– Vík, Iceland to Höfn, Iceland to Vík, Iceland –
It was a rainy day in Vík today when we woke up, and it stayed that way all along the coast for pretty much the entire day. Despite that, we had a plan to make it over to Höfn, and we were pretty determined to get it done.
The grocery store in Vík didn’t open until 10am, so we had to get breakfast at the gas station across from our hotel. I wish we’d had a refrigerator in our room, so we could’ve stored some skyr overnight, but alas. The gas station didn’t have plain skyr, so we had to get the drinkable version instead. We also got some juices and a coffee for Mark.
The drinkable skyr was delicious, just like the more solid stuff, but it wasn’t as filling. We had some cashews with it that I’d brought along from home, so we had a pretty decent breakfast, even though we were a little sad about the missed skyr. Our juices are branded Floridana, so I’ll let you figure out where Iceland is getting its citrus. Mark’s was carrot, lime, and orange juice mixed, and it was delightful. Maybe we will both get that one tomorrow.
With the rain falling pretty heavily, we weren’t too keen on stopping all that frequently. We took a few pictures at a pull off of the lava fields we were driving through and then at a stop that had a few hundred lava rock cairns. We were cold by that point, so we stopped at a gas station for some coffee and tea and a bathroom break. So far everyone we’ve talked to here has been very friendly.
The gas station attendant had a conversation with Mark about the Icelandic candy bars, which are actually quite different from other places. We’ve visited England, Australia, and Canada together, and all of their candy bars are almost exactly like ours back home, with one or two differences (mostly just the same candy bars, branded slightly differently). Iceland has quite a few very different candy bars, and a lot of their candy contains black licorice, which is not very popular in the US. Mark and I are not fans, so we’ve learned to recognize and avoid the Icelandic word for “licorice” flavor.
We found another stop at a little waterfall that was back on a farm. This one had a public area in front of a fence, so you could get close enough for a picture, but the farm owners requested that you didn’t cross the fence and get closer to the waterfall that was basically right next to their house. We listened to the sign, of course, because our parents raised us right, but you have to wonder how often people aren’t as kind.
Just past the waterfall, it started to snow in the lava fields, and we pulled off for a quick picture of the moss-covered lava rocks peaking out from beneath their dusting of snow. Honestly, that was more snow than we saw all winter in Denton, so we might’ve been a little more excited than it really warranted. I don’t think I’ve mentioned, but our POS rental car still has studded snow tires, which provides a little peace of mind, even if we haven’t really needed them. I can see why some of the roads here are in the condition they are though, if everyone drives these around for 5 or 6 months out of every year.
Interestingly enough, a lot of the bridges here are one lane, meaning you have to take turns crossing from either direction. It’s really just done with politeness, because they don’t have lights or anything to indicate whose turn it is. I guess with a small enough population, that isn’t very difficult to accomplish if everyone behaves themselves.
Some of the bridges are really long, because in addition to crossing sections of water, the bridges are meant to cross these open, flat expanses that fill with water during the spring when glacial run-off can cause massive flooding when the snow melts. We came to a place that had the twisted remains of a bridge beam, with a sign explaining that back in 1996, during the flooding season, the water had torn the bridge there away completely, leaving only that bit behind. It’s pretty impressive to consider the sheer destructive power of nothing but melting ice.
So of course, crossing these big bridges, we were finally coming up to some of the glaciers that Iceland is famous for. Hoping to get a little closer to one, we ended up locating a national park. You can imagine our excitement, considering what national park nerds we can be. We knew the park was over there, but we’d found a visitor center, which we hadn’t previously known existed. In fact, the visitor center for Vatnajökull National Park was the launch site for glacier walking and driving tours.
We were not prepared for a glacier walk, but we did geek out over the postcards (where we found some good ones to give our friend Ana, who I believe is reading along), and we found ourselves some national park t-shirts. Between our t-shirts, some more postcards, and a couple of other things for other family members, I think we’re nearly done buying souvenirs. Space is limited, so all souvenirs have to be pretty small. I am entertaining the idea of getting some lava salt for our salt grinder, but I don’t know if I will. Salt is salt, and it can’t be that special, I assume. Still, it sure is pretty, and I keep seeing it everywhere, like they are tempting me.
For a while, the national park covered everything to the left of the road we were on, and it is a beautiful park, from what we could see without slapping on steel-spiked shoes and walking around on massive sheets of ice like crazy people. We didn’t have too many opportunities to get closer to the glaciers, which made us a little sad. It was raining pretty heavily though, so even if we’d have made it closer, the pictures might not have turned out.
Not too far from the national park visitor center, we were driving past what we thought would be a little lake, when we realized that lots of people were stopping along the left side of the road and hiking up the bank to look over. We were confused, until I managed to glimpse over the hill through one of the walking paths: the little lake was at the foot of a glacier, and it was covered in huge chunks of broken-off ice where the glacier was calving. This lake is called Jökulsárlón. We hadn’t realized that the pictures we’d seen on the postcards back at the visitor center were at a stop right along the road!
It was pouring rain, so we stopped very briefly for a few pictures. We knew that we had to come back that way in the evening to get back to our hotel in Vík, so we decided to bank on the idea that it would be raining a little less when we came through again, and we pressed on.
At this point, we started to see a lot of my favorite confusing Icelandic thing, so I’d like to take a minute to bring it up. Have you ever seen a field of geese grazing? I’m talking thousands of geese, spread across a groomed field at a farm, pecking at the ground for what I can only assume is grass shoots? I had never seen it before this trip, and I am still not quite sure what the geese are doing. They look like herds of livestock! They’re just hanging out in fields, in a huge gaggle, grabbing something out of the field. It is grass shoots, as I suspect? It is bugs? Worms, maybe? I don’t know. More research is necessary. I’ll look into tomorrow, when I have some time, and report back to you. Regardless, it is a hilarious sight- it’s almost like the farm is a goose farm, and the fences are keeping the grazing geese in the field. It is utterly bizarre for me.
We saw a few caribou as well, and the tourists were all pulled over taking their caribou pictures. Mark and I have seen enough caribou to last a lifetime up in Alaska, and we were unimpressed by four caribou standing in a field. They are a little fluffier than the last caribou we saw, since those were in the summer, but they look exactly the same. I do have to wonder how they got over here, though. I know they aren’t native. Were they imported as beasts of burden? Food? Probably both.
Our arrival in Höfn was a bit later than we’d intended, so we were starving for our lunch (or basically dinner, at this point). It was around 3:30pm, even though our trip to Höfn was only supposed to have taken 3.5 hours. I guess driving slowly in the rain and stopping constantly can add some serious time to any drive.
The town didn’t seem to have any obviously vegetarian-friendly restaurants, so we grabbed our egg and avocado sandwiches at the local grocery store, along with some baby tomatoes, chips, and juices. I think the sandwiches are growing on me. Speaking of tomatoes, Iceland has a lot of tomatoes compared to other fresh fruits and vegetables. Lauren told us while she was still here that many of the greenhouses farther inland grow tomatoes, and it is one of the few crops that they don’t have to import from other countries. They were delicious baby tomatoes. I could’ve eaten an entire package, if we’d had two. If you are going to have one major crop, you may as well do it right. Plus, I love tomatoes.
From Höfn, we were just taking the same road back to Vík, and we were hoping for a little better weather for our photographs we’d missed. On a whim, as we were coming out of the town, we decided to follow a road that had a big red sign and the symbol for an attraction. It turned out to be a very messy gravel road that appeared to lead back to a glacier, and while we were a bit nervous that the road would get worse, we were too excited by the idea of getting to the glacier to give up easily. It didn’t have any warning signs about the road, and it seemed dry enough, so we decided to for it.
The road to the glacier lead past a farm, where we spotted our first baby Icelandic Horse. I’m pretty sure my girlish squeal of delight when I spotted the baby startled Mark, but he managed to stay on the road, and he dutifully pulled off so we could get a few pictures of the little foal. The mare was a nice-looking and rather tall palomino, and the foal was about a month old and chestnut. It was quite tiny compared to the baby horses I’m accustomed to seeing, and I really wanted it to come over to the fence and say hello. Mark got to see it nurse, which he’d never seen a horse do in person, so that was neat for him as well. I think I might’ve found the baby almost as impressive as the glacier. Horse people are weird, right?
At any rate, we made it to the glacier, Hoffellsjökull, without hurting our car, and as we walked up the hill to take a look at it, we were glad we had. The foot of the glacier spread out in front of us, and it was really a sight to behold. The great white and blue glacier was framed by black lava rock and mountains, which is a striking contrast. The wind blowing off of the glacier was frigid, and the rain did not help matters. Still, if the weather had been better, our pictures might not have turned out because any sun shining on a contrast that great wouldn’t have made for an easy shot. It was awesome to see, regardless of the weather.
On the way out, we stopped by a steam bath, which was just off the rocky road and seemed to be owned by the same farm that owned the foal (which I made Mark stop to photograph again). Mark wanted some photos of the steam bath, so I think he might’ve made a little family and another couple feel weird when he went over to take pictures of the bath and stick his hand in the water to check the temperature. Oh, well. We will never see them again. They can tell stories about the strange Americans when they go home.
Since the day was wearing on, we hustled back to Jökulsárlón (the glacial lake, if Icelandic words slip right out of your mind like butter off of a hot pancake like they do mine). It’s name literally means, “glacial river lagoon.” The rain had slackened by that point, which had us giddy. Sure, it was still sprinkling, but we weren’t going to get soaked taking our pretty pictures of ice.
The visitor center there was closed, but you could still walk down to the lake. Like I mentioned before, the lake consists of ice and water shed from the glacier, which is called Breiðamerkurjökull, and is on the outer edge of Vatnajökull National Park. The lake runs out into the Atlantic, and is the deepest lake in Iceland at 814 feet. It continues to grow in size as the glacier recedes, and according to Wikipedia, it has increased fourfold in size since the 1970s. Depressing statistics, no?
Well, ignoring all of that, the lake is extraordinary. The water is clear and as cold as you would imagine, and it is mostly covered in huge chunks of white and blue ice. Birds circled overhead, specifically arctic terns, looking for fish in the openings in the ice. Only a few other people were there, so it was quiet and relatively calm.
I told Mark right at the outset that he was not allowed to set foot anywhere near the ice, even along the edge. The rescue ring they had waiting for someone dumb enough to need it was right next to the path down to the lake, and I am not about to be the idiot that needs it. No thank you. I jokingly told Mark that if he needed any more incentive, if he dared to get too close, I’d bring down the unholy wrath of the mothers: his mother, my mother, and his mentor, Cathy, who would all have had his head. He thought that was hilarious.
We walked around the edge of the lake for a few moments (you can only access a bit of the shore) before I spotted something moving in the water. I pointed it out to Mark, and we walked over to a quiet group of people watching the area where the water was moving. It turned out that the lake is full of seals fishing for their dinner. We couldn’t get great pictures of them, since all we ever saw were their heads and the retreating flips of their tails as they dove down into the water, but they were amusing to watch darting in and out of the ice.
The whole experience was rather overwhelming. I would say Jökulsárlón is something that you wouldn’t want to miss if you ever visit Iceland. I would go back, for sure. I know it would look a bit different in the summer, too, so that would be something to experience as well. Overall it was well worth the trip.
We hopped back in the car to warm up a bit, then made a stop at Svínafellsjökull, a tongue of the larger Vatnajökull (Vatna Glacier), which is the largest ice cap (and glacier) in the country. It covers 8% of the land mass of Iceland. With the fog behind it, Svínafellsjökull looked like the tongue of some great white beast, waiting to make us its next meal.
With that behind us, we thought we’d finished a pretty full day, and it was getting late, so we got our butts in gear and rushed back to Vík before our chariot turned into a pumpkin. We obviously pass out at 10pm, like vampires that simply go to sleep when the sun rises. If you think you’ve seen us awake after that, you’re wrong. It couldn’t have happened. I swear.
Tomorrow we are planning to drive back toward Reykjavík, and then over to Grundarfjörður and our next hotel. We don’t have any specific sights to stop for, but I know we will find some along the way. I’m also hoping to find some decent skyr for our breakfast.
– Trip Total : 4,769 miles –