the Lögberg, and here at this lovely spunky waterfall, almost no one.

þingvellir is one third of the “Golden Circle”, a trio of attractions that are so close to Reykjavík that almost everyone, even weekend trippers to the city, makes this circuit of Iceland’s features.  A foss, a geysir, some history, and we’ve seen Iceland.  Thank you come again.  This circle is so hyped and so abundantly supplied by every tour company in Iceland that I was all for skipping it entirely, but we were told not to, so we didn’t.  Despite the high traffic it’s still worth it- good advice.

Headed for Laugarvatn, it seemed to be a lot farther than we thought, and the gas light came on as we stopped at the caves.  Why here?  There was a little knot sign, (exactly like the command key on a mac, hmm?),  so we stopped.

An aside about the knots:  these little knot signs are EVerywhere.  They mark every and all “points of interest”, large and small.  What we found, though, when we started stopping at them, was that every one was totally worth the stop, for completely diverse reasons.  Most don’t qualify to “make the guidebook”, but every one is special.  One could make a project of taking Iceland knot by knot.  I’d love to visit every single one.

This one was the Laugarvatn caves, that the interpretive sign told us had sheltered a herd of sheep in a terrible storm, and had also been home to two families.  The men had been great carpenters and built front walls and doors on the front of the caves, and made them deeper, too, to accommodate growing families.  Looking into the “raw” caves, dripping and dark, it was a stretch to imagine.   The sign also matter-of-factly mentioned the elves that were known to live here (!).  Not to get all woowoo, but that was palpable.  It was  very magical place.

In Laugarvatn in the nick of time to tank up, there was a tense moment when both of my credit cards and my brothers’ didn’t work.  At least Derek’s was explainable; he hadn’t informed the bank he was going to Iceland, and he’d used his card in that vending machine!  Lockdown.  That could be fixed.  No idea why mine stopped, but it was a moment of stress.  I decided to ignore the problem and see if it went away (it did, by the next day).

Who needs money though, we had a car with a full tank, and we were off to see Iceland’s largest waterfall, Gullfoss.  We’d seen a fair few fosses already, and were prepared to be underwhelmed, but this one was really, really, big.  Too big for any pictures to really get it across.  It was like Niagara, in fact. Huge.

The giant swath of water turned a corner and dropped over two major steps.   You could walk around on the cliffs above it and it was big, you could walk down in the canyon, get soaked in the mist, walk right up to it, and it was BIG.  Massive.

We ambled around, taking pictures from every possible viewpoint, hanging out on the cliff above with the mist rising up from the river.

Here we got a good picture of what Iceland thinks about tourists.  Either they have far too much faith in “average intelligence”, or they don’t mind if they lose a few in the drink every year.

No guardrails, just a shelf of rock projecting into the bend in the river, with parents taking pictures of their kids standing around on it.  You can lie down and touch the water, screaming past at murderous volume and speed.  Niagara; I’m not exaggerating, and you can just walk around next to it.  Slip near the edge, and no one would even hear you scream, you’d just be gone.  This place sees thousands of tourists a day.   I was marveling.

The risk was intoxicating, vertiginous.  It was so loud, and wet, and windy.  I can’t believe you can be that close to so much power, and no one tries to protect you from yourself with sturdy guard rails.  I was frequently scared out of my mind in Iceland, but it was fantastic.

Next stop, Geysir.  O.G., the Original Geysir.  Yep, the geysir that all geysers are named after.

Geysir proper, the original 80m waterspout, has become irregular, reacting badly to people throwing stuff into it in the past and now erupting an unpredictable few times a day, but a literal stone’s throw away is “little” Strökkur, going off every 3-7 minutes, all day.  I was totally enthralled; we stayed here till sundown, and I wore

out a camera battery taking pictures of it.  It was great sport trying to capture the whole thing with multi-shot sport settings and video- there was hardly any warning.

This living pool of water would surge, ebb and flow, seething and subsiding out of the cauldron in the rust coloured earth, then suddenly would bulge like an overturned bowl with a great turquoise bubble, and shoot into the air, showering the whole area downwind with boiling water, which would then dart like snakes back into the hole in the ground to gather energy and repeat.

Amazing!  Lots of false quickdraws on the shutter.

I did get pictures of the bubble though, the most transient and pregnant moment, too fast to ever catch with the camera except by anticipating it with guesswork.

Again with the cavalier attitude towards tourists- all that boiling water flying around and a thin crust of earth over volcanic activity everywhere, and there’s a few ankle high ropes suggesting you stay back from the scalding zones- lots of little pools, pots, and spouts.  “Haetta” (=hot).  There was a bowl of water a crazy blue here, too, and up the hill, another brass marker pin, like we’d see lots of.

We stayed for probably 40 eruptions as whole sets of other tourists came and went; I was still unwilling to be torn away, still shrieking with surprise every time it fooled me.  Happy and satisfied, we eventually drifted away near sunset, taking the 500 north from þingvellir over some kind of pass towards Snæfellsnes (nes=peninsula).

We stopped randomly on the highway to take many many pictures of some horses, who promptly came up to the fence to visit and then gazed wistfully at us when we left.  Too cute.  We stopped again for Derek to take pictures of the developing (ridiculous) sunset, and I wandered off eating blueberries for supper.  Blueberries everywhere!  You could feed an army on blueberries in August.

Farther into this dirt road (that had looked like a highway on the map) and our surroundings turned ominous, to ash and rock before the light faded.  When the light died, we were trapped between nowhere.  Fog settled like a cage, and I could only see the edges of the road, and that barely.   Luckily the edges of the “road” were rocks mounded up, as though the road had been created by a plow pushing through rock (it probably had been, by a grader).  It was rough.  Derek revised his opinion of Kokanee Glacier Park road as “worst dirt road ever” on the spot.

The road seemed to climb forever, then it went up and down, and never once did the fog break even for a breath. It’s a bit weird to not see any other cars on a road for 12 hours too, and a bit disconcerting.   It was very isolating, and surreal, listening to Björk on repeat, three times through Gling Glo before we snapped out of it (after 2 weeks with 4 cds, I’ve lost the urge to ever hear Gling Glo again).

I was hugging the wheel always squinting at the ground directly in front of me and tensed, ready to correct, for sheep, or precipices, or pedestrians- who knew what could pop out of the fog. It was very fatiguing, and even after I said Ok, I just can’t go on like this, it was another half hour before the road seemed wide enough anywhere to park.

When I did park, we could hear water running, and I went to investigate.   I stumbled around in the dark off the road into a patch of giant ankle-twisting hummocks of grass, but I was so thrilled to see grass at all that I pronounced it totally suitable for camping.  Derek demurred, and pronounced me crazy.

I “set up” my tent (I had to get into it to hold it down in the wind- the video Derek tried to take of me wrassling with my tent in the headlights shakes with his laughter), and he elected to sleep in the car, which was actually rocking in the wind as well.  I had to wriggle around to get myself comfortable, curving my body to fit around the big mounds of grass, and my tent was bending to the wind down to my face, but I passed out effortlessly and slept without moving all night.

Right away we started taking glamour shots of our car, because everywhere we parked looked like a car advertisement. We ended up with 100s of car commercial photos.

I had one of my best nights of sleep ever, with amazing dreams.  I was just starting to feel the magic of sleep in Iceland, as we started to get out into the edges, and pretty soon I was like a junkie for sleeping on the ground here.

I have never slept and dreamed the way I did in Iceland, even on hard tilted ground or wriggled between chunks of rock.  I’m going to abandon trying to describe it, because I can’t, but the air and the earth in Iceland made sleep and dreaming a whole new layer of spiritual experience.

I can’t stop using words of shock and awe, “most, best, ever, never, -est, -est, -est”- superlatives all.  It all seems like hyperbole, but it’s not.  Iceland is superlative.  The whole place is elemental.  I really did see the edges of my experience there, with almost everything natural.

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