In the absence of sage, we went straight to the Nautholsvik geothermal beach pool for a shower and general purification, but we still had awhile before the pool opened. So we drank our gas station coffee and read more Neapolitan stories and then, finally, were able to relax in the hot pool and watch people frolic on the beach in bathing suits, like 40-degree weather is balmy. (We also watched a very confused Icelandic girl try to have a conversation with another small girl who only understood French.)
The morning after our post-midnight sunset, we woke to a cloudless sky (a rarity in Iceland) and breakfasted with Borghilder on her deck, overlooking the ocean. As parting gifts, she gave us CD’s of her daughter’s indie rock band, Cosmic Call.
The we went in search of the ceramicist Kolbrun Kjarval’s in-home studio, because Jamie remembered her from her last time in Akranes and is a tentative collector. Kolbrun didn’t answer her phone, so we slipped through a gate into her courtyard, where we found the tiny, firecracker of a 70-ish year old woman sunning herself on a lounger, her skirt pulled to the top of her thigh. She was not happy to see us.
The next morning, Borghildur was alive and well and in her own home, and she sent us to a bakery for bread and pastries. We had a satisfying breakfast of cheese, fruit, tomatoes, baked goods and coffee (B. is a textile artist who collects handmade mugs and sometimes designs fabric inspired by the mugs. We got to choose our mugs from her personal exhibit.) Then, on B.’s recommendation, Jamie and I headed to the Snaefellsnes peninsula.
First up was a beach near Ytri Tunga farm, which has a seal colony and intense, plastic-y seaweed.
So…we passed the stormy night in the car without incident and of course, about 3 km down the road, there was a guesthouse and restaurant where we could have slept comfortably and gotten a reaaaaally good deal, since it’s in bumfuck and appeared to have not a single guest.
We got coffee and picked up some area pamphlets, which then derailed us for the next hours. We have this thing for geothermal pools, right? And what’s better than a “natural” pool, just off the side of the road, without tourists or facilities? Something we would practically stumble upon along a short hike, and then proceed to lounge in nude, just because we can, gazing at the pastural scenery?
One of the pamphlets (which, come to think of it, was pretty dusty and probably a decade old) promised that pool, in a tiny, offhand blurb. So we set off, following the scant directions, turning down gravel roads and backtracking multiple times. Finally we saw another car stopped on the side of a deserted road and figured they had to be looking for the same spot.
These Canadians were smart. They had a book of natural hot springs and a GPS. So we let them go ahead before following at a scarcely discreet distance (probably ruining all of their bathing nude dreams), crossing an (icy—I checked) creek by inching along an ancient, fat pipe and then climbing a hill with such a small trickle running down it, you could hardly call it a stream (the water did get progressively warmer but never hot). Then we came across the Canadians again. They’d found a tiny, hot-ish hole, suitable for a person and a half, and had decided to call it a day. We walked further up but found nothing wide enough to consider a pool, and then headed back, so the Canadians could nestle on each other’s laps in privacy.
On the way back, I think we actually found the “pool” pictured, which was lukewarm and covered with a thick layer of green moss. So much for becoming wood nymphs.
So, three hours delayed, we headed towards Reykholt, a cultural center and church and the former home of Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), a historian, politician and author of Iceland’s historic sagas. The drizzle was back as, in less than an hour, we took in the quaint, teensy church (with a model ship suspended from the ceiling, a sort of charm to keep fishermen safe), Snorri’s outdoor geothermal bath and a large gift shop. There’s also an indoor area of exhibits but there was a fee, and our attention span was already kind of shot. (Btw, we missed The Sagas Museum in Reykajvik, but I’ve heard it’s great.)
Before leaving the Myvatn area, we breakfasted on the moon and had our first taste of lava bread—a heavy rye, baked in the ground with geothermal heat. Then we hiked Hverfjall.
It’s a a steep climb to the top of the black, gravelly volcano, which is a kilometer across and offers fab views. (You can tell by the sliding tracks that some people actually attempt to hike down into the volcano. We didn’t.)
There were only a few other hikers, so Jamie had her mp3 player, and I played Sigur Ros on my phone, because it seemed like the perfect accompaniment to this odd terrain.
On our way out of town, we walked the paths winding between the nearby mini-craters, which were a bit anti-climatic. But no matter—Iceland had already impressed us plenty.
The baths are man-made, but they’re heated to about 100° F with natural springs. There are two sulphur steam rooms and a smaller, hotter pool. The water is that now-familiar gorgeous, chalky blue, covered with a rolling layer of haze, and the view is all open sky and distant volcanos and lava-scape.
Afterwards, we checked into our hotel-on-the-moon, aka Hlid Hostel. We had a teensy private room with a teensy private bathroom, and everything felt clean, modern and very bright. But right outside our door, the world was rocky, flat and grey-scaled. I could have spent a full day just reading in the breakfast room, every once in awhile, glancing up at the lunar terrain.
After Hverir, we drove past the Krafla Geothermal Plant, which looks like something off the set of the 1985 sci-fi flick, Brazil, and has been providing this area with heat since 1977.
Just past the plant, you can park essentially at the rim of Viti, a 300 meter crater formed by a 5-year eruption, beginning in 1724. From 1724-29, the Myvatn Fires spewed orange flames and ash along deep cracks in the earth (some of which are visible at Hverir) called fissure vents. Viti was the site of a massive volcanic eruption that kept “burping” fire for a few years, and then became a huge boiling mud pot for about a century.