Sunday, September 13, 2015

Iceland Day 9: Höfn to Kirkjubæjarklaustur

We retraced our steps on this day, returning to the Jökulsárlón lagoon to see it at a different time under a new lighting condition. Our next stop was the far less popular Fjallsjökull Glacier and Lagoon.

The glacier through the binoculars and more zebra striped ash below.

Two things that I have not mentioned that were foremost on our minds is the quality of the air and the sense of stillness. It is rare that I can breathe through my nostrils and when that happens, I take notice. It leads me to consider the lack of pollution and absence of litter. There is very little trash in this country and when it does appear where it should not belong, it is an aberration. When the wind is not blowing, the silence is unlike anything I have experienced. It is only then that you realize how far away from everything you know and understand you truly are.

I took many photographs (on the "real" camera rather than the iPhone) as we finally found something that resembled meltwater at the Fjallsjökull lagoon. Had the sun been out, I wonder if the glacial melt would look this murky. In any case, I touched this opaque liquid willingly unlike any other silt brown location in the United States.

We ate lunch in the front seat of the car, keeping in mind this is the main pullout and very few tourists blocked our view.

At some point I realized our peas were imported from Zimbabwe. It is not often that I get to eat vegetables from Africa.

Between here and our next stop, a lorry barreling through the Ring Road tossed a rock into the air and created a gash in our windshield. We were so careful about car insurance and driving in general but neglected to get the extra policy on windshield damage. That action defined frustration.

At Skaftafell National Park, I saw my first glacial model in a parking lot and would continue to look for these at future stops.

I was very thankful for this day's hike into the "bush" (well, hardly) to see Svartifoss. Most of the tourists on the big buses stopped here but we wanted to see the "black fall" and dark lava columns more closely.

I collected a water sample but for the first time ever, I changed my mind the following day as I found a better location and later dumped it at the base of another foss!

The sun, always in a wrong position in the middle of the day, made it difficult to photograph this hulking rock formation while we were crossing Skeiðarársandur (AKA the Sandur). From Lonely Planet:

"Skeiðarársandur, the largest sandur in the world, covers a 1000-sq-km area and was formed by the mighty Skeiðarárjökull. Since the Settlement Era, Skeiðarársandur has swallowed a considerable amount of farmland and it continues to grow. The area was relatively well populated (for Iceland, anyway), but in 1362 the volcano beneath Öræfajökull (then known as Knappafellsjökull) erupted and the subsequent jökulhlaup (flooding caused by volcanic eruption beneath ice) laid waste the entire district. After the 1362 eruption the district became known as Öræfi (Wasteland)."

Here is the monolith from the other side. If I hadn't known we had crossed the Wasteland (complete with twisted bridges ruined from previous volcanic eruptions and wind blowing so hard Stan's windows were shaking), I would have thought I was in Southern Idaho.

I loved the Laki lava flows in the southeast as I had never seen terrain as bizarre as this. A 1783 volcanic eruption at Lakagígar produced lava flows (think A'a not pahoehoe) and moss slowly grew over it. The act of carving in a road or laying telephone poles in an area as impassable as this, boggled my mind. Such a contrast with the carpeted foliage that one usually thinks as "soft" covering an immensely rough surface underneath. They may have been nicknamed "lava turds" shortly thereafter.

Foss á Siðu is a fine example of someone's private backyard waterfall that is off limits to tourists but easily photographed by the road.

At Kirkjubæjarklaustur, our destination for the evening, I was able to see one of the monstrous vehicles that provide the only access to the interior of the country. Always one to associate automobiles in Europe with the words "small" and "compact," it was jarring to see some of the largest ones ever in Iceland [my head only grazed the bottom of the side view mirror]. At first, one wonders if this is necessary or whether or not it is like the United States where people drive big trucks or SUVs as gas guzzling status symbols. One quickly learns that rivers in the Highlands need to be forded and this is the only way one can do that. I spent the evening learning about car snorkels and air breathing internal combustion engines with the hotel wifi. Yet another reason why Iceland is not like any other country on the European continent.

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