Under Vatnajökull’s Shadow

We headed east out of Vik after a lazy day.  It had rained all night, so naturally when we filled up with gas with also filled the Micra with two soggy hitch-hikers.  We drove through the lava fields towards Skaftafell and Vatnajökull.  The lava fields went on for miles.  Sometimes they were simply lifeless.  Other times a think layer of moss would cover them.  Regardless, they were hostile places.  Other than the cars we past on the ring road and a couple gas stations, we saw nothing for 100 miles.  It was raining so weren’t able to get an appreciation for the full extent of the lava fields.  But we stopped a couple times to take in the void.

The ominous sounding lava fields

When we pulled in to Skaftafell, we let off our hitch-hikers, who were very quiet Germans, and wen to the visitor center to plan our trip through the park.  We had a very ambitious day planned, but the rain made the 9 mile hike we had wanted to do a bit less appealing.  We settled on a 2 mile walk to the glacier.  Vatnajökull is the largest ice cap outside of the poles.  If you look at a map of Iceland, it takes up most of the Southeast corner.  The rain made it hard to take in the full scale of it, but we walked as close as we could.  Even from a distance, the 60 feet of ice towering over the glacial lake was imposing.  The top of the glacier swept up towards the peak.

We hiked back and drove the car a little bit up the road to do the 4 mile hike to the Svartifoss waterfall.  It’s one of the more iconic waterfalls in Iceland, a category for which there is a decent amount of competition.   The waterfall is flanked by basalt columns.  Through the rain and mist, the location appeared almost more unreal.  We also hiked up to an overlook, or at least what was normally an overlook in clear conditions.  A little disappointed with the weather during our stay at Skaftafell, we headed back to the car and continued east.

Rain and waterfall

The more we drove east, the more clear it got.  Only then did the scale of Vatnajökull begin to come into perspective.  Once it cleared up we pulled off and got this shot.

Ice lagoon

Then came Jokulsarlon.  This is one of the better known sights in Iceland and for good reason.  Massive chunks of the glacier fall off and float in a lagoon on their long trip to the ocean.  The arctic sun and the clear water give the icebergs an almost electric blue coloring.  We wandered around the shore in the biting wind and took pictures of the quiet, wing-sculpted towers.

Sea and ice

After wandering around the lagoon and driving to see the ice after it had made it to the sea, we were both cold and in need of a beer.   We stopped in the café, which according to Lonely Planet had the best seafood soup in southern Iceland, and got two bowls of soup and two beers.  It wasn’t a cheap snack, even by Icelandic standards, but it was definitely worth it.  The soup was delicious, the café was warm, and the beers were the best ones we’d had in Iceland.  We got back and drove the last hour to Hofn.

View from the guesthouse

Our bed and breakfast sat underneath on of Vatnajökull.  We had an amazing dinner in Hofn.  As part of our guesthouse, there was a set of hot tubs. And by hot tub I mean a plastic lining set in rocks filled with water form a hot spring.  We soaked and drank a bottle of wine until they closed at 11.  We got back to our room and went to bed before dusk.  This is the land of the midnight sun.

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