Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ring Road Day 7: Vík and Hveragerði: the Home Stretch

This is the last day of my Ring Road trip around Iceland, which stretches about 830 miles around the country, though I'm sure we put on many more miles/kilometers than that with all of our side explorations and wanderings.

We began our last day with a visit to the church in Vík, and it was pleasantly open, so I played the organ inside it while Nicole photographed a facsimile of the first Bible to arrive in Iceland.

We drove a short way down to the beach at Vík, which is known for its black sands and bold rock formations in the distance, jutting out of the ocean like dragon teeth.

The contrast between the white foamy surf and the pure black volcanic sands was really stunning.

Driving near Ejyafjallajökull and þórsmork, a lunch break stop was needed, so we picked a waterfall called Seljalandsfoss. I didn't realize that this would be a great stop as this particular waterfall pours over a cliff in a big arch, and you can walk all the way around behind the waterfall!

Our next stop was Hveragerði, which isn't far from Reykjavík, but feels like years away. This large-ish town's main draws are the greenhouses which grow much of the country's fresh produce and plants, made possible by abundant geothermal hotsprings in the area. Many of the steam vents are located in pockets on the hillsides, so you can see them steaming from a distance like little campfires on the mountains. 'Cept I don't think these campfires get put out; you can't really do much to stop a hot spring from opening up in the ground- you just have to deal with it or perhaps plop a greenhouse on top.

I wanted to take one final sight-seeing walk on our trip before we headed back to the 'big city', and Reykjahlið sounded like a good destination- the guidebook called it a 'bathable hot river, bring your swimsuit' at the end of a 3-km hike, and we thought, hellz yeah. The beginning of the hike featured some amazing boiling hot springs and bubbling pits, not unlike those at Mývatn, but these were located more on a grassy hill than in a desolate moon-scape. Fun and leisurely. After this, however, the route became decidedly more difficult, and unbeknownst to us, the 3-km hike was basically a giant mountain trek up rocky terrain. There were some incredible views along the way, though, some of them being 'don't look down!' views when your footpath comes a little too close to the steep slope of a mountain.

After not seeing any signs of a hot river, Devon ran ahead of me and Nicole to scope out the scene. Luckily he returned safely, and after about an hour+ of hiking, we arrived at said hot river, which was quite beautiful, milky blue amidst green grasses.

It wasn't quite what I would call 'hot', though. Maybe in summertime? It was like bathwater, but with the wind on the mountain and the sun setting, it wasn't the relaxing soak I thought it would be. But I knew that I would regret not getting in, and I had a hilarious time frolicking around in the water. Devon eventually joined me but I think he found it much colder than I did. It's only been ten seconds and he's already wanting to get out in this picture, but I'm trying to enjoy some sunset action.

After scurrying to get dressed, we hiked back down to the car and set off back to Reykjavík.

This was probably the most exciting and incredible adventure I've ever had! I feel incredibly honored to be able to travel around the country and see all these sights. Devon asked me what my impressions were of the trip, but at the time it was too soon to tell. Now I think I'm mostly: 1. amazed at how quickly the landscapes in Iceland change, from deserts to lavascapes, to pastoral fields, mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, and towns, all of which seem to be found within such short distances. 2. I am amazed at how the summer tourist season really impacts the country, as it brings in extra revenue to balance out the entire rest of the year, when it feels pretty desolate and most conveniences (aside from necessities, like a gas pump here and there) are shut down in small towns. 3. I'm also amazed at autumn here, it's much more colorful and beautiful than I would have expected! Nobody mentions leaf-peeping in Skaftafell instead of New England, but it's possible to do (if only for a short time). 4. Going on this trip also makes me very appreciative of the privileges I have in the city, being able to walk everywhere I need, make artsy friends my own age, go to museums, and buy the groceries I feel like buying. 5. I am also pleasantly pleased to think that in this world of modern conveniences and human-superiority, we can't control a glacier coming down off a mountain! Well, with global warming, we are certainly doing our best to make them slide faster. We can't stop the earth's tectonic plates from separating North America from Europe, millimeter by millimeter. And we can't control the ocean, which can be beautiful and life-sustaining to a town, but also relentlessly brutal.

I can't really say what was the most memorable part of the trip, as every day brought several 'wow' experiences that left me speechless. Most great moments happened looking at nature, admiring architecture, and experiencing totally new places that I hope will influence my art and music for years to come. Here is a small best-of the Ring Road Trip list that might not make the tour books:

Best 1970's-interior guest house: Ármini in Vík
Best organ stop: Vík's Tremolo, happily groovy and out of tune since 1995.
Best view from sitting in a car eating lunch: Seljalandsfoss
Most disappointing attraction closed for winter: Phallalogical Museum
Longest bumpy drive that you can't see anything: Snæfellsjökull F-Road, in the fog.
Best meal cooked in a guest house: Turnip-like roots, onions, and spices in a stew, with generous sides of cheese, crispy chocolate cake, and red wine
Best hosts in sleeping accomodations: Baldursgata in Húsavík, senior citizens who watched MTV and gave us a tour of their wall of family photos
Heaviest Rain: between Seyðisfjörður and Höfn, rough 1.25-lane twisting road with limited views of road edges but scary views of waterfalls on both sides of you
Best sneak-attack attraction: Dettifoss
Best dinner out: log cabin restaurant in Höfn; hamburgers and chick pea patties
Most available radio station on the trip: Alcoholics Anonymous Radio
Best souvenir: aftertaste of icebergs in my mouth

Extra special thanks to Devon and Nicole for making this trip possible, not only providing transportation and sharing expenses, but being the easiest travel companions ever!

Up next for Midnight Shoveler, a change of pace entirely: Iceland Airwaves Music Festival, Wednesday through Sunday of this week.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your last blog brought me to tears not only the photos but your descriptions. Keep em coming. Love your sister...