Iceland Adventures: waterfalls, glaciers, sheep, and rainbows

It’s been two weeks since I’ve come back from my trip to Iceland, a fantastic (if tiring) vacation during which I hiked on a glacier, kayaked with seals, saw the northern lights, and had a lifetime’s worth of driving experience.

Seriously: look at these roads! To be fair, most weren’t quite this bad, but they still had their fair share of potholes and stray boulders.

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Although driving was occasionally nerve-wracking, the views were incredible, and the destinations well worth it. Also, at many of the stops throughout the trip, there were fields of wild blueberries (and the less-tasty crowberries). This was very exciting. I ate a lot of blueberries.

We started with the obligatory Golden Circle: I could see why the destinations attracted the most tourists, but I was happy to get away and explore the more remote places.

One of the first places we were alone was a lake we encountered while driving on an unpaved road. We left our shoes behind and walked barefoot through the black volcanic sand, tiptoeing into the cold water.

Afterwards, we continued to a geothermal area, where the ground steamed and bubbled. In Reykjavik, the hot water is geothermal, and actually smells like sulfur! Apparently the locals are used to it, but I can’t say I enjoyed smelling like rotten eggs after a shower.

On a long and solitary hike to the majestic Krysuvikurberg cliffs, we stumbled over the lumpy soil (probably an old lava field covered with moss and grass), had a picnic overlooking the ocean, and made friends with some sheep. (There were so many sheep. Throughout the trip, we encountered more sheep than people.)

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Afterwards, we stopped to investigate Leidarendi cave, a lava tube (thanks Reddit for the coordinates). I didn’t get any pictures of this cave, but did snap a few in another much smaller cave on the Snaelfellsnes peninsula. This was Songhellir–the “singing cave”, aptly named given the echoes that followed any sound we made.

 

Before going to Snaelfellsnes, we drove all day up to the Westfjords. This was the most exhausting day in terms of driving, but luckily we made lots of stops along the way. First, we turned off onto a random side-road and stumbled on this beautiful lake:

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Afterwards, we drove to Akranes, where we got a private tour of a lighthouse. (All our tours were private, actually. There just weren’t enough tourists, I guess, for group tours in the more remote locations.) I was pretty tired by this point, but some lunch and emergency Adderall brought me back to life. Before we continued our drive, we stopped to explore a shipwreck. Our attempts at climbing inside were unsuccessful, but we did get on board another ship–a much more industrial one, but one that still looked pretty unused.

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The next day, we started out Westfjords adventure with a kayaking trip (also just us and the guide), where got surprisingly close to a group of seals. Even our guide was taking photos, explaining that it was unusual to get so close. I didn’t bring my fancy camera on the boat, so I didn’t get any photos.

After kayaking, we had the chance to relax in a natural hot spring.


That afternoon we drove up to Isafjordur, took a walking tour (which didn’t end up being worth the money), and had ice cream for dinner (since everything was closed on a Saturday evening).

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The next morning, we drove up to Skalavik, a beach on the Arctic ocean. We had grandiose plans of swimming, but the water was far too cold. We did wade in though. Going into the Arctic? Check!


Driving back south, we stopped at Dynjandi, one of the most beautiful waterfalls of the trip, and saw one of the most spectacular sunsets of my life.

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Before leaving the Westfjords, we tried another hot spring, but this one was too hot to do more than dip one foot at a time. We also climbed behind a waterfall, where we encountered a real mystery: on the pebbles by the river was a dead flounder, with two bloody pocket-knives beside it. Where did they get the flounder? Why did they leave it? And why leave behind the knives? We’ll never know.

As we drove, we passed a number of abandoned farms, and made sure to stop and explore some of them (especially the ones where we could meet some Icelandic horses).
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After taking a ferry (during which there was ample time for pictionary), we found ourselves on Snaelfellsnes. After spending the night, we drove on to further adventures. On the way, we passed Budir church; in the nearby hotel, a grumpy man at the front desk wouldn’t let us use the toilets.

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We didn’t stay there long, but hurried on to Arnarstapi to find a bathroom. In this tiny village, there was a white house. I think it was just someone’s house, but it’s featured in a lot of postcards and photos. It was certainly picturesque, but I wonder how the inhabitants feel about being the subject of countless photos. Anyway, here it is:

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From here, we walked part-way along a coastal path. In the excitement of the cliffs and rock structures jutting out of the water, my phone went down a cliff and was swallowed by a wave. It’s part of the feature now. (Fortunately, it was old and cracked, but it was the one that had an Icelandic sim card.)

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After this, (and before that singing cave I mentioned earlier) we investigated a gorge (in which some more daring than us (and with better shoes and no expensive cameras) did some impressive rock-climing).

 

We also checked out a beach that didn’t seem particularly unique among all the other beaches we visited, but it was pretty nonetheless.

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Our last day before heading back to Reykjavik, we stopped by Kirkjufell mountain, and hiked up to Eldborg crater (no pictures for the latter, as I decided against bringing my camera on the hike.)

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We had more plans that day, but were tired by this point, and looked forward to a quiet drink and an early night. Unfortunately, that night’s airbnb room was, well, not really a room. I should’ve taken a picture of our tiny attic. (We stayed in an attic earlier, but compared to this, that attic was a luxury suite.) With no door, a ceiling so low that one couldn’t even sit up straight, a skylight right above my face, and a much-too-small blanket we were expected to share, it wasn’t the most relaxing of nights.

In the morning, after stopping by a bakery, I hugged my friend goodbye, and prepared for my final few days in Iceland. The next morning, I got on a small bus to take an overnight South Coast tour, since we hadn’t had time to explore it earlier. The first day, we stopped at a couple waterfalls and walked along a black sand beach with hexagonal basalt columns.

The next day we took a boat tour of Jokulsarlon, the glacial lagoon, and walked on another beach, among “stranded” icebergs. I knew the ice would be blue, but was still stunned to see it in real life.

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Finally, we strapped on crampons for a hike on an outlet glacier (Svinajokull, off the main glacier Vatnajokull). They made us wear helmets and harnesses and carry ice-axes, but it was all completely unnecessary: the hike wasn’t quite a stroll, but it certainly wasn’t difficult. It made me really want to go back and try ice-climbing though!

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On the drive back West, we momentarily paused by some bent metal sheets, which had apparently once been part of a bridge that was destroyed by a glacial flood. I climbed up one of the sheets from behind, and, encouraged by the guide and other tourists, slid down it to the ground–right into a mud puddle. I got mud all over my clothes and hair and face. Everyone laughed.

Finally, for my last evening in Reykjavik (after a much-needed shower to clean off the mud), I went to Tapas Barinn for a fancy dinner: I chose the “Icelandic Feast” set menu, and got to try puffin and minke whale, along with the Icelandic drink brennevin, nicknamed the “black death”. (I don’t quite understand why it’s so infamous. It was strong, sure, but not more so than any other liquor).


The entire trip was absolutely amazing, and I would absolutely love to go back!

In the meantime (just because rainbows are awesome and since I’m writing this at 3.30am), here are some rainbows I photographed along the way. (We were very lucky with the weather; it was almost always sunny, and if it ever rained, we’d immediately get a rainbow!)

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