I was eager to start out on the second leg of my tour, where I’d be journeying to the west part of Iceland. So eager apparently that I was in the lobby waiting for the pick-up a full hour earlier than the actual pick-up time (I’d mixed up the pick-up time yet again!). I met my new guide, Saga, a Reykjavik local, and the somewhat sadder van we’d be given. Apparently, they had to rent a van, as they were out of their usual mini-buses. This van was more of a traditional style van, and we were squeezing twelve passengers in. Also, for whatever strange reason, the last row of seats had essentially no legroom. Our guide was apologetic and suggested we rotate seats throughout the day. It was largely a new group of travellers, except for the couple from Wales who was with me on the first tour. We had a couple of solo female travellers from China and South Korea and a couple from India, as well as a gregarious group of travellers from the States and England.
The weather was overcast as we drove out of the city. However, we went through a long tunnel and emerged to brilliant sunshine. I’d actually dozed off and was startled awake by sunlight blasting through the windows and gorgeous seaside views. We drove by some truly stunning mountains, and I actually found myself a little disgruntled at not being able to stop and appreciate them. I tried taking a few shots through the car window, but a telephoto lens and moving car don’t work well together.
Our first stop was the village of Reykholt, where we visited the famous Icelandic poet Snorri Sturluson’s outdoor bath. I admit I was a bit underwhelmed, likely because my mind was still on those sun-drenched mountains we’d passed. I tried not to fixate on it and just considered it as giving me a preview for when I come back. Our next stop was a set of waterfalls, Hraunfossar and Barnafoss. Hraunfossar is an interesting series of waterfalls that actually stream out from below a lava field. There were bridges and viewing platforms to get a look at the different waterfalls, and I happily explored the area. The sun wasn’t out anymore, though it peeked out occasionally, but it was dry and bright (which equaled a happy traveller).
From there, we made the relatively short drive over to Deildartunguhver, the most powerful hot spring in Europe, providing hot water and central heating for the area. However, the real star of this location turned out to be the most adorable, very chubby dog that had seemed to have taken up residence in the parking lot. He happily ran out to greet every car and bus that entered the lot–I imagine in hopes of food and/or rubs (I was happy to provide the latter). As we pulled out of the lot, I saw him sitting patiently in front of a (closed) car door, waiting for the driver to get out. What a determined cutie!
After a gas station pit stop for food, we continued onward, pulling over to visit with some sweet Icelandic horses grazing near the road. I was amazed that they just sauntered on over to us, happy to receive our attention and rubs. Saga was quick to correct anyone who called them ponies–they are in fact full-grown horses! They’ve got full, rockstar manes and are hardy animals, capable of surviving Icelandic winters (typically harsher than the one I was experiencing). In an attempt to keep the breed pure and prevent disease, no other horse breeds are allowed into Iceland, and any horses exported are not permitted to return.
Our final scheduled stop was the Gerðuberg basalt columns, which looked like the wall of a medieval fortress. The clouds had rolled in at this point, so it was a wall of grey on grey. Some of the group decided to explore and climb the rocks, while I chose to stay a bit apart and just soak in the silence. We were so far from anything else at this point that there were really no sounds–quite a meditative feeling.
When everyone finally gathered back in the van, Saga mentioned that we still had a bit of light left in the day and asked whether we’d be interested in seeing a secret spot of hers. We were all game, and so drove not far to our mystery site. We hiked about 15 minutes, through a gorgeous, moss-covered lava field, an ethereal layer of clouds shrouding the tops of the mountains. There was a small spring that Saga took us to Rauðamelsölkelda, a natural mineral spring containing carbonic acid (so it bubbles). I had a taste of the water, and it was light and refreshing. We made our way over to a waterfall, tucked between walls of rock. Much scampering and light rock climbing ensued, as many of us wanted to get in closer to the falls. On our walk back to the van, we noticed a few small patches of snow on the ground, where several people jokingly posed to show evidence of the snowy, wintery Iceland they’d expected to visit. I will say that I am definitely a fan of “secret” spots. Off the beaten path, they tend to give a glimpse of a place not typically seen on the usual tourist routes.
It was a relatively short drive to our hotel for the night, Hotel Rjúkandi. It was definitely one of the nicest places we’d stayed on the tour thus far, with stylish, well-appointed rooms. Prior to dinner, I wandered into the little café/bar area and found the English/American group of travellers enjoying pre-dinner drinks. It was in fact a bottle of rum that one of them had bought at the duty-free on the way into Iceland (definitely something to consider doing for next time), which the proprietor didn’t seem to mind them drinking. I opted to sample some Reykjavik cucumber gin (delicious!). At dinner, I couldn’t pass up trying some medium-rare Icelandic lamb, one of the country’s specialties, served with mashed potatoes (which may have also been a motivating factor). A super tasty meal, made better by lively company. The English/American group were a talkative and entertaining bunch, and we covered a range of topics, everything from traveling the Incan trail to American politics. They generously shared their rum with everyone, and we’d finished the bottle by the end of the evening.