Volcanic Vacation

We are staying the in fourth largest city in Iceland, Akureyri, population 18,000. Of note: many of the red traffic lights in Akureyri are heart-shaped. No idea why, but it’s cute.

Red light district in Akureyri.

Today we visited Lake Myvatn (pronounced MEE-vah) to see the many attractions of that area. To get there, you have to register online to get a pass to go through the Vadisheidargong (I don’t even have the letters in my font set to write this properly) Tunnel, seven and a quarter kilometers long, cut through volcanic rock. It’s not the longest tunnel in the world, but I think it may be the longest tunnel I have ever traversed.

Most of the points of interest around Lake Myvatn are volcanic, one way or another, but we visited Gödafoss on the way, a beautiful waterfall. The story is that when the Althingi voted to accept Christianity in Iceland, Thorgeir Ljosvetningagödi, a chieftain, returned to his home in the Myrvatn area, gathered up all his Norse idols and threw them into the falls–hence, “waterfall of the gods.” He must have been pretty impressed by the new religion when Odin didn’t strike him dead on the spot.

Godafoss. Those are people standing on the rocks right above the river. They walked past the rope and the sign that says not to go there. There is a problem in Iceland with tourists doing stupid things. They might even start charging for rescue services because so many tourists act as if everything is perfectly safe—you know, Disneyland of the north.

Our first stop was a lava field called Dimmuborgir, the Black Fortress. It’s an area where lava flowed over water about 2300 years ago, which then became superheated and exploded through the cooling crust, creating fantastical shapes.

The Black Fortress.

Just a cute flower with a cute name: pearly knotwort.

After wandering around Dimmuborgir for a while (they have maps of the trails, but they never say where you actually are on the map), we decided to go to the Myrvatn Nature Baths. This consists of Blue Lagoon-style pools of warm, bright blue, silica-rich water. There is a long, shallow, rectangular hot pool as well. The pool is an infinity pool overlooking the lake.

Myvatn Nature Baths.

It’s very pretty, but I liked Krauma better. For one thing, tourists were showering in their bathing suits, which is repugnant to Icelanders, so they never go to these places. You’re supposed to shower nude and wash EVERYTHING to keep their chemical-free pools clean. The pool itself was warm, but not really warm enough for me. It felt slimy from the silica–I hope.

Fumerole at Myvatn Nature Baths, carefully fenced off from crazy tourists.

And lunch at the Nature Baths was the worst so far–not horrible, but not wonderful either. We both had smoked salmon on what we assumed was some sort of brown bread. It turned out to be “geyser bread,” rye bread baked at low temperatures (for baking) two feet underground near a geothermal heat source for many hours until the sugars caramalize. It had the color and almost the consistency of membrillo paste and tasted a lot like Boston brown bread. I had selected a delicious toasted porter with lunch that went well with it, but it had a quarrel with Tom’s red wine. We agreed it was interesting, but we have no desire to repeat the experience.

Then it was off to see the mud pots and fumeroles nearby at Namafjall, just a few minutes away. This was a desolate plain punctuated with clouds of steam coming up from vents in the ground, and some active, bubbling gray-blue mud pots. The ground was a patchwork of pink, white, brown, and gray. I walked carefully along between the ropes indicating safe ground, thinking about the hell that lay underneath this thin crust of earth. Unlike any such spot in the United States, it was free, unsupervised, and your safety is entirely up to you.

Bubbling mud pot.

Wild, uncaged fumerole.

By now, it was mid-afternoon, and we thought we should head back to Akureyri. As we hit the road, the rain began. It absolutely poured. So considerate of the weather to wait until we were done being tourists!

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