Before Hannah and I arrived in Iceland, we’d hardly done any planning. We were both busy and preoccupied, and the concept that we’d be in ICELAND in T-x days’ time was so surreal that neither of us put any thought into what we’d do when we got here. At some point a few days before we left the US, one of my friends sent me a random website entitled “The 5 Best Kept Secrets in Iceland”. Hannah and I perused the site on our first day here, and decided that we’d take on at least three of these adventures during our trip.
Our second day in Iceland, I unintentionally misdirected us on our first adventure. We meant to hike up to Iceland’s tallest waterfall, but I misread the town on the website and ended up taking us to another Best Kept Secret – hot springs in a stream in remote NE Iceland, accessible only after trekking over moon-like mountains and fields studded with hidden, sulfur-gas-emitting, boiling water pits in the earth. Unsurprisingly, this Best Kept Secret did not disappoint.
The directions read, and I quote: “30km east of Reykjavík there is a small town called Hveragerði (you´ll find it on highway 1). Drive through the town and follow the single road until you come to a river with a small walking bridge. At the bridge you´ll find a sign that says “Reykjadalur 3.2km”. Follow the path into the mountains and walk for an hour or so. In the valley in the hill you will find a warm creek running down the hills. The creek, or small river, is quite warm at the top and gets cooler down the hills.”
“Find the creek in the valley in the hill, eh?”, we thought. “Seems simple.” Not so simple.
Regardless, after about 2 hours of hiking around a windy mountain, which was emitting plumes of sulfuric gas from giant, boiling mud pits scattered here and there, we found a trail and followed it up, up, up. Hannah and I argued whether the terrain looked more like the Moon or Mars. The only conclusion we came to was that this was definitely not Earth.
We came upon many beautiful sites during the hike. The trail was somewhat well-maintained, but that did not make the hike easy. Part of it was along the edge of steep cliffs, or involved crossing streams – either glacial or boiling – on slippery rocks. We also had to be very aware of where we were stepping:
I should mention here that Iceland has very few trees, and very little flora. The terrain on this hike was about 95% red and gray rock, and 5% green or gray moss clinging to red or gray rock. Beautiful, but again, wholly unearthly. It took us about twice as long to reach the hot spring as it should have because we kept stopping to take pictures and exclaim, “WTF?!”, or, “Oh my god, that’s soooo pretty!”, or, “Where ARE we?”.
We also made up a fun game which we call Cloud or Volcano? This game is played anytime we see a mountain with a plume of white or gray at the top. One of us points and says, “Cloud or Volcano?”. The answer is usually Volcano. (Except it’s actually usually a cloud. Though sometimes, yes, it is a volcano. The game is somewhat subjective.).
Throughout the hike, we kept coming upon the same stream. Each time, we’d feel its temperature, and it became increasingly warmer the higher we climbed. Finally, after being totally engulfed in a cloud of sulfuric gas spewing from a huge, gaping hole in the earth’s crust, we found a wonderfully bath-like temperature. We stripped to our underwear – and at this time, I’ll mention it was FREEZING and WINDY as all hell – and jumped into the stream.
We lounged in the stream for a while, enjoying the sharp contrast between the icy wind blowing through our hair and the jacuzzi temperature of this sandy creek in the Icelandic mountains. Thanks, Mother Nature.
The only sucky part of this day was getting out of the warm stream, dripping wet, and having to put our clothes back on on the frozen riverbank. At this point we were so cold that we didn’t even care that we were basically (or, in my case, totally) naked, out in the open, frantically pulling on our dry clothes. You’re welcome, random Canadian man enjoying the stream – and the view – a couple yards upstream. I hope you enjoyed the show.
After we made our way down from the mountains (extremely faster than our ascent), we found a coffeeshop where we got directions to some other towns that were not Reykjavik (you have to understand that “town” is used very loosely here, because besides Reykjavik, all towns we’ve been to have only a few houses, a church, and a gas station/restaurant combo. Also, they all have a playground with a fun twirly slide. They must really love their slides here). We got back in our little hatchback and I drove us on, into remote, barren, and beautiful eastern Iceland, the land of sheep and snow-covered mountains. More in the next post on this adventure – and on what we found for dinner.