Friday, July 25, 2014

To Hella and back


It is hard to sleep all night when your body- and the sky outside- are telling you it's day. I wake up every hour at least during the night and try to gauge the time by the sounds. I hear the first bird song and a hen cackling to tell everyone she's laid an egg, then finally the clink of silverware from Frances in the kitchen and I know it must be time to get up. Hopefully, I'll be better acclimated to Iceland time now. We have a leisurely lazy morning, still recovering from the day before. Frances fixes a breakfast of cold cereal, cold cuts, cucumbers, her homemade bread, and Skyr - an Iceland product similar to yogurt. Thankfully, there is nary a sheep's head to be seen. We finally get on our way about 10:30-ish, driving in our jerky little stick shift car and trying not to die in the roundabouts. Craig is looking for geysers and geothermal activity; I am looking for animals.

The wind is not bad today, but the on-off rain continues. A big part of the scenery involves hectares of volcanic rubble covered in moss. It is truly unique, so Craig decides to try for a scenic shot when some sunlight finally breaks through onto a portion of the landscape. He pulls off the highway, and goes tromping into the mossy desolation. This is the universal signal for the wind to return. He manages a few shots before scampering back, and reports that the moss is nearly a foot (sorry, 30 centimeters) thick.


The Icelandic horses are everywhere - pasture after pasture. They are smallish creatures - nearly ponies, shaggy, and of all colors. The gaited horses have begun to be in high demand and are a cash crop for Iceland. Once it leaves the Island, a horse can never return. The government means to keep its thousand year old breed pure. When we walk up to a fence, the horses are sociable and come to investigate. We find the Icelandic sheep, however, to be considerably less friendly. When we spot them and try to get a picture, we have to work fast or all we see is a bunch of sheep butts heading in the opposite direction.

We stop in Hveragerdi and Craig takes me tromping out to see fumaroles (the ground vents from which steam is escaping) bubbling mud pots, waterfalls, and streams. It is weird to look at these grass covered hills and mossy rocks and see steam escaping all over in every direction. Sadly, I fail to consider the effect the red iron-rich mud will have on my new shoes. I fear they are now permanently stained - and the only other shoes I brought are sandals!

We stop to eat at a "soup buffet" that seems quite popular with the locals. Along with various kinds of soups, the restaurant sports bread cooked in underground ovens for 24 hours using the heat of the earth alone. Tastes like typical rye bread to me. We have plenty of time before out planned attendance at the Fakasel Icelandic Horse Park for a show, so we just keep driving (less jerkily as the kilometers pass) further on Highway 1, toward Hella (which we sadly learn is pronounced Helka??). We take a few side roads to see various agricultural spreads, try to photograph more sheep (resulting in many images of sheep rear ends), and continue to marvel at our talent for choosing rainy places to visit together.

Fakasel Icelandic Horse Park is an impressive venue - a huge beautiful building and restaurant. The arena looks built for at least 300 viewers but there are barely twenty of us there on a Friday night during summer. I fear for their longevity. I can see why. Compared to Cavalia and other equine shows I have seen, there are few horses and not much variety or originality in performances. For a horse-lover visiting here for the only time however, it's a must do. After the show, not feeling up to the three course meal that would keep us out late before our early flight out in the morning, we stopped by for the Icelander's favorite food. No, it's not the rotten shark - that's their National Food. The top-selling meal in Iceland is - tah dah! - the fried hotdog. Yup, tasted as boring as it sounds. After another soak in the steamy sulfuric waters from the depths, (I talked Craig into taking a dunk too- he found it too warm for his tastes) we are off to bed. Tomorrow, Sweden!


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