adventure tour, day 3: natural wonders and bumpy roads

Ferðaáætlun, dagur 3: Golden Circle, Kjölur, Arrival at Hofsós

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Golden Circle

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Monday morning we said goodbye to Heimaey and took the ferry back to the mainland (fries and kókómjólk – breakfast of champions).  Our first stop was Haukadalur, famous geothermally active valley and home to Geysir – the original Geysir, from which we derived the English word geyser.  Unfortunately, Geysir is a bit shy these days and does not erupt regularly, so the bigger draw is Strokkur, another geyser which erupts on average every 4-8 minutes.  There’s a sort of ceremony one must participate in with all the other tourists: find a spot around the perimeter, hold camera at eye level, wait in silence.

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THE Geysir

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I don’t have to translate this into Fahrenheit to know that it’s hot.

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Biddu, biddu…

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Strokkur

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Yes, the steam is very hot and sulphur-stinky.

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Litli Geysir. Just bubbles and steams and looks cute.

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There are a number of other hot pools and mud pots in the area.  It’s like Yellowstone, minus the bears and moose and trees.

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fallegur blár

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cairns

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We stopped in at the super fancy visitors’ center (AKA giant tourist trap) but I managed to resist the t-shirts, magnets and wool products and my krónur survived to see another day and another tourist trap.

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Gullfoss

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Next stop: Gullfoss (‘golden falls’).  Apparently once upon a time (early 20th century) it was threatened by people who wanted to use it to generate electricity.  Near the falls there’s a monument dedicated to a woman named Sigriður Tómasdóttir, whose determined efforts to protect the falls supposedly saved it from development.  The Intranet tells me this is not actually true, although it is widely believed.  Whatever the whole truth might be, I’m sure she deserves some credit, so þakka þér, Sigriður, for helping preserve this incredible sight.

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Sigríður Tómasdóttir

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After Gullfoss, we stopped for a picnic at a picturesque little spot along the Hvítá River.  One of the sheep across the river was bleating very loudly.  I think it was upset that its companions were leaving it behind.  Understandable, little lamb.

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strákar

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Hvítá

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Kjölur

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Full and happy, we waved goodbye to Suðurland and headed northward on Kjölur, a road that traverses the highlands between two glaciers, Langjökull and Hofsjökull.  I remember seeing the road sign indicating the imminent beginning of the gravel road:

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We hit the gravel road, bump bump bump, and someone asked, ‘Is it going to be like this the rest of the way?’  Indeed, it was just like that.  Sometimes worse.  At one point we forded a little creek.  It was like the Oregon Trail, but on a different continent, with a van instead of a wagon, and no oxen or rattlesnakes or threat of death by cholera.

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I believe this is Hvítárvatn, a glacial lake and the source of Hvítá.  Landscapes like this make it easy to imagine why parts of the Icelandic highlands were used as training spots for the Apollo mission.

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You don’t have to get very far out of the city to realize that Iceland is primarily a land of vast, beautiful emptiness, and traveling through the highlands drives the point home.  I soaked in the view of vast emptiness dotted with glacial lakes and looming mountains until all the rocks started blending together into a dusty blur.

We stopped at Hveravellir, a natural hot spring, for a quick dip in the middle of nowhere, then we forged ahead on the dusty trail toward Hofsós.  The road stretched on and on, bump bump bump, and we amused ourselves by playing Mad Libs and I Spy (difficult when there’s nothing outside) and coloring Care Bears and Skill Rex (go Alex!).

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Hveravellir

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Hofsós

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Hours later, brains slightly addled from all the jostling, our tires rolled onto a real road once again, and soon that road led us to Hofsós, our home base for the next two nights.  We dusted off our luggage (even though it was in the trailer, it was covered by a thick layer of highland dust).  Most of the group checked into Prestbakki, the old parsonage right next to the kirkja, but Amöndu, Jolene and I got our very own little garage-turned-apartment across town.  The way Ásta Sól described it, I was getting a bit nervous, but it actually turned out to be nicer than the house, I think.  Cute and quaint and comfortable.  The only minor problem?  There was no TP, so I pillaged some from the other house.  Problem solved.

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Kirkja og Prestbakki

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home sweet garage

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Hofsós, like so many Icelandic towns, is little more than a village, settled along the coast in the shadows of bare mountains.  But what a beautiful village.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the arrangement of homes; they dot the landscape this way and that, and the colors are equally random.  The three buildings of the Emigration Center sit right next to the harbour.  A river flows down from the mountains and rushes into the sea.  Add in the bright evening sun and you have a scene of Icelandic perfection.

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We had dinner at the restaurant, Sólvík (in towns of this size there is simply THE restaurant): fish and chips, meatballs and rhubarb jam, green salad, peas, rolls.  While we were eating a dessert of blueberry skyr with cream, a man named Nelson who works at the Emigration Center joined us and I enjoyed chatting with him and Kent, our bus driver.  I mentioned that I would love to study Icelandic at the University, and Nelson told me about some available scholarships and said that my English degree is the perfect background.  Maybe not such a far-fetched dream after all?

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á morgun: a visit to Vesturfarasetrið, the Icelandic Emigration Center

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