Monday August 20, 2001

 

On Monday morning (8/20) it was time to leave the guest house in Reykjavik and head for a farm stay. We were picked up by a VW van at 9:30 a.m. and whisked away to start our "family horse farm holiday”. Lynn promises that it will be fun, but I have visions of sitting around a barn on hay bales neighing with the locals over pails of oats.  We are apparently the only family left doing this (normally the last week of their "guest season" was last week) so we are alone in the van to chat with the driver, who is nice, even if he isn't terribly inclined to converse much beyond what the conventions of politely providing his chauffer services require. When we left the van to visit several natural attractions, he quickly sought out the relief of privacy and nicotine. It rained steadily with varying intensity (drizzle to medium steady) as he did a short sightseeing tour on the way to the farm, stopping at the famous destinations of Lake Žingvallavatn, Geysir, and Gullfoss. Or at least they are now famous in our minds.

 

Lake Žingvallavatn (more about the weird letters*) is a very pretty and extremely large and cold lake, crowded with at least 5 or 6 vacation homes and a tourist hotel. The lake is reputedly a popular summer destination for Reykjavik residents who apparently have the good sense to stay home and indoors on a cold and rainy day, although judging from the facilities near the lakeshore, it looks like a "crowded" sunny weekend afternoon might produce only a few hundred visitors and no more than a dozen or so small boats on the lake. Alongside one bank of the lake is a pumping station, where they have drilled down a few feet to get to very hot geologically heated water which is pumped  down to Reykjavik to supply all the towns buildings and numerous spas and pools.

 

There is a small gorge running along the edge of the lake ("small" meaning about 20-50 feet deep and similar width) which we walked in, alongside, up and down, and across where possible. This gorge marks the boundary of the North American and European continental plates, which runs right smack dab down the middle of Iceland, and probably has something to do with all the earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and geothermal activity around here. Either that or there are dragons living in caves under the island. The two plates are separating at a rate of 2cm/year. If you stood in the right place and didn't move, you could probably do the splits in about 50 years.

 

Hot springs feed Lake Žingvallavatn 

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The Continental Divide running smack dab down the middle of Iceland

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Geysir is the site of THE very first geyser, named "Geysir", for which all others invented since the invention of Geyser #1 have been named. We were lucky to see Numero Uno do his thing which sort of shocked Lynn, who had read in a recently published guide book that it didn't spout anymore. Geysir has apparently been fixed by an earthquake. There was also another geyser(ir?) which spouted obligingly every few minutes providing reliable entertainment, and a handful of bubbling hot-spring thermal features. The children were happy with the activity, especially the snacks of crackers and bubbling hot cocoa in the "geo center" afterward.

 

Just to be sure you know where you are...

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Yes Geysir does (and did) erupt

 

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Nearby hot water pools

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The last stop was the falls at Gullfoss, quite impressive. They are like a small Niagara Falls, powerful torrents of glacial-till gray water exploding down a two stage staircase. Unlike Niagara, you can walk right up to the edge of the canyon downstream of the falls. There is a small piece of twine strung along about 18" off the ground very near precipice and I'm sure this has saved many lives. Much to our relief, Tom and Ann seemed to have the common sense to stay at least 5 feet back and forego running, jumping, or any other animated movement.    

 

  Gullfoss 

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  The kids having fun staying safe and dry (almost)

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By now, the alternating novelty of relaxing in a van and walking around in the rain had started to fade, and I think we were all glad to arrive at Hestheimer Farm about 2:30. The common guest house, used for eating and lounging and also the residence of the host family, is simple on the outside, but exude a farmhouse coziness on the inside.  It looks like it is designed for about 20 visitors and I am a little sad that we won't get to meet any other travelers. Like all of the buildings on the farm; main house, guest sleeping house, horse stables and indoor show ring, the construction is simple and utilitarian- Bright red metal siding for the walls and black for the roofs. It is a theme repeated, with variations in the bright color scheme, on most rural buildings in Iceland. I think the harsh climate here eats up anything wood so quickly that people have long ago switched to more durable exterior building materials. 

 

The host family is also apparently out until tomorrow, leaving us in the hands of a very nice, slightly shy young woman named Inga-Dora, the family's two short little dogs (horse herders), and an old fluffy cat.  Icelanders do not have our style of "last name" their second name is just the first name of mother or father appended with "son" or "dottr" which makes the phone book rather amusing. So asking the question "what is your last name?" is usually met with a quirky coy smile or a short little laugh prefacing the response.  We started out by eating a lunch that could have easily fed 10 and are now relaxing as sole inhabitants of the sleeping house, located a couple of hundred yards down the drive (made of dark gray gravel that looks and feels like crushed lava rock). Now we are very appreciative of the spaciousness and  privacy provided by the absence of other guests, since Lynn is teaching school while we wait for dinner, and I am spread out writing on a coffee table in the loft. Geoff just finished reading me his Spanish language journal entry "Nosotros vamos al aeropuerto..., Nosotros vamos a la ciudad...". We'll meet the host family tomorrow and hopefully will get to learn a little about their lives in Iceland.

 

Sunset on the Farm

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        - Rolf  8/24/01

    

 

* Icelandic is a very old language which has undergone very little modification throughout the centuries. There are over 30 letters, including a couple of special consonants that tell the speaker to turn a Ž into a "soft Th" sound, or Š into a "hard th". And there are a handful of vowels with umlauts, accents and tildes, which all force the speaker into horrible contortions of mouth and tongue. Needless to say I am very bad at pronouncing the names of most of the cities and landmarks, and have quickly given up on the notion of picking up a little Icelandic. It's not the most universally useful travel tool, and everyone over 12 years old here seems to speak English well enough to have a simple conversation.