Today was clear enough that we actually went out of our way to go up a mountain pass. The pass marks the boundary between the Northern part of Iceland with its fjords and the Southern with its more sweeping plains. It is also it turns out to be the place where a famous Icelander said that “If you don’t see Iceland from here on a Summer’s day, you can’t say you’ve seen Iceland at all.” So now we’ve seen it, we can say we’ve seen it.
The thing that makes that view special is that, if you are coming from the North, it is your first view of the glaciers.
If you look at a map of Iceland one of the first things you notice is the huge white splodge at the bottom left. It looks like some child-god has dropped an enormous glob of vanilla ice-cream onto Iceland and it has started to melt with bits leaking out past the mountains.
That’s the Vatnajokull glacier, the largest outside of the Arctic regions. It takes up 8200 square kilometres and is, in places, over 900m deep. Underneath it is one of the most active geothermal areas in the world; but, hey, that’s a long way down. The glacier used to be even larger, but it has been receding apace for most of the last 100 years. We met a German who was here 20 years ago and he says the difference is noticeable even over that period of time.
The mountain pass is on the old road so we retraced our drive and went through the tunnel under the mountain that took us to the town of Hofn where we stopped for a swim in the local pool. Like all Icelandic pools it is more swimming complex than swimming pool. This one had three water-park-quality slides, several pools of different temperatures and a lap pool. The boys made great use of the slides while Jennifer and I watched from the 43-degree pool. Bliss.
We’re now staying in a hostel about 30km away from one of the several tongues (the melting bits) of the glacier. Like all the hostels we’ve stayed in since Reykjavik this is a little side-business run by a farmer.
The hostels have been almost uniformly fantastic. Well-kept; friendly; pleasant. The facilities have generally been very good, and the people we’ve shared with have been great. It does have to be said, though, that we’re spending more per night for a hostel room in Iceland than we’ve spent for entire apartments anywhere else.
There is a lot of sharing and not much room of course – but that’s par for the course. For a few weeks it has been great; although it validates our decision not to travel this way long-term. If nothing else all this staying in family rooms is not very conducive to, ahem, family making.
Anyway, we walked through the farm and then into the surrounding boggy marshland to get to the distant shore. It turned out to be a messy and frustrating walk which was full of windswept grandeur but short on the seals we were hoping for. We did find a dead swan which provided some feathers for the boys’ burgeoning collection.
We also found a nice example of the sort of hillock we’ve seen throughout Iceland. Little rounded hills with a tussock of grass sticking out of the top. We’re not clear on how these get created. However, and this interpretation could, I admit, be a function of the family room frustration, they do make Iceland seem like it’s absolutely covered by small breasts.