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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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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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We slept in on our first morning on the Westfjords, awakened at 9 by keener tourists driving slowly by on the rocky road towards Látrabjarg.  We joined them at the bird cliffs after breakfast.  Látrabjarg is a renowned area for seasonal nesting birds, where they congregate in the thousands on the sheer cliffs of the jutting fjords.

We took our time, and leisurely walked along the cliff edge that juts up at a defiant angle towards the sea.  It was sunny, warm and clear, and we relaxed, lounging in the grass looking over the edge of the cliffs (me), and staying well back from the edge taking birds-in-flight pictures (my brother). It was another site of powerful natural magic, which I was coming to recognize now by my intense desire to fall asleep and dream there.

Closer to the parking area there was higher visitor traffic and more impatient tourists here to see and then leave, asap.  I was astounded by the nerve or idiocy of some people, striding to where the sod curls over the edge and leaning over for a look at the birds clinging to the cracks in the rock.  There were no ropes or guardrails (of course), and over the edge was a 400′ drop to certain death.  Seeing some people being so cavalier with the risk made my stomach lurch, and it seemed no wonder that a German tourist was said to have recently fallen over. That accident was also said to have sparked discussion on whether or not to install guardrails or limitations.  I hope they haven’t.

At least I had the sense to get down on my belly and elbow out to the edge to look over, not just lean out.  Some people!  And that’s where I was, down on my belly, when I saw the puffin!

The current tenants dominating the cliffs were guillemots, whose little white bodies speckled the black rocks, as did their droppings.  They were perched in lively groups and pairs on every available foothold, grooming, dozing, and defending their territory.  Everywhere you looked, there was drama and action, and it was all noisy, the juveniles crying constantly to be fed, a cloud of sound drifting up from the folds of the fjords.

So I was on my belly, and just happened to be looking in the right place to see the one tiny black puffin among all the guillemots swoop in with a mouthful of silver fish spilling over her bright beak and disappear under the sod curled over the cliff’s lip just a few feet away.

I hollered and gesticulated madly at my brother across the fjord, and although I could see the exact place she’d disappeared into, we didn’t catch sight of her leaving.  It was way past puffin season now, and this late bird and her brood were probably doomed, but it was still an exciting sighting.

On the drive out, we stopped at Hnjótur for some delicious waffles, and then drove on to Patreksfjörður, Cheryl driving now so that I could catch up on my travel notes in my little yellow book. We went straight to the swimming pool, which we had to ourselves in midday, and we napped in the pool, bathing in crystal clear 42 degree water, warm sunshine, and a view of infinity.  I highly recommend the pool at Patreksfjörður, even just for the view.

After some groceries at the tiny store and some gas, we took off for Dynjandi.  With a few stops for views on the way, we reached the spectacular waterfall in the early evening.  It’s an incredible cascade waterfall the kind that is so wide and grand it’s impossible to fit it into a picture, let alone represent the scope of it, and it was set in a huge blueberry field.   It was exactly blueberry season, and I wandered barefoot in the sometimes swampy and scratchy bushy hills and ate blueberries until I was full.

At the base of the hill, there was  a herd of Icelandic horses picturesquely plunked in an emerald pasture with a background to die for and a low sun providing dream lighting.  Derek spent some time seeking the “quintessential Icelandic horse picture”.

This was such a glorious location, we unanimously decided to camp here for the night.  The campground was busy, and like the book said, promised to be loud, but the surroundings were more than worth it.   However, first there was  a sunset to be chased.  Dynjandi is a low spot, and we could see the road winding uphill again around the high mountain/walls of the fjord.  Derek wanted a vantage point to shoot the sunset, and we had to move fast.

Driving as fast as I comfortably could, we passed some seals in the bay, and then climbed up over the peninsula.  We drove through an absolute moonscape, a desolate, green-less field (possibly the Gláma moors?).  Near the top of the climb, sobered by the bleak surroundings, we suddenly encountered a group of sheep near the road, and we all burst out laughing,  “Of course!” and “Even here, there’s sheep!”  This proved definitively that sheep get around, truly everywhere in Iceland (Hornstrandir excepted).  the sheep looked a good deal more at home in this moonscape than we felt.

Although we thought we’d missed the good sunset, we were closer to Þingeyri now than turning back to Dynjandi, so we pressed on.  As we summitted the pass, we chanced upon a shocking red red and apricot sunset.  Awesome!  It lasted only for moments, but we caught it, once again feeling the magic of being the only people to see that scene, in that transitory moment.

Driving on downhill in the darkening dusk now, I musingly commented “I want to sleep on a mountaintop tonight”.  No sooner had I said it than a turnoff  appeared and I swung into it.  Place names will be deliberately hazy for awhile now to protect the identity of our location;)

On the dirt road up the hill, we encountered the strangest birds waddling on the road ahead of the car.  They were too big to be quail, too upright to be grouse, and they waddled quick like penguins.  Dodo birds came to mind.  They were just utterly mysterious, and of course we could get no photo evidence or clues of colouring in the dark before they turned off into the brush.

We parked and walked to the top of the hill, which was serene and slightly breezy, with a view of the lights of a small town far below us.  The summit was narrow and long, and we could see the ripples of mountain ridges, varying shades of ink in the full moonlight, for nearly 360degrees, and we could see to the ocean.  The sky was spectacular.  I casually asked if anyone else wanted to sleep right here, and was surprised that Cheryl eagerly pounced on the idea.

Derek made it clear he thought we were both crazy, by now a familiar motif.  We talked him into it and overcame his objections.  I set up my tent for him (better in the wind and less dependent on pegs in the hard dirt of the mountaintop), and he retired with the food bag.  Cheryl and I chose to sleep open air, and she chose a deluxe location on a mattress-sized tuft of grass and moss that she declared simply luxurious and promptly fell asleep on.

I moved down the slope a little, tossed my thermarest on a patch of moss, and nestled down in my sleeping bag.  Then I had a princess and the pea moment with my choice of bedding.  My first choice didn’t seem quite right, so I hopped around in my sleeping bag like some demented one-man sack race and scooting my thermarest around to try other spots of moss.  Eventually I returned to the first spot and found it perfect.

For more photos from this day, visit the Extra Photos

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I woke at 6am to rain sprinkling my face, and a hint of regret that the night was over.  More so, though, I was calm and peaceful and kind of in awe at the quality of night I’d had.  Immediately I looked for the mountain I’d seen, and turned to laugh at where I’d slept.

DSCF6343DSCF6346When I stood up, now that I could see in the dawn, I was in a vast wasteland of featureless lava, and the very well travelled road past the Blue Lagoon was right there.  I could see the steam of the Blue Lagoon plant, too.  However, the car, and where I’d slept, was not visible from the road, because of a slight bump in the road.

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It was maybe the only hidden spot I could have found, such a small void that if I stood straight up, I could see the road, but if I lowered my eyes to the top of the car, I couldn’t.  IMGP6631If I walked a few feet either way, I was in plain sight.  I walked around, testing this, laughing, and then tossed my gear aboard and left to go get Derek.

Grindavík, on the coast, is windy.  Derek’s tent is better able to handle the wind, and his was upright.  He was still in it.  Mine, where I’d left it set up, pegged but empty, was leaned over right onto the ground, rippling a little, and sucked right onto the grass.  Totally flat.  When I pulled in beside it, blocking the wind, it popped up to its proper height like a jack-in-the-box.

We got off to a slow morning, hunting for a bakari and not finding one ’til Hafnarfjörður.

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This was a town with unexpected character and a shockingly lavish viking hotel bristling with embellishments.  We walked around that and found some chickens and very vocal rooster in the back.

DSCF6368We passed through Reykjavík to Hvolsvollur, picking up a few groceries and trying to make a plan.  Indecision was the hallmark of the day.  We were on our last days, and considering backtracking to re-visit places, and see what we’d missed the first time hitchhiking.  Eventually, we elected to head for Skógar.  Derek wanted to get some better pictures than he had the first time.  It turned out to be a good choice.

IMGP6653As we drove, we tried to think of the things to capture on film that might have become invisible in their ubiquity. That meant lots of pictures of the normal road signs that are so different from N. America,  the familiar “no tractors” (on the road in the city), and the dreaded Malbik Engar – Road is about to become unpaved.

We were still taking pictures of the dozens of Mitsubishi Pajeros we saw daily, fascinated that my truck  at home, very unusual there, was one of the top three models on the road in Iceland.  I wasn’t expecting that.

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We stopped for some roadside horses and fed them nubs of carrots.  They were quite happy about it, getting a little pushy and looking wistfully after us when we left.

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On the way, we picked up a pair of hitchhikers who had just finished the Landmannalaugar to þorsmörk hike.  We’d finally let go of doing that hike when time more or less ran out.  I’d been pretty disappointed and not sure whether it had been a good idea, but our passengers, who’d done it right when we would have, told us it was dreadful.  It had rained and they’d had zero visibility the entire hike.   That that made me feel much better.

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DSCF6428Skógasafn, the last museum we went to in Iceland, turned out to be the best.  It had been closed on our first pass.  Not only that, our hitchhikers generously paid our admission.  Apparently all the artifacts that are noticeably absent in museums around the country are all here.  The place was chock full of every kind of tool and bowl and book and boat and clothing imaginable, usually dozens of versions of each thing.  It was a vivid contrast to all the other storyboard-filled museums we’d been in.

IMGP6787In the basement there are stuffed animals of all kinds from Iceland, including the tiniest of birds, and some preserved genetic aberrations.  Outside, there are whole buildings to explore, a church and schoolhouse and the ubiquitous álfhol (elf houses).  Really, if you were going to see one museum in Iceland, this should be it.

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(2012 note- Skógasafn, with the folk museum unchanged, is expanded into a very modern telecommunications and transportation museum in an adjacent building.  It really requires three hours to see it all.  þórður, the proprietor, is still introducing himself to visitors, jaunty and quick in his sport coat and shock of white hair)

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At Skógafoss proper, Derek took pictures at the base and I climbed the stairs, walking out on the little packed pathways to look down on the water and the gulls swooping in the mist, and nesting peacefully unmolested in the black wet rocks at the sides of the roaring water column.  It’s quite scary looking down the drop like that, watching the water fall.  There was even a window of sunshine to bring out the rainbow that’s usually hanging around the base of the falls.

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Heading back northwest, we made a couple of roadside stops, like the attention grabbing Rútshellir – a cave that’s a barn. IMGP6811 This is one of “upwards of 200”! manmade caves in the area, and it only happens to be a very prominently visible one from the ring road.  I’m still in disbelief at the type of people who think “We need a good barn.  Let’s hollow one out of solid rock.”  Wow.  It’s a good lasting barn, at any rate, formerly a hay barn and smithy. (More pics in the extra photos).

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Windblown sheep is watching you.

(2012 note – when we passed here again, there was a couple with a truck parked by the cave.  They seemed to be doing some repair on the door/roof.  The really funny part was the clutch of cows clustered around watching the proceedings, circled in a little too tight with their heads all down in keen interest.  Later that day when we passed again, the cows were all inside again)

We had wheels now, so we went to Keldur.  We’d been thwarted at that the last time, on foot.  This time there was no one around that part of the farm, and we peered through the dark glass into the turf roof houses and Derek took fun pictures of some accommodating farm animals.

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“You think I don’t see you back there?”
“Oops.”

IMGP6889For the night we went to the campsite in Hella, and luxuriated in the amenities of laundry and a long hot shower.  It was a long time now since we’d spent a night indoors, and I’d woken up to find myself lying beside my tent instead of in it (annoyed by the tent’s blocking me from starlight and air) many times.   I’d be naked in the woods living on berries in no time.

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Many more fun photos of this day are here. Don’t miss out.

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DSCF6714I woke up in the early dawn suspecting that rain would catch me out and scooted inside.  When it didn’t rain I scooted back out to the grass, disliking the nylon barrier between me and the sky.  I wasn’t even sleeping on my mat anymore, just using it as a pillow.

I'm in here, doing a backbendOur clothes we had draped on the shrubs were mostly dry.  We went looking for Hjálparfoss in our vicinity- a very nice foss tumbling over basalt arches.  I tried to do a handstand perched on a tip of rock facing the foss, but the battering wind made it too dangerous.  I had to settle for a backbend.

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Leaving there, we came unexpectedly on Stöng II, þjóðveldisbær. This is a modern recreation of the sod farmhouse at Stöng.

IMGP7256We were very lucky that there were some men working there when we showed up.  They let us walk around inside, and we got to see the sod building techniques in action.  What is that!  Oh, a dog.Inside, the house was deeply dark, and we were taking flash pictures again to see what we were walking around.  DSCF6646

In the dark, something brushed against my legs.  I thought I’d imagined it, then it happened again, and it felt alive.  I took a picture of the area and it was a coal black dog checking us out.

When one of the men said “Oh, lights,” and turned them on for us, then we could see all the features – the wooden bed boxes that seemed quite short, the central fire pit, the pooping area – and some interpretive signs.  It’s a gorgeous place, ready to move right into.

Outside, the men were repairing a corner of the building, laying a piece of sod and then slicing the edge off of it to match the layers beneath, in a very crisp line.  He was using a drawknife, constantly stropping it to keep it sharp cutting through sod.

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Their dog, a bit of a puppy, was sweet and very bright, and we had some fun throwing sticks for it in the lush green backyard.  In spite of the extension cords and tools lying around, this place felt like a pre-machinery farm, relaxing and vibrant.   I remember this area being full of green and rock valleys, where the road would wind around and up and down, sort of hobbitty.

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The sun was out and with the good weather we backtracked to Háifoss, Iceland’s second highest waterfall.  It was very impressive, and you walk right up to it and look down into the big gorge that the waterfall drops into.

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Around lunchtime we stopped and took a short walk around a tree farm at a place possibly called Selfit.  The wind had been intense all day and it was nice to take a break walking in the woods.  It was unusual to be in proper trees, so I realized that I hadn’t been missing trees at all in Iceland; it fact I’d barely noticed their absence and it was strange to be reminded of trees walking through a forest.

IMGP7406We got back to the car and I made some open face sandwiches.  We had a very simple diet in Iceland, and it revolved around the most readily available fruits and veggies.  Lots of sandwiches with spiced cream cheese, cucumbers and tomatoes.  We’d snack on bell peppers and bananas, (supplementing of course with plenty of sweet and savoury candy/snacks).

Today, it was cucumber  with cream cheese on rye.  As soon as I made mine I opened my door, and just as Derek was saying “are you sure you want to do th–“ the wind lifted all the cucumber slices off my bread as one and whisked them away, throwing some in the gravel, some rolling away like wheels.IMGP7394  I ran out chasing them while Derek shook with laughter inside the car.  Sigh.

Just up the road there was a big knot sign but there was no interpretive sign.  We climbed up this big promontory that seemed like the attraction – unusually bulky and separate, standing by the side of the road.  Perhaps the sign might be up there, but there was nothing.  It was a mystery.

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View straight downThis was our last whole day in Iceland, and we were on the hunt for another chance to ride horses.  We were in the area for horse farms, the agricultural southwest, and there were plenty of horses grazing in the fields.  Eventually we made some phone calls out of the book.  someone said No, too windy, then someone said Yes, come in an hour.

With an hour to “kill”, we put some gas in the car and some ice cream in us.  We drove out to Skaholt, then back to the farm for our date with the Icelandic horse (I think this farm was Sýðra Langholt, but that is not entirely sure.  I can’t recommend them highly enough, if I knew who to recommend).DSCF6693

Our last riding experience had left something to be desired, and I really wanted to try again.  This time is what all it could be.

The whole event was different from the beginning.  We were hovering around the barn when three beautiful young women rode up to us and jumped off their horses.  They asked us a bunch of questions, introduced themselves and their friend who had come along because we were going for a ride,  and pointed out the helmets for us to choose from, all while they quickly saddled up two more horses for us as theirs stood.  We all set out together, continuing to chat, while they discussed where we might go, deciding on the loop we would take back to the barn.  There was no speech, no safety briefing, no trail, and no formality. No performance.

DSCF6696The moment I got on my horse it was listening and responding to me, ears swiveling around at me alertly.  It was wonderful!  I was riding the horse, not sitting on the horse while it walked behind another horse.  We rode on the road for a bit, then left the road and went through fields, along a hill, all riding in a group, changing our order, picking up and dropping speed. The horses wanted to stay together but we were also clearly in charge of our own horse, and they were sensitive and obedient. The girls were friendly and asked us some questions and also boisterously chatted and laughed in Icelandic with each other.  It was exactly like we had stopped in on some friends and were just out for a ride.

We totally tolted!  It was fast, so I was a little bit nervous when all the horses opened up together, but then it got very smooth, and I felt very comfortable again.  Possibly we paced too.  It’s hard to tell from on the horse, but the trot is very rough, even more so than a western horse because their stride is so much shorter with the short legs, and then it just becomes comfortable and sustainable, while you’re still flying.DSCF6704

Two hours!  We stopped for the horses to eat some grass and drink, rode some more, let the horses run and then we brought them in, took their saddles off and watched them all drop to roll the saddle itch off.  It was such a blissful experience, and not like a business exchange at all.  She passed me the wireless card reader in the barn like an afterthought, we said goodbyes, and left content.

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Feeling like we had now definitely had the experience of riding an Icelandic horse, we headed back to the big city.  We saw a stone réttir on the way – the sorting pen for sheep.  DSCF6720It was a work of art.

At Selfoss we found that washing your car is always free, which is fantastic, to not rush against the time a few quarters buys you.  Maybe not so fun to wash outside when it gets cold and windy.

In Reykjavík we went straight to Perlan for the waffle I was craving since our first breakfast, then to the campsite to empty out the car.  DSCF6741Nearly packed back into my suitcase, I had a giddy moment of thinking “I can bring so much more stuff back” with the empty space I seemed to have.

Then we drove the waterfront for the first time to Kryddlegin Hjörtu for a most satisfying supper.  This is probably my favourite restaurant in Iceland – relaxed, great value, always tasty, predictable, high quality vegetarian soup and salad bar.  Ahhhh.  Already a bit emotional to be at the end of our trip, I drove us back to Perlan for some nighttime pictures of Reykjavík from the deck.

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After vacuuming out the car at a gas station I tried to find my way back to the owner’ place just by following my nose.  I’d been there once to pick up the car, but that had been weeks ago.  I didn’t do too bad but got lost right near his place.  Dropped off back at the campsite (Reykjavík’s city campsite), I couldn’t find Derek anywhere!  Turned out he was asleep.  I left my luggage in my tent on slept on the ground outside it, as per usual.  The night was cloudy, but it didn’t rain until morning.

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There are several more pictures from this sunny day on the Extra Photos page.

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