Iceland: Route F208, 2009

From Leirubakki we decided to drive to the base of Hekla, the snow-capped volcano. Most of the tracks on the way were gravel. LK drove. We saw a rainbow but the weather got worse from then on. At a steep hump where it looked as if we could go no further, we got out of the car and walked. The black mountains obscured the bit of light coming through the dark clouds. Ten minutes into our walk, LK and LS turned back to get the car while B and I walked forward.

The landscape was fantastic. The black rock was mysterious and the glowing green moss magical and the white ice alluring and the fog and rain and mist dreamlike. We continued on our way to the base of Hekla, where there was a deserted table with a metal box on it. In the box was a guest book. Beatrice signed it on our behalf. We took a group picture. We did not try to climb Hekla. It was cold and windy and beginning to rain. The girls decided to do star jumps for the camera. We passed some amazing scenes in the rain on the way back. The moss stayed bright in the dim light. "Glow in the dark," I said for the millionth time.

The first river crossing

Early breakfast and check-out, then on the road to Landmannalaugar, or 'landsman's bath'. Part of the drive was the same as the way to Hekla, but instead of turning into Hekla we stayed on the F208 route. This took us round some spectacular, frequently-changing landscape: from bright green moss to deep blue streams, black rock to white ice, flat plains and winding mountains and river crossings.

At the first major crossing, we weren't confident so we decided to wait for another vehicle to come by. I walked around to see whether there was an alternative route. Meanwhile, LK needed urgently to go to the toilet but of course there was none around. LS had already relieved herself 'al fresco' several times during the trip, and was almost boastful about it. I came back from my walk in time to see a car coming from a distance towards us. LK was behind a rock and partially hidden from where we were standing - but not from the other side of the road, from which the car was coming. B began screaming instructions at LK and LS and there was lot of shouting back and forth but basically no one moved. The car passed LK and reached us. It was an environment ministry vehicle. Two ladies were in it, looking amused. We all gave sheepish smiles. LS was too embarrassed to ask them for help in crossing the river.

Shortly after LK was done, a tour bus overtook us and crossed the river easily. The driver of the bus stopped on the other side to give us vague directions - in the form of waving us forward. Tourists got off to take pictures of our car in the water. With trepidation LS managed to get us across safely. Good thing the bus arrived when it did. Any sooner and LK would have been the subject of many funny holiday snaps.

More rivers to ford

At Landmannalaugar there was another river to cross but we saw that the tour bus was already there so we braved it. LS was getting more confident all the time. The Queen of Rocky Roads was now the Queen of Rocky Roads and Rivers. The area around the refuge at Landmannalaugar was beautiful even in the rain. We walked around taking pictures and then moved on reluctantly. Like Lonely Planet predicted, one day was not enough.

We got back on Route F208, aiming to gain F210 for Route 1 to Hofn, our eventual destination. There were more rivers to cross - by B's count, "ocho rivers to ford", as she put it to LS. Beatrice had begun to use the word 'ford' a lot after acquiring it from Lonely Planet. At one crossing, we stopped to consider the situation. Behind us came a car with two girls. LS signalled for them to go first but the driver wagged a finger, indicating no. B and LS got out to check the depth by throwing stones into the water. The two girls from the other car joined them. They established a way across and our car led. Soon after, we came to another crossing. We got out and threw stones. It looked unfordable.

LS: We can keep throwing stones until it becomes shallow.

At a very wide crossing we received help from some people we had passed from the opposite direction. They actually stopped their car and turned back to help us. They didn't have to but we were glad for it.

B: Icelandic hospitality.

Throughout the long drive, B had been learning Kings of Leon lyrics. We kept the same CD playing over and over but never got tired of it.

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