June 4 Saturday Iceland Northeast
Woke up to a warmish and comfy day with clear skies… amusing considering there are still hints of recent snowfall among the still partly-white piles of snow in Egilsstaðir’s parking lots. I nabbed a burger at a petrol station and made my way east to Seyðisfjörður. The drive to Seyðisfjörður took me through another mountain pass… well, actually I’d say it just took me up into the mountains; not even necessarily a pass for most of it. Many of Iceland’s mountains (but not all!) are actually pretty traversable… especially if you’re on foot. They’re sloped such that it’d be possible for you to gradually crawl or even walk your way up. The fun part about Iceland is that if you see a place you want to go: you just drive as close as you can… then walk the rest of the way. As long as it’s not right in someone’s yard: if you see it, you can go to it. Really the only thing that holds you back are the stream crossings, but even then: especially high up in the mountains, there are usually places where you can ford them – sometimes without even getting your feet wet – if you are so determined.
The roadway got me thinking whether Iceland might have been better to invest in a cable car, taking a cue from Switzerland. The mountaintops would make an interesting transfer point between cable cars, potentially offering some good winter sports well into the summer months (there was at least a solid foot of snow… not counting the additional depth I didn’t account for; I only know it’s a foot because that’s how far I’d sunk in with my footsteps). A café; some lodging… just like Europe! Though is that a good thing? I have a love/hate relationship with Europe’s treatment of hikes… on the one hand, I loathe the commercialization of nature; but I also love reaching a peak and being able to sit down at a café to let my accomplishment soak into my ego. Anyway, many of these towns could totally be car-free if given the opportunity, keeping cars parked on the other end of a cable car. Seyðisfjörður would be a great case study.
Seyðisfjörður itself is a pretty little burg – the first one I really felt the need to stop & get out of my car to tour about. The buildings aren’t the prettiest, but a couple were definitely up there: the police station, the church, a burgundy-colored home, and a dark-blue home… they were my top picks. The town’s soul rests in its geography: towering mountains on each side of the fjord and some pretty lakes surrounded by buildings. Even the golf course, located along the road through the pass, had me tempted to test out my skills as a linksman.
I returned and turned south toward a pair of waterfalls named Hengifoss and Lítlanesfoss. Along the way was the biggest forest – yes, forest – I’d yet seen in Iceland. Iceland has more rocks than an ice cold scotch, so while this wasn’t an impressive forest in any other land; it was quite neat to see in this particular case. Further south, after crossing to the west side of the lake, I came upon the end of the road at some hydropower plant. This marked the second power plant I’d come to where you could come right up and drive around… it’s kind of weird being in a country with no security around anything, with the sole exception of the airport. There’s more fencing around the sheep.
Considering that the road ended, I began to suspect I’d missed my destination… reading my Lonely Planet, I came to realize that the waterfalls were apparently just near the bridge across the lake about 5 minutes back. Oops. So I make my way back, go through the 30-40 minute hike up, and… well, nothing too spectacular. There have been drive-up waterfalls more interesting. This was really just a long waterfall… though it was framed by a neat backdrop: alternating layers of rock and red clay; but that wasn’t quite the return I’d hoped for after a tramping uphill. So 20 minutes back down and back to the car.
I had wanted to make a trip up to Borgarfjörður Eystri (Bakkagerði), but knew I was running a bit short on time to be able to make it west to Mývatn before places started closing. So westward-ho, I soon found myself in yet another wasteland… but even moreso than my venture across the Skeiðarársandur a couple days ago. Here I was in a high region loaded with hardened lava and naught much else. Volcanoes loomed in the distance, including a phenomenally beautiful one – Herðubreið – which looked like it would detonate at any moment.
I turned onto Route 864 for a long dirt road track heading out to yet another pair of waterfalls: Dettifoss and Selfoss. This trip was well worth it: Dettifoss is an easy and very short walk (1-2 min) from the carpark. It throws up immense amounts of mist which were ricocheting off the western bank and back to the east side. I then continued along the canyon – lined with basalt columns – toward Selfoss. It was about a 10-15 minute walk along generally flat terrain, albeit littered with rocks… but fortunately, I love hobbling over rocks. The short trip was well worth it: Selfoss was like a miniature Horseshoe Falls. I also had it all to myself… not a single person in sight on either side of the river.
I cruised along the dirt road, returning to the Ring Road and onto Reykjahlíð. I made it in five minutes before 10pm and secured a single room with wifi… but first went right back out to try and find some chow. When I found that the restaurant’s kitchen had closed at 10pm, I spun back, grabbed my swimsuit, and headed for the Mývatn Nature Baths – a geothermal pool.
The etiquette here is pretty straight-forward… it’s a swimming pool. This one seemed to be more of a soaking experience given its more natural environment, but others are built as if normal swimming pools and people paddle about in them as if they would any pool back home. Really the biggest rule is that you’re to shower beforehand… not just a rinse; a full shower. Fortunately my teenage angst about getting naked in public is long-gone – certainly helped by knowing that I’ll never see anyone here again – so I stripped down, washed up, and made my way into the freezing wind for the short trot – about 20 ft – to the water.
I found that the pool’s water was coming from one particular side, meaning the temperature near there was vastly higher than that further away. I found a seat pretty close to the incoming water and let my muscles finally relax. It felt amazing & the mountain view – enshrouded in sunset – certainly helped out. I looked about and noticed that this is where the girls are… but without my glasses I couldn’t discern much more than they were at most in their 20’s, thin, and wearing bikinis. Not that I’d hope for much considering the models on the baths’ brochure aren’t even that attractive. Superficial? Yes… when it comes to passing glances: I sure am.
Beneath the crystal blue water, my tanned arms turned a noticeable purple. My not-quite-as-tanned upper arms turned red. I sat and watched as everyone getting out of the pool went into a quick scamper through the cold air… it was pretty entertaining watching them run about, dashing for the warmth of another pool or the indoors. When I got out, myself, I personally found the frigid breeze to be quite exhilarating… almost to the point of feeling good. I took another dip in a small pool designed for you to lounge in & featuring hot-tub temperature water… then a few minutes later, prompted by the nearing midnight closing, made my casual walk back indoors for a rinse and return to my room. I felt so relaxed & felt cleaner than I’d felt even right after a shower. I didn’t even smell of sulfur, despite the stench of the air in the area.