Monday, April 11, 2011

Land of the Sagas: Iceland - Part III

Day 3: Laugarvatn - Geysir - Gullfoss - Eyjafjallajokull

The enthusiasm was still on. We were awake quite early and after our regular round of continental breakfast, we were on the road towards Geysir ( The word Geysir comes from the word "geyser" which means a sprouting hot spring. We were in the area of hot springs now. The previous day itself we had a glimpse of what was ahead of us. Near the restaurant where we had our dinner, we saw a geothermal activity at the edge of the lake and it was fascinating. I read that this lake does not freeze in winter due to this geothermal activity. The sky today was a bit cloudy with light drizzle once in a while. On the way, we could see steam coming out of the ground at several places, many of them in the backyard of houses - looks like every resident around has the possibility to have a private hot spring pond of their own. In 30 mins, we were in Geysir and what a sight it was - steam rising from the ground as if they are angry with mother earth. Some of the geysers had no geothermal activity underneath today and there were just stone plaques mentioning their names whereas there were a few which were barricaded with ropes as the temperature of the water was very high. The whole area smelled of rotten egg probably due the sulphur content in the geysers. Hmm, how can I forget to mention the one important geyser - Strokkur ( whole crowd was gathered around this place. This geyser erupts every 10 minutes or so to a height of several meters and you can see all cameras positioned to take a snap of this activity. The vigorous churning of the water in deep blue color just before the final eruption is a treat to watch and a fascinating sight. We hovered around this geyser for a good time before going around to see many of the other smaller non-erupting hot pools. We were barred from touching the blue boiling waters of the hot ponds as the temperatures were expected to be around the 90 C mark. For the walking enthusiasts, there are several opportunities around the Geysir area for short and long walks. We went for a short uphill walk nearby to have a feel of how the Strokkur eruption looks like from a height. Practically, one can spend a good amount of time around this place, but for us, time was a big constraint as we had to cover two more important locations.

[The sequence of eruption of the Strokkur geyser (above)]

Our next destination was the Gullfoss or the Golden Waterfalls, around 7 kms from Geysir. This is a national monument of sorts in Iceland and one should not miss it. It is a huge waterfall where the river Hvita falls in two steps, the second step falling into a deep ravine. One cannot stop gazing at this marvel. You should be ready to walk a bit if you are interested in enjoying the surroundings around the waterfall. Can you imagine that such a big waterfall with a large water capacity does not have a hydro-electric power generation unit. One reason I was told was that Iceland already has excess power generation for the country's needs and so, they don't need to invest in a hydro infrastructure.Surprisingly, I also read about a story where it seems the deal to generate electricity at Gullfoss did not happen because a farm girl threatened to commit suicide by jumping off the cliff into the waterfall if there was power station at that place. You can come across a mass of people only at such locations, else it is just open and open land all around in Iceland. It was a irony of sorts when we went to use the rest rooms at Gullfoss as we found that there was no water to flush the toilets.

After a few photo sessions around the waterfalls, we hit the road again for our next destination and the most important one for us - Eyjafjallajokull. Yes, you got it, this is the famous volcano with the difficult pronunciation. This was going to be a long drive of a couple of hours (the entire Iceland can be driven in one and half days it seems) towards South Iceland. I can bet that anyone who loves driving will like Iceland for the numerous challenging opportunities the landscape provides. The weather was not very encouraging and it was drizzling once in a while. The roads now were good, so there was no problems for us. The discussions during this portion of the drive hovered around the living creatures seen on the road - horses, sheep and the occasional ladies on horseback apart from the expectations from the volcano area ahead of us. It was only when we started to smell pungent in the air that we realized we are coming closer to the volcano eruption spot. The roads had turned into a gravel road at certain portions and on either sides of the road, it was just dark mud as far as you could see. Road signs were erected at several places warning us to slow down and there was water flowing around in small streams all over the place. We could now see a waterfall on our left and the traffic ahead of us were taking the side road going towards the waterfall. Soon we were at the same junction and on our left we could notice a big board with pictures. This picture gave details of the flooding and associated problems which happened in the aftermath of the volcano eruption and we could imagine the sort of tireless efforts the government has put in to bring back the system to some sort of normalcy.

Our plan was now to have a quick look at this waterfall and then drive further on the gravel side road. As we went closer to the waterfall, wow.. it was marvelous. Can you imagine such a nature's creation - a beautiful waterfall right next to an agitated volcano. Well, more of this in the last write-up. Till then, vi ses.