Monday, August 22: The final section of our 5.5km loop hike at Vatnajökull National Park takes us around the traditional turf-roofed farmhouse of Sel.
The farm Sel in Skaftafell was built in 1912 and is a good example of the farms in this area until the middle of 1900. Until 1974, the area was very isolated because of the glacier rivers on both sides. Therefore the inhabitants had to provide themselves with whatever was needed.
These houses, for example, are built from driftwood collected from the coast. The last residents in Sel were Ólöf Sigurðardóttir and her husband Runolfur Bjarnason, in 1946. The farm is now under protection of the National Museum of Iceland.
From the vantage point at Sel, we can see the huge Skeiðarársandur stretching endlessly to the ocean.
I love this photo of an Icelandic horse standing on a slope with the sandur sprawled out behind and beneath him.
We go into the farmhouse where we find beds and a stove. They’re no longer used today, but we can see how these hardy souls once lived.
We continue to follow the loop at Vatnajökull National Park, heading downhill all the way.
We cross a bridge over the river we had seen at the beginning of the hike and then get on the well-traveled trail.
Though it was tough climbing uphill at the beginning of the hike, I’m more wary heading downhill. It’s very steep and gravelly, and since I’ve taken many a tumble on steep slopes covered in gravel, I proceed with caution. Some areas luckily have rubber erosion matting, which helps me to keep my grip on the ground.
Below is a map of the national park.
I’m so happy to reach our car in the parking lot so I can finally sit down. I’m exhausted. Now we have a long drive ahead to Vik, where we’ll spend the night.
The Ring Road in this part of the country passes through some bizarre landscapes. There is a vast desert-like plain of black volcanic sand with tufts of grasses, the Mýrdalssandur, where material from the Mýrdalsjökull glacier has been deposited. Water from that glacier flows out to sea through this plain.
We also pass through an otherworldly landscape of rocks covered in a mossy brownish-green fuzz. We get out to take a picture, and the wind is so strong it nearly lifts us up and carries us out to sea!
We pass through more endless sandy stretches with black rocks strewn haphazardly about. Finally, after what seems like a drive to the furthest isolated reaches of the world, we arrive at the very nondescript Hotel Puffin, right in the center of Vik. The wind is howling in this place!
Hotel Puffin is quite expensive and when we booked, the only room available was one with a terrace. Though we had thoughts of sitting on a terrace having a glass of wine an overlooking a nice scene, we were on the first floor and overlooked a trashy looking building and a garbage bin. No matter how we tried, we couldn’t get the terrace door open, so we finally gave up, knowing that it was too blustery and cold to use it anyway.
The rooms have an interesting volcanic pebble floor, which we haven’t seen in hotels elsewhere in Iceland.
After a bit of a rest, we head to dinner at Ströndin Bistro & Bar, which sits on the main road behind the N1 petrol station. The place is packed. Our waiter is Antonio, who hails from Germany but lived in New Zealand for 10 years; he now lives here in Vik. He is very helpful, trying to juggle a table of 10 and us; he seats us at the only empty table – for four – and asks if we would mind sharing a table with another couple; soon he brings a Swiss couple, Julie, a secretary for a law office, and Sebastian, a chemist. They speak French, as well as perfect English. They tell us that though some Swiss speak German, and they have studied German for 11 years, they still can’t speak it with other Swiss people. Because of the mountains separating communities, it’s easy to drive 100km and not be able to speak or understand the German spoken in the next town.
We so enjoy talking with these two. We ask them their thoughts about Brexit and they think it is the beginning of the EU’s dissolution. If Germany leaves, they say, it will fall apart. Poor countries like France, Spain, Greece, and Portugal are pulling the rich northern countries down. The Swiss voted down a referendum for more vacation time and the French didn’t understand it, they tell us. I love hearing the perspectives of people living in Europe just months before our looming election in November.
Our time here is the highlight of our day, a bit of warmth and social time to top off a long, cold and blustery day. I enjoy a wonderful dinner of Plokkfiskur með rúgbrauði, Icelandic Cod stew with potatoes and onions, served with rye bread and butter. Mike has Pönnusteikt Fagradalsbleikja með salati, bakaðri kartöflu og dillsinneps sósu, pan-fried Arctic char, served with baked potato, fresh salad and dill-mustard sauce.
Total steps today: 19,388 (8.22 miles). Only two full days left in Iceland, sadly.