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Translated Jeff Matthews

The journey continues with no change in the weather whatsoever. I have resigned myself to tedious gloom. The clouds are driven by high strong winds that spin like turbines to reveal patches of open blue in the leaden skies. Those are, however, but brief illusions. Today the sun will not conquer the clouds. The rain starts up again as I follow the lonely road to Hellnar, a small urban settlement of interest to visitors for the rocky features that characterize the steep cliffs on the sea.

The first building I come across is the Primis Kaffi (Cafè Primus... how strange this Latin name in a land so distant from areas of Roman influence) where I decide to take a break—a wise decision, I must say! A quick meal, a slice of cake and some coffee give me the strength to keep going. Along the road I cannot help but notice a small cemetery and a chapel (unfortunately closed). I snap some photos of the ancient tombstones and keep going down, where I reach the rocky bay. Cliff faces, as is often the case hereabouts, are of dark basalt lava, which in some sections display bright and petrified strata similar to obsidian. The contrast with the color of the sea that laps at the base of the cliffs is striking and looks for all the world like a backdrop for one of those tales of epic battle that abound in sagas of the north. A short distance away there is a natural arch that separates the shore—a long stretch of large, smooth and slippery rocks—from a small arm of the sea that has moved in among the rocks to create an inlet, a kind of pool, the waters of which are intensely emerald in color.

My attention, however, is focused on the entrance to a grotto that faces on the bay. It is doubtless a short lava tube. As I move nearer I notice a beam of light issuing from within, evidently marking the presence of a second entrance higher up at a point such as to let these tiny rays of the sun filter through, in this case letting one in that has just peeped through a hole in the clouds. The temptation is too much for me. I go in and try to let my eyes adjust to the sudden decrease in friendly photons of light while at the same time trying not to smack my head on obstacles. A few seconds do the trick for my eyes and now I can see enough to make out the surrounding area. I see the light source, but it's no longer a solid beam of light; perhaps high above it has again ducked behind a cloud. Now it's just a luminous point in the vault. The floor of the grotto is covered with large pieces of rock, partially fallen from the ceiling; they are strewn about in random fashion leaving large spaces among them. I start to clamber and slide up among them and gain a little height. That luminous point has now grown a bit and I discern a kind of skylight, an opening in this “roof” that leads outside.

I size up the dimensions and particularly my own chances of making it through without falling and breaking my neck. I stretch out to look for handholds that will help me get through to the outside again. I make it through and out, take a few short leaps down and once again feel the cool sea breeze on my face. It is just as I thought: a short lava tube that formed when the hot lava flow cooled suddenly upon contact with the sea and the still liquid lava suddenly withdrew upon itself. What a paradise this land is for geologists and volcanologists! Outside I find myself along a trail that runs the border of the steep cliffs where there are hundreds of nesting seabirds.

Now back in my car I pick up the trail to the west and round the cape to reach first Hellissandur and then Ólafsvík. I am now on the way back and have a chance along the way to see many of those stone mounds so common here. [They are called 'cairns' in English; the Icelandic term is 'steinvarða' or simply 'varða', 'vörður' plural. The 'ð' is pronounced like 'th' in 'the'. ]. Back in Italy I will later learn that they were man-made and either ancient Viking monuments or, as many hold, simply trail makers from olden times, guides from one place to another around the island.

It is evening and, for the last time, I am back at the Edda Hotel. Tomorrow I'm off to the far north for the last leg of this fantastic voyage—directly to the land of the Trolls.

To be continued---

Click on images to enlarge

1. The chapel

2. The cemetery

3. The bay

4. The cliff

5. The emerald-colored pool

6. Folds in the lava face

7. Smooth rocks

8. Entrance to the lava tube

9. Cliffs on the sea

10. Stone mounds

11. Stone mounds

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21 August 2019

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