Saturday: back to the east

I experienced something tonight that I didn’t even know was possible in Iceland. The shower ran out of hot water. As Iceland’s hot water comes courtesy of the magma deep beneath our feet, a lack of hot water must be an early warning sign of the apocalypse here. If the world ends tonight, well, I did warn you.
I awoke four miles west of Goðafoss, packed my stuff, had my breakfast, said goodbye to the Australian ladies and went to poke around the Goðafoss souvenir shop – the first such shop I’ve seen since I’ve been here, believe it or not – in the hope of finding the glass volcano coasters I’ve been eyeing for four years (failed) and set off east. Egilsstaðir is less than two hours from Mývatn and if I went directly, I’d end up sitting in my room for most of the afternoon. So I went and looked at the Krafla Geothermal Power Plant (the cooling towers have wooden slats! This is a space age power plant built while an eruption went on around it, and part of it is wooden!
I was thinking about going back to Leirhnjúkur but then I was reminded of Dettifoss, an extremely powerful waterfall in the desert north of the Ring Road. I would go there, by the west road.
Last year I took the east road, right from the north, from Ásbyrgi. That’s 53km of the worst road I’m legally allowed to drive on – so bad I wasn’t even sure I was allowed to drive on it. It’s rutted brown gravel track, like driving on a washboard, through a rocky brown desert that looks so much like the end of the world that they used it for it in Oblivion. I’d thrown my tent in the back in a panic some days earlier and the pegs on the back parcel shelf rattled and tinkled for every bump of those 53km. It took hours.
The west road is smooth, perfect tarmac. Instead of bouncing along at a terrified 40, I flew along gleefully at 90 and was there in no time.
The west bank is green, brought to life by an incredible amount of spray off the massive waterfall, whereas the east bank is all grey broken rock and devastation. It’s very scenic; I love it, but the two sides are very different.
I also paused at Selfoss, the smaller and less well-known of the two cataracts. That’s fun. The waterfall funnels about three-quarters of the water, the rest flows down around the top, where you’re walking. To get to see the waterfall, you literally have to walk through Iceland’s biggest and most ferocious river, Jökulsà à Fjöllum. Mostly it’s fine, it’s just little streams looking for an alternative way back down to the main river but there was one quite big stream, with half-submerged, pointy wet stepping stones and I just couldn’t trust my feet to do it. I approached the little crossing, whimpered and stepped back about a dozen times. I prowled the stream looking for somewhere else to hop across but this was my best bet. I was so close to the waterfall and the only way I could get to see it was to cross this insurmountable little step.
Finally I was saved by a nice man who, having helped his other half across, paused and held his hand out to me. Pulling on it, I jumped across without falling in the river and being washed down Dettifoss a couple of hundred metres downstream (a lot of tourists on the east bank getting far too close to an incredibly powerful waterfall). I took my pictures of Selfoss and returned, the step being a little easier in the other direction because you jump to the flat side of the central stepping stone rather than the point.
By now it was getting on a bit. I made a brief stop at the one and only bridge crossing this violent and frightening river, in order to walk half a kilometre back up the road to take a much-coveted photo of Hrossaborg – there’s a layby next to it but it’s at the wrong side, you can’t see its shape, hence the inconvenient stroll. From there, there was no real reason at all to stop until Egilsstaðir, 130-odd kilometres on. Brown desert, green desert, grey desert, green mountainous farmland, nothing to see.
By the time I reached Egilsstaðir, I was so tired I decided to pop into the pool before the final part of my journey, onwards to Reydarfjörður. That was nice but we were thrown out at six, which only gave me an hour, which isn’t enough to sit in nice hot water and daydream.
Tonight I’m back in Reydarfjördur, in the Fortitude Hotel. Not because I’m stalking Fortitude locations, just because it was available and cheap and sort of close to Egilsstadir. And now I finally realise that the teeny-tiny N1 across the road probably is that N1 as well, which I didn’t realise on my trip here last week, before I knew I’d be back. The Fortitude Hotel aka the Tærgesen B&B is where the hot water ran out. My room was up in the eaves, which was nice and it had skylights but the only covering was a sort of mesh blind that clearly wasn’t going to keep out the sun at 4am.
Tomorrow I have most of the day to get the stuff that’s been living in my car back into my luggage because tomorrow I fly back from Egilsstaðir to Reykjavik and then – and I’m quite excited – I’m staying at the Hilton, and that will certainly not run out of hot water.

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