Mocking Seals and Black Sands
We left Djupivogur heading south, towards the big glacier that stands out like a white blob on the map. As soon as we left town we took a little detour visiting the fjord that, the day before, concealed behind a veil of grim drizzle. The view was completely different: the crisp morning sun was tearing through the clouds, the steel waters lapped the feet of black rocky mountains, their crowns delimited by patches of blue sky.
Hinted by Dirk – the guide-writing naturalist – we stopped at Stokksnes to give another go at seal spotting. We parked outside the rickety but quaint Viking Cafe and ventured off to the apparently limitless black beach.
After being attacked once more by a flock of terns we reached a rocky coast where we could see two minuscule distant islands on which we could barely guess the rocks from the seals. Dirk, if you are reading,you owe us one! 🙂
Anyway, given our precedent experiences, we weren’t seriously expecting any seal so we enjoyed the alien landscape.
The Blue Icebergs of Jokulsarlon
Our first stop was Jökulsárlón, the glacier lagoon. What an incredible view: the glacier tongue dips in the water and light-blue icebergs break off, drifting to the sea. Being an obvious destination, within easy reach from Reykjavik the parking lot was covered in tour buses, but it was enough to walk 5 minutes inland to get rid of the herds of tourists, too busy furiously snapping photos of themselves to actually care to explore the area before getting back on the bus and move on to the next photo subject.
A different kind of tourism
We then bumped into a fleet of amphibious vehicles going in and out the lagoon, carrying tourists that, from the look on their faces, were probably still shocked for the amount of money they spent for such a lame experience. Until then we found Icelanders very respectful of their country and their nature, giving them top priority in every decision. However here it looked like they had a different attitude, happily driving those noisy, stinky, polluting vehicles in an otherwise pristine environment.
It took at least 15-20 minutes walking to get to a place where the buzz couldn’t reach and so we could hear the water lapping on the pebbles and the ice ominously cracking in the distance. We also spotted a lonely seal on our way back, but it was quickly shooed away by a family of Flanders lookalike that started screaming like overexcited teenagers as they saw it.
An ice cold monster
Past this chaos, which came as a bit of a shock after spending a week in relative silence, the road is pretty quiet. We pass a vast plain where the signs of devastation left by the glacier flood are still well visible and not far, an imposing glacier tongue is lurking from between two peeks. It wasn’t quite clear from the map but the gargantuan Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe occupying 8% of the whole country surface, is visible from the road. Along the stretch of Ring Road going around it, it’s possible to see the tongues leaking out of the crown of mountains containing the ice hulk. Like an imprisoned creature stretching its arms between the bars trying to catch you.
An expensive isolation
Checking our maps and reservations we found out that the place where we would have stayed for the next two night was not where we thought it was. Nowhere near the Vatnajökull National park, nor to the Selfoss area. But un-conveniently far from both spots. Yet once more we wondered “what did we think when we booked” but it also occurred to us that this was the only accommodation available between Höfn and Reykjavik. The guesthouse wasn’t even in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, a nice little village not far from Vik, but 35km from it, along a narrow road in the middle of nothing. In such a remote place, set in an isolated but rather unattractive piece of land, being charged £50 per person per night you would at least expect some luxury, wouldn’t you? Eldhraun guesthouse turned out to be just a container, run by a man far from being helpful, providing a pathetic breakfast. When we asked for some basic info the manager silently handed us a leaflet of the Kirkjubæjarklaustur information office and went back to his family and friends, apparently permanent residents in the living room, gulping beer and giving us cold stares. The only positive thing was a valley of funnily tit-shaped green bumps which was dividing us from the rest of the world.