Tuesday August 21, 2001


Today's excursion wasn't quite the experience that we were hoping for although the potential was there. We endured a 2.5 hour bus ride out to the Landmannalauger valley, the last 1.5 hours on a rough lava track, to see Mt. Hekla and bathe in the natural hot springs near the campsites in the valley. The day was dreary punctuated by occasional periods of really nasty weather. Hekla is a very active volcano, and of all of the volcanoes in Iceland, people around the world are most likely to have seen some video footage of Hekla erupting on the news or some nature show. It has erupted about 400 times in the last 1000 years, most recently in '91 and '2000. We aren't really sure how many times the volcano has erupted before this since Iceland was uninhabited by humans until Irish monks arrived the 10th century. The clouds obscured the top half of the cone and the bus driver didn't give us the necessary time to climb the 6 kilometers to the top on our short sightseeing stops. But he amused us with his first-person account of sneaking by the police vehicles and walking up close to the last eruption event, dodging red-hot flying boulders and skating the fine line between thrilling adventure and blatant stupidity. By the time we got to the destination (a campgrounds, visitor center, and natural baths), it was raining hard and about 45 f . We tried to edge into the visitor center but quickly realized it had been completely inundated with cold, wet campers. So we ate our sandwiches in a stone sheep hut in the side of a hill. It was smelly, but private and sort of dry.


Other than standing around in the rain or milling around the shower and locker facility with wet campers, the only available activity was the hot springs. Motivated mostly by a commitment to make something interesting happen, Anna and I decided to try them out. It was a messy complicated process, getting out of sopping wet clothes and running 100 yards on a slippery boardwalk in the freezing rain before we could ease into the nice hot water. Once Tom saw the smiles on our faces, he decided he wanted to get in too and stripped down on the spot on the deck overlooking the spring, leaving his clothing for Lynn to deal with. The only people smiling in the whole valley were the ones in the hot baths. Lynn and Geoff huddled in the rain and watched, and Lynn did snap a few photos. While the process of entering the baths was somewhat uncomfortable, getting out of them and getting dry before succumbing to hypothermia was an enormous challenge. The bus trip back was packed with sopping wet bicycle tourists who had chosen a few hours on a dry bus over slogging in the mud as an opportunity to dry out a little, and who quickly turned the bus into a sort of mobile bunkhouse, perfumed with the aroma of their soggy & sweaty riding attire.  The excursion was, overall, not terribly bad but not terribly great either. I'm sure we'll endure worse before the year is over. One of the primary redeeming aspects of the long trip is that no-one is too worried that it will "rain the whole time".  


Back at the farm, the host family had returned from their short vacation, a trip to Austria to attend an international horse show. They are quite proud of their 45 Icelandic ponies. The farm house warmed up immediately with the return of the host family. Gisle, Auster, and daughters Katla and Inga-Ber are very warm and hospitable. They are used to guests and go about their lives very casually in the presence of people they have just met. This makes us relaxed and feeling much better, and not quite so wet. Gisle runs the horse side of the business and his wife manages the tourism. He explained to me how they used to be in the employment of a similar establishment, but bought this land and built these buildings (farm house, guest house, stables and a small show & riding ring) just a few years ago. I am extremely impressed with the construction, especially after finding out how quickly it was completed. The house we are sitting in, for example, is a simple utilitarian building filled with the warmth of family life. It is a rather ordinary ranch house, not terribly large save for the elongated common room that serves as the dining hall and gift shop for the guests. One wall is lined with ribbons and shelves of trophies from his horse training and his daughter's riding. There is also a picture that looks suspiciously like Hillary Clinton dressed in riding attire and shaking hands with the family alongside the railings of a horse ring. I asked about the picture on the wall and learned that it was in-fact, Hillary. They don't get too many celebrities here, but they had participated in some charity program to donate or loan riding ponies to a youth group. Hillary was somehow involved with it as well. It didn't quite make the U.S. headlines... "Hillary Clinton pets ponies in Iceland!" just couldn't compete with Whitewater.   We have a "day on the Farm"  planned for tomorrow which should give us a chance to rest, do some schoolwork (teaching and/or learning) , and perhaps get a ride on those beautiful ponies!


Arriving at our destination after a bus ride alongside other (dry) tourists and some (very wet)

bicycle ride/camp adventurers.

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 So we did get to see the bottom half of the famous volcano "Hekla".

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The volcanic landscape is massive and massively impressive.

Just for a little perspective, in the right-hand pic,

the two little dots are Tom & Geoff scrambling over the lava field.

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Perhaps the most enjoyable activity of the tour : relaxing in the hot springs.

Perhaps the least enjoyable activity of the tour:  having to get out of the warm pool,

dry off (sort of - everything was soggy by now) , and get dressed in the 45-degree drizzle.

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        - Rolf  8/21/01