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Reykjavķk Grapevine

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Reykjavķk Grapevine

						28  |  Reykjavík Grapevine  |  Issue 01 2008  |  Article
The engine huffed and puffed loudly as the modi-
fied Toyota Hilux bit its way over yet another 
stretch of sand, continuing on its run through an 
ever-shifting cloud of fuzz and dust. One more 
traveller was challenging the old Gæsavatnaleið 
trail. 
 Winding across a plateau of lava, sand and 
bare rock at the outskirts of the Dyngjujökull gla-
cier, only a generous amount of optimism and na-
ivety could induce someone to call Gæsavatnaleið 
a road. And the Icelandic Road Administration, in 
fact, has little or nothing to do there. Similarly, it 
would be quite superficial to consider Gæsavatna-
leið a simple drive. Rather, it is a real off-road rally, 
fit to exhaust the most enduring car and wear out 
even a highly experienced driver, a province of 
intrepid travellers and dedicated Rescue Team 
volunteers who proudly roam this no-man?s-land 
in search of situations where some help may be 
welcome ? a pioneer?s scenario that seems drawn 
from tales of other places and other times. Per-
haps symbolically, the trail takes its name from 
the only, tiny oasis of life and vegetation within 
an otherwise unbroken wasteland: the minuscule 
ponds of Gæsavötn, surrounded by moss. Be-
sides that small interruption and feeble glimpse 
of greenness, all else is black and naked along 
Gæsavatnaleið, between Askja and Nýidalur. 
 Travellers are regularly warned against the 
route. Regardless of the direction from which one 
approaches the track, the antiphony is the same: 
the land wardens will question the driver as to 
what sort of car is about to stand trial, whether 
it is owned or hired, whether it has 35-inch tyres, 
at least, between its body and the harsh ground. 
They will point out that while the road is only 
about 100 km long, one should realistically al-
locate 6-7 hours to complete it, that mechanical 
accidents are pretty common, and, also for that 
reason, that travelling in a convoy is definitely the 
least masochistic option. They will try to make 
sure, in the end, that nobody ventures further, 
unless relying on a monster vehicle and entirely 
conscious of what the undertaking might entail. 
Among all the routes and itineraries within the 
Icelandic highlands, Gæsavatnaleið is the only 
one for which I would gladly make an exception 
and give up walking in order to join the motorized 
legions of those rally drivers and adventurers.
 I waved my hand and gazed at the car glim-
mering white and eventually disappearing in the 
distance, until fresh tyre marks on the ground and 
a dissolving cloud of dust were all that remained. 
I pushed on and walked in complete solitude, 
roughly following the course of the trail for the 
remainder of the day. I walked until my skewed 
shadow was anticipating my steps late in the 
night, determined to cover, in two days of march-
ing, the sixty kilometres that separated me from 
fresh water in Gæsavötn. 
 Surprises were conveyed by the unreal and 
deceiving gleam of the evening. I reckon it was 
around 21:30 when I first stared at that new and 
unexpected devilry of the land. It appeared to 
be dark grey, hit by the last rays of a descending 
sun, a razor-sharp and menacing barrier straight 
ahead to the South, an array of acuminate teeth 
rising like a wall from the ground, geometric and 
angular, as if cut by square and knife. I halted and 
remained still for some time, trying hard to deci-
pher the strange spectacle that had just appeared 
before my eyes: from afar, they looked like hills of 
crude rock, and yet I had never heard of anything 
like that being in this part of the country. I hit the 
trail again and quickened the pace.
 It was under such circumstances, my gaze 
still fixed on those mysterious sculptures looming 
ahead, that I came across the mud. Concealed 
behind a row of mounds of sand and lava, lay a 
whole plain. Commonly flooded and submerged 
by the wash of glacial waters, it now unfolded 
arid and droughty, drained by the unnaturally dry 
season and consequent paucity of rain. It might 
be hard to believe that so much artistry can be 
produced by something as obvious and prosaic as 
dried mud ? yet that appeared to be precisely the 
case. It looked like an abstract painting in the late 
night air, stretching for many acres over the soil, a 
dazzling sequence of shades of black and grey, of 
sinuous lines and cryptic patterns. 
 Not even the closest examination proved 
sufficient to lift the veil of blindness entirely from 
my eyes. Not until I broke the ice with my trekking 
Across the Country in 40 Days
I wake up and set off 
fairly early in the morn-
ing. It is common knowl-
edge that wading in large 
glacial streams should be 
done in the early hours of 
the day, when the ice melt 
is least intense.
Both photos are from Dyngjujökull. 
Photos by Fabrizio Frascaroli
www.bluelagoon.com
Energy for life through forces of nature

					
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