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.

5-31-16 Goðafoss (27)

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.

6-6-16 Vík (14)

Reflections of the bird cliffs on the beach at Vik

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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.

6-7-17 Geysir (6)

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!

6-6-16 Geirland waterfall (15)

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!

6-6-16 Geirland waterfall (13)

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.

6-6-16 Vík (1)

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.

6-6-16 Skogafoss (12)

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!

6-6-16 Skogafoss (18)

6-6-16 Skogafoss (16)

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.

6-6-16 Seljalandsfoss (4)

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!

6-6-16 Efsti-Dalur Farm (5)

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.

6-5-16 Skaftafell Glacial walk (30)

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.

6-5-16 Skaftafell Glacial walk (2)

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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Poser

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!

6-5-16 Svartifoss (1)

6-5-16 Svartifoss (3)

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.

6-5-16 moss covered lava field (1)

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.





Iceland 2016: Puffin Pictures Prevail

31 07 2016

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Today is our last chance to see puffins, or lundi as they are called in Iceland.  They were not showing themselves on the rainy day when we were at the cliffs at Látrabjarg in the West Fjords, so we are hoping to see a few on our bird-watching tour to Cape Ingólfshöfði.  But our tour is not until 1:30 this afternoon; we have time for other adventures along the way.

And so we stop at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.  Fed by the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier on the southeast coast, it has increased fourfold since the 1970s and is now considered to be the largest lake in all of Iceland. But people don’t come here because it is a lake; they come here to see the icebergs that have calved off the glacier bob down the way to the ocean.

In a word, it is spectacular.

6-4-16 Jokulsarlon glacial bay (22)

We opt not to take the boat ride through the lagoon, viewing the entire lagoon from the glacial moraine instead.

6-4-16 Jokulsarlon glacial bay  (2)

Walking from the beach to the lagoon and back again, we watch enormous chunks of ice roll and bounce down the narrow channel.  Eider ducks float like so many bathtub toys and arctic terns use the larger icebergs to rest up from their constant feeding forays.  A snow bunting poses long enough for me to get a decent shot.

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A fulmar and some terns find a good resting spot

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Snow bunting

Washed up on the beach is a photographer’s playground of icebergs.  Ice chunks that may be 1,000 years old melt slowly into fantastic shapes and I wonder how many of these images will end up as profile pictures on Facebook.  I know mine will!

 

 

6-4-16 Jokulsarlon glacial bay (34)

A close-up of 1,000 year old ice, courtesy of Nancy

We cross the one-way suspension bridge and make our way further south toward Cape Ingólfshöfði.

6-4-16 Jokulsarlon glacial bay (32)

6-4-16 Skeiðarársandur (1)

We stop at a strange roadside attraction: the twisted remains of a bridge at Skeiðarársandur.  In 1996, a volcanic eruption under the glacier caused massive floodings, wrecking this bridge and completely interrupting road travel on this section of the Ring Road.  Here it is not simply the inconvenience of taking a detour: between the glacier and the sandflats, this is the only road in the area.  And so Icelanders don’t bother making sturdy bridges; they acknowledge the unstoppable power of nature and instead make narrow, easily replaceable bridges that only need last until the next eruption.

Our GPS takes us down a long bumpy gravel road that ends in a small parking lot.  We are here.  Soon a large farm tractor pulling a hay wagon full of tourists splashes across a broad creek.  Our transport has arrived.  Down the road flies a girl on a bicycle.  Our guide.

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Our tour

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Our ride

 

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Our guide

6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði  outhouse

Our outhouse

She introduces herself with her full unpronounceable name, laughs, and says we can call her Guni.  In my mind, I make the connection: our Goony Bird.  We climb into the wagon for a half-hour ride across the broad, black sand flats to the Cape.

6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði (4)

6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði (10)

Guni stops the tractor at the base of the cliffs, and we trek up the steep and shifting black sands, stopping numerous times to “admire the view.” Annalise, of course, sprints up and waits at the top in sheer boredom.

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David and Nancy labor up the hill

Guni also waits patiently and once the group is all together, gives a brief overview.  This area was first settled in A.D. 874 by the very first Viking in Iceland, Ingólfur Arnarson, who went on to found Reykjavík.  Guni herself can probably trace her lineage back as far; her family has had a farm here for countless generations.  She tells us stories of hitch-hiking up and down the east coast, able to find a family connection in every ride she got.  Guni speaks fluent English, loves being outdoors and active, rides horses all throughout the winter, and is just so darn wholesome I want to bottle her up and spread her throughout the States.

Her tone takes on a precautionary note, however, when she talks of the skua.  Skua.  A skua is a seabird. Remember, a skua is a seabird.  Memories flood back as I recall years of giving standardized IQ tests in which students were given short definitions of words including this one and asked to recall them later.  I’d always wondered what a skua was like.  Now I’m about to find out.

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If a bird can be considered evil, his name would be Skua.

What I learn about skua:

  1. Skua are not cute like puffins.
  2. Skua eat puffins, puffin babies, and even puffin eggs.
  3. When passing a skua, stay together as a group so it won’t attack.
  4. Skuas are not on my list of nice birds.

6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði  (26)

Puffins, on the other hand, are cute.  They pose nicely.  They fly like little whirly-gigs.  Nobody’s ever had to be warned of an attack puffin.  Which is why I have thousands of pictures of puffins.  And only a few of skua.6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði (9)

 

6-4-16 Cape Ingólfshöfði (1)

Puffin Perches

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He waits with his mouth full of sand eels for the coast to be clear before going to his burrow to feed his pufflets.





Iceland 2016: East Fjord Frivolity and Failure

30 07 2016

Friday, June 3, 2016

Lately each morning I’ve awoken with a sense of urgency, and particularly so this morning.  With only five more days left, we are on the down-side of our trip, and I don’t want it to be over.  My “Bucket o’ Adventures” is still not full.

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Good morning, Sunshine!

And so, after loading up the car, we drive over to the camping area and start climbing the hill toward the waterfalls we saw last night.

After a couple of false starts, we finally find a trail, scaring a pair of graylag geese along the way.6-3-16 Faskrudsfjordur hill hike (15)

6-3-16 Faskrudsfjordur hill hike (14)

Brian, David, and Nancy stop at the first falls and amuse themselves with their cameras, settling in on comfortable rocks as they take in the scenery.

Annalise and I look at each other, look up the hill and take off.

6-3-16 Faskrudsfjordur hill hike (52)She quickly is out of sight and I am thinking hard about turning around as the hill gets steeper and steeper and the trail disappears.

6-3-16 Faskrudsfjordur hill hike (21) But as long as Annalise is up ahead and out of sight, I feel it is my motherly duty to climb onward, if only to save her from disaster (as I did when she climbed a cliff as a two-year-old).  I use nature photography as an excuse to catch my breath.

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Alpine bartsia: a hemi-parasite whose roots tap into other roots for nutrients

 

6-3-16 Faskrudsfjordur hill hike (23)

Wooly willow

 

And really, it’s not about the speed or distance to me; sometimes the most breath-taking views are the ones up close and underfoot.  But then, in Iceland I rarely look out to see a view that is not spectacular!

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Stopping numerous times to “admire the view” I finally spot a tiny figure on top of the ridge.

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Annalise heads down, thank goodness, so I don’t have to rescue her.  As if.

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Annalise and I stop at a particularly beautiful cascade, and I can think of no more appropriate spot to leave some of Marie, who I just happen to have in my backpack.  (Later I am to find out that Marie was afraid of heights, so maybe this is not the perfect spot I think it is.)  Regardless, I thrust Marie’s ashes out into the rushing water, but just then a gust of wind catches them with Annalise downwind.  Ahh, well, I always thought Annalise had a bit of her Aunt Marie in her.  Now there is no doubt.

6-3-16 Faskrudsfjordur hill hike Marie

Marie’s Spot

We race down the hill just for the sheer joy of it.  The beauty of this place is overwhelming and it occurs to me that Iceland is a place of seasonal manic depression.  I’m not much for the cold and dark winter months, but this season of sunshine, flowers, and sparkling air makes my spirits soar.

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Annalise rolls down the hill, just because.

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High jinks

We meet back up with Brian, David, and Nancy who have been waiting patiently for our return.  What a perfect mix of fellow travelers: always someone up for a little extra adventure while the rest hangs out good-naturedly!

6-3-16 Faskrudsfjordur hill hike (51)

 

We are now in the East Fjords, and if I thought the West Fjords had a lock on grandeur, well, I’d be dead wrong.  With the rugged coastline to my left and the jagged mountains on my right, I have a hard time deciding where to look.

6-3-16 East Fjords Breithdalur (22)

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We stop frequently to explore: a lava flow, a lighthouse, and then a place I am sure must be a tourist trap, Petras Stone Collection in Stöðvarfjördur.  With so much else to see and experience, I’m not eager to spend time at a place I assume is like the roadside attraction, South of the Border, in South Carolina.  But we go anyway, and boy am I wrong!

Petra Sveinsdottir was a woman after my own heart.  She was a self-taught naturalist who from a young age scoured the hills around her home for stones, amassing what is now one of the largest privately owned collections in the world.

6-3-16 Petras Stone Collection Stodvarfjordur (8)

 

6-3-16 Petras Stone Collection Stodvarfjordur (15)

Petra herself

 

The gardens around her home are filled with beautiful displays of her rocks and minerals and are lovingly tended by her children who have opened her home to visitors.

6-3-16 Petras Stone Collection Stodvarfjordur Marie

Marie would have absolutely loved this place, so for the second time today I pull her out and quietly fertilize a cluster of flowers with a bit of her.

We eat our lunch at a picnic table across the road from Petra’s house and then take off once again.  After passing through areas where slopes of scree pose the very real threat of landslides, we pull off at another scenic area, a valley and a fjord named Breiðdalur and Breiðdalsvík.

6-3-16 East Fjords Breithdalur (6)

 

Layers of basalt with vertical intrusions fascinate us, as does a wall of fog that is leaping toward us across the fjord.

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We watch for a while, then get back in our cars and take off, with our car in the lead.  We don’t see David and Nancy pull off, but think nothing of it as they usually take a minute or so to settle in.  This will become important.

Another pull-off, this one down a short driveway to a creek and waterfall.  Brian, Annalise and I get out and mess around for a little while.

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Annalise takes off her shoes and quickly wades across the shallow creek.

 

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Me, not so much.  I decide to follow, but the water is deceptively cold, freezingly so, and the rocks are hard to walk on.  With ice cubes for feet, I get stuck in the middle, but Annalise comes to my rescue and helps me back across.  So much for The Adventurer!

We keep an eye out for Dave and Nancy but don’t see them, so we assume they’ve passed us by and we will catch up later.  We go to the top of the falls, take a few pictures of people taking pictures, and then continue on our way.

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Waterfall selfie

Reindeer, a whole herd out in a field!  I don’t have any pictures of reindeer yet, so again I ask Brian to pull over and he complies.  I take off across the field toward the herd, but other people are doing the same and the herd gets spooked.

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6-3-16 reindeer chase

Reindeer tracks and scat

Still, I’m enjoying the feel of being in a field far from civilization when I turn around and see a golf course.  A golf course.  Apparently golf is Iceland’s fastest growing sport, but I am not a fan.

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Of course, I’m teed off.

Still no sign of David and Nancy, and text messages and calls are not going through, so we drive on to our hotel in Hoffell, fully expecting to see their car already in the parking lot.  But it’s not.  The hotel receptionist says, no, they haven’t arrived yet.  She goes on, they called several hours ago and said they would be late due to car trouble.  Uh oh.  I start to worry that they are stuck out on the road somewhere.  But when I turn around, there they are!

It seems that back at the pull-off at Breiðdalur, a sharp rock punctured their tire.  They honked, waved their arms, and tried calling us, to no avail.  Dave was able to put on the spare tire and they stopped at the next small village, where they got the tire fixed in a relatively short time while they relaxed at a café.  Lesson learned:  Stay together!

We dine out on the porch of the hotel restaurant, in view of a glacier.

 

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A glacial reflection

A broad valley surrounds this farm hotel, with horses grazing in the field while snipes make constant winnowing sounds with their tails as they swoop and climb in the air.  We relax, knowing that for only the second time on our trip, we get to stay here two nights.

This hotel boasts five open-air hot pots fed by geothermal waters, so I head down the path through the horse pasture for an evening soak.  The water looks a little murky, and each pot is already inhabited by other soakers like myself, but turning around is not an option, so I overcome my awkwardness and slide into one with only a couple of people from Canada in it.  We are soon joined by a girl from Spain who is smoking a strange-smelling cigarette, and we all exchange stories of our travels around the island.  And while it is interesting to hear from other travelers, I am also slightly weirded out by sharing this murky warm water with strangers.  So when I get back to the hotel, I scrub well in a long hot shower before I feel clean again.  I crawl into bed in our room with a glacial view and dream of the puffins we hope to see on tomorrow’s excursion.

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Iceland 2016: Bump, Crawl, Squeeze, Climb, and Slide

24 07 2016

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Yesterday we were left behind, but this time we are ready.  By 7:30 we are in front of the ranger station, ready for the van to transport us to the Lofthellir lava cave.  Nancy has made the wise decision to sit this one out, as her claustrophobia would not make this a pleasant experience.  The van arrives, and we head out for the drive to the cave.  At first, the ride is smooth, but soon we turn off onto a dirt road that is more holes than whole.  Luckily, this is a four-wheel drive vehicle, and our guide expertly drives in, around, up, and down, through mud holes, across a creek, and over the lava field.  Jouncing like popcorn, we bump our way toward the cave.

After an hour in which I feel that every muscle in my body has been pulverized, we come to a stop and get out.

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Lava flowed through this valley

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Rope lava

We walk another half an hour over a lava field to a trailer where we are given rubber boots and a helmet with a lamp.  Another ten minute walk puts us at a giant hole in the ground, which even in June is still 90% filled with snow and ice.

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With a nod toward civilization, there is a metal staircase to the bottom of the hole, although without a handrail. We all make it to the bottom of the hole without incident and find ourselves standing in about four inches of ice water which is on top of what we are to find out is about a ten-foot layer of ice, a layer of ice that is throughout the cave.

6-2-16 Lofthellir Cave tour (11)Our boots have tiny metal cleats on them, so our footing is secure.  A good thing, too, since our first obstacle is to step over a large, very deep hole immediately in front of the entrance way.  Inside the cave, we come to our next challenge: a hill of ice some six feet high, topped with an opening maybe 18 inches high and a yard wide.  Our guide unrolls a tarp with boards sewn in like steps, and we climb up and slither through the tiny opening on our bellies.  I am starting to wonder if maybe this time I have bitten off more of an adventure than I can chew.  But there’s no going back now, not without some serious loss of face, so I swallow the bile collecting in the back of my throat and go on. The temperature is right at freezing down here but we are warm with exertion and are wearing rain pants and waterproof coats so we stay dry as we slip and slide up and around more ice slopes.

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It’s worth it.  Instead of limestone stalagmites and stalactites, these are made of pure ice.  Our guide places several flashlights behind some stalactites, and the light is reflected through them for a gorgeous light display like no other.  At one point, he has us all turn off our lights and get quiet, and we stand in inky darkness with only the drip drip of water in our ears.  Then we hear Ping! Ping!: bell-like notes of different pitches.  A melody of ice, an icicle symphony!  Our guide is tapping the sides of various sizes of stalactites with a metal object.  An underground concert, played on ice formations, in a lava cave some 3,000 years old!

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Ice crystals sparkle like diamonds

After almost an hour, it is time to turn around.  Getting back is so much more fun: we slide on our backs down the ice hills, holding on to a rope for control.  I’m ten years old again!  (Some would say, still.)

6-2-16 Lofthellir Cave tour (1)Outside, we take off our gear and hike back to the van where we bumpity-bump our way back to civilization.  A mechanic can make a good living in Iceland; these vehicles take a beating.  And a savvy masseuse could make some good pocket change with an office near the drop-off point!

We meet Nancy back at the hotel.  After ten days of almost non-stop travel, Nancy has enjoyed her own style of adventure this morning: a long soak in the tub followed by some re-organizing and catching up with the outside world.  She’s earned it!

Not too far down the road, we stop at, you guessed it, a waterfall.  Not just any waterfall:  this one is Dettifoss, one of the most powerful waterfalls in all of Europe and the largest waterfall in Iceland, as measured by water volume.  Move over, Niagara!6-2-16 Dettifoss (46)

Although there is lots of snow still on the ground, the air is warm and Annalise makes the most of it by changing into her shorts.6-2-16 Dettifoss (38)

6-2-16 Dettifoss (30)The hike to the falls takes about half an hour as we climb over rocks and across snowmelt.

Before going on to Dettifoss, we view Selfoss, the eleven-meter high, horse-shoe shaped falls just upriver.  The volume of water is amazing, as is the columnar basalt on the opposite bank.6-2-16 Dettifoss (34)

 

From there, we head downstream where strong winds blow waterfall spray over us.  At this point, I was glad to not be wearing shorts.  Although a rainbow did make its appearance, Dettifoss is not on my short list of beautiful waterfalls.  It draws its fame from the sheer power of the water.  Mesmerizing!

6-2-16 Dettifoss (39)The rest of our trip today is uneventful.  I am unable to see one of the sights I had marked as a Must See: the boyhood home of Halldór Laxness, my new favorite author.  Laxness wrote the epic Independent People, which won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955.  I’ve read the book twice now, and am completely enthralled with his portrayal of life in a turf house during the early 1900s.  We find the road that leads to his house, but it is a gravel road marked as an “F” road, which means it is off-limits for our sweet little Peugeot.  Our last adventure getting stuck on the side of the road has us even more wary of the dangers of travel, so I reluctantly have to give up on my dream of seeing this author’s house.  Deep sigh.

We enter the fishing village of Faskrudsfjordur, on the east coast of Iceland on a beautiful fjord.

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Fjord Reflections

When we go in the hotel lobby, a sign says go across the street and around the building, so we do and find someone in the hotel restaurant who takes us underground through a tunnel and a museum back across the street to the lobby where we started.  It is idiosyncracies like this that make Iceland so fun!

Dave and Nancy enjoy a dinner in the restaurant, while we snack on the crackers, cheese, peanut butter, and other food we have bought at a grocery store.  And when we are done, Brian and I set off on a walk to get a flavor of the town.  This town of a little more than 600 used to be a main fishing hub for the French, and even now the street signs are in French as well as Icelandic.

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The old hospital, remade into a hotel/museum with a tunnel under the street to the doctor’s house/hotel.  Note the sign showing how many kilometers to France.

 

Our hotel, we discover, used to be the home of the town doctor and site of the French hospital, purported to be haunted.

6-2-16 Fosshotel Austfirdir (4)It is the beauty of this village, though, that enchants us. 6-2-16 Faskrudsfjordur (4) At the end of the town, we find a campground, above which we spot a series of waterfalls.  Adventure enough for tomorrow!

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