It’s 8.16am and I’m on the bus. The BSI was teeming with hikers this morning – it looks like Reykjavik decants tourists each morning into the interior… Some of them look really serious, others less so – a lot of my group have plastic boxes full of fresh food; Avi has a suitcase full of bottled water. I feel rather stripped down, with my packets of dried food. My big red bag suddenly looks quite small and puny, which I find strangely reassuring, in what it says about me and my seriousness. But I must resist the urge to drift into the role of smug know-it-all, no matter how comforting. I’m not sure when I’m going to start talking to people, but I’m quite sure that it isn’t going to be yet.
* * *
It’s a beautiful day – clear blue skies, a bit of a chill in the air, but it’s early yet. Hopefully, it’s going to stay this way. The bus is taking us out through empty moor, past Hveragerdi (and Reykjadalur, where I walked last time; I recognised it immediately, what with the steam columns rising above the valley – there’s not a breath of wind). There are more trees than I remember, but only around settlements and cross-roads. There are ponies, and there are houses on flatbed trucks being transported to who knows where. In the distance, there are bits of snow on the hills; something that looks like a glacier.
* * *
We stop at a service station to meet the guy with the jeep who is to carry our heavy bags to the next hut. But he’s not there, isn’t coming, got the wrong day, is still in bed. So this turns into a rest stop. A couple of the women appear to take the opportunity to sunbathe, others to indulge their desire for ice-cream, for breakfast; me, I find a picnic bench far enough from the petrol pumps, to smoke a cigarette and drink my first coffee of the day. I am aware that no-one else is smoking, which makes me feel like a pariah. A guy called Arne, one of the group, has just come over to chat – he started in Icelandic, but switched easily into English at the cue of my blank incomprehension. Apparently, he lives in England and works in either Sweden or Iceland or both. People lead complicated lives.
* * *
Black lunar landscapes of ash and lava fields. A sign by the dirt road – tarmac is a long way behind us now – in the middle of the sand: “Welcome to Fjallbak. Here we drive on the roads”. And we’ve just driven through a river, passing a group of cyclists. I am entering a place of craziness.
* * *
Evening. A round up of what seems like a long afternoon. After a quick lunch, we set off in the drizzle up Green Ghyll – amazing green rocks along a fast moving stream, pouring out onto the boulder-strewn plain at Landmannalaugur. We rose up to the edge of a lava field, which we snaked through and up until we reached the volcanic plug at the first ridge. The path continued upwards, with ever more stunning views back towards Landmannalaugur. The landscape became more lunar – black lunar – with every moment. Those bits of snow seen from the bus became bigger and closer, until we started walking across them.
We stopped for a break, and I took off my waterproof trousers, it was so warm. As we continued, passing a glacier brilliant in the sunlight, black clouds gathered behind us, and the rain came. My legs were soaking fairly rapidly. Trudging through the rain, across a field of shining black stone – obsidian, I guessed; I picked up a piece for laboratory testing [and back in London, Wikipedia confirmed my guess – should have been a geologist]. Later I found out that the national theatre in Reykjavik is being refaced with it, which everyone thinks is awful, as no-one is supposed to remove it from the area; there are only three sites in Iceland where it is found…
Then over a ridge, and the hut at Hrafntinnusker appeared, stranded in this black and white landscape, punctuated by vibrant splashes of green and plumes of steam. Into the hut – eventually – to dry off and make a first dinner (packet tomato pasta – mmm), slowly learning the ropes. A quick snort of whisky and then a trundle up Sodel (the Saddle), the hill above the hut, for the view (of grey cloud). On the way back, Arne decided to ‘ski’ down a snow slope in his boots to a lower path, while I edged along the traverse, talking football with Jon Karl, the guide.
Before lights out, I’ll describe the group, who are tucked up in their sleeping bags in bunks around the room: aside from Arne, the Icelandic doctor who lives in Oxford, there are Nathan and his girlfriend, Janeen, from Toronto; there’s Dutch Priska and Belgian Anne-Sophie, who appear to be together; an Icelandic woman, Julia, who is travelling alone; the two New Yorkers, Deepa and Rana; a French guy, Michel, who has been coming to Iceland since 1963; Avi, who I assume is Israeli; two Icelandic children, and their mothers, one of whom I think is called Rosa; two Icelandic women, one of whom speaks remarkably good English and lives in Sweden, the other of whom seems to smoke (so I am not alone!); two teenage (I think) Icelanders, who might be called Jona and Katrin; finally there are two Icelandic women, one of whom appears to be called Jona Katrin (see why I’m confused?), the other Asta Bjork. Everyone seems to be getting on fine – very chatty – and I expect that the group will bond further tomorrow. There will probably be trouble by the end though… Enough, good night.
A more complete set of photos is on my Flickr page