Under the belly of Iceland


Late in the day we arrive at our hotel at Kirkjubaejarklauster. Try and say that three times, fast.

The small village is seated along the coast and our hotel is nestled at the base of a bluff wall that extends about a mile north and east of the town’s main roundabout. Clouds start to open up again as we park in front of the reception office. Thankfully our small room is only a short distance up a wooden boardwalk to the second cabin from the parking lot. The rain won’t have enough time to soak into me or my luggage, but it’s still chilly.

We drop our bags and head back to the dining room and order fresh seafood soup and grilled fish for dinner and follow that with a bottle of wine from the airport duty free shop for dessert back in the room. I take a long soak in the steam room/shower after dinner and crawl into my cozy bed. Sheepskins drapes over the foot of the bed provide a heavy layer of extra warmth for my feet. Cold air settles over the land and the heater in our room ticks off and on throughout the night.

In the morning we retrace the short drive back into he village and count half a dozen slender falls running down the face of the bluff.

Vik, a small town famous for its nearby black sand beaches, isn’t far up the Ring Road from here. Today is more filled with stops than miles to cover, a shift from the first few days, and one I’m excited about.

We turn off the Ring Road and follow signs a mile or so off the highway to a crowded parking lot. People march like ants up a steep and narrow trail to an overlook ahead. A stream that we saw trickling down to the Ring Road started somewhere in the hills above us and has carved a gorgeous path to the sea from its origin. That path has eroded over eons to form the breathtakingly beautiful Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon.

Dozens and dozens of people climb up the trail to a series of overlooks and walk along the timid the canyon as far as the trail leads and then return to the cars to move along to the next site along the southern coast. Iceland has no shortage of beautiful vistas or people to admire them.

Alongside the highway a few miles west of our return to the Ring Road I start to notice the flat land between the road and the shore is covered in a blanket of black lava rock, all shapes and sizes. After a few miles the black gives way to a pale green as a carpet of chartreuse moss-like plants coats the rock. The farther we go the thicker the carpet that spills over the rocks.

I pull over at Skaftareldahraun and walk along a nature trail to take a closer look.

Farther west I turn off the Ring Road at Hjörleifshöfdi and drive out a dirt road toward the black sand beach.

Just a few miles ahead on the Ring Road, we turn into Vik and stop at a an Icewear store where reindeer hides and sheepskins are on sale. On a side street we find a cute little shop in the village to look for a postcard.

The Ring Road out of Vik climbs over a ridge and descends the other side. That ridge extends to the sea at a gorgeous and well-known black sand beach at Reynisfjara. At the waters edge the ridge has been stripped down to its structural core of hundreds of basalt columns.

We park and walk out to the beach which is packed with busloads of tourists. Gray clouds rush by overhead.

Seeing the black sand beach and basalt columns was one of the things I most looked forward to on this trip, and it’s every bit as gorgeous as I had hoped.

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