For a day that felt like it would never end, every turn something new and exciting and so magically “Iceland”, if you would have asked me yesterday — I would not have been so enthusiastic about what the day would hold. Okay, let me explain — the route on Ring Road today cut through the least inhabited portion of Iceland and therefore, I assumed it would not be as exciting as some of the other days filled with “must see” locations. This was incredibly wrong — and I am delighted to report all of the things I encountered today — another magical day in Iceland. The day began with a stop at Godafoss, a waterfall that you can hike to, around, and experience with all of your senses. I brought along my book to take photos on location — a book that I plan to give away to someone on my social media feed.
After taking in all things Godafoss, we made our way to Husavik, the setting of the 2020 Netflix movie Eurovision. Husiavik is known as the whale capital of Iceland, a place known for whale watching tours, and an epic museum, in the middle of town, just across the street from the town’s picturesque church.
This is where we thought the day would become a little less exciting, but our next stop was Grjotagja, a thermal cave.
This is also the site of a scene from Game of Thrones, although I have not seen a single episode; it is well documented online. Although depicted slightly differently in the show, this cave is small, especially the entrance. Literally only one person at a time can make their way in or out at once. I can only imagine the process they had to take to create an entire scene — getting the videography and sound equipment down there alone would be quite an adventure. On top of the space limitation, the water inside is geothermal, hot enough to damage equipment mistakenly dropped inside. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, or just do a quick internet search of the scene in this cave — you will notice there is a waterfall. That was added via CGI after shooting on location was complete. After enjoying time inside the cave, taking in the sights and smells (literally-sulphurous deposits in geothermal areas are quite the olfactory experience), we headed to Namajfall, a nearby geothermal plaza. I felt like I was simultaneously transported to the planet Mars and Shanay-timpishka (the boiling river of the Amazon). The smell of sulphur permeated my entire body and seemingly created a layer of crust over my clothing — one that will undoubtedly follow me for days to come. I watched mud pots bubble and explode like pots of water preparing to soften spaghetti noodles, the intense heat was being blown by intense wind blustering through the region; the intensity of all of my senses being triggered at once was overwhelming. I wanted to stay for hours on end, despite the olfactory overload. I couldn’t help but think of the stark comparison and contrast between this geothermal activity and that of the peruvian amazon. My mind began to jump from idea to idea, opportunity to learn to opportunity to learn — what would it be like to spend an entire day here? A week? A month? What if I could collect observations and data here and replicate with students back home? How can I make this a tangible experience for my students? So many connections from geography, earth science, space science, cultural practices and ideas around geothermal energy…the opportunity for longitudinal study…some of my favorite observations where taller rock formations, about 3–5 feet, that had constant steam pouring out and an intense whooshing sound coming from them. Did those rocks form like that naturally or was this a human way to attempt to channel the energy in a particular direction? Honestly, they looked like miniature stratovolcanoes with smoke constantly billowing from the opening. My mind raced with questions but soon, we left for Krafla Caldera. The site of a dormant volcano crater that is filled with an unreal blue colored body of water. Part of the rim of the caldera has ice and snow that kissed the edge of the water on one end. Another magical site here in Iceland. All of this wonder built up quite an appetite and we stopped at a new restaurant along the main road called Beitathusid Cafe. It is owned by a local couple who seek to replicate the turf building look with a modern style inside. They were incredibly friendly and told us about some of the desserts they had available. We enjoyed coffee and astarpungar (love balls), a traditional Icelandic pastry with a few interesting stories. The restaurant owners shared that these pastries were historically baked by farmers’ wives as a secret message to their husbands to “meet them later in the barn”. The next day, wives usually then baked hjonnbandssaela (wedded bliss cake) to share with their husband. Later in the day, I went on an internet search expedition and fell into an alternative story about the origin of astarpungar in which a farmer’s wife was known to be unfaithful, and one day the farmer took matters into his own hands, literally the lover of his wife’s….you know….
I subscribe to the beautiful love story that the couple in the restaurant shared.
After this adventure, we headed to Seydisfjordur for the night. On the way, we happened upon Fardgafoss waterfall and took some time to climb it. At first, it seemed like a rather easy hike until about halfway when the path’s grade became steep with loose gravel. I continued to the ledge leading closer to the waterfall and noticed that the path disappears and is replaced by wooden steps about 2 feet apart and the side of the mountain has a chain running along for climbing assistance. As I trusted the wooded steps and chained rail, the ground became more and more wet as I neared the waterfall itself which was clothed in a beautiful rainbow. While I wanted to climb behind the falling water of the waterfall itself, I went as far as I felt safe. There was a story of a pot of gold hidden within the waters, the handle of which you can sometimes see within the clear water, but you have to be close to the falling water to get the best view. To get to that point, I would have had to abandon the safety of the wooden (now loose) steps and chain alongside the mountain. I chose the “safety” of the chain and damp wooden steps today.
As we made our way to our camping site for the night, we learned that the credit card machine was not working and that the nearest atm was not open at that time. We had to come up with a backup plan. We decided to backtrack to the closest camping site which wasn’t far, and was a town we would have to travel through tomorrow anyway — Egilsstadir. Tonight, I enjoyed my first shower of the expedition — it was glorious. I also stayed up to see summer midnight in Iceland — which looks like 7:30pm on the East Coast of the United States!