17 April 2018

2018 ICELAND Ring Road 7 - Unexpected Sights

Mike and I have traveled to mostly every state in the USA, many of them multiple times. Exceptions are: neither of us has been to Vermont and Mike hasn't been to Alaska. We have driven from Michigan over various routes to the West Coast four plus times. We have circumferenced all the Hawaii islands except little Lanai and "forbidden" Niihau. We drove both coasts from north to south. And we have been to a number of countries around the world. So you would think we have seen a sample of most every landscape.

No way, Jose. Iceland is a place all its own. The Ring Road is 828 miles (1333 km) around and we only traveled about one-third of it. But it felt like every 20 miles or so was a distinct change of topography. Much of it moon-like, with scant inhabitants, although scattered far and wide was a lone abode or small cluster of homes. Makes you wonder what made folks chose that remote spot. Not much else along the way except some basic power lines here and there.

Not only were the fossar (plural for foss) diverse, but the terrain changed often. There were red flora, glaciers and their melting waters, scrub, spiky rock formations, gray rolling lava-scapes, gravelly areas, black sands, brown dusty areas, every size boulder, green "carpeting," mountains, multiple volcanoes (none spewing at this time), golden grasslands, and more.

Here are sample photos just from our first day, but notice all of them as you go along throughout this Iceland blog. So diverse and interesting and unexpected.

Then we saw something REALLY unexpected. Galloping down the Ring Road came a herd of maybe 30 Icelandic horses. Mains and tails were billowing in the breeze. One cowgirl lead the parade and another rounded up the rear. Cars in both directions stopped at the amazing sight. There was hardly time to get out cameras before they were gone in a flash. Whew, what a treat!

Icelandic horses have wide bodies, some with big bellies and sloped backs. They have short legs and heavy coats. They have long hair on their haunches, long tails that often touch the ground, and long mains that cover their eyes. They come in all colors including multi and some even have blue eyes. They may be shorter than horses, but don't ever call them ponies. More at:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icelandic_horse.
This hardy breed was introduced by the Norse invaders in the 9th or 10th century. To keep the breed pure, other breeds are not allowed in the country and if these guys are exported, they cannot return. They are used for sheep herding, showing, racing, and leisure riding. We saw a number of riding stables advertised along the way, although we did not have time or inclination for that.

There were two more foss opportunities coming up. We did not learn the name of either. The first was another tall one. It was interesting because it plunged over the cliff like someone pouring a pitcher. It did not cascade or touch the cliff until it hit bottom. How would you like this in your backyard?
The other was shorter, but wider. Top photo shows the "stair steps" of the foss, as well as its width. The next photo shows the main foss area on the right. It was maybe a 20 foot drop. All the fossar, as far as I can tell, come from rivers derived from glacier melt.

By this time we were hungry. The next town was Vik (means bay), Iceland's southernmost village. Its population in 2016 was 316 people. It has a picture perfect church on the hill overlooking the town. Nearby is one of the biggest arctic tern breeding grounds. Puffins nest here, too, but we did not see any today.
As far as we could see there was one choice for food, a roadside diner. It was basic and looked like a place where the locals eat, but as we left a busload of tourists arrived. We made it in and out just before the crowd hit.
I think the guys had burgers, L had melted ham and cheese (one slice of each), and I had a really great veggie burger. All the sandwiches here were about $18 USD each and that was typical for throughout our visit. A bit of a sticker shock, but keep in mind just about everything has to be shipped onto the island...except fish.
Outside the window was a fantastic view. We saw these odd stacks of basalt rock poking out from the sea. This turned out to be Black Sand Beach. We thought this popular site was down the road a bit further and we saw no sign to alert us, so we did not explore further.

Later we learned the cliffs (and caves) here are exceptional. Google "black sand beach Iceland" and then go to images. Unfortunate that we missed this. Oh, and this is also the location for some movie sets and scenes in the TV show "Game of Thrones."

We also browsed the nearby Icewear store. Turns out there was a nicer (but pricier) cafe with just about the same menu, but we were happy with our first choice. The store had "everything Iceland" for sale, but we weren't in a shopping mood. We were anxious to get to our destination for the evening.

Our last stop on this leg was Laufskálavarda farm. We saw people walking around these odd stone structures rising from a mound, so we curiously pulled over, too. The tale is that a large farm on this site was destroyed by the first recorded volcanic eruption (named Katla) in 894.

The blast resulted in these odd shaped structures that appeared on the mound and for miles away on both sides of the road. The smaller ones looked somewhat like crude Chinese coolie hats. These were chunks of hot lava spewed and hardened in place during the eruption.

The legend continues that people traveling by for the first time would add a stone to the lava structures and that would bring them good luck for the rest of their journey. People continue the tradition to this day and, to keep up with the numerous travelers, the road commission brings in truckloads of rock to have on hand. My sis and I dutifully added small pebbles onto one of the piles. From our driving experience so far, we would gladly accept any assistance (real or imaginary) to keep us safe.

Most of the above structures were natural in shape, but those around the mound were enhanced by travelers' rock balancing skills.

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If you have visited any of these places, we would love to hear your comments. Or send us recommendations of places we should not miss.