24 July 2006

In Fairyland

Yesterday I went on a Sunday drive to Þjórsárdalur, a magical valley tucked up beneath the shadow of the volcano Hekla. It was cloudy in Reykjavík as we left, but in typical fashion, descending into Hveragerði brought a total change in the weather. We turned towards Fluðir, then followed a wide, meandering glacial river inland, its milky turquoise color highlighted by the slanting afternoon sun.

We turned after crossing an incoming river to follow a typical dirt road through the reddish-brown glacial till, ending at a small parking lot where, for the first time ever for me in Iceland, I shed layers prior to starting in on the hike. The best way to get to the good parts of this sojourn is to wade, so we all wore old sneakers without socks, and stretchy pants so we could roll them up.

The hike starts out along the river in the valley, then we crossed through it to get to the higher side. The water is, as usual here, coming straight from a glacier, so in spite of the warm sun, the water was frigid enough to make my legs tingle after the crossing. We climbed up to a ridge that gave a glimpse of our final destination, a network of waterfalls about twenty minutes away.

After the easy walk we descended into the valley, an enchanting mix of greenery, moss, and fizzing waterfalls. This place is rumored to have the densest population of fairy folk and elves, and with the afternoon sun setting the water alight and turning the greenery golden, it was not hard to believe. The whole valley was scented with the rhubarb-fresh smell of angelica mixed with the fragrance of wild thyme that we crushed underfoot as we made our way down into the valley, and the only sounds came from surging, tumbling water, and the wind rustling the short birch trees.

Down in the valley, we climbed the rocks, splashed across the river and waded in the still corners, finding steady footholds among the mossy rocks and tugging water, discovering which places were warmer and which were cooler. I waded to this tiny island to lie down and enjoy the moment, warm in the sun, surrounded by such incredible views. It's hard to believe how many nooks there are like this in this country, tucked at the end of long valleys in the middle of forbidding-looking mountains.

On the way back, we stopped at the archeological site of Stöng (anyone familiar with Reykjavík's nightlife might know about the bar Gaukur á Stöng, named after this historic farm), an ancient homestead from Iceland's settlement times, abandoned in the 12th century when Hekla's explosion and ashy outfall made the area uninhabitable. When the volcano wasn't busy, it must have been a lovely place to live, strangely warm in this protected valley, fed by a busy river, and protected by fairies.

Ship sighting: Aida Blu with her creepy tadpole décor is here again, on another Nordic tour. Other than that it's the usual set of tankers and cargo ships.


Sirry said...

You have seen corners of Iceland I never saw growing up there! Amazing landscapes isn't it!

I love your pics, I love your narratives.

More pics More pics More pics!!!
City - Country won't matter it's all amazing!

ECS said...

Sirrý- I actually have tons of photos from the trip but so many of them were so unsatisfying. You know how hard it is to take a picture of a waterfall that really captures what it's like to be there (or in the case of yesterday, standing IN it). But, I do plan to upload a few more when I get home.

Anonymous said...

awesome photos!, maybe a time lapse would show the motion of the water?

- Bill

dtw said...

That's hard to do without a proper camera stand. I haven't met anyone with so steady hands that they could do it without some support. :)

Sometimes you get lucky and the nature offers a stand. Maybe a sleek rock or something similar, since solid trees don't seem plentiful over there. You can get some very nice photos with very basic knowledge if you just have a steady support for your camera.

ECS said...

Thanks for the photographic suggestions, but I think part of the problem is that the experience is so huge here that the pictures seem so tiny in comparison. The color of the sky, the almost total lack of other people, the smell of the water and the greenery, the sound of the water, and you want me to take a few megapixels that can sum the whole damn thing up? It's just not possible, and the way water moves is really amazing. I just remembered this other waterfall I saw on the way through the south coast on the stormy Saturday. There was a narrow waterfall coming from a high cliff, and wind was blowing so strong that it had turned all the water to mist. It poured over the top of the rock and then billowed out into this enormous cloud of fog. Not a single drop was falling in its usual course. I guess that's part of why I write about waterfalls, since for me it helps to remember them better than taking pictures.

so thanks for being the willing audience of that! :-)

dtw said...

Yeah, I don't take photos of things I know I can't capture well. I know what you are saying. But, nothing wrong in trying to make the pics you take look even better. :)

I think I feel this way about photos is that they can easily do injustice to the actual places and memories. Words don't do that, if you're writing how you truly feel. Words can enhance the memories better.

sirry said...

I think I may have an advantage here sometimes as I remember the smells, the sounds, the intense colours. I see your photographs and my mind is triggered and I think they're fantastic. I know what you mean, sometimes it's so hard to capture it, but believe me, you're doing great!

One way of shooting waterfalls, is to set the camera on a slower shutter speed, close down the aperture and then most importantly take a very deep breath - Exhale, hold snap picture, listen or count, and then release your finger AFTER you hear the shutter release the curtain again, and then you can breath.
If you want to take pics of water, polarizing filter would be the trick.
The slowest shutter speed without a tripod for a sharp image would be approx 1/15 or 1/30 which might give you what you're looking for. I say try it and see what happens.

I do love the pics and the text! Thanks so much E for bringing memories to me :D
I too get homesick

Sarah said...

Okay, I just now followed the link to the Aida Blu and yuck that boat is creepy looking! What's with the lips at the front? Weird!


ECS said...

Sarah: I hadn't noticed that now before, but now it's all I can see. Fixated on the scary lips!! AAH!