Sunday, 31 January 2016

Iceland 2.25: Landmannalauger 3

The drive back to Hrauneyjar from Landmannalaugar took us through the Fjallabak National Park, which is a truly astonishing volcanic landscape.  There are cones and lava fields everywhere, and looking down from the top of one of the hills gives some sense of the upheaval which the area has suffered in the recent past.  Possibly the most impressive sight was a "glacier" of lava which had flowed down a valley and into a lake.

I was delighted to see that Icelandic buses still seem to be sponsored by that well known maker of vegetable fat...

The weather cleared for a while, so we decided to go on a slight detour to see if we could find anything interesting.  This took us behind one of the larger volcanic cones and into an area which was used by the locals for grazing sheep.

It's the kind of place which attracts Testosterone Tourism too, and several large vehicles passed us while we were admiring the scenery.

The closer we got to Hrauneyjar the more the weather closed in, and by the time we reached the hotel it was pelting down.  This was a common sight on our previous trip to Iceland in 2013, but we'd got off remarkably lightly on this holiday.  Possibly something to do with the unseasonably cold summer?

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Iceland 2.24: Landmannalauger 2

The main valley in Landmannalaugar is actually the bed of a very large river, and the water flow must be something to behold when the river is in full spate.  At the end of July it was possible to walk right across the valley bottom, jumping over river channels when necessary.

By the time we got back to the camp there were far fewer tents - presumably because their occupants had now moved on.  New arrivals were starting to pitch their tents, and this appeared to involve a ritual of digging a shallow channel around the tent's perimeter using a small rock.  We never did discover what the channel was for, so any suggestions would be much appreciated.

A number of horses are kept at the camp which were available for hire.  We saw several being ridden, but I was more interested in those which had been left back at base.  There is something about these magnificent creatures which makes one realise quite why the Icelanders revere them so much.  Perhaps it is the obligatory comb-over?

In addition to the horses there were a couple of rather beautiful sheep dogs at the stables.  One was certainly making itself at home, running around the camp and investigating everything which was going on.

Catering at the camp was provided by a group of converted American school buses, all painted green, rejoicing in the name of "Mountain Mall".  We can attest to the fact that they served extremely good coffee and cakes.

Landmannalaugar has a natural hot spring, and this has been turned into a makeshift swimming pool for the residents.  There was a warning for people who were tempted to take a dip, however, in that the water was reportedly the home of a mysterious parasite.  It's worth reading the information about the pool, including its parasites, which is extracted verbatim from the official Landmannalauger website.  You'll just have to imagine that there's a "(sic)" after every typo and spelling mistake...

This kind of parasites seems to exist in nearly every natural warm water pool.  Depending of the weather, time of the year and global warming influence there will be more or less of them.  If you are do not have allegic reactions on moscito bites or flies - you should go and enjoy yourself in hot springs.  Do not play to much with swimming vegitation - parasites are ofen find themself in there or in ducks.  Do not play with ducks either.
If you are allegic in some way to insects bites - enjoy yourself by making fan on your friends, trying to change dresses when the wind is cold, or make some pictures of them.

No, we didn't play with the "vegitation" or the ducks, but thanks for asking.

Also enjoying the water was a family of red necked phalaropes, and I spent about half an hour watching them and attempting to take their picture.  By now it was bright sunshine, so contrast was a real problem.  These are absolutely beautiful birds, though, and I'd never been quite as close to them before.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Iceland 2.23: Landmannalaugar 1

We had planned two nights in Hrauneyjar in order to have a quiet day in the highlands after the rigours of the Sprengisandur crossing.  After an abortive attempt to find out about horse riding and trout fishing in the area, we decided to drive to Landmannalaugar: the northern end of the famous Laugavegur hiking trail which links the Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk National Parks.

Although the journey from Hrauneyjar to Landmannalaugar isn't much more than 30km as the crow flies, the aforementioned corvid is somewhat hampered when forced to drive on ill-maintained F-roads.  Progress was slow and very bumpy, but this was more than made up for by the scenery.  On the way we spotted a lake and decided to see whether there were any birds to look at.  We then discovered that we weren't the first to arrive, as there were three humongous vehicles parked by the lakeside.  Harriet came up with a particularly apt phrase which describes this kind of Icelandic activity: Testosterone Tourism.  We saw plenty more examples of TT later in the day.

There were plenty of rivers to be forded in this part of the world too, including a wide and deep example just outside Landmannalaugar itself.  The service bus had no problems, and neither did the big, recreational 4x4s; other, more normal vehicles, were slightly more circumspect when it came to the crossing.

Unlike the previous example of Testosterone Tourism, which was Italian, the monstrosity here is Swiss.  The scale of the truck is given by the full-sized motor bike which is being carried at the back, almost as an afterthought.

Landmannalaugar is a haven for walkers, and they were absolutely everywhere.  Those doing the Laugavegur trail were being checked off as they departed or arrived, and it was clear that safety in the mountains is taken very carefully in these parts.  Landmannalaugar itself is "tent city", as can be seen from the pictures.

Because we didn't want to get in the way of serious hikers, rather than following the main trail we decided to go for a walk up Grænegil (green ghyll).  It certainly was green too, in stark contrast to the warm reds, yellows and oranges of the rhyolite from which Landmannalaugar is formed.  This, in turn, made a very pleasant change from the interminable black basalt which covers most of Iceland.

It was cold in this part of the highlands, and there was plenty of snow to be found in the permanently shaded valleys.  It was also very damp, with plenty of moss and other plants.  Rather different to our experience of crossing the highland desert the previous day, in other words.