01 August 2006

Pilgrimage

I went on a long weekend trip to a concert in the tiny village of Borgafjörður Eystri over the weekend. Since this place is a full day of non-stop driving from Reykjavík, we decided to make it a road trip, and stopped at some of the major attractions along the way. The drive to Vík by now has become a bit of a routine, and for some reason it seems to recently be plagued by impressive rain. The unchartered territory began for me just outside of Vík, when we passed the rock formation of Hjórleifshöfði. From there to our night stopover at Skaftafell is an almost unpunctuated stretch of sand and lava, only interrupted by the tiny town of Kirkubæjarklaustur, the town of the Most Confusing Esso Station Exit. The weather was traditionally south-coast crappy though, so maybe I missed something.

Skaftafell is a national park that's tucked up against the base of one of the tongues of Vatnajökull, Iceland's biggest glacier. It's the base camp for all kinds of ice exploration, as well as less adventuresome hikes. We did the short trip out to Svartifoss, a popular waterfall that cascades over perfectly hexagonal lava tubes (yes, I took photos but they were nothing special, so google-image-search if you want to see what it looked like) There's a parking lot a short walk from the falls that was of course loaded with busses, and the path was crowded with foreigners. It was easy to tell who wasn't from around here as we walked along bare-armed past clusters of people in full foul-weather gear.

Back on the road we continued through the black sands to the next Great Icelandic Sight, Jökulsárlón. This is one of those places that I wish I could see again and again just how I saw it the first time- not knowing when it was going to appear, and knowing nothing about the scale, lulled by the black dunes of glacial sand deposit. It's such an instantly dazzling view, all these ice chunks glowing turquoise from within, drifting on the placid water below the glacier, and then to the other side, the sea raging in its unfettered south-coast persona. Astounding, even though it was crawling with people, and definitely worth the trip to both lagoon side and ocean side. I could have stood for hours on the beach, listening to the crackling of the ice as the surf crashed against it, crawling between the chunks, striped with glacial sand in some places and carved into surreal sculpture-forms, their surfaces breathing cool glacier-air, their edges dripping fresh water into the sea foam.

We had to continue further though, and an accident on the beach had forced an unexpected layover in the next town of Höfn í Hornafirði (note to the wise: going barefoot on an ice-strewn beach might lead to unexpected foot injuries). The day was achingly lovely though, so those of us who were not getting foot stitches at the local health clinic enjoyed the incredibly tiny pool there. It's pretty workaday, and laps are probably out of the question with all the kids enjoying the pool paraphernalia, but the beach-ball chairs were very comfortable and the variety of jacuzzi temperatures was pleasant.

Back on the road, we continued through the beginning of the really majestic East Fjords scenery. This is some hot stuff folks- a bigger scale than the West Fjords, and in the July evening sun the hillsides glowed below the glowering mountaintop clouds. Quite possibly my new favorite landscape here, with the continued accents of tremendous waterfalls, sheep-covered hillsides, little ponds surrounded by fifa, and a fjord named after, and containing, hundreds of swans.

After a thrilling dirt-road mountain pass crossing in the fog, we descended into the valley where Egilsstaðir sprawls, the capitol of East Iceland. Sadly, this was quite a let-down as the first Big Civilization of the day. It's a peculiarly red-neck town (lots of noisy cars, burly guys, and rat-tail hairdos spotted at the Esso station) with an astounding lack of zoning and planning. We dined at a pizza place that was almost unfindable, located on the second floor of an office building, next to what was either a junkyard, a paint shop, or a tire lot. Pick one, and you get the idea of how charm-free the location was, in spite of the lovely sunset sky that arced overhead.

Fortunately, our final destination for the evening was NOT here, so we once again got on the road and headed over one final mountain pass, where I learned about the legendary East Iceland fog. It hung in the valley and made it almost impossible to see the town of Seyðisfjörður, home to a lot of great old houses and about 700 people. More on that in next post!

Ship sighting: Seyðisfjörður is the Icelandic port of the Smyril Line, the company that runs the car ferry that goes from Iceland to the Faroes, and then to the Shetland Islands and Norway. There's almost no evidence in this town that it's receiving all these Dutch and German cars on a regular basis, except that the concentration of foreign license plates seemed to get higher the further east we went (yes, there are people from other countries but the most noticeable volume comes from those two lands). The ferry dock was deserted on a Saturday afternoon, and the only foreign ship influence was a small Swedish sailboat with two bicycles parked on the dock nearby (you can see its mast in the lower right-hand corner of this photo, near the fishing boat). Nothing like the Steamship Authority docks on a summer Saturday!

3 comments:

Sirry said...

WOW fantastic! You went to see Belle & Sebastian - WOW!
You've seen more of Iceland in a short time than I saw living there for 20 years, or almost.
I just love reading your blog, makes me totally nostalgic and a wee bit homesick, till next morning when I wake up and realize, reality is a little too real sometimes.
I truly love your blog, I live through your eyes as you talk about all your adventures.

And O-M-G you saw Belle & Sebastian, I only got a few of their albums, I think almost all but one :D
I can't wait till tomorrow for the rest of the saga

tsduff said...

Even though I too went on that route on my recent trip to Iceland, seeing it again through your eyes is fabulous. Don't know who Belle and Sebastian are, but guess I missed out there. Keep the chin up... sounds like the immigration issue is not as bad as it could be. I'm glad of that.

jessica said...

B&S! what a great show that must have been. bet it was at a tiny venue too. those are the best. intimate concerts and great bands are incredible. are you planning on going to any of the sigur rós shows? i was seriously debating flying to Iceland for a couple of those. but school work and moving out of my apartment decided to be more important.