Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Golden Circle

Day 11 (8/10/13)
Here it is the last day of our tour of Iceland already. As always there are a lot of mixed emotions. On one hand I wish it could go on forever and I am going to miss my newfound friends and the other hand I wish I could just teleport home and sleep in my own bed. This may be the wonderful part about vacation is that it makes you miss home again for awhile anyway. It has been a wonderful trip and part of that has been due to the great group of people we have been with. There is not a one in the group that I would not want as a friend. Our first stop of the day is at Friheimar, Iceland’s largest producer of hydroponic grown tomatoes. We were not there for the greenhouses however but their demonstrations of Icelandic horses in action. So far on our trip we have seen thousands of Icelandic horses. We have made sure they were securely back in their pasture and even had a taste of their meat. This is our first chance, however, to see what really amazing creatures they really are. Although small in stature, the Icelandic horse is very strong and durable, perhaps because they have adapted to a climate that few other animals can survive in. They have descended from the horses that the original Vikings brought to Iceland in the 9th and 10th century. Since that time there has been no interbreeding with any other horses leaving a very pure strain of horses. At this point it is illegal to bring any other horse into Iceland. Another fascinating feature of the Icelandic horse is its added gait, the tolt. It is a very smooth and comfortable gait which allows the horse and rider to travel great distances in comfort. On our way to Haukadalur “valley of geysers” our next scheduled stop, we visit Faxi Falls another beautiful little waterfall for a quick photo opportunity.  “Geyser” the water spout which gave geysers their name has quit spewing but fortunately its little brother Strokkur “the churn” has continued to spurt every 5 to 7 minutes. It is awesome to see it blast into the air. Right next door is Gullfoss “golden falls” one of Iceland’s most famous falls because of its proximity to Reykjavik. At this point we have seen hundreds of waterfalls and the joke has become, “Oh look, another beautiful waterfall” but in truth it never fails to leave you with a sense of awe when you look on these natural wonders. We have one more stop, before heading back to Reykjavik and saying goodbye to all our new found friends, at Pingvellir National Park. This UNESCO world heritage site is the site where the first democratic parliament “the Althingi” took place in 930AD bringing together people from all over Iceland. It is still a model for the national assembly that exists today, although indoors and at Reykjavik. I would guess there are a few less drownings and hangings as well. Pingvellir is also the site where the North American Plate and European plate are slowly moving apart. Pingvellir National Park is also the home of Iceland’s largest natural lake, Þingvallavatn. All good things must come to an end and it is time to head back to Reykjavik, our circle of Iceland complete. As we say our goodbyes we all realize that Iceland is unlike any other place on earth, a place of extremes where old and new, hot and cold, life and death, danger and safety all go hand in hand.

Icelandic Horse doing the Tolt

Eileen made Friend

A couple more


Hot Pool

Another boiling hot pool

Strokkur getting ready to Blow


On e last Build

The Drowning Pool

Site of several international parleys

North American Plate

European Plate

Parliament Rock 



Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Volcanoes, Glaciers and Waterfalls

From behind Seljalandfoss
Day 10 (8/9/13)
When we get up the next morning it is hard to say what the day is going to bring. The sky seems to be clearing in some areas but the wind is still rather persistent. We start by heading back across the wasteland I had mentioned yesterday. It is hard to imagine what it must be like living in this area, having had one major flood in 1996 and knowing there is more to come in the undetermined future. They know of at least one more volcano that is to erupt in the next ten years and Grímsvötn is a constant threat. In the 1996 flood Grímsvötn, one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes erupted. The biggest problem is that it lies under Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest Glacier. The combination is devastating. Grímsvötn sent melted glacier water racing to the sea producing for two days a river second only to the Amazon in volume. It carried with it chunks of Ice, some weighting over 200 ton wiping out everything in its way. Much of Highway 1, Iceland’s main road, was destroyed. A testament to their resilience is that they had it up and running again only weeks later. After we make it back across the flood plain we head to the lower end of Vatnajökull National park and Skaftafell farm where we hike up to the end of Skaftafellsjokull and see the end of a glacier up close and of course build some cairns. From Skaftafell we drive through the lava fields of Eldhraun “fire lava” the results of the year long eruption of Laki in 1783. This eruption was devastating to Iceland and left it covered in a cloud of ash for years after, which Icelanders refer to as the “misty times”. If the name Eldhraun sounds like something out of the “Lord of the Rings” the landscape does more so. The lava fields in some areas are covered by a layer of moss leaving a landscape that is out of this world. We then make our way through the small village Kirkjubaejarklaustur before coming to the black sands of Myrdalssandur. Here I finally get a picture of a puffin. We then head to Skogar folk museum and water fall. At the museum we get to go inside some of the original turf houses of the Icelandic settlers and view how their buildings changed through the ages. We then view another spectacular waterfall at Skogar before heading on to Seljalandfoss, one of Iceland’s most spectacular falls not because of its size but the fact that you can go behind it and view it from all directions. To continue our “hobbit” motif we spend the night at Hotel Ork in Hveragerdi.

Morning in Iceland

Stephan and I building Cairns at Skaftafellsjokull


Eldhraun “fire lava”
It is easy to imagine Hobbits here

Lone Tree

Finally a Puffin Picture

Great place for building

It doesn't get much better than this!

More Sod Houses

Check It Out

Interior of Sod House

Our bus driver Jonn with Russajeppi
 donated by his brother

Eileen at Skogarfoss


Another view of Seljalandfoss

Hotel Ork


Monday, August 19, 2013

Horses, Icebergs and Containers

This horse thinks he is a TS
Day 9 (8/8/13)
The new day starts out windy, cool and drizzly, or perfect Icelandic weather. We have been very lucky because almost every time we would get to a place to stop the weather gets better. We continue our journey south through the fjords of eastern Iceland. Our first stop is just outside of Stodvarfjordur, a small fishing village on the north shore of the fjord of the same name at Petra Sveinsdóttir´s rock shop. Although Petra is no longer there, her family continues to run the shop which is the result of her life’s dedication to collecting beautiful rocks from the mountains around her house. According to the story apparently Petra’s name means “seeing the light within” and she definitely seemed to have a knack for picking rocks that held beautiful crystals inside. Many of the stones were so large that she would mark them and go back in winter so they could bring them home with a sled. We then continued around the fjord and back down the other side to the next fjord. Eventually we work our way down to Djupivigor, another small fishing village on the Berufjordur in the south east corner of the island. After stopping to see sculpted eggs which pay homage to Iceland’s many nesting bird species we enter the town which gives you the feeling of just stepping on to the set of “Northern Exposure” with its reindeer antler sculpture, one police car and quaint little shops. After a lunch of fish soup and bread we are back on the road and almost to Europe’s largest glacier Vatnajokull. Covering 8% of Iceland we start to see the fingers of the glacier off in the distance. Before we get to the glacier we make one more stop at a black pebble beach to do some cairn building and pick up some small stones for jewelry making. At this point I think we have our guide as addicted to rock picking as we are. It was a stunning point but we still have much to do. We do have one more unscheduled stop before we get to the glacier and that is to herd some horses that have managed to get out in the road. In Iceland the sheep are always outside the fences and it is no big deal but the horses are a different story apparently. When we come to a spot where some horses are out on the road the bus stops and everybody gets off and herds them back in to the fence. Of course we then have to take some time for petting and photos. Finally we make it to Jokulsarlon “glacial lagoon” for a chance to get up close and personal with some icebergs. The amphibious vehicles that we ride on are much like the ducks at Wisconsin Dells. The tour which includes a taste of some, at least 800 year old, ice takes us around the lagoon and includes a entertaining lecture on the nature of glaciers and icebergs. After that it is a short ride over another barren wasteland produced by a volcano erupting under a glacier and washing out everything for miles and leaving in its path a black ashen plane all the way to the ocean. Our accommodations for the night were a real treat. They were containers that have been joined together and redone to make very comfortable rooms. Again after supper Eileen and I sneak out and build one cairn in the wind and driving rain.

Homage to Nesting Birds

Close up

Good Soup

Another Cairn

Black rock Beach

Horses on the Road

Horses in the Fence

Finger of Glasier

Iceberg chunks

Some more

More Cairn Building

Our Ship

Eileen eating 800 year old Ice

Ice bergs

More Icebergs

Container Home

Container Hotel

Another Cairn


Good night