Up early, since sleeping in the car isn’t conducive to much sleeping, and our first stop was the tourist information center. It happened to share a parking lot with a grocery store, where we stocked up and grabbed coffee.
At the tourist center, we learned that the lava field hike we began at midnight is still considered too dangerous to recommend, because of the snow and cold and boiling puddles. Oops.
We left our car and set out from there, following a path that begins just behind the center. The path goes all the way to Mt. Hverfjall and Dimmuborgir (14km), but we turned around at Grjotagja (about 7km? Sigh for the lost journal, where I kept detailed notes). Early on, the path meets another path…keep straight, and you’ll be on the right track.
It’s an easy walk through desert scrub, with a fantastic view of Sellandafjall Mountain in the distance. At one point, there’s a barbed wire fence with a rickety ladder to help you over. Have I mentioned how much I love, love, love these Icelandic walks through wide, open spaces?
Grjotagja is a privately owned cave with hot springs inside. It was used for bathing till the early-80’s, after which (so says the internet), geothermal activity made the water too hot. (The internet also says, mistakenly perhaps, that this is where John Snow lost his virginity in Season 3 of Game of Thrones.)
The cave is certainly sexy, all crystal water, steam and rocky-outcroppings. You can cheat and simply drive up if you want, which explains the plethora of mid-morning tourists.
Much later, around midnight, I did just that. I knew from a guy on Couchsurfers that at night, locals ignore the no swimming sign. Jamie was tired, so I came alone, and found a handful of Icelandic men, friends in their early-20’s, all swimming nude, and an adorable teenage girl (someone’s little sister), who swam in a bathing suit and talked to me about how much she loves Icelandic rap music, which is funny, because Iceland might literally be the whitest place on earth.
I took my cue from her and swam in a suit, although swam is perhaps too generous? The water is super hot, so I mostly dangled my legs and occasionally floated on my back for a few moments.
After awhile, the girl and her brother (or brother’s friend?) left, and the other guys put on their swimsuits and told me what tragi-comedy (now come true) they think it is that Donald Trump could be our next president, and then they confirmed for me that Icelanders really do believe in elves but not so much their prime minister (anymore).
It was probably 2 a.m. but light, of course, and just outside the cave, there was a mama sheep with two lambs that let me get very close (close enough to see all the poo stuck in their cute tushes).
BUT…before returning to the cave, lots of other things happened, such as a short (tourist-crowded), slightly snowy hike to two amazing waterfalls, Dettifoss and Godafoss.
Godafoss may have been my favorite waterfall in Iceland, though it’s a hard choice. The name means “waterfall of the gods,” and it’s where the ruler of Iceland tossed his Norse statues in the year 1000, after he decreed Christianity the official religion.
Godafoss is 12 meters high and 30 meters wide, and there are several smaller fall “inlets” along the river Sjalfandafljot. But the reason I love it is for one particular spot, which forms a sort of churning puddle. I liked the patterns and the ragged crust of thin ice.
Father down the trail, there’s Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. It’s 100 meters wide (330 ft), with a 44 meter drop (144 ft), and the spray is so powerful that visitors need raincoats. (It’s slightly smaller/less powerful than Niagara Falls.)
Afterwards, we lunched in the car out of our grocery sacks and broke out the very Icelandic Kokosbolla (“coconut flour bun”), which Jamie craved from her last visit. They’re so airy and delicate, they supposedly can’t be exported (though a package made it home just fine in my carry-on). Kokosbolla is basically white, marshmallow-y stuff inside a thin chocolate shell, dusted with finely shredded coconut. And they are gooey-sweet and delicious!