Our first stop was a waterfall called Skógafoss (63.53155, -19.51125). Skógafoss, I found out, used to be on the coast, when the ocean level was higher (and so all the plains we saw later in the day were coastal shelves). Skógafoss drops 200 feet from a plateau. As with all waterfalls, it’s fed by a glacier, and so the water is very cold. I found this out for myself, as I had decided I was going to walk up to the base - it’s also possible to walk to the top, but the driver thought there wasn’t enough time to do that. As I approached the base, the wind started to blow pretty wet and hard, at least 30 mph, and I wasn’t all that close. I stepped around a rock outcrop, and got hit with a much stronger, wet wind. I stood there for a few moments, taking a couple of photos, and barely able to take a breath, before I retreated. Obviously I had my rain jacket and waterproof pants on, or I would have been totally drenched. Great fun.
Back on the road after only twenty minutes at Skógafoss, we drove along Highway 1, passing the town of Vik (which means “bay” - Reykjavik is “Smoky Bay”). Just beyond Vik, we passed a washed out bridge (63.4491, -18.6737) on a glacial flood plain. You could see the glacier in the distance, the delta where the run off normally flows, and the ocean in the distance. Imagine the force of the water and ice flowing from the glacier.
We crossed a variety of mostly flat terrain, with some lava, but also a lot of areas with lava sand that are basically enormous beaches, though often with some vegetation. As with the area east of Akureyri, the terrain changed occasionally, providing some visual interest for what was otherwise a drive through Saskatchewan. I found the rivers pretty interesting, the terrain is so flat that the rivers meander across wide deltas. Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, was visible on the mountains just north of the highway.
I had eaten part of my sandwich and yoghurt, when I suddenly felt like I would throw up. I managed to contain the urge, amongst other things, but that was enough yoghurt for me.
We stopped briefly at a display for a bridge that had been washed out in 1996. There are a couple of girders on display, and some information boards. The glacier is visible in the distance, about a mile away. We continued along the south face of the mountains, with glacial tongues sticking out at various points.
We arrived at Jökulsárlón (64.04845, -16.17939) just before 1:30 pm. Our first view was of a bay filled with icebergs, and the glacier in the distance. The driver told us that you could often see seals chasing fish in the river. We pulled up to the little café, and as soon as the bus stopped, my nausea came back strong. I figured I wouldn’t be able to avoid it this time, and so I walked towards the rear of the café. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it, and threw up four times right beside the deck, and not far from people eating lunch. “Sorry”, I said. They asked if I was okay, of course, and I was, once I had ejected whatever the offending object was. I was a bit queasy for a while after that, but it passed. I didn’t eat any more yoghurt.
I wandered around the water’s edge for a while, looking at the icebergs and the amphibious trucks that would take us amongst them. The trucks are called LARC-5s. The one we went on was built in 1954. They are all US Army surplus, complete with data plates. Before long, our turn came, we donned life jackets, and climbed aboard.
The seating arrangement was simply benches around the inside rail. We drove into the water, and churned along at a steady 10 kmph (5 knots to me). We sailed out to the middle of the bay, more or less, where the icebergs were relatively sparse, and stopped, shutting off the engine. My stomach was still a little chancy at this point, so I didn’t mind the stop. The guide gave a nice chat about the geology of the area, and after about ten minutes, we started up again, and cruised past some of the icebergs. There was what I assume was a safety person in a Zodiac accompanying us, and he had a lot of fun on the way back, zigzagging across our track as we plodded around icebergs, and back to shore. We disembarked, I had a hot chocolate from the café, a bit more wandering around, and it was time to go. On the way out, we could see several seals fishing in the river.
Because we hadn’t stopped for breakfast - or lunch - we had some extra time. We took a slight detour to another glacier bay (64.01425, -16.3724) not far from Jökulsárlón. I forget why we stopped there, except that we were quite a bit closer to the glacier face. At Jökulsárlón, we never got close to the face at all. We spent only a few minutes here, but it was pretty cool to get a good look at the glacier. Because it was relatively cool and cloudy, we didn’t get to see any calving, oh well, can’t see everything.
We drove back along the same route, because there’s really no other way to go. We stopped at the national park at Svínafellsjökull, which is a glacial tongue, and took a short walk to the face of the glacier. In the distance, we could see hikers walking across the glacier, something I would have done, if I could have worked it into the schedule. The glacier is a dirty brown, covered with ash from a recent eruption. Somewhere in the glacier are the bodies of a couple of German hikers, who went missing in 2007. We walked back to the park office, where they have a nice display about the history and geology of the area.
Our next stop was the town of Vik, a very nice looking little town, right on the coast. We spent a few minutes in a store while the driver filled the gas tank. I had taken a liking to an Icelandic chocolate bar called Nizza, which comes with a variety of fillings - Smarties, rice krispies, and others. I stocked up on a couple of those, having decided I was going to try all of them. The one with licorice in it was my least favourite, but the others were all good.
|In case you want to try some...|
We passed a small church beside the road on the way back to the highway, and the bus driver told us the legend of how it was built. Supposedly, the padre (or mayor, can’t remember) approached the town’s laziest man, and told him to build the church. The man had no experience in building, and wasn’t a carpenter. So he struggled along, mostly unsuccessfully, as the deadline approached. One day, a man approached the church builder, and offered to help. The volunteer then built the church, unassisted, and just in time. As he put in the last nail, the man went to thank him, and instead, the volunteer disappeared.
Well. I have my doubts that this actually happened. On a trip to Santa Fe, NM, we visited the Loretto Chapel. When the chapel was being built, they needed a staircase built for access to the choir. No one could figure out how to do it, though, due to lack of space. One day, “a shabby looking stranger” appeared, offering to build the staircase, but he needed total privacy. He shut himself in the chapel for three months, and at the end of it, disappeared before he could be paid. The staircase was built without nails or a central pillar. Some people think that the carpenter was St Joseph, Jesus’ father (or whatever). Anyway, I just find it interesting that such similar legends could pop up in widely separated areas.
Our final stop was Seljalandsfoss, a waterfall you can walk behind. We passed it on the way out, but the driver planned the stop for the evening, as the waterfall faces west. The waterfall is quite thin, but it comes off the cliff with a bit of speed, and arches away from the cliff face as it falls. There’s a path behind the falls that you can take, without getting wet - well, mostly, just a bit of spray. I’ve gone into the tunnels behind Niagara Falls - this is nothing like that, much more open.
The bus finally arrived back in Reykjavik at 10 pm, a fourteen hour tour.
A few photos here: http://bit.ly/A9a4sC