Iceland 2022: days four and five

Today was an 8am pickup from my door and a minibus trip 45 minutes east along the Ring Road to Hveragerði for my horse trip and hot river hike.

We were dressed up in luminous orange rubbery waterproofs and riding helmets and then paired with horses. Mine was Vorboðar which means Bringer of Spring. He was brown, relatively tall and had quite a lot of grey in his mane. We were the beginner group, the “done it less than 20 times” group which was a step up from the most accurate box I was forced to tick when I booked, which was “never been on a horse”. The next step was something like “much experience” and although neither were the right answer, it’s better to underestimate for these things.

Off we went and five minutes later, just as we were getting comfortable, Molly announced that we were going to cross the river. Even on horseback, my feet were nearly in the water and I was petrified Vor was going to get swept off his hooves. Icelandic horses are very strong but they’re not very tall and this was a lot of water!

We walked nicely more or less in parallel with the Ring Road for a while then turned sharp left. We were going to try the tölt, the unique fifth gait that Icelandic horses have. It’s about trot speed but while it looks a bit crazy it’s supposed to be very smooth. With Íshestar, it’s the experienced riders who get to try the tölt, not the people like me who hardly know which end bites and which end kicks. And it was terrifying! I can hang on while Vor walks sedately but when he picks up the speed you realise actually there’s nothing to hang on to!

We covered nearly 9km and by the time I got back I seemed to be getting used to tölting. It is more comfortable than walking – my legs ached from being held in the stirrups but somehow they hurt less when we tölted and I found I didn’t need to hang on as tightly as I thought at first.

Soon realised what had been happening to my legs when I dismounted. Ouch. Hobble waddle hobble waddle. My boots were soaked through and squelching and my trousers were damp for reasons I still can’t figure out, except my orange rubber trousers clearly weren’t 100% waterproof. The enormous jacket had done its job though.

Once we were unchanged, we were sent into the canteen. The morning riders had coffee and cake and those of us hiking were sent across to the farm’s hotel for lunch (or to eat our packed lunches as discreetly as possible in the hotel). Over the course of that hour I began to suspect I was the only one doing the hike. Yep! I admit, if I’d been booking it on the day I wouldn’t have done it but I wasn’t expecting this kind of rain and fog three weeks ago. So we put on our own non-orange waterproofs and off we went. Yes, I don’t know my guide’s name. She’s young, German and from Bielefeld (which doesn’t exist, so she can’t be) but no idea what her name was.

The hot river is up the valley behind Hveragerði. It turns out “up” is the operative word. It’s the opposite of a valley. It’s an hour-long hike up a mountain. In the pouring rain with no view and boots that were sloshing before we began. Worst of all, we knew when we started that because of the rain, the river wouldn’t be warm enough to bathe in. I was fine with that when I was imagining three gentle kilometres through a valley. But an hour of trudging uphill to a fast-flowing ice-cold river?

I bought a t-shirt when I got back to Eldhestar. Everything in my bag and pockets was soaked. My boots were soaked. Since they were already so wet I’d splashed through a few streams instead of risking the slippery stepping stones. My sleeves were soaked. My gloves had got soaked on the horse so I’d pulled my sleeves down over my hands. My raincoat and heated coat were both wet but my t-shirt was reasonably dry and so was anything above the elbows of my thermal top. But I bought this t-shirt and sat in the canteen with my wet stuff scattered around me until the afternoon horse lot were finished and then I sat in the back corner of the minibus to gently steam all the way back to Reykjavík.

Back home I scattered my wet stuff everywhere. That’s everything from my waterproof coat to the spare camera battery I had in a bag in the belly of my backpack. There wasn’t space to put all the wet stuff. I had to spread some of it on the floor. I changed, I ate, and since it was earlier than I’d expected and I’d missed my dip and I’d checked the Easter opening hours, I went to Sundhöllin to properly warm up in the hot water.

Today was another 8am start, indecent when you’re supposed to be on holiday. Golden Circle plus Secret Lagoon. I’ve done the Golden Circle as a tour at least three times and I’ve driven bits of it or all of it even more times. It remains both fun and interesting.

Bára dropped us at the Þingvellir viewpoint and gave us 50 mins to walk down through Almannagjá to meet her at parking 2. I detoured through the park to see a cleft with clear blue water which meant wading through two fluddles. I was wearing my sandals. My coats had dried out and I had more clothes but my boots were still soaked. So I waded through those fluddles. I’ve paddled in cold things in Iceland and in cold things right here below the Drowning Pool in Þingvellir but this was cold.

Next stop: Gullfoss, possibly my least favourite of the Golden Circle’s Big Three. There’s a path out to a rock that sticks out into the middle of the waterfall, literally, with only knee-high ropes to stop you falling in. I’ve often wondered how that’s even allowed. Well, it isn’t anymore. There’s a gate and the path is closed. Maybe it opens when there isn’t ice on the path or when the flow is low or… I don’t know, maybe it’s not permanent but it was closed today. I walked along the cliff at the top to above that rock. Never seen Gullfoss from that angle.

Third was Geysir and our lunch stop. I always like Geysir. Explosions of boiling water don’t get old. This was where the group split. Those of us going to the Secret Lagoon had an hour and everyone else had nearly two hours because they had to wait for Bára to drop us off and return for them.

The Secret Lagoon is quite good! It’s very rustic compared to the Sky or Blue Lagoons – just a roughly rectangular pool 1.2m deep fed with water from the surrounding hot springs. The bottom is gravelly and the sides are furry with algae. They have crates of pool noodles so everyone’s floating around on a few. There’s no temperature regulation. Near the hot springs (which are separated from the pool in one place by just a rope) the water is painfully hot and it varies around the lagoon although as our time there zoomed to an end, the entire lagoon seemed to become painfully hot. I loved the first 50 minutes but five minutes later I was ready to escape.

Bára distributed Easter eggs. Pre-plague it was samples of Icelandic flatbread but that’s not allowed anymore. The eggs contained what I assume is quotes from Hávamál, the Old Norse classical poem that appears in the Poetic Edda. I haven’t opened or eaten mine yet but people did on the bus and then yelled their mál down to Bára to translate. As you might expect, what got yelled by non-Icelandics was usually incomprehensible and the piece of paper had to be passed down the bus to be read.

We made one bonus stop on the way back. I’m not allowed to say where it is but it’s a red scoria crater that’s being mined for gravel. Yes, a gravel pit – but a pretty one! Its walls are red in places and green and grey in places and almost tie-dyed in between. It’s not a standard Golden Circle stop – it’s an active gravel pit with mining machinery in it but it was very beautiful and there isn’t much left on a Golden Circle itinerary that’s new to me now.

We got back to Reykjavík quite early – 5, 5.30 maybe? I could have had another hour in the Secret Lagoon and got back by 6.30 but never mind. Today is Easter Sunday so the pools close early but at least I have a free evening to rearrange my damp stuff and catch up on the blog. Tick. Done that.

Tomorrow is a lazy day. I’m not getting out of bed until at least nine. I’m getting the bus to the big pool (I’ve checked the opening hours; I just have to check the bus times) and if the shops are open I’ll top up my food supplies. Mostly the bread.

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