Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Journey to Akureyri

Despite what should have been an entirely straightforward trip from Reykjavik to Akureyri, I managed to run into a number of small near-disasters (well, none would actually have been a disaster, but would have prevented successful journeying) that kept the trip exciting. I booked my reservation on the highland bus the night before leaving since online bookings save 10% and prepared to leave the hostel in the morning half an hour before the bus was scheduled to leave, which turned out to be my first two mistakes. 1) Somehow I miscalculated how far things were in town, and the next morning, it took me 38 minutes for me to walk to the bus station, so by the end I was half-running and red-faced when I finally made it to the station. I was in luck, though – the bus was still there. But then I discovered mistake 2) Apparently nobody actually uses the online booking service, and the people at the station were dubious about my claims of having paid for a ticket and the little scrap of paper I was holding with my confirmation number.

Eventually, though, after holding up the bus leaving for about 15 minutes, they finally decided to let me on, and off we headed for Akureyri. The exciting part about taking the highland road (Kjölur route) rather than the slightly faster route is that we got to stop at some of Iceland’s natural attractions on the way – 20 minutes each at Geysir (it’s…you guessed it…a geyser) and Gullfoss (a waterfall – every “foss” in Iceland is a waterfall) and 40 minutes at Hveravellir, a geothermal area of hot springs and steam vents.

At Geysir, we had just enough time to walk from the parking lot to the geyser (called Strokkur) before it erupted. I didn’t get a picture of Strokkur itself, but this is Litli Geysir (Little Geyser) just down the path.

And this is a steam vent, called Smidur.
Even with the pictures, though, there’s no way to quite describe the surreal landscape of steam vents and bright-colored streams growing exotic microbes in the hot sulfur water juxtaposed against an idyllic pastoral landscape of verdant rolling hills and wildflowers. This is the Iceland I got to see last year from the geology trip, and it’s still just as fascinating and beautiful as before.

Next stop was at Gullfoss, an impressive waterfall on the river Hvitá, which drains glacial runoff starting from underneath the glacier Langjökull.

This is Gullfoss.

And this is me in front of the waterfall, at the end of the trail you can see to the left in the picture above.

Our next stop was unplanned. We stopped along the road for just a couple minutes to have a chance to get out and walk around on the long stretch of road across the highlands – but when we went to get back on, the engine wouldn’t start.

This is our bus, with the mountains in the distance.

It was a pretty spot, with a nice view of Langjökull, but not really somewhere I would choose to spend the night.

The bus driver had us all get off and push the bus to give in a running start to help start the engine, but no luck. One of the other passengers, a French biker, came to the rescue and gave the driver some sort of instructions on what to do to start the engine.

Here he is talking with the driver, talking animatedly about engines, while the rest of us stand back and she listens slightly incredulously.

So all the rest of us pushed again, and somehow the two of them managed to get the engine to start while the bus rumbled down the road, leaving all the rest of us passengers in the dust (literally).

It all worked out though, and we got back on the bus and made it to our last mid-trip stop at Hveravellir (where the same French biker ran to the front of the bus as we approached to double-check that the driver would leave the engine running while we stopped).

This was my favorite of the steam vents, called Öskurhólshver, which means roaring mount hot spring – an apt name, as it made a loud hissing noise like a kettle while the steam kept shooting out.

The water in this stream coming out of the geothermal area was about the temperature of bathwater.

And a few short hours later, we pulled into the bus station in Akureyri, where I found a map and made my way towards the University and my new home at the student guesthouse (with a little help from the very nice man in charge of the student housing, who picked me up down the road when I thought I’d gotten lost).

Also, happy 4th of July, America!


Sharon said...

The geothermal areas remind me sections of Yellowstone National Park.

Linda said...

What is the language of Iceland?