Iceland day 5: Asbyrgi and Dettifoss, Gods on Earth

With two nights ahead to spend in the same place we can finally settle and plan an exploration of the Myvatn area, which is pretty rich of interesting things to see and to do.
For the first day we decide to focus on the area north of the lake, leaving the rest for the following day. The 85 is smooth and quick so, after skipping Husavik and the whale-watching business, we arrived at Asbyrgi.

Asbyrgi, Iceland

Asbyrgi, where the hidden people are almost tangible

Shelter of the Gods

The impressive hoof-shaped canyon is not obvious coming from the parking lot, concealed by the unusual birch and willow woodland. In fact the 90 meters high rock protect this area allowing the growth of proper trees which make Asbyrgi so fascinating. The silence, the bright green of the trees, the shadows dancing in the foliage, echoes and eerie sounds made ma seriously wonder about the real possibility of finding elves. At the end of the woodland, under the vertical cliffs, we reach a pond and from there we take a secondary path. Soon all the other tourists disappear, the silence broken only by the ravens cawing, and the sticky air seems to be buzzing with magic and ancient legends.

Asbyrgi

can you see the elves?

According to the saga this valley was created when Odinn’s 8-legged horse stomped one hoof here. Geologists believe in some confused theory about lava rocks and rivers which I didn’t quite understand so I’ll stick to the horse story.

The “Falling Waterfall”

From there there are two roads leading to Dettifoss, the more popular 864 gravel road to the west of the river Jökulsá, and the bumpy 862 to the east of the river. Not knowing these details we instinctively went for the 862, to an exciting 40km of roller-coaster. It requires some concentration but it’s fun and I would recommend it if you have a 4WD, it also cuts through some beautiful scenarios, from scrubby flats dotted with sheep trios to a barren plateau, and you barely meet other cars.
Our car didn’t enjoy the track as much, in fact it played us a nasty trick in the car park where it got stuck and wouldn’t move for a couple of tense, silent minutes.

The Dettifos waterfall was a better reward than we could have expected: the large river Jökulsá drops in a dizzying 45m drop. The sheer power of nature, the force of that inconceivable amount of water was breath taking. I especially liked how it makes you head spin if you stare at the waterfall for too long and instead, if you follow a bit of water from the top to the end it all seems in slow motion.
All the people we met told us that “the east bank is better“, however I haven’t hear a valid argument a part from the state of the road. Also we haven’t checked both banks (and neither did those advocates of the east bank) so we couldn’t really say. Still the view from the west bank was pretty stunning, judge it yourself:

Dettifoss, Waterfall Iceland

How small a human being is in front of the mighty nature

An unexpected show

The last bit of 862, going south to reconnect with the ring road is smoothly paved, to our – and our car’s – relief. We run towards Myvatn, craving for our dinner in Akureyri, when we are faced with an unexpected scenery. Ahead of us there is a red mountain with lighter areas which we though sun rays filtering through the clouds. As we got closer we realised that those white-yellow areas were covered in minerals dripping out the side of the mountains, while vapour columns were coming out from the guts of the earth. Without even knowing it we found Hverir, a otherworldly park of fumaroles and hot muds. We got charged 800ISK each for the entrance which was the best spent money of our trip so far. The “Nature fee” is apparently quite controversial and not yet approved by the government however we were happy to spend the same money of a small beer for such a wonderful place. We lost track of time walking amongst whistling fumarole and bubbling hot mud pools, awed by how the earth itself is so alive here in Iceland.

Hverir mudspots, Iceland, Myvatn

Thou shall not eat

We are hungry and the prospective of food seems not terribly delayed, but it was well worth it. Moreover we were just 100km from home.
Godafoss, the Waterfall of Gods, IcelandUntil we stopped again. About halfway we saw a big spray cloud, announcing the presence of a waterfall. We instinctively stop and we find Godafoss, the waterfall of gods, so called because the guy who decided that Iceland had to abandon the pagan gods and embrace christianity through all the old statues down here. It’s a beautiful waterfall, but it doesn’t compare to Dettifoss… shame that we saw them in the same day. However it was quite late in the evening so we managed to enjoy it just by ourselves, in the bright daylight.

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After being in Rome a few times without even looking at the Coliseum I realised that there's more to travel than sightseeing: meeting the local culture is what, 10 years later, determined the birth of this blog.

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