Tense Times In Volcano Land

Trip Start Mar 27, 2010
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Trip End Jul 04, 2010


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Flag of Iceland  , South,
Sunday, May 16, 2010

Kind of a tense day. The wind came up at breakfast time, and the ash cloud headed our way, so we hastily finished our breakfast, piled things into the car, and headed off to try to keep ahead of the oncoming cloud. The hostel (with its luxury hotel section) is on a side road about 10km from the main Iceland perimeter highway, and this luckily took us away from the coming ash. However, our optimism proved to be premature.

About half an hour down the road we came to three unmade sections where the roads department had deliberately destroyed the highway to allow the flooding caused by the volcano's original eruption force to get to the sea quickly without spreading and devastating the roads and farms. Seems the bridges and culverts under the road are not designed for major mud and water flooding.

Just after the unmade sections we came to Seljalandsfoss, the first of two major waterfalls where water from the glacier cascades over the cliffs and away to the sea. You could get close enough to climb the cliff and walk behind the waterfall, although you got rather wet. Not the highest or biggest we've ever seen, but certainly one of the prettiest.

Shortly after leaving the waterfall, we entered about 50km of road squeezed between the glacier and volcano on one side, and the sea on the other. The sky got darker, the ash got thicker, the ash spray from passing cars got bigger, and the ash on the road got deeper. At one point we were effectively driving on talcum powder, leaving 100 metres separation between vehicles, and pulling over if a vehicle came the other way. Just like driving in the desert. You can't get close enough to overtake the vehicle in front, and you have no visibility at all when cars come the other way.

We got to the turnoff to Skogafoss, the other big waterfall, to find all the tour buses halted. They could hardly see up the road, which was in the direction of the volcano, and you certainly weren't going to see the waterfall if you braved it anyway, so we made a quick decision to bypass it and keep going.

Finally crawled into the small town of Vik around lunchtime, and decided to have some comfort food, and a break to untense. No problems, except that every other car on the road had the same idea. From there it got better, although a patch of rain caused the ash to turn to mud. Nobody had their windscreen wipers on though, as the ash would strip the smooth surface off the window.

By Kirkjubaejarklaustur (try saying that in Icelandic) it was almost back to normal.
We bought petrol, had a coffee, and hosed down the car. You don't dare wipe it, or you'll strip the duco. Our hostel was off the side of a side road not long afterwards. Ahh, the serenity. As the web site says, bring everything because the closest anything is 25km away. However, the view is pretty awesome.

Now some useless facts. Firstly, it gets so cold here that the pit toilet cubicles in the National Park parking areas are equipped with space heaters. Secondly, Icelandic sheep are woolly haired like alpacas. Thirdly, the last time lava flowed from this volcano, 20 farms were destroyed, and 20% of the Icelandic population died from starvation and disease. Lastly, I can't calculate the Big Mac Index for Iceland - they don't have any.

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