Iceland 2016: Reflections

13 08 2016

I started blogging about this trip with the sentence:  There just are no words.  There still aren’t, but if you’ve read my entries, you know I’ve tried.  And since a picture evidently is worth a thousand words, I’ve included what seems like a thousand, all in the hopes of expressing why this island, Ísland, is one of my favorite spots in the world.5-28-16 waterfall hike (1)

And since I’ve expressed the “why,” I know many people will want to know the “how much.”  The simple answer is, about $4,000 each.  This includes, for three people staying in the same room, and to the best of our record-keeping abilities:  airfare from Aiken, SC; travel agency costs (including car rental, lodging, excursions, and service);  groceries and meals; gas; gifts; and miscellaneous costs.

$4,000 each for a 16-day trip.  $12,000 for the three of us.  We could have spent that $12,000 on a good used car.  We could have spent it on house renovations.  We could have bought a boat or other pretty toy.  Instead, we chose to spend it on an experience.  And because that experience only lasted 16 days, I have translated that experience, to the best of my abilities, into this blog so that I can remember it and relive the experience for many years to come.

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If you have enjoyed reading this blog, if it has inspired you  to visit Iceland or some other place on your bucket list, or if it has caused you to rethink how you respond to nature or other cultures, well then, that’s an added bonus for me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Reflections of the bird cliffs on the beach at Vik

Iceland 2016: Time to Go

12 08 2016

Tuesday, June 7 to Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Our last day on this grand Iceland adventure: a day I’ve been dreading, but now since it’s here, I’m determined to make the most of it.    We get to Geysir early and before the crowds.   Our word “geyser” comes from The Icelandic word “geysir,” which means gusher.  The original Geysir no longer spouts, but just beside it is another one, Strokkur, the Churn, that spouts very conveniently every ten minutes or so.  Take that, Old Faithful!  Base temperature of this geothermal area is a warmish 2500 C, so we decide to forego any hot soak.

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From there we go up the road just a few kilometers to Gullfoss, one of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland due to its location on the Golden Circle so near to Reykjavik.  There are quite a few people here, although “crowd” in Iceland doesn’t mean near the same as in America.  The falls are spectacular and are almost as amazing as the vehicles in the parking lot.


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Not our ride

In the well-stocked gift shop, I finally give in and spend big bucks on a beautiful wool blanket.  I tell Brian it can be my birthday present.  Maybe he won’t remember.

Dave has read about a cave nearby, so we turn off the main road onto a bumpy gravel road to try to find it.  As we bounce down the road dodging potholes, I can sense Brian’s tension rising as he remembers all too vividly our earlier adventure of getting stuck on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere.  We finally arrive and find two small caves called Laugarvatnshellar.  The story behind these caves is that in 1910 a young couple moved in and raised a family in one of them, using the other for a sheep shed.  These Icelandic folk are a hardy bunch!   And they didn’t even have midge hats!

On to Þingvellir.  This area is noteworthy both for its geology and its history.  It is the best place for viewing the Rift Zone, that area in the middle of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are diverging at a rate of two centimeters a year.  Numerous fissures crisscross this sites, evidence of the many faults in the Rift Zone.

It is also the site of the oldest known parliament in the world, the Alþingi, in A.D. 930.  Chieftains would meet here every summer from all over Iceland to hear the telling of the law and decide on court cases.

On our previous trip to Iceland, Brian and I snorkeled at Silfra, one of the fissures in this rift valley.  Because of this, we didn’t have much time to explore this National Park.  Today we will remedy that omission.  We eat lunch at a picnic table pull-off just inside the park, then go to the site of the ancient parliament.

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In the foreground is the Law Rock where speeches were held


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One of the prettiest fissures, where people throw coins to commemorate the Danish King’s visit

We explore one of the fissures and do our part for Continental Drift.

We walk up one of the main fissures with hundreds of other people, including a large group of rowdy middle-schoolers taking selfies and paying no attention to where they are or what they are seeing.

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And then it happens.  My Teacher Voice rings out, loud and clear.  A group of kids runs ahead of their chaperones, skidding down the gravel path and shooting clouds of dust and the occasional rock onto the other tourists.  I am just ahead and turn around to see what is happening.  Before I can stop myself (and really, I don’t even try), I spear them with my Evil Eye and impale them with a stern jab:  STOP THAT RIGHT NOW.  Startled, they do.

It’s time to go.

We make one more stop at a gas station so that Brian can wash the grime off the car.

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Inside, I find a chocolate-covered marshmallow dolphin for Annalise.  She hates dolphins and takes great pleasure in biting its head off.

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It’s time to go.

We turn in our car at Dollar Thrifty, where we are delayed for an hour or so while they assess a $200 fee on us for a small ding in the chassis caused by an errant piece of gravel.  We have insurance, but the deductible is $200.  Amazing.

It’s time to go.

We check into the Hotel Frón.  We make arrangements for an early morning pick-up.  We repack our bags.  We settle in for a sleepless night.

It’s time to go.

6-8-16 Reykjavik

Our travel home on Wednesday is uneventful, thankfully.  We make it through Customs without a hitch.  We make all our connections.  We are home and in our own beds before the night is late.

My body is thankful to be in the familiar comfort of my own space, but my mind is still in Iceland.  Like Peter Pan’s shadow trapped in Wendy’s drawer, a piece of me will always remain in Iceland.  I hope it never escapes.

shadows at 9 oclock

Iceland 2016: Never Enough

7 08 2016

Monday, June 6, 2016

Just when we think we have seen the most beautiful falls in all of Iceland, we turn around and are awed by the next one.  Down the road from our hotel in Geirland, we come across a waterfall that stuns us with its beauty.

It isn’t very tall.

The volume of water isn’t great.

It doesn’t drop from sheer cliffs.

But its rounded features mirrored by the hills around it sooth us and its turquoise waters draw us in.

It is poetry.

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This place deserves some Marie.

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Annalise adds her own brand of poetry

And because there is a hill, I climb.  And because I climb, Annalise takes off after me and soon leaves me in the dust.  Such a climb!

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It is exhilarating to hang onto the hillside with a handful of grass, pulling yourself up the steep slope.  I get three-fourths of the way up before Annalise decides to come down.  Turning around, I look down and suddenly remember that I don’t like heights.  Shoot.  How to get down?  6-6-16 Geirland waterfall (18)

As I’ve done a time or two before on this trip, I face out and start crab-walking down, but am passed by Annalise who is simply sliding down.  So I give up my crab-walk and slide on my butt, laughing all the way.  Worries, stresses, problems…they all disappear when I give in to this moment!

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And after a stone-skipping contest with Dave, who wins with a seven-skip rock, we get back in our cars for our drive around the southern-most part of the island and up to the Golden Circle.  And all day long a niggle in the back of my mind says, only two more days left to experience Iceland.

We cross miles of black sand before reaching the town of Vík.  Vík has a huge tourist souvenir shop—just the sort of shop I love to hate, but need in order to find some goodies for my family back home.  When we step outside and look to the cliffs along the beach, we see a parasailer working his way along the cliffs.

6-6-16 Vík I imagine what he is seeing: jagged rocks, seabirds nesting on ledges, puffins scooting into their burrows.  But I am glad to have both my feet firmly on the ground.

We replenish our food stocks at a grocery store, then walk to a nearby park with a picnic table to eat lunch.  While we eat, the parasailer floats closer and closer, landing gently in the field next to us.  We watch as he gathers his sail up and stuffs it in a bag, hoists it on his back, and walks down the road.  This guy is older than we are.  What a life he must lead!

We go to the black sand beach that has made Vík famous.

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Nancy and I amuse ourselves by walking over to the cliffs to look for puffins.  One can never have enough puffin pictures!  We only see one on the cliff, too far off for a good shot, although we see lots of them bobbing on the waves just past the surf.

From a kiosk, we learn that these sands and those in the sand flats we’ve just driven through are the result of “subglacial outburst flooding.”  Yipes.  The geology of this place fascinates me.

On to Skógafoss, one of the prettiest waterfalls in all of Iceland.  Definitely the most crowded.

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Brian and I climb the stairs to a good viewing area, sidling out on a ledge that has me quite uncomfortable, but hey, we got some good pictures!

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We climb down again to find Nancy taking some close-up shots of a patient and photogenic  sheep.  One can never have enough sheep pictures, either!

Next stop: Seljalandsfoss.  Yes, another waterfall.  Never enough.

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This  waterfall is unique in that you can walk behind it.  So I did.

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And we get a glimpse of Darwinism in action, almost.  People have hiked up to the top of the falls, and one hiker who is either very brave or very stupid or both gets right out on the edge, close enough to stick his feet into the falls.  He must have very good karma, or at least a good grip on reality, because he doesn’t fall.  That would have been a serious downer.

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We end the day at Efsti-Dalur Farmhotel.  Efsti-Dalur is a working dairy farm, with a wall of windows separating the restaurant and dairy bar from the barn.  We can’t resist: even before going to our rooms—each a little cabin with wood paneling—we settle down in the dairy bar with fresh, homemade ice cream as we watch the cows next door who provided the milk.  We hear that people make the trip all the way from Reykjavik just for this ice cream.  I can believe it!

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Dinner in the upstairs restaurant is equally delicious, although a bit more unsettling, as we eat huge hamburgers that are also produced on site.

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Our view as we eat our hamburgers

And our timing for dinner is impeccable, since we finish just as a loud party of people with full body tattoos comes in.  I don’t dare take pictures, but then the image is seared into my brain anyway!

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We walk past the horse pasture to our little cabin room and fall asleep to the sweet songs of birds in the ever-light sky.  And the birds sing all night.  Never enough.

Iceland 2016: Over the Ice, Up the Hill, and Across the Flats

5 08 2016

Sunday, June 5, 2016

We leave the peace and quiet of Hoffell for Vatnajökull National Park, where we have a glacier-walking tour lined up on a “tongue” of the largest glacier in all of Europe.   I’ve never thought of it before, but due to plate tectonics, half of Iceland is in North America, and the other half is part of Europe.  We’re on the Europe half.

Vatnajökull National Park , unlike most places in Iceland, is crowded with tourists.  Actually, since we are now in south Iceland not too far from Reykjavik, just about all the attractions will be crowded.  We have been spoiled by the unpopulated areas of the island.  I guess we are easing back into the real world.

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Getting fitted for the crampons

Outfitted with crampons on our shoes and pick-axes in hand, we are ready for anything, but mostly pictures.  The glacier itself is not very pretty—too much volcanic ash—but our guide keeps us entertained with stories and facts about the glacier.

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The ash is both a result of and a cause for the melting.  As the temperature warms over time (he was careful not to say “climate change” or “global warming”) the new snow and ice melts, exposing the ash from a previous eruption.  Then the dark ash causes heat to be absorbed, increasing the melting speed.  Ice cannibal.  Several times during his tour, we hear the thunderous booming of ice calving off a chunk of glacier somewhere off aways.  In spite of the dirty ice, our guide sets us up for some pretty neat photos.

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I ask our guide which country seems to be sending the most tourists.  China and America.  He adds that he really likes Americans because they are so friendly and good-natured.  A pat on the back for our country, although he may have said that just to get a larger tip!

After our walk on the glacier, we break for lunch.  While Brian, Annalise, and I scavenge food from our diminishing food bag in the car, David and Nancy opt for the hot dog stand, where they pay $35 for a fish and chips basket.  Be warned: the options for food are limited here.  No restaurants or grocery stores for miles around!

Thus nourished, we hike to Svartifoss, a beautiful falls over columnar basalt that reminds me of a pipe organ.  The hike up is fairly strenuous, although we keep getting passed by someone in a wheelchair!

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6-5-16 Svartifoss (6)Back at the parking lot, I decide I haven’t walked enough, so I enlist Brian and we head on down a trail to a tongue of another glacier.  I am hot from my hike to Svartifoss and tired of lugging my jacket around, so I don’t bring it with me.  However, as we get closer and closer to the glacier, for some reason it gets colder and colder!  By the time we’re there, the temperature has dropped at least 20 degrees, and I am downright chilly.  I’m sure there’s a lesson here somewhere.6-5-16 Vatnajokull National Park (1)

From Vatnajökull  we head on down the coast, through miles and miles of black sand flats and then miles and miles of moss-covered lava fields.  We stop at a pull-off and get out to see this area where the moss covered the lava so thick it looks like sponges.

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It must have taken centuries for the moss to grow this thick!

A short trail loops through the lava field, and unlike most areas in Iceland, this trail has guide ropes on either side to keep people on the trail and off the lava.  There are even signs written in two languages as well as a picture that clearly says STAY OFF THE LAVA.  And yet, when we walk a little ways on the trail, we come to a group of tourists who are taking pictures, having their teenagers pose ON TOP OF THE MOSS-COVERED LAVA.  It was all I could do to keep my Teacher Mouth shut, although I did shoot them some stink-eyes that should have conveyed the message.  Oh, and to make matters worse they had a drone buzzing overhead.  When I was crossing the parking lot to get back in the car, I got to talking with a man and his wife about what I had seen.  He validated my feelings; he was a retired ranger from Glacier National Park in Montana and told of his frustrations when foreign tourists disregarded signs to walk all over areas that were being replanted.  So, watch out.  Next time I see something like this, my Teacher Voice is going to ring out loud and clear.  And it may not be a pretty sight.