Translated Jeff Matthews
I knew this would be a kind of initiation rite for me, but I didn't expect it to be so dense with symbols. I wound up at the end of my experience right there where the Earth regenerates and gives birth to itself: the mid-Atlantic fault. The ridge of the fault emerges from the depths of the sea in the Þingvellir (Anglicized as Thingvellir) National Park (photo 1) amidst geysers, lakes of crystalline waters and deep fractures in the ground.
1. Panorama of Þingvellir National Park
Day 7 - I got away on time from Skulagardur and its Spatan-like shelter, the River Guesthouse. Now a day awaits me—if all goes well—that will see me backtrack along the road to Rejkyavik and the great steel bird. Thus I shall conclude my personal migration, returning to the south to gaze once again at the sun and enjoy her summer warmth. This land, however, ever true to itself, gives me the entire stretch under leaden skies (photos 2 & 3) broken only by intense cloudbursts; I'm paradoxically surrounded by darkness now—which I might have welcomed earlier when I was trying to get some sleep—when I could use a bright and tranquil sunny day. It'll cost me 100 km more but I decide not to abandon the safe asphalt ring road, the S1, that runs the perimeter of the island—that is, not to risk the perils of cutting across on the dirt roads of the interior. (My earlier ventures on those roads has dampened my spirit of adventure!) The kilometers flow by rapidly; I see by now some familiar points of reference and I reach the capital in the late afternoon. I find the Guest House from my very first night and am set for the evening.
8th and final day – This evening I catch my flight home, but before that I want to grant myself a last outing to have a look at the geological wonders that are a feature of Iceland: the geysers and the active faults of the Þingvellir National Park. Every nook and cranny of the island bears witness to volcanism. Every rock and water course, every high plain and valley, and even the sea with her black beaches and sharp crags and rocks tell of the torment and violence of the origins of Iceland. Some of these features are more manifest than others: one of these is in the south of the island, where the mid-Atlantic ridge rises from the depths of the oceanic abyss. The entire area is also known as the “Golden Circle” and has a mild climate, perhaps because of the residual energy that the Gulf Stream is still able to generate after a journey of some 10,000 km.
I leave Rejkyavik early in the morning—finally a bright sunny day!—and travel the 150 km that separate me from Geyser, the place name that has become the eponym for the geological phenomenon. It's a pleasant drive on an asphalt road, marked by the presence of motels and places to eat. As before, I can tell that I have arrived when I see a large parking area surrounded by buildings that exist just to handle tourists. They are well coddled here and find everything their hearts desire—restaurants, information, souvenir shops and small but comfortable lodging. I park my car and join the parade of fellow excursionists, who are no doubt going in the right direction: to the geysers! It's a dirt trail, slightly uphill, and runs along a channel, a rivulet of stones and brightly-colored sulfuric mineral deposits. A sign written in various languages warns us against bathing because the waters can suddenly turn very hot. As I move on and up towards the top, a number of smaller jets of boiling water start to spout (photos 4 & 5). I'm moving slowly, stopping to take photos when all of a sudden—with no warning, no noise to let us know what is about to happen—a powerful jet of water shoots up more than 30 meters into the sky. I'm still a bit back from it, but it's impressive nonetheless. I pick up the pace and reach a clearing where I note the presence of a safety barrier to keep us away from a large body of water of intense blue (photo 6). The water level fluctuates periodically, rising and lowering tens of meters as if driven by a giant bellows breathing from the deep. It is the breath of Gaia. Minutes pass and nothing happens; then suddenly the breathing cycles through and appears again in all her majesty. The powerful jet reaches her high point in a few seconds and then drops down again under her own weight, a waterfall held aloft and driven by the wind (photos 7 & 8). It happens quickly and leaves me dumbfounded and unable to get even one photo. It's not so bad, though; I'll wait it out—10 minutes till the next one. I pass that time and then stay a bit to witness a few repetitions in utter admiration of the event. I go back to my car; before leaving, I want to see the last geological wonder that I came for—the mid-Atlantic ridge, the most prized attraction of nearby Þingvellir National Park.
I set off and watch the panorama change rapidly. The rough mountains turn to low green slopes mirrored in the clear waters of the many lakes (photos 9 & 10). I run past a few of them and finally reach my destination. Then I proceed on foot along a narrow and twisting trail that winds through the vegetation. It's not all that easy to move along the trail since there is a constant flow of persons moving in both directions. Suddenly the vegetation is gone and I find myself on a sort of terrace that lets me look out over what you might call a low canyon, like a long thoroughfare, really. It's almost straight and is protected on both sides by two perfectly vertical rock walls some tens of meters high (photo 11). I am walking in the middle of the so-called median valley (or rift) of the mid-Atlantic ridge (photo 12)! It's fantastic to realize that this is a boundary; the wall on my right is part of the North American continental plate and the wall on my left marks the beginning of the European plate. I'm in a “no-man's land” where, indeed, the planet generates new land and increases the distance between the two continents. This is a moment when I realize once again that we are all insignificant compared to the majesty of Gaia. I walk along the great fracture and manage to climb over a fence and pass well beyond the normal tourist path (photo 13). The two sides start to converge, making the canyon even narrower; as well, the ground I am walking on has started to slope downward (photo 14). All at once, the sky above disappears from view as the walls on the sides converge totally; the trail continues into the darkness of a narrow underground passage (photo 15). Suddenly the temperature drops and the ground is covered by a blanket of dirty snow, made darker by dirt from surrounding rock (photo 16). I press forward into the chaos of boulders and broken rock until I can go no further (photo 17). I have reached a dead-end, a point where one section of the great fault is blocked—at least until the next earthquake.
My journey to this land at the borders of the world is finished. In a few hours, the plane that brought me here will take me home. I have mixed feelings—part of me is not yet ready to leave. I want to stay! Who knows all the things I didn't see and whether I'll ever have another chance to get back here to walk the lands of the north? I know I'll miss the immense glacial valleys, the high lava bastions, the endless volcanoes and lovely falls of icy waters. I'll miss trips into the rough and arid mountains, the small flocks of wild sheep (photos 17 & 18) and all those thermal baths where you dip yourself right in even while a biting wind lashes the heath around you. I regret leaving without having seen the magic of the aurora borealis or seen in flight the strange bird called the Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) (photo 20), without having heard the songs of the whales in the deep coastal fjords or the call of the noble Orca as the pod migrates. Yet I am sure that what I did manage to see will stay with me for the rest of my life. Thank you, Iceland.