After surveying the chaos left behind by the raving horde of breakfasting senior citizens, who ate all of the bacon spread, we were glad to leave the Hotel Hvolsvollur behind. The plan for Monday, August the 26th, was to see a couple of waterfalls, visit the black sand beaches at Vik, do a little F-Road driving, and then head northeast to our place of lodging in Efri-Vik.
Our tour contact insisted we stick to the side road heading east out of town so we could see some “glorious nature” – he must’ve said that twenty times during his speech on our first morning. To the left of the road was a large bluff with thread-like waterfalls pouring down behind farmhouses and green fields dotted with sheep. To the right were the lowlands leading south to the sea that were adorned by crepuscular rays cascading down between the rain clouds that would come and go as the day went on.
On our way to Route-1 we stopped by Stori Dimon, a small volcanic mountain that sits alone on the west side of the Markafljot flood plain, and climbed to the top so we could get a view of the valley and the west side of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano. The trail leading to the top was muddy and slick from the rain but the views were magnificent and well worth the struggle we were going to have getting down. After taking all of our pictures and waiting for any non-sheep witnesses to leave the parking area we made our way down the mountain. The loose footing meant that we needed to have at least three points of contact with the ground otherwise we would slip and tumble to an embarrassing death. I started backing down carefully but the Exorcist-like crabwalk that Blondie was using proved to be the winner. Thankfully nobody was there to witness our less than graceful descent. I am not sure if it was the climb or the ridiculous crawl down but our thigh muscles screamed for the next five days – to this day I still have tightness in my right thigh. Remember to always stretch after exercise boys and girls.
In the panoramic picture of the river above, on the right hand side, you can see a road/dyke going south toward the sea. We foolishly decided that it would be awesome to drive it all the way to the ring road. At first it was quite smooth and we were having a bit of fun, but I was nervous because if we met someone coming the other way we would be either up a creek, in this case the Markarfljot, or rolling over the steep embankment on the other side because our jacked up Jeep was a top-heavy death wagon. After a mile or so the rain started coming down hard while the coastal winds rocked the truck and of course there just had to be a huge construction vehicle sitting atop the levee just a quarter-mile ahead. When we drove onto the dyke we were unsure if that sort of thing was allowed – there wasn’t anything preventing us from doing it but that doesn’t mean we were in the right so instead of going forth and risking trouble with the man we decided that we would turn down the music, put the truck in reverse, and carefully back up to the nearest turnout about a third of a mile back. Backing out of a driveway or a parking spot is easy and relatively stress free but backing down a narrow two-track path with certain death on either side will make anyone a little uneasy. I began sweating profusely and barked out orders to Blondie telling her to watch her side close while I imagined us falling ass backwards into the incoming tide on my side. It was what can only be described as a shit-show and we were the star players. After a few really close calls on my side we managed to turn off and as we did I let forth an honest to god cry of relief while Blondie looked on in relieved contempt – she does not take kindly to the barking of orders or the spaz I become when I am stressed. Thankfully there aren’t any pictures of this portion of our day.
The pic above is of one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss. Other than being beautiful the best part about it is that you can walk into the hollow cavern behind it and get really really wet. There were many visitors navigating the slippery trail, among them an entire tour group of blind people, and it was difficult to find a dry spot because the wind was blowing the mist directly into the cave. The sound and mist combined with the smell of wet earth was truly wonderful and I was happy that the sight-impaired group was able to experience it for themselves.
Seljalandsfoss is located on Route 249, which runs northeast between the Markarfljot and the volcano Eyjafjallajokull, and turns into F-249 a mile or so up the road from the falls. We decided to take this particular F-Road the night before hoping that it would provide us some up-close views of the volcano and its glaciers, and let’s face it, I wanted to drive into some rough country and get gnar gnar with the Jeep. At the transition between regular roads and F-roads there are usually a handful of signs telling you to turn back unless you have four-wheeled drive, that there are no gas stations anywhere close, and that you will be crossing unbridged rivers – sounds like fun. Also, there is a very prominent warning inside our car that states that any damages incurred during river crossings will void the rental insurance. It is a shame that I am too cheap to buy the video option for this blog because we recorded some of the larger crossings – one of which was moving very fast and bottom-of-the-door deep and you can hear Blondie say ‘Oh God Oh God Oh God’ no less than ten times followed up with a ‘I f__king hate you!’ as we finally pulled up out of the slippery river bottom.
After a particularly rocky crossing we decided to leave the road and take a rough path up to the glacier because in Iceland if there is a path you sure as hell can drive on it. Though before doing so I decided to run up on foot to make sure that once we got up there we could get out safely – I wasn’t going to be backing that beast out of anymore tight spots on this trip. On top of the hill the breeze coming off the glacier was refreshing and the view was worth the run. Small streams spider-webbed across the dark earth left by the retreating glacier and tire tracks led right up to the sheer ice face. I waved ok to Blondie and she slowly drove the truck up the hill – the only time she took the wheel during the trip. I wanted to drive up to the ice as well but the climb down into the valley as well as the iffy river crossings were beyond my skills and those of the Jeep. We were satisfied to stay there and have a walk around instead.
The sky was beginning to threaten rain so we took our last pics and headed back to the Jeep. When I walked up to it I could see that something was leaking from the front end and immediately I started to rehearse the ass chewing I was going to give our tour company for giving us a piece of s__t Jeep with the check engine light on. I did what any man would do at this point; I grumbled while secretly panicking and got under the front end to see what the issue was. It turned out to be water from our last crossing that had collected in a hollow area of the frame and it was dripping out because we were parked at an angle. Thank Jeebus! At that point we made a unanimous decision to turn back before anything really bad happened.
The weather went to hell as the day went on so we spent a lot of time making picture stops along the way to our next destination, Skogafoss. The falls were beautiful but the winds and rain coming off the ocean were taking all of the fun out of it. Thankfully we had a warm vehicle to get into after we made our pictures – many people had ridden bikes and were camping near the base of the falls in flimsy tents. I am sure it is pleasant enough during the nice weather but to hell with that suffering.
Even though it was raining and neither of us wanted to get out of the truck we decided to go check out Vik because it was too early to make tracks for the hotel. It turns out that Vik is the rainiest city in all of Iceland and the local glacier, Mýrdalsjökull, gets up to ten meters of precipitation a year – the weather during our visit reflected that fact perfectly. The frigid winds and sideways rain were impressive and kept us at the wheel and staring out the windows. Our tour contact told us that we had to see Dyrhólaey, which is an impressive rock formation sticking out to sea with a huge hole in it – apparently large enough for a small plane to fly through it. We did not get a great view of it when we got there but the coastline was very impressive – huge waves breaking on black sand beaches and shorebirds making an incredible racket.
The drive to Hotel Laki in Efri-Vik gave us an opportunity to get dry and relax for a while. The road is flat and straight east of Vik as it cuts first across a glacial plane made by the runoff of Mýrdalsjökull and then through an otherworldly lava field. Moss has grown on the globular outcrops, gives everything a soft brain-like appearance, and it stretches off in every direction – it is a very bizarre sight. It was on this stretch that we saw the first of only two police cars during our trip.
Hotel Laki is one of the nicer hotels we stayed in during our trip. The room was big and had a balcony as well as a huge bathtub, in which I soaked my tired old body til it was time to dress for dinner. I am always pleased when there is a bar in the hotel and when I asked for the usual two pre-dinner Tanqueray and Tonics the bartender asked me if I would prefer doubles. I said of course, not thinking about the exchange rate or the fact that something had to pay for all this fancy, and paid promptly with a credit card not even looking at the receipt. As I sat down at the table where Blondie was waiting for her drink she asked me how much the drinks were – I have a bad habit of not paying attention to these sorts of things, I am not a money guy because I rarely have any. I checked the receipt and told her the price and her eyes nearly bugged out of her cute little head as she nearly choked on her drink. Two double-tall T&Ts cost 5,800kr or approximately $48USD – I switched to beer after that.
We learned some important lessons during this day in Iceland 1) Always stretch after exercise 2) Do not drive on one-lane levees 3) Know when to turn back and 4) Ask how much the drink is before you order it. Come back next week for the next Driving Iceland so I can bore you a little more and show you pretty pictures or really old ice, Italians that don’t listen, and more really old ice.
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