Mossy Lava Rock

Today we have a three hour relaxed drive from Jökulsárlón, the glacier lagoon, to Skógafoss, one of Iceland’s well-known waterfalls. Most of the ring road here is not far from Iceland’s southern coast. We start the morning by driving around the glacial fingers of ice coming down from Hvannadalshnúkur, Iceland’s highest peak, and the southernmost extention of the Vatnajökull ice cap.

We drive into the Skaftafell Visitor Centre, a part of the huge Vatnajökull National Park. I take a short 2-3 mile hike to see Svartifoss, a pretty little waterfall surrounded by basaltic columns. At the park I read about the flooding here in 1996 and look down at the flood plain from a viewpoint and see where the flooding created giant ripples in the flats below. We get back on the ring road and drive over the black sand flats that connect the sea on our left to the mountains and glaciers to our right. In a few minutes we drive past the twisted steel beams of the Skeiðará Bridge Monument. During the 1996 floods, and several times since, including during the infamous 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption that halted air travel in most of Europe for a couple of weeks (Sharath was conveniently stranded in Amsterdam during this time), there were subglacial eruptions in these areas. A tremendous amount of ice is quickly turned into water. The water initially lifts up the ice as ice floats on water, and then drains out of the volcanic caldera, leaving behind giant whirlpool patterns of ice. The warm water (actually it is pretty cold at 6-8 degrees C) then flows under the glaciers and lifts them up again like it pushed up the ice in the caldera. Eventually the glaciers can no longer hold back and millions of tones of melt water, rocks, and icebergs come crashing down across the coastal flats on their way out to sea. The ring road and several bridges here get destroyed by the floods and Iceland quickly builds them back. This road is the only connection to people in the eastern part of Iceland, where we were a few days ago. We saw lots of earthworks in progress and at least a few new bridges being built.

The vocabulary of a language often gives away things about the culture of the people that speak that language. Apparently the Inuit have a couple of dozen words for ice and snow (not 52 though, that’s a myth), and the Hawaiians have words that describe different types of lava rock. The Icelandic people have a word: jökulhlaup. It means glacial outburst flood. I bet there isn’t a word for that in Bangla.

Gradually the scenery is less stark and the glaciers give way to rolling green meadows and steep rocky cliffs. For miles at a time we drive over what were once lava flows but are now shaggy layers of spongy light colored moss. It looks like someone has dribbled it over everything. We stop and goof around on the moss for a bit. It is soft and warm and has a pleasant smell and I could go to sleep in the perfectly sized depressions. Evan does fall asleep.

We stop at the little town of Vik for lunch. On the way out I see the church on the hill and ask Jo to take a hasty photo out of the car window. I remember taking an almost identical photo eight years ago. Soon after Vik we drive to our hotel next to the Skógafoss. The weather is nice and we think about walking up to the falls that we can see from our window. But we wait till it starts raining. Evan sensibly decides to stay nice and dry inside and at about 11pm Jo, Vivian and I put on our jackets and stroll out to base of the thundering Skógafoss.

The next morning is beautiful. We climb up a bunch of steps to the observation platform over the top of Skógafoss. In this last photo you can see a bit of the falls on the top right corner. On the bottom left corner you can see the curve of the black sand bank on this side of the river after the falls. You may be able to spot a few tiny people standing right at the edge of the shore there. That is where Vivian was standing in the photo the night before.

Tomorrow is our last full day in Iceland. I am already missing it. Though I can’t wait to see my doggy again!

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