… continued from HVITUR: Part 1…
We began to sink further into the sand. Panic was setting in. Thoughts rushed through my mind; Could we get out? Could we be rescued and even be able to afford the rescue? Could we even be located if we called for help? We were in such a huge open space, there would have been no chance of describing where we were.
I rammed the gear stick into reverse and put my foot down, we rocked back slightly but couldn't get loose. Back into Drive again. Foot down. The car leaned forward. I decided to rock the car back and forth, it was our only hope. A combination of fast footwork and flipping the gearstick from reverse to drive had the car seesawing back and forth. Our oscillation was gaining momentum and we rocked back and fourth in the ravine. We rolled forward to halfway of the slope. With my foot on the floor, the car roared and shook violently, all four wheels roostertailling black sand backwards behind our vehicle. The traction was crawling us up, inch by inch until we caught dry sand. The car lurched up, jumping forward, emerging triumphantly like a foal finding its first steps. I continued forward onto solid ground and looked at my panicked girlfriend. She could see the panic in my face slowly fading away. "I told you not to drive down there." she said calmly. My response was muted.
We continued a few hundred feet towards the coastline toward the tremulous sea and pulled up on some higher ground. We looked east across the small estuary and saw the downed DC-3 American Naval Plane, one of Iceland's popular but hard to find anomalies. The plane crash landed in November 1974 after getting into difficulties in extreme weather. Thankfully, all crew members survived but the plane was never salvaged, and the wreckage has decayed where it landed ever since. We wrapped up and geared up, then carefully crossed the estuary to take a look around it. The majority of the fuselage had gone and what remained was rotting away; a casualty of the daily battering it received from the atlantic weather.
The winds were getting stronger and I noticed the surface sand starting to move around our feet. It was time to go. Normally I would have walked closer to the shoreline to photograph the waves. They reminded me of a painting my grandmother used to have of a seascape that was in full gale, waves crashing onto sand and white water everywhere. As a child I used to stand and stare at its beauty, mesmerised by the chaos on the canvas. Today however, there was no time to stand and stare, we had to escape the black expanse. We hurried back to the 4x4 and drove across the beach to the relative safety of the main road, this time avoiding the ravine…
After a night in nearby Vik, we travelled through driving rain to the Skaftafell Glacier. On the way there the landscape around the road varied dramatically. Every five minutes you were in a different land. We would travel through an alien, mist-laden flatland, with luminous blue pools either side of the road where visibility was poor, then into boulderfields stretching out to the horizon. The pools shone out like an oasis. In this grey, bleak and motionless wilderness sat beaming bright pools of life, so beautiful in colour that you wanted to wade into them or take a drink from them; and yet there was an air of danger about them. Like a venomous spider, its colours exuded beauty and danger in equal parts.
Into the boulderfield, every rock was uniformly blanketed with a thick moss, in the deepest darkest green I’ve seen. This section of the journey had an evermore eerie air and an uncomfortable atmosphere. My girlfriend and I simultaneously expressed a feeling being of watched.
I noticed at irregular instances that in the distance you could see rock formations that mimicked the silhouettes of hooded figures. Driving without seeing another living being for hours on end, to suddenly catching the figure of a person walking alone through the endless boulderfields. In Iceland they say that some rocks are trolls trapped in solid form for eternity; maybe these figures propel the myth.
Under the now darkened sky, the horizon soon started to show a bright and cool blue, but the light was radiating upwards, not descending from the sky. As we worked our way along the coastline, the great Skaftafell came into view and we realised the light was emanating from the glacier. We took a punt on a turning off the road and followed an incredibly potholed track for ten minutes.
Having never seen a glacier in the flesh, it was hard to take in. Huge blue shards of ice as big as buildings were separated by cracks big enough to drive a car through, sloped into a flat frozen lake. The glacier seemed to give off an energy. Skaftafell, so bright, so vast and so beautiful completely eclipsed the rest of the landscape and dwarfed anything I’d ever seen.
We finally arrived at a clearing and parked up, taking a walk to the edge of the land that soared above the lake to take a closer look. Snow was coming down pretty heavily at this point and we climbed higher up a steep slope to get a better view. To our left we noticed the remnants of some footsteps heading round the corner. I was left confused because there was no path leading around, and it didn't look possible to get further around from where we stood. I took some photographs and decided to climb back down the face as the weather was worsening and starting to make things feel a bit uncomfortable. On the way down we noticed a plaque commemorating two climbers who were last seen there in 2007, and had never returned. Another reminder that Iceland was as silent, serene and beautiful as it was dangerous.
Next stop was Jokulsarlon. A must for any visitor to Iceland and an area like no other on Earth. Here the Skaftafell Glacier breaks up in an inland lagoon and huge icebergs which are slowly washed out to sea, are battered by the waves, and thrown back onto the black sand.
We reached the bridge that takes drivers over the Jokulsarlon lagoon and stopped off under a stormy sky. As the light faded we decided to take a look around. Walking along the edge of the lagoon we saw seals playing in the water, popping their heads up to look at passers by. The water was dark, offsetting the brightly coloured blue-green icebergs in the water. Upon the shoreline were oddly shaped fragments of ice, contoured, worked and smoothened into beautiful shapes. Unlike the bergs, these pieces had been whittled and refined by the water and so had turned absolutely clear. A millennia of compression had distilled them, making them almost perfectly transparent. The only thing breaking up the clarity were minute bubbles and tunnels or air, sporadically working their way through the ice.
As the light faded, we headed to our accommodation and returned the following day.
In early morning the light was much cleaner and we headed out onto the iceberg littered beach. The volcanic sand was scattered with bright blue sculptures, unimaginable forms pitted by the elements. The wedges of ice harboured an deep incandescent aqua blue light, and appeared to glow - this was the same light we had seen emanating from Skaftafell, but in smaller pieces.
Different angles presented the sculptures as different things, flower heads, animals or delicate artefacts, installed in a way which mimicked the experience of walking through a gallery. It was strange to believe that these objects had be placed by nature, as opposed to being organised and curated by human hand.
As everything on land lay absolutely still, I turned my attention to the waters edge. The wind was picking up and the waves were getting rough. Larger slabs of ice marooned on the sand were taking the brunt of the tide, jolting back and forth as wave upon wave slammed against them relentlessly. I was reminded of my Grand-mothers painting once again. Blue-green waves swelling and crashing into white foam.
Further into the trip we decided to track down the infamous Bruarfoss.
A small, brightly coloured waterfall nestled inland, Bruarfoss is know for being incredibly hard to find, and as such is yet to be a tourist hotspot. After hours of research before the trip, we had a pretty good idea of its location. We drove inland on a bright white morning, to the point at which we thought it lay, but found ourselves on an empty campsite with baron chalets all around us. Driving through the campsite was difficult as this was their off peak season. The roads hadn't been ploughed recently and we had to wrestle the 4x4 down small lanes with 4ft walls of snow on either side. We followed our coordinates and were sure it was around, yet found ourselves in a completely unexpected location.
We parked the car up and decided to take a look around, taking full faith in our research but not our location. With the snow crunching underfoot, we explored around us but were none the wiser. After pausing in the still air, we heard the faintest sound of rolling water. Following the direction of the noise we noticed 20ft down the lane a break in the snow-wall lining the road. Entering this, we waded through thigh high snow, weaving through leafless bushes, remaining cautious of the uneven ground beneath our feet. The ground started to decline downwards and we came to a bridge over a dry ravine. We crossed it, shaking the snow off our waterproofs, only to be emersed in waist high snow on the other side. We could hear the sound of crashing water getting closer, pausing every few feet to readjust our direction. We found ourselves powering through the snow as fast as we could. Wading turned into slo-mo running, pushing harder through the powder to find what we hoped would be Bruarfoss.
The ground sloped down again and as we slowed our steps, it came into sight. Bruarfoss. Alone in the silent wilderness without another person as far as the eye could see. Nestled within the black water of the river, the Bruarfoss crevice glowed brightly. A belt of sulphur-blue water gleaming out against the coal black rivers edge.
Watching the water swirl over the blue riverbed was mesmerising and I found myself endlessly staring into its depths. If it hadn't been just above freezing, I would have considered diving in to see what the rock face looked like underneath the swell. The land around Bruarfoss is bleak and nothing stood out except the fields, laced with golden grass. We stayed here for a good hour absorbing its sounds and movement, then followed our footsteps back through the snow to the car. We slowly drove back through the lanes of the campsite, the car sliding and swerving left and right through the snow. We came to the final stretch before the main road, a long and perfectly straight section of lane, banked either side with snow that sloped gradually upwards to the junction. As we advanced to the crossing, I lifted my foot off the accelerator to coast up to the connecting road. An alarming grunt followed and the drivers side front corner lurched violently a few feet downwards. I couldn't believe my eyes: the lane sloped upwards, and yet the front corner of the 4x4 was facing down at a dangerous angle. I cautiously put the car into reverse and turned the wheel away from the decline. I put my foot down on the accelerator to take the front end back onto the lane. We creeped backwards. Suddenly the back end of the car slid down into the ditch and the car tipped on one side. We were sliding laterally and the car was tipping more and more. A fear a hit me, the car was starting to roll...
To be continued in HVITUR: Iceland Blog post - Part 3...