Posted by: nmancini04 | August 20, 2011

Day 3: Glacial Progress…and a Snafu Sequel

A groove between Vík and Skógar
In my haste to just get something up and go to bed last night, I feel like I shortchanged the blog. I will not make the same mistake today. I also kind of skated over both the Rental Car Snafu and especially our difficulty finding lodging for the night. Our original plan had been to spend last night (Friday) in Vík, the southernmost village in Iceland. That, of course, is what we did end up doing… but as a last resort. Allow me to explain…

When we first received our rental car and the rental people explained that we would be getting a replacement car the next day (as described in yesterday’s post), Rental Guy asked us where we’d be spending the night. We answered Vík and he asked if we would stay at Skógar instead, about 30 minutes west of Vík. He didn’t say as much, but I think it was to save himself an hour of driving in the morning. Which is understandable. The man was waking up to drive almost halfway across the country to get us a new rental car by 9 am.

So we agreed to stay in Skógar, but to give you an idea of scale here, Skógar is not a town so much as four streets and about 15 buildings, two of which are hotels. Vík, which (until tonight) was probably the biggest village we’d seen since we left Reykjavík, is a bustling metropolis of about 500 residents and looks like Chicago next to Skógar. And as nice as Skógar is, both of its hotels were completely booked. Our unplanned stop at the Seljalandfoss, while beautiful, meant that it was starting to get late, past 8:30, and we were starting to get worried.

We decided we would head on towards Vík, look for accommodation there, and then drive back to Skógar in the morning to meet Rental Guy. There were a few things around Skógar we wanted to do anyway, like see Skógafoss, the waterfall at the western end of the village (and the paterfamilias of the local population of falls, which is ample). We also wanted to drive up to the edge of Myrdalsjökull, the large and impressive-looking nearby glacier that looms over the southern central coast, blocking the villages from the sandurs (glacial deserts) further east.

But we were worried. And further dampening our mood was a hard-driving rain that pelted us on the drive from Skógar to Vík. The rain, the poor handling of our temporary, beat up Suzuki and the winding hilly roads all contributed to a slower drive than we were expecting. It was 9:30 by the time we reached Vík and our prospects of finding lodging, not to mention dinner, seemed dim. Indeed, the first hotel in Vík that we tried was booked. But the second, thankfully, had a vacancy and even recommended a restaurant with a kitchen that stayed open until 10 pm. Maggie had the haddock; I had the fish stew. Score

We got an early start this morning and the day dawned beautifully, so we took some time to look around Vík. The village is in a beautiful setting. But then again, practically EVERYTHING in this country is in a beautiful setting. It’s nestled under green mountains and right on the southern coast. There’s a beautiful church on a hill and fantastic cliffs looming to the west and north. But Vík’s most distinctive features are the basalt columns rising out of the sea to the southwest of the village’s black sand beach. The info card on the table at our restaurant claimed a local legend about the columns being formed when some rowdy trolls reached for a ship or something, but it sounded suspicious to me.

The cliffs over Vík, to the northeast

 

The church in Vík, under the cliffs to the northwest

The basalt columns of Vík

A beautiful valley between Vík and Skógar

We soon headed back west towards Skógar to meet Rental Guy and were in a decidedly calmer mind to enjoy the lush, green valleys and imposing white vistas of Myrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull that mark the road between the two. We pulled into Skógar just before 9 am and we didn’t have to wait long for Rental Guy’s triumphant appearance…

But wait…

As I started grabbing our bags to switch cars, I overheard Rental Guy informing Maggie of Rental Car Snafu 2. As is so often the case, the sequel was even more annoying than the original. Apparently the back left tire of the new (“good”) Suzuki Grand Vitara was losing air. It had been returned low yesterday, so Rental Guy pumped it up. But on the drive from the capital, it had lost air again. We could either fill it up every day (dangerous) or get it fixed. And the only guy in the area who could fix it…was in Vík. And with that, we bid so long to our trip to the Myrdalsjökull glacier. As Maggie so eloquently put it, “Poop……POOP! Mega, mega poop!!”

Before heading back, we decided to salvage the fiasco that was our second trip to Skógar by at least checking out Skógafoss. It was a pretty good consolation, actually. We spent five good minutes under the falls, eschewed the trip up to the top and drove back to Vík.

Maggie at Skógafoss…looking a lot more cheerful than we felt after Rental Car Snafu 2

A rainbow by Skógafoss

I get to know Skógafoss

 

Into the wastelands and up the mountain
I can now answer the question, “What does an auto garage look like in Iceland?” The answer is, “Exactly like it does in the U.S.” The mechanic even wore the same one-piece, navy blue jumpsuit. My favorite wrinkle was that the computer at the far end of the shop, Maggie noticed, was logged in to Facebook. By the time our car was set to rights, it was 11 am and our early start was kaput. With a long way to drive east today, we hit the road immediately.

Suzuki 2 gets jacked up

We’ve been seeing sheep, cows and Icelandic horses all over the place, but for the first time on this drive, we had to stop for “wildlife.” Let’s just say the sheep have no problem hanging out by speeding cars.

It's their road…we're just driving on it.

Remember when I said before that everything in this country is a beautiful setting? Well that ALMOST doesn’t apply to Myrdalsandur, the expansive glacial desert to the east of Vík, which aside from being impressive in its emptiness, is saved by the sight of Myrdalsjökull rising from the distant wastes.

Myrdalsjökull and the wastes of Myrdalsandur

But the more impressive sandur was Skeiðarársandur, which opens up to the first views of the gargantuan Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest icecap at over 8,000 square kilometers. The impressive peaks of the mountains Svínafellsjökull and  Skeiðarársjökull in the distance (some of the sentinel mountains of Vatnajökull) dominate the skyline. Towards the end of the desert, we had to stop outside Skaftafell, the national park that would be our first destination of the day, and take a few pictures.

Vatnajökull in the distance

Maggie poses before Skaftafellsjökull, one arm of Vatnajökull

We decided to go for a light hike in Skaftafell, up Skaftafellsheiði, with amazing views of the peaks of Skaftafellsjökull to the east (right) and Kristínartindar to the north, and of the Skeiðarársandur glacial desert to the south, slashed by braided glacial rivers all the way to the coast. The trail itself was somewhat disappointing, being more of a gravel path than a hiking trail. It was also too crowded by half. I knew we were in trouble when we saw fellow hikers (a) carrying babies on their backs, (b) hiking in button-down shirts and (c) setting up camera tripods in every decent space. It was quite a busy trail.

Skaftafellsjökull over our trail

Kristínartindar over our trail

The braided rivers cutting through Skeiðarársandur

The sight everyone came to see was Svartifoss, yet another waterfall, this one notable for its distinctive underhanging columns of rock. While perhaps not the most majestic and certainly not the most powerful waterfall we’ve seen, it was nonetheless enjoyable for the serenity of the scene (minus the hordes of people) and the unique rock formations. We then crossed over Svartifoss’ glacial stream and came down on the opposite bank on the Sjónarsker part of the trail. It was a little more challenging and a LOT quieter. On the way down, we actually walked right on top of another, smaller waterfall, Hundafoss.

Svartifoss

Svartifoss up close

At the top of Hundafoss

Hundafoss

 

Bring out your dead
After leaving Skaftafell, our drive hooked northeast, as we reached the eastern side of the island. Our next stop was at Jökulsárlón (“Glacier River Lagoon”), the haunting glacial lake of floating ice formations and broken off pieces of glacier. Here, the evidence of global warming presents itself in at once magnificent and depressing clarity. This lagoon didn’t exist 80 years ago. Now it stretches wide along the foot of Vatnajökull, the sound of ice melting ringing all around. Even from long distances, you can tell which parts of the glacial mountains were once covered in ice by the smooth, dark contrast to the other parts of the mountains.

Western end of Jökulsárlón

Maggie approaches Jökulsárlón

The icebergs of Jökulsárlón

A blue iceberg on Jökulsárlón

An icy closeup

But Jökulsárlón was certainly picturesque, with its floating ice sculptures dotted around the water. We even caught sight of a few seals (though didn’t manage to catch any on camera).

Dreading a repeat of the previous night’s scramble for lodging, we decided to head to our next port of call early. This time we’re staying at Höfn, a harbor town on a small jut of land east of  Vatnajökull. The glacier is somewhat visible across the western bay from our guesthouse window. Höfn claims to be “the lobster capital of the north” (whatever that means), so we decided to take advantage by treating ourselves to an expensive dinner at the hot local restaurant Humarhöfnin, which specializes in langoustine. If you, uh, ever find yourself in Höfn…highly, highly recommended.

The remains of our langoustine massacre

So aside from maybe a brief walk this evening, that’s it for us today. We fully expect Rental Guy to show up in the morning with a brand new Suzuki Grand Vitara — maybe one with a broken axle this time! — to delay our start until 11 am for the third straight day.

Maggie on the harbor at Höfn

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Responses

  1. This is all amazing guys! Even if my brain cannot even process any of these place names. I so look forward to seeing you exactly 3 weeks from today! 🙂 xo

  2. This is so terrific!!! i am enjoying this more than you could ever know. what is the weather like? the locals? tell me more about everything!!!!!!!!!

  3. Nick,
    I never imagined the beauty of the place. I’m glad you and Maggie are enjoying yourselves.
    Love,
    M

  4. I accidentally left my reply under Roberta’s email.
    M

  5. The waterfalls are spectacular – really enjoying taking the trip with you and not having to worry about lodging! Braided rivers and blue ice – just like our Alaska trip!

  6. More impressive even than the waterfalls is Nick’s ability to spell Icelandic place names.


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