On the window of the Hot River Coffee Café , Dalakaffi, there was some pink writing scribbled on the glass:
The hike to the Hot River in Reykjadalur
1 hour long
200 meters up from here in a beautiful valley
Is it worth it?
The wooden shack sat at the start of the trailhead. We noted the wraparound veranda and lime seating but walked on by. The café was still closed. Besides, a hot chocolate would be more appreciated coming off the hills.
Instead we crossed a wobbly plank over the stream and began the climb up the valley. Beautiful was not the word that came to mind, despite the cafés claim. This was a harsh environment where green gave way to the red-brown and black of scree – like the scars of abandoned coal-tips.
We had not walked far when we heard the ‘plop, plop, plop’ of fumeroles and saw steam rising from the ground. We crossed over the river and saw a pothole below a hummock. The water was boiling – a natural cauldron enclosed by earth. As we continued up the valley, plumes of steam wafted across the path and the smell of sulphur filled the air along with the dampness of soil. The hissing and bubbling of the hot springs accompanied the tinkle of the stream.
The weather started to close in and the steam mingled with low cloud. Further up, the pony-trekking guides in their bright orange waterproofs sat on the ground eating soggy sandwiches, their ponies huddled together, looking as miserable as their human companions.
We crossed the stream once more and passed a man rushing off the hillside – wearing a pair of dripping swimming trunks and a wet shirt.
The steam came more thickly now and shadowy figures emerged from the plumes as we crossed the scree slope. Below us, larger hot springs bubbled and fermented. I picked my way carefully along the path cutting through the scree slope, not caring to throw myself into the boiling cauldron below. Then we turned a corner to see the river filled with bodies – we had reached the point where the river was just the right temperature for a bath.
We stripped off our clothes and lowered ourselves in the peaty water, finding a flat stone to serve as a pillow.
I closed my eyes, feeling the cold rain on my face; feeling the heat of the river warming my body.