Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Africa-Europe 2015 Day 4. Around Iceland – Part 2

Last night, as I went to bed, I admired the view out of my dorm room into the fjord. Hard to believe it was almost 10 pm, because there was a lot of light out there. I fell asleep, and awoke to the morning light, except it was not the morning light. It was the midnight light! Yes, I am very close to the Arctic Circle, so now we have light for 24 hours (I believe the sun actually dips behind the horizon for just a few minutes, but the light never really dims out). It was cool, but wrecks havoc with your biorhythm.

The sun was shining when I got out of Seyoisfjord, so I was looking forward to a beautiful day. This simple thought jinxed for me, for as I went over the mountain pass I encountered a blizzard that stayed with me for at least half the day. Icelanders build their roads on very narrow, tall embankments, so I was afraid that a gust of wind would blow my little car off the embankment.

I descended to the valley of Lagarfljot (looked for the monster but couldn’t see her), and started crossing the northern slopes of the island. It is an eerie, desolate landscape, more akin to a moonscape than to anything else I have seen before. No trees, no grass. Only vast plains of black scoria, interrupted now and then by a lava flow that could have formed yesterday. From the standpoint of the volcano aficionado it is a fine show piece of lava types and lava flow structures, but the blizzard deterred me from stopping to take many pictures (since I am practically by myself in the Ring Road I have taken to position the car at the right angle in the middle of the road, opening the window, and taking the picture from the inside of the car to keep the camera dry).

I did stop to look at the 87th waterfall, Dettifoss, and to reach it walked about a kilometer under the pelting of flakes of wet snow. I am definitely not dressed for this type of weather, with only a thin wind breaker between me and the elements, so when I got to the waterfall I was a sopping mess. The waterfall was nice, yes; perhaps it was even beautiful, but in the eyes of this beholder the agony to satisfaction ratio was much larger than one.

A lull in the weather allowed me a rare sighting of Askja volcano, about 100 km distant. I would really like to hike to it, but my next trip to Iceland is going to be in the winter, to see the Northern Lights, and I think the only way to get to Askja would be to do it with a snow cat. At least I can say I saw it.

I was bemoaning my bad luck regarding the weather when I came to the Krafla fumarole field and geothermal power plant. I get all excited when I see the big plumes of steam, so I can only wonder what the medieval inhabitants felt walking out of a blizzard into a land where steam warms the air. Adjacent to the fumarole field is a very young lava flow with great examples of gas blisters and hornitos (spatter cones that form chimney-like structures dotting the surface of the lava flow).

Then the world changed for the better. I got into a beautiful fjord, and as soon as I did that the sun came up. At the land end of the fjord is the pretty town of Akureyri, which vies with Reykjavik for the distinction of being the prettiest town in the country. For one thing, it has trees! This is also where I bought myself a bag of fish jerky, which I found to be very tasty and entertaining as a traveling snack.

For the next 100 km the road went through green glacial valleys, at the bottom of which the locals are actually practicing agriculture. Most seems to be hay, to support the sheep and cattle industries, but now and then I found a patch of corn and a patch of baby trees. Could it be that there is going to be an attempt at reforestation? I think this is the case, because in one of the slopes I actually saw a small but rather credible pine forest. Q. How do you find your way through an Icelandic forest? A. You stand up.

I selected a youth hostel in Osar to spend the night. It turned out to be an interesting choice. It is a good 30 km from the paved road, perched on a slope overseeing Hunafjord. I am writing this log from my room, which overlooks the fjord and a black barrier island that blocks an inner lagoon from the main body of the fjord. The view is spectacular, and since the sun will not set I may spend several hours just gawking out the window. 

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