At Home in the Land of Extremes - Page 2
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Efsti Dalur has hosted guests for six years now and is among the growing number of farms that are putting up travelers through Icelandic Farm Holidays, an organization that links farmers and tourists. The association has grown from a smattering of farms across Iceland in 1980 to more than 150 today, many of which are situated next to the country's prime attractions, hiking trails, and geothermal pools. A number are also trying to green their operations by reducing energy and water use and serving only local and organic food. The lodging varies from simple rooms in a historic farmhouse to newly built guest cottages, but all provide a warm, personal welcome, a distinct change from more traditional accommodations—not to mention the hearty European breakfasts. A week-long hop-scotch through the farm network on the southern coast of Iceland (while sampling some of the country's ample hiking, rafting, diving, and hot springs) lets you revel in Iceland's greatest polarity: the thrill of exploring its wilds and the delight of its countryside hospitality.

After breakfast at Efsti Dalur, I followed roads that curved through black-rock hills about an hour west to Thingvellir National Park, site of the Vikings' first parliament and where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. At the visitor center, I met Tinna Sigurdardóttir, my guide from Arctic Adventures, who had light brown eyes to match her light brown hair, delicate features, and a perpetually calm visage hardly reflective of her Viking ancestry. We drove through the Tolkeinesque landscape of green lichen-covered lava rock and stark, snow-covered peaks. After stopping by the side of the road at an unnamed pull-out, we donned helmets and headlamps and tromped through the lava-rock fields to a tiny hole, the entrance to a half-kilometer-long lava tube called Gjabakki Cave.

Icelandic people are famous for fanciful stories of elves and trolls, which reportedly live in dank caves like Gjabakki, and routinely divert roads and development projects around suspected elf homes. Though Tinna tells me Icelanders make up those stories to make children behave, in a landscape of mist-shrouded hoodoos and secret caves like this one, it's easy to believe in magical beings.

In this 60-foot-deep cave, however, there were more real dangers. The molten lava froze so quickly that the conical drips were still visible on the cave ceiling. During earthquakes, the soft rock falls down in chunks, so we could do nothing but hope that the nearby tectonic rift wouldn't hiccup that day. After clambering over and under rocks veiled in ice, we stopped for a hot chocolate and turned off our headlamps, blinking in the spooky black.

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