The Canyon, the Chef, and the Sheep’s Head

I promised this story quite a few days ago, but there was work and there were kids and there was camping (more on that later). But no more excuses!

After returning from Vestmannaeyjar several hours earlier than we had expected to do so, we found ourselves with a bit of free time on our hands. Marie hadn’t yet seen Seljalandsfoss, and she knew of a somewhat unknown canyon near there that I hadn’t seen, so off we went! Now, the car we were using was pretty old and rickety, so the real adventure was traversing a very long gravel road that clearly doesn’t see much action. We made it with no lost parts or flat tires, but with the prospect of returning to civilization on that same road before us, we were content to take our time exploring.


If you are driving the Ring Road, you’ll notice that the really famous tourist spots are usually easy to spot and well-marked (along with hotels and restaurants that know the best way to bring in the customers is to give them a bit of notice to slow down and turn). However, there are seemingly a gazillion lesser-known places that may have no sign or notice of their existence at all (like Paradise Cave). You either have to know about them in advance, or you have to keep an eye out for the ever-helpful group of cars. As you can see above, they are usually quite far from the road, but if you notice 2-10 vehicles all parked in the same place –especially if there is no building around – then you are pretty guaranteed to find something beautiful or at least interesting nearby.


This particular gaggle of tourists (yes, tourists and geese get the same word group name in my vocabulary) had already spotted what we were aiming for anyway: a small canyon cut by just enough water to be called a stream. You can hike up the top of the hill, which is what a few tourists were doing, or you can enter through this magical little hole in the side and experience the movie-like beauty that lies within.

My mind instantly went to films like Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia when we got inside this rift (neither of which were filmed in Iceland, which is perhaps why I didn’t expect to see this kind of scenery). People say over and over that Iceland will make you feel like you are in another world or on another planet, and this particular spot proved that point again. Photos don’t capture what it really looked like, simply because it’s rather close quarters and a 360 degree view is necessary for full appreciation. Everything was green, lusciously green and misty with rays of sunlight streaking through the crack overhead to illuminate it all.

The “hike” is actually more like rock-hopping, with very little ground available. For best results when exploring this canyon, wear waterproof shoes. As is typical for me, I ended up getting a bit wet, but the water wasn’t hypothermia cold at least. This canyon would have been one of the highlights of my entire time in Iceland regardless, but when we had almost reached the end, we received a surprise that made it even more memorable.


As we rounded a corner, we found these guys and quite a feast spread out around them. Apparently, a group of Russian tourists had hired the man in blue (a Russian chef currently running a restaurant in Iceland) and his Lithuanian friend to prepare a gourmet meal for them in the canyon itself. The tourists had just left when we arrived, and now the two men were starting to clean up the leftovers. – not before offering all sorts of delicacies to any other random tourists crossing their path though!

Yes, that is a sheep’s head. It’s a very popular Icelandic dish, which somehow in the flurry, I didn’t get around to trying. Dang it. Upon hearing that I’m a bit of a foodie, the chef was all the more eager to have me taste his best dishes though, so I tried two different forms of minke whale, blood sausage, tiny persimmons, a cheese blend on cucumber and pita bread, and a delicious cognac. They had water bottles chilling in the river and stacks of Skyr on the table (because no meal in Iceland is complete without Skyr). They insisted we take several containers of Skyr, a small bottle of wine, and a jar of blueberry preserves with us, in exchange for which we helped them carry their belongings back over the rocks to their jeep. Rock-hopping is way more interesting when you lose the use of your hands, let me tell you.

First, we had to finish our trek and reach the end of the canyon, because (as you learn rather fast) where there is water, there is a waterfall. At one point, there are chains drilled into the rock so that you can shimmy flat against the wall without falling in the water. You even have to do some assisted rope-climbing up the side of a small cascade, as you can see above. Finally, we saw the end around the corner and were welcomed by this sight:


The open area is small and almost entirely closed off, which makes it all the more magical. The walls glistened with wet moss, and a mist covered you no matter where you stood. I still have no idea what the name of this place is, but it was definitely the most beautiful and amazing place I have seen yet, the lack of tourists making it all the moreso. If you are traveling the Ring Road, don’t miss this stunning canyon!


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