Thursday: to Mývatn

On Thursday I set sail from the Hotel Puffin, bound for the north.
Mývatn, my ultimate port of call, is 166km from Egilsstadir. At 90kph, that’s under two hours. But today was the day I finally noticed that there’s something wrong with my speedometer. 0-60 are marked in tens, then it’s in twenties. The smiley-face speed checkers on the side of the road say that when I thought was 55 is actually only 50, so I no longer have any idea what speed I’m driving at. No wonder I’m always getting overtaken – I could very easily be doing 20 less than I realise.
I made a few stops on the way, to enjoy the way northern Iceland is such a grey-brown desert – the Odadahraun is good for this. Literally “the Desert of Misdeeds” – that’s the best place name in the world! I stopped at Hrossaborg, the collapsed crater from Oblivion, which I’ve wanted a closer look at for two years. It’s just inside the F road – that’s the ford-ridden Highland roads I’m legally not allowed on, but there’s a car park and an info board just at the turning and I’m allowed to go there.
I stopped at Námafjall, the high temperature area where blue mud bubbles and Earth put on two kettles a few millennia ago and forgot about them. It’s unbelievable how long those two piles of rocks have been steaming for – and not just gently, idly steaming – steaming like a steam locomotive in a race uphill. I’ve been there before but on an afternoon tour of everything interesting within about eighty miles, which doesn’t give you time to look at anything properly. I ambled. I got laughed at by an Icelander called Olaf P because the steam made my glasses steam up. I wondered why on earth tourists were standing so close to the kettles – touching them! – for photos.
Next stop was Leirhnjúkur, where a series of fissures opened between 1977 and 1984, the Krafla Fires. Krafla itself – right opposite – had its own Fires in the 1720s but they were called the Mývatn Fires. Krafla Fires not actually from Krafla. Easy. Anyway, it was amazing! Ground Zero of an eruption recent enough that the ground is still steaming, still hot to the touch. In places, the rock is whitish. I thought that was where it had got really hot, like charcoal, but no. It’s where a light coat of moss is starting to grow. Spread out in front is a big black fresh lava field, hardly any older than I am. I loved it. You propose to me on that fresh lava and I will marry you (I will consider it; I don’t actually want to tie myself down with unwise promises just because I got overexcited at some warm rocks).
Final stop was Víti, another crater filled with turquoise water, but not the same Víti that I swam in on top of Askja two years ago. I could see Askja very clearly on the horizon today, far more clearly than I could see her when I was standing on top of her. And Herdubreid, who finally shed her crown of clouds. She’s very easy to recognise, and huge. I don’t remember her being so big when I was right at her base hut.
This is Krafla’s Víti. You can’t swim there, I think you’d be an idiot to even try to get to the water.
The road back to the Ring Road goes through the Leirbotn Geothermal Power Station. It has boreholes all over the mountainside, joined to the central station by big silver pipes. One of those pipes meets the road and their solution was to bend the pipes over in a big arch, limiting the size of traffic that can go under it.
I am staying tonight at Stórutjarnir, four miles from Godafoss, 25 miles from civilisation. It was the only hotel available for under a certain price in miles. It’s pleasant – very isolated and quiet, give or take noisy guests down the hall. My view is down a valley with a lake in it, mountains rising up each side. There’s a pool – the only Edda with a private pool. I had the hot pot to myself for half an hour before I was joined by two elderly Australians, whose travel agent seems to have gone out of their way to give them hotels in the middle of nowhere – I think they were at Neskaupsstadur last night, half an hour further along the eastern fjords than I was. They can’t pronounce any Icelandic names and they’re not even going to try – they think they were in a place that begins with F and had about fourteen letters in it. I think they mean either mean Fjardabyggd, the collective name for the three fishing villages, including Eskifjördur, where I was (not enough letters) or they’ve mistaken the first letter, because Neskaupsstadur is about right.
Anyway, we boiled ourselves in the hot pot, an Icelandic lady and a girl from an unidentified place that isn’t Iceland joined us and I was delighted to find that I could comprehend the girl’s attempt to pronounce Hveravellir and I knew where it was but the Icelandic lady didn’t have a clue. Mwahaha, I am better at Icelandic geography than you!

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