My father was from a tiny island on the south coast of Iceland where men proudly call themselves the first and most original Icelanders, since Iceland is their biggest colony. My father was born January 7th 1952 and both my grandparents were born January 11th, so January seemed like the best time to go and visit their communal grave. The cemetery in Heimaey is always lit up with festive lights until January 23rd, the anniversary of the 1973 volcanic eruption start date. If only everyone could Rest In Peace in such a paradise as this.
I heard about the first volcanic eruption about 1 minute after the news report was released, late at night around 1 am, and almost drove out to it that night. Hearing rumours of road closures and safety risks, I waited until the next day, and then life just carried on as usual, busy days doing nothing, until all of a sudden, the volcano was over!
I was expecting a 2 month or even 2 year spectacle and assumed I would eventually get out to it so I could also get my photo taken with bubbling lava behind me like everyone else, but the couple weeks I waited proved to be too long. It was also because there was no sign or evidence of a volcanic eruption here in Reykjavik, as no sounds, sights or smells of the eruption reached us.
But then, we all know what happened, the real show began! The most recent eruption started at around 20 times the strength, defeaning sounds echoing around southern Iceland, and ash starting its quick and lethal journey to mainland Europe. I decided I of course couldnt miss this opporunity again, and drove out to it within a day of it blowing its top. The road was actually closed, but I was driving with an Icelandic friend of mine who convinced the authorities we had to go into Úlfsey to help a friend move horses. It wasn´t 100% true, but there was a friend and there were horses, but we were just going to take photos all night from beneath the volcano with our zoom lenses and tripods.
The lightning in the plume cloud was one of the most amazing natural phenomenons I have ever witnessed, the most beautiful, bright sight you could imagine in an otherwise horribly dark, grim volcanic ash cloud. It was red sometimes, orange other times, and even a white lightning streak sometimes lit up the whole cloud. It was soundless lighting though, and the missing thunder just made the volcano seem more scary, like a silent monster. Northern lights speckled the sky half way into the night, and the view of a billion stars all added up to make the night one of the most unforgettable I’ve ever had.
The next day we took advantage of the day light and took photos of the plume cloud, rising 10 km´s above the crater, and the endless, drifting ash cloud supposedly spreading ash in Russia and leaving ash on people´s cars in Norway. Crazy to think about.
I went back to the Volcano 2 days later, Monday the 19th, to see a much smaller, lighter plume cloud, but an even murkier, spooky ash cloud blowing straight south, barely missing the Vestmann Islands off the southcoast of Iceland.
The road closure was slightly closer, right at the bridge over Markarfljót, with the rebuilt ringroad highway that was originally torn apart to allow for glacier melting and run off water to flow. As we arrived, the time was 19:27, and the road block was officially lifted 2 minutes later. So, with a sense of adventure, everyone in the car thought we should carry on and we drive straight into the ash cloud. It was a spooky, eerie feeling, extremely silent and lifeless, and the sun looked like a radioactive ray glowing far away through the thick ash. We didnt get out of the car but took photos from the safety of our sealed windows.
After all the excitement, we started our journey back to Reykjavik, and as we drove away and nightfall set, we saw the flickering red glow of the volcano light up a pitch black sky, which we later learned was the turning point of Eyafjallajökull into a roaring lava flow eruption.