Beach Day

After breakfast we climb the steps to the observation platform overhanging Skógafoss. Then we pack up and drive to nearby Reynisfjara Beach. During the short drive the weather turns from beautiful summer morning to North Atlantic gale. By the time we arrive at the beach the rain has mostly stopped but the wind is still howling. I had primed the kids by showing them a YouTube video of stranded tourists on this beach. They had wandered to the edge of the water as most people on beaches do and a rouge wave had come out of nowhere. Several of them suddenly found themselves foundering in waist deep ice cold water. No one was washed out that day but it does happen. Vivian and Evan stop and read the warning sign before they go on the beach, and they are extremely cautious.

The waves that reach this coastline of Iceland have had a lot of room to gather energy, and often a rouge wave gets a bit rowdy. If you swim straight south from here, you’ll miss the bulge of Western Africa as well as the protrusion of Brazil and get all the way to Antartica without touching land anywhere. We are at about 65 degrees N here. Antartica starts at about 72 degrees S at the point directly below Iceland. So that is 137 degrees of latitude or 8220 nautical miles or 9459 miles or 15223 km. The circumference of the earth is about 40,000 km at the equator, so this isn’t too shabby. For those that want to know, the longest distance you can sail in a straight line starts at the coast of Pakistan, passes between Madagascar and Africa, threads between Tierra del Fuego and Antartica, crosses diagonally across the Pacific not far from Hawaii, and ends up in Kamchatka, Russia. That is a 32,000 km straight line, just 8000 km short of going fully around our watery home planet.

We wander around the beach and stick close to the giant cliffs of twisted basalt and try not to get blown away by the wind. Behind us the surf pounds the black sand beach and we keep a wry eye out for tourists being washed away by rouge waves. Fortunately no one obliges and Evan is slightly disappointed.

Incidentally, the last time we were here, there was not another soul and no YouTube videos or warning signs. Evan was four and Vivian was seven and they ran up and down right by the water and we didn’t know any better.

Reynisfjara Beach is a sandbar that runs east to west. We were on the eastern end of it. The western end of the sandbar almost touches the towering cliffs of the island of Dyrhólaey. The island is connected by a causeway and we drive around to it and park next to the trail head at Dyrhólaey. In front of me is one of the most beautiful public restrooms I’ve seen. I stop to admire it and take a picture.

Looking further west from the trail at Dyrhólaey is the view above. Access to the black sand beach is closed off with a rusted chain and a sign that says it is too dangerous to go down there. Eight years ago we had strolled on that beach for an hour and the kids had frolicked on the sand and played below the cliffs. I compare photos – the strip of black sand is much narrower today and it does look precarious with no way to run from a rouge wave.

You may not be able to spot it in the photo above but there is a dot of orange up on the cliff. That is the Dyrhólaey lighthouse and our next destination.

The view from the Dyrhólaey lighthouse is stunning. Cliffs drop away on three sides and puffins cling to tufts of grass. Far below them the black sand beach stretches to the horizon. This is our last stop before a two and half hour drive back to the big city lights of Reykjavik. About halfway back to Reykjavik we drive through the town of Selfoss. There is a Bobby Fischer museum here. In 1972 Bobby beat Boris Spassky in Reykjavik to become the chess world champion. It was the chess match of the century, the chess version of Rocky, a proxy war between the US and back then the USSR, and Bobby returned to America a hero and a household name. In 1992 Bobby, by then more notorious for his antisemitism than his chess, and Boris played again in Yugoslavia. Bobby ignored US and UN sanctions to go to Yugoslavia and a warrant was issued for his arrest by the US government. Bobby never returned to the US. He was eventually arrested trying to leave Japan years later, and while he was in prison there awaiting extradition to the US, he was granted full Icelandic citizenship by the Alþingi on the strength of his 1972 world championship in Reykjavik. Bobby died in 2008 in Iceland and is buried in Selfoss.

We get to Reykjavik and check into our hotel downtown. I look around and find a pho place around the corner. People with Vietnamese sounding names have given it good ratings on google. A few minutes later Vivian, Evan and I are slurping up pho with four heaping spoons of chili oil. Ahh – it is sooo good.

That evening I take a stroll around downtown. It is a beautiful evening and I run into crowds of tourists and some locals. At 10:30 at night it is bright enough to do brain surgery outside. Next morning we pack and I take another walk around downtown, this time with the fam. We are excited to be going home, but mostly we are excited to see Ouiser who Grandma has been taking care of. We are not looking forward to the 67 consecutive days of over 100 F days back in Texas.

We travel well. Fourteen days driving around in Iceland, preceded by two weeks of Jo and the kids driving through Virginia and Maryland. This trip felt different. Vivian and Evan interacted with each other as almost adults. And Jo and I think they had a good time. As the plane rises up into the deep blue sky and the island falls away below us, Jo’s face says it all….

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