Sometime in the early morning, Miriam told me she was no longer cold. I gladly took back my sleeping bag. I was too tired to worry if every night would be like this. Soon I warmed up and drifted off to sleep.
I got up around 6:00 a.m. The sun was already shining high in the sky. I let Miriam sleep. It had been a restless night and there was a full day of exploration ahead. It must have been around 5° C. I made some coffee and sat against a tree for my morning meditation.
There are hardly any trees in Iceland. I’ve read varying accounts about why this is. Some say the first settlers cut and used them all for building while others claim volcanic activity the culprit. I was to learn that most likely it was a combination of the two V’s. Viking and Volcano. The Vikings and early settlers mainly used driftwood for building, but they used the dwarf birch trees (and anything else that would burn) to make coal. There are wide areas where lava destroyed everything in its path too. This is probably why there aren’t too many trees in Iceland.
We found places where there were small forests of dwarf birch, though. These spots in the interior and in the northeast actually attract their fair share of Icelandic tourists who will drive halfway across the country to see and walk among the tiny trees. There is the famous joke: What do you do if you’re lost in a forest in Iceland? Stand up! The tree I sat against that morning wasn’t exactly small. It was a good tree. Perfect for me to lean against and look out at the amazing world around me.
Along with the occasional wind gust and the sound of the Strokkur geyser going throughout the night, I had also heard another strange sound. A kind of whirring noise. I imagined some giant dragon fly or cicada. I finally identified it as a bird. I have no idea what kind it was. I wasn’t so big on birds but this would change. Just a bit.
When Miriam woke up we enjoyed a breakfast of oatmeal, skyr, and coffee. We wanted to get a jump on things as we knew the tourists would soon be arriving on tour buses from Reykjavik. Geyser is part of the Golden Circle which is one the most visited areas in the country. Within hours, this place would be packed.
There was a tourist shopping area across the road from the campground. People love to buy hand-knitted Icelandic sweaters. We also had also planned to look at them and buy one, but we had counted on doing this in the south near Selfoss. The shop across the road from us had a 66°North outlet and I’m a total freak for their products. Their clothing is top notch. It’s an Icelandic company that had started with the manufacture of clothing for fisherman. I swear by my rain gear from them. Hands down, best I’ve ever come across. So I wanted to check out the shop.
As we broke camp I realized what the possible problem was for Miriam getting cold. She hadn’t filled her
air mattress to capacity and this, I suspected was the reason she got so cold. Still, she wanted to look and see about buying some additional clothing. She found a really nice 66°North ¾- length down jacket. It was warm and light-weight and basically packed up to the size of a softball. It looked really great on her to boot. I picked up a second pair of rain pants because I like them so much. I’ve worn my original pair thin over the past year so I thought it a wise thing to do. We also picked up some postcards and stamps. Suddenly the mass of people started to arrive and with each new bus it got more uncomfortable. I didn’t like this scene at all and we high-tailed it out of there.
We passed bus after bus and got out while the gettin’ was good. We turned off the main route to take a short cut towards the town of Selfoss. It was much quieter and we only shared the way with an occasional motor home. We easily picked out the locals. They drive fast and right in the middle. It makes sense in a way. They know the roads, probably drive them everyday. I guess the wind is another factor. Better to get blown to the side of the road then off it!
We stopped at Kerið. Kerið is a giant water-filled crater. It wasn’t a high priority on my things to see and do list, but since we were there, why not? Turned out to be a lovely stop. Some people posted online about the hike to the crater. I was expecting more than the few hundred meter walk that it was. We had also read they had started to charge a fee to visit the crater and this created some controversy. I’m sure the money goes to keeping the area clean so I didn’t mind. We were standing high on the rim looking down at the water below. It was beautiful. Miriam told me Björk had performed a concert while floating on a raft. That must have been a cool show. I think hers was the first and now they hold a summertime concert series here. I guess if the sun is shining and in the warmth of summer, it must be a very cool experience.
From Wikipedia: “Kerið (occasionally Anglicized as Kerith or Kerid) is a volcanic crater lake located in the Grímsnes area in south Iceland, on the popular tourist route known as the Golden Circle. It is one of several crater lakes in the area, known as Iceland’s Western Volcanic Zone, which includes the Reykjanes peninsula and the Langjökull Glacier, created as the land moved over a localized hotspot, but it is the one that has the most visually recognizable caldera still intact. The caldera, like the other volcanic rock in the area, is composed of a red (rather than black) volcanic rock. The caldera itself is approximately 55 m (180 ft) deep, 170 m (560 ft) wide, and 270 m (890 ft) across. Kerið’s caldera is one of the three most recognizable volcanic craters because at approximately 3,000 years old, it is only half the age of most of the surrounding volcanic features. The other two are Seyðishólar and Kerhóll.
While most of the crater is steep-walled with little vegetation, one wall is sloped more gently and blanketed with a deep moss, and can be descended fairly easily. The lake itself is fairly shallow (7–14 metres, depending on rainfall and other factors), but due to minerals from the soil, is an opaque and strikingly vivid aquamarine.
Although volcanologists originally believed Kerið was formed by a huge volcanic explosion, as is the accepted norm with volcanic craters, more thorough studies of the Grímsnes region failed to find any evidence of such an explosion in Kerið. It is now believed that Kerið was a cone volcano which erupted and emptied its magma reserve. Once the magma was depleted, the weight of the cone collapsed into the empty magma chamber. The current pool of water at the bottom of the crater is at the same level as the water table and is not caused by rainfall.”
I found the handwritten sign hanging at the ticket kiosk charming. It advertised horseback riding trips through areas populated with Elves. Although I’ve forgotten the exact wording, there were some endearing spelling and grammatical errors. I find it admirable that these non-native English speakers make the attempt to communicate in a foreign language.
The next thing up was to delve into the world of knitwear. We continued on the road south towards Selfoss. The place we were looking for was eight kilometers east of there on Highway 1, the Ring Road. We stopped in town at a grocery store. We craved fresh fruit. We also stocked up on more dried fish. I like to see people in their normal day-to-day environment. Grocery stores are great for this. I find it interesting to see how families shop, what they buy, and how they communicate with each other. I get my fix of human studies this way. The standout in this particular grocery store was a soccer player. She was in uniform. Easily over six feet tall. Long, blonde hair pulled back tight in a pony tail. She encompassed everything Viking in my eyes. Many tall people but small and round ones too. As far as I could tell there was no set template to the people from the Land of Fire and Ice. At least I saw a Viking.
It was sunny and warm when we arrived at our next stop, Þingborg. (12°C–Ha! In the country less than a day and already we consider 12° warm!) Not the most fitting weather considering the purpose of this stop was to buy hand-knitted wool sweaters. The workshop that produces unique pieces of knitwear is located in a wooden building which once served as a school and local meeting place. It looked closed. We pulled in the drive way and and drove to the back to park. There were no cars. I was a little bummed out because I was looking forward to this. A lot of the shops sell items that are produced by machine and in China. At Þingborg though, they use a sheep’s wool that is only found in this part of the country and is the only location that hand-knits homespun and naturally dyed yarn. I was so happy when I spied the painted “Open” sign.
A woman in the shop greeted us with a smile. She was shy but helpful. She chose sweaters from massive piles that she thought would fit us. A group of local women make them by hand and there isn’t really a designated “front” or “back”. A sentence we often heard repeated during our time in country was “It’s a feeling.” We picked up on this and every morning we’d put on our sweaters, we’d have to try them on the other way too to find out which was the front and which, the back and we’d both say, “It’s a feeling!” In an instant I fell in love with the sweater I ended up buying. The moment I put it on it just felt right, like I had been wearing it my whole life. From that day on, it became an integral part of my clothing. I retired my fleece jacket for the rest of the trip then and there. Miriam’s fit her so well. It looked like they made it just for her. This eased my mind. Now she had a nice down jacket and a very warm wool sweater too. I didn’t think there would be any more chilly, sleepless nights to deal with.
Happily we continued down Highway 1. We listened to a mixed playlist of Icelandic artists I had made. Of Monsters and Men, Seabear, Ylja, Sin Fang; and my new favorite, Pascal Pinon became the soundtrack as we continued to “oh” and “ah” at every new mountain, lava field, and boulder we saw. Everything was still so new, so weird, and so magical. I believe it was on this leg of the drive we encountered something that had been giving me nightmares for weeks prior to the start of our trip–the one lane bridge.
They build one-lane bridges to cross rivers and glacier run off. The reason they are single-lane is because it is likely at some point in time the bridge will either be washed away or be moved to accommodate the shifting water flow. The rules of the road are; first come, first served. You are supposed to approach them slowly when you see the sign indicating there’s one ahead. They can be long too. I had nightmares about being stuck on one and a tractor trailer speeding our way and crashing into and killing us. No joke, I have dreams like that sometimes. So when I saw a sign that we were coming up on one, I braced myself for death. Miriam approached at the posted speed limit. I closed my eyes. This eased my fear of dying.
We drove for about an hour and reached our next stop of the day, Seljalandsfoss. It was just around lunch time so there was a bit of tourist action going on. This amazing waterfall and the few others beside it attract a lot of attention due to its proximity to Reykjavik. Bus drivers pulling in, opening the doors, releasing the crowd with shouts of “Twenty minutes!”. The benefit of having a rental car is that you can arrive and leave when you want. I liked arriving at places early in the morning or late in the evening cause then we had these natural wonders to ourselves. This wasn’t always the case, though. Sometimes our daily schedule didn’t allow it. Our stop at Seljalandfoss was one of these times. Still it wasn’t bad.
We hiked up to and behind the waterfall. The sunshine caused a rainbow in the spray. It was so cool. There were others hiking about. I had to laugh at the ladies who were walking the path behind the fall in heels. They didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed watching them. Slipping and sliding in Cha-Cha heels. We had coffee and cake in the most beautiful of settings.
We moved on to the final destination of the day, the campground at Skógafoss. Looking back at our trip now, there were so many fantastic things that we had done and seen, but this may have been my favorite part. Miriam once again had done her homework and made this experience outer-worldly. In the guidebook she brought along she read about the hiking trail that went beyond the top of the falls. There was a high wood and steel staircase which led to the top of the falls. Then at the top was a fence with a small ladder over it. Most people stop at the fence and take pictures of the falls, but over the fence is a trail that leads to a series of steps, twenty four to be exact, which the water flows over before it makes its final plunge over the Skógafoss. The weather was perfect. The late afternoon sun turned the surrounding moss golden. The fence seemed to be a magical barrier stopping anyone from joining us on this enchanting path. It was heaven. We had our stove and dinner rations in our day packs and quenched our thirst from pure streams which rushed past us to join the river. When we found the perfect spot bathed in sunlight, we stopped. We sat facing the way in which we had just come and had a view of the ocean. We ate and talked of trolls and magic. We smiled and we kissed and we laughed. This couldn’t have been a more perfect day!