Friday, June 3, 2011

IS - East

June 3                   Friday                   Iceland                 East                                                      

Fun dream last night… first I was walking.  Then I started running.  I quickly found that I could control the passage of time, putting everything into slow-motion.  Granted, I do this in pretty much all my lucid dreams… but I didn’t become lucid in this one.  I began leaping over things & jumping off walls as if a parkour master.  I grabbed a piece of wood & began using it in place of one of my feet… I seemed to be weightless with it.  So I grabbed another & used them as stilts.  I then began doing even more parkour feats with those.  That was pretty much the whole dream.  It was a lot of fun right up until the waking up part… blasted alarm.

My eyes opened to a nearly cloudless sky.  I was tempted the night before of doing the Skaftafell Loop given that it was such a beautiful evening, but fortunately this morning provided just as well.  In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t start hiking last night… not only did I end up with spectacular weather; I also hadn’t anticipated its length.

It was a very tiring hike.  Granted, an experienced hiker would probably say it wasn’t too shabby.  Indeed there wasn’t really anything difficult per se; the trickiest part was probably just trying to ascend up some of the small glacial flanges (which I’d really just call snow that hadn’t melted yet… that might be the more technical term, too).  But for my first major hike in about two years: this was quite demanding upon my endurance.  For the past two years, the closest thing to a trek loaded with gear I’ve done would probably be my walks to the grocery store.

The hike was much better than yesterday… I could see that each hill would offer a whole new view; giving me something to work for.  It took me about five hours, plus an additional 30 minutes or so of breaks.  The scenery was beautiful, with abundant views over various arms of the Vatnajökull glacier.  Along the way I watched a fire in the distance, out upon the Skeiðarársandur.  I looked back a few minutes later and spotted a second fire.  A few minutes later: a third.  I began to wonder if today was some holiday.

Yet more minutes passed before I looked back and saw that the “fires” had been replaced by one massive sandstorm.  Those “fires” were actually dust devils… dust devils which, as I’d later hear, can generate enough wind to strip the paint off a car.  I think we call those “tornados armed with sand, gravel, and ash.”  It was a fascinating sight to behold from my safe perch far above.  I also got to see a couple rain cells move across the sandur, one of which offered a touch of very tiny hail upon me.  It felt like raindrops except they didn’t leave a wet spot and they bounced & rolled on the ground.  Moments later : it was sunny again.

My nose ran the entire time along the hike.  Perhaps it was the altitude; perhaps it was the omnipresent wind; or perhaps  it was fact that I was both swelteringly hot and strikingly cold – often at the same time.  Every body part I’d covered was ablaze & soaked with sweat, but that which I’d left uncovered was ice-cold.  On the plus side, this did keep my water supply nice and chilly.  The weather also kept changing… overall the day was actually quite warm; but the wind would very between a warming breeze to a warming gale to a freezing breeze to a freezing gale to anything in between.  It’d change every 5 minutes… at times I thought I was spending as much time changing jackets as I was hiking.

After wrapping up the hike & collapsing into a heap upon my drivers’ seat (quickly stripping off my boots), I messaged my feet a bit and then began hightailing it to Höfn (pronounced like the sound you make if you inhale and say “Hup”; sort of like a hiccup).  I first stopped at Jökulsárlón  to see the icebergs.  At this location: icebergs splintering off yet another finger of the Vatnajökull glacier get trapped in a bay conveniently located along the Ring Road – easy fodder for tourist pleasure.

The icebergs were a multitude of colors.  Apparently they’re normally white and a crystal blue, but the Grímsvötn eruption introduced black to the fashion lineup.  I was just wondering about how those without ash had managed to dodge the precipitates & how blue ones form (the latter being absent).  But just then: a loud explosion… I turned toward it and spotted that the huge iceberg just beside the flock of tourists (of which I was among) was shattering with an absolutely immense force.  Water gushed in all directions, just barely missing a nice drenching of those on the shoreline… it was almost like a manufactured tourist attraction, where in an hour they’d reset the pieces and then blow it up again.  After it was all said and done – a process of about one minute – all that was left of the once-black iceberg was a crystalline blue main remnant and a bunch of smaller white chunks of ice floating in the water.  It was almost like a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly, except thankfully the iceberg wasn’t particularly airborne afterward.

It was also entertaining to watch the current coming in from the Atlantic & the current heading out from the glacier… they two met head-on right at the inlet, forming a stalemate which kept the ice bergs from entering into the high seas.  Or at least it did at that moment… I can’t speak for other times of tide.

Arriving into Höfn I found a very pretty little town.  Finally: a town with quaint buildings & homes.  While Europe still does it better, this town beats everything else across the southern coast – even Vik, which really only had its pretty church to its credit.  All Höfn needs is a church in place of its water tower and voila; but I suppose they appreciate having water pressure instead.  The geography around the town is stellar, with a pretty harbor to boot.  Alas, apart from a pretty waterfront walk: not too much of interest to tourists.

Onward, I knew I was strapped for time… I wanted to get a room in Eskifjordur  but knew I wouldn’t be getting in until around 11pm or midnight.  That pushed the boundaries of a hotel being open.  But I skipped two hostels in route simply because I wanted that specific hotel.  Sure enough, I rolled in at precisely midnight… closed.  Bummer, too, because its location really was pretty spectacular… look it up: it’s called “Mjóeyri”.  Reyðarfjörður and Eskifjordur  were both quite pretty, though, and I got an amazing drive through all the fjords throughout a truly lovely sunset.  Also, if Iceland was taking a census and got all the people in the southeast to gather together in the same place to be counted… it would probably take about 30 seconds to count them all.  Counting sheep, on the other hand, would be a long and snooze-inducing process.

I turned westward toward Egilsstaðir… mostly because I figured I might as well pick up some distance before going to sleep in my car.  The trip to Egilsstaðir was quite phenomenal, especially at sunset.  The area had received some snow a couple days earlier & the high mountain pass was covered in brilliant white.  I rolled into Egilsstaðir and spotted an office building with a bus parked in front… which I immediately recognized as something that must surely be a hotel.  As luck would have it: a business hotel still open at 1:30 am.  One problem with Iceland is that it’s really just a bunch of tiny towns… they open early & close early.  9pm and 10pm is really your goal if you’re hoping to get accommodation even though the sun may still feel like it’s only in the mid-afternoon.

$160 later (discounted, woo hoo!) I got a room… not only did I need to recoup energy for myself, but I also needed precious power outlets to recharge my camera batteries and laptop.  I’d nearly drained my last of three batteries and was also almost out of camera card space (despite packing 56 GB).  Though it all: I did take heed that my hope of catching the stars from such a remote location is unlikely… the sun never sets.  It just gets very very low and skirts around the north.  It only dips beneath the horizon from about 12:30am to 3am (which I suppose technically means it “set”), but the light itself is still quite bright.

It was a late night as I finally got a chance to type everything to date and fix the adapter I broke the night before.  I figured out how to dismantle it (by breaking it some more) and then I disassembled it & reassembled it to get it around the part that had gotten stuck.  Now it works like a charm!  That lets me charge a camera battery and fiddle on my laptop… a double win.  While of little concern to you, the reader, that’s an immense bonus to me, provider of words and photos.

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