So this is where it ends. The minibus pulls to an open field of straw yellow encroaching upon shores strewn with ancient lava, and Snaefellsjokull volcano and glacier dominate the horizon. The turistas all run down the paths at it like some great white Pied Piper, as if they had a shot at reaching its foothills in the 35 minutes we were given.
They do not reach it.
I shrug, pull the camera out, make peace with the fact that there are too many garishly bright jacketed foreigners in the field of view. I take the picture. Snaefellsjokull is a Mt Shasta wannabe.
Hraunfossar is roughly translated to Icelandic as the children’s waterfall, or more accurately a series of little waterfalls that offer numerous plateaus and places for those Viking kids to play back in the days of yore. No doubt they’d be startled today by the battery of sophisticated gear aimed their direction from across the river. The water here veers from outright turquoise to this brooding blackened blue, depending on the skies and more particularly, on the angle you’re shooting it from. All around are the colors of a September fall in this stunning country, a farm on a green plain in the upper right, and relative quiet barring the whoosh of the passing water beneath our feet.
The tour minibus drove up and down and around the northern fjords of Iceland, somewhere west of the fishing village of Akureyri, beyond lunar landscapes and into these pleasing patterned landscapes that felt like models for black and white images, but I bleached them cool and let them be. We looked at blacked volcano cinder cones on the horizon, but this little field was littered with sleepy sheep, and the snow came down twirling on the random gusts and stuck to our faces. An Iceland moment? Maybe. It could’ve been anywhere that snows, I s’spose, but I cherished it anyway.
Námafjall geothermal area, Northeast Iceland, vents steaming out of every crease in the land, indigo and blue bubbling mud ponds and bathes. That pile of rocks in the forefront–there were many–was hissing like a snake and the gusts were so hard, the steam blew out sideways and not up. An overwhelming stench of sulfur. Just over that steaming red Martian looking hill lies the Mývatn Nature Baths….an unevenly heated 1 acre pool that the locals hit up cheerfully and have since the time of the Vikings, knowing the entire place could go up any time this angry earth feels like it, but hey…hot spring plus cool pool plunge equals “less inflammation,” so say the locals.
One 3 kilometer hike in Northeast Iceland up,up,up. Check. Two major waterfalls: Hengifoss at the top, Litlanesfoss in the middle; you can see both in earlier blog posts here. And finally this sad, little throwaway waterfall at the bottom of the trail, and by the time I’d come back down it was raining like hell, stormy, big gusts throwing water sideways. Fact: Iceland is rife with throwaway waterfalls and drama queen weather that would be major hiking attractions back home. Get here to this geological baby of an island, folks.
Djúpivogur, the tiny fishing village and childhood home of our Ring Road tour guide Biggi. For this shot, he drove the fan up onto an overlook hill and we stared out at a quintessential Icelandic fishing village, pointing out the colorful buildings
the black one has bathrooms” and “there’s an antique shop where you can find stuff my grandma makes”. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to meet the local legend “Yan the Blacksmith” as his place was under construction, though we could see the sculptures outside his place. And we saw the row of rock bird egg sculptures on the harbor – top notch work. Must be interesting for Biggi to live in West Iceland and yet his work takes him repeatedly to the opposite side of the island to say hello to his Mom and family and friends he grew up with every few weeks Anyhow, jeez, lookit those insane clouds, will ya? Iceland, people. Get here.
Alliteration with -sh-. The irony wasn’t lost on us as we dined on the best lamb of my life in this tiny hotel in South Iceland, as we looked out the restaurant’s picture window at this spectacular sunrise the next morning. One of the sheep seemed to be saying, “‘Arold’s being eaten!” True, but he was delicious. There are more sheep than people in Iceland, so thinning the herds a bit isn’t the worst. Plus that sunrise!
The mighty Vatnajökull glacier is, in fact, SO mighty that it has a number of outlet glaciers that are themselves quite epic…miles across, in some cases. This white beast is the greatest glacier in all of Europe by volume and spans 9% of Iceland. Our minibus stopped in the middle of a gigantic glacial floodplain that had dropped miles of lava rock and ash and had mangled a nearby metal bridge into a twisted ruin. Light played on the far mountain tops and the epic landscape and broad colors of fall that dotted the floodplain enhanced the feeling of being a small dot on a vast planet which itself is a pale blue dot in a seemingly infinite universe. Thinking large as I chewed on dried fish jerky was admittedly not my most original moment. Get to Iceland, people. It’s purty.
We strapped on the crampons, swung the ice axes, ambled up Falljokull, the lava dirt outlet glacier of the mighty Vatnajökull glacier and looked deep into the valley of the mountain’s throat, its tiny meadow-like green patch that would make for difficult golf, the slopes in the far background that seemed almost Shangri-la, with a kind of mist that hung over them in the on an off sprinkle of rain. It was a contrast in earthtones, so I snapped it. Think I’m happy. “The glacier melts are always cycling forward and back,” said our UK glacier guide, “but in the past 5 years since I’ve been leading these hikes, they’re receding much much faster than any of us have ever seen before.” He paused, nimbly avoiding the hot stone topic of why. “It’s kind of sad, really.” You have to be here, in Iceland, in the Himalayas, in Tanzania–anywhere outside–and be surrounded on all sides by this kind of landscape to feel dread at the possibility that it might slip away in ours or our children’s lifetime.
Deceptive, I was, tagging this picture with things like “waterfall” when, in fact, it’s clearly L’il House On the Prairie. But my point–and I do have one–is that sometimes when you’re visiting Iceland focused on waterfalls, you should turn around a bit a look behind you. The waterfall in this case was Seljalandsfoss in southern Iceland, the infamous falling water you can walk behind. I waited my turn in a long muddy line of tourists dressed in bright unnatural hues and and getting soaked. When I walked behind the falls, I looked out and saw this lonely farmhouse, looking like an obscured 19th century oil painting beyond the moving water. And I saw the odd, tall grass. And in the very far distance I saw glaciers and knew I wasn’t in Kansas.