Where North America and Europe Drift Apart

We berthed in Akureuri, which styles itself “The Capital of the North.”  Akureuri, Iceland’s second city, sits at the head of the Eyjafjorur, a 60 mile long arm of water reaching into the interior of Iceland from the Arctic Ocean.  It gives Akureuri a transitional climate between maritime and interior.   We didn’t make more than a nodding acquaintance with Akureuri because we decided to take a mini-bus tour to look more at the interior of Iceland.  I wanted to take this tour because of the unique geological nature of the place so we visited sites around Lake Myvatn.  I did not find the lake itself is not so engaging, with swarms of midges getting into eyes and nostrils and biting at will.  However, the area around the lake IS engaging.

Well before humans understood plate tectonics this place could have been viewed as the gateway to Hell. It’s where North America and Europe meet, or rather where they separate. In the mid-Atlantic the North American and European plates are moving apart by, some say, around a centimeter a year. This is one of the places it is happening.  Hverir Iceland smells of fire and brimstone, sulfur, and, depending on where you are it can be a smoking yellow plain a cauldron of boiling blue gray mud or a line of steam vents looking like a line of spouting whales, but on land.

Iceland makes use of this place to generate wealth.  Of course, there is tourist wealth but the steam, which gushes upward at 200 degrees Celsius is directed to run turbines to generate electricity.  Then it is used to heat water to be piped to cities for heating.  Icelanders used to use the water from underground directly but the sulfur smell put off too many people so there is a heat transfer unit.  Some of the water is then reinjected into the earth so it can reheat and be used again, not depleting the water table.  A small amount is used to create “nature baths” that not only bring tourists but locals to soak in the warm, very blue, silica suspended water.  We took our turn and it felt wonderful.  The water has pools and tubs of different temperatures and those with certain conditions get free admission as part of the healthcare system.

At Dimmuborgir lava flowed over lake and marsh.  It boiled the water below which caused explosive outbreaks.  The resulting potholes craters and lava field are strange and wonderful, “bad lands to travel through.”  But color-coded hiking trails guide you through the field without getting you lost so you look at all sorts of shapes of lava which are easy to imagine being forms of gods, elves or trolls.  It is such places where myths are born.

And some myths may have died in this region as well.  On the way to this tectonic area we stopped at Godafoss, the waterfall of the Gods, so named because the Law Speaker, coming back from the Althing that voted to make Iceland a Christian country, threw his idols of Odin, Thor and the rest over the falls as a sign that he had fully adopted the new religion.

At the end of the day we took a quick look around Akureuri, not enough time, guess we will have to come back, and sailed out the 60 km long Eyjafjorur toward the Arctic Circle.  It has high mountains, some still with slow, and little fishing villages along the fjord.  Some of the villages have lost population to the bigger city at the head of the fjord.  One reason is the closure of a herring processing plant in one of the villages that provided both processing and fishing jobs.

There are fish farm nets in the fjord as we leave Akureuri.  “Dora the Explorer” who gives lectures on board, told us they were an experiment in farming cod, to try to replace the cod that have been fished out.  But I don’t understand how this works.  She says the hatcheries have not been very successful at raising hatchling cod, they hope that comes later, so now they are rounding up baby cod and helping them grow.  I guess they hope they will have a better chance of survival than in the wild but the idea of rounding up baby cod to pen seems odd.

One the way out we watched several humpback whales at a distance, one gave us a good-by breach.

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