Stāsts lasāms arī latviski

What are the truly essential things in our lives? And can anybody apart from ourselves really define that? That is an issue I have been struggling with for a while now – since the beginnings of the pandemics – and even more so since the moment when many countries, including Belgium, decided to ban non-essential travel. 

I am certain that nobody has had it easy during these weird times. But hardship presents itself in many different ways. For me travelling is essential. It is in travelling that I find sense and joy in life, and it is travelling that makes me want to go on. I also find it a bare necessity of life to have something planned ahead, to know exactly when, whereto and how I will be travelling. Thus it will be no rocket science to figure out that I have not had it easy this past year. I have felt like an animal trapped in a cage, allowed to survive but yearning for the vast expanses of nature. 

My heart was on the brink of breaking when I heard that there was a tiny new shield volcano being born in Iceland and it was so very easily accessible on foot.  I admit I have done my fair share of travelling and I have seen wonders of nature that have left me duly humble, dumb-struck and in sheer admiration. But there was still one thing that I have craved to see with my own two eyes and that is a volcano in action, red hot lava. Obsession with all things fire is not uncommon, we, Latvians, love sitting around the Midsummer fires, watching the flames for hours, and the same goes for watching a cosy fireplace in the long wintry evenings. Also, more than just a few would find themselves serenely observing waters of rivers or the ocean for hours on end. Lava being liquid and fiery at the same time is a combination of the two. The possibility of seeing something like that drove me almost crazy. I have always wanted to experience that in close (but safe) proximity, and Iceland seemed to be offering it on a plate for anyone who cares.

I consider myself fairly law-abiding and thus started planning my trip only once the ban on the non-essential travel was lifted. Not that it meant any lack of stumbling blocks during the planning process. Everything that could go askew seemed to be doing exactly that.  Within a week of buying the direct flight tickets to Reykjavik, Icelandair cancelled all flights from Brussels. The next combination was way more expensive, plus it required adjusting hotel and rental car reservations, since the dates had changed. I set June 1 as the departure date, as it coincided with the end of the two week period after my second covid jab, and Iceland has granted exemption from the compulsory 5 day quarantine to those who can prove that they are fully vaccinated. My travel companion Ieva had not been so lucky with the vaccination yet, but for the sake of the volcano encounter was ready to while away the time in a state-paid hotel (sweet, no?) to meet up with me upon my landing so we could head towards fiery adventures together.  The pre-travel covid test could not be avoided, since you cannot transfer in Amsterdam without it. Upon landing in Iceland everybody is subjected to an additional PCR covid test and then, presenting proof of vaccination and upon the receipt of a negative result, you are free as a bird to head to the volcano. 

Ironically enough it was by no means simple to obtain a certificate of vaccination in Belgium compliant with the requirements of Iceland. The vaccination data are stored electronically, access to those is by means of a national electronic ID card that most EU expatriate staff do not possess. I found a leeway by asking my GP to sign me up for a health provider platform granting access to health-related data. The print-out ready page, though, looked very much like something that I could have easily manufactured myself. On top of it, the results of the PCR test to be taken within 72 hours of departure were lost somewhere in the wires due to system malfunction and I received the emailed results only when already in Amsterdam (luckily I had managed to dig up the data on the aforementioned health platform before leaving). 

You would think it would already be quite enough trouble for such a short trip, but alas – not even close. I am writing this from an airport hotel in Amsterdam. Having boarded the flight to Reykjavik in the Schiphol airport, we sat there for a couple of hours and then were regretfully informed that the cargo latch would not close and no spare parts were locally available, consequently the flight was cancelled and we were all safely rebooked on the same flight the next day. Not that I would prefer my luggage sliding heavily through an open cargo door to plunge into the North Sea, but these were not welcome news to say the least.  The stay was already planned for 5 short days only, now being reduced to a mere 4.

Sitting on the sunlit terrace of the hotel, I gulp down prosecco and contact the rental car company – begging them to hold on to my car and let me have it the next day. Meanwhile, Ieva embarks on a public transport journey to our base camp in Grindavik, changing the busses and waiting for the next one in the middle of nowhere at the edge of a lava field. 

But the list of mishaps goes on. Even nature seems to be turning against me. Yesterday (yes, without waiting for my arrival) the path to the closest volcano viewing hill (popularly known as the spectator hill) had been closed. Pictures from that vantage point (on the internet) are stupefying and some of them belong to my theatre colleague Dace who visited there a few weeks ago and has been admirably helpful with advice on planning the whole adventure. But no one can control lava, and it had come dangerously close to the saddle-like passageway between the two hills. There are rescue patrols present on the site, also measuring the gas output, and they have warned against continuing to climb the spectator hill from then on. That is because lava may approach and cover the path quite quickly and then anybody on the hill would be cut off completely with the only evacuation possible by means of a helicopter. Consequently, though it seems that I will see the volcano per se (though at this point I would not be surprised if the mishaps culminated in my flight crashing before reaching Iceland or, which is slightly more probable – in my vaccination certificate not being considered valid and me getting confined to a 5 day quarantine indoors, on the 4th of which I would board the return flight), but it would have to be from a significantly removed vantage point.  Almost enjoying the +26 in my pyjamas t-shirt (since I only have clothes for the cold Icelandic weather), squinting in the bright sun (why would I need sunglasses on a windy and rainy climb to the volcano?), I sit here and contemplate: will all of this really turn out to be worth it? Have all these calamities been a sign that I should give up the idea of going altogether or are they just the necessary obstacle course to conquer if you are truly and genuinely desirous to see the volcano? That is not for today to find out. But persistence pays, no? And Ieva is expecting me tomorrow!

***

No words can ever describe how very much worth it all of it was! I am strongly tempted to write all of this in capslock just to highlight in any possible way how very, VERY impressive it was! The heat in the face, the ominous growling from the insides of the volcano, the sweltering lava rivers – I am fairly certain that I will never ever have a chance to see anything like that again. Watching this destructively beautiful and omnipotent face of nature, everything in me trembles, the jaw quite literally drops open and stays that way, and the brain scrambles to try and register and put  into words the majestic scenes before me. But back to the story again.    

On Wednesday after a few hours of very troubled sleep, everything seems to go smoothly enough – breakfast, luggage check-in (haven’t I been here before?) and even take-off. While landing in Keflavik, the plane approaches the landing strip passing the left side of the volcano, contrary to what I have been told and away from where I have requested my seat. So I am left watching the people in the A seats glued to the illuminator clicking away with their phones. Entry formalities are all well-organised, in a truly Scandinavian fashion. Luggage pick-up, document check (and, no, contrary to my misgivings, my vaccination certificate is deemed valid), PCR covid test, picking up the rental car, and in no time at all I storm into our cottage No 5 (Grindavik Harbour View Cottages – which I cannot recommend highly enough for the volcano viewing base camp).

The sky is clearing up and I breathlessly persuade Ieva to leave for the volcano now. Though vaccinated, according to the rules I have to quarantine myself until the receipt of a negative test result, but I am prepared to go against these pesky guidelines (and let those throw the first stone who have always been right and proper) to meet up with the object of my deep affection. We stuff our backpacks with rain clothes (who knows what the evening might bring; the weather is not exactly famous for its predictability and sunny disposition on this island), cameras, power banks (let me state here and now that these did come in handy), a thermos with tea, chocolate for energy boost, walking sticks, hats, gloves and are on our merry way. Obviously, we have also dressed properly – in many a layer to add or remove, as the case may require. 

The drive to the parking lot near the trailhead lasts but 10 minutes, we pay for the parking (knowing me you will know that I always research and plan these little things well in advance, like downloading the respective local app for parking payment app, registering my credit card in it, figuring out the maps of the trails, necessary equipment etc.) and hit the road. It is 19.22. The first part of the trail is fairly flat, but already exceedingly Icelandic – rugged fields of yellowish-green moss-covered lava formations, distant hilly horizon and fresh breeze in the face. The sky is almost blue and, judging from the weather forecast, we know it to be a special gift. All the subsequent days are to be increasingly windy and rainy. We meet a few hikers –  some happily returning, some overtaking us in haste, some overtaken by us, but contrary to my expectations of people swarming in to experience this once in a lifetime encounter, there do not seem to be that many visitors at all. The trail passes a mountain slope and starts climbing uphill. The climb is sufficiently long and steep for me to annoyingly feel all the extra covid kilos and untrained stamina. The jackets come open, layers removed, cheeks rosy from exertion, but we are careful to drink water sparingly – there is no toilet on the mountain, and not even a bush to hide behind, should the bad come to worst: everything will have to be carried back home. The first curve opens up views to the next uphill slope and all around us – smoothly eroded hills and mountains. This is not even really a mere trail, it is almost a proper road carved into the steep slope by mighty bulldozers – fantastic, and, as far as I gather, because of the serpentine shape a much easier and more gently sloping path compared to the initial version. On the right side we see the deep valley of Natthagi with a strange sandy patch at the far end of it. The steep slopes have rescue patrol cars parked on them (no doubt, truly relying on excellent hand brakes and proper off-road tires), while our path heads up and up again (during our second climb we checked that the trailhead was at 20 m and we gradually ascended to 360 m above sea level). The trail is covered in loose stones, rocks and grit, so walking needs be done with care and the walking sticks start to earn their keep. In about 50 minutes the steepest climb is behind us and we feast our eyes on this end of the Geldingadalir Valley already covered by lava. And there – at the far end – we get a glimpse of him! Volcano! 

I struggle to describe the emotions, awe and borderline incredulity at the sight. The air above the lava field shimmers, just like on a hot day above an asphalted road. The lava slowly but steadily pushes on, towards us, and we get a glimpse of bright red magma here and there. The slopes on the valley sides are covered in smoke – that is the moss burning away in the presence of the heat. Apocalyptic views indeed.

At the very edge of the lava field we see people sitting, relaxing, warming themselves, some are grilling sausages and marshmallows while waiting for the volcano to erupt. We join the waiting. Though without the sausage grilling part. 

Our faces grow pink in the presence of the lava heat, but they never lose the sheer expression of happiness. And then it happens! It starts erupting! At this point I have to restrain myself from inserting a million exclamation marks here to express the very minimum of the excitement and elation that we experience at seeing the orange lava boiling out of the coal black crater and spilling over its edges in streaming ribbons. It is not only polite words of admiration that involuntarily burst over our lips – we are forced to resort to the strongest swear words in all languages, unable to contain the emotion. And regardless, all the words seem to fall short. We are literally squealing from happiness. I have no way of describing it. I am not generally known for my inability to put words to my emotions, but when you face your dream and it hypnotises you and breezes eternity in equal measures, when you encounter the omnipotence and the timeless beauty of nature that does not care for the measly human efforts and just spews out heated red magnificence, all words fail.  Even the thoughts seem to slow down, unable to cope, and eyes are impossible to avert from the spectacle. We burn with the wish to document it, to frame the moment, but no picture and video can truly capture the sensual overload, the depth of emotions in all their nuances: eyes watch the colours – the bright orange gold of lava tainting the white clouds to pastel pink and vermillion red in the backdrop of the crystal blue sky -, the face registers the heat while the scathing wind chills you from behind, the air smells of something unidentifiable burning, and the ears perceive the impressive rumblings of the volcano that are unmistakable regardless of the 1.5km distance. Now I need a little break. Even writing this and delving into memories of the moment makes me almost gasp in wonder….

Now let me tell you a little about the volcano itself. The Reykjanes peninsula is located spot on atop the meeting line of the continental tectonic plates and thus within the seismically active area.  No wonder it is right here that you find numerous hot springs, including the famous Blue Lagoon (due to its weird colour disparagingly called the Poisonous Pit by the locals up until the eighties),  geothermal power stations and like. However, this area had not seen any activity, that is, eruption for around 800 years. In February and March 2021 seismologists recorded a constantly growing number of bigger and smaller earthquakes around the Fagradalsfjall or beautiful valley mountain (here and onwards a very loose translation from the Icelandic language) and by mid March these exceeded 1000 incidents a day. Fagradalsfjall is itself an old volcano but has been resting calmly for hundreds and hundreds of years now. It is located approximately 50 km from the capital Reykjavik and 5 km inland of the seashore and a regional highway along the coast. The seismologists did develop a certain suspicion of the events to come, but nobody could predict precisely what exactly and where would take place – volcanology and seismology per se are not sciences that are exact to the smallest detail, though the progress and lessons learnt over time (and not only in Iceland) have lead to a much better ability to predict eruptions.  

Thus, on March 18, with the tremors subsiding considerably, many thought that the earth had calmed down and that would be the end of it. Instead, on March 19 at 8.45 pm, towards the cosy supper time so to say, the earth shook itself open and started spewing lava.

The initial projections included a swift cessation of the eruption, but it did not take long for this prospect to be dismissed, as the earth crust started splitting up near the initial fissure (and sometimes right beneath the feet of the pilgrims arriving to watch the newborn) resulting in quite a few new fissures sputtering red hot lava that proceeded to gradually fill up the Geldingadalir Valley. At the same time, fearing a much more potent and ash-filled eruption possibility, the airport got closed for a while and so did the coastal road.  Currently the scientists predict that the eruption could last for decades. Or maybe stop tomorrow. The course of the events and fissure opening has been brilliantly documented by Kerstin Langenberger on her FB page (Kerstin Langenberger Photography), she has been lucky and persistent enough to be present from the very beginnings (and her photos are not only excellent but also accompanied by a lot of informative captions). 

While looking forward to my volcano encounter, I did go through a number of informative sources and photos of the Geldingadalir eruption. Thus, for instance, this, apparently, is or is shaping up to be a shield volcano. I can so clearly picture somebody trying to raise a shield out from under the cover of soil – the cone is fairly wide and the slopes gentle. The curious little one, however, has not been properly baptised yet – the locals from Grindavik have voted on the name for the surrounding lava field – Fagradalshraun (lava of the beautiful valley) -, but the volcano itself  is yet to prove its consistency and permanence to receive an official name. The hikers and other onlookers have not hesitated to nickname it in various ways, starting from Geldingadalirgos (not a widely favoured name since translated it means an opening of the castrated animal valleys, and the volcano is way too magnificent and mesmerising to bear such an ambiguous name) to  Bob and Ragnar. (Let me include a little disclaimer already here: should any educated volcanologist find this little extract not to be sufficiently to-the-fact, I apologise in advance.)

The little one has opened itself up in a fairly close proximity to the capital, close by the road and within easy reach, and the Reykjavik Grapevine writes: “An accessible erupting volcano on the doorstep of a capital city is like winning the geological lottery and, in the months since the initial eruption, Geldingadalir has become a pilgrimage site for international scientists angling for a first hand reading on a new volcano” (From Iceland — The Message In The Magma: The Geldingadalir Eruption Site Is Growing—What Have We Learned? (grapevine.is).

Undeniably it is this proximity and accessibility that in spite of the still enforced and ever changing covid restrictions has caused tourists to flock to Iceland, all eager to get a glimpse of the newborn. It was no different for me – to see the volcano and feel the breath of lava on my skin has been a long-cherished dream. And after all – why not recommence travelling again with a bang and eruption! 

We sit here, faces all warm, listening to the sound reminiscent of glass crushing under one’s feet and watch the new bright fresh lava  slowly, gradually, but persistently breaking its way through the heaps of the rugged older black lava pieces, chaotically layered one onto the other. The breathing has finally been restored to normal, and the wind turns scathing – time to put on the extra layers.  As if by invisible force we are drawn closer to the volcano, and though we know that the path to the closest viewing hill has been closed (not by lava, but by a yellow warning ribbon)  we hike to cast a look on our paradise lost. The path leads along the other side of the currently accessible viewing hill, along the expansive layers of lava in the  Meradalir Valley. Here there has been a berm erected to stop or channel lava elsewhere (the bulldozers still stand nearby, looking puny with the lava fields in the background). There have been a few of such berms constructed, but I read that they are not the result of an arrogant illusion of Icelanders’ ability to stop the nature, but rather they are part of an experimental research into possibilities to direct and delay the lava flows to install protection for the optic fibre cable running alongside the coastal road. Such illusions would have indeed been vain and ungrounded, since already the day after our second volcano hike the berm was breached and lava had started rushing down the Natthagi Valley at breakneck speed (I was watching the flows on webcams, installed at different angles to the eruption and  available on YouTube, a most mesmerising TV channel https://youtu.be/uOEuf_4z_sM). Fascinating.

But I diverge again. We walk along the slope on the trail that is gradually being encroached on by the still warmly breathing and vaguely smoky lava field and contemplate our misplaced wish to climb the spectator hill and look the crater straight in the eyes. On the saddle between the two hills there is a yellow warning ribbon set up, to fence off the continuation of the trail.  The rescue worker tells us that the lava might start rising quite quickly and rapidly cover the pathway, though over the past few days it seems to have slowed down. We watch insubordinate volcano lovers cross the line one after the other and climb the hill regardless. The rescue lady explains – she is no police and has neither the intention, nor capacity to arrest the trespassers, her only task is to inform everybody of the risks involved.

Conscience weighs on us heavily and we retreat to the second viewing hill. The views from here are by no means to be dismissed as mediocre. Indeed, we are breathless again from the performance right in front of our eyes. We sit back on the little seating pads brought along expressly for this purpose, sip tea, and watch the sun setting over the erupting volcano. The sky turns from blue to pastel pink and red, the clouds gather dramatically over the crater. The changing colours, the warmth of the eruption. And the annoying buzz of the drones  – these seem to be a very ‘in’ pastime here. The first eruption viewed this close throws us off our rockers and blows our minds completely. The lava dances and riots madly in the crater, and our hearts skip a few beats out of sheer grandeur and other-worldliness of the sight.  Amazing, mega giga super sonic beautiful. Dramatic, emotional and impressive beyond anything. A dream for any photographer. Amidst the uhs and ahs I have received the covid test result in the phone – negative, as was to be expected, – and I happily conclude that I am no longer a rule-breaker.  

We cannot help but keep an eye on the rescue workers down at the saddle, watching them depart with the hour growing late. We look at each other and unanimously decide to recommence rule breaking, knowing that the views from the closest mountain are bound to be jaw droppingly amazing. Our hearts beating fast and erratically, we cross the yellow line and climb the steep slope. And oh, dear Jesus, holy Mother, and all saints and demons together! The risk has given us a view beyond comparison!  We can literally feel the breath of the crater and see every drop of the forceful lava fountains. Between the eruptions (around 5 times an hour) the outer wall of the crater covered by the lava overspill glistens, and glimmers and glints menacingly, it literally pulsates. We watch the lava streams head into the valleys on both sides of the crater, creating glowing lava rings and flows below us. With the dusk the fiery circles become more pronounced in the blackish blue lava backdrop, but it never comes to a proper darkness these days in Iceland. Midsummer solstice is nigh, and it is the time of white nights.  We open and toast a small prosecco from my backpack, and keep sighing in awe and reverie. My heart seems to be taking the first freshly restorative breath after all the restrictions and worries of the covid time. I am no master of taking photos in the dusk, so believe me when I tell you that my pictures of these close, bright encounters are a far cry from the true depiction of magnificence that can be felt in Ieva’s photos. She, after all, has attended a photo course and knows a bit about exposures, apertures and some such. We are equally good, though, at sighing and moaning at the indescribable beauty in front of our eyes.  

Instead of three eruptions, as initially agreed, we stay here much longer. Besides, we are surrounded by at least a hundred other rebellious volcano fans, and the uneasiness fades away. We could stay and watch the crater forever, but gradually the chill of the night and the exhaustion gets to our bones. We still have to hike back to our car and drive to our cottage. It is with admirable strength of will that we tear ourselves away from the site and start the return hike, casting our eyes back every once in a while.  We cross the saddle, uninterrupted by any sudden lava flow, but we have to tread carefully. The loose stones and grit, not to mention the exhaustion, make the descent fairly difficult. We climb in our car at around half past two, the crater beyond the hills still throws out a pink swirl of clouds every ten to fifteen minutes. Back at the cottage we are in dire need of a hot shower and a glass of red wine to dissipate the adrenaline still coursing through our veins. We keep sending hysterical whatsapp messages, I keep posting pictures on Instagram, but nobody reacts. It takes us a while to grasp that it is 4am here, which means 6am in Brussels and 7am in Latvia, so we should let the poor people wake up first.

When we finally wake up, still full of volcano thoughts, it is pouring outside and the wind is howling. This will not be a day for a leisurely crater hike in the mountains. Even the local travel information site safetravel.is advises against it (it also contains comprehensive information on the local weather, volcano hiking trails, equipment and difficulty levels among others). After Ieva’s job interview (would you not agree that she really deserves this job noting how she devotes time to it even during volcano filled holidays?) we go scouting the neighbourhood. The wind strength stops just short of blowing us into the sea, but the rain pants and jackets save us from soaking through and through in the horizontal pelts of rain. We locate an excellent restaurant that serves us lobster soup and catch of the day (do try the soup when passing – https://salthusid.is/ – it is super delicious!). Stomachs full, we return to our base camp and decide to go for a little drive to the sightseeing spots here on the Reykjanes peninsula – Brimkettil lava rock pool, Reykjanes lighthouse and then to the hot springs of Krysavik.

The sea foams and roars in the wind, and on the coastal walk near the lighthouse we recognise the shooting venue for the opening song of the recent comedy “Eurovision: the Fire Saga“. Humming the “Volcano man” and recalling the funniest moments in the movie, we take pictures of the sea, the lupines, the lighthouse, the arctic terns and the rock formations. We arrive at Krysavik past 8pm and find ourselves the sole visitors. A real VIP tour, should you ask me, allowing us to watch and photo the colourful rock layers and bubbling sulphur mud springs undisturbed by anybody but wind. A brief stop at a small lake of bright turquoise colour and the really tiny Krysavik church that has settled snugly among the stern mountains surrounded by sheep so characteristic of Iceland, and we are ready to turn in. The sky has cleared up, but the wind is as strong as ever. We scarcely dare to think what gale-like force it might gather up at the top of the mountains. 

Still in bed, the next morning I check the webcams from the volcano again, and realise – properly astonished and awed – that the saddle pathway to the spectator hill has been properly cut off by lava during the night. We crossed it a bit more than 24 hours ago! I cannot fully grasp our luck – first, that we managed to get to the site before it got cut off, and, second, that we were not there at the time when lava welled up and crawled over the pathway! The news says that nobody got cut off by the lava streams, since nobody was there because of the really bad weather (or maybe those approaching did notice the mobilised and approaching lava surge). The webcams show the saddle pathway covered in fiery lava streams. We have to see that for ourselves. Regardless of the discouraging forecasts, we will brave the weather to see the volcano one last time. After a visit to Reykjavik for the compulsory pre-travel covid test for me, we find strength in another plate of the lobster soup and arrive at the trailhead around 7pm. 

This time the clouds are gloomily grey and the drizzle continues with changing strength. The wind, however, has slowed down and we are well insulated. The uphill treading has not become any easier, just the other way round – the leg and shoulder muscles still achingly remind us of the first hike. But we have no time to tarry, so we bravely soldier on. The sight at the Geldingadalir lava field has changed considerably! The lava has swollen up and come alive, visibly and fierily moving ahead. The grounds are patrolled by rescue people and gas measuring scientists. Every once in a while a low rain cloud fogs the views and covers everything in a misty veil. The rain sizzles and hisses when coming in touch with the hot lava, it is a whole new language that I would not mind learning. We watch, enjoying the eerie moments, warming ourselves at the lava edge. The lava today is much quicker to move and light up. In the distance the volcano erupts and roars just as before, but at times the mist hides it from sight and then we just hear the ominous rumblings behind the mist covered black lava fields where here and there a fiery eye lights up to watch us. A properly apocalyptic and surreal feel. The antechamber of hell? The end of time and the world? 

Through the mist, supported by our walking sticks we slowly find our old low path leading to the saddle passage. Others climb the hill straight ahead (and this is now the closest accessible viewing point), but we leave it for later –  we need to see the cut off first. The lava field has really come alive – no more the still vastness of black lava blocks, it is now smoking all the time and shooting out bright red streams of lava above the black layers. Increasingly so upon approaching the saddle. The bulldozers have been moved, obviously predicting a berm breach (and in anticipation I can tell you that already the next morning we watched the webcams filming lava rapids dashing over the berm and down into the Natthagi Valley). We walk slightly above the old trail and grow silent with shock upon approaching the saddle. It is not a mere tiny streamlet having crossed the passage, no, it is a vast, boiling river that has swallowed the path up completely and even the very last path marker is about to be burnt up by the orange mass. The magma glows bright and liquid, it spills out in gushes and moves relentlessly on. I hear Ieva calling me – come see a proper lavafall! Filming too close is impossible for a longer period of time – I get the feeling that my eyebrows will burn straight off and the phone starts distinctly heating up (apparently, lava temperature fluctuates between 1000 and 1200 degrees Celsius, so boiling water is really but a weak knockoff of this real deal). Cooling off, lava acquires a cobalt blue tone, a bit like wet asphalt or the back of a whale. Except there is no wetness and real cooling off. The silvery blue tones alternate with the red and yellowish orange fire of fresh lava. Behind the hill we see the volcano toss up pink reflections in the low clouds during the eruptions. Again, the emotions fill us to the brim. How to describe that elaborate and delicate lace pattern woven by the bright yellow lava under the cold touch of the wind? I sip my tea and watch, watch. We could spend hours here. Every single stream and movement of lava is impressive and worthy of our attention and a picture. But it is already past midnight and it is time to climb up to say goodbye to the volcano.

Up on the hill the wind picks up considerably, but the volcano is as stupefying as ever. We watch the now cut off hill and toast to our great luck and this magnificent piece of wonder right in front of us. We have seen so much. It is almost impossible to leave, knowing we will not be back any time soon, but my back reminds me of my advanced age and, though a pain killer and a lie down with a view to the volcano brings about a little relief, we have to get going.  We still have to make it all the way down. The lava fields glow all around the hill, at times creating new fast streams, flows and circles above the lacklustre grey layers. Nothing is ever static. We walk away almost backwards, also because the further away from the crater, the more we feel the chilling breath of the wind. It calms down only at the bottom of the hill path. Back in the cottage, at half past two again, we share our impressions. We book a visit to the Blue Lagoon for the next day to pamper our tired bodies. During the night I dream that I am walking on a vast and glittering lava field. A very happy dream.

The morning seems to come way too soon, but it is time to leave our cosy hospitable camp behind. The wind has taken up howling again and the window nonchalantly guards us against the pelts of rain.  The webcams show the breached berms and the lava rushing towards the valley where there has been a new camera installed to document it. The Blue Lagoon’s milky white water embraces us warmly, we stop by a mask bar (not the surgical type of covid masks, but facial scrubs and silica clay and algae masks distributed to us by a girl perched behind a desk that reminds me of an ice cream van) and have a prosecco at the proper drink bar in the water (the first drink is included in the entry fee, others may be charged to the electronic bracelet). We sip the drink, submerged in the waters to the chin, since above it the wind keeps pelting us with cold rain. Sauna.  The feeling of utter wellbeing. Too soon the good times come to an end and I have to take Ieva to the hotel where she will stay on for a few days, enjoy the local lamb soup and hospitality. I then drive back to the airport to drop off the rental car and check into the airport hotel before the early return flight tomorrow. It feels much longer than just four days. Impressions overwhelm me.

I am writing this from home already, with the YouTube volcano webcam on my TV in the background. If I only could, I would return to the volcano tomorrow. No one knows how long the eruptions will last, how far the lava will run. Everything is just as unpredictable as life itself. But I keep my fingers crossed to have again that dream of walking on glimmering lava tonight. May you also have happy dreams that come true. Because that is essential indeed.  

Post scriptum. The pictures here include a few by Ieva Brinkmane. Ieva has promised to write a story on her experience during the Icelandic quarantine and this trip. The next morning after arrival my account was credited with a 400 euro compensation from Icelandair for the flight cancellation. Blessed be the unified EU air passenger rights!