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Raiding the Icebox a visit to countries in which I've often thought about living

mossy moonscapes, and other dramatic vistas

ICELAND | Thursday, 5 June 2008 | Views [1636] | Comments [1]

Latrabjarg cliffs

Latrabjarg cliffs

Nathan, a friend from way back when, arrived in Reykjavik on June 2nd. We spent most of the day walking around the city - nothing too intensive as Nathan arrived at 6:30am and hadn't slept much. Really, we spent most of the day in anticipation for our looming drive around Iceland.

The plan: rent a car and drive around Iceland for 10 days. Then spend 3 days in Denmark, 4 days in Sweden, 4 days in Finland, and 6 days in Norway. Nathan flies to Turkey on July 1 and I stay in Norway until the end of August (it occurred to me that I hadn't really spelled out the basic itinerary for the summer before). We're now on day three of the Iceland trip and... well let's just say if the rest of the trip is as intensely dramatic as these days, I'm not sure how I'll make it. I'd like to relate parts of some of these days, but I feel the same way about this attempt as I do when I take pictures of gorgeous scenery - it's nearly impossible to capture and relate it. Well, here goes:

After a little trouble getting out of the city the morning of the 3rd we headed north and east to the first set of many lava fields we were to see that day. This was the second time I laid my eyes on lava fields - the first being in Hawaii this past November. The lava in the Kona region of the Big Island was all bare - just brown and black rock sprawling for miles. Here it's all covered with this blue-green moss. Either way, lava fields call to mind lunar landscapes (not that I have a substantive idea of what the moon's surface looks like), but the fields I've seen out here are more like mossy moonscapes. At any rate, we tried to make our way out to Surtshellir and Stefanshellir - two giant lava tubes, but the road was blocked off. We consoled ourselves by taking the long way around the first fjord we came to and by stopping at one point and walking along the beach.

An aside: I didn't really know what a fjord was until a couple days ago (I mean, I could picture one if you'd asked me to, but couldn't tell you what, exactly, it was if asked). A fjord a body of water - it's a narrow inlet surrounded by steep mountains formed by receding glaciers.

Our goal for the first day was to make it out to the tip of Snaefellsnes Peninsula where there lay a national park and glacier. Apparently the icecap itself is famous for being the setting of Jules Verne's "Journey to the Centre of the Earth." It was impressive, but impregnable. There are not short hikes in/around the mountain and it takes about five hours to reach the glacier. So instead, we located the ancient volcano Eldborg and hiked to the crest. Only a mere 100 meters, but still extremely awing to peer into the dead crater of the volcano.

We bunkered down that night in Olafsvik in our tent (vik, by the way, means bay so there are many towns ending in vik - Reykjavik, Keflavik, even one town just named Vik) and woke the next morning to a brightly shining sun. We hit the road, didn't stop for much, and hopped on a ferry at Stykkisholmur (which is on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula) which jetted us across the large bay to the Westfjords.

See, here's what I mean about things being hard to convey: I said we didn't stop for much, but that doesn't mean we didn't do anything, or didn't see anything. Every single second in the car is seeing/doing. Just driving around the fjords, past waterfalls, past sheep grazing lazily by the side of the road, no other cars for 30, 40, 50 minutes. It's exhausting just looking around. I feel guilty when I get used to the scenery and space out, or when I direct my gaze inside the car to try to find a radio station.

At any rate, we landed in the Westfjords in the evening and drove straight west to Latrabjarg which is the name of a town and lighthouse that occupy the western-most-point of Europe. We made it to the coast, walked out to the cliffs, and found massive, 200 meter sheer dropoffs lined with birds. Hundreds and hundreds of birds. I'm no bird watcher so I couldn't tell you what sorts, but the one I did recognize was the Puffin. They were everywhere. They were also, surprisingly, not afraid of us at all. You could walk within a couple feet of them.

Wind swept cliffs. Many hundreds of birds. Standing close to Puffins. The Western Most Point in Europe. A sun that never sets. These are the tiny summaries into which I have to distill my experience. Ay.

We drove back (I almost forgot to mention that the road was a dirt/gravel path that meandered in and out of the fjord for about 40 km) and camped that night as well. I'll tell you, there is nothing like waking up in a tent, head still fuzzy and foggy from sleep, unzipping the fly, and realizing that you're out in the near-wilderness of Iceland surrounded on all sides by rock and water. Something similar happens when my attention is focused on other things: reading, writing, etc. I finish whatever it is that I'm doing, look up, and realize again where I am. It's astonishing each time.

One last thought: as I was leaving the farm, being driven to the airport, the man driving me, Eymundur's friend, told me that I would really be able to tell the differences between each part of Iceland. I've started to see what he means. In the east, and the southwest near Reykjavik, the mountains lining the fjords are smooth-sided. In the Westfjords they're much more rocky - as if some giant took a sledgehammer to the side of the basalt cliffs and shattered them into thousands of pieces.

So now Nathan and I are in Isafjordur, the largest town in the Westfjords (at a bursting 3,500 people). We'll spend the next couple days here hiking around before heading out to the northeast.

Tags: camping, ferry, fjords, iceland, lava fields, snaefellsnes, westfjords



Wow! That sounds amazing! Except for the tent part. I don't think I'd like the tent. Tell Nathan I said hi!

Keep on truckin!


  Kathy (the friend kind) Jun 6, 2008 9:59 AM

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