Photo by Ragnar Sigurdsson
Flying up to Akureyri, Iceland’s second-largest city, I take to the road to Hell. Viti, Icelandic for “Hell”, is a volcanic crater in the Krafla area, rich in lava flows and steaming pools of bubbling mud.
A Nissan Patrol on chunky, studded tires is the preferred vehicle, its tire pressures reduced to what seems an insanely low level to gain traction on the loose black volcanic soil. These lunar moonscapes were used by NASA to train astronauts for the Apollo landings. Reaching the top, I get out to admire the view but the icy rain soon has me back inside the cabin’s warmth.
“If you don’t like the weather now, wait five minutes” is a common saying here and, sure enough, the next day dawns bright and sunny. There is also a fresh breeze, good news for I will be riding an Icelandic horse around Lake Mývatn the “Lake of Midges”, named for its swarms of tiny flies but which the wind keeps off me. My horse seems tiny but it is very sturdy, descended from Viking steeds introduced to Iceland more than 1,000 years ago and purebred ever since. They are noted for their “tölt” gait, a sort of fast-paced trot that is a very comfortable way of covering long distances – once you get used to it. In a rough landscape, with few roads, this was a prized characteristic.
In contrast to many other Icelanders I meet, my riding companion Bergur, who runs a horse-breeding farm, says not another word after “Hello” until a “Goodbye” hours later but he is not being rude. In a country with such a small population, being used to your own company is also prized and we are out to enjoy the spectacular scenery and the silence of nature. The sagas of his Viking ancestors are still a popular read in Iceland and one says: “Often is there regret for saying too much, and seldom regret for saying too little.”
As we rest the horses and enjoy a view of towering clouds reflected in the clear waters of the lake, an exchange of glances is enough to show that we both appreciate the beauty laid out before us.
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