Iceland in Words – Day 5
As fun as driving along the fjords was on day four, I just felt no desire to do so two days in a row. This was especially true when taking the fjord route made no sense time-wise in regards to the sights I was planning to see. My trip from Djupivogur to Lake Mývatn would go through the town of Egilsstaðir. On my way to Mývatn, I wanted to see the waterfall Hengifoss, as well as the nearby lake (Lagarfljót) and forest (Hallormsstaður). My choices were a 3 hour drive via the fjords (including an hour of backtracking) or a journey up a gravel road that would take almost half the time. Driving such a distance on gravel left me hesitant, but the decision was easy. And so I found myself off the beaten path on the more beat up one.
As nerve-racking as the gravel road was at times, I mean who bridges rivers (multiple times) with a road only wide enough for one car immediately with blind inclines and corners before and after it? All in all it was a beautiful change of scenery, full of colourful hills and flowing waterfalls. It surprised me at one point when I climbed so fast the change in altitude actually caused my ears to pop.
My GPS was less than reliable in getting me to Hengifoss and as I got closer it tried to lead me up roads I was certain would cause damage to my rental car. And to think I had just trusted it to lead me through Iceland’s eastern hills, had the two happened in a different order I may have chosen the fjords after all.
In the end I made it to Hengifoss only to discover it would be a three to four kilometre hike to see it. With no-one else in sight, I soon realized that I may be the only one willing (stupid?) enough to tackle it. In addition to the distance, Iceland once again required me to make a steep ascent to see one of its treasures. I’m not sure how far up I went, but it was steep. Along the way there were three or four fences and gates which I didn’t understand at first … until I came across the sheep. They’re everywhere, mowing the lawns of all Iceland’s grassy landmarks. It made me wonder where they came from and how exactly their owners keep track of them day by day. The basalt waterfall Litlanesfoss I encountered on the hike up to Hengifoss may actually have been the more interesting of the two, though Hengifoss’ towering height was quite impressive.
With Hengifoss conquered, I allowed myself to take in the rest of the beauty in the area. This includes Hallormsstaður, Iceland’s largest forest and already full of Fall colours. Separating the waterfalls and forest is Lagarfljót, a large lake just east of Hengifoss and home of Lagarfljótsormurinn. Similar to Scotland’s Loch Ness monster, Lagarfljótsormurinn (or “Lagarfljót Serpent”) has only been sighted on a handful of occasions.
From here on, the rest of the day was spent driving to Mývatn, where I would be spending the next two nights. It was really interesting towards the end of the drive, as it required me to drive through the mountainous region to its east. All around me snow covered peaks begged me to climb them and look out for miles in every direction. And yet despite the altitude and isolation, it interesting to see the power lines running through the area. In fact, throughout my trip I was amazed at the amount of connectivity on the island. As isolated as Iceland is, whether you were in a hotel, restaurant, or even a guesthouse in the middle of nowhere you were likely to have some degree of wi-fi connection. In addition, not that I had to use the provided cell phone much, but it had full bars every time I checked.
As I got closer to Mývatn, a light snowfall left me with a decision to make. Since I would be in the area for another full day, I had to choose which sights to see in the waning hours of day five and which to leave for day six’s hopefully clearer itinerary. In the end, I opted for Dimmuborgir and Skútustaðir as I felt their experiences wouldn’t be as hindered by the poor visibility.
After spending some time there, I think the snow may have actually bettered my experience at Dimmuborgir (“the Dark Castles”). With several laid out hiking trails, it was a relaxing walk after the long drive. The snow crunching beneath my feet, Dimmuborgir ‘s lava landscapes surrounded me in all directions. There were several of them with holes through them, archways, and other interesting formations. The snowfall was light enough that it didn’t drown out the shapes, but rather helped differentiate the lava’s surfaces.
The last stop of the day was Skútustaðargigar, a group of pseudo craters caused by steam explosions when lava flowed over the wetlands thousands of years ago. The sheep were back in numbers, keeping the grass of another Icelandic landmark nice and short. I felt like the snow drowned out the slopes of the craters a little, but they were still neat to see.
When it came to finding my lodging for the night, I was originally unable to find the front desk. This led to me knocking on an unmarked house in the same style as the guest rooms and embarrassment when I learned that it was a private residence and I needed to check in across the road. I can only wonder how many before me have made that mistake.
Highlight of the Day: I could very easily go back to my waterfall theme for the trip and give the nod to the Hengifoss/Litlanesfoss combination, but instead I’m going to cop out and extend it to the entire Lagarfljót region. The beauty of the waterfalls, lake, and sprawling forest were more than I ever could have expected.
Dinner: For dinner I once again ate at the guesthouse restaurant, though this one came with a twist. Attached to the building containing the check-in desk/restaurant was a stable of dairy cows, complete with glass walls allowing you to watch the cows as you ate (if you so choose). Meal-wise I opted for a smoked and dilled char dish for appetizer, followed by lamb shanks and skyr (Icelandic yoghurt) for dessert.