The “golden donkey”…

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(>Pictures at the bottom!)

…on the road in southwestern Iceland.
The south-western corner of Iceland is where most of the country’s inhabitants live, and it is probably also where the majority of visitors travel through the country. The trump card of this part of the country is almost obvious: here you can see almost everything that makes Iceland so special. Besides active volcanoes, there are glaciers, an almost uncountable number of waterfalls and landscapes as if the earth had been created a few hours ago. The Icelanders understand the golden business of tourism: everything is a bit more expensive here than in the other parts of the country and there is some kind of fee for a lot of things. But there are information boards in different languages everywhere and nothing is left to chance. It’s actually amazing what so few inhabitants do and organise for their guests.

In Stykkishólmur we clicked into the route of the “golden circle” and followed the countless dacias, congoos and whatever they are called. But in Iceland, a lot doesn’t mean the same as in our homeland, and people don’t usually stand on each other’s feet anywhere. Perhaps the bad weather conditions also made for a little less crowding and even through Snæfellsnes we were able to drive alone along lonely mountain roads until just before the glacier of the same name, which was completely shrouded in clouds and robbed us of any foresight.

On the south coast of Snæfellsnes, at a well-known seal observation point, many people jostled for the best position, heavily armed with cameras and lenses. I would like to know what the four seals outside on the sandbank thought about us. An information board at the edge of the car park, which was hardly noticed, conveyed a lot more knowledge about the seals and that in the last decades the animal population in Iceland decreased by 90%.

In Borgarnes, a wonderful small town about 60 kilometres north of Reykjavík, we had enough of all the tourists and turned east again into a lonely valley. Before the urban hustle and bustle of the capital, we wanted to enjoy the peace and mountains once more. Although the weather outlook was not very promising, no snowfall was announced. So we ventured into the highlands again and soon we were south of Langjökull (glacier) for a second time, circling Hlöđufell. The weather changed abruptly – almost from one minute to the next – and we were glad to be able to put our jeep in the shelter of a mountain hut. The wind howled around the hut and our camper, which was shaken vigorously again and again. The “stormy” night would not end and the rain pelted the roof tent from all sides.

The drive out of the highlands was, despite the stormy weather, an impressive experience and we went from one valley to the next; thus we circled countless volcanoes or what was left of them. Late in the afternoon we reached Ƥingvellier and found ourselves in the middle of tour buses and tourist cars. We too followed in single file along the trench that pulls Iceland apart by a few millimetres every year. It is a pity that these many travellers only get to see such attractions; our experiences in the storm and rain around the Hlöđufell are probably denied to them.

It was not too far for us to reach the capital. But instead of the fastest connection, we climbed again over countless elevations, which are a true Eldorado for snowmobiles in winter, peered at steaming springs, all tapped for energy use, and followed the steam line west towards Reykjavík.

The visit to the capital was more of an annoyance than a pleasure for us; in addition to cold temperatures, rain was our companion through the rural metropolis. We were a little shocked, however, that we had to pay a huge amount even just for fish and chips, and that the extra beer almost stretched our budget. The many museums with their special exhibitions also attracted us, but our interest was soon extinguished by the respective entrance fees. So we were soon drawn out of the city again.

We followed the coastal road out of Reykjavík again and soon the last towns had disappeared in the rearview mirror. Rural Iceland lay before us once more, and among the lava fields, cows and sheep grazed in the fields painstakingly created by man. Of course, we also headed for the southwestern tip of the Reykjavík peninsula, where we passed through countless geothermal plants beforehand, and everywhere the steam smoked up into the air. The sulphurous air is not to everyone’s liking, and with scarves pulled up, the tourists climbed to the highest vantage point at Rekjanestá.

However, the parking fee at Rekjanestá drove us away very quickly: they actually wanted 1000 Icelandic kroner – the equivalent of about 8.00 sFr. – to take a quick photo. We also gave the “blue lagoon” a wide berth. The whole place looks great, but the entrance fees made us speechless. After the great bathing experiences in the highlands, we didn’t really want to go into these crowds; after all, Corona was still an issue.

At Fragradalsfjall – an active volcano with lots of rock eruption and gas escape – the Icelanders once again understand the business: Immediately, many parking spaces were created and via a special “Iceland app” you can pay the parking fee of a ridiculous 1000 Icelandic kronor. Madness!

Just one valley further on, we again found our way through the untouched volcanic landscape and were almost alone on the road. For the night camp we had our reservations at first and examined the special information about the gas development and the upcoming wind direction.

We survived the night east of Fragradalsfjall without any bad smells, but our jeep had to go to an appropriate workshop. While changing the wheels – something you do in an off-road vehicle at regular intervals – I discovered a worn-out steering knuckle bearing on the right front wheel. Gritting our teeth, we drove back to Reykjavík to an official workshop for our American. Luck of the draw: the workshop was able to carry out our repair the very next day, although the work volume would have been there for several weeks, and to our surprise, the desired spare part was in stock. So, after about 5 hours of waiting, we continued our journey and with a certain amount of reassurance, we were able to drive over corrugated metal roads in the hinterland again without hesitation. The steering, or rather the corresponding bearing, should withstand the stresses again.

Unfortunately, the sunshine was no longer entirely in our favour and the many dark clouds often blocked the view of the surrounding volcanoes. We followed various tracks northwards around Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdasljökull, the former of which erupted in 2010, shutting down European air traffic for several days and causing a certain reduction in exhaust fumes from the engines 😉

We were not completely emission-free up there behind the volcanoes, but enjoyed the varied landscape very much. And, the closer we got to Landmannalaugur, the more traffic there was on the very bumpy roads. Four-wheel drive buses and super jeeps transported travellers to all kinds of elevations and viewpoints. Whole hiking groups circled volcanic craters and in Landmannalaugur you had to queue for the hot water pool. We also understood that the operators of the accommodation and facilities in the highlands have to generate the annual income in a short time, but we again found the 5000 Icelandic kroner for the camping site, which is actually a car park on a gravel car park, a bit excessive. Apart from an unclean toilet, which was very far away and always overcrowded, there were no other services.

As we continued to plan our route, we discovered another track that directly follows the glaciers of Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull along the northern edge. No sooner had we discovered it than we climbed back up into the mountainous volcanic landscape and the first glacier smiled at us on the left.

For the evening we found a wonderful place to camp off the track and set up camp in the sunshine. The sudden change of wind blew cold air over the glacier and the over the glacier and the clouds darkened more and more. After a short mutual consultation, we left the “high camp” and descended again to somewhat lower altitudes. At a refuge we then found an appropriate place for the night and were soon glad to have made this retreat; it was soon storming and raining very profusely.

In Vík-í-Mýrdal the largest amount of rain in all of Iceland is supposed to fall; so it says in our guidebook and it was not entirely wrong during our stay. Rain and cold temperatures kept our activities to a minimum and it was only bearable when driving or under the covers. Of the magnificent landscape around the southernmost point of Iceland, we saw almost only cloud-covered rock faces of former volcanoes, which all disappeared somewhere in the nothingness behind thick clouds.

A couple recommended that we leave the ring road east of Vík and drive up a track to the Laki craters, which would take a good two days. But the rainfall caused all the rivers to rise sharply and already at the third river crossing the trip was over for us: the river was too high and too raging! It would have been too much for our jeep, and above a certain water level every car becomes a ship. So we turned back and looked for an alternative way to the Laki craters. As the other way is not an official road but only a track for high-positioned vehicles and the weather prospects were very bad, we abandoned the drive up into the highlands and the craters.

South-east of Vatnajökull – the largest glacier on earth apart from the polar ice fields – it was finally a bit drier again and we could devote ourselves to another big tourist attraction before Höfn. Here, the Breiđamerkurjökull – a part of the Vatnajökull glacier – calves large chunks of ice into various glacial lakes and the wind drives them around on the water. Of course, tourists are guided around the ice chunks in rubber boats and we weren’t quite sure if there were more boats or icebergs in the lake. At the easternmost glacial lake, the flow of water washes the ice chunks out to the open sea, they are washed back onto the beach by the tide and disintegrate into water in changing sculptures.

The onset of rain at the last glacier lake soon made us move on and in Höfn we planned our onward journey; the weather prospects were really not the best, rain and cold were forecast and the cold was getting to us in the unheated camper.


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