story and photos by Heinz Jaeger
Nearly a year and a half has passed since Iceland was at the forefront of world news when its Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted and affected air travel across the globe. TTS member – and frequent contributor – Heinz Jaeger travelled to Iceland just weeks after the event and has now written about his experiences. A destination to think about for next year, perhaps? Or even, if you hurry, this fall?
“Why would anyone go to Iceland? There is nothing there but ash and destroyed roads!” That was the usual response when we talked about our plans to travel through the land of fire and ice. It was easy to understand this generally negative attitude; the news media for weeks had reported nothing but disasters during the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, and had warned that nearby Katla would explode soon.
Nevertheless, about three weeks after the volcano unexpectedly went back to sleep, 35 enthusiastic members of our Halton Outdoor Club set out to explore this interesting island. What we found to our surprise were excellent roads, unpolluted air, beautiful flowers, a country so clean that one can drink the water out of any stream, healthy farms and a most varied and fascinating landscape. Our guides were Gudbjorg (Gugga) Bragadottir and her husband Kristjan Gudmundsson, who own KGB Tours, and while driving us all around the island, they explained its history, geography, legends and customs. We could not have been in better hands. Here, in brief, is our tour.
Starting in Reykjavik we went along the south shore and admired the many waterfalls from the almost vertical escarpment on our left. We passed the village of Eyrarbakki where Gugga’s family had lived, and she told us about her childhood and how difficult the life of the inhabitants used to be.
After walking on the black lava sand beach near Vik we stayed in a lovely hotel with a breathtaking view of the immense Vatnajökull glacier and Iceland’s highest mountain, Hvannadalshnukur at 2119 meters. All next day, while we travelled farther east along the shore, we frequently saw different tongues of the glacier between mountain peaks.
The Skaftafell National Park seems to be carved into the glacier, and we took the opportunity to hike some of its excellently-maintained trails. Nearby the melt water of the glacier has formed the large lagoon Jökulsarlon with hundreds of small icebergs floating around and amphibian cars available to take a ride between these bergs.
After Höfn the landscape changes; up to now we travelled over a narrow flat plain between the escarpment and the sea, now the flat area disappeared and the road is cut into the flanks of the mountains.