Monday, October 9, 2017

Go East, Young Man (or Woman), For A Great Time In Iceland

Heading Northeast from Jokulsarlon, it was foggy and felt very mystic, as we stumbled first upon one of the cooler black sand beaches in Iceland. I wish I could remember what it was called exactly, but it started out with large pebbles, looking like this:

and they just kept getting smaller and smaller, until you got out to the shore, where they took on the look and feel of fine sand.  

We collected bottles of the stuff, it was so pretty, and brought them home -- they are sitting on the desk as I type this. We continued northeast toward Hofn, our evening destination, skirting the perimeter of the vast Vatnajokull ice cap, which gave us scenes like these:

Naturally, we had to get out and explore.  One of the great things about hiking a bit in Iceland is that while there are no trees, the trails generally look like this:

With so many colors in the details, it is hard to take it all in.  Kudos to Kate, who took the pictures below, for capturing the wonder of looking down on an Icelandic trail.

We stopped in Hofn for the night, which is a great place to stop, as it is the langostino capital of Iceland (maybe the world) and we ate a bunch of them straight from the ocean for dinner. It was a tasty way to end a great day.

Following a good night's rest, we began one of our longer drives, all along the ins and outs of the east fjords. It was a part of the country that we thought we might skip, but that would have been a mistake.  The scenery is just beautiful.  After driving a ways in the morning, we stopped here, in a no name place, for lunch in our mobile home.  This is what a no name place looks like in Iceland:

The blue in the water had to be seen to be believed.  Cliff jumping, anyone?  Nate Brown, you know you would . . .

There were low clouds and mist all around, adding to the otherworldly aura of this place.

And then they would lift, and you would see this:

Or this:

And then it would close back in again, adding more mystery to the ever-present water falls along the way.

As evening approached, we decided to stop in a little town at the head of Reydarfjordur, to go for a swim.   Every little town in Iceland, it seems, has some version of this -- heated pools to bask in, along with a sauna, and a cold dipping pool that feels like an ice block (Keegan was the only one brave enough to plunge in -- I do think he must be part Viking). We had a delightful time, mingling with tourists from France, bemoaning jointly the way terrorist attacks (e.g. in Nice and the Bataclan attack) were changing our countries, filling them with fear and anger, leaving people less open and optimistic. That was the only sad part of the stay, though, as a hot water soak is good for anyone's soul, and the sound of kids on a water slide will almost always bring a smile.

Even thought it was getting late, we decided to make the dash over to Egilsstadir and then up over the mountain range to Seydisfjordur.  That turned out to be a great decision.

Here is what the road looked like on the way over, and the drive gave way to some of the most beautiful cloud colors I have ever seen, from a deep ice blue to sunset orange and back again. It felt wild and raw and simply amazing to watch this parade of light, all at around midnight, in a land of midnight sun.

We finally pulled away and began our descent into Seydisfjorder, which got a little dicey in the 1:00 am twilight, particularly when the fog and mist rolled in.

We made it down the winding road, pulled into town, and found a camp spot at around 2:00 a.m.  After too short a night, we woke up, did some laundry and wandered around tiny Seydisfjordur, one of the prettiest towns we saw in all of Iceland. Here are some of the scenes:

After grabbing a bite to eat, we headed out in to the desolate north, looking for our next Iceland adventure.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

We Found the Ice in Iceland!

Having experienced in Vik the closest thing I hope I ever get to a hurricane (soooo sorry poor Harvey and Irma and Maria victims!), we headed northeast on the Ring Road about as quickly as we could, all while hoping the motor home would not blow over.  The journey took us past massive volcanic sand flats (the Sandar -- a great Lord of the Rings type name, no?), which are the detritus caused by a lethal combination of molten lava and glacial ice caps that sweep down and obliterate everything in its path.  A trio of volcanos - Katla, Laki, and Grimsvotn - are the prime sources of those lethal flows, but enough time has passed that almost everything was covered in the multi-colored moss that was so typical of this part of Iceland.  Below is Keegan posing on one of the million crazy, moss-covered lava formations that dot the landscape northeast of Vik, and a couple of more photos to give you some idea of this vast, moss covered volcanic flatland.

Our destination was the campground at Kirkjubaejarklauster (say that three times fast), where we hoped to weather the rain, take a shower, and get out of our wet clothes for the evening.  We managed to do that, and headed northeast again the next day, to Skaftafell, and the national park that is its namesake.

The drive along the way was stunning as usual, following amazing rivers in parts, which looked like this.

The thing is, all of it is just par for the course -- Iceland is crystal clear streams of glacial colored water, picturesque, red-roofed barns, and green gras and moss next to black lava cliffs. Hard to beat.

This is Foss a Sidu, also just along the road, on private land, but whose owners are nice enough to let you pull over and walk up to it.  It comes just before our next stop -- Nupsstadur, home of some of the few remaining traditional "sod houses," including a church, in Iceland.  What is a sod house, you ask?  Well . . .

Buildings with sod for roofs of course. We never did find out why buildings were constructed this way, as the last inhabitants of the farm left in 2009, but we didn't really mind, as for a time, it felt like a trip to the shire, and that was all that really mattered.

Keegs looks like he belongs here.  Door is just his size.

Things that of course you hang on the outside wall of your house: Sheeps horns, a wrench -- you know, the regular things . . .

I loved this.  It just feels like Iceland -- a wild, scrambling effort to live with the island on its very tough terms.

Everywhere we went, each little remote farm seemed to have its own church. I don't know if the predominant religion requires worshipping inside a chapel, and traveling is tough for those who live in remote places, or whether there were other reasons. But this was certainly the most beautiful of the local churches we saw.  Didn't hurt that it was up against the backdrop in the picture below.

There really is no way to show how big that cliff really is, but I have been to Yosemite, Zions and Lake Powell, and it is on par with cliffs you will find there.

From Nupsstader, we headed northeast towards Skaftafell, and Vatnajokull National Park.  And what a park it is. As you round the bend, this is the view that greets you:

There is really no way to show the size of these glaciers, but here are few photos that try.

Kate and Alden, in turns, took photos from the motor home while we tried to walk closer to these magnificent ice flows.  The photo below is maybe the closest you can get to seeing how big they really are.

These stops at Skaftafellsjokull, Svinafellsjokul and Fjallsjokul were amazing and awe inspiring, but even they could not prepare us for what came next -- mighty Breidamerkurjokull and Jokulsarlon lagoon -- simply my favorite place in all of Iceland.

As we drove up, we began to see parking pull overs along the road, leading through some hills that footed this mighty glacier. We pulled over at one, hiked through the hills, and came up on this:

It literally took my breath away as I looked up and saw it.  There is no more otherworldly place on the planet than this lagoon -- the colors and shapes are like nothing else you will see anywhere.  And the blues . . . wow. The blues are something I will never forget.

Even the kids were so amazed that we stayed for hours, scrambling along the shore to see all the different shapes and colors we could. And the glacier that gives them all birth was so large we couldn't get it all in a photo -- even an 18mm lens did not suffice. "Massive" does not even do it justice.

Icelanders will actually take you on snowmobile tours up onto it, and boat tours go through the lagoon as well -- things we did not get to do but would love to go back and try.

Keegs looks like he wants to be an Icelander, doesn't he?  I think it is his kind of place. . . .

 or maybe not; after all it has rocks that can swallow you whole!

All that frozen beauty eventually makes its way from the lagoon down a narrow channel to the sea, where it is battered into pieces, and then washes up on a black sand beach. The result is spectacular.

"Look daddy, I have a glacier in my hand!"

The shapes are infinite and amazing.

And the contrast with the black sand makes for hours of beach combing fun.

And sometimes, hard to believe scenes like this:

After hours, we reluctantly said our goodbye to this magical place, and headed north into the Eastfjords, and the north that lay beyond, but not without one last picture to remind us of a place we couldn't have imagined without having been there.

More to come in our next post.