Iceland · travel

The Iceland Sagas: Hjorleifshofdi

In the interest of preserving memories and acting as a future guide, this series of posts reflects on adventures spent abroad- meaning, outside of my own community, wherever I might land. It serves not only as a record but also as an exercise in memory and language.
May 20, 2015

By the time we had gotten to Hjorleifshofdi,  a large storm cloud was working its way towards the rocks. Our goal was to climb to the tomb, make our way to  Dyrholaey, head north through the southern end of Thingvellir, and back to Reykjavic. All of my research on Hjorleifshofdi had told me not to attempt it unless the weather was absolutely pristine- no winds and certainly no rains. I eyed the darkening cloud as we pulled into the gravel lot beside our extremely large boulder.

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It sat, singularly, in the middle of a black sand delta. In the distance, the hills became mountains with peeking glaciers. Vik was just around the bend. Silvery waves ebbed onto the coastline and the winds whipped up around us. “I’m not sure we should attempt this,” I said as the wind rushed me forward.

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“I think we should do it. I’m doing it,” Mel stated as she set out. The sign was purely in Icelandic and we were very much alone. We didn’t realize as we began our very steep climb, that we were taking the route backwards. We were meant to gently circle the rock, not steeply ascend. The path was crumbly and narrow- no more space than for one foot at a time. The mushroom colored sand squished under foot and the small, step-like stones rocked as we climbed. On one side, we faced a sheer drop- perhaps more than 30 feet. On the other, a deceptive rock face of moss. Upon touching it, however, we quickly realized how soft our wall was- merely volcanic ash piles with vegetation. Nothing to grip but tufts of grass.

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About half-way up and a series of stops, I realized the only reason I was moving forward was the gusts of wind propelling me even after my legs had quit. And they had truly quit. They quivered beneath me. I turned, shielding my eyes and sunk into a bed of grass. It had begun raining nearby and the cloud moved quiet quickly up the rock- no more than 15 feet or so from where I sat. “I don’t think I can make it to the tomb,” I admitted. It was an almost vertical crawl to the top.

“Can you go back down? We really want to see the top.”

“Look,” I pointed. The storm advanced in a sheet of water. “That trail is washed out. There’s an unofficial footpath over there,” I aimed a finger at a faded trail through the grass. “I can see where that goes but I’m not sure if that’s really a good idea.”

“Why don’t you head that way and if you can’t make it, jut wait and we’ll see you from the top.”

I went with it. I didn’t mention the whole if-I-can’t-make-it-it’s-because-I’m-dead scenario. I just nodded and started trudging through the knee high grass. I watched them get smaller as they crawled up the green face of Hjorleifshofdi. My path took me four inches or so to the edge of a deep ravine. Again, only sandy moss was on my side. Thankfully, the wind smooshed me into the wall instead of blowing me into the crevice. From the top, I could see donuts in the sand made by dune buggies and 4x4s. The land began to flatten and I snuck into the remnants of a home, ducking down to escape the wind.

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The rock was apparently haunted, according to all I had read, with visitors typically hearing or feeling a presence. The rough stones were warm and I tried to gain some sense of humanity from them. They were nearly perfectly cut and stacked despite all lack of serious tools. Behind me, I heard what sounded like a sword unsheathing. The grass shrugged and swayed. Little pink flowers stubbornly bloomed along the rocks and my companions traipsed down, waving.

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The way down was a slow stumble past red rocks and small falls. With eyes and noses streaming, we dove into our little Ford. I dove into my chocolate cake for breakfast. The ballerinas scoffed, they would never. The rain began to cascade around us but as we drove east, we broke away into low clouds. The greatest hits of our childhood played on the stereo: Michael Jackson, Backstreet Boys, NYSNC. I popped in some earbuds and tuned out as we headed toward Dyrholaey on the other end of Vik.

It was just as blustery but unlike Hjorleifshofdi, was teeming with visitors. I wondered what it would have been like in the high season. We clamored over bizarre formations- half melted basalt columns and archways, volcanic vents, sea carved boulders, solidified magma. I thought about my geology classes and the paths I could have taken and the paths others had taken before me.

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On the way to Kerid, we stopped at an Icelandic QT. Kim ordered two cartons of milk from the perplexed cashier. “There’s nothing like it,” she gushed. “I know it’s weird to order milk from a gas station at 2pm but it’s just so good.” She gulped them down as we rounded the bend at the crater. We bought our tickets in change from a surly guard who begrudgingly passed over literature we knew we wouldn’t read and began marching the circle. Like all other sites, it was very “At Your Own Risk.” The path at times disappeared or meandered dangerously close to a fading ledge. Given that the smooth rock was wet, we witnessed numerous people slide down towards to glossy center whether they meant to or not. Around the edge were clods of white powdery rock- like honeycomb candy- coated in the finest silver shell. No matter what my search terms, I could find no explanation for its existence. I snapped off a piece as though at some point it would speak to me and reveal itself.

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A Spanish family took our picture near the deep blue lake. Together, we scrambled up the steep path, falling and sliding as we went. On our way into town we passed low, flat fields with fading homes. It was like a darker Kansas- somehow remotely sinister with its black earth. Horses battled each other on either side and we frequently gasped and pulled over to clack our tongues at them and wave them over. They paid no mind. After all, we came without carrots.

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