Our room at Uthlid Cottages felt hot when I opened my eyes the next morning. The heat was generated by the thermally heated floor of the cottage. I parted the shades and peeped out of the window. The sun was yet to rise, no sight of rain or clouds, and the sky looked bright. The bluish early morning light illuminated the earth, still under a blanket of snow. Rest of the group members were also waking up, one by one. A hot cup of coffee and a bite of Icelandic cake tasted absolutely marvellous. It looked like a great day ahead and the sun brought our enthusiasm to the fore. The cottage door opened to a muslin carpet of snow, unmarked and unblemished, except the pugmarks of some unknown creature which must have loitered around our door sometimes during the night. Was it an Elf ?? The thought seemed to rake the brains of the children of our group since Iceland has a history of Elves !! This is the second part of my Travelogue on our Road Trip across south of Iceland, titled “Elves, Geysir and Gullfoss. Iceland Road Trip. A Travelogue Part 2”. Click here to read the Iceland Travelogue from the begining
The team, overwhelmed with their first morning in an uninhabited locale around Uthlid.
Iceland and its Elves
Known locally as Huldufólk, Iceland and its Elves have a very deeprooted connection. Hardly would you find an Icelander who doesn’t believe in the existence of an Elf. A strange mythical half-human, prominent among European mythology and Scandinavian folklore and literature (Remember – The middle earth from the Lord of the Rings !!) Icelanders love and revere them. Iceland respects Elves and has been known to bear allegiance to this influential group often in the past while making private or pubic decisions. Fishermen sometimes rule out going out to the sea, citing the warnings coming from Elves.There are instances when the civic administration have changed, moved or cancelled building of dams, roads or infrastructure because of the influence of the Elves community. Strange as it may seem, even some Anthropologists claim it !! To know more, here is an article on Elves: 🙂
Point #6 Where to travel to in Iceland?
Iceland is a land of untamed splendour, forbidding and alluring, magical and temperamental. It is probably the last civilized country to offer such uninhabited beauty in both its stillness and its turmoil. The minimum time frame needed to go on a complete tour of Iceland is two weeks. This includes driving all around the island nation on Iceland’s Ring Road : Route #1. The central part of Iceland is the Highlands area and is not navigable from October to May. It is here that Vatnajokull, the second largest glacier of Europe, covering 8100 square Kms, is located. To the west lies the capital Reykjavik, and to the East lies the sleepy harbor-town of Hofn. Vik is one important town in the South of Iceland. Most travellers who travel to Iceland prefer the Southern part of Iceland as it has most of its attractions and nature’s wonders. An even shorter route would be the Golden Circle, the most popular route for tourists in Iceland. This route includes Thingvellir National Park , Geysir, Gulfoss and a stopover at Kerid Crater Lake. This is usually done as a day tour from Reykjavik.
Northern Iceland is more desolate, barren, cold, uninhabited and isolated. We didn’t visit North Iceland in this trip, but were more located around central and south Iceland.
Today’s Agenda : Visit Geysir and Gullfoss
We had plans to visit Geysir and Gulfoss today, two of Iceland’s Iconic and most visited sights on the Golden Circle Tour.
As we drove downhill towards the main road towards Geysir, we met a herd of horses on the side of the road, behind a wired fence. Immediately the Team braked and went off to meet them and pose for photographs. An icy field behind them, the horses presented an arresting sight for our eyes. Their backs glistening in the morning sun, the horses nudged and muzzled the tourists. By then, more cars had started stopping by and it was a field time for the tourists and photographers. Few of the them started to feed the horses some tit-bits too, and I am still not sure if that was the right thing to do. We ultimately started back on our direction towards Geysir thermal fountain.
Geysir is the first fountain geothermal geyser known to Europeans, but is now dormant. The neighbouring Strokkur is still active, and shoots out hot steamy water every five to ten minutes. Gulfoss is the most popular and iconic waterfall of Iceland, and also its second largest. The majestic falls with its series of water rivulets dropping into icy water foam and mist inside a ravine will captivate you. One should walk towards the extreme left end of the falls which gives a surreal view of the snow and gushing water. The mist and the spray creates rainbows on the further side of the waterfall every few minutes. Both Geysir and Gullfoss are prominent attractions and are included in the Golden Circle, Iceland tour.
Geysir, is about 12 kms away from Uthlid, and we reached it in about 15 minutes. It was a sunlit morning, and the skies absolutely blue and cloudless as we parked in front of Geysir Center. The road still had snow and icy water running on its edges. Geysir Center consists of a few restaurants, cafes, rest rooms, souvenir shop and a couple of hotels towards its back side. It was buzzing with tourists by then. The area is well demarked and the path leading to the geysers showed a moving line of tourists, a distance of about 250 meters from the road.
Strokkur comes first and people were already encircling the volatile small lake, as vapours, gases, steam and bubbles formed on its slow moving surface. It was a moment of eager anticipation for everyone around. The burst comes suddenly, a huge column of spray smoke and gases shooting up into the air for about 30 meters. A shout of exclamation from the crowd runs around every time it shoots. Though it seems easy, but it always seemed to baffle an amateur photographer like me in positioning and shooting the outburst and so after a couple of cycles I called it quits. Geysir, is the bigger pool , about two hundred meters upstream and it is now a pool of hot water and gases, its heavy Sulphur laden aroma reaches your nostrils and feels heavy at times. On our return, it was hard to keep the group from picking up a few mementoes from the Local souvenir shop at Geysir.
Here is the one good photo I got from Strokkur. 🙂
Point #7 How to travel around Iceland?
Iceland is an ideal country to go on a road trip. Dazzling sunsets and breath-taking waterfalls will force you to stop your car at every nook and corner. You need to book an SUV or a 4X4 vehicle if you do not have prior experience of driving on snowy roads and icy terrain. The earlier you book, the cheaper you get and a three month prior booking relieves some good pressure on your purse.
Camper-vans are also a good option for the more adventurous traveller. You get them in different makes and amenities. They include bed arrangements, pitch-in tents while some includes a kitchenette, and even a toilet. There are many parks available to pitch a camper-van and use the toilet and washroom facilities, but during winter it is better to check ahead to identify the ones which stay open based on your route. The maximum speed when driving inside Reykjavik is about 50 kmph while the maximum speed on highways and Iceland’s Ring Road Route #1 is 90 kmph. Be courteous to the other driver when you are passing through single lane bridges. You do not hurry Icelandic roads.
In case, self-driven road trips are not the right option, one can avail different conducted tours from Reykjavik. They have options starting from a single day to 9 Day Sightseeing Tours covering most of south Iceland. Availability can be an issue and it is better to book in advance.
Our next stop was Gulfoss, meaning the Golden Falls. By this time, I had picked up that Foss in Icelandic means waterlls and Jokul ( pronounced Yokul) means ice). Before starting for Gulfoss, I had my Coffee maker mug which plugged into the cigarette lighter port inside the car and could heat water in about 10 minutes, running. Pour an instant sachet of Nescafe and you have a great coffee on the go. After a break of about an hour here at Geysir, we drove towards Gullfoss, a further 20 minutes up. Gulfoss was the highlight of today’s tour.
Gullfoss, the next stop far exceeded my expectation. It was still bright and sunny, minus five degrees Celsius on the temperature scale ,as we climbed out of our car and made way towards the waterfall. The waterfall is not visible from the parking lot, deceptively hidden behind a canyon of the Hvita river. You would need to go up a small ridge from where suddenly the horizon spreads unlimited. Stretching over three kilometers end to end, the majestic waterfall is a stunner. It was ice and ice, water flowing through a stream, and a series of rivulets dropping into the misty and frosty ravine down below. Here is the official site. There are different pathways around the falls, merging at different levels where you can walk and enjoy the spectacular view from different angles.
In the early 19th century, there were plans to build a dam to produce electricity, but it was a fight by the daughter of a shepherd which protected Gulfoss and preserve its natural beauty. Behind the falls, on the icy mountainous terrain, a rainbow peeped every now and then as the sunlight refracted in the icy mist all over the expanse. Heavy winds blew, the cold air hurtling against our faces, as we went down a flight of stairs to reach the viewing deck. It was hard to bring our hands out in the open without gloves, and we needed to keep hold of our caps too, unless the wind swept it away. The frosty spray brings a feeling of numbness to your faces and exposed parts of the body,as the winds played havoc with the foam and the chilling spray. My Nikon DSLR shut off a couple of times, the lens accumulated water and mist every couple of minutes and my hands shook with a numbing icy pain
The mountain ridge leads you further north, bordering the falls and you can walk along a pathway to the extreme corner where the river makes a slow move before it starts breaking into cascades. From here , you get a surreal view, as you can see the river forming into dozens of layers of little falls till it come crashing through the gorge. I whisked my phone, out and took this quick video which is posted above. The rippling sound of the flowing stream was submerged under the ferocious crashing through the gorge as it dropped 70 meters below.
We stayed around for an hour and a half, and then painstakingly trudged, half a kilometer back to reach the parking lot. The warmth of the cafeteria beckoned us inside as by then most of us were a bit agonized with the cold and the sharp winds which were blowing across the wide expanse of the falls. As it turned out that the day was also special, since it was the birthday of one of the children in the team. A few slices of carrot cake from the cafeteria, some chocolates, a couple of gifts and we celebrated an impromptu Birthday party for the boy out in the open . Between cars and trucks, out in the parking lot, in front of icy landscape, and with the freezing cold we all sang “Happy Birthday to you “. 🙂
We needed to buy some necessities and thus enquired with the locals at the cafeteria about any grocery store nearby. A bit of consultation followed , and then they suggested that there is one at Selfoss. That’s about 70 kms away , she said. We ultimately drove back to our cottage and picked it up from the reception -store. That was lucky !!
As we were coming back, we passed the same set of horses close to our accommodation. It was the dying moments of a great day passing by . The sun was lost behind the horizon , the clouds still carried its last rays and the horses were grazing on the icy fields . The horses gave special meaning to the transcending natural beauty of a setting sunset among icy plains and little hillocks in the distance, and would probably stay as one of the most beautiful sights I saw in Iceland.
Today the Aurora sighting scale reading showed 6. The sky was clear. New moon was just about the corner. We did have our chances . The team was excited. The group was elated and we were mentally gearing up. During evening, we joined hands to cook some hot dinner while the children splashed water at the in-house Jacuzzi. It was time to eat, drink and be merry.
The aurora did come, but we didn’t really feel the magic. It appeared like a streak or band stretching all across the sky up above our heads. But the streak did not really take on its full colours. It looked more like a band of pale and translucent cloud formation, shady white across the skies. The children waited too, till 1 am at night, in the freezing weather. Every few minutes we walked out into the back porch and peeked up and around, but not much did we see. Later the photographs showed the faint green light though our eyes did not catch it this evening. 🙁
Some other day, perhaps. Keeping our fingers crossed.
To Be Continued …