Iceland, The North: Puffins and Pools (and waterfalls)

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July 6th 2018
Published: July 6th 2018
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We spent days four through six in Iceland touring 'the north.' You always have a sense of foreboding with the people in a nation call part of the country just 'the north,' here for good reason.

On Tuesday we spent most of the day just driving to the north, the target being a farmhouse hotel to the west of Aukeryi (the second city of Iceland) where my friend Thor had made a reservation for us. Thor had been the dean of the University of Aukeryi and is also currently doing work in the area, helping the Chinese set up a station to study the Northern Lights. (His current work is with the Icelandic Arctic Institute--they are studying the effects of climate change amongst other things, guess which country no longer sends scientists to their meetings?). For this reason he is well known in the region and our host at the hotel turns out to be a close friend.

The drive revealed one great vista after another--we literally could have stopped the car every five miles and taken another picture. The scale of everything is simply beyond what you are ready for, made even bigger by the lack of population so you pass miles of uninhabited landscape. Of course, some of it could not be made habitable, as you often drive through lava fields or past mountains where nothing grows. We stopped in the little town of Hvammstangi and had lunch along with plenty of other stops to take photos that, when we look at them, just do not capture the place.

On Wednesday we had breakfast with Ulmsteinn, the owner of the farm hotel. There was a long discussion of farming, how it was very difficult as it was hard to have enough land to graze animals. The average dairy herd is about 50 cows, 125 sheep a large flock. Being spring hay was being made everywhere and put up against the long winter. It is baled 'green' and wrapped in plastic, every farm having stacks of bags of hay around it. The barns are large as well, as in the winter the livestock must be kept inside--the 2 to 4 feet of snow, sometimes more, requiring it. Turns out that in the valley where we were staying there was only one full time farming family, every other farm had someone working off the farm or had turned part of the place into tourist cabins. The very place we were staying had been a sheep barn. Ulmsteinn pointed out that we were staying in a converted sheep barn and that given the need for warmth and protection in the winter, it had not taken much to covert the barn into a hotel.

One of our goals was to see puffins, and this is where local knowledge and inside sources came in. We were told how to get out top the lighthouse at Voladalstorfa, the northern point on the Tjornes peninsula, not usually accessible to visitors. We hiked from the road to the lighthouse and found a nesting colony of puffins, thousands in fact, and spent a hour or so sitting amongst them watching the funny little birds tend their burrow nests, fly, and feed on the ocean. Lucky us.

From there we drove to Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe, and simply watching in awe as the millions of gallons of water, coming from a large glacial drainage, pounded over and through. The mist soaked us and simply the sound of the falls was terrifying.

A drive to Lake Myvatn was next. This place is so like the moon they actually brought the first moon astronauts here to train for the landing. We walked amongst hot pots and moonscape, and got off the beaten track to find a cave with a hot pool in it where a scene from Game of Thrones was filmed. Thus ended yet another day in Iceland.

On Thursday we took a more adventurous route home. First we stopped at Godifoss waterfall, so named as this is where the Lawspeaker, in about 1000 AD, tossed the pagan symbols into the water and proclaimed Iceland a Christian country. Whatever you toss in the water is going to be dashed into a million pieces, so probably as good a place as any to rid yourself of some things. Then we took a drive up and the Trollaskagi peninsula. To say it was frightening is an understatement. Lets start with the 30 or so Km from Dalvik north that runs along sheer cliffs falling some 100 to 150 feet to the sea on a two lane road with no guard rails and no shoulder! Oh, and the speed limit is 90Km as in nearly 60 mph. Trust me, we crawled that part of the journey. Then we entered a series of tunnels through the mountains at the end of the peninsula. The first was only 6 km long, but only one lane and you had to yield off into small caves carved into the rock whenever a car was oncoming. The next tunnel was 17 km, yes, really, 17 km through a mtn. Fortunately, this one was two lane.

All of this was worth it when we came to our first destination, Hofsos, where we soaked in a beautiful city pool overlooking the ocean. After a great lunch we visited the monument to the first European settler of North America, he departed from right here in Hofsos--find it on a map, then look at the journey that fool took. In an open boat.

Next we drove south to Saudarkrokur and then north up a dirt road to the grand finale of this part of the trip, a soak in the very remote tubs at Reykir known as Grettirs pool. We were there with maybe six other people, soaking in hot water, gazing at mountains, and thankful for the spot. What a country!

It is now Friday and I am waiting for Thor to pick me up--we are going fishing!


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