Saturday, June 29, 2013

Iceland (part3)

Iceland Iceland

For the full story, see parts one, two, three, and four. For other options, see Planning Iceland.

A little further down the road is the small town of Eskifjorður which was our destination. It's at the tip of a fjord and the base of a beautiful mountain. Our cabin was at the far edge of town with a very friendly host. This is the perfect place if you want to avoid tourists. There were only two restaurants in town. I could have happily spent a week there.

We stayed at Ferðaþjónustan Mjóeyri. The cabin was very cozy and had a full kitchen. They had some tame lambs in the yard and it looked like they offered kayak rentals and such. I think it was the best accommodation we had in Iceland.

After we unpacked we walked to Randulf's Sjóhús (Sea-House) a restaurant also operated by the owners of our accommodation. It is a restored fish mill partly supported by the national historical society. It had many artifacts on display and local merchandise (like sweaters) for sale. It was very comfortable and the food was delicious. We had one starter (including fermented shark), two mains and two drinks which came to $10,000 ISK or $86 CAD. They also served fresh bread and butter presented on a river stone.

After dinner I had a nap while others photographed, used the internet and generally settled in. I wanted to climb the nearby mountain, but we had a big driving day coming, so I decided to get up at six for the climb. We all went to bed but I was too excited to sleep, so I decided to do the climb right away.

I drove round the bay shortly after midnight and parked in a pull-off at the base of the hill. I started climbing a steep, thickly moss covered boulder strewn slope. I slalomed up to avoid the many small faces. Whenever I stopped for a break, I took pictures.

A fair way up, I decided to leave behind my orange jacket so I could see where to descend to avoid the cliffs then climbed the long green slope that reaches to halfway up the mountain. As I climbed I heard a cackle that could have been a bird but sounded more like witches.

At the top of the slope, I climbed onto a little ledge and left a mark in the stones and moss. I then traversed left towards what I thought from the bottom looked like a dragon cave. The clouds had descended and it was fairly dark by this point and slightly raining. I tried going further up but thought I wouldn't be able to get back down. Just as I had decided to retreat, I discovered a golden quartz, which I pocketed.

I then traversed right to where it looked like there was slope access to the next plateau. Before I got there I found a vast grotto that looked like a lost-world. Up the slope l found a nontrivial fifteen foot face and promised myself that it was the last difficult obstacle I would traverse. Up the face and over some rough terrain, I arrived at the top of the lost-world grotto where I found several large hatched eggs.

I think I could have gone further but it was wet and I didn't want to forget my route back down. The fifteen foot face was a bit touchy and I got some mud on my pants. Previously I had only made contact with boots and gloves.

It was a long walk down, but without incident, although one footfall came close to twisting my ankle. Leaving the jacket as a landmark was a good idea. I think that two people with ropes and very little experience could safely reach the summit. Back in the car it was 2am. I drove home and went straight to bed.

I woke at 7am and showered and we had breakfast and started our long drive. It was foggy and raining, so it was a good thing I did my climb the night before. On the way out of town we photographed some gnomes. We drove through windy fjord roads for a long time and averaged 70km/hr. Some of the landscape was farmland but sometimes we traversed seriously frightening mountain passes on roads of questionable quality.

We drove for what seemed like forever, stopping once for a pee break in the driving rain and once for lunch, where the rain had stopped, but it was so windy I ate in the car. On the way, we slowed for a heard of horses crossing a bridge. The bridges in Iceland are one-lane and unsigned, so it's up to you to negotiate who will go first.

We drove for another millennia, now mostly on straight eternal roads until we finally reached the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. They have amphibious trucks and we boarded one for a tour. We had a very animated guide that told us how the ice burgs get their blue color and how they roll over without notice. It was very beautiful and they served us some thousand year old glacier ice.

We still had a long way to drive because all the accommodation near the glacier was booked. We drove over a crazy bridge in a bizarre moon landscape in a massive glacial moraine, and stopped for photos.

We finally arrived at Hótel Laki which has a large modern concrete and glass building and some old cabins with kitchens. We stayed in the latter. We ate a cold dinner, and I typed up my journal. I went over to Tyner's cabin for a game of Dominion before bed.

Next morning I ate a mountain of breakfast at the included buffet, and we were on the road by 7:30am. We arrived back at the Icelandic Mountain Guides Sales Lodge next to the Skaftafell National Park Visitor Center at 8:30 and found our guide, Thorston Cameron, an Icelandic/Australian who had lived in both countries and spent some time in Britain. He was fantastic, and since we were the only people signed up for that day's seven hour hike, we had a private tour.

The visitor center area was crowded. We were sized there for crampons and bundled into vans with a bunch of other tourists. We drove to a nearby parking lot where everyone disembarked. They called it the batman parking lot because it was built for shooting the Bhutan scenes in Batman Begins.

The glacier is so massive that within minutes all the groups had split up and we felt comfortably alone. Thorston hiked us around the glacier, taught us how to go up and down steep hills, and how to traverse slopes. For some technical bits he hacked stairs into the ice and helped us over.

We hiked to the edge of the glacier near a big waterfall, then on to an interior ice cave where we had lunch, and it started to rain.

On the hike back we stopped at a massive crevasse and he rappelled us down and let us climb up with ice axes. On the hike out, I collected some glacial rocks.

Amanda drove us home and we stopped for groceries just before our hotel. We cleaned up and hung our soaked gear and Amanda cooked pancakes and bacon while we sheltered from the rain in our toasty warm cabin, and I wrote up my journal.

After dinner I played some Dominion with Tyner and drank half a bottle of Jägermeister with little effect. That night the wind and rain was fierce. Next morning we woke up slowly and went for breakfast around 7:30. This time it was slow and luxurious and I made Amanda a waffle.

We didn't have a lot of ground to cover today, so we made several stops on the way to our next accommodation. The first was at Reynisdrangar, a black sand beach with basalt columns and stone trolls near the town of Vík í Mýrdal. It had been a fair weather morning but the wind and rain were up by the time we stopped, so we went through the contortions of putting on our rain gear while still inside the car.

Happily the rain let up for most of the time. The waves were crazy, and we were all eventually caught by them. The beach was made of tiny black stone pebbles.

I scaled the nearby grass slope which was much steeper than it looked. At my perch I was higher than some birds and they swooped around quite close to my feet.

After this we doubled back to Vík where we had seen an Ice Wear Wool Factory outlet. They had lots of cool gear and gave us a tour of their factory. I was most astonished by the machine that knit sock sausages. Nearby was a building with a cool logo, although I never did discover what it meant.

We backtracked a bit further to a roadside cave I had spotted, but it looked too small to shelter for lunch, so we forged ahead to Dyrhólaey, a lighthouse on a steep hill further down the coast.

There was a paved road to a large parking lot that gave a good lookout of the cliff around the coast and the waves that smashed into them. A dirt road lead to the top of the hill where it was very windy. We had lunch, hunched over by a bit of wall to shelter from the wind. Lunch was our usual kippers and crackers and camembert and tomato. At the point it was so windy you could almost lean on it.

Next we drove on to see the Skógafoss waterfall which through off a lot of spray. There were stairs to the top. Up there you couldn't avoid the spray and we got soaked. The top was also the trail head to a hiking path along the river. At the bottom was a map that explained that the trail went 24km to a glacier. It looked like a lot of fun, but alas we didn't have that kind of time.

Finally we drove on to our accommodation, the Eldstó Guesthouse, which is a hotel with rooms that open onto a shared kitchen/living-room/bathroom. It is above the Eldstó Art Cafe which is a restaurant and pottery studio. We had dinner there which was served in pottery from the studio. We had fish of the day, which was delicious, and served in a Icelandic butter/cream sauce. I drank a malt extract beverage which is common in Iceland and quite tasty.

After dinner we went to the grocery store next door and bought coke, camembert, and a bunch of wool. I mostly stood around and listened to some great music the grocery store was playing while shopped. Afterwards, I wrote up my journal.

We played on the internet a bit then played some Dominion. A bunch more people arrived and the kitchen felt pretty crowded but I still think it's an accommodation I can highly recommend.

Tyner destroyed me in a curses game, then we re-matched with the same cards and he won again but by much less of a margin. After midnight we went to bed.

Next morning Amanda made delicious pancakes and oatmeal with muesli and skyr for breakfast and we packed up the car one last time. Before leaving Amanda played with the cook's dog and we chatted with him a bit. It turns out at our accommodation used to be the post office and phone company.

On to Part Four.

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