Wandering Justin’s Note: I’m woefully behind in my Iceland travel diary. No time like the present to start getting caught up!
I’m on a bus. It’s sliding backwards down a steep, muddy slope. Toward a drop-off, naturally.
I rarely think about my mortality. This is one of those times.
We slide to a stop before the precipice.
The driver drops into the lowest gear and guns the engine. And our backward slide resumes after we gain just a few feet.
Fat raindrops splatter against the bus. Droplets of mud have kicked up everywhere and obscured the view on the windows.
The driver halts are backwards descent again. If not for his nonchalance, I’d probably fetch my backpack and start walking. He produces a shovel from nowhere, Bugs Bunny-style, and gets out of the bus. I hear the shovel working against the ground.
I weigh the options. I have little idea where we are – just that we’re somewhere in Iceland’s highland interior. It’s devoid of life and unforgiving. I only see the occasional incomprehensible sign. I have my GPS receiver, but that can only tell me where I am and where I’ve been – not where I’m going.
I decide to trust this bus-driving madman.
He climbs back into the bus wordlessly. He starts the engine. Guns the throttle. We move. We come to the trouble spot. We slip ever so slightly. The air pressure in the bus seems to drop. Finally, the wheels take hold of the slimy, sodden ground. I finally exhale as we crest the hill. We have a brief stop near a river, and everyone gets out for a brief hike (with the Europeans grabbing a chance to smoke). The rest of the trip to Kirkjubaejarklaustur is uneventful.
Our day started early, I think. It’s tough to tell in Iceland’s late June – especially when the overcast has yet to break. We woke inside a tent, unable to tell the time of day. We broke camp before the rain could return. And we retraced our path from the previous day – about eight miles encompassing endless fields of obsidian, rhyolite mountains, banks of snow dusted with ashfall from the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, fumaroles venting volcanic gas into the air. The word “surreal” is the best description. It’s the vista of an unformed planet.
We see absolutely no people until the last mile before returning to the Landmannalaugar trailhead. There, we eat
some MRE rations and wait for the bus that would take us southeast. The day gets colder and rainier. If you visit Iceland, bring your rain gear. It’s a must.
I’ve really lost track of time throughout the bus ride.
The sun emerges just after we arrive in Kirkjubaejarklaustur. Sarah and I finally get a hold of the Hotel Laki Efri-Vik. The manager comes to pick us up to drive us the three miles from the bus stop. She’s pleasant, but perfunctory. There’s a certain stoicism to many Icelanders 40
and up, it seems. It’s rare to get much more than a já (pronounced “yow”) followed by a short sentence from her.
The drive gives us time to assess the terrain. The entire local landmass formed when a massive sheet of lava flowed into water, creating a seemingly never-ending slab of steam explosion craters and peaked bubbles. Only hardy scrub grass seems to thrive. There are few trees.
We arrive at a very Scandinavian-looking structure and check into our room. Then, there’s the shower to scrub the mud away. Dinner comes next, followed by a walk to and around a nearby pond. As we head toward the pond, a cheerful dog trots up to us. She’s not much interested in petting, but she gamely poses for photos with the Vatnajökull ice cap in the background.
We finish our walk. And then it’s time for the kind of sleep that comes from hiking more than 16 miles in 24 hours, sleeping on obsidian-covered ground and eating backpacking rations.