Posted by: jeanne | June 11, 2016

tripping in iceland – part 3

where are we?  oh yes, sleeping away jetlag in a double decker camper at the edge of a dew-soaked field with a tremendous view of langjokull glacier way the hell off in the highlands.

so we got up, made coffee, fed everybody whatever they would eat, tramped off to the bathrooms to pee and wash up the dishes at an outdoor sink, talked to the nice young italian couple who were in the office, spending a few months working in iceland.  sounds like a thing.

then we packed up as much as necessary, hung the bench seats back on the wall and inserted the table, and drove down to the newly widened gravel road leading to the new gravel parking lot in front of the oldest working pool in iceland.

grandpa had to shepherd connor and avery thru the unique icelandic bathing ritual, which avery took so much better than he’d been threatening, being 8 years old and typically prudish.  connor, doubling down on avery’s attitude, did the 4 year old thing and insisted nobody could see him naked.  i avoided all that by shoving them toward grandpa and going thru my own version of the ritual.

i used to be self conscious naked, being all troll-like and deformed in my cronage.  but everybody in the dressing room is naked, and they all stand around and talk and joke and don’t give a damn, and aren’t looking at me, the foreigner in the corner keeping her self to herself.  the hard part is putting on my vintage 60si tailored cloth bathing suit with the zipper up the back (matching shoestring thru the hole in the zipper tab).  and then it was out of the dressing and shower rooms and into a short corridor, thru a door to the outside, which was around 45 degrees.  but i was already wet, so the cold air was strangely not cold but rather super-wet, and in ten steps i was crouching down some stairs into hot water, and walking out onto a 4′ bottom of gravel.  like being in a spa, with accupressure stones.  no jacuzzi, tho.  just a still pool, 20×60 feet, maybe 30×40, built into a slight hillside with big slabs of rocks (i think).  the sides were covered in lovely slimy plantlife, but not too much, and not unpleasant.  they might have been cement stones, or they could have been local rock, but i didn’t bother examining it.  i was waiting for the boys. first i stalked around the pool looking for the shallow end, but it was the hillside, and that’s where the hot water was coming from, so it was strangely hot at the surface of the water, and the regular very warm temperature below.  it stung my neck.  the steam increased.

people seemed to be solving the depth problem with pool noodles.  there were a bunch of bright colors draped over the bannister near the pool house – the only bright colors in the landscape, all else was black and shades of green, with white highlights.  there were about a dozen people in the pool, mostly adults.  one had a mini bottle of wine that she sat and drank while bobbing up to her neck in the warm, steamy water.  the wine bottle bobbed, too.


finally the kids came out, thru the cafe rather than the dressing room doors, bless grandpa.  they took no time getting in the water, and avery was very helpful wrapping pool noodles around connor.  they were very good about dunking their heads under water and playing around in the pool.  avery could stand up and held his nose whenever he went under.  connor couldn’t stand but didn’t care, and never sputtered going down and coming back up.  they’re ready to swim, i’d say.  i even did a turn around the pool without worrying that they’d drown while my back was turned.  after an hour, there being just the pool with no slides and no jacuzzis or saunas, we got out, got dressed, and pried grandpa away from his book.  then we got in the truck, festooned the wet bathing suits all over the bench seats and loft bed, strapped everybody in with their favorite beverage (coffee, chocolate milk), and took off the for south coast.

an hour later, after cruising down this lovely farm-filled valley to within sight of the ocean, we joined the famous number one ring road in iceland, turned left, and barreled down the highway in the general direction of skaftafell, which was our goal for the night.  if we’d had an extra night, which i had thought until i checked the calendar a third time, we would have stayed in vik and taken an obsidian walk with avery, who turned out to have been building a collection of volcanic rocks practically since we landed at the airport.

an hour later, thru sunshine and gradual cloudiness to the east, passing lava, lava mountains, steep gravel scree mountainsides, endless ocean way out to the right, we pulled off at seljalands waterfall, the one you can go around the back of.


the boys were scrabbling, so it was time.  we all stopped to pee in the bathrooms which were quaintly marked boy and girl, but had a unisex line that used the next available outhouse without a qualm.


i had everybody put on their raincoats.  the boys had little totes things that went on and buttoned up.  grandpa and i had saranwrap ponchos that kept getting into our faces and tangling our vision.  we went into the rain zone.  the trail became mud as we approached a metal staircase with a slick wooden handrail. we ascended, the boys first, clambering up, me behind grandpa in case he slipped.  i’d forgotten the walking sticks in the car, grrr.

we got to the top of the stairs, and the fun started.  the path was mud, and turned to a jumble of rocks from some partial cave collapse in the not-too ancient path.   the path ran around a carved out section behind the waterfall, the carved out area forming an amphitheater, a church apse, a round opensided cave with a thunder of water hurling down a hundred some feet to the pool below.  the water was constantly crumbling the rock it hurtled over, and that rock fell, often on the path, sometimes on unwary tourists.  one can speculate, anyway.


so jim scrambled over the slimy, slippery black rocks until the path turned back to mud, and slanted toward the edge of the undercut and into the waterfall’s basin.  can you picture my state of anxiety at this point?  but i did stop to take a bunch of pictures of the back of the waterfall, and the kids.  i don’t think jim got any photos there.


we looked at the continuation of the path around the other side of the back of the waterfall, and could see that there were more rocks, going up higher to the start of a yet higher mess of steps than we’d already climbed.  so we decided to go back the other way, and i gestured to the boys, who were being remarkably sensible and standing at the rear of the cave where the walls were full of little plants – moss, lichen, ferns.

there was a man standing nearby, dressed in a gray raincoat, with short salt and pepper hair.  i was helping jim cross the mud in front of him.  when i looked back at the path, that same person was now a short woman with chin-length gray hair, a very thin face, and pointy eyes, but not oriental.  she smiled at us as we passed.  i am pretty sure she was a huldufolk woman, and i’m happy to have met her.


we got down off the back of the waterfall fine, and jim wandered off to take pictures like nothing had happened, while i collected the boys’ drenched raincoats and down jackets and let them roll down the grassy gravel scree mountainside next to the waterfall.


more wet things to festoon around the camper, for instance stuck like a hat over the headrests of the driver and passenger seats.


then we drove another hour or two, past the beautiful valley that houses vik, to kirkubaerklaustur, which has gas and hot dogs.  it undoubtedly has more, but i’ve only sampled the former.  oh yeah we got a pound of candy there.  and the boys played in the field while i rested my eyes.  and then we pushed on.


onto the sand.  onto sight of the glaciers.  onto a thousand miles of visibility as clouds built in the east and the south.  the thing about iceland, there’s no scale.  you see everything in detail from far away, and as you get closer you simply see it in more detail, a different angle.  until it’s right there in front of you and the car is turning away from it.


black sand stretching out forever.  patches of lupins just beginning to bloom purple, stretching out forever.  lava mountains with eroded scree sides now sporting green grass and sheep by the dozens.  endless road with no traffic, unless some poor bastard wants to pass, or comes hurtling by in the other direction.


lava flows from ancient times, covered with moss padding the lava lumps and hills and eerie forms on the horizon, with enormous single mountainlets sitting on a flat plane like they were dropped there from a height.  miles of lava flows.  nobody lives there.


and then the sand.  outflow streams from the glaciers miles and miles away, streams made of gravel, constantly changing their course, shifting streams so that the bridges have to be made extra wide to account for random switching of rushing water.  the sand goes on forever, with enormous mountains and glaciers in the background, turning slowly as you circle the south half of the island.


the glaciers go on forever.  these massive black towers rise up in front of them, forcing them to flow around while ripping chunks and scraping gravel off the towers until they’re just stacks sitting in the middle of nowhere.  the glacier is white at the top, but it’s hard to say how far up it goes, because there were clouds hanging out at that height, and we couldn’t tell where ice stopped and water vapor began.  maybe it’s making its own fog as it melts.  the clouds were getting thicker, and the sun was only peeping thru at the top of the glacier, so it really glowed, much more than photos can show.  i always want to go there, wherever it’s most beautiful, even tho i know it wouldn’t be what i could experience standing there appreciating it from afar.


the clouds go on forever.  we couldn’t see any farther north than the tops of the glaciers, but that’s so far north it might as well be going south again.  we could see all the way to the east, and the south right out into the depths of the north atlantic out where the sky turned purple and disappeared into the ocean.  and we could see back to the west the way we’d come, which had the only blue sky, over the land as well as out to sea.  but we were heading east.


the road went on forever.  the boys played with the legos and fought over who got the transformers, i looked more closely at features i’d only seen from the windows of a big tour bus last time, and pulled over a lot to get out and take pictures as we entered, crossed, and then passed one valley after another, one formation of trolls after another, one waterfall, one cute farm, one river running to the sea after another.  and sand.  a whole country taken up with sand.  then a whole country taken up by a lava flow.  then a whole country of steeply eroded volcanic mountainside abutting an absolutely flat coastal plane that stretched off to the south out of sight.


and aside from being twice as far as you think it’s going to be, it also takes twice as long to get there.  the last few miles had the intermittent wipers on, and then i overshot the turnoff to the visitors’ center, and then i overshot the turnoff to the campground, and then we barely got to the bathroom and back before it started raining steadily, and we were so exhausted that we went straight to bed.  i forgot if we ate at all.

it rained softly much of the night.  it sounds really wonderful in a camper.  jim and i slept with our clothes on under two opened-out sleeping bags, covered by our wool blanket.  we’d brought pillows for everybody, and jim fleshed his out with his folded up lopapeysa (given to me by the proprietor of the hostel in djupivogur, thanks again), and i scrunched mine up (i took the smallest down pillow, and cut the second-smallest into two pillows for the boys.  they fit into stuff bags nicely).

i had a dream in the middle of the night.  i was hanging out with this impish looking guy, kind of short and tanned, with bright blond hair.  he was unconventional, we were having fun.  we were going back to my house, and i needed to take a shortcut thru a friend’s house.  it was night, so we tiptoed thru the house and out the side door into the back yard.  there we were met by a small dark woman who asked serious questions about what i was doing.  i explained myself to her adequately, but the impish guy lost interest, and went to leave with two bicycle wheels under his arms, so i said goodbye and turned my attention back to the woman.

that’s when the buzzer sounded at the front of the camper.  it was the lights.  it was the buzzer that comes on when your engine isn’t on but your lights are, so you don’t drain your battery.  i’d discovered it when i’d turned the camper off that evening.  i jumped over the kitchen table thing behind the front seat and reached to twist off the light switch.  but i know i did that when i turned the camper off, so clearly this was communication from one of the people in my dream.  the buzzer didn’t wake anybody else up.  i went back to sleep.

then at 4:30 in the morning, jim woke up to go pee.  so i got everybody up, seeing as it was broad daylight, and got them into their boots and their jackets, and hustled everybody out for the mile walk to the glacier.  and they all went, tho jim still hasn’t let me forget that he went out without any coffee.

so we walked down a newly widened gravel trail past the visitors’ center and cafe (and bathrooms), and we walked along the mountainside that is now covered with fully grown trees planted who knows how many decades ago.  we walked along an old glacial bed that was now gravel and boulders and rocks and lava rocks and chunky rocks, and birch trees by the millions, and all sorts of other plants, and moss, and lichen.  it went on forever, growing madly in the 24 hour sun, colonizing the rocks and turning them into dirt matted with ancient roots that still put out branches and still reach madly for the sun and the rain.

and we walked.  we topped one gravel ridge after another, and the landscape changed.  no more trees covering the mountainside; the cliffs were craggy and crumbly; we could see troll faces in the rocks.  the ground was barren gravel, sandy and fresher, blacker.  there was a wind.  it had been around 50 back at the campsight, clear enough after a night of rain, the ground very wet but the birds active and happily doing stuff in the bushes and grass.  but it was closer to 45 out on the recent glacial morraine, and the wind picked up as we walked closer, as the glacier’s snout got larger and took up more of our vision.


the snout went half a mile along its outflow lagoon, curving away from us.  we couldn’t tell how tall the edge of the glacial tongue was, there was no scale to measure it with.  it could have easily been a hundred feet in the air, almost straight up from the lake’s surface, weathered a bit, the edges a little worn.  and striped with black where gravel had rubbed off the edges of the mountains as the glacier flowed toward sea level.  the black heated up and melted the ice quicker, or it settled in the quicker-melting ice, and it formed seams thru the ice, great jagged lines that showed how the ice was breaking up.


in front of the glacier was its lagoon, with tiny icebergs the size of a camper or a house, or a dead tourist, floating in the glassy water.  the water is whipped by the wind, tho, and splashes with a thousand tiny waves on the steep gravel and sand shore we stood on.  we got some good photos.  the boys had fits.  avery was resentful that morning, and so pitched a fit the farther we frog marched him toward the glacier.  and as soon as it got good and cold he retreated over the ridge and kept going.  and where was he going to go?  we let him.  connor was fine, so we let him play with rocks.  we got great photos.

this massive tongue of ice.  the massive breach in the mountains that it had carved.  the huge expanse of blindingly white ice behind all those massive mountains, falling slowly to earth, soiled and crumbling into chunks of dirty ice, the massive valley we were in that a much bigger version of the glacier had carved hundreds and thousands of years ago.  the fresh ice wind sledding at high speed down from the ice cap to bathe us with newly melted glacial air five thousand years old.  o mystical wonder.  o overwhelming scale.  o sulking boys.  o blistering cold and us without our ski gloves.


so we went on.  it was before 7 in the morning; we’d been the only ones at the glacier, and the campground was just waking up when we made something to eat and left.  we were heading for our furthest point, the jokulsarlon glacial lagoon, which is very large, crammed full of interesting icebergs and chunks and flecks and sculptures of ice, has several really good vantage points, and offers zodiac boat tours to get up close to some of the bergs.


but i could see that it was raining over that way, way around the mountains we were near, past another glacier with a half dozen glacial tongues in the distance, and into the outflow of yet another glacier that fed the famous glacier.


so we opted for the super-secret glacial lagoon, and pulled off several glacial tonges before jokulsarlon, which continued to be rainy.  it’s called fjallarlon, and it’s down a newly widened gravel road, with a couple of concrete trucks pouring cement into rebar and wooden forms, for a visitors’ center and cafe, we can presume.  we were the second non-construction vehicle in the gravel parking lot, and so we got out and marched up a newly-flattened gravel path, past a temporary waiting tent for boat tours that looked like it must be well-anchored to withstand those icelandic winds.



we came to a trail off the road that had a rope guide and went down toward the lagoon.  the hill crested, and markers showed the trail that went around this glacier and the next and ended up in jokulsarlon, for those hardy hikers, which we weren’t.  we had our walking sticks, and the boys had their gloves.  but there was no wind here because it wasn’t as big a glacier and the topology wasn’t as funneled.  we went halfway down the hill and stopped for a round of pictures.


the mountain’s black features were mirrored in the lagoon, interrupted by floating ice sculptures.  the clouds curled down from the mountains and off the glacier.  there was an interesting icefall halfway up, and more glacial tongues down the way a bit, and more and more.  so i followed the boys down to the lake, and fished a chunk of ice in to the black rock and sand beach for them to play with, and moved off to take pictures of the unreal scenes and inspiring compositions.  and the scale.


we played there for about an hour, jim taking pictures and sitting and looking, and me doing the same.  the boys never once looked up from their playing.  connor lost a glove, and avery spotted it in all those rocks way down the beach.



and then, it was rain behind us, and we covering ground we’d covered before, looking for those features that went by too fast for us to photograph the first time, heading for vik.









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