A Few Days á Suðurlandi: Roadtrip Day 2 (Part 1)

I’m breaking Day 2 of our trip recap into two posts, otherwise you’ll surely grow tired of reading all this before I finish writing it and my hands will claw up for nothing. Anyway, it’ll help me draw out the anticipation, and spread out the photos…

When last we left off in our travels, Mark and I were driving out of Stokkseyri on a bright, crisp fall morning, headed toward Vík. (We got absurdly lucky with the weather, for reals.) Day 2 of our adventure took us, briefly, off the beaten (read: paved) path (read: Route 1) and along meandering routes that lead through some truly beautiful farmland. The driving itself was a little nervous-making for a time, mainly in that the posted speed limit was frequently set at 60 km/hr, but although I had been assured by the woman at the rental agency that “it’s just so common” for cars to get dinged up by small stones on unpaved roads and “not to worry about it,” there were still those damage fees to pay if we kicked up a larger rock. That and the fact that the roadway often alternated between paved and unpaved sections–you’d be flying along at 90 km/hr, only to hit a gravel stretch for 40 feet, hit the brakes and then almost immediately run back up onto a paved section for 20 feet, then hit a gravel section…But honestly, for those of us who aren’t completely jaded by the Icelandic countryside (and that would be most tourists), a nice leisurely pace is all the better to appreciate the scenery. (As long as you don’t end up with an impatient local driver behind you, but more on that anon.)

I’m convinced that Icelanders have some sort of sixth sense when it comes to choosing a place to live. Once you get out in the Icelandic countryside, it appears that each house or farm is situated in the most perfect place–perhaps nestled up against a mountain (or glacier) with a waterfall right there in the “backyard,” or looking out on the ocean, or up on a ridge facing a river, or some combination of the above. Each time we drove by a new farm, I’d think, “Yeah–that guy got the best spot. His neighbors must have be really miffed that he (or his ancestors) got there first.” But then you drive about 10 feet further and as it turns out, there’s another amazing waterfall, another perfect spot tucked up under a mountain, another ridge overlooking a vast, grassy valley. Americans may be spoiled for choice when it comes to a lot of things–mostly things that don’t matter in the least, like having 30 different kinds of shampoo to pick from. But Icelanders are spoiled for choice when it comes to picking a beautiful place to live. Every spot is basically the best spot. I actually don’t know if I’d be able to choose from so many perfect locations, were I in the position to just drop a house anywhere in the country. (Ah, to have such problems.)

From Stokkseyri, route 33 curves around a bit, first alongside the ocean, then up along Þjórsá, Iceland’s longest river, until it eventually meets up again with Route 1. Just before it intersects with the Ring Road, however, it passes by Urriðafoss, a truly wonderful waterfall (you can get to this one by Route 1, too, I should mention). Urriðafoss was an unexpected perk on our detour, and also the first of about 50 equally amazing waterfalls that we got to see on our trip. (Seriously, there is an absolute preponderance of waterfalls in this country. There should be one amazingly long and hard-to-say Icelandic word for “Iceland’s Absolute Preponderance of Awesome Waterfalls.” Anyone know a vocab word I don’t?)

While wondering at the beautiful ice formations all around/in/on Urriðafoss, we had an unexpected surprise.  (I say “unexpected,” and “surprise,” but maybe it shouldn’t have been either, since although Iceland is a wide-spread and sparsely populated country, the Ring Road is a very popular route for tourists, there are a number of highlighted sites along the way, and of course, it was a break week for universities in Reykjavík.) But in any case, there, alongside a waterfall we didn’t even know was there, along a probably well-traveled, but unpaved road on which we hadn’t seen another car for at least 45 minutes, we ran into two of the six people we know in Iceland. (The Icelandic equivalent of that classic line: “of all the gin joints…in all the world…” should be something like “of all the waterfalls in the country…”) Yep. We pulled into the lot in front of the waterfall and at practically the same time, some fellow ISL students pulled in themselves. They were even traveling along the same route to Vík, so we ended running into them at a few other choice spots (waterfalls) later that day.

After we all sang a jolly chorus of “It’s a Small World” and our ferðafélagar had gone on their way ahead of us, we continued to the next amazing waterfall (this one I, at least, was prepared for, having been lucky enough to visit it with my mom on a recent trip): Seljalandsfoss. Every waterfall is amazing and beautiful in its own way, but you’ll have to forgive me–I don’t actually have an extensive enough trove of adjectives to describe all Iceland’s natural beauty to get at what is unique and amazing about each waterfall. Hopefully, the photos I’m posting will do them all justice in their own right, because I am probably not going to be able to. Suffice to say, Seljalandsfoss has the distinction of not only having a little sister fall next to it, but also of having a (somewhat tenuous, slippery) stairway that runs up one side, becomes apth behind the fall itself, and then goes down the other side. Which allows for ample, epic opportunity–hypothetically–to recite dialog from a key scene in Last of the Mohicans*, should you (or someone you are traveling with) be so inclined. It is also just really awesome to stand behind a waterfall. Like, “awesome” in the original, non-slangy capacity.

After our incredibly invigorating walk behind a waterfall, we continued on toward Vík, stopping along the way to admire the tiny settlement of Moldnúpur, which I became acquainted with through the travelogue of an Icelandic woman named Anna who made her first voyage abroad from there in 1947. Moving along, we appreciated the breathtaking (ah ha! there’s one I hadn’t used–and it’s true!) Skógafoss waterfall from the road, but didn’t stop, as we were planning to go hiking there the next day.

All due credit to Mark, my co-pilot extraordinaire who doubled as a photographer along our journey when he saw something beautiful (pretty often) or the view was particularly nice on his side of the car (also often). Both his and my photos are intermixed below.

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*RIP, Russell Means.
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