As if Grimsey wasn’t enough travel for one weekend, we also took off to Mývatn, Goðafoss, Dettifoss, and a village near Dalvik.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. On Saturday we woke up early to fry up some bacon and pack up, and pile into our borrowed Honda. By noon, we and two of my housemates were on the road to the east.
To get to Mývatn, Goðafoss and Dettifoss, you have to drive to the other side of the fjord, through the mountains to the next valley over, essentially. It poured the whole way there. The trees are just starting to turn, so even in the gray day, the countryside was beautiful, full of yellow birch trees and red moss (I think it’s some kind of moss, anyway). Aside from the blurry landscape, there was not a lot to see on the road to Mývatn. There are not a lot of towns or even houses. Despite the empty land, we did see people in a line up the mountain herding the sheep that had not been caught at the previous week’s réttir. It was interesting to see how it’s done. Halfway up the mountain—perpendicular to the road we were on—were about a dozen people, maybe ten feet apart. They were coordinating to keep the sheep in front of them moving forward, towards the farm, presumably. This involved a fair amount of shouting.
Some context: Icelandic sheep are let loose into the mountains during the summer to graze. In the fall, they are rounded up and sorted in a structure and event called réttir. The initial round up is done by a few people. Apparently, the direct translation for the title of these people is “mountain men”, but the ~correct~ translation is drovers. Once they get close to the area where they live most of the time, the owners of the sheep and their people (and any exchange students that get roped in) go to the réttir and sort the sheep. However, not all the sheep get caught the first round, so you have to go again, though with fewer reinforcements. That’s what we saw on our road trip.
First stop was Godafoss. Goðafoss is beautiful and very blue. Apparently it’s blue because it has a high sulfur content. The waterfall is named for when Iceland became a Christian nation in 1000 AD. Legend has it that the one of the more important officials threw his Norse gods into this waterfall during the changeover. It was still pouring rain and quite cold, but we still had a great time scampering around the basalt ~tide pools~.
After Goðafoss, we drove past Mývatn (the lake and the town) to Dettifoss. Mývatn is barely a town from what I saw, it was maybe three streets? The lake is more impressive. It is shallow, caused by volcanic activity about 2000 years ago, but it is wide. It is famous for being so large and also for being home to many types of water fowl.
Having past Mývatn, we drove into mars. No really, NASA and other people bring their rovers up here to test them out. It is probably the most eerie landscape I’ve witnessed. The road winds through chunks of black rock, geometric rock columns, and blobs of long cooled lava. It is all black and gray, but highlighted by bright yellow lichen. If you ever want to leave your home planet—just head to Iceland.
Eventually the road leans off into a parking lot. There we parked and started walking through the black sand to Dettifoss. Dettifoss is as eerie as the landscape it inhabits. You can hear Goðafoss for some distance; this is not the case with Dettifoss. Walking through the alien landscape it’s quiet until you reach the ridge that separates you from Dettifoss. Then you hear it. And it is loud. The most powerful waterfall in Europe has a steady, thundering roar. Goðafoss is beautiful and mystical, but Dettifoss is awesome. Not in the radical, surfer way, but in the biblical way. It is huge and restless. It entranced me. I have no idea how long we were at Dettifoss, but I spent the whole time standing at the edge of the observation area and staring at the water falling over the edge of the cliff.
After hiking back we had lunch in the rain and then started driving back to Mývatn. Back in Mývatn we attended the Nature Baths. It’s like the Blue Lagoon, basically. After a day of mucking around in the cold, windy, and wet, swimming in a warm pool was lovely. Even if it did smell too much like sulfur.
We drove back to Eyjafjörður as the rain finally let up, and just in time to see the hazy colors of sunset hanging over the water, bewteen the mountains. We then made the spontaneous decision to visit the Christmas House, slightly to the south of the Akureyri Airport.
It‘s worth noting that the weather at this point was nearly identical to the christmastime climate in Monterey. So it was a surreal evening—Christmas in all ways except the date. I really loved the Christmas house. Though it was essentially a shop, they nailed the Christmas atmosphere. Lighted trees, wood fire, even Christmas carols (though, in Icelandic). It was like being a kid on Christmas morning. Everything was sparkly and smelled like cinnimon. Except the statue of Gryla. But we‘re gonna ignore that.
Sunday was calmer. Nat and I drove with one of the RAs to a tiny seaside village (I literally cannot find the name of it on a map). The village has a small harbor and pier jutting out from the shallow beach. At the top of the shallow beach is a hot tub. So the three of us spent a couple hours enjoying the sea breezes and chatting.
After a dip in the hot tub, we drove through many sheep and cattle farms back through Akureyri and across the fjord to check on Elsa‘s family horses. Icelandic horses are unique in that their breeding has seen basically no interferance since horses were first introduced to the island. Now, no other horses can be brought into Iceland. Additionally, any horses or horse equipment that is taken out of the country cannot be brought back. They are beautiful animals, and they are very friendly.
By the way, it‘s cold.