We only had one pre-organised activity of our Iceland trip – a day out with a driver in a large jeep, hopefully exploring glaciers, volcanos and with a two hour hike in the middle.
We met our driver, Magnus, and the other two passengers, Joan and Carl (about my parents’ age, from Germany) at a campsite not far from our hotel. We piled into the jeep and set off, Magnus warning us that cloud over the volcano could mean limited visibility but there were potential back up plans if we couldn’t do that.
The road we took very quickly went from dirt to boulders and the size of the jeep all of a sudden didn’t seem so excessive. We ploughed uphill and towards the ice sheet but as we tried to climb it became obvious that the rain falling on the snow had made the whole thing slushy and slippery and traction was almost impossible. Then the power steering gave out. Magnus got us out of the jeep while he turned it around and gave Luke and I little plastic paddle-things to play with – you sit on them and slide on your butt down the slope. I was a bit hesitant to give it a go but it was quite fun once you got moving.
Back in the jeep we headed downhill and back to the campsite to meet a mechanic. Magnus really had a hard time with the steering. No power steering on a large car is a pain, none on an enormous jeep over huge rocks seemed almost impossible.
We made it down ok though and Joan and I talked about their travels, our travels and what different countries were like.
While the mechanic worked on the car we walked to one of the waterfalls near the campsite. It fell down into a narrow chasm that was all green with moss and very beautiful. It’s funny how many times we’ve been waiting for something here and people have suggested ‘While you’re not doing anything why not go look at the waterfall just over there,’. It seems like there’s a waterfall behind every rock, almost all of which are more impressive that any I’ve seen in Australia.
So it was plan B. We drove to another campsite via a rocky valley cut across with lots of rivers. No bridges though, we ploughed across each river in proper Icelandic style, spraying water everywhere. Luke loved it.
From the campsite Joan and Carl were directed to the easy walking trail and Luke and I directed to go up the hill and see the view, we’d all meet Magnus at another campsite on the far side.
The walk up was steep but mostly ok. We stopped a fair few times and then again for a while at the top to admire the view, which cameras simply don’t do justice to. Just picture a ring of craggy, glacier-capped mountains, deep valleys, amazing rock formations… that’s pretty much it. The landscape in Iceland looks so raw – like it only just stopped moving yesterday. Which, we were about to find out at our next stop, was pretty much true.
Getting down from the mountain was not entirely enjoyable. I don’t like heights or slippery surfaces and the path was narrow, there was pretty much nothing in the way of railings and only a short set of stairs on one particularly steep bit. I think walking in Australia really spoils you because safety is always considered and there’s signs, proper steps and hand rails everywhere there’s an edge. Here there was just edge. At one point we thought the path ended in a cliff but no, if you get right down to the edge there’s some tiny stairs cut into the face of the hill… I actually fell once, sliding on some loose rocks. Fortunately I was already pretty much crouching to keep my centre of balance low. By the time we got to the bottom I was sweating with the adrenalin of it but hey, we got there and Luke only had to hold my hand nearly the whole way.
At the bottom there was a neat little man-made pool full of geothermally heated water. Magnus met us at the end of the path and we had several bowls of soup and bread while we told him to warn people next time that the path might not be for people who don’t like heights. I’m pretty sure he was thinking we were wimps, although he kindly didn’t say it. Still, it was a pretty epic view and I did feel somewhat amazed that I’d made it through such a challenge. A feeling only slightly deflated by the four-year-old who’d skipped down the path as we’d been going up. I swear, every time I’ve done some kind of testing physical challenge there’s been a small child somewhere along the route making me feel pathetic.
Next stop was a glacier that descended steeply into what looked like a huge coal mining pit. We drove down into a huge bowl-shaped crater that had been a lake until only a few years ago, when a mountain had blown a chunk of lava and rock into the air, which had landed in the lake, emptied it, and filled it with gravel and enormous chunks of ice. When the ice melted it left huge craters everywhere so the place was really moon-like.
Until three weeks ago there’d been a small lake to one side of the glacier, but since then something had destroyed one side of the lake and now there’s a river running through the canyon. As Magnus said, he loves his job because every time he visits places he never knows what he might find.
Luke and Magnus jumped across the river rocks and got right up to the glacier but Joan, Carl and I took photos from a distance and examined all the different kinds of rocks at our feet.
On the drive back to the first camp we quizzed Magnus on all things Icelandic – what do they do for fun, how did he get the job, how much money do people make, how do kids from remote places get to school. He was great with answering our questions and asked us some too. In our discussions it turned out that I was the only one onboard who didn’t realise that in Walmart in the US they give people motorised scooters to drive around the store. I know this is a bit of a tangent, but ..seriously? I couldn’t believe it. Luke reckons we can do a whole video on Walmart when we get to the US. We’ll see.
We thanked Magnus profusely when we said goodbye and farewelled Joan and Carl, who’d caught the ferry over and had three weeks to drive their own car around Iceland, lucky buggers. We returned to the hotel, debating whether to eat chips or biscuits for dinner.