Journal of a 23-day Icelandic road trip

Friday August 7

Woke up at 7.30 am. Have a look at our accommodation:

You’ll notice our impressively effective blow-up mattresses from the 1970s, of which only two compartments still inflate properly. Emilie steadfastly assured me that they’d be perfectly comfortable, despite my serious doubts. Henceforth, we slept on the Hummer’s bare floor, which was character building, to say the least!

But we counted ourselves lucky that we didn’t have to pitch a tent each night and strike it the following morning, particularly in the pouring rain. The car was indeed expensive, but spending the night in it enabled us to save precious time, a lesson taught me by my friend Philippe Schuler, a scientist from the American Southwest.

We were very close to the Lakagigar track, the famous F206. The weather was still miserable, however! I was in despair, particularly following a chat with the campground warden, who confirmed that Laki is magnificent, but that you need clear weather in order to see the entire chain of volcanoes.

So we decided to play our last card and head much further east (100 km / 60 miles), then retrace our steps that evening and sleep here, in order to try and see Laki the next day, in good conditions.

THE DAY’S PROGRAM:

1 – Ingólfshöfði headland

2 – Skaftafell area

It was raining so hard that water was running everywhere, and Route 1 was dotted with numerous waterfalls.
I was tempted to stop every 500 meters (550 yards) to admire them.

Below is the very pretty Foss á Siðu waterfall.

This waterfall we came to, further up Route 1, was blown away by the wind before it could even touch the ground!

This photograph provides a very good illustration of the kind of weather we’d put up with for five days now. I can’t even imagine what those people traveling by bicycle must have been feeling.

INGÓLFSHÖFDI HEADLAND, ORAEFI, SOUTHERN ICELAND

Here we are at Ingólfshöfði, a headland that can only be reached by crossing a lagoon. The family living at Hofsnes farm have been running tours out to the headland for several generations. They are Einar Rúnar Sigurðsson, his wife Matthildur Unnur (or Matta), and their eldest son Aron Franklín (19 years old). It costs 3,000 ISK (€25) per person. That day, it was Matta who pulled us across the lagoon in her tractor, which took around half an hour.

Here we are, on the shore of Ingólfshöfði. It goes without saying that it’s a wild place, with no humans (except for us!) to disturb its inhabitants, which comprise numerous seabirds (and a few sheep of course). The story goes that the first Icelander, Ingólfur Arnarson, set foot here in 874.

Matta gave us a few instructions: stay together, stay behind her, and don’t go too close to the edge of the 70-meter (75 yard) high cliff that runs around the headland. And of course don’t make too much noise, so as not to disturb the birds.

And here’s one tough fellow turning about us with bad intentions: the Great Skua.

Let me tell you that the Great Skua has a very bad reputation as a redoubtable predator that snatches fish, small mammals, eggs, and other birds. Young puffins, guillemots and auks are particularly at risk. The Great Skua is very aggressive to other seabirds, endlessly harassing them until they let go of or regurgitate their prey, which these intrepid assailants adroitly snatch before they fall into the water. Its diet is complemented by carrion and all kinds of waste.

He didn’t lose any time in attacking us.

These birds nest on the ground, so you have to take great care not to step on the chicks.

The parents keep watch, as they wheel around us.

Up in the air, it’s the strongest who rules, without pity. It must truly be hell for the weakest birds.

I must apologize to the squeamish among you, but this was the first puffin I saw.

If you look at the image below, you’ll realize how impressively big Stercorarius skua, the Great Skua really is – they can reach 1.4 meters (4½ feet) in wingspan.

The Puffin is the symbol of Iceland. You can see some in flight on the above photograph (although they’re quite small), while here is a family of adorable puffins nesting in the cliff.

Here is the slightly less charming Northern Fulmar. And what is the particularity of seabirds? Webbed feet of course!

All of these little birds are threatened by this aerial version of Jaws.

Our tour of the headland over, we joined Matta for the trip back across the lagoon.

The whole of Matta’s family was there when we returned to the farm. Einar, her husband, was walking the dog, before handing the leash to one of their sons.

Then it was time for aqua-football. They might have promised mom they wouldn’t get their clothes dirty, but that’s one promise they won’t be able to keep!!

Then it was back to the car, direction Skaftafell.

SKAFTAFELL, SOUTHERN ICELAND

It was already 4.20 pm. So we made a quick stop in the Visitor Center, and selected a three-hour hike.

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50 minutes later, we reached an extraordinary viewpoint overlooking the Skaftafellsjökul glacial tongue. I made a panorama of the scene.

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+ Note for readers of the eROADBOOK: have a look at the ULTRAPANORAMIC PHOTOGRAPH No. 4 / 20 +

We came across some flowers as we continued our hike.

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Finally, we reached the star attraction: Svartifoss. All waterfalls have a soul, a particularity. This one is beautifully framed by its basalt columns.

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It was already 7.15 pm by the time we reached Sel farm. It comprises three little wooden shacks built into the ground. To our surprise, the door was open and we could take a look around. The rooms were tiny and the ceilings low. It was like being in a miniature house. The stable was in the basement, with the animals serving as central heating. It was inhabited until 1946.

But a terrible rainstorm opened up on us and we had to beat a retreat.

+ Note for readers of the eROADBOOK: have a look at the ULTRAPANORAMIC PHOTOGRAPH No. 5 / 20 +

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We came across Hundafoss on the way.

It was 8.10 pm by the time we finished the hike. We’d been walking with 15 kilos (33 pounds) on our backs for eight hours, and so were only too pleased to reach the car park!

We returned to Kirkjubæjarklaustur campground, situated 80 kilometers (50 miles) from there, exhausted and silent. I took a few photographs of the lunar landscape as I drove.

I ran into Louis from the previous evening at the campground. He told me that they’d gone to Laki by bus that day (€90 per person, would you believe?!), and had experienced hell by weather.

I crossed my fingers, for the following day would be our last chance to see Lakagigar under a slightly brighter sky.

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