Monday: Sep 5, 2011

(from Hofn to Egilsstadir)

"The day is cold, and dark, and dreary
It rains, and the wind is never weary"

These words (from a poem by Henry Longfellow) occurred to me on Monday morning as we reconnected with the Ring Road.
Our first stop was the Stokksnes lighthouse about 10 miles east of Hofn and the weather had been dreary indeed (a wider view).

There was a black sand beach near the lighthouse with numerous tufts of grass arranged in curious irregular patterns.
If I was a painter I would love to spend here a nice Sunday afternoon.

To get to the lighthouse we had to take a narrow dirt road seemingly emanating from the bare mountains in the background.
This was how I had always imagined Iceland to be. Aloof and bathing in stark beauty.

At the foot of those mountains, we also discovered a ruin of an old hut.
Masterpiece. No other architectural style would fit in.

Then we returned to the Ring Road and continued our journey alongside the coast.

We stopped only here and there whenever we had an easy access to the ocean...

...or there were some dramatic features in it.

The only time when we strayed away significantly from the shore was when we crossed the Lon area, a wide coastal plain formed by sediments from the glacial river Jokulsa i Loni. The weather was deteriorating so I asked for a stop when I spotted a chunk of blue skies above us. Something was telling me that this was the last piece of blue skies we'd see for a while and I wanted to have a record of it. Although in all fairness I have to say that weather changes so often in Iceland that you never really know what's coming your way. Weather forecast is a meaningless endeavor in this land and should be replaced by a more accurate weather coin toss. Heads - you get sun, tails - you get rain. This atmospheric free-for-all, however, has one welcome side effect: a bewildering abundance of rainbows. They are so common that they could become a major export commodity in the future. I am sure many an Arab sheikh would pay a pretty oil penny to have a technicolor arch over his unassuming marble castle in the desert.

After about 30 miles, we returned to the ocean and continued our circuitous journey through the island's Eastern fjords.

This was supposed to be very scenic part, but because of the clouds we saw only the lower part of the surrounding mountains.
If you think the view is too bleak, check out the highly stylized and color enhanced version in the Trix section.

At one point we saw something that looked like a crop circle from the road, except it was a square. When we came closer it turned out to be just an old and long abandoned field that was surrounded by a stone wall overgrown with grasses and moss. Another testament to the difficulty of farming at this latitude.

Around noon we arrived at Dupivogur...

...which is yet another fishing town on the southern coast.

The town center is marked by the hotel Framtid at the end of a bay.

We wanted to see some birdwatching stations, but an information kiosk was closed, so we decided to find it on our own.
After all, the town was fairly small so we just took a random road out and hoped for the best.

After we successfully weaved past the town limits, we encountered several yellow signs filled with unintelligible Icelandic words and a plethora of large black exclamation points. Perhaps some instructions for members of Audubon society, thought we. But we were determined to find our birdwatching station come hell or high water so we drove stubbornly on until we found ourselves on an unusually wide dirt road and something didn't quite smell right. And soon it transpired why. We landed on a runway of the local airport (betrayed by a wind sleeve that did not make it into this picture).

We promptly backed off and took a different road that eventually led to the bird watching station.

This is inside of the station with some bird information posters and a hugely multilingual guest book
to which I added yet another incomprehensible language - Czech.

After the birdwatching detour we got back on the main road and resumed the tour of the fjords. Next in line was Berufjordur with a small fish farm at its entrance. Berufjordur is one of the longer ones and it could certainly use a ferry. Unfortunately Iceland is too sparsely populated that kind of business, so you have to get across the hard way - in on one side...

...and out on the other. Also note how low the clouds are. For most of today's trip they were about 100 m (350 ft) above us. From what we heard it was typical for this part of the island. Gulf stream brings in lots of water vapor and the high and cold mountain peaks do their best to condense all that moisture into an almost continuous white veil. I am not surprised that a significant percentage of Icelanders still believe in elves and other magical creatures. If I saw the mountains permanently shrouded in clouds, I would also wonder what is going on up there.

Next stop - a fishing town number 324 - Stodvarfjordur...

...where you can visit a famous rock collection of Petra Sveinsdottir. Besides the rocks - mostly zeolite crystals - the collection also contains a couple of odd items of Icelandic paraphernalia.

Vast majority of stones was found locally so when we made it to the next fjord I decided to go for a little rock hunting trip myself.

We parked the car at a rest stop by Faskrudsfjordur and I went straight up into the mountain for a little improvised hike. Since I never really saw any foggy or cloudy pictures in all those touristy brochures and photographic books about Iceland that I perused before our trip, I felt it was my sacred obligation to humanity to bring back an inside scoop on what is going on in those ubiquitous Icelandic clouds.

Not to get lost, I followed a little creek that was cutting its way down through a thick tundra like vegetation. I did not meet any elves or tooth fairies up there, but I did find several interesting stones. And I got the ring side view of the 100% home grown completely organic fog.

After the mini expedition into the clouds, we continued paging through a seemingly neverending Book of Fjords.

The scenery at this point was almost standardized: on one side you have mountains...

...and on the other you have the ocean, sometimes with just enough space for a small pasture.

You know the drill: on one side you have the mountain and on the other you have ocean.

Sometimes the road receded a bit and allowed for some breathing space. And when it did, the ocean never failed to seize the opportunity and bite into it. This would also be a great place to read Dostoyevski. I can see myself roaming this desolate coast for hours with a copy of "Crime and Punishment" neatly tucked under my arm. Translated into Icelandic, of course.

Unlike sheep which are generally very shy, the Icelandic horses are phlegmatic almost to the point of being self absorbed. In order to make one these equine divas raise its head, I had to holler some pretty strong words at them. You know - the kind of stuff most self respecting horses would reward with a targeted stampede.

Apparently, horses and sheep were not the only grazing animals in this area. Here is a grazing car. Seriously. It stood contentedly in the middle of the pasture and there was absolutely no one in it. I saw no other explanation for its being there. But hey, with the gasoline prices being what they are, a grazing car is not such a bad idea (at this point - close to Reydarfjordur - we also parted with the ocean and started heading inland towards Egilsstadir).

We arrived at Egilsstadir around 4pm and originally planned to take an additional drive around one of the lakes surrounding it. But we noticed a little piece of blue sky above us, and after the dreary weather that followed us for most of the day, we decided that rather than following local attractions (and hoping for good weather), we will follow good weather (and hope to find some local attractions nearby).

After about 25 miles (most on a dirt road) we caught up with the Sun indeed. My mood immediately improved by 37%. It turned out that the reason for this nice weather was a little wedge of low-lying lands to the north of Egilsstadir that kept the precipitation producing mountains safely in the distance.

The drawback of this operation was that there weren't many photogenic objects around. This sun lit cow was the best we could come up with. Although later that day we also found an old semi ruined farm, which had a certain mysterious appeal of 19th century romantic novels.

Anytime we tried to approach mountains the clouds started gathering.
And that was the trade off - either Sun or scenery. Not both.

We continued on the road 94 till the place where it turned east, and there we decided to go back to Egilsstadir and have dinner instead. The Dyrfjoll mountains in the background were dropping directly into the Arctic ocean. The mitigating effects of the Gulf stream were over. We were entering the northern part of the island and the average temperature was to drop by 10C (20F). Go get a scarf.

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