So EPI and I went and checked out the volcanic eruption on Friday evening.
We decided to take a tour rather than drive up there ourselves, and chose to travel with Reykjavík Excursions since they were the first company that came to mind. The bus left at 6 pm from Reykjavík – I probably would not have had the wherewithal to leave at that time of day but, on reflection, it made perfect sense because we got such a fantastic view of the eruption in the dark. Much better than daytime, I would imagine.
A guide provided lots of fascinating info en route – in English – about volcanoes and suchlike. Fascinating even for natives like EPI and myself, who didn’t even know half of what he told us about volcanic activity on our fair isle. The drive took about an hour and 15 minutes to Hvolsvöllur, a small town in the southeast, where we stopped for half an hour. That, in fact, is about the only thing I can fault on the whole tour – I thought that stop was a bit too long, and heard other passengers complaining about it, too. I imagine it was intended to allow people to grab a bite to eat, since it was dinnertime, but I didn’t see anyone doing so and people were getting a bit impatient to get a move on, particularly since some of us wanted to take pictures but didn’t have a tripod, and it was getting pretty dark.
Anyway, after that fairly extended stop we got back on the bus and headed north, into Fljótshlíð, one of the most beautiful and historic places in Iceland [as the Saga aficianados will know]. We drove along until the asphalt turned to gravel, at which point it got a little hairy because there was SO MUCH TRAFFIC – seriously, it was like Laugavegur on a Saturday night. It seemed like everyone and their dog had made the trip to check out the spectacle, and when Big Coach met Little Compact [yes, there were some of those] … well, let’s just say I wouldn’t have wanted to be in that little compact on that narrow gravel road.
We got a glimpse of the fire from the eruption fairly soon after turning onto the road to Fljótshlíð and moved progressively closer. At some point it veered off to the right [the road that went straight on had been closed] and parked in a sort of makeshift parking lot. It was fairly chaotic there, loads of vehicles, since you couldn’t get any further unless you were in a 4WD on account of the rivers that needed to be crossed. But of course there were tons of 4WDs doing just that and a steady stream of headlights coming at us in the darkness, which kind of detracted from the vision of the volcano because they were pretty much right in our face. EPI and I found the perfect solution, though: by crouching behind a small ridge you could block out the lights and just look up at the eruption.
It was far away – probably around five kilometres; of course the tour operator kept a safe distance and went no closer than advised by Civil Defence [a man I spoke to at the RE office, however, said they were waiting for a permit to go a bit closer, which might already have been granted by now]. Yet even at such a distance it was amazing. Just being there and viewing it with our own eyes was incredible. And in those surroundings, with the gorgeous Eyjafjallajökull glacier off to the side … so awesome!
As I said, it was dark and we had no tripod, so we only managed to get one decent picture, by placing the camera on top of someone’s car.
[NB you can click to enlarge]
The eruption appears to be in two different places, but if I understood the guide correctly, the place on the left is the reflection of the lava falling down in a spectacular “lava waterfall” [you can see an amazing pictures of this here, along with other spectacular pictures of the eruption].
On the right, however, there was plenty of activity. The fire kept flaring up against the dark night sky, shifting and changing, and was completely hypnotic to watch. So beautiful and otherworldly. I could have sat there all night just gazing at it.
EPI and I had made sure we were properly dressed, knowing it would be COLD up there. Even so, we could only manage a few minutes outdoors, as the wind was absolutely freezing, and burned [yes!] any exposed skin. Others on the tour were not so well outfitted, hence it was great to be able to go back inside the bus and look out at the eruption from there. We’d taken along some sandwiches [flatkökur with smoked lamb] and some hot tea, so we munched on that while looking out. Happily the bus driver turned off all the lights inside the bus so the view was perfect.
We stayed at the eruption site for about an hour. I thought the guide and bus driver were really cool – they actually asked people if they were ready to go or if they’d like to stay longer, but everyone had seen plenty by that time. We got back to town around 12.30 am — the bus dropped everyone off at their respective hotel which I thought was pretty cool.
Definitely the experience of a lifetime. If you’re in Iceland and get a chance to see the eruption, I’d highly recommend that you go for it. The only thing we really missed having, and which we forgot to take, was binoculars. Be ye not so, er, forgetful.