Longing for change..

If you want something different, you can go to an amusement park, watch a spectacular movie in the cinema or start Benji-jumping. Or you can go to Iceland and follow an option geology/history course in which you make excursions to volcanic areas. I chose the last option and got to see Lakagigar, Öræfajökull and Hekla from nearby.

First of all you should know that I am an AFS-exchange-student (American Field Service) from Belgium. If you manage to find this enormous country on the map, you will moreover be able to conclude that, situated between economically very developed countries and having a large port in Antwerp (the second in the world), especially the region Antwerp-Gent-Brussels is a very busy conurbation. Where I come from, Lint-Antwerp, you can not drive more than 1km without bumping into houses, factories, highways, etc. Knowing this, you can understand that even the Reykjavík area is a relief for me. So, as soon as we left Reykjavík for our first destination, Lakagigar, I was already impressed by the lava landscape, the kilometres of land without anything on it, not even a single tree. My second shock then, was leaving the “big” road, and taking the small “paths”. One would think only jeeps can drive on this, but our bus managed. In the neighbourhood of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, we could very clearly see where the lava had flowed during the last eruption of 1783. When you look at it, it is as if you see the whole scene of 1783 again, the only difference: these rocks are hard, while in 1783 it was all fluid.

And if you think that Iceland, “the land of fire and ice”, only consists of the “cliché-landscapes” you see on pictures, nothing could be further from the truth: with a bit of English explanation from George, one of our teachers, I could see indeed that there were many different landscapes, all having their own “geological background”.

Together with the “greatness”, this landscape also gives you a feeling of loneliness. You start asking yourself existential questions while facing this landscape. Therefore it is admirable how the first settlers on Iceland managed to make a living on this infertile lava-ground, without having any woodas construction material. You can compare it with the desert, only this desert is solid.

Besides the impressive character of the lava-formed landscape, there is also a romantic aspect: in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, for example, you can admire the waterfall “Sistrafoss”, a rather small waterfall (in Icelandic terms). Descending from the mountains with a constant raffling sound, it has something romantic, as if you were in a café in the Provence.

If you leave Kirkjubæjarklaustur and drive a few kilometres through the empty landscape, you can also see the old “farmhouses” in which the farmers have lived even in this century. One such house consists of two floors: one where the sheep were brought in before winter started and on top of it (the “first floor”) a small room where the farmer and his family lived. Why this way of constructing it? Well, the farmers used the body heat from the sheep to heathen the room upstairs and therefore there were special wholes in the floor. Even today these farmhouses are still used (for a few nights), when the farmers go to gather their sheep before winter.

The sheep, by the way, are a nice detail, when one looks at this infinite landscape, they are like little points, moving about the wide land. Of course, you can only see them, where man has planted grass and of course they were not to be seen from on the top of Laki, the mountain which is in the centre of the volcano belt of Lakagigar. On top of Laki, we could see clearly this volcano belt and the way the landscape had been formed, again we felt like we were in the year 1783, when there was a big eruption here.

And maybe you wonder: in what sense is “The Volcano” similar to the Icelandic volcanic situation? Well, I saw the movie on the aeroplane to Iceland, but being here and looking at the landscape at Lakagigar for example, “The Volcano” is only sensational, Iceland is both sensational and beautiful.

After we went to Lakagigar, after that “positive nature-shock”, we went to see Öræfajökull, which is a part of Vatnajökull, the biggest glacier in Europe. On the way to Öræfajökull, we passed by the area where the “flood” after the eruption in Vatnajökull last summer, had come down. And that was what impressed me most that day, even more than the subject of our trip, Öræfajökull. You are nothing, or almost nothing as a human being, when standing on the edge of some sort of “canyon” and looking 6-7 metres down into it: this is the mass of “earth” that was scraped off by the enormous mass of water that passed by here. One can not imagine the power that is behind this. And if you are trying to write about it afterwards, as I am now, it is very difficult to explain how it felt, it is just great, maybe too great...

From Öræfajökull, I remember most that it tasted like water (we tasted it, following the tradition) and I also know that it is big, very big. This ice cube is even too big for the soda of a giant. And then I also asked myself: earth is sometimes showing its power (besides the Big Bang), but is it only bits of what is really in there of power, I mean, how much is still in there? Yes, I know, too much, it is a subject too big for me to grasp, therefore it is remarkable and admirable how people like George Douglas find the courage to work to find out little bits about this big mystery. And to prevent my impression from getting too long and too boring, I will stop here. If you really want to know how it is, come and find it out yourself, in Iceland.

Stefan Hardonk

4th October 1997