{23/08/2012}   Iceland Travel Diary: Day Four

Monday, 13th August 2012

I have had an amazing but exhausting day!  I don’t even know where to begin, there were too many highlights!

I chose today to do my big drive as I had read that the weather would be decent.  I left the flat at 8.10 in drizzle and after an hour’s driving it was raining quite a lot.  I contemplated turning round but I carried on on the basis that I could at least have my lunch in the car overlooking a dramatic black sand beach.

Sure enough, it did stop raining.  There was even blue sky on my way back.

I have not mastered a few things with the car, including whether or not the lights are on.  As the weather was so bad, I ended up pulling into a petrol station, filling up with petrol and checking my lights.  All ok.  It was really dark.  The cloud wasn’t even that low, it just made everywhere dark, yet ahead there were streaks of red, like sunset, only it was about 9.30 am.  All very moody.  Which suited the fact I drove near the volcano that caused all the air traffic issues a few years ago!  I stopped off for a toilet and coffee break at a remote café that was part of a dairy farm.  They were closed and I was very disappointed for it seemed suitably odd.  I carried on until I saw signs for snowmobiling.  By this stage I had realised that I could see a glacier and felt an urge to get as close to it as possible, not that I wanted to go snowmobiling on it.  I made a turn towards the glacier.  My poor Lexus was then off roading for about five kilometres!  After probably half a kilometre, I contemplated turning round, but there was not enough track for that, so I felt committed, though I had no idea how long the track went on for.  I drove down an unexpectedly steep hillock and worried about coming back up it with my non-off-road automatic car.  But the car did really well and I alternated between feeling, frankly, a bit James Bond and a bit Frank Spencer.

Finally, I arrived at the car park, a large area of scree.  There was a café.  Which was closed.  As were the toilets.  I convinced myself that being by a glacier would be cold so I over-layered, to the point I overheated enormously.  The walk was on a rubble track and as I got closer to the glacier, its enormity dazzled.  There had clearly been a lot of landslides and I was very disappointed that the blue/white glacier was largely black.  Then I realised that the landslides and black coating were all from the effects of the volcano, which was right next to it.  Bizarre.  With no nod to health and safety, we tourists scrambled up and down scree, through muddy puddles (I submerged one boot in mud) and across … oh, a glacier.  It was so strange walking on ice but on lava scree on ice.  There would be areas where there was little or no black coating, probably from all the people who had walked over it.  Sometimes it was just white, sometimes bluey white, sometimes clear with a bit of moving water below.  Amazing.  And there were ice ravines (small ones) and lots of dripping and running water.  It was a real, “pleased to meet you, Mother Nature”, type experience. 

I followed a few other people and ended up within the ice under a dripping ice bridge and into a roof-less ice cave.  To steady myself at one point, I put my hand out to the side and was strangely surprised that I had put my hand on ice.  It was all really exciting, dramatic and so far removed from my everyday life that I wanted to just sit and stare at my surroundings all day.  But, no, I had a track to make my way back along.

The car was fine all the way back, then going onto a tarmac road was so smooth and lovely.  It is very hard driving in Iceland because the scenery is so dramatic and stunning that you want to look at everything.  I did stop a few times and usually took a few pictures, but it was still very grey.

I finally got to Vik, parked opposite a café and headed excitedly for the black sand beach that was even more familiar than I expected.  It was extraordinarily windy and rain was in the air.  I headed straight for the puffin cliffs.  Oh my, I saw thousands of puffins.  Everywhere: flying, sitting, swimming, diving, playing.  They fascinate me.  I took lots of photos of distant bird blur. 

Having my lunch on the black sand beach looking across the very choppy sea and at rocky outcrops with thousands of seabirds, particularly puffins, flying about was just magical.  I was so happy.  Had my sandwich then accidentally, in my excitement, ate both bits of the Dime bar I’d bought.  I always have them when I’m in other countries and see them, but for some reason never buy them at home.  They are so good.

Reluctantly walked back to the car after about an hour or more feeling windswept and giddy.  I had a decent coffee in one of the cafes, had a nostalgia detour to the Vik campsite where my friend and I spent our first night of 14 nights camping round Iceland and headed for Dyrhólaey, where I had read that it was even easier to see puffins and from where the views across the beach were even better than Vik.  It was exceptionally windy and walking on low cliff edges was a little challenging.  But I did see puffins even closer up!  More blurry bird photos.  I then got dived at by some arctic terns and have lots of photos of terns flying toward me!  Also blurred.

I also stopped at Skógafoss, a high waterfall.  By this time, the sky was blue in that area so the lush green surrounding the waterfall, the white of the water and the blue of the sky looked beautiful.  There were, unsurprisingly, rainbows, usually two.  I saw something I have never seen before or even knew could happen: a 360 degree rainbow, ie a circle of rainbow!  I was standing on the edge of it, then I realised it was a full circle.  That happened three times.  I figured that symbolised my being in the pot of gold.

I stopped the car quite a few times around that area because the weather was so beautiful.  The glacier was even clearer, seemingly bulging over the tops of mountains and leaking down the mountains in long silver waterfalls.  I twice had to slow right down to get past a herd of Icelandic Horses.  It was quite amazing have Icelandic horses running right next to the car. 

After the second horses-in-road traffic jam, I pulled over about a mile further down the road and waited with my camera to take a photo.  The horses in the field next to me were very excited about seeing all these horses thundering past, so I decided to go to the edge of their field to bond with them.  In my excitement, I failed to associate the pretty marsh birds with their marsh habitat and promptly sunk above my boot in water.  At least the horses came fairly close though.  What I’ll do for a pony pet is quite staggering!

By around this time, with probably 80 miles still to go, I was tired and the rest of the drive seemed to take ages, in part because of a car in front going just a bit fast to overtake but slow enough to be irritating.  I then drove past a fairly remote hotel where, at my supermarket stop in Selfoss, I spotted an Icelandic gossip magazine announcing that Emma Watson had been staying there, I assume filming something nearby.

Iceland is a lot cheaper now the exchange rate is more in our favour, but I still couldn’t bring myself to buy fresh vegetables as they were either imported and expensive, Icelandic and expensive or mangy looking and expensive.  So I bought frozen vegetables.  Guess who packaged them?  Iceland!  How bizarre is that?!  They even had UK prices on, bought as you would buy them in the UK, though they weren’t reflected in the Icelandic price.

There is a town, Hveragerði, you drive through on this road, highway 1 (which goes around Iceland), where vegetables can be grown.  There is so much geothermal activity that the ground is warm enough for vegetables to grow.  The vegetables are then nurtured in greenhouses with artificial sunlight, which are kind of surreal seen from the huge mountain you drive over to get into that valley.  Today, the top of that mountain was shrouded in cloud, something I find truly bizarre.

On my return to Reykjavik, I drove straight to the swimming pool where I started off my journey, Grafarvogslaug, and met my new friend again.  She very kindly gave me a swimming pass which I can use in all Reykjavik swimming pools for 20 swims.  This so isn’t the UK.  I was really, really tired after all that driving (more than 250 miles) and sightseeing.  Icelandic pools are the perfect antidote.  I swam a few lengths in the warm outdoor pool, sort of swam in what I realise was a children’s paddling pool, lay in the jacuzzi pool, then went into three dip pools of increasing temperature.  The final hot tub is over 40 degrees.  I managed to stay in it for about 30 seconds.  I also went into the steam room and a kind of massage jet hot pool. The pools were all outdoors.  I was like the proverbial pig in shit and felt so much better afterwards.

I then drove “home” and had lamb chops, rice and Iceland frozen vegetables and more skyr cake.  Then the owner of the flat came by and I chatted to him for the past hour.

All in all, a lovely day.  I have seen puffins, ponies, a glacier, a volcano, a black sand beach, a huge waterfall, a 360 degree rainbow, lava fields, a multitude of different sea birds, sheep with their special wool that was billowing in the wind, turf-roofed houses and I have had a rather exhilarating glacier walk and off road drive and I got to relax in outdoor hot tubs.  There is very little that could have made my day better.  I love it here so much.



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