East coast Iceland
From Egilsstathir we had to cross a mountain pass to get down onto the North Atlantic coast. Those of us who are spoiled by driving on 4 lane, limited access American freeways would be amazed at some of the roads they drive a tour bus on in Iceland. I would have been nervous driving a jeep down the switchback gravel trail they called a highway. Our bus driver, Trosti (the “o” has an umlaut over it), definitely earned our respect today. The main highway that goes all the way around the country is two lanes, and not even paved in some places.
We made one stop near the top of the pass to take photos before heading down into the beautiful green valley.
Once in the valley, we learned about the charming little farms that specialize in raising Icelandic horses. These horses were originally brought over from Norway hundreds of years ago, but their Norwegian relatives have been interbred with other horses until they no longer exist anywhere but Iceland. They have a reputation for being gentle and sure-footed. Several companies offer tours of Iceland on horseback.
When it comes to farms, we soon learned that Gummi knew the name of each one, and usually a story or two about the people who owned it. I don’t think Gummi is alone in this talent…it seems as though Iceland resembles a very large small town where everyone knows everyone else.
After the pass we came to the little fishing village of Djupivogur, where we would do a walk along the seashore. After the walk we stopped at the hotel in town for a steaming bowl of lamb soup for lunch.
Leaving the hotel, we stopped to visit an installation by a local artist. The stone eggs represent a variety of local birds.
Now we entered the glacier country of Iceland–around every bend it seemed there was a tongue of the huge glacier that sloped down to a valley and eventually to the sea. This particular glacier is called Vatnajokul, and it’s the third largest in the world at some 87,000 sq. kilometers (the largest are in Antarctica and Greenland). After we check into our hotel and have dinner, we’ll be off on an excursion to explore part of this vast ice sheet by jeep.
After loading into our SUVs with giant tires, we climbed up a pretty scary jeep road, with views back toward the coast. The rain earlier had turned to hail for a while, which is why I insisted on calling this a “hailbow” instead of an ordinary rainbow.
About ten miles up into the hills we came to the headquarters hut of our glacier tour company. Fyrdyk, the owner, was the driver of my jeep. Between his limited English and my total incomprehension in Icelandic, we had fun trying to communicate. We were offered the option to put on snow suits and try our hand at driving the “snow scooters” out on the glacier but amazingly, no one in our group took them up on it.
The first order of business was to let most of the air out of the jeep tires in order to get traction on the snow-covered ice. The rainy weather earlier meant Fyrdyk was unsure up till the last minute whether or how far to take us out on the glacier. For the first few miles he went slowly, testing the footing and the width of the crevices in the ice. The sun was finally out, and apparently everything was a-ok. Soon we stopped and got out to walk around on the snowy surface and take some photos.
This was another great example of the magical and beautiful light of Iceland–the sun was just starting to dip down (around 9 pm now) and the cloud formations kept changing and moving around the tops of the mountains.
After driving a little farther on the ice I saw something black in front of the jeep, as if we were approaching the edge of the abyss. I was sure we were about to sail off into the night! Fyrdyk stopped right before the edge, which of course turned out to be black lava rock. Then he opened the door and started shooing us out, yelling something about “one kilometer, one kilometer!” My first thought was I couldn’t possibly walk a kilometer on this snow in my lightweight (non waterproof) walking shoes! Then I walked a little closer to the edge and saw a breathtaking view into a canyon–which is apparently one kilometer deep!
We returned to the hut and sampled some of the local specialty–beer made with the water from the glacier. I was pretty high already from the glacier experience, and wondered if I would ever get to sleep once we got back to the hotel.