Myvatn: a guide to the rotten egg smell you WANT to experience

I love seeing landscapes that seem not from this planet. The colours, the landforms, sometimes just the absence of people. That’s one of my favourite things about travelling. Myvatn is one such place, completely alien, and absolutely a must-see.

I once drove along a highway in Namibia that almost convinced me that I was on the moon. When we visited Mývatn in northern Iceland, we saw a place that truly looked like Mars – Hverir. Hverir is one of the features surrounding Lake Mývatn, a wetland area and interesting geothermal site. IMG_8133 We smelled it first. The smell was sulfur, a thick and choking stench of rotten eggs. It was fuming out of the earth through vents in the ground, stacked stone piles encrusted with yellow sulfurous deposits.

Clouds of the steam rushed up all around the site in white plumes. The earth was orange here, stained grey and white in wide swathes where the earth’s minerals had boiled up to the surface and crystallised.

Nearby, the bare hills were a deep brown-orange, veined in a pale yellow of rain channels and pathways. Out in the distance, there were still snow-covered mountains, in gorgeous photogenic Iceland style.

It had rained the day before, and the site had received a lot of visitors. So, the morning we visited, the ground had been churned into orange slop.
IMG_8117 IMG_8111 Down the hill, the needle on the smell-o-meter had pegged. Bubbling pits of sloppy dark grey mud were burping and popping in boiling pools. I looked inside one of these craters. A huge bubble of liquid burst with a comical gloooop. I pulled my scarf up, to block my nose.

I could sense that some powerful force was happening under the earth, something elemental and mysterious. The mud was as sticky as glue on the soles of our shoes, and despite a few wooden duckboards, it was impossible to keep our shoes clean.

In fact, besides the carpark and a few lengths of string serving as barriers, the entire site was blessedly untouched by man. In response to growing tourist numbers, a small fee is now charged, but if you visit first thing in the morning (as we did), the place will likely be empty. IMG_8140 IMG_8146 IMG_8145 Nearby was Dettifoss, AKA ‘that waterfall from the start of Prometheus’. This was actually the largest waterfall in Iceland, and surely the most furious. It didn’t disappoint.

The falls are a short drive from Mývatn, down a lonely highway, swallowed by kilometers of fields of sharp grey rocks. On approach, it announced itself with a distant roar. Up close, Dettifoss was loud, a strong voice to match it’s physical power.

From edge to edge, Dettifoss was rushing water at it’s most turbulent, a moving wall of grey and white, never-ending. Certain outcrops of rock allow you to stand right on the edge of the action, bathed in the spray. There was something about Dettifoss – maybe the cool grey of the surrounding stone and sky, that gave it a ominous, leaden feel. IMG_8172 IMG_8173 DSCN8722 It wouldn’t be Iceland unless there was a volcano close by, and in Mývatn the closest was the volcano-ish site at Krafla. Near Krafla, a geothermal power plant straddled the road, plugged into the earth via a network of Super Mario style pipes, space station style domes, and steam vents.

The four of us walked around the ridge of a Krafla crater filled with green water and snowy layers. The ground, like Hverir, was speckled and stained by chemical deposits.

Adeline continued up the volcano to see the (still warm) lava fields, whilst Sandra (our fourth member, always behaving strangely) went for a walk down the highway, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Cindy and I didn’t feel like climbing the volcano, so we had hot dogs for lunch – one of Iceland’s lesser-known specialities. IMG_8151 IMG_8152 IMG_8147Finishing the day at Mývatn, we went to the Nature Baths, a natural spring heated from underground, designed for swimming. Entry to the pool was through the shower rooms (only after a nude pre-shower), which was compulsory for all visitors. The air outside was freezing cold, but thankfully, the springs were perfect.

Steam lifted off the pool, a fluro azure blue. Hovering somewhere around 40 degrees, the water smelled faintly of sulfur, and felt slippery on the skin. The temperature changed in different spots, depending where you stood and what was happening under the ground. It was the perfect way to de-stress after days of highway driving. DSCN8727 DSCN8729 DSCN8730

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