30th Jun 2012 10:02am | By Jahn Vannisselroy
When lava leaves a volcano, it travels in channels, the tops of which cool down and harden. Inside, the molten rock continues its journey until it has nowhere to go, leaving a giant cylinder perfect for an adventure. However, it’s not as though they’re unexplored; in Iceland’s earlier societies, criminals were made outcasts, banished from villages, and would often seek refuge from the harsh elements inside these winding hollows.
The walls vary from silky smooth to craggily uneven depending on which part we’re in, the lava’s speed as it cooled dictating the surface. Alongside unwrinkled green, red and yellow volcanic stone (the different colours caused by varying temperatures when cooling) grow stalagmites and stalactites. We’re instructed not to touch under any circumstances. Previous parties have contained light-fingered environmental vandals, their thievery a shame as the ancient souvenirs only look like melted iron sitting on a mantelpiece without a sense of perspective. Iceland’s most famous caver, Björn Hróarsson, has mapped hundreds of the country’s lava tubes, and in our cave has replaced the missing tites and mites with replicas, but they remain a sad reminder that nothing beats the real deal.
During this dank, dark descent, we’re crouching for metres of slow-but-steady progress, hunched to avoid the sharp stone of the roof, hardhats earning ever more dents as we clumsily adjust to our alien surrounds. Some spots require advancement on hands and knees and others demand we lie down and roll along the jagged floor in order to continue. At the deepest point, our guide, Gulli, instructs us to extinguish our headlanterns, to not make a sound. We perch on boulders in the absolute darkness, craning our ears. There’s nothing … and it’s incredibly peaceful. Think of the last time you were awake and saw and heard nothing. In our hectic modern-day lives, it won’t have been too often.
An unexpected bonus of enjoying five long minutes in the pitch black is that it makes footing more secure, but after the torches are switched back on, Gulli quickly unsteadies our nerves with his black Icelandic humour: “What would you rather have? One missing member of the group or one extra member?” The way back is spent with more than a few glances over the shoulder.
The following day I’m back above ground, booting along the Reykjanes peninsula on an ATV, 50km from the centre of Reijkavik. It’s no cruise, the surface underneath the fat tyres rapidly changing from solid to loose rock, from sand to clay. Wits have to be kept at all times as we race along the challenging trail, speeding to keep up with our guide, Jakob, who seems to be relishing pushing us.
settlement in 874 AD, making it impossible to escape the ever-looming threat of an rainfall of lava. Further on, we stumble through the steam at the geothermal area Krýsuvík, one of Iceland’s high temperature areas, breathing in the rotten-egg smell of the sulphur springs as the mud bubbles menacingly at 100 degrees. And nearby the fragile nature of Iceland is highlighted at lake Kleifarvatn, which since a huge earthquake in 2000 has shrunk by 20 per cent.
To finish, I enjoy one another of the pleasant results of Iceland’s uncertain underground activity, The Blue Lagoon,
a natural spa producing temperatures of up to 39 degrees. Its murky mineral-rich water, a combination of sulphur and silica,
is a far cry from the clarity of Silfra, however it soothes the aches and bruises accumulated during three days of action.
But although the lagoon may ease the physical reminders, it’s powerless to erase the memories of Iceland’s adventures, which remain forever etched into my mind.
When to go: Different seasons yield different experiences. Winter (Nov to Mar), when it’s darker, is the best time to see the Northern Lights. The days last much longer in summer (mid-June to Sept), a great time to get amongst it with the locals, who are not shy of partying hard.
Currency: Icelandic krona. 1GBP= 200ISK
Accommodation: Reykjavik Backpackers has friendly staff and the establishment’s onsite bar makes for a sociable environment. From £25pppn.
See: reykjavikbackpackers.com / visiticeland.com
Jahn Vannisselroy was hosted on the Black And Blue snorkelling and caving tour with Arctic Aventures adventures.is; the six-hour Volcano Gardens tour with Volcano Tours volcanotours.is; and the two-hour Lava Beach tour with ATV 4X4 atv-adventures.com
Photos: TNT, ellithor.com
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