The Rekyjanes Peninsula:
The peninsula to the south west of the country is where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge rises from the Atlantic Ocean and cuts diagonally across the land. The land closest to the ridge has the youngest rocks and the rocks get progressively older as you move away from this diagonal towards the north-west or the south-east.
So this part of the country is mostly fairly desolate, wind-swept lava plains. Again the contorted, convoluted rocks writhing over the landscape softened by their thick layer of grey-green moss. These fields are hell to walk over, every step a potential twisted ankle or worse. The roughness extends into the sea on one side of the road, while on the other escarpments rise steeply with their tops covered in hazy cloud spilling over the edge like a misty tablecloth.
Because of the Ridge, this area has much geothermal activity. In Seltún, a place on the tourist route judging by the umpteen numbers of coaches making the stop, a boardwalk allows you to walk right amongst the bubbling mud pools, the sulphurous vents and the steam fissures. The smell of hydrogen sulfide is all pervading and stays in the nostrils for some time after. Rocks display rainbow colour: deep oranges, reds and yellows along with whites, greys and greens.
We ventured over an appallingly corrugated gravel road to the far south-west corner of the peninsula. Stunning cliffs rise up overlooked by the oldest lighthouse in Iceland. The water in the little bay between the cliffs is full of a deep red seaweed turning the water blood-red. Off-shore is the precipitous island of Eldey where, reputedly, the last Great Auk was killed and eaten. It is now home to a huge colony, some 30,000, of nesting guillemots. This island and a few stacks of rock beyond are the last traces of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge disappearing under the surface of the ocean. In this rocky place a film crew was set up complete with actors in top-to-toe fur and carrying bows and arrows and spears. We saw little else but take after take of the actors stalking some imaginary animal across the lava field. We'll have to watch out for the release of some Ice Age Adventure in the Frozen North for all to be revealed.
Close by was another set of geothermal pools with sulfurous steam so thick that mostly we couldn't see the pools themselves. Surrounding the Gunnuver Pools, named for a mythic witch who died there and so haunts the pools, was power station after power station.
And only minutes' drive away again was another gem: a small bridge that spanned two cliffs about 30 metres high. Between them is the actual Mid-Atlantic Ridge. In the middle of the bridge you can stand with one foot on the American Plate and one on the European Plate. Everyone does this of course - so who are we to pass up the photo op?
We continued our loop of the peninsula passing small (very small - mostly only a couple or maybe three houses) fishing villages, wind-swept, cold places at the edge of the Earth.
We finished the day with a visit to the biggest tourist attraction in Iceland - the Blue Lagoon. This huge lagoon is man-made and filled continuously with the outlet water from the power station next door. The water is thick with minerals and silicates, and a white slimy 'mud' coats the rocky bottom of the pool. The temperature is very warm to very hot in places nearer the intake and steam rises constantly from the water. The opaque blue-white water is reputed to have beneficial effects on the body, particularly the skin. So armed with towels we joined the throngs from coach tours, buses and mini-buses as well as car parks full of private and rental cars. Once we got over the cost to get in (extortionate!), we changed and headed for the lagoon. Around the boardwalks, buckets of the white silica 'mud' are provided for you to have a mud-pack. White faces of both sexes bob around in the water looking mildly ridiculous (as did we both) and washing it off after 10 minutes without getting any water in the mouth is difficult. For the record, the taste is disgusting: very strongly salty, sour and bitter…
Thus refreshed, we headed for the capital, Reykjavik, for our first taste of a big city in Iceland.