The Magic of Iceland: A Homestretch to Remember

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The footbridge to Stong

This is the fourteenth story in our series on the Magic of Iceland.

It was after 8 PM and Nora and I were still in south central Iceland, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We needed to get back on Route 32 and head west toward Reykjavik and Keflavik International Airport, where we would be leaving for New York in the morning. But as I shook the lock on a rickety wooden fence — far from our ultimate destination — I realized we had reached the end of another road. Literally!

I laughed thinking about what an imaginary park official could be saying at just that moment.

“Attention tourists, Haifoss is closed.”

Whether or not we had made a wrong turn, it didn’t matter. Route 327, a rocky dirt road which had delivered us to the historic farmhouse Stong and the exquisite Gjain gorge, had run out of outlets. There was no place left for us to go except back where we came from.

The hidden gem Haifoss had officially become the waterfall too far! The shadows were getting longer and it was getting later. But the midnight sun meant we didn’t have to worry about running out of daylight. We still had time to enjoy the final steps of our journey.

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Stunning Gjain gorge

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The entrance to Stong

Driving to Stong had given Nora and I a chance to reflect on the scope of our Icelandic adventure. It was mind numbing to comprehend how many miles we had traveled (was it 1,200 miles? 1,300? 1,400?) and how much we had seen and explored in less than 10 days.

We had traveled clockwise on the 800-mile long Ring Road that circles the island and were almost back where we started. We had also ventured off the Ring Road numerous times, driving several hundred miles to various points of interest in every corner of the island.

Exploring Stong in the Pjórsárdalur valley added a depth of history to our journey. Stong is the best known of several viking farmhouses excavated in the valley in 1939 by a team led by the Danish archaeologist Aage Roussell. Indications are the region had been populated by vikings until an eruption on nearby Mount Hekla devastated the valley in 1104 and again in 1300.

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Stong, an ancient viking farmhouse

It was fascinating to survey the complex layout and see how Icelandic vikings lived more than 900 years ago.

A short drive from Stong, Gjain gorge was an unexpected bonus. Lushly green with multiple waterfalls, lava fields and amazing lava rock formations, Gjain would’ve made for a fantastic afternoon of hiking and exploring in and around it. The gorge was deserving of far more than 15-20 minutes of our time. But as was the case with so many other sites we had come across in Iceland, further exploration would have to wait for another day. One we hoped was sooner rather than later.

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Icelandic horses are playful and affectionate

As Nora and I approached the intersection of Routes 30 and 324, little did we know we were about to experience one of the most special moments of our entire trip.

We had read about Icelandic horses, and how they were unique in so many ways. For the first time, we had an amazing opportunity to get up close and personal. A cadre of approximately 10-15 horses were gathered near a fence, where a couple was engaged with them. There was a rocky area just off the road which gave us plenty of room to park.

It was time to introduce ourselves.

It didn’t take long for a few of the horses to flock to us. They absolutely loved the attention! We were taken aback by the distinctive manes on some of the horses. One behaved as if he was a rock star in the making! Still another was quite comfortable using his muzzle to forcefully nudge away the other horses (or are they ponies?) to push himself to the front of the pack.

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Say “cheese!”

Despite the apparent pecking order, the horses were very affectionate — with us and with each other. After centuries of being only amongst themselves, should they be any different? Icelandic horses are true pure breeds: national law bans the import of horses from anywhere else in the world. And once an Icelandic horse leaves the country, it cannot return. There are many reasons for this policy, but the fear of imported disease is the most significant.

Our chance meeting and interaction with the Icelandic horses was extremely gratifying. As much as we had seen and done in our 10-day journey, the horses made us realize we had nearly missed out on experiencing something that had been a priority before we arrived.

How much more was there? We did not know the answer. But as we drove west on the final leg of our journey, Nora and I were sure of two things: 1) We had done everything possible to make our Icelandic odyssey as fulfilling as possible AND 2) The Magic of Iceland had invaded our souls. We would be making a return trip to the “Land of Fire and Ice” in the future.

Guaranteed.

Check out the entire Magic of Iceland series right here:

Part 1-Overview, Part 2-The Golden Circle, Part 3-LatrabjargPart 4-Midnight Sun DrivePart 5-Westfjords and IsafjordurPart 6-Fire and the MountainsPart 7-Date Night at HverfellPart 8-Surreal SaturdayPart 9-Beyond Fire and IcePart 10Taking the 939Part 11-Lost in SkaftafellPart 12-F208 DilemmaPart 13-Volcanic Highlands, Part 14-Homestretch to Remember

More Magic of Iceland:  1. Jokulsarlon – Glacier Lagoon

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