Sunday, 29 September
Up at 7:00a, we got dressed and went to the Cowshed Café for one last breakfast. Then, bidding our bovine friends adieu, we went to check out, expecting it to be a formality since I had prepaid our accommodations.
You can imagine our surprise when we were presented with a bill. The expression on my face must have said it all as the woman at the desk, who turned out to be the owner, immediately asked if there was a problem. When I told her I thought we had prepaid, she said they had no record of it. But continued … “It’s not a problem, I’ll zero out the balance on the computer.”
What? She didn’t want proof? “No,” she continued, “I trust you.” All fine and dandy, but now I was wondering if I was mis-remembering. Back in the car, I found the booking confirmation on my laptop — it did, in fact, show that we’d already paid. Even though she’d said it wasn’t necessary, I took the laptop in to show the paid booking. Smiling, she thanked me and showed me the screen on her computer where she’d already zeroed out the balance. Such trusting people … this would never happen in the US … not without proof.
Heading east on the Ring Road, we sent up a couple of prayers that the sun would break through the overcast by the time we arrived at our first stop. It didn’t happen. Since there wasn’t much we could do about the weather, we made the best of it. But I have to admit that after the glorious day we had yesterday, today’s dreary conditions — even if there was no rain — put a damper on our spirits.
Day 6 of our Iceland road trip takes us from Mývatn (gold arrow) to Egilsstaðir (green arrow).
Today’s 173-mile (279 km) drive includes a detour to visit two waterfalls,
Dettifoss and Selfoss, and a side trip to Seydisfjörður.
There are two major considerations when traveling in Iceland. The first is weather. While we’ve had our share of rain and snow, we haven’t encountered any storms that might have required major changes to our itinerary. The second is road conditions. So far, we’ve been lucky in that respect as well. Helping us to keep track of both are two websites that are essential to every visitor to this country.
The first site is Vedur.is — consider it the weather bible, if you will. This is the website for the Icelandic Met Office. Not only can you get a general overview of the weather, you can drill down to specific areas, and further down to specific towns. In addition to weather forecasts and warnings, you can also get information about seismic activity and much more.
The other website is Vegagerdin.is — call this one the road bible, if you will. Working in conjunction with the weather website, it provides a quick glimpse into road conditions with an easy visual approach — green means open, red means closed, etc. But that’s an oversimplification … there’s a lot of detail to be found, including webcams. As well, there is a road info viewer, a tool that allows users to drill down for even more information; I found this especially useful when planning our trip.
We’ve been using both sites religiously since we got on the road, but what prompted me to write this segue was what I found on the Vegagerðin website this morning — a road closure that changed our plans for the day.
The first stop I had on the agenda for today was a pair of waterfalls. There are two roads to access Dettifoss, the first of the falls — 862 and 864. I had planned for us to drive up one way, continue up to Ásbyrgí to cross over, and return to the Ring Road the other way. This would have given us a chance to see the falls from both sides of the canyon. It didn’t matter that 864 was gravel, and 862 was only paved part of the way. Our 4x4 could handle the rough sections. Unfortunately, Route 864 was closed for the season!
Bummer!!! Saying goodbye to seeing the falls from the east bank — which was said to have better views — to plan B we went … in and out via Route 862. Finding the parking lot for Dettifoss was easy; making our way from the car to the trailhead … not so much. Hanging on to each other, we managed to walk across the lot, which was made slippery by ice beneath the snow.
A snow covered trail through a field of lava leads to the falls.
Turns out the trail had its own slippery spots where the packed-down snow had frozen overnight. There was enough virgin snow to step on along the edges, so we were OK most of the way — though our progress was slow. It took us about 30 minutes to negotiate the ½-mile (.75 km) trail to Dettifoss — not bad considering.
Thunderous, as befits what is possibly the most powerful waterfall in Europe, we heard Dettifoss before we saw it. Following a rather slippery path that included some stairs, we made our way to the brink of the falls to get a better view of where the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River flows over a basalt cliff and down through Jökulsárgljúfur, a canyon often compared to the Grand Canyon of the US.
The amazing thing — at least for us — was that there were no guardrails or barriers of any kind to keep people from getting dangerously close to the rim … just a rope barrier that wouldn’t have kept anyone from tumbling into the water crashing into the canyon. We kept our distance, and after getting our fill of the water cascading down the bluff, headed upriver for a different perspective … even managing to scramble down some rocks to get level with the river.
Further up the trail, we came upon rocks and vegetation encased in ice — most likely a result of the cold temperatures freezing the mist generated by the falls. They made for interesting ice sculptures, causing us to perhaps spend a bit more time at Dettifoss than we had planned. Oh but wait — our plans had changed, and we now had all the time in the world!
I mentioned that our first stop today was at a pair of waterfalls. The second one — Selfoss — is only accessible on foot from a spur off the Dettifoss Trail. I’m not sure how long that particular trail is, but the signage showed the roundtrip combined trail as being about 1½ miles (2½ km). Though it was also covered with snow, the path wasn’t as slippery so we made better time.
No, Mui’s not praying to the weather gods; he’s looking for an interesting video angle.
Upriver from Dettifoss, Selfoss is also born from the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River where it goes over another basalt cliff. The river is melt water from Vatnajökull [jökull being glacier in Icelandic]. As such, it carries a lot of glacial silt, which, on this gloomy day, looked gray ... adding to the overall black and white feel of the landscape.
Looking upriver towards the falls …
… and downriver into Jökulsárgljúfur, Iceland’s Grand Canyon.
Had this been a clear day, we would have walked all the way to the brink of Selfoss. Since it wasn't, we went only halfway up the trail. Hoping the weather would improve the further east we went, we returned to the car and got back on the Ring Road. No such luck — the skies remained overcast all along our route.
I have to admit that this stretch of the Ring Road isn’t the most exciting drive in the world.
We made only one stop on our way to today’s overnight stop in Egilsstaðir, and that was at Rjukandi — a waterfall that stood out from all the others we passed along this stretch of the road. There were signs nearby that read Fremsti Rjukandi [fremsti = leading] and Yst-i Rjukandi [yst-i = outermost], so I have labeled the falls accordingly.
Closer look at the upper drop of Fremsti Rjukandi.
While I was taking photos of the falls, Mui was busy preparing a quick snack for us. We munched and talked about our plans for the afternoon, and decided to head directly to the guesthouse in Egilsstðir and leave the rest fluid.
Gistihúsið Egilsstöðum is on a farm by the same name. The history of the guesthouse can be said to date back to 1884, when poverty drove the owner to begin charging people who sought accommodations at the farm. In the years since, the property has changed hands and has been renovated many times over. Today it is a charming guesthouse that more than fulfilled our expectations.
(I made this booking through Icelandic Farm Holidays, a popular site for farm stays. This is another website that all visitors to Iceland should be aware of as some of the properties cannot be booked through other means.)
We have a cozy room overlooking the lake.
We had kept our afternoon plans fluid in case the weather allowed us to spend some time strolling the grounds overlooking Lagarfljót Lake. Alas, it started raining even as we were pulling into the parking lot to check-in, so we nixed that idea. Since it was only 3:30p, and too early to call it a day, we decided to go for a drive and check out Seydisfjörður, a town that several guidebooks suggested as being the “pick of all the towns in the East Fjords.” One even went so far as to describe it as being obscenely picturesque.
Our drive up Route 93 starts off with plenty of snow, but …
… by the time we stop at the overlook for a distant view of Seydisförður,
the only snow we see is frosting the mountain tops.
A closer look at Seydisförður.
If you don’t look behind you coming down the road into town, you can easily miss Gufufoss.
Situated at the head of a fjord by the same name, the town is indeed in a very scenic setting … and on a sunny day, with blue skies as a backdrop, I imagine it is quite breathtaking. That wasn’t in the cards for us today, but at least it wasn’t raining when we parked the car and got out to wander around for a while. The surprising thing for us was how quiet the town was. We saw maybe one or two people walking on the far side of the lake; and only one car on the road. Then it dawned on us that it was Sunday and everyone was probably tucked in at home.
Bláa Kirkja [Blue Church] is one of the many turn-of-the century buildings in town.
Since the skies weren’t adding cheer to my photos, I decided to focus on the colorful buildings reflected on the still waters of the lake to double my pleasure in this quaint town.
We searched high and low for a place to eat in Seydisfjörður, but every restaurant we came to had a lokað [closed] sign on the door. Since we were famished by the time we finished our stroll around the lake, we decided to head back to the guesthouse for dinner.
Can’t resist a mural.
By the time we got back to Egilsstaðir it was raining again. Tsk, tsk. After checking our emails, we cleaned up and went down to the dining room where a few other people were already having dinner. Good … we weren’t the first to arrive for a change ;-)
The dining room is through the door on the far side of the lounge;
the check-in desk doubles as the bar.
One of the things we’ve noticed in Iceland is that salads are not a big menu item. Mui was craving some greens, so he asked if the chef could substitute some in lieu of the barley served with the fresh catch of the day, which turned out to be Þorskur — or as we know it, cod. I ordered the same dish as is. Dessert was ice cream for both of us — but I opted for the orange chocolate cake, which came topped with blood oranges and what the menu described as orange snow; Mui went for the Skyr panna cotta, served with birch ice cream and a red currant froth. It was a tasty enough meal, but we’ve had better.
Fresh bread, some beer and wine, and cod make for a tasty meal …
… with a couple of sweet treats to wrap it up.
And so another day of our trip draws to a close. Too bad the weather didn’t cooperate like it did yesterday — it would have been nice to have just a little bit of sunshine. I checked the Veður [weather] website for a hint of what tomorrow has in store for us — it’s not looking good at the moment. Perhaps the weather gods will change their mind overnight — one can only hope! At least Vegagerðin shows the roads ahead all clear.