Monday, July 8, 2013

The Blue Lagoon

For our last day, we stopped at the Blue Lagoon geothermal pools on our way to the airport. It has nothing to do with the cheesy movie from the 80's! It is large pool filled with silica rich water runoff for a geothermal plant, turned into a commercial soaking pool and spa. The silica is supposed to be very good for your skin, and they sell all kinds of products made from it. While it was full of tourists (this being prime tourist season), our guides said that locals do go, especially in winter. 
It was a sad round of goodbyes to our guides and the rest of the group. I do hope that some of us keep in touch. I'll be organizing my best photos for everyone as I became the de facto "trip photographer" - the only one with a DSLR camera. I regret not having some kind of waterproof option on this trip. I was worried about my rented wide angle lens during all the rain. 
I hope to come back to Iceland one day, probably in the winter, to look for the Northern Lights and see a bit more of the country. We all lamented not having just a few more days...

Icelandic Guides

Other than the first 3 days of the trip, my time in Iceland was organized by Mt. Travel Sobek, a travel company from the Bay Area. They hired Icelandic Mountain Guides, the  company for which Helgi and Dagny both work. Through them, the 12 people in our group learned heaps about Iceland and Icelandic life, both past and present. Not only did they play for us Icelandic music new and old, Dagny read from the sagas for us to pass the time on long drives. They endured endless questions from our group on everything from the migration patterns of puffins to best place to buy traditional Icelandic knitting. They procured some fermented shark for us to try - a specialty of Iceland (I couldn't do it), and kept adding exciting surprises to our itinerary. They cooked for us, dressed our blisters, and as noted in a prior post, Helgi even rescued Debra on her slide down one of our many mountains. And they had faith in us; to climb mountains and endure freezing cold and rain, to wade streams and to recover and do it again the next day. Many thanks to them for making our trip so special!
Below photo: Dagny and Helgi making us French toast for us at one of the huts.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Fire and Ice

Today we drove the rest of the south coast back to Reykjavik, stopping at another waterfall on the way (there are a lot in this country of melting ice!).
The south part of the Ring Road skirts the glaciers and the famous Eyjafjallajokull volcano that erupted in 2010 and wreaked havoc with European air traffic. Icelanders live with active volcanoes, and the threat of eruptions is constant. Because the volcanoes are mostly covered with ice, in an eruption the magma causes a huge meltdown of ice, resulting in a glacial flood. There are evacuation plans all over the country, and in 1986, the Westman Islands off the south coast evacuated all 2,000 people with their fishing fleet in time to avoid the flood. This is truly the land of fire and ice.
Another unique thing about the country is the moss covered lava fields. The one below is from an eruption over 1,000 years ago. I couldn't get great photos in the rain, but hope you can see how it makes for a fairyland landscape (although my guide says no fairies, only trolls and elves). 
Tonight we have a farewell dinner even though tomorrow there is one last adventure before our flights home. I'll try to write more about the people on the trip with some farewell photos. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013


We awoke to more rain. Quelle surprise! And 30 mph winds.  Unfortunately, this meant our glacier walk was canceled, but we still took a boat ride in the glacial lagoon for Vatnajokull, the largest glacier in Europe. The water was so choppy and the wind so strong we ended up drenched and I got no photos since I dared not take out my camera. After another brisk picnic lunch, we took a hike around another glacial tongue of Vatnajokull, this one where both Game of Thrones and Batman Begins were filmed. We drove to the foot of the tongue after, and I was able to get some nice photos. 
The drive on the town of Vik took us through the largest lava field in Iceland: black lava lumps covered by green moss ... It's like another world. Tomorrow we are back to Reykjavik where we expect... More rain of course. 
I think I am beginning to believe in elves myself ...

Waterslides and Rain

Yesterday we hiked to the second highest waterfall in Iceland, a lung busting 60 minute uphill slog, followed by a 30 minute downhill run. We drove from there along the south eastern coast to Hofn, stopping at Djupivogur, an historic trading town that is now another fishing village. After a stroll through town and a warming coffee we headed to the hot pools. These are public swimming pools and hot tubs heated to varying degrees of hotness by geothermal energy, with waterslides and kiddie pools. The local kids were out running around even though it was 50 degrees and raining! Our group finally succumbed and took to the waterslides too, laughing hysterically in the rain. I ended up a little bruised from hitting the slides, but it was still a lot of fun.

Black Sand

After driving south from Borgafjordur, we landed in the biggest forest in Iceland (I was wrong - there are trees, but they have all been planted). We stayed in a very nice hotel but the power went out early so no wifi! I would have written about our 5 hour walk through fog and freezing rain, ending by a glacial river with banks of black sand. It was the coldest day so far- the onset of July has not made it warmer here! We hiked down to the beach, a stunning setting straight out of Jurassic Park. I am beginning to see how the Icelanders believe in elves. 
We also visited a puffin colony - they are so cute, it's hard to believe they are a regular menu item, but with 18 million pairs of them in the country, I suppose I could understand.
We have 2 guides on this trip: Helgi and Dagny, both supremely qualified native Icelanders. They have been taking great care of us, but for the 4th of July they treated us to cake and coffee (their equivalent of the BBQ) at a farm cafe run by Helgi's family for 4 generations. We had homemade black currant Skyr cake and toured the barn where the cows were in for their twice a day milking. We were all stunned to see the cows take themselves into the stall with the robotic milking machine, patiently waiting in line for their turn. No humans involved. They seemed very content, as have all the animals here. Happy cows, sheep and horses. 
It's raining again. I'll write tomorrow about our day today - rain and waterslides.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Little Green Houses

The wilderness huts were actually very cozy, with a sleeping loft for hikers and a downstairs room for the guides, a full kitchen, and outdoor flush toilets. They are maintained by volunteers, who spend a week in isolation at the outposts. 
Finally, last night, we arrived at a small fishing village of 125 people and are staying in a guesthouse that was a former fish factory. The village people still fish cod here, in small boats by hand, and we were treated to fresh cod for dinner, caught the same day. So wonderful! It will probably be the only time in my life I will have fresh cod straight out of the sea like that as cod is nearly extinct in most parts of the world (I am reading Cod: the Biography of the Fish that Changed the World). Iceland is the one place that stopped overfishing cod before it was too late and now the fishery is quite healthy. 
The guesthouse was very cozy, and we enjoyed real beds and real bathrooms for the first time in 4 days. Today is our last big hike, then it's only 1-2 hour hikes each day as we make our way back to Reykjavik.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Out of the Wilderness

On Saturday night Wendy and I met our group and were off Sunday morning like a flash! First we flew to the Far East of the country on a quick Air Iceland flight. After loading up on 4 days of provisions, we started hiking to the first hut. A hired driver in a 4 wheel drive truck with trailer took our bags and the provisions ahead  - slow going over rocks and gravel, and we hiked over on a trail/ sheep track instead of going around via the road. Very steep and very pretty!
A funny goose followed us halfway up the first hill, then flew up to keep us company. What a welcome to the Eastern Fjords!
There are no trees in Iceland. It is believed that there were forests at the time of The Settlement, but the Vikings cut them all down for ships, houses and firewood. Now, all the green you see is moss, bilberries, and other small shrubs.
For 4 days we hiked, staying in wilderness huts ( no electricity or phone, access only by high clearance 4 wheel drive) - no contact with the outside world! The hiking was the hardest I've ever done, and our group (aged 19 to 69) was incredible. I can't believe some of the scrambles up scree slopes we did! 
We also hit a a lot of snow, and on the way down one slope that was worth of a snowboard, one lady slid and was on her way quickly down the mountain when our guide Helgi sprang into action and launched a full scale intervention! You can see his bounds in the snow on the left.
Sorry the photos are so weird on the posts. I am doing everything from my iPad and I haven't figured it out yet. More tomorrow on our last 4 days.