Journal of a 23-day Icelandic road trip

Thursday August 6

We awoke at 7.30 am to rain. No need to take the car for the first rendezvous of the day: just head to the bottom of the garden. For this campground offers the luxury of being situated between two waterfalls. Here’s the first, Glúfrafoss, hidden behind a fault. Magical.

Further on lies Seljalandsfoss, one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. It’s the only one that allows you to pass behind it, as it falls noisily into a pool. I took an impossible photograph, since the combination of wind, rain and spray makes you feel like you’re in a giant atomizer! My camera was once again completely soaked, and I prayed that it would survive all of this rough treatment. But the camcorder couldn’t take all this moisture, and died an unfortunate death.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: THE WESTMAN ISLANDS

We’d planned to spend a day on the Westman Islands, accessible from tiny Bakki airport. My heart was set on it. However, the weather was the same as the previous day, with wind gusting up to 120 km/h (75 mph) and rain. Still, we decided to go to the airport anyway, just to be sure.

There was indeed a building there, a miniature airport, complete with runway. But the place was deserted. We parked, and found to our surprise that the door was open, and that sitting there in the large waiting room was a family with two children who looked like they’d been there for some time.

They didn‘t pay us any attention, and I went up to the empty desk. I found a telephone, with a note attached: “Call this number for information.” I picked up the handset, dialed the number, and found myself talking to what appeared to be a pilot!

He seemed to be at home. I asked him if there were any flights scheduled, and he told me there weren’t: too much wind, making it too dangerous (the opposite would have surprised me), and we’d have to wait for better weather. When I asked him about the forecast, he said that it was the same for the next few days. Damn!

I thanked him, and explained everything to the Italian family, who seemed as disappointed as we were.

So we had to give up.

We decided to console ourselves with a hamburger at Hvolsvöllur gas station.

We took the opportunity to buy a few postcards. By chance, the gas station contained a Vínbúð outlet (the only store licensed to sell alcohol in Iceland). I went in to buy a few beers and was welcomed by a feisty salesgirl, who must have weighed three times as much as me. She held my gaze, and asked me with a twinkle in her eye what she could do for me. I asked her if she sold “real beer”, as opposed to the 0.5% ABV you find in the supermarket. She replied with a smile: “In this shop you'll only find REAL things Mister…” Shy she certainly wasn’t.

I chatted about the weather with her, while I chose the beers, and she went straight off and printed me out the coming week’s weather forecast from her computer. How nice! I explained my despair of finding enough light for my photographs, and she immediately advised me to change all my plans and head straight for the north of the country. According to her, there wouldn’t be any sun in the south before August 15! This was confirmed by the forecasts she handed to me. What horrible misfortune.

I thanked her and she replied with a wink: “It was a pleasure.” Really not shy, that one.

We now had to make a decision: stay in the south and head east (what I’d planned to do in the roadbook), or else change our plans and head for the north of the country, with the risk that it might not actually be any better. What worried me the most was missing Lakagigar, a chain of volcanoes that lay two hours away up a track that would be difficult to access in this weather. Emilie convinced me not to change all my plans, so we decided to stay in the South, and hope it would brighten up over the next few days. Direction Kirkjubæjarklaustur then, which would serve as base camp for the next stage of our trip.

We drove past Skógafoss again, and it was as fascinating as ever.

Next stop was the Sólheimajökull glacial tongue.

SÓLHEIMAJÖKULL, SOUTHERN ICELAND

We took a few steps on the ice, but it soon became impossible to walk safely.

This was the first time I’d seen a glacier close up, and it was very impressive, almost disturbing. But you need crampons, and of course a guide in order to explore it properly. I actually overheard one telling these tourists that the glacier had shrunk by 500 meters (550 yards) in just ten years. That’s the same distance we covered to return to the car.

A little stroll on Vík beach, as sublimely black and beautiful as ever.

Here we are at Kirkjubæjarklaustur campground. It also had a little common room in which to eat. We met a French couple, Louis and Séverine. The night was a philharmonic concert of rain. Quite Wagnerian.

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