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Posts Tagged ‘sheep’


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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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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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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