Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Iceland 10: Bird Baths

After an exciting morning at the power station we decided to drive around the lake before lunch; and, since the rain eased up for a while, we went for a walk through some woods by the lake shore.  Woods?  Very unusual, since there are virtually no trees in Iceland.  We found a few conifers by the power station, but we suspect they were planted as a public relations exercise.  The walk was very beautiful, although rather dark and midgy.  I was also very pleased to see that there was a "no pooping" policy in place, although this does beg the question as to why it should be necessary...

By the time we'd got back to the car park is was full of Dutch camper vans, so we headed on to another location for a walk around some pseudo-craters.  These are not true volcanic craters, in the sense that no lava ever came from them; instead they are caused by steam explosions in a wet or swampy environment, resulting in almost perfectly circular depressions in the landscape.

The highlight of the walk was seeing some red-necked phalarope which decided to come very close to the path for us.  Beautiful birds, and I fell in love with them (a bit like the whimbrel yesterday).  We left as about half a million tourists poured off some coaches and followed their flag-carrying leaders like a flock of miserable sheep up the hillside. There was the inevitable overweight American lady too who needed to be helped up the (slight) incline.  Time to cut and run.

We then went to the Myvatn bird museum, and because it was raining we decided to have a warm drink (and a stonking piece of chocolate cake for Harriet) before looking around.  I had to do some translation from German into English for a couple who couldn't make themselves understood to the lady on the till.  The museum itself was exactly what it said on the tin: a load of stuffed birds in a darkened room.  Interesting to look at, though, and eye opening for a couple of things (size of Great Northern Diver and positive identification of the Arctic Skua which I kept seeing and Harriet didn't believe).

Guess what?  It was still raining after we left the bird museum!  It did start to clear up a bit, though, so we decided to brave the Myvatn Nature Baths before dinner.  On the way we saw an astonishing pale blue lake, presumably caused by run-off from from the geothermal hot water extraction plant.

Well, the baths were an interesting experience.  Quite expensive to get in (3600 kroner each, or about £20) but it would have been impossible to come to Iceland and not go to a natural geothermal pool.  The water is a pale blue in colour because of the chalk, and fairly alkaline.  More importantly, it's not possible to get into the pool until one has showered naked and cleaned every orifice before putting on one's swimming costume.  Then it's a matter of finding a pool (or a bit of a pool) which is the right temperature. The main pools are nominally at 38 degrees, but the temperature varies wildly depending on the location and the depth.  A couple of areas were much warmer than the others, and there were also underwater benches to allow bathers to sit in a circle and be sociable.  One area, possibly an inlet, had water which was so hot that it felt scalding.  There was also a hot tub, which was very pleasant; and a sauna, which was very steamy.  Not meant for people wearing glasses.  We stayed in the water a couple of hours, and managed to leave just in time as a huge coach load of tourists (German) were queuing outside and waiting to get in.  Close call.  The only other point of note was that we saw Jabba the Hut at the baths, sitting in obese splendour on a chair before getting into the water and raising the level by a couple of inches...

For the entomologists among you, these are the "midges" after whom Myvatn is named.  As a fly fisherman they looked very much like large black buzzers (Chironomids) to me.  Despite not being of the biting ilk, it was impossible to avoid the wretched things.  For scale, the close-up shows an insect  which is about 12mm in length.

Beware for a shock tomorrow because - horror of horrors - the rain stopped and the sun came out!