At the mercy of the elements…

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(>Pictures at the bottom!)

….back to eastern Iceland
Iceland’s location in the middle of the Atlantic has a great influence on the weather. When the sun is shining, a storm can blow up within a few minutes and amounts of water can fall from the sky that others can only dream of. Snow can fall at any time. But the opposite can also be the case; after heavy rain, the sun can peek out from behind some peak as if nothing had happened. If a weather alarm is issued, you notice it immediately; no Icelander goes out of the house unless it is absolutely necessary; …unless the tourists are still cruising around the country!

Yes, sometimes we too would have liked to stay inside, under the protection of the tent cover or simply in the somewhat warmer camping part of our vehicle. But we wanted to do something and while driving it was mostly pleasant, as there is a wonderful heat-giving heater in the front. In the back we have nothing that could somehow provide warmth and a fire, as we have been able to do in other countries, was not possible here because of the lack of wood.

So in Höfn, after breakfast, we packed our seven things into the car and off we went with the heating on full blast. Chantal made good use of the seat heating, which had long been frowned upon, and at a stop the resistance to leaving the car for anything was always very high.

In Lón we turned off the ring road for the last time to reach the south-eastern edge of Vatnajökull (glacier). Despite the rain, it was another detour into a completely different landscape, where we found ourselves out in the vast solitude after only a few kilometres. Only the track bore witness to the presence of man, and in places the rain of the past days gnawed heavily at this infrastructure; whole stretches of road were washed away and the path was just enough for our jeep.

At Jökulsá-í-Lóni (river) it was over for us too. Here I didn’t even have to attempt to walk down the river; too much water and the strong current would have washed me straight towards the sea! On the right bank, we then tried another path and within a few minutes we were once again far away from any civilisation. The track became narrower and narrower and a couple of times we had to walk along the possible way. Slipping off the road could have serious consequences; it could take days or even weeks until someone would come by here, and with our mobile phones we searched in vain for a network! Even with this attempt to reach Vatnajökull, we soon gave in and returned to the tarmac road strip the same day. We wanted to leave the valley in daylight and didn’t trust the river crossings; the water was already at the limit of our car in some places. If the water rose a little more overnight, we would be trapped as well.

After Lón, another path discovery, which was probably the old road of the former connection along the coast. We were already clambering up the old pass road with our jeep, and judging by the tracks, vehicles probably don’t go up here very often any more. But the existing quad tracks gave us a certain confidence that it would still be possible. Far above, there was a bridge spanning a deep gorge. Although it was a concrete bridge, it made a very pitiful impression. The concrete was crumbling everywhere and the reinforcing iron was showing. The construction and the crumbling concrete on the two lower concrete beams, where the reinforcing iron was sticking out everywhere, did not give me a good feeling. It might still be possible with a quad and its few hundred kilos, but our jeep with more than three tons; no, we didn’t want to dare this experiment and the winch would probably be too weak to pull the vehicle back up out of the gorge. Again we turned around and bumped back onto the ring road.

From now on we followed the ring road – like all tourists – and looked over the cliffs into the sea or up into the cloudy mountains at the respective tourist highlights. Until the turn-off from the Öxi Pass, there was no alternative for our 4×4 where we could have driven anything else.  Of course, at the turn-off to the Öxi Pass we switched on our “indicators” accordingly and off we went up into the cloud-covered mountain world. Because of the view of the surrounding peaks and landscape, we really didn’t need to take this route. But it was simply a matter of spending time in the warm car and what is the slogan of a German car manufacturer; “…for the joy of driving!”.

In Fáskrúđsfjörđur, where French fishermen once settled to catch cod for the homeland, we had a thorough car wash before exploring this small fishing village. Only the French flag above the former cemetery and the bilingual streets, Icelandic and French, still bear witness to the French past.

Apart from the many sheep farms, fishing and tourism, there are hardly any other sources of income in both south-eastern and eastern Iceland. The large aluminium plant at Reyđarfjörđur is probably the only exception; thanks to the cheap energy from hydropower, two aluminium plants were moved here from North America. Thus, a small fishing village became an industrial town and the economic reasons were apparently weighted more heavily than the ecological ones; the conversion of bauxite into aluminium requires a lot of electricity, but also produces a lot of fluorine and the sea water in the bays of Reyđarfjörđur as well as those of Eskifjörđur were coloured brown. I don’t know whether this really has something to do with the aluminium plant or not.

At the ski resort of Eskifjörđur – an industrial town attracts people for other leisure activities – we had to give in again at an old pass and start the return journey. Instead, we soon drove inland again and followed the power line towards the highlands.

For the first crossing we still followed the official track. At the second ascent, we were probably no longer on the official track, but the sign in English was not quite clear to us and we were already following the tracks steeply uphill. Due to the heavy rainfall, many places had been badly affected, and this created real off-road passages. On the subsequent descent on another track, which presumably had not been used for a long time, we had to “really off-road” for the first time, and we had to drive widely around a river crossing that had been washed away. (…by the way; in addition to the works road, the downhill section was also banned, but the sign was only there when we left the path).

In Egilsstađir, where we started our Iceland trip almost two months ago, it was pleasantly warm again and the sun peeked out from behind the thick clouds more and more often. Since we still had a lot of time before our return journey and the weather outlook was also promising, we studied the map thoroughly once again. After an approximate schedule, we immediately bought food for the next five days, filled up all the jerry cans, and off we went again into the wide world. In the eastern highlands, we discovered countless dirt roads and a hot water spring that we would definitely like to visit.

At the course of the river Jökulsá-á-dal we visited an imposing valley incision with impressive rock formations and many visitors, before we headed west towards the central highlands. The roads we drove on were also not exactly ideally situated for appropriate tours and are not to be found in every travel guide. Due to the autumn season and the already closed infrastructures, the traffic on these tracks was also very low. To our surprise: In some places, the prohibition signs for “overnight parking” were removed, and so we also benefited from wonderful places to spend the night.

So we soon headed east around the Herđurbreiđ – a mountain (volcano) almost sacred to Icelanders – in a northerly direction, then south again and east back into the eastern highlands. We still don’t understand why we were put in our place on Sunday by a local woman for alleged off-roading. Perhaps the good woman hadn’t noticed that we were turning around in a designated parking area of a hiking trail and not pulling a U-turn off the dirt road in the pampas, which is strictly forbidden!

After a few impressive days in this seclusion, we reached Laugarvellier via a not-quite-official approach road and stood behind the no-driving sign in the immediate vicinity of the warm water pool. As there was not a soul on the road that day, we parked just above the pool. The warm water flows down over the meadow and then tumbles over a rock wall into the pool. The unique location, the wonderful day and our only presence were like a dream.

We were looking for a place in the wilderness for the next night, but somehow we were not convinced by the given possibilities and the upcoming wind did not bode well for us. In the evening, we found ourselves at the hamlet of Möđrudalur with a campsite, a church, a farmhouse and an inn, which soon proved to be a small island of shelter. At night, the wind picked up quite a bit, low-hanging clouds increased the darkness and the temperature dropped sharply. A little naïve, we soon lay down under the warm blanket and hoped that this would be a temporary disturbance.

Then, in the morning, the cold awakening: An icy wind blew across the vast expanse, shaking our jeep, and the only place where it was a little warmer was the toilets. Having breakfast outside was out of the question and not only Chantal’s opposition led to a quick dismantling of our infrastructure, but also my clammy fingers were desperate to get into a warm room. The sleet turned into a real snowfall while we were still having breakfast at the inn and the landscape slowly wrapped itself in a white robe.

We did not dare to return to the east via the Möđrudalsfjell pass in these conditions and headed for the ring road “No. 1”. This road is supposed to be passable all year round, and in this hope we turned onto the snow-covered tarred strip. What we then experienced in just a few kilometres was something we had never experienced before: cars were standing on the road everywhere and slipping more than they were moving forward. If there was an uphill slope, the summer tyres and front-wheel drive of the rented cars were gone. We tried to help pull up one camper, but the broken-down car had neither a rope nor any other towing option (….was good in the end). In the end, this vehicle would have had to drive down again on the other side, and in retrospect we don’t know whether we would have made ourselves liable to prosecution if we had helped in this way, should an accident have happened).
Or the motorist who slid around on the snow-covered roadway in his loafers and asked for petrol from the passing cars because he had run out of precious juice. (…the next petrol station was about 50 km away!).

After this snow adventure, we were soon back on the east coast and were in a moral low as a result of the existing weather conditions. The motivation for any activity had vanished. While the wind howled around our car, we studied the various weather reports and our options. But all the possible prospects were devastating and we were already setting ourselves up for a cold “remaining time” in Iceland.

Late in the afternoon, we stood in Bakkagrerđi and wanted to visit the puffins on the offshore rock head once more in the stormy weather. But the birds had already left their breeding ground. If we had read the guidebook properly, we should have known that the birds leave for the open sea at the end of August and do not return to breed until mid-April the following year.

The campsite in Bakkagrerđi was still open for the last night of the season and we parked our jeep in the shelter of the communal house. We prepared dinner in the communal kitchen while the wind howled around the house and, despite the windbreak, kept pushing down our pop-up roof. Even in the hut of the campsite, the increasing wind made us more and more worried and the wall facing the wind bent inwards more and more. No, we can’t spend the coming night in here!
A nearby hotel brought us some relief. The warning words of the operator that we should not leave the accommodation under any circumstances were more than just self-evident to us; it was “orange weather alert”!

The following day it was again as if nothing had happened and the autumnal day lured us to another tour over two passes to Lođmundarfjörđur (fjord, north of Seyđisfjöđur). The trip went through a wonderful mountain world and we climbed from sea level to over 500 metres, reaching the few houses at Lođmundarfjörđur in the afternoon. For us it was the end of the line; only by horse or on foot would we get further. On the way back, snow started to fall again and we were glad to be back in Bakkagrerđi.

For the next few days, the wind was a bit calmer again and so we ventured once more over a path, you can hardly say road, into another bay with a wonderful black sand beach and absolute seclusion; wou! We spent the next few nights in our camper again, but had to move the car each night to keep sleeping; the wind shook the pop-up roof too much.

Our days on Iceland were soon numbered and for us it was almost just a waiting game. Due to renewed heavy rain, we looked for cheap accommodation where we could also cook. While we were preparing for the journey home, it rained incessantly outside and on the pass between Egilsstađir and Seyđisfjöđur worse road conditions were reported almost every hour. We had to cross this pass to get to the ferry port.

On our way to Seyđisfjöđur we had sunshine again and up in the mountains we experienced wonderful winter conditions. The tour far out of the Seyđisfjöđur (fjord) was also so scenic that we settled back into the campsite for the next night. But already in the evening the temperature dropped very low and the increasing wind changed the weather situation abruptly. Different weather alerts were issued for almost all of Iceland; from yellow to orange, to red in the Westfjords.

Due to the cold, we got under the covers very early and longed for the next day. In the morning, another surprise followed; our pop-up roof kept lowering, and I already thought of a defective gas pressure damper. But after the first look outside, everything was clear: the world was white and the snow load on the roof was responsible for the roof lowering. We have to spend another day and a half like this. Beautiful views! Chantal spent almost the whole day in a warm bed while I tried to keep my body at a comfortable temperature with lots of exercise. It was simply cold!

On the day of departure it was – how could it be otherwise – wonderfully beautiful and we were able to enjoy our morning coffee on a bench outside in the sunshine. Our things were quickly stowed in the jeep for the crossing to Denmark and off we went on our last little tour along the fjord. We were not the only ones who spent the time like this; countless vehicles of all kinds were also moving around a bit before the waiting in the harbour began.

The loading of the vehicles began punctually, and under a starry sky the ship headed out to sea. Soon the last lighthouse disappeared and the nightly cold soon made us move inside the heated ship.
Iceland was behind us; the journey to England ahead of us. We now hope that some residual warmth will remain from the warm summer of 2021.

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