Iceland 2005 (Day 3)
On 19 August 2005 Catherine and myself flew out to Iceland for a ten night touring holiday round Iceland. We drove round the country and saw many an exciting and interesting thing. This is one of many blog posts about that holiday – this particular post is about day three, which was spent around Lake Mývatn and was probably one of our busiest days.
It was busy because our travel company provided a pretty extensive list of stuff to see and do during the day, and then Catherine decided to add to it…
A Walk After Breakfast
After a breakfast of cheese, bread, pickled herring and ham, with an accompanyment of odd Euro-trance music (which we were joined in dutifully listening to, by a rather old couple with grey hair), we set out for our first stop – Catherine’s plan called for us to walk up Vindbelgjarfjall. It’s over half a kilometer high, and supposedly an easy climb. Easy climb for who, the guide book didn’t say…
Vindbelgjarfjall means windbag, and it was certainly true and I was rather glad of the wind protection my fold-up mac offered as it sat on top of my fleece. I was also rather glad that we’d brought our hiking boots!
Personally I found it slightly hard going as we zig-zagged up the hill, with the lake out of sight, but it was all worth it when we reached the top and could see Mývatn.
It was a stunning view of the lake and the various craters and other features that make Mývatn such a lovely place.
Going down again was naturally much easier and it didn’t take us long to get back to the car, where we had some fun getting back up the very steep gravel bank that would let us back on the road. It ended up with me putting foot to the pedal and trying to zoom out as quickly as possible, whilst Catherine kept a beady eye out for traffic. Mind you, this is Iceland, and despite the area being very popular with tourists, the road is of absolutely empty.
All The Ducks Are Swimming In The Water
Following our instruction leaflet found us driving slightly down the road to the banks of the Laxá river, where, we were told, we may spot harlequin ducks.
Now I don’t know about you but whenever I’m told I may see something, you can bet your bottom dollar that yesterday was the best day ever to do it, and today they’ve all gone off on holiday to France. So you can imagine out amazement to see loads of them bobbing around on the river.
Round the lake a bit more was the Hotel Sel, which where we had a quick stop for a cup of tea, and a watch of Neighbours on the TV in the cafe.
One of the annoying things when it comes to tea in Iceland is the habbit they have of giving you really small cups, which mean you get about a thimble of liquid out of your tea bag. Now it has to be said that if you want more water, they’re more than happy to give it to you, but one can’t help but wonder why they haven’t thought about mugs. Or even a tea pot.
Anyway, the hotel was at Skútustaðir, which is an area of pseudo-craters where you wander round and, funnily enough, look at the craters.
There’s lots of craters around the area and to be honest, they’re one of the least interesting things in the area, so after a short walk, we adjorned to our car for some lunch.
Food, Glorious Food
After yesterdays experiences in Netto of trying to find vegetarian sandwiches, we’d gone to the local Straxx supermarket first thing with the hope of getting more sliced cheese and bread for another batch of DIY butties.
Unfortunatly we were thwarted in our plans by the fact that the only available cheese came in huge blocks, and certainly wasn’t in the sliced category. With that, I was left once again peering at a selection of sandwiches, all with Icelandlic descriptions, and all with a picture of a bread roll filled to the brim with ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato. Every single one had the same picture, regardless of whether the wrapper was red, blue, pink or green.
There must have been some difference. There must. But what on earth is that difference I pondered as Catherine stared at various meat filled pies that filled an area of fridges.
At that point, the brain started ticking, a loud bell rang and a lightbulb appeared above my head. What does any sensible person do when they can’t tell what something is? Well, err, they look at it? Yes! Correct! Ten points and a gold star to that man.
With that I started off like a man on a mission. The mission – to discover what on earth was in the sandwiches.
Quickly, it was discovered that red was beef, whilst green was mysteriously ham. Pink looked like an egg mayonaise kind of thing, but with mysterious red speckles, and blue was cheese.
Hurrah! Catherine could eat. The fillings were pretty stingy but we could eat! My brain cells happy with being used, we bought them straight away, and it was these sandwiches that we ate in the car outside the Hotel Sel, all washed down with bottles lovely Icelandic water which we’d filled up from the taps in the bathrooms of the guesthouse.
Having had our fill of the sandwiches, we drove onto our next spot – Dimmuborgir – a park area which is full of lava formations.
There were several walks around them, so we opted on the hardest walk, which took us on a rocky path right through the middle of the park, and saw some wonderfully odd scenary, as well as the various trees and shrubs that filled the area.
It was a very photogenic area, although one of the most attractive pieces was sadly unavailable for us to photograph, thanks to two people standing in the way for far too long whilst they set up their tripod and fifteen hundreed different cameras, right in the middle of were I wanted to get a picture. Dishearted, we went back to the car and drove on.
Moon Like Craters
When you pull off to visit Hverfjall, you have to get out of your car, open a gate, drive through, then close the gate again. Slightly odd, given it is, from all appereances anyway, a proper, paid up government road.
It was also full of four by fours which drove in the opposite direction, past our little car for what felt like an enternity – all down a little narrow gravel road which they bombed down whilst I tried to drive about 20mph so that our little car didn’t go skidding everywhere.
Yet despite all these little roads, all in a poor state, you can bet your bottom dollar that when you finally get to the car park, there will be about fifteen brand new coaches and a lot of tourists taking photos. Not that you’ll ever pass them on the road. Oh no…
Hverfjall is a large, high crater – over 1km wide – that really does look like it belongs on the moon as it is all grey. It was the result of a massive volcanic erruption absolutely ages ago, and you can walk up and walk round the rim, getting a fantastic view of the surrounding area.
However one of the most interesting views is of the crater itself.
Over the years the crater floor has been used by many a hiker to leave their message to the world. Messages like ‘Stacey’ or ‘Polska’. Important messages. Messages that had to be said.
Messages that would have taken hours to do – not only does it take about an hour to walk down to the floor of the crater, but you then have to scrap away the top soil to reveal the reddish-brown earth beneath.
According to our Lonely Planet guide, the crater is now closed to hikers who have to walk along the edge of the crater instead. That said, there wasn’t exactly anything to stop people going down, although it would easily take you an hour to walk from the path on one side, down into the middle, then back up again to meet the path on the other side. Far easier to walk round the rim and enjoy the view of the lake if you ask me.
Of course, opinion is divided on this graffiti (or destructive mess as the Rough Guide to Iceland called it), and we declined to walk down to add to it. It would have been too much effort if nothing else.
Hot Springs and Mud Pools
Driving back down past another hundred 4x4s, we made our way to the hot springs of Grótagjá.
Apparently they are a toasty 48°C. In winter. They’re even hotter in summer. Not entirely sure I’d like to bathe here myself – not just due to the heat, but also because it was very smelly, with the whiffs of rotten egg filling the air.
But if the eggy smell here was a bit overpowering, well we hadn’t smelt anything yet, as we hit the mud pools of Námaskarð
The landscape – browns, greys and blues – was frankly surreal but the sulphur in the air did nothing for me other than make me burp alarming frequency. Delightful. Makes me burp just thinking about it…
As well as smelly, bubbling, hot mud pools, there were also some vents releasing eggy smelling steam to the world, and gave a perfect oppertunity for some ‘comedy’ poses.
Back on the road, we passed the Krafla power plant and drove up to Viti, a volcanic crater which dates back to the 1724 volcanic explosions, and is now considered to be inactive. It’s also filled with water – by natural causes of course.
From there we drobe down to another car park so we could walk round Leirhnjúkur mud pools – more dramatic scenery, more burping – and up to see the crater from an erruption in 1984, which saw the area sealed off for almost a decade.
We walked up the crater, surrounded by the solidified black lava, spying greenery close at hand. In some places, the lava was white – presumably from the heat.
It was rather surreal, especially when you consider that the Krafla volcano is due another erruption soon. Catherine’s view that Iceland mapped closely to Middle Earth from the Lord of the Rings, was increasingly becoming a persuasive argument, with places like Krafla being like Mordor about a hundred years after the book.
End of the Day
By that point it was getting close to tea time, and we drove back, dumped our car at the guesthouse and wandered off for some food.
Our initial plan had been to go to the fast food place next to the Straxx supermarket who had an OK looking pizza menu, but it was closed due to a ‘private party’ which was obviously somewhere else as the place was closed, locked and deserted.
Ruling out an expensive hotel restaurant (stuffed red peppers for about thirty quid) we went back to Gamli Bærinn where Catherine was treated to ‘vegetable pie’ (aka quiche) whilst I spied Icelandic Fish Stew on the specials board. It was a bit like fish pie but not oven baked, and without cheese sprinkled on top, but it was certainly tasty – the mashed potato and the fish working together very well.
Happy and contended (and not burping), we strolled round to try and see if the Museum of the Lake had relocated. Catherine’s hunch that it was on a lake side building turned out to be wrong as it was just another outpost of the Eldá guesthouse – later I realised it was opposite the supermarket and as such was the building mentioned in one of the guidebooks – so we went back to the supermarket (it was afterall, the focus of the town) to buy postcards and some strange cakes which were gooey and covered in desicated coconut.
And with that, we retired, to write cards, read and plan our next day. It would take us up across the north of the country where we would attempt to see puffins, wander round waterfalls, and have the fun of reversing slowly down a gravel road whilst lots of Icelandic workers were busy digging it up. Ah, the memories.