IT IS a truth universally acknowledged that a country must be pretty darned awesome if the total banjaxing of one’s travel plans can lead to joy, excitement and renewed curiosity. So it was when we looked at the live road conditions this morning and discovered that the East of Iceland is closed. Oh no! Oh well! And “Ooo,” A added, “does this mean we can spend another night in Hestasport…?
So we sat down with serious intent and a phenomenal breakfast, looked at the local volcano, and worked out a plan.
Instead of girding the whole nation, we’d dither through Hestasport to the Westerfjords (the top-left peninsula), before making an attempt on Geysir – the eponymous original, after which all lesser geysers are known.
One last bit of volcanic business to conclude – the boiling mud pits, which lay a short distance past the EAST OF ICELAND CLOSED sign.
(Those of you fluent in static LCD screenshots will, I’m sure, appreciate that that is the lowest seventh of the word CLOSED).
We paused in a questionable car park in a shoulder in the mountain for one last glance over Myvatn…
Before pushing onwards and upwards, feeling nought but the most fleeting terror at entering a mountain pass that was so ruined that not even Icelanders would attempt it.
Turned out we needn’t have worried! Just over the hill, we were greeted by what I can only describe as a chuffing incredible, blasted, moonscape plain. Volcanoes to the right, nothing – nothing – over vast swathes of blasted lava plains. It’s rare that you’ll hear me utter treasonous words, but this was even better than Yorkshire.
Quite a bit of the way, I was thinking that this must be about as close as you can get to driving across the Arctic (whilst still within reasonable distance of a decent pot of tea, and raw smoked slices of lamb, mmmmmmmmmmmmMMM).
And them we were at the mud pits! A genteel sign politely explained that these were fissures in the earth her water, which had fallen onto magma, escaped in the form of steam. And how the sulphuric aromas highlighted the presence of boiling acid water, which is the reason that the rocks dissolved into mud. Hence, boiling mud flats.
I prefer the local version:
Krafla [by Myvatn] includes one of the two best-known Víti craters of Iceland (the other is in Askja). The Icelandic word “víti” means “hell”. In former times, people often believed hell to be under volcanoes.
Basically, “holy sh*$, these are the chuffing gates of hell, that is where evil people go when they die, and they’re right beneath us AAAAA.”
And the local version seems more pertinent still, when eg the hotelier tells you that the most recent area-changing eruptions were in 1979-1984 and, yes, the magma chamber has fully refilled since then. So another eruption is imminent.
Life in Iceland: precarious.
Enough blah blah blah! Boiling mud:
The weather perhaps merits another note here. It was, literally, breathtaking. Minus five, with 40mph (17 metre per second) winds. I sorely regretted having a touch screen camera as, in the 3-10 seconds it took me to remove my gloves, whip out my phone, take a pic, repocket it, and put on my gloves, my hands were already stinging with real pain. 3 or 4 pics, and I was losing feeling in my fingers. Amazing! And suboptimal survival conditions, no doubt.
Speaking of survival, on our way out we passed a car that’d driven off road. No ice, no sketchy conditions – but she’d driven across two lanes and into a drainage ditch filled knee-high with snow. Being manly and all that, I pushed them out with nothing more than the help of two other men, a tow rope, and a massive 4×4. We then got moderate entertainment from driving behind them as, bless, they drove back to town at a firm 15kph, never one deviating from the very very middle of the road.
After the pass, we did one last half-wheel of Myvatn in the sunshine…
And then headed back up route one towards Akureyri, thence Varmahlid.
Road conditions started out utterly beautiful. As in OH MY GOODNESS THIS WEATHER IS INSANELY BEAUTIFUL beautiful. With sunglasses against sunblindness, and so on, and so forth.
Then suddenly, and really quite unexpectedly, driving conditions turned questionable, where questionable means OH MY CHUFFING GOODNESS WHERE THE HELL IS THE ROAD WHAT THE HECK HOW THE HECK ARE WE GONNA GET OUT OF HERE AAAAAAS. You see those little poles at the side of the road?
We discovered that they’re there so that people can work out where the road is when it’s covered in up to two feet of snow. In places, they’re three feet tall. Which begs quite concrete questions about WHO ON EARTH IS DRIVING IN THREE FEET OF SOLID ROAD SNOW.
The answer may be the snow ploughs, and snow funnel lorries. We had one of the latter behind us near Godfoss. At the time, we were experiencing foot-high drifts in the road, and occasional uncertainty about where the road was. Then this lorry came blazing through at about 90kph with a scoopy funnel on the front which hammered all the drifts out to one side. Looked great fun! And made our drive more pleasant.
Still, we were both massively relieves when Akureyri hove into view…
LITTLE DOD WE KNOW that the excitement was to continue. For as A checked the road conditions, she saw that the road from Akureyri to Hestasport – and our nights accommodation – was closed. Blizzard, said conditions. “Oh noes!” We thought. The coastal road was open, in theory. But had been upgraded to puce – “dangerous driving” – with three little “horrible quantities of snow” symbols. It’s a road that’s lined by precipitous drops, and which we found sketchy when in decent order. So this was none too appealing a prospect.
We lived in terror of a night spent stranded in a city, whose website advertised only one activity we had not yet undertaken: bowling. Don’t get me wrong, bowling is fine in its place, but it’s place is Guildford sports centre c.1996 with a portion of curly fries and so much diet coke that you don’t stop weeing for three weeks. Contrastingly, the place for bowling is NOT instead of the westerfjords!
As we pulled in for a leisurely town-centre lunch, A checked the website – and the blizzard had cleared. So we decided to make a dash for it, have a supermarket lunch, and sprint for the hills before they could bloody well blizzard again.
[Parenthesis: at the supermarket, I lived out a particular excitement – shopping for dinner! When you don’t speak Icelandic, every meat is mystery meat! Splúrtjúrnukl could be any one of a number of quadrupeds, and likewise nautagulla. All I know is that I picked up a half kilo of something very red, which definitely wasn’t pork, and which very definitely be cooked with garlic, carrots and onions. Adding to the excitement, even Google Translate was at a loss. Woo! Go Akureyri Netto! Bringing the excitement back into adventurous carnivores’ cuisine. I am not allowed to tell A what it was, as if it turns out to have been horse then the smell if it cooking will have turned out to have nauseated her]
The mountain pass was breathtaking. Yeah. Sorry. I know you’ve read that before. We should probably come up with a ranking scale of breathtakingness. An awesomemometer, or some such.
As may be deduced from some of these shots, road conditions were once more varying in their degrees of optimability. We were both quite glad when we began to arrive in a valley, attended by roads with Tarmac that was not only visible beneath the snow but which was, on occasions, entirely snow free.
We checked into our hut at about 4:30, and went for a walk in search of mudbaths, waterfalls and horses before sundown.
Strictly enter nouse, we had expected the waterfall to be a bit “local.” As in, a bit crap and trickly, but very agreeable nonetheless, and perhaps all the more so because of its parochial charm. So imagine our surprise when it turned out to be a kick-ass mummajammer of a beast:
Then via MOUNTAINS and HORSES to HOME.
we suspect you may agree that the horses’ eighties rock star type semi-Hasselhof windblown were particularly aces.
AND at home, mystery meat was cooked with onions, garlic, butter and carrots. And the wind lashed against the windows, but it was lovely, snug, secure and warm inside. And the wolves that probably lurk by the hotpot after nightfall DEFINITELY can’t get in. Oh no!