Journal of a 23-day Icelandic road trip

Sunday August 9

JÖKULSARLÓN, SOUTHERN ICELAND

6 am. We woke up in the holy of holies, with the unbelievable luxury of being completely alone.

I’ll let you see the sight that greeted me for yourselves, without commentary. The only soundtrack was an amazing concert of bird cries resounding through the mist.

+ Note for readers of the eROADBOOK: have a look at the ULTRAPANORAMIC PHOTOGRAPH No. 8 / 20 +

A word about the Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea), whose reputation for being aggressive, particularly toward man, requires no introduction.

After a little research, I discovered something extraordinary about it: this migratory bird experiences two summers a year, since it makes a return trip from the North Pole to Antarctica, where it winters, meaning that it covers a distance of 70,000 km (43,500 miles) each year! Along with the Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus), it undertakes the longest known regular migration of any animal. The Arctic Tern therefore spends eight months of the year in flight.

Considering that this bird can live for more than 20 years, I’ve calculated that some may have flown 1,750,000 kilometers (1,087,399 miles) in their lifetimes, the equivalent of more than four return trips to the moon!

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It was already 9 am when we decided to head toward the sea on the other side of the bridge. The black sand was littered with animal remains of all kinds, including fish, shellfish, and starfish. Clearly the birds here feast very well indeed!

There weren’t just birds either. We came across this seal, which was swimming against the current, while watching us out of the corner of its eye.

There was quite a different atmosphere on the other side of the bridge. We found ourselves facing the ocean and the breaking waves, with blocks of ice drifting toward their solitary fate. Most came aground on the black sandy beach, creating an absolutely magnificent and quite captivating contrast.

We returned to the lake an hour later to explore the other shore.

I’m sure you’re wondering why I took so many photographs of this glacier? The answer is that I was fascinated by the curves of its movement.

I was also fascinated by the reflections of the ice on this calm water.

By now it was lunchtime, and we were famished. But a storm of wind and rain had whipped up, forcing us to seek shelter in the car, and so we decided to park opposite the ocean to watch the show.

Having eaten my sandwich, I pulled on my rain cape to protect my equipment, and walked toward the raging sea. The birds were going wild – this kind of weather was clearly good for fishing!

I beat a retreat to the car after a few minutes of this. It was time to continue on our way, and go and see another glacier lake nearby: Breiðarlón.

The glacial tongues put on a magical display for us along Route 1, and I couldn’t resist making a few stops to photograph them.

A miracle occurred as we got to Breiðarlón: the storm passed and we were showered with radiant sunlight that warmed our faces. We’d been waiting a whole week for such a moment! Finally, we could step out of the car wearing neither hood nor waterproof jacket. It did us a power of good to be free to move as we pleased, unencumbered by rain cape, and caressed by the sun’s rays.

+ Note for readers of the eROADBOOK: have a look at the ULTRAPANORAMIC PHOTOGRAPH No. 7 / 20 +

We came across little flowers dotted here and there, which we added to our collection.

Intoxicated by the light, we returned to Jökulsarlon to see what it looked like in the sun. One notable difference was that we could now see the hidden part of the icebergs.

But I preferred the place in the storm.

I took this photograph of a mushroom, then hit it off with these Icelandic horses.

Sorry about the wide angle portrait shot. It’s never very flattering, even for a horse!

They’ve developed magnificent manes to cope with the tough climate.

Then it was back on the road toward Höfn, our next stop.

We came across this huge radar dish just before we got into town. The wild horses, the dish, it all reminded me of the world of Prince Actarus, from the Japanese super robot anime series Goldorak, who was scared of nothing (in the safety of his robot-spaceship).

Here we are at Höfn! The campground is located on the edge of town. Our guidebook had warned us that the place was simple but pleasant, so it was interesting to check it out. It was certainly a very large campground, and very busy, but like many others it was also very beautiful, very clean, and very comfortable. We found an ideal spot to sleep, with a lovely wooden picnic table, and a superb view over a lake.

One good shower later, and we were off for a wander round the port, with our sights set on the famous langoustine restaurant for which the town is famous!

I should point out that we’d been eating nothing but sandwiches for a week, and that we both love good food.

Here’s the restaurant. It’s next to the port, but the town’s so tiny it’s easy to find. I can confirm that it’s as good as its reputation. It’s a very friendly, bustling place, like a big canteen. Indeed we had to wait a good half hour to be seated.

We each ordered a plate of langoustine (for around €30) and received a real feast: a giant, superb serving, with different sauces. We washed it all down with a bottle of white wine, and were the last to leave the restaurant, around 11 pm, after chatting with the serving staff.

 

The sky was quite beautiful when we got back to the campground. Emilie dropped straight off to sleep, but I got out my tripod in the silent campground, set it up on the wooden picnic table, and tried to photograph the moon caressed by the clouds.    

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