We had been so lucky with the weather, in what is supposed to be Iceland's rainiest month. However, during today's drive, dark nature overwhelmed us.
05.09.2016 - 06.09.2016
Yesterday we had taken a really quiet day in the surroundings of our guesthouse Árbakki near Reykholt (the southern one, there is also a Reykholt near Borgarnes). We took a long walk to see a unmanned geothermal electricity generator near a steaming hot creek, and played a bit with the horses there; and we had a vegetarian soup-lunch in Friðheimer. This is a complex of greenhouses, where tomatoes and other vegetables are grown, using purely the geothermal energy under their own land for heating, growth lighting and all the mechanics of the greenhouse.
Before alternative energy became the buzz word in Europe, an average up-to-standard greenhouse in northwestern Europe would typically have an annual energy bill of Euro 100,000 or more per hectare per year! Energy was the largest cost factor for decades, even more so than labor. And here it would have been even harder, because this is Iceland: much colder, and during the winter season also much darker. So having a zero energy bill for them is an extra blessing, otherwise the tomatoes would have to cost their weight in gold to get anywhere near to break-even.
I am from a Dutch family, of which many relatives are greenhouse farmers. Much more advanced greenhouse technology exists in Holland than what they have here in Iceland. But leaving a 100% carbon-free footprint, and having a greenhouse that effectively works as a powerplant (by supplying back to he grid), that is still a future dream for many greenhouse farmers outside Iceland. The Icelanders live on top of a never ending energy source.
Our resting day was finished in style, by having an afternoon dip in the hotel's volcanically heated hot tub in the garden, and nice early dinner close to Laugarvatn.
But now it was time to move on again. We had breakfast in the homey kitchen of , and we checked out. We would have a pretty long drive to our next hotel, somewhere on the southeast coast, between Jökullsárlón and Höfn. And before this we even had to go to a place close to Reykjavik for a brief meeting. Anyway, we were looking forward to the things we would be seeing the next couple of days.
In the early afternoon we first had lunch at a restaurant in Hveragerði, which is on the Ring Road nr 1, almost at sea level at the mouth of a river into the sea. Coming from the west, the road makes a long descent, and the you see the steam plumes everywhere in and around the village. It is famous for its high volcanic and geothermal activity, and lots of energy are just below the surface. The town is popular with scientists, amateur geologists, backpackers, outdoors lovers, and overall a young crowd.
At restaurant/pastry paradise Kjöt og Kúnst (Meat and Art) we stopped to have fish stew and one of their pretty good burgers. The restaurant is especially known for the fact that everything is cooked in their unique outdoor ovens and stoves, which are heated by super hot steam (170 °C hot and a pressure of 14 kilobar), right from inside the earth. Well, it is a simple place, something between a bakery and a diner, but the food was delicious, and yes, I did give in to their very rich and tasty dark chocolate cake too.
We continued our trip passed the famous Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Because it is right at the Ringroad nr. 1 it is an obvious attraction for many tourists, especially if the weather is nice, like it still was at that moment. There were indeed quite a few buses, camper vans, cars and people, but it is also very spacious. We did not feel like walking as part of a crowd. The fall is beautiful. It is the second highest in Iceland, and when the sun is out there are always rainbows. We were lucky to even see a double rainbow in the mist of the falling water.
Driving further east, the landscape gets very grim. There are lava fields and boulder fields, sometimes as far as the eye can see. How long ago the volcano eruptions took place differs from location to location. You can tell the difference by whether there is any growth of moss, lichen, or even little shrubs and heather. In some places it is all black and dark grey, like the eruption happened days ago. But you have to count that more in geological "days". Eruptions happened ten thousands of years ago, thousands of years ago, or a few hundred years ago. However, of course there also have been very recent eruptions like Eyjafjallajökull near Hvolsvöllur in 2010. The famous eruption that almost downed a couple of passenger jets flying through the unexpectedly dense ash clouds, and disrupted air traffic between Europe and North America for a long period of time.
Much of the landscape was dark grey and black. And the grim effect was even stronger by the dark, threatening black clouds that started to accumulate later in the afternoon. Like an upcoming overarching black sky full of thunderstorm, but then without lightning. Then we saw the double glacier tongues from the Hvannadalshnúkur in front of us, which end close to the road. We could see they were glacier, but they looked dirty grey. Even the few shrubs and the grass didn't seem to have color anymore, with all the dark grey rock, and the pitch black skies above and around us.
We stopped at a little parking to quickly take some photos. My girlfriend was looking for the word that would sort of describe the feeling.
"It is very intimidating", I said. Yes, that was exactly what it was. We looked at each other and both felt the same, although logically speaking there was no real danger: we'd better get the hell out of here.
When we drove further it started to rain. In some way that took away the blackness of the surroundings a little bit. We had to drive more careful, the headlights reflected, the wipers made a somewhat trusted sound. It was still far. By 6 o'clock we reached the hotel, Smyrlabjörg, an isolated large building somewhat off the Ring Road. Dark mountain slopes, with some narrow waterfalls behind the hotel, and the sea in front, across the road.
In the meantime it was pouring with rain. We quickly dumped our bags in the room, and went to the restaurant. It was warm inside, cosy lights were on, there were more people, there was talking, there was hot food and wine and beer, and a fire place was burning. We felt intensely comfortable again, finally.