Still the land of fire and ice
06/20/2014 - 06/22/2014 55 °F
Wikipedia pegs Iceland’s population at 310,000, which means that the COUNTRY has a handful more people than Madison WI, or between 4 and 5 NFL stadiums worth. For an entire country. Iceland isn’t big, but this equates to 3.18 people per square km. Statistically, this would put it just under N Dakota and above only Montana, Wyoming, and Alaska in US states, and that number would drop significantly after you eliminate Reykjavik from the mix. This means that once we left the capital, we weren’t coming across too many people. Multiple nights on the road, we stayed in places where hostels and farms were the only buildings there. The largest “city” that we stayed in (and the largest outside of the SW corner of the country) was less than 20,000 people.
On one hand, this meant that we came across a number of small, picturesque, quaint little towns, squashed between the chilly waters of the Atlantic and towering mountains (see the pics at the end). On the other hand, we really weren’t looking at too much in terms of nightlife or “non-nature” attractions as we circled the island. So when I was invited to check out a club (club? really?) with 3 fellow travelers from the Bay Area, I jumped at it despite the fact that I was exhausted and was still looking at sleeping in our car that night. It also didn’t hurt that 2 of them were attractive girls. Found out later that they both had BFs .
After we finished our assorted drinking card games around midnight, we headed out into the bright daylight (still weird) for a 30 minute walk. The club was certainly not that, but ended up being a pretty decent and heavily trafficked bar. We met a few Icelandic locals, Aleksandra being the most friendly, I smoked the 3rd cigarette of my life (still gross) and before long we were invited to an after-party at Aleksandra’s apartment. We learned a few Icelandic drinking games (all pretty simple), and before long, it was almost 4 in the morning. Not that you could tell by looking outside. We wandered back to our hostel and I found an unoccupied couch that would do til the morning. With Garrett and Alex giving me access to the showers in the morning, I figured this was the best deal I had found for accomodation in Iceland.
The next morning, I awoke totally dead after only a few hours of sleep, and as luck would have it, our SadCar turned out to be more forlorng than ever with a completely flat tire on one side. We must have punctured a small hole driving the previous day and it emptied overnight. We jacked up the car and attempted to put on the donut to get it to the nearest repair shop (thank goodness we were in a city that night), but the tire would not come off. Apparently, with all of the rain, etc, in Iceland, this is fairly common and after each of us took turns trying to kick the tire loose, we were left with no other choice than to drive it as is to the shop.
What actually punctured the tire may remain a mystery, but we think it was partially the fault of renting from SadCars. While we were getting a new tire, we noticed that another of our tires was low on air, so we had the shop pump that one up as well. Now paying close attention to our tires, we subsequently had to stop and refill our front left tire with air twice a day as it slowly lost pressure during the drive. Luckily, air is free in Iceland and most gas stations were well equipped. 200 euros and an hour later, we were back on the road, planning out more than a couple choice words for our rental company. Lesson to be learned - Don’t go with the cheapest rental company in foreign countries. Maybe go with the 2nd cheapest
Our SadCar, post-repairs. Even there, doesn't the left front tire look low?
That next day was one largely wasted on me, asleep in the back seat for much of the morning. This turned out to be okay because that was our big driving day. Kadesch drove probably a good 7 hours that day with beautiful and varying scenery, but no real stops or specific sites. The scenery rotated from mountains (with a regular call pointing out - WATERFALL!), to flat lands with little vegetation, to old volcanic flows, with cracked earth covered in moss. I slept a good deal in the car and we mostly pushed straight thru to our hostel that night. This hostel was an extra building added onto a farm, more than 5 km from any sort of store, restaurant, or bar. It ended up being one of our favorite places, with friendly people, a TV to watch the World Cup, and a good kitchen. We did some shopping and rediscovered the wonders of coffee, bacon, and eggs the following morning.
The next morning promised a departure from the Ring Road, onto the Diamond Ring, and subset of attractions just off the main road. After a whole ton of driving the previous day, we were excited to see some sites. This started out with “Horseshoe Canyon”, a cliff formation rarely found in the world. The origin of this canyon is still under debate, and honestly the most supported theory of a sudden flash flood didn’t seem to hold much water in my opinion. As I had already said multiple times during our trip, “I had never seen anything like it”. The canyon was a deep horseshoe shape, with large, steep cliffs rising on both the the outside and the inside of the canyon. The valley between enjoyed a good deal of wildlife, and there was an entertaining hike up to the apex of the cliff in the middle of the horseshoe.
Difficult to visualize, but imagine this surrounding you in a horseshoe thingy
In the middle of the horseshoe was this one strip in the middle that stuck up. Here is where we hiked up and got some views
Cairns are all over the place. This one had a nice backdrop
After the canyon came a slow and bumpy road back south towards the Ring Road, with a couple of stops at some even more impressive waterfalls. Besides the countless smaller ones that we saw while driving, there were probably 7 waterfalls that we specifically drove to and stopped at and they were nice because each one was cool for a different reason. You had Gullfoss, a large waterfall that shined golden in the sunlight, Seljalandsfoss, which you could walk completely behind, Skogafoss, which had about 20 cascading waterfalls as you hiked upwards, Svartifoss with the unique slate-like rock formations around it, Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall, Selfoss, which stretched maybe 300 meters wide with lots of individual streams of water, and finally, Hraunfossar, where the water appeared to and actually did come directly out of a rock wall - the river actually flows thru holes in this rock wall to the waterfall beyond it. Check out the pictures below to understand what I mean.
Gullfoss - Group Selfie!
Seljalandsfoss - with the 360* viewing abilities
Skogafoss - here is the main waterfall, but as you hike up you continue to get more
Svartifoss - see what I mean with the slate-like rock structures? If someone's got a better way to describe it, please post a comment
Svartifoss - This dual-camera feature is just clowny
So I'm only remembering now that I forgot my phone/camera in the car when we were checking out Dettifoss and Selfoss, and I haven't gotten the photos from Garrett or Kadesch, so you all can Google those images if you want. We had some solid selfies at Selfoss, though
Hraunfossar - See how it just seems to come directly out of the rock? Fricking crazy!
I’ve sort of lost my train of thought because I’ve spent the last 8 days hiking around the Alps without my trusty laptop (amazing blog post to come), but I believe I’ve already covered most of our adventures in Iceland. Other notable happenings:
- Kaldi: a wonderful little Icelandic brewery. Though there aren’t many breweries there (brewing alcohol in Iceland was illegal until the early 20th century), they make extremely tasty beer, much of which is attributed to the pure, high quality glacier water that they use.
- The geothermal pools at Jardbodinn: So many people have heard about the Blue Lagoon, the picturesque spa near Reykjavik where tourists flock to. There is nothing wrong with that because, hell, how many times are you going to be able to relax in a natural hot tub and swim over and get a drink from the poolside bar? Me being me, however, and stubborn to not fall into any overpriced tourist traps, my plan had been to instead find a local Reykjavik "hot pot" where locals enjoy the same comforts in slightly less scenic places. That was before I hopped into the SadCar and changed around my plan to circle the island. Near Myvatn we found "the Blue Lagoon of the North" and couldn't resist. This water honestly looks and feels different with all the minerals in there in addition to the toasty temperatures. Supposed to be good for the skin
- Portugal vs USA: the World Cup game against Portugal was pretty much the only night that the 3 of us went out. Specifically for the game, we changed around our travel plans so that we would be in Akureyi to watch it, which at almost 19,000 people was the biggest city outside of the Reykjavik area. On a Sunday night, we found 1 sports bar that was open and were pointed upstairs to a room filled with Americans and a large projector screen. Outside the opening 5 minutes and the closing 30 seconds, USA dominated the game and high 5s abounded all over the place among the Americans. Though Ronaldo’s last second centering pass to a beautiful header ruined the celebration waiting to happen with the US clinching a spot into the next round, we had a great time and left the bar feeling surprisingly tipsy and energetic. Momentarily obsessed with finding the perfect spot to photograph the sunset (remember this is after midnight), we talked about parkouring up on top of a roof. While we were considering all sorts of questionable options, Garrett noticed a ladder conveniently left at the base of a building, haha. The pictures weren’t as spectacular as we hoped, but Kadesch used the long jump skills we had been practicing earlier in the day to get his parkour on:
The resulting pic...
And Kadesch's parkour skills. Flying thru the air
- Our last night in Iceland was spent at a small hostel that was literally 1 of 2 buildings in site. This was the 2nd hostel we stayed at in the middle of nowhere, and those were our 2 favorite places. This one was special for the absolutely breathtaking sunset that we got and the natural hot spring pool that locals had built right into the earth. The 3 of us relaxed in there and, sad that we would be leaving Iceland soon, decided we had to have one more classic Icelandic experience. After working up the courage and establishing our ground rules, the 3 of us got out of the hot tub and sprinted for the ocean water. This is a common Icelandic practice among locals - going from the frigid arctic waters back into a hot tub is supposed to be great for you. Preparing for the worst, we were actually disappointed by how warm it was when we got into the water. Though it was ocean water, the fact that we were in a fjord and near an area where a small geothermal stream emptied into the water kept the temperature not warm, but no worse than ocean temperatures at Cape Cod’s Nassau Beach, where the Jentzens and I used to run into.
Have you ever seen anything quite so beautifuL?
That's Garrett out there on the rock. What a pic
Picturesque natural hot tub. I challenge you to find 5 more places that are as pure a combination of comfort, simplicity, and nature as this
I was very sad to leave Garrett and Kadesch the next day. It was a wonderful coincidence that landed me with them, and it was great to finally have some traveling companions. Though I was tempted to stick with them for longer, I was off the Paris to meet up with Jess Gulliver and her mother, with many big plans ahead.
More beautiful scenery:
On the plane I added “airplane seatbelt” to my list of objects I can open beer bottles with .