Friday, November 30, 2007

Iceland Hotspot

This month my wife, Crystal, is guest writer for my blog. I am using a new format for my photos... the square ones are cropped thumbnails of bigger images. Click on the thumb to see a larger full version of the photo, then use your BACK button to return to this blog. Here's Crystal's take on another of our Iceland adventures.  Enjoy!

Once we rendezvoused with Sue and Jeff, we packed into our Toyota Corolla and headed east to Hveragardi, one of the hottest hot spots in Iceland. Hveragardi's water is too hot and mineralized for heating homes, but somehow it's suitable for heating greenhouses, making this town of 2000 people the farming center for the capital.

Our hotel, Frost and Fire, was our favorite of all the fabulous places we stayed in Iceland. It's intimate and artistic rooms were built on the banks of a cold stream, with steam pouring out of earthen vents throughout the surrounding hills. The proprietors channeled the abundant, free hot water to heat their swimming pool, hot pots and sauna. When we weren't hiking, you know what we were doing.

Hiking in this region was like a walk through a fascinating, heavenly version of hell. Heaven in particular for our geologist, Jeff, who found himself awash in teaching moments. We followed the steam more than the trails, in awe of the Earth's guts oozing up from her steaming, ominous portals.

We climbed a high ridge for expansive views of the mossy hills with Hveragardi off in the distance. Hunkered down happily in the moss, sheltered from the wind, we shared a lunch of Icelandic cheeses and breads. How could we let a little drizzle faze us when we were sitting smack dab atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, with the North American and Eurasian continental plates tugging apart from one another in geologic fast-time right beneath these very hills, making for some mighty rumbly goings-on just under the surface of the deceptively firm ground.

The trail led us past amazing geological features: burbling mud pots . . . .boiling hot pots . . . . . vents of steam . . . . .portals of clear blue water, some warm, some extremely hot, surrounded by gorgeous layers of travertine of various thickness – crystalized minerals in textured shades of orange, blue, green, yellow, and red. David went hog-wild with his camera, spanning the thin travertine to get vertical shots of the vents, he fell in once up to his thigh – it shook him up, but lucky for him, and us, it wasn't a boiling one.

A rainy day in the off-season, the only other people we saw all afternoon were a group of silent horseback riders whose bright orange jump-suits amidst the fog and steam added to the surreal ambience. That, and a few sheep ambling along the hillside trail.

We were intrigued by a wide curtain of steam ascending from a valley across a river. We had no trail map, and the trails were unmarked, but two things were clear: the trails did not cross the river, and, we really wanted to find a hot river in which to soak. We decided to go for it. The off-trail moss was deep and wet, soaking our boots – no matter because the river was impossible to cross without getting wet anyhow. Following the steam, we found our spot, after testing many for just the right temperature. But at that very moment, the rain let loose and the wind picked up, and we hesitated, thinking it might be best to high-tail it back before we really got soaked. Thank goodness we came to our senses. We tucked our damp clothes under our backpacks and slithered in. Aaaaah. Sue and I applied mudpacks for the full, high-end spa experience.

The long trek back in the wind and rain almost got us down. In spite of getting our core temperatures warmed up in the river, we were freezing by the time we reached our car. But the hot tubs awaited us back home, and those delicious beds with real foam mattresses and down comforters. Yeah, we managed.