19 November 2017

My Scandinavian Adventure: Iceland—The Ring Road

Jökulsárlón was the highlight among highlights of our trek around the island nation of Iceland. Once again, if you ever have a chance to visit, it's a doable day trip from the capital city of Reykjavik. We spent about five hours there, and I could've stayed much longer. It may be unique in all the world. It was something akin to a spiritual experience. The light that day seemed to emit from the icebergs in shades of aqua that were otherworldly.

But, moving on. On Day 9 we also saw several banks of thousands of wild swans in the ocean at the foot of the fjords (sorry, no pics worth showing) as well a circus of hundreds of swooping diving puffins on the cliffs in Vik. We stopped for dinner at a cafeteria at Skaftafell National Park and were going to make camp there but decided to push on to Vik. Again, it was one of those choices where neither option was wrong. We simply didn't have time for everything we wanted to do. So we passed up the magnificent hikes and sites at Skaftafell. Next time!

Vik is a small town on the southern coast. It is famous for its enormous black sand beaches and puffin cliffs. The campsite sits on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic at the foot of some soft, grassy cliffs. We arrived around 9:00 pm and still had time for a hike along the shore during the long, long twilight. That's when we saw the puffins for the first time. They were coming in for the night after a long day of fishing. Unlike in the Westfjords where you have to edge out over the cliff top, here you stand at the bottom of the cliffs and the puffins swarm over head and settle into their cliffside nests. It's quite a show! And because this is farther south, they hadn't yet begun their winter migration.

Day 10: Vik to Keflavik—235 km

The next day, after a brief hike back to the cliffs to enjoy the puffin show in the light of day as they head out to sea, we drove to the airport at Keflavik along the southern coast. We stopped at two magnificent waterfalls, Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss where we hiked around a bit, then drove through the barren eastern lava wastes to the airport, avoiding the capital. We spent the night at a Bed and Breakfast which we'd booked ahead of time in the old U.S. Air Force barracks about a 10 minute drive from the airport. Note: it runs an hourly shuttle.

I drove into the airport car rental place at 4:55 pm. The van was due back at 5:00. There was no visible gravel damage, but I had paid for the premium insurance just in case so they weren't too rigorous in checking. (Get that insurance, btw. Gravel seems to be the number one commodity of Iceland!).

The soles of my hiking boots, a pair of Keens I'd purchased at an outfitter in Highlands, NC, about 8 or 9 years ago, were separating from the lasts and kept catching on lava rocks when I hiked. I'd glued them several times before but realized they were done for, so I decided that there can be no better place to say good-bye to a great pair of boots than Iceland. I gave them a sort of Viking funeral and left them in the van when I returned them. The guy at the car rental enjoyed the story and approved of the sentiment as he drove me back to my B&B.

And, bottom line, that's not the only thing I left in Iceland. Its summers are short but glorious. Its scenery is like almost no other place in the world. Its people are polite and welcoming. The Ring Road trip is safe. Finally, I would say this: Iceland is not undiscovered, but it is definitely unspoiled.

I hope you've enjoyed the pictures, and if you ever plan to go to Iceland and drive the Ring Road, maybe this series of posts can serve as a clockwise template.

(Click pics to embiggen)

One last, longing look at the iceberg lagoon at Jökulsárlón. Next time, I will arrange a kayak trip ahead of time.
Volcanoes and giant glaciers at Skaftafell National Park. Next time, we will spend a couple of days exploring and hiking here.
The campground at Vik. Lively scene.
The church nestled into the cliffs at Vik. Twilight.
The massive black sand beach at Vik. Twilight.
Wisdoc hiking at twilight along the black sand beach at Vik. Notice the puffin in the air at the top of the picture.
The puffin cliffs at Vik. Look closely, you can see them at play.
Last hike at Vik. Morning. Note the van in the near parking area.

Walking up to Skógafoss waterfall.
Skógafoss Falls.
Silly Icelandic troll photobombing my pic at Skógafoss Falls.
Hiking above Skógafoss.
The hiking trails above Skógafoss. Note hikers on the rim!
Seljalandsfoss. Note: there are people hiking behind the falls! Also on top!
Seljalandsfoss, hikers above and behind.
The trail behind Seljalandsfoss. We didn't have time to go up top because we had to return the van by 5:00 this afternoon.
Silly Icelandic troll and Wesdom behind Seljalandsfoss. And yes, it's very wet!

12 November 2017

My Scandinavian Adventure: Iceland—The Ring Road

Day 9: Höfn to Vik— 271 km

There's nothing I can say—NOTHING !!—that can prepare you for Jökulsárlón, the glacial iceberg lagoon on the Southeast coast of Iceland. It's about halfway between Höfn to Vik (372 km from Reykjavik, totally doable as a day trip). It's the spot where the giant glacier comes almost down to the sea and calves icebergs which float through the lagoon and out to sea.

This was a day for the ages. One I never will forget as long as I live. Its beauty drained something from me and left me humbled and limp.

The one thing I will say: if you ever go to Iceland, this is an absolute imperative. Full stop.

You'll have to indulge me here. The next post will have more narrative about the rest of the day—which was impressive in itself. But I'm just going to post a ton of pictures here from the glaciers here. Enjoy, and remember: click pics to embiggen a slide show.

Not Jökulsárlón, but this is as close as we got to an actual finger of the glacier
The glacier's edge
Glacial moraine
Jökulsárlón with Arctic Tern and Seal
Lagoon with icebergs, glacial mountain

People, icebergs, lagoon, glacier, mountain, rays
Lagoon with Arctic Tern. But wait! Why are some of the bergs black? That's where the icebergs have flipped. Those are the tracks from the glacier tracking across the earth for thousands of years.
Yes. The bergs were constantly circulating, cracking, crashing into one another, flipping, dripping.
Good picture of glacial tracks.
In the back, you can see the mouth of the glacier.

Close up of bergs

Hiking around the lagoon. It's about five miles from the parking area to the mouth of the glacier. We made it about 3/5ths of the way.
Moraine beach

So placid. So lovely.
And there's that silly Icelandic troll again.

09 November 2017

My Scandinavian Adventure: Iceland—The Ring Road

Day 7: Lake Mývatn to Lake Lagarfljót 189 km
Day 8: Lake Lagarfljót to Höfn 178 km

Day 7 was a bit of a sad day. We had to say good-bye to Wisdomie and Wisdil. After a lovely meal of Italian food, we dropped them off at the regional airport at Egilsstaðir. They needed to fly back to Honolulu for the beginning of the semester. When they came to Iceland last year on their honeymoon, they arrived near here by ferry and took the Ring Road south. So this represented a full circle for them. Wisdoc, Wesdom, and I set out from here to complete the circuit for ourselves.

Lake Lagarfljót is a long, deep, ancient lake reminiscent of Loch Ness. And like the latter, it has its own legend: the Lake Lagarfljót worm. Google it. We had a quiet campsite here, quite remote. No shower. No worm.

From here we headed through the East Fjords area down to the quaint seaside town of Höfn. Höfn is situated near the largest glacier on the island Vatnajökull. The weather improved and was beautiful the rest of the way.

En route through the East Fjords, the three of us randomly picked a spot beside the road and decided to hike. The mountains are fairly barren, so if you can see up a hill you can climb until you come to an uncrossable stream or a cliff or a canyon. It's kind of exciting to pick your way around cuts and over mounds. The East Fjords are less compact than those in the west but on a different scale and no less beautiful.

We also stopped at a small village called Djúpivogur where a local artist has installed an exhibition of 34 large granite eggs lining the bay—Merry Bay, it's called. Each egg is differently shaped and represents a different bird that nests in Iceland.

Click pics to embiggen!

A caravanserai that advertises coffee and cake. It's some lady's house. Note the bicycle—the one on the left. We spoke with several Italian dudes biking around the Ring Road and a Hawaiian woman driving it alone. They were all going the opposite direction from us. We exchanged campground and road condition and site-seeing notes. Convivial. Archetypal.
Campsite by lovely Lake Lagarfljót. We did not see the worm. It's around 9:00 pm and the sky is clearing.
[Scene: Some random spot on the Ring Road in the East Fjords.] "Hey, guys. This looks like a good place for a hike. C'mon, let's go!"
Wisdoc and Wesdom setting out. "Which way should we go?"
It's a beautiful day. Bet the views from up there are pretty good.
Gonna' have to navigate around this cut and the waterfalls.
"Hey Dad! Take a picture of us up here!"
"How's this?"
Fjords fjor djays.
The van is way down there near the farmhouse somewhere. People don't mind you hiking their land so long as you don't litter or disturb the sheep. The view never gets old.
Rectangular Sea Arch! Wow! Very Rare.
Random roadside view. Typical.
Forgot the name of this adorable town where we stopped for sandwiches.
The granite eggs installation on Merry Bay in Djúpivogur.
The sweet campsite at Höfn. Large. Hot showers. Immaculate toilets. Laundry!
The harbor at Höfn.
Höfn in the shadow of Vatnajökull National Park—the massive glaciated volcano. And that's where we're headed, around the bay and along the foot of those mountains, tomorrow.