Posted by: jeanne | June 30, 2014

the back road to akureyri

oh.my.god.  that’s the only words i have to describe the interior of iceland.  but i’ll grab some more words.  it’ll be the photos that do all the explaining for me, because i’m still almost speechless.

first things first.  i discovered a good travel rule, especially if you’re old, like me.  never choose a hostel over a bar, in a street of bars, on a saturday night, on a day the world cup is playing.  they party all night in reykjavik, and there were lots of people making noise all fricking night, so i got almost no sleep at all.  having said that, the live music downstairs stopped around midnight, and around 2 people stopped sitting at the bench directly below in teh street, and around 4 they started to quiet down inside the hostel, and at 6, when i got up and chased the last of them off to bed, they finally stopped partying.  only the young can get as wasted as these people.  and even then, when i went downstairs to check out and have the desk call a taxi, there was some dude with a bandaged foot asleep propped up against the bar.  not fair compensation for keeping me up all night, but whatever; have a nice life, dude.

so i was a little tired for my trip, but i daren’t nod off except for the briefest moments, because every bend revealed something new and exciting.  i went the kjolur route thru the midlands of the country, and i must say it was an inspired choice.  i have never in my life seen such amazing scenery.  no wonder they shoot movies here; it’s like nowhere else.

we started with several tourist stops, because after all that’s what makes iceland work.  first we went to thingvellir, which is the dividing line between the north american and european tectonic plates, and is spreading at the rate of about an inch a year, which is very fast.  we walked thru the rift and had a look way down into the water, which was absolutely clear, and only the coins people have thrown in over the years showed the scale.

our bus driver, siggi, and his wife kristrun (sorry i don’t have the keyboard to do justice to the names) went out of their way to tell us about the scenery and history.  it was kristrun’s first trip into the midlands, tho she’s lived in iceland most of her life, and she reminded me of my friend marie who died 5 years ago.  so she and i had several important talks during our 7 hour trip to the heart of the midlands, where we changed busses.

*** intermission, in which the author takes a walk up the breakfront at the harbor, and then has a nap.***

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below is thingvellir, the path thru the rift.  the bus driver – siggy – told us that until a few years ago there was a road that you could drive on thru the rift, but then they had a large earthquake and the road was swallowed.  so now there’s a walking path.

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the next stop on the kjolur route was geysir, which is the name of a geysir, and the origin of the word geysir. the whole area is smoky with steam vents and there are ropes marking where it’s too dangerous to walk.  melt the rubber off your shoes kind of dangerous.  geysir no longer erupts, but its alter-ego – strokkur – goes off every five minutes or so.  we had a 20 minute stop, and i finally managed to get sort of a selfie while it went off.

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and then we went to gullfoss, which is an amazing glacier-fed river.  i have several movies (wordpress won’t let me post movies) of the spray as it curled and flowed in the air.  it’s a massive waterfall, quite fast and furious, and woe betides anyone silly enough to fall in.  the ropes are there for a reason.  we were there for half an hour, and were cautioned to get something to eat at the restaurant because there were no more restaurants once we entered the highlands proper, but with half an hour there’s barely time to see the waterfall from the lower and the upper viewing spots, so i left the food until last.  and then hahahaha there was lox and bagels, so i got one of those, and ate it one small bite at a time for a couple of hours (my stomach doesn’t like to travel).

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then it was into the interior.  the highlands are mostly flat, because they used to be under an icecap.  except for the volcanos, which stick up, and the glaciers, which lie over top of volcanos.  so it was mile after endless mile of the kind of scenery you can see below.  the road is a gravel road kinda sorta marked, and it is closed in winter.  just during the two months of summer is it open.  the land is very fragile.  marks made by passers-by stay for years and centuries.  i was particularly annoyed by some asshole’s decision to take a motorcycle thru there some years back.  and there’s a walking trail close to the road that i watched go by; it might have been a shepherd’s trail, or a tourist trail.  there is only sometimes a green sheen on the reddish rocks from a distance, and otherwise there are tiny colonies of twisted, broken plants (can’t call them trees because they hug the ground), and some of the more protected spots have a little plant life.  the pink of wild thyme in bloom was here and there, the slight green of (perhaps) willow (salix), some yellow daisylike plant, and a cloverlike white blooming plant, none of which i could identify.  it’s horrifyingly barren.  like the mountains of mars.  and no water.  no way for anything more than peripatetic sheep to exist up there.  but there were a very few people living there, catering to tourists during the summer and completely isolated during the winter.  the bus driver had brought the daily paper to give to one homestead because they don’t even get radio up there. and off in the distance were volcanos and glaciers.

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like this one, the outflow from langjokull glacier, still up to 1000 feet thick in spots.  you can see the icefall descending to hvitarvatn, or white lake, which is behind the hill in the foreground.  we never got close to it, but we could see it for hours as the bus chugged past at, oh, 30 mph at best.  with the road unpaved and very stony, the bus shook like it was going to fall apart.  i had to strap my bag to the seat inside the bus.  in fact, all our luggage was inside the bus, because the last trip the driver had made before getting us involved fording a river (normal), where the water (mud) came into the luggage hold and screwed up everybody’s bags.  which i had prepared for, having done my research.

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strangely enough, i do not remember this waterfall, but it was obviously taken in the highlands.  another mighty glacial river falling as fast as possible to sea level.  i can’t find it on the list of waterfalls of iceland, either.  maybe it’s a fairy waterfall…

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but this i do remember.  we stopped to change busses at kerlingerfjoll.  named for the troll woman kerling.  it’s a huge volcanic mess of mountains plopped down right in the middle of nowhere.  there used to be a summer ski resort there, but it closed when the glacier disappeared a few years ago, and now the cabins are rentals for hikers, bikers, bus riders and 4-wheel drive occupants.  but we didn’t stop at the huts.  the bus driver drove us up the mountain, past some striking eroded gorges, all the way up to where the mountain started down again.  it’s the hot springs area of the mountain, and we had about an hour to explore it.  everybody else trooped down the mountain to the river and the springs, but my little voice said no, so i wandered over to this striking mountainside view and sat and watched the mountain.  i’m going to paint this view when i get settled in.

while i was up there i noticed loads of obsidian lying on the ground.  the ground was all rock, from boulder to dust sized rock, and there were all sorts of colors of rock (too bad i don’t remember much of my geology studies).  but i know obsidian when i see it, so i filled my pockets.  some of it – the tiny stuff – i’m going to give to our jeweler friend meg when i get back home.

i’m not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing, taking rocks off the volcano.  if you remove stones from hawaii’s pele then bad luck follows you until the rock goes back where it came from, but i’m not sure if kerling and the other inhabitants feel the same way.  anyway, i asked permission, and nobody said no.

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and then, with a new bus driver and a new bus, we went on northwards.  good luck siggi and kristrun; i hope we meet again.  we drove endlessly thru barren landscape covered with volcanic bombs, rocks ejected at high speed during an eruption that covered the landscape for many miles.  about ten miles from the mountain they were thickest and largest.  i just can’t imagine.  either volcanic ejecta or glacial erratics, it was hard to tell.  but there was no other sign of glacial movement up there, no striations, no whatever.  these things could have all been at the bottom of a lake when the glaciers still covered the midlands, but i don’t know enough to weigh in with my opinion.  if you ask me, they were all trolls caught in the sun.  our last stop in the highlands was at hraveravellir, a spot in the middle of nowhere with fumaroles and a hot spring, where there are cabins and camping spots.  it’s so isolated that they make a big deal out of the necessity to pack out your trash and leave nothing behind.  i walked around it in the 20 minutes we had off the bus.  it was in the midst of a lava field, and there were lots of elf dwellings there; i said hi, then snapped this picture of an old hut and had to run for the bus, which was taking off without me.

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from there we started our descent to the coast; i mean after millions of miles we started seeing grasslands and sheep folds, and the glacial river got larger and more twisty and started cutting down thru a gorge that must at one time been a raging river but was now a tiny little thing at the bottom of a hundred foot chasm.  we had to follow the course of the gorge for many miles before descending enough to be able to cross it.  it was amazingly lush on this part of the drive, with loads of planted trees, and newly mown hay fields.  this photo below was near the end of the trip, sort of, when i could finally see the mountains of the troll peninsula.  or so i thought.

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at this point i had 10% battery charge on my camera.  i had taken several dozen movie clips, mainly panoramas, and a hundred or so photos, and had to save the rest so i could figure out where i was when i got to akureyri.

we drove along the river for a million miles until we crossed it, and then we drove up a steep sided valley thru a pass and back down to the next enormous glacial river, and finally stopped for 20 minutes at a gas station.  it was 8 in the evening, and we were actually still 100 kilometers from akureyri, in varmahlid.  i got some chicken curry (gak) and some salad, and the salad cost twice what the curry cost.  i think i paid close to 20 bucks for a little bit of food in a carryout box.  but, i was hungry, it was the only dinner i was going to get, and i didn’t care.

and then we went thru oxnadalsheidi, on the main ring road, thru the pass that is the ‘only’ way to get over the trollaskagi peninsula.  and it was way picturesque, with loads of glacial erosion to be seen up close – massive waterfalls coming down the mountain, ice in the clefts of the mountains, snow covered mountains glimpsed in the interior, barren rock faces of the scoured off sides of the mountains, and every now and again a farm, or abandoned farm.

after getting thru the pass, the only thing left was to arrive at akureyri, a peaceful little town of not that many people crammed together between the mountains and the sea.  fortunately, the bus terminal was only a few blocks from the hostel, because i had to drag my checked luggage to it, at 10 pm, without help.  it must weigh a hundred pounds, and one of the wheels is starting to break, which is going to cause trouble on the way back.

and so i was in akureyri.  the bar at the hostel was full, and i was exhausted.  i was allowed to leave my big bag downstairs, which was good because i was on the third floor in an 8 bed dormitory.  surprisingly, everyone was already in bed and trying to get some sleep, which was a complete reversal from the hostel in reykjavik.  but maybe that was because it was sunday night.

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and this morning, as i was waiting for the bus to olafsfjordur, this was the scene at the harbor.  not bad.  and the weather was warm enough for just my fleece vest and not my down jacket, so i didn’t mind getting there half an hour early, except for some loud and inquisitive american tourist who just couldn’t stop asking questions of everybody he was standing next to.  oh well.

and now i’m here.  turns out it is a day early.  i was supposed to stay 2 nights in akureyri, and never consulted my itinerary, so i came up here right away.  i’m actually glad i did.  i didn’t want to be lose in akureyri for a full day (even tho they have a brilliant botanic garden), i wanted to get here and settle in.  so i arrived at 9 in the morning and woke up the residents who were still here.  when it got sorted out i was invited to stay downstairs from my resident director, and there’s a nice big bathtub which i think i’ll make more tea and get into with my book, after skyping my home and seeing how everything’s going there.

tonight is the party the june residents are throwing before they go home, and tomorrow midmorning i’ll go over and take possession of my room and studio, and make a loaf of bread.

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Responses

  1. if it’s ok with you, i’ll stake a claim on one of the small obsidians — i LUV traveling virtually with you this summer… you’ve got some absolutely gorgeous photos, and i cannot wait to see the paintings when you return!!! love, j

    Like

    • i will put one aside for you. maybe i can find some more.

      Like


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