The road leading out of Egilsstadir climbs over a ridge before descending into Reydarfjordur, the first of the fjord villages we will pass on today’s drive. Diana, the hitchhiker we picked up the day before, said that this part of Iceland is supposed to be uniquely beautiful and just enough off the beaten path to make it more enjoyable. My waterproof map shows what looks like a stretch of parallel sections of the Ring Road on this part of the island, one taking a faster and more direct inland route and the other tracing a slower path around the coastal inlets and fjords. We have chosen the latter.
Jen researched a few “hot pot” locations around the island and is interested in going to some of the public thermal pools and some of the natural spring pools out in the countryside. Iceland is famous for its geothermal springs which feed large swimming pools and spas around the country, and which hikers and local residents have surrounded with small stone walls for natural open air soaking opportunities. We’ve downloaded a couple of apps to use as we circumnavigate the country in hopes of adding a soak a day to our route. We have our eyes on a couple of places today that are hopefully more like the rustic hot springs we think we would prefer.
Our route takes us through small villages with nearly unconquerable names like Faskrudsfjordur and Djupivogir, before we plan to stop for the the night in Kirkjubaejarklauster. The two lane Road is pristine, like all roads we have experienced so far, and has very little traffic.
Rough and rocky beaches alternate with sheer cliff walls to our left while mountain faces and mountains and wide valleys littered with the rocky and gravelly remains of glaciers melting and draining to the sea mix it up to our right. Low clouds cover us most of the day but occasionally descend to blanket is in fog or break momentarily to allow the sun to spotlight another gorgeous view somewhere ahead.
Iceland is spectacularly beautiful. And despite essentially driving the better part of eight hours in rain, it’s a a gorgeous day. Somewhere after a roadside lunch of Iceland’s famous gas station hot dogs, we turn a literal corner and start driving west instead of south. The farther we go the more the weather clears.
A small herd of Icelandic ponies take advantage of the sunny weather to graze and warm themselves in the sun. At a roadside turnoff I stop to stretch and watch a few geese. At another a small crowd of cars has deposited its drivers along the edge of the road to watch 3 reindeer in an early mating season kerfuffle.
We turn onto a road and head toward a small village where we think we will find one of the hot pots that looked especially nice in its thumb-sized online photo. But the wind and cold don’t make it very appealing. After a few minutes we turn back to the main road and carry on ahead.
We near one of the few dozen sites I had marked on my map before the trip, Jokullsarlon, famous for a small bay where a glacier carries giant chunks of clear deep blue ice right down to the very edge of Iceland. As the ice melts and litters the shore of the small inlet, dozens of clear glass-like shards glitter in the sun earning this place the nickname Diamond Beach. Travel blogs and Pinterest are packed with surreal images of turquoise water and black sand topped with sparkling pieces of ice found here. And the hoards of crowds and number of buses in the parking lot reflect it. Apparently we have turned another corner in our trip…one that has landed us on the tourist trail.
Wind blows straight at us from across the icy bay as I try to take a few photos of seals playing in the water. It’s bitterly cold, of course, and strong enough to drive me back to the car. Iceland is famous for its strong winds which so far have been relatively kind to us. Floods of people pour out of yet another round of coaches, and rush to the beach. Jen walks over to a food truck on the edge of the parking lot and treats us to bowls of hot lobster bisque and warm bread.
It’s getting on in the day, but thankfully we aren’t far from our hotel. And the remainder of the day is as beautiful as the first.
This side of the island is home to a large national park with an enormous ice field. Finger-like glaciers spill out in every direction, descending valleys to the sea or dissolving into rivers that feed the surrounding lands. We stop to take photos of a few and to drive out to another potential hot pot near the foot of a glacier. At the pinned location we find a gravel parking lot packed with cars and expect to see a trail disappear into the distance with a natural pool somewhere beyond. But as we pull up and park, I spy a dozen heads bobbing up and down in what appears to be a round hole in the ground just a few feet from a storage container. It turns out that the container is the changing room and the oversized pot hole is the hot spring. The collection of grungy hostel hoppers soaking in it does nothing to spark my interest. I fire up our rental and turn back to the main road.
Jen and I recall that we have seen rainbows every day of the trip so far, but light-heartedly note we haven’t seen our “daily rainbow” yet on today’s drive…until we round a corner and spot a small raincloud ahead…there’s still time.