Thursday, June 2, 2011

IS - South

June 2                   Thursday                             Iceland                 South                                                   

My first task was a hike from Skogar up to a pass on the eastern side of Eyjafjallajökull.  I spend several hours on it before turning back tired and less-than-enthused.  In Switzerland (home to my favorite hikes), every hill grants an even better view.  Here… not so much.  It was nice, but there was no reward for the iterative “just one more crest” mentality.  At least you’re above the tree line from the moment you start your hike… but really, it was a bit boring.  On my way back I started building cairns to connect between the top of the waterfalls & the 4x4 trail, as previously there wasn’t any discernable connection… figured I’d help folks out a bit.

One thing that was quite neat, however, was that much of the landscape was covered in several inches of ash.  The previous week’s Grímsvötn eruption inundated this area with it… and I found it to be rather comfortably squishy.  It didn’t stick, either, so I could kick up a pile of dust but remain nice and clean.

In general, the hike was pretty comfy – even warm! – and in mixed sun & clouds.  At one point I noticed heat ripples rising from the ground… I bent down to touch it.  It wasn’t hot, but certainly warm.  Warm enough to remind you that you’re walking on a volcano.  Speaking of which: volcanoes make you thirsty.  I definitely didn’t bring enough water on this hike.

After the hike, I started up my drive eastward again.  The first town of any significance was Vik, which was also the first town I actually thought looked rather nice.  Really that was just a result of the quaint church on top of the hill.  This town’s claim to fame, as far as I’m concerned, is that it’s where I lost my lens cap.  I suppose that’s not the end of the world… but it could potentially spell the end of my kit lens by the end of this trip.  It’s an incentive to buy a new one, I suppose… I just hope I can keep it in working condition until then.  There are no camera stores for at least several days… and even then; no promises they’ll have a new lens cap or (if needed) a new basic lens.

A note on driving in Iceland: I’m going to go out on a limb and say, with no quantifiable data, that the Ring Road (Route 1) represents a very small portion of Iceland’s total land mass.   And yet of all this available land: birds seem to feel that they just have to sit on the road.  Now I’m proud to say I haven’t hit any yet… but they definitely seem to pining for a date with Evolution.

It was a long haul across the Skeiðarársandur, which I’d roughly say is a massively huge glacial moraine; but more technically it’s just a plain formed by the meltwater.  Almost like a combination moraine meets river delta.  But more practically: it’s a massively huge wasteland of nothing but gravel, streams, and sometimes a mix of quicksand.  It’s fed by the immense Vatnajökull glacier, and when I first laid eyes on this particular fingertip: I was astounded.  I’d never seen a glacier so huge… and this was just a single piece of it.

Toward the eastern end, I stopped by a roadside exhibit on 1996 glacial flood (Jökulhlaup).  It was a fascinating insight on the area just before arriving at my hostel for the night, located only a couple minutes further down the road.  The hostel had amazing views over the Skeiðarársandur, enabling me to spot the flood defenses & wonder if I’d be poised to see them in action thanks to last week’s Grímsvötn eruption.

The Bölti hostel was quite lovely both inside and outside.  It was better quality & prettier than anything I’d yet seen in Iceland, including the hotels!  The hotels look like office buildings, warehouses, or at best someone’s rusting tin can of a house.  Actually, it seems that the more expensive the hotel: the more mundane it looks.  My roommates included two guys from Barcelona, both around their mid-30’s.  They were really nice and I was a bit excited in that I could understand their Spanish.  Ahh, I love Spanish from Spain!

I took a shower and noted that the hot water again smelled of sulfur… something I’d noticed the previous night, too.  It’s a fine reminder that this water comes straight from the bellows of the Earth. 

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