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!

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