Posts Tagged With: Iceland

Hiking to Hell

P1020724

For our last day in Iceland, we had planned to visit Thorsmork and the Blue Lagoon. It all fell apart.

P1020717

Thorsmork translates to “the Woods of Thor”, Thor being the Norse god, and it is said to be an otherworldly place and a must visit on any trip to Iceland. We were caught in a dilemma: access to Thorsmork is by bus only and the bus only runs three times a day, morning, mid-day and evening. The “fastest” hike in Thorsmork gave us only 20 minutes to spare in order to catch the return bus at mid-day. If we missed it, we would be stuck until nighttime and miss the Blue Lagoon. Given that our definition of an easy hike differed greatly from the Icelandic one and that we were still spent from the previous day’s ice hike; we feared that 20 mins was cutting it too close and decided to forgo Thorsmork entirely. Yep, we committed the sin of choosing not to visit Thorsmork, one should always leave something for the next visit.

Instead we had a leisurely drive back. We passed by the volcano Eyjafjallajokull, whose eruption threw the world into chaos back in 2010.

P1010895

We stopped for pictures until the boys put their feet down.

P1020059

They relented a bit when we let them out to chase sheep.

P1020181

It’s harder than you’d think and they didn’t catch a single one!

P1020756P1020186

We also took a detour to visit the volcano Hekla. Icelanders are expecting it to erupt at any moment now and are afraid that if it blows next summer it will disrupt their entire tourist-based economy. We didn’t get all the way to Hekla because the road turned into pebbles and then rocks. We were afraid of getting a flat, so we turned back and instead petted horses.

P1020682

These guys are gorgeous.

P1020684

Soaking in a warm soup of strangers has never been high on my list of things to do but not visiting the Blue Lagoon seemed sacrilegious so I mentally prepared myself for it. Paying close to $75USD for the privilege seemed preposterous, I had to really talk it up to myself. Then fate intervened and saved us! Turns out the Blue Lagoon is such a tourist attraction, you now need to reserve online in advance, we couldn’t get any tickets. This is the power plant whose water is emptied into the Blue Lagoon.

P1030006

We were told of another geothermal pool which is natural (the Blue Lagoon is not) and used by locals instead of tourists. Even better: it’s totally free. We headed right over. Accessing Reykjadalur was a feat of endurance! Icelanders said it was a pretty 45 min hike to get there. Pretty yes but it took me over an hour and my heart cursed at me the entire way there while my knees did the same on the way back.

P1020849

To get to the stream, you must first climb up a mountain, then down the backside of it, hike halfway up the next mountain and around the bend into a hidden valley.

P1020781

On the way, you walk on rocky ledges, past small waterfalls,

P1020772

bubbling mudflats

P1020818

and scalding hot water holes.

P1020811

All this while a frigid wind does its best to pull you off the mountain. We were wearing all our winter clothes and even so we were chilled to the bone by the time we got there. While the water is toasty and must be a relief after that torturous hike; the idea that I would have to get out of that hot water into the freezing wind made it impossible for me to even try. The boys declared it to be Hell on Earth and quickly turned around and left us behind saying that they’d wait for us in the car. We tried to be brave but we didn’t stay any longer than it took us to stick our numb fingers in the water until they regained feeling and then left too.

P1020831

Enjoying the heated seats in our rental, we drove back to Keflavik

P1030003

where we watched Germany beat Italy by the skin of their teeth along with a roomful of other travelers in one of the nicest hostels we’ve ever stayed at before getting up at the crack of dawn to board our flight to Amsterdam.

P1020723

Iceland was wonderfully beautiful and we feel lucky to have had the opportunity to enjoy a brief visit.

P1020060

Categories: Europe, Iceland | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Walking on Ice

We drove to what seemed to be the end of the island. Why? Bear with me, I’m getting there…

The place we stayed the night is so remote, this is the vehicle they have on hand (remember “The Shinning”?)

P1020122

There are no shops, no supermarket, no restaurant.

P1020131

We had no idea it would be so empty, but thankfully we had some leftover supplies and fashioned breakfast from a combination of Frosted Flakes, cheese and coconut cookies before visiting Jokulsarlon, the Ice Lagoon which at 250 meters is the deepest lake in Iceland.

P1020144

All these chunks of ice come from the Vatnajokull glacier which is the largest glacier in the whole of Europe.

P1020159

The lagoon empties into the sea where this fresh water mixes with the ocean

IceLagoon

and sometimes seals even swim upstream in search of food.

P1020108

Here, motor boats take tourists on the lagoon but we had something a tad more adventurous in store for us.

We drove on to the Skaftafell Visitor Centre which forms part of the much larger Vatnajokuls National Park. An “easy” 90 minute hike takes you to Svartifoss.

P1020218

Our definition of easy differs from the Icelandic one just as much as the one for “cheap”. Svartifoss falls 12 meters from black basalt columns. It is a pretty waterfall but doesn’t stand up to Seljalandfoss in my opinion. However, the hike is beautiful and well worth the effort.

P1020251

Names here really get confusing as they seem to be used interchangeably to mean the same place. Vatnajokull is the name of the glacier but it has several outlets and each is given a name and called a glacier in itself. So when we signed up to hike the Skaftafell glacier, we didn’t realize it was really a tiny part of the Vatnajokull glacier.

P1020169

That’s right, we signed up to not only hike but climb the glacier. What was I thinking???

Our guide, Tom from the UK, was as nice as I could have hoped. He fitted us for crampons and drove us to the base of the glacier from where we began our hike. He taught us to walk up a wall of ice by forcefully stabbing our toes into the ice and then leaning back a little to engage all the front spikes of our crampons.

P1020288

It sounds much easier than it actually is. Walking down was almost impossible for me as it is done in the same manner, just backwards. I had a though time trusting those spikes to support me. After all of us had somewhat managed to do this, he proceeded with lesson number two: climbing a 65 foot totally vertical wall of ice! This time we donned harnesses and a safety rope, just in case. He gave us ice picks to use for pulling ourselves up.

P1020290

It was terribly difficult! I’m sorry to say that I quit 2/3s of the way up. My legs were shaking so bad, they wouldn’t obey me anymore. The guys all managed to climb to the very top though.

P1020302

Tom then took us on a 90 minute hike on the glacier. We passed thru some dangerous terrain and had to hook ourselves to ropes and walk one at a time thru ledges.

P1020638

I was spent and if there had been a way, I would have stayed behind but it wasn’t an option so I trudged on. Being all alone on the ice was beautifully quiet and with all that hiking, not cold at all. The boys think this is the coolest adventure we’ve ever been on and would have stayed out there the entire day if possible.

P1020530

After 5 hours, it was time to go back. We refilled our water bottles with pure 2000 year old glacier water and began the hike back.

Tom told us that we were lucky to have been there at that time since climate change is causing the glacier to melt faster than usual and the ice chunks we had climbed onto to reach it would probably be gone in a couple of days. This is incomprehensible: those ice chunks are each of them the size of a small house. Tom told us the glacier is retreating at a pace of 2.5 meters per day! Can you wrap your head around that?

We drove back to Skogar to spend the night feeling exhilarated and exhausted all at once.

P1020130

Categories: Europe, Iceland | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Chasing Waterfalls 

Our third day in Iceland was spent on a very ambitious quest to drive the south coast all the way to Vagnsstadir. It took us the entire day, mostly because it’s impossible to resist stopping for pictures every km or so. Although it must be noted that this is no easy thing as Icelandic roads have no shoulders and every small exit isn’t paved but rather covered in pebbles. We got stuck once but with the three boys pushing we made a quick getaway.

DSC04463

We found the roads here to be in good condition which is surprising given the weather. Icelanders are not fast drivers but there are so few of them on the road that most bridges consist of only one lane, forcing cars to take turns crossing them. Not a problem at all. Sheep are everywhere literally, on the road and on top of the mountains, as are horses. Icelandic horses are the only ones which can do the “fifth gait”. They say it developed because of the rocky terrain and it almost looks as if the horses are tippy-toeing. Lots of people keep the Icelandic horses as pets and are very proud of their lineage. No “foreign” horses are allowed on the island. The rule is so strict that if ever one of these horses left Iceland, it would never be allowed back again. We found them to be curious and gentle animals and stopped more than once to pet them.

P1020677

Our first “official” stop was at Seljalandfoss.

P1010858

This waterfall drops about 40 meters but what’s a number? What you need to know about it is that it is gorgeous and rightly deserves its spot in Iceland’s top tourist attractions. If you follow the path, you’ll be able to walk behind it.

P1010859

We were here early, before the tour buses, and had a beautiful time enjoying the peace before the hordes of tourists got there.

Our next stop was Skogafoss which  drops 60 meters and is 25 meters wide.

P1010907

In case it’s not obvious, the water is freezing cold. We tried getting all the way to the edge of it but even the mist emanating from it leaves one’s teeth chattering. A strenuous hike

P1010949

takes you to the top of the falls from where experienced hikers, and a few dummies, begin the trek into Thorsmork (Thor’s woods). Undoubtedly inspired by the sheep, the boys decided to follow their own path to the top of an outcropping.

P1010964

It was about an hour before they agreed to climb down.

Following the road east, we found ourselves at Reynisdrangar.

P1010987

Here, basalt rocks lie strewn about as kids’ Legos. The wind was howling and a light rain falling but the view was such that we wouldn’t be deterred.

P1010997

We continued on to Reynisfjara, the famous black beach.

P1020025

The sand here is as tick as play sand and would invite one to play if it weren’t for how cold it is. Puffins nest on the roof of the cave.

P1020026

On sunny days, they spend most of the time out at sea so there was a silver lining to those stormy clouds as we were able to spot a few. Once again, the boys decided to climb the mountain

P1020014

and got so high

P1020045

that the tourists stopped to take pictures of them.

P1020050

I’m coming to terms with the fact that I gave birth to mountain goats and not children but ask them to hike a path with you and suddenly they’re too tired…

We were all tired, cold and wet now. The guys all fell asleep while I drove us to our destination, with so many stops on the way that the boys threatened to confiscate the camera if I stopped again. It’s just impossible not to though when beauties like this one are lying just by the side of the road.

P1020067

But the best was yet to come.

Categories: Europe, Iceland | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

The Golden Circle 

A common way to spend a day in Iceland is driving the “Golden Circle” There are several attractions on this drive and one could easily spend a couple of days instead of just one on it.

Our first stop was Thingvellir, a national park and UNESCO world heritage site.

P1010655 It’s an important site for two reasons:

First, in 930 the first seat of government was established here because it was at the intersection of all major trade routes on the island. Once a year, the chieftains of every family would gather here to resolve arguments, perform weddings and take care of any other issues which might have come up during the previous year. As you can imagine, this gathering took the shape of a celebration which lasted several weeks and allowed for people to meet and trade with each other. It was called the “Law Rock” since parliament had its seat here until 1798. Iceland gained its independence from Denmark in 1944 and Icelanders gather here at Thingvellir to celebrate that occurrence every 17th of June since.P1010675

The second reason is geological. The North American and European plates meet, or rather drift apart, here. They are drifting apart at a rate of about 2.5 centimeters per year and this can be clearly seen in the huge cracks they cause, some of which could be called canyons. P1010663Thingvellir

A popular activity is to take a dive in the lake to the Silfra fissure to observe the plates.

P1010679 One could easily spend an entire day just hiking thru this park as it holds natural beauties such as Oxararfoss

P1010645

and of course it’s share of wildlife.

P1010681

We then continued on to Haukadalur which is famous for being the site of the OG=original geyser. (“No! Mom, don’t try to be hip.” went ignored) All other geysers take their name from this one.

P1010699Unfortunately the “Geyser” is no longer spewing hot water and steam but a much bigger geyser, or so we were told, is now taking up the slack: Strokkur.

P1010704

Only from this far can its height be appreciated.

P1010755

This is the view on the other side which rewards those who make the strenuous climb to the top of the mount.

P1010764

After having what must have been the grossest and most expensive hamburgers in the entire world, we continued our drive on to Gulfoss, a massive waterfall which drops 32 meters down.

P1010773

The story of how Gulfoss came to be is quite interesting. Back in 1907, an Englishman wanted to harness the power of the waterfall and leased it from the farmer who owned the land. One of the farmer’s daughters loved the waterfall so much that she protested this contract and even went to court to plead for it to be voided. The legal battle lasted years and Sigridur (the farmer’s daughter) threatened to throw herself into the waterfall if the Englishman went ahead with construction, very dramatic. One must be in awe at Sigridur’s strength of character back in those days. Eventually, Sigridur lost her case but it was moot as the Englishman lost the concession for failure to pay rent! Iceland began waking up to the importance of protecting its natural beauties because of Sigridur and she is now thought of as Iceland’s first naturalist.

P1010793

Our last stop of the day was Kerid, a small caldera in a collapsed volcano. As the boys threw rocks into the lake, we watched the sun fall.

P1010808Or rather just diminish a bit because it doesn’t actually set until almost midnight and is up by 2am. Those few nighttime hours are quite bright as well. Our sleep has been suffering due to the lack of darkness, somehow light always filters into our rooms. The weather has been all kinds of crazy, we’ve had hot, short-sleeves kind of mornings, only to have to wear thermal underwear in the afternoon. The bedrooms are usually too hot but the toilets too cold. This place is absolutely gorgeous but I surely wouldn’t survive a winter.

 

Categories: Europe, Iceland, UNESCO site | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Inside a Volcano

After spending all day and night traveling, we arrived in Iceland extremely sleep-deprived and did the first thing reasonable people do when they’re in such a state: go for an exhausting hike into the belly of a volcano. That’s just how we roll!

Our plane was late getting in to Keflavik where after a looong wait we were able to pick up our rental car and begin the drive to Reykjavik. We barely made it in time to our hostel where we were picked up by a very ill mannered bus driver. Good thing was that he only dropped us off at the meeting point and our incredibly nice guide from “Inside the Volcano” then herded 18 of us into a bus for the ride to the volcano. Thrihnukagigur volcano is located about 30 minutes drive outside Reykjavik. From here, it’s still a 45 min brisk hike to get to the mouth of it.

P1010502

The day was sunny and mild and the surroundings beautiful. Even so, this is not an activity to be taken lightly, anyone with heart problems shouldn’t even think of it. The hike runs on a very narrow pebbled path thru lava fields and although the terrain seems flat enough, there were times when I felt my heart skipping beats due to how fast it was going. The guide kept us moving at a very brisk pace, we made the walk mostly in silence as holding a conversation was extra work. We only stopped once, at the place where our guide pointed out the plates for North America and Europe meet.

P1010497

Iceland is a volcanic island created from the debris and lava left behind by the eruptions of its many volcanoes. Icelanders are resourceful people and have learned to look on the bright side of even volcanoes. As our guide calmly explained, they already have emergency plans in place in case of any major catastrophe in Reykjavik as it is only a matter of when and not if.

This attraction came to exist by simple luck: one day some outdoors-men noticed a hole in the ground and went rappelling into it only to find themselves inside a dormant volcano chute. Smart, resourceful people that they are, they turned it into a tourist attraction by fashioning an open elevator which takes you all the way down to the floor of the volcano almost 400 feet underground.

P1010523

Volcano

Our guide explained to us that after an eruption, once most of the lava has been expelled, volcanoes tend to collapse into themselves creating craters, which sometimes fill up with water and turn into calderas. Thrihnukagigur is different in that it didn’t collapse, just cooled off and left a great place for us to visit. He said it is the only one of its kind in the world. Somehow I think someone else must already be searching for un-collapsed volcano number two.

The boys were probably the youngest people on the tour and so were the first in line which of course forced their old mom and pop to breathlessly try to keep up. We were the first ones into the volcano and had the place to ourselves for about 20 minutes.

P1010559

There is complete silence down there, water dripping thru, metallic colors on the walls. Breathtaking. It is a cold and eerie place.

P1010533P1010531

Going into the volcano while in Iceland is definitely a must, the hike though…

After we got out, the crew was waiting for us with cups of piping hot “Icelandic” soup which should be mutton soup. In this case it was more like fat soup. Still, after the underground cold, we sipped it gratefully. The boys played with an arctic fox cub which lives at camp while waiting for the rest of our group to gather together for the hike back.

P1010506

Since we had a little bit of time to spare, on our way back our guide deviated from the hike to lead us into a lava tube.

P1010602

It was very interesting imagining the lava flowing thru and leaving the odd designs on the walls. At one point, our guide had us all turn our lights off to experience the complete underground darkness. Pretty cool. We emerged to find that the weather had suddenly turned on us and was punishing us with a raging storm. We made the rest of the hike back at double pace and without a sound.

Once again, we got a maniac driver back to our hostel who kept trying to drop people off at random corners because he thought it more convenient for him. What’s with these Icelandic drivers? It’s like: “Dude, you have one job, just get the people to where they’re going”. Passengers kept getting into arguments with him because of it but I missed most of it as I kept falling into deep sleep between stops. He did drop us off at our correct stop but I think it was only because Fernando played dumb when the driver tried to drop us off somewhere else and he had no other way to get rid of us.

After a quick shower, we went out to find food. We were told to go to this one restaurant on the harbor because they had “cheap” lobster soup. Cheap = $10 for a cup. Our definition of cheap differs greatly. The boys spotted whale stake and the waitress did a good job of talking it up so they ignored my pleas for cetacean compassion. What does whale stake taste like? Kind of a very salted stake with a liver aftertaste. Who ended up eating it? That’s what dads are for, right?

We then took a walk around Reykjavik and hit the major sights, all two of them. We walked thru Laugavegur which is Reykjavik’s main shopping street.

P1010607

It’s not exactly a pedestrian walkway but cars are so few and far between that people walk everywhere. It’s a very nice street full of small shops and cafes for people watching.

The Icelandic National Soccer Team beat England just the day before we arrived and as you can imagine Icelanders are celebrating this very uncommon occurrence to the max. National Team memorabilia are everywhere.

DSC04407

Laugavegur ends at Hallgrímskirkja which is the tallest church in Iceland measuring almost 240 feet.

P1010615

From here we walked down to the ocean for the Solfar, or Sun Voyager, sculpture.

P1010627

It’s supposed to symbolize the promise of undiscovered territory, sailing towards the sun. To me, it looks more like a boat made of bones with the symbolism to accompany it. At this point, and maybe to punish me for my impious thoughts, a storm suddenly fell upon us and we ran, more than walked, back to our hostel and dryness for the night.

We thought we would wake early and begin our journey but we all overslept and woke up even more tired than the day before.

Categories: Europe, Iceland | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: