Many miles of roller coaster road after leaving Reykjavik, we had arrived in northwestern Iceland.
It's half past four. The day just passed the middle. We caught the person responsible for Glaumbaer prepared to close the reception building and his working day.
Agust Sigurjónsson is satisfied. Return to work mode and to the interior of houses under the grass. It expands on explanations that intrigue us.
To ruin his already short period of rest, these explanations raise new questions: “Once, most dwellings in this area – and on the island in general – were built on turf, which the Nordic settlers found in abundance in the swamps and bogs." eloquently transmits to us the son of Sigurjón.
Glaumbaer's Village of Peat and Grass
He continues: “Glaumbaer was a Lutheran priestly mansion but it followed the same construction techniques employed by the humble dwellings of the colony. He almost only used wood in the facades.”
In this era, even more than now, trees were scarce in Iceland. The boards rarely arrived from Norway or Denmark and were a luxury. The best that the poor population could do was to collect the logs that faced the coast to reinforce the combustion of dry peat and the heating of homes.
On a geothermal planetary scale, the Gulf Stream has long been helping. We read over and over that, despite being located at an extreme latitude, Iceland has a temperate climate.
It is this semi-warm sea flow that makes its temperatures higher than those of other territories located at similar latitudes. It also keeps the island's coasts free from ice, even in winter.
A mere hundred kilometers from Greenland and 50 to the east of Glaumbaer, we enter the gorge of Oxnadalsheidi and find ourselves surrounded by imposing mountains.
We watched the temperature drop sharply on the car thermometer and the snow cover the entire landscape.
Like the island's ancestral inhabitants and those of today, we quickly learned to discount information.
Towards Akureyri and Closer to the Arctic
There are high altitude farms perched on both slopes, supposedly safe from both avalanches and floods caused by the summer melt.
In a fresh snowfall, we ended up on the western bank of Eyjafjördur fjord. We head towards the bay that encloses it and, shortly thereafter, we come across Akureyri, the small capital of the great north.
Of the nearly 322.000 Icelanders, more than a third live in the urban area of the capital Reykjavik. In Akureyri, the second city, less than 18.000 live.
Icelandic participants in winter sports competitions where the Scandinavian, Finnish and Alpine peoples of Europe face off against each other are rare.
Akureyri does, however, have the best snow resorts in the country that help some residents and many more foreigners to earn a living or pass their time.
We met Ivo Martins, a Portuguese guide who has been working from the city for five years.
Among so many other notions, the compatriot tells us about the psychological profile of the people who welcomed him: “despite being welcoming and friendly at first sight, the Icelanders themselves recognize that they have difficulties in relating.
Here in Akureyri, they even gave the traffic lights the shape of a heart, to remind themselves that they have to love each other. But Iceland retains one of the highest rates of single women, among other worrying indicators.”
Husavik and the Complicated Whale Sighting on “Hildur”
Shortly after an early morning awakening in Husavik, a fishing town in the north, we embarked on the “Hildur", an originally traditional vessel withbuilt in 1974 in the northern Icelandic capital Akureyri but that, in 2009, he took a 10-day trip to Ekernsund, in Denmark, where it was converted into a two-masted schooner with 250m2 squares of candles.
Since then, Hildur it has been used on several epic voyages including coastal expeditions to neighboring Greenland. And was about to set sail for a short navigation of whale watching in the bay of Skjálfandi.
As predicted, we made our way along the frigid coast until we came to an islet colonized by puffins. From there, the oak vessel sails towards the island of Flatey. When he abandons the protection of the coast, he is subject to the vagaries of the high seas.
The “66º” navigation suit that the crew lent to the passengers begins by indicating good protection against the low temperature and, at least in the initial phase of the four and a half hours of navigation, we have no reason to complain.
A Painful Navigation Among Cetaceans
But the breeze quickly turns into a harsh wind that raises considerable waves at the confluence of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. Some wet clothes and shoes intensify a cold in itself that is difficult to bear.
Meanwhile, the passengers most vulnerable to the swing begin to resent the long-awaited seasickness.
Two young blond Icelandic sailors struggle to keep the sails under control. They also try to cheer up the suffering hosts with an energetic utterance in English and promises of guaranteed sightings of large cetaceans.
They fulfill them when the helmsman brings us close to humpback whales on the northern edge of Skjálfandi Bay. Whales often surface on both sides of the boat and off imposing white cliffs kept frozen by the irrigation of moisture provided by the north wind.
We follow them for half an hour and their movements, to the general disillusionment of the spectators on board, not very acrobatic but always culminating in the graceful sinking of the gigantic rear fins.
We leave them to devour the disgraced arctic krill in industrial quantities. A little later, the peculiar view of the island of Flatey and its houses catches our attention. The highest point on this island is only 22 meters.
As the Hildur travels the nearly 9km back to Husavik harbour, still and always buffeted by the icy wind and snow, we gaze at the school building, the church and the lighthouse and wonder what has been on the mind of the a small community of Icelanders ex-residents to be isolated there, no matter how plentiful the fish were.
Providential Return to the Port of Husavik
We dock at the port to shiver. One of the crew made a point of softening and glorifying the suffering we had shared: “There's hot chocolate and raisin cakes here for everyone. They were really brave. I assure you that this was one of the most arduous and chilling outings we have had to date. "
We get in the car, turn the air conditioning on at maximum heat, drink the cocoa and recover the lost body heat. After resuscitation was achieved, we took off on Route 87 pointing towards the interior of Iceland.
We can see on the panel thermometer how the cold tightens again under an already clear sky and, outside, a thick snow cover that seems far from melting.
Flocks of ducks, geese and other migratory birds follow one another on both sides of the road, grouped around semi-solid puddles in which they despair of finding food.
The Frigid-Infernal Domain of Myvatn, the Fire of Iceland
We went up to the algid lands in the heart of the island. Little by little, we are approaching the area where temperatures are usually lowest, around Grimsstadir, where, in January 1918, it was -38º.
Without warning, the road also undergoes snow. For several kilometers, we drive over a mixture of asphalt and ice that the wind keeps blowing. But however much Iceland cools on the surface, even beneath its endless glaciers it remains in a white-hot stir.
In few areas the scars of this thermal confrontation are as notorious as around Myvatn (Lake of the Flies), the inhospitable stronghold in which we continued to immerse ourselves.
The shallow eutrophic lake that gives the park its name was formed by a major eruption more than 2300 years ago. Unsurprisingly, the surrounding scenery is dominated by jagged lava shapes, including pillars and pseudo-craters.
We advance to Dimmuborgir where we don't see a soul in the reception building. We ascend to an observation point and contemplate the blackened and desolate landscape as far as the eye can see, generated by a lava channel that collapsed, released an abundant flow that invaded a waterlogged swamp and thus generated huge pillars and other chaotic formations.
This is the dark realm that, in Icelandic mythology, links the Earth to the hells. Norse Christian mythology goes further.
It claims that Dimmuborgir is the place where Satan landed when he was cast out of the heavens and created the Catacombs of Hell. And a Norwegian symphonic black-metal band, in turn, took advantage of the imagery of the place and named themselves – forgive us the nonsense – Dimmu Borgir.
Spring to Icelandic Fashion
But we are far from feeling the heat of the flames of the depths, even if they were only those of Purgatory. An army of gray clouds had also ventured into those unlikely lands.
At that very moment, it refreshes us with one more snowfall that accompanied us all over the island.
The flakes mottle the crumble terrestrial and the clear vision that we had hitherto had of it. Even so, under the weather, we detect a couple venturing on the trail that winds through the landscape and disappears behind patches of lava.
We returned to the surroundings of the lake and found colonies of birds incomparably more numerous than those we had seen on the way back. We backtracked to the park's north entrance.
In Skútustadir, we make ourselves brave and go for a walk in a scenario that we considered more meritorious and less gloomy than DimmuBorgir.
Strong gusts almost drive us off the narrow, icy path.
But it's when we climb to the top of the first pseudocrater that we feel the true power of the Icelandic wind.
With difficulty, we cling to the railing of the viewpoint and let ourselves be amazed by the extraterrestrial eccentricity of the vastness around us.
Dozens of other pseudocraters endow the icy, erosion-smoothed plateau.
The lake's contours impose themselves on the colored heterogeneity of the surface, give way to a white immensity and, finally, to the different shapes of the surrounding volcanoes: the conical Hlídarfjall, the Gaesafjoll; further away, also Krafla, whose energy the Icelandic government has harnessed since 1977, through a 60 MWe geothermal station.
The Craters, Caldeiras and Fumaroles of Fogo and Ice Island
We skirt around Gardur and the countless lava islets in the southwest corner of the lake. In the vicinity of the flattened crater of Hverfjall, we are attracted by walls made of pieces of lava cutting up land, which at the time had little or nothing agricultural.
In the extension of these walls, we glimpse another enchanting natural pattern, formed by white patches of semi-melted snow on the yellow-brown of the dry meadow.
In the background, between this meadow and the sky already blue again, the old volcano imposes its own fashion, in a geological and meteorological outfit with swaths of ice that line the black slopes.
We conquer it step by step. Once at the top, we stopped to catch our breath and again appreciate the white expanse of Myvatn, in particular the Hlídarfjall, which is so sharp it has the power to impress despite measuring less than 800 meters in altitude.
Inland, Hverfjall reveals its heated crater that the deep magna keeps black by melting all the snow that lands there, including the one that starts to fall once more.
The wind rages and the blizzard thickens. We scramble down the slippery trail and point to the road. Along the way, we passed a herd of Icelandic horses in an empathic formation.
With their backs to the aggression of the weather, the animals find our visit strange and neigh in a strange high-pitched tone typical of the species.
Two of them, more curious, break the formation to establish contact. We stroke their golden manes until we agree to a simultaneous stampede. The horses return to the comfort of the herd, us to the warm seats of the car.
A Return to Husavik from the Otherworld
The afternoon is drawing to a close. We reversed gears towards Husavik where we had planned to have dinner and opted for an itinerary different from the one of our arrival, which seemed to take a shortcut. Dusk begins and the temperature plummets.
At one point, we could barely make out the road completely sunk in snow and ice. Only the yellow stakes stuck in the curb, the winter tires and the effective four-wheel drive calm us down and compel us to continue on such a bleak route.
Along the way, we see the sun's ball descend over distant mountains and orange the celestial half of the horizon. À At the entrance to the city, the mountains give way to a vast icy beach and, instead of orange, the atmosphere has already turned to a lilac that darkens before our eyes.
We drove slowly between the one-story houses in the village, but we still didn't find the hotel building. Without suspecting the mistake, we entered the wrong garden and passed in front of the panoramic window of a villa.
Inside, a whole family is cozily sharing any TV show and our ridiculous episode of “Lost".
A lady comes to the door: “they're looking for the Husavik Cape, right? It's the entrance down there. They are still undergoing renovations. Do not worry. They are far from being the first. Lately, people look at the scaffolding, it's hard for them to believe it's there and they all come here.”
We say goodbye with more excuses. Finally, there we knocked on the right door. The shy receptionist seems resigned to the lack of signage and gets down to business: “Welcome. Get settled in and have some coffee or tea. I'll give you the rest of the directions.”
On the way back from the room, we didn't find him at his post. We notice that we are on top of a promontory opposite the center of Husavik, the city that the book of colonization (Landná mabók) claims to have been the first place in Iceland populated by a Scandinavian settler.
We take advantage of the spare minutes to peek into the night at anchor there, embellished by the lights that come on around the wooden church Húsavíkurkirkja, above the port and the village's amphitheater in general.
Once again, unexpectedly, snowflakes begin to hover over that Icelandic coast facing the Arctic. They were far from the last.