Journal of a 23-day Icelandic road trip

Wednesday August 5

VÍK Y MYRDAL, SOUTHERN ICELAND

An unpleasant start to the day for me, since I was unable to take the shower I was dreaming of, although I only realized this once I was stood there, buck naked, turning the single, supposedly hot water tap, which turned out to be icy cold – there was no hot water left. What a disappointment to have to get dressed again without the promised ablutions. Emilie was luckier, thank goodness, emerging from the women’s bathroom in a cloud of steam.

The weather was awful again, so we took our time, and were still drinking coffee in the common room at 11 am. I used the time to recharge my batteries and check my first photographs on the computer.

The wind had been blowing so strongly during the night, that many people sought refuge in the common room and slept on the floor.

In front of me I saw a man with an incredible face, and I was itching to take his portrait. But he was eating his breakfast, and I thought I’d certainly be bothering him.

I hesitated, hesitated some more, and finally gave in and went to get my camera from the car. I then asked him where he was from and if I could take a picture of him. He told me that of course I could, no problem. So, here’s Rune (a name that suits him perfectly!) from Denmark.

Vík concentrates the essence of Iceland. It’s a tiny town nestling between mountain and sea. Heading toward the former, you reach its church and its cemetery.

Head toward the latter and you reach its famous beach of black sand, which was voted ‘one of the ten most beautiful beaches in the world’ by the American journal Islands Magazine.

The sea was raging, as you can see on this photograph taken with a telephoto lens. But on the photographs below, taken with a wide angle lens and a long exposure, an apparent calm seems to reign.

The scene was magnified by the presence of the three Reynisdrangar sea stacks. According to legend, these are two trolls who were petrified by the rising sun while they were trying to bring a huge three-masted ship onto the beach. The highest of these lava stacks is 66 meters (216 feet) high.

A little walk around the center of town gave us a low-angle view of the church. We’d heard that you could drive to the top of Reynisfjall mountain overlooking Vík beach, as long as you had a 4x4. This would give us not only a magnificent view, but also enable us to reach the cliffs on the other side of the mountain, a nature reserve that is known worldwide for bird watching: Dyrhólaey promontory.

So we headed up the extremely steep muddy track, on the edge of the cliffs. The wind grew wilder as we climbed, and our hearts were in our boots, I can tell you.

Here’s the view over Vík from the top of the mountain:

Let me be really clear here: I’d never seen such a wind in all my life. We just managed to stay upright, while our three-ton car was violently shaken, even when stationary. Black clouds scudded overhead at crazy speed, in an infernal whistling. The time was only 3 pm, but it was nearly dark.

We drove across the top of the mountain, following this track. The place was deserted, but we saw a rather mad young couple on the edge of the cliff, who were lying on the ground and hanging onto clumps of grass so as not to be carried away by the wind! They seemed to be enjoying themselves.

It was time for a snack. The advantage of this car is its width, meaning there was room to picnic inside it, and lay out all of the photographic gear, because I also take a lot of pictures while I’m driving.

We found an abandoned house at the end of the track, and the atmosphere made it appear quite gloomy, haunted even, so we didn’t venture inside. I got out of the car and attempted to photograph Dyrhólaey arch, which you can see below.

The couple we’d seen earlier came up to us to ask (with a strong Spanish accent) if we were going to Vík. I told the guy that we’d seen them lying down, lifted by the wind, and he answered me with an incredulous voice: “Yes, it's crazy, now I really believe I can fly!!!”

We didn’t return to Vík, but attempted to descend the other side, toward Dyrhólaey, without really knowing what we’d find there:

The slope was vertiginous!! I tried to control the huge vehicle, making sure that above all I didn't get carried away by the steep gradient. Sometimes we slid over some stones, but the tires gripped the ground well. I prayed I wouldn’t have to make an impossible U-turn.

When we got to the bottom, we were stupefied to find the track barred by a gate! Fortunately, we were able to open it, breathing a sigh of relief as we closed it behind us: “Phew, that’s done!” We didn't meet any other car that had tried the same thing.

We headed toward the beach, which lies at the foot of the mountain, for the spectacle was quite surreal. And in a moment of inattention, we opened both our doors at the same time. The wind immediately swept through the car, and a split second later we saw a tiny white dot high up in the sky above the sea. It was our roadmap!

I attempted to walk down the beach, but it was hellish: the sand whipped violently at my face and eyes, and I was obliged to advance blindly, step by step.

Here you can see Reynisfjara beach, basalt columns rising out of the black sand like ramparts, and gloomy Hálsanefshellir cave, in which it’s said that a monster once lived for several hundred years.

Direction Dyrhólaey promontory, overlooking the beach. A few tourist cars were already there, and we could see a mixture of incredulity and concern in their eyes; concern that was justified, since one woman was literally lifted into the air by the wind not far from us, before being flung flat down on the ground. She wasn’t hurt, but had quite a fright.

DYRHóLAEY PROMONTORY, SOUTHERN ICELAND

This is one of the most beautiful spots in the world to watch birds, as I told you earlier, but the wind was so strong that not a single bird dared take to the air, and I can’t blame them!

We tried to take a self-portrait before leaving:

I was really disappointed: not a single puffin in view. We got back in the car, and this was the only bird we came across, so I took a photograph of it standing in a muddy puddle to console myself, thinking that this must certainly be one of the worst Dyrhólaey bird photographs ever taken!!

According to my research, it’s a:
Lat: Haematopus ostralegus
Icel: Tjaldur
En: Oystercatcher
Fr: Huîtrier pie

We continued west along the coast. The roadbook indicated a night at Hamragardar campground. I was impatient to go and see Skógafoss waterfall on the way. As if by a miracle, a ray of sunlight fell on it when we got there. Skógafoss is sublimely beautiful. At 25 m (82 ft.) wide and 60 m (196 ft.) high its proportions are perfect, close to the golden ratio.

We settled down for the night at this very comfortable campground a few kilometers away, located in a magnificent setting, and with very few people. It was already 11 pm and we soon fell into a deep sleep, lulled by the sound of the “hidden waterfall”. More about that tomorrow.

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