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Trip Report Enticing Iceland - Our week-long trip around the south

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We were in Iceland from July 4-10 on a wonderful week long vacation. There were many itineraries that were planned and scrapped (including the brief period of insanity when we thought we'd get around the whole ring road) but the final winner kept us in the south and we had a great experience exploring there.

Thanks to mikeyred242 for helping me punch up our plans and keeping us out of boring spots. And special thanks to colduphere for the encouragement on the Skogar to Thorsmork hike which was a highlight of the trip (I conquered the cat's spine! and wasn't even scared!).

Our final itinerary was:

July 4: Arrive Reykjavik and rent car--onward to Hvellisholar for ON.
July 5: Ferry to Westman Islands, return to mainland afternoon and onward to Skogar for ON.
July 6: Begin hike Skogar to Thorsmork, ON Fimmvörðuháls hut
July 7: Continue hike to Thorsmork, bus back to Skogar, drive to Skaftafell for camping ON
July 8: Stay in Skaftafell.
July 9: Drive back west with stops for sites, ON horse farm in Laugarvatn
July 10: Check out Thingvellir and Rekjavik, Return flight at 3:30 pm

a few photos:
https://sharedonfodors.shutterfly.com/pictures/987

Food
A pleasant surprise! I was really worried about food as a vegetarian. I wasn't sure how much would be available and so we packed a lot of camping food as backup options for me. But whenever we stopped in a restaurant there were plenty of tasty veggie foods. Food was expensive but we expected that. Plus skyr is delicious and always available in a convenience store if needed. My husband was happy with all the hot dogs on offer. And most places had delicious soups which were wonderful and economical lunch options.

Highlights
As I mentioned, the hike from Skogar to Thorsmork was incredible. It was a hike of endlessly gorgeous views of waterfalls, mountains, snow, and volcanoes. There were parts that felt tough but it was well worth the effort and we all loved it. The other mini-highlight was meeting Toti the puffin at the Saeheimar aquarium in the Westman Islands.

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    Schlegal - this almost brings tears to my eyes.

    WAY TO GO!!

    That's the best picture of the cat's spine that I have seen. I'm frightened all over again. And what a picture of that person up on the ridge. Just gorgeous. I am so happy it worked out for you.

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    So glad to read your positive report on the food. I really enjoyed the food I had on my trip, but frequently on this forum there is reference to a trip report by annhig which very negative about the food. So, thank you.

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    Unboundly, some German women we met on the hike were doing our itinerary without a car. The south is a very popular tourist area. It took some careful planning and having plenty of time but they were making it work. There is a bus system and while it looks like there are two buses a day, they learned that really just means one bus from each direction. So they had planned their days around the buses. But it's possible. They had rented a car to see the west fjords area so I'm not sure how much you could use a bus there.

    Thanks to everyone else for taking a look at the pics. That's me up on the ridge waving my hat!

    Here's how it all went

    Saturday, July 4, 2015
    After an uneventful flight on the cheap airline “Wow” (they didn’t even give out water to drink for free), J, D and I arrived in Reykjavik at about 6:30 a.m. to a big bright day of sunshine. It was really easy to get through customs--just a quick “hello” and a stamp and we were in. We brought more luggage than we ever have because part of our time will be camping and we need a tent. So D and I actually checked three bags plus we had our backpacks. But we are prepared for our week of fun and adventure.

    We headed through customs by about 7:00 but upon emerging, we couldn't find our car rental place. There are agencies within the airport but they didn't include our cheapie option, called "Nu." We asked at those desks and learned that they come with a shuttle to get us. J tried calling them a few times because her phone had some International data and minutes but she never got an answer. Since the confirmation I had said that the rental began at 8 we decided to just wait a bit. Meanwhile we got yogurts and coffees to sustain us.

    Just a hair after 8 someone came from Nu and picked us up. We didn't even go to the rental places that are a short ways outside the airport. We drove a little longer to an area of weird warehouses and car dealerships and finally got there. We are renting a little black Hyundai for the week and it was a bit much to cram all our luggage into it but we managed. Though J had to share the backseat with a duffle bag.

    We got out our maps and decided to take a more scenic route to our destination rather than driving up through Reykjavik. I am a terrible navigator and after some confusion, J took over the map tasks. The goal was to make it to the ring road.

    The towns we were passing looked like weird industrial fishing places. Most of the buildings were corrugated metal and not very attractive. But the views of the sea and the fields were pretty and there were a lot of horses and sheep to see. After a bit of time on the road we stopped for some refreshment. D hadn't slept on the plane and was starting to get a migraine. We stopped in a town called Selfoss to try and get some food. It was buggy when we got out so we thought it would be a good idea to see if the grocery store had bug spray--it did not. But a little pharmacy had some and it was wildly expensive--nearly US $20 for the bottle. Our first Iceland sticker shock.

    We saw a bakery type place and went in and got coffee for me, and a puff pastry for me and J to share. D ate a sandwich. J found a really tasty juice with ginger in it. The store was weird--there was a bakery and also a cell phone store and the phone store portion also sold a small round Weber grill. We weren't quite sure what to make of it.

    We continued on our way to get to Helisvollar, our destination for the day. We went a bit too far and ended up at Seljalandsfoss, which was a happy accident because the falls there were incredible and we had a bright sunny day to enjoy them. We walked behind the main falls and then walked to the two other large falls nearby.

    When we returned to Hellisvolar we decided to eat in a cafe in town. They had all-you-can-eat soup, which I really would have liked but they were running out because they were very busy with a large tour group who had come in. We settled on salads from the menu with the addition for D of a lamb-meat flatbread. He hated it. It was cold fatty lunchmeat so he didn't eat that. Luckily the salads were delicious.

    We went onward to our cabin for the evening which is called Helisholar. It's on a nice campground with space for tents and campers and then the rental cabins. There's even wifi in the cabin. We all decided we were ready for a nap and planned to snooze for two hours. It was restful and rejuvenating. J and I then went to the hot tub, which was more of a "warm tub" and thus not as relaxing as soaking in a hot one.

    There's a shower and kitchenette in the cabin, which is quite convenient. Though the shower isn't great--you push a button and get a limited amount of water. But at least it is hot. We went into the main lodge to check out their food and use the internet because we couldn't figure out the cabin's wifi password. The main lodge's wifi was too slow so we learned how to use the wifi in the cabin and found that it was very speedy. The dining room at the lodge wasn't anything exciting and looked like it would be a buffet so we decided to go into town for pizza.

    Pizza was interesting--we decided on our toppings and assumed that when it said "bananas" they meant banana peppers. But upon ordering J and D learned that they meant actual bananas, which sounds really unappealing. We were satisfied with the pizza we ordered, though (no bananas!). It was an unfamiliar system--we ordered at the counter and they brought our pizza to us but we also had to retrieve our own plates and utensils from the counter.

    We were ready for bed even though the sun is still bright at 11 pm. Eye shades and earplugs make it easier to get some rest.

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    We got up early enough to have some breakfast in our cabin. I brought oatmeal and granola bars from home as well as tea so we were all ready to roll shortly after 9. We wanted to make sure we got the 9:30 ferry to the Westman Islands.

    We bought our tickets and intended to purchase a one-way and then decide on our return later but we had to choose our return time as well so we decided on 1:30. The ferry takes about a half hour but there was a little more time taken to get going. Unfortunately, the sea was rough and J and I both got a bit queasy. We looked at the horizon to hold it together and made it without incident to the island.

    We first proceeded to the area that is covered with volcanic lava flow from the 1973 volcanic eruption that buried a some of the village of Heimaey. It was a pretty place to walk with a lot of the Alaskan lupine flowers we have seen in the mainland fields and a nice view overlooking the town.

    We then went in search of the aquarium --hoping it was open on a Sunday. We had luck--it was open. And even more luck--we got to meet and hold Toti the puffin! The aquarium itself is rather pitiful with a few tanks and some stuffed animals. About three rooms worth. But as we were in the second room we heard little feet flapping along. And there, to our extravagant delight, was Toti. We browsed through the other room and then went to see him more. He was in a back room and the woman there picked him up and put him in my hands. He settled right in like he was content. And when J held him he snuggled down into her hand and closed his eyes. It was so cute. We were so happy to meet him because it wasn’t clear from the research we had done that he is always there for visitors to see.

    J bought the book that the aquarium owner’s dad wrote called “The Little Puffling” to take to her niece and nephew. We bought a shotglass and some postcards. Energized from our success we walked out to where the owner directed us we could see some puffins nearby on the cliffs. The guidebook I read said that the Westman Islands are the windiest place in Iceland so we dressed appropriately. As we walked to the sea cliffs it was clear that the guidebook was correct. The wind was intense. And the strangest thing was that there is a golf course on that part of the island and there were people out actually playing golf in wind that was so strong my eyes teared and we had to lean to walk. We spotted puffins there at the cliff. They were identifiable by the very rapid motion they make with their wings. There were also some cool turf-roofed buildings there by a campsite.

    I had spotted a place that sold ice-cream cones with clown faces made of candy as we walked out to the cliffs and I wanted to stop there on the way back. We each got a cone. They were so cute--we could choose the flavor (color) of the topping that would harden into hair and then the employee made the faces out of various candies. Unfortunately I got salt-licorice ears and J got chocolate-covered licorice ears. These are popular candies in Iceland so we were glad to get to try them but we didn’t like them. D lucked out and got Oreo ears.

    The snack sustained us and we had only a little time left to get back to the ferry. Not really enough time for lunch, which turned out for the best since the seas were also rough on the return. We shopped in a souvenir store where J and I got our traditional matching t-shirts--puffins that have “Iceland” printed on them. D and I also picked up a Christmas ornament and postcards to send to the kids. I commented as we walked to the ferry that I was actually glad now that we hadn’t had lunch--J warned me I might regret the ice cream. But I said I could never regret something so awesome.

    There was a huge crowd waiting to board the ferry. And the passengers arriving still had to exit. There was only one door for both crowds so the process took a while. We were glad once we saw the crowd that we already had our return tickets because it might have been sold out, which we never would have guessed from the sparse morning crowd. I was not able to hold it together during my seasickness this time. I lasted almost the entire trip and then when the boat made a lurching last turn to get into the dock I had to run out. All the bathrooms were occupied with other seasick people so I vomited in a trash can. I was right next to some people who seemed nonplussed so they must be regular ferry riders. J and D were ok.

    Back on the road we decided to go to the black pebble beach J looked up. We drove into some rain. As we arrived at the parking lot the rain seemed to pick up so we decided our first stop would be for lunch in the cafe right by the beach. We each chose soup--turnip for me and J and lamb soup for D, one of his favorite foods of the trip.

    The rain had let up enough that the beach walk was wet but pleasant. In fact, the rain made everything shinily beautiful. The smooth round black stones and the hexagonal basalt walls glistened with rainwater. There were also some volcanic formations out in the sea.

    We got into the car rather sopping. After sitting for about a minute we all realized we regretted not removing our jackets before sitting down and soaking our seats.

    We drove back out of the rain to our overnight at Skogar Guesthouse. We were welcomed at the door and shown our nice room with three single beds (unfortunately under the roof and therefore having a slanting ceiling that proved a formidable foe for J’s head). Our host pointed out the bathrooms, sitting room and kitchen and invited us to feel free to use the kitchen as we needed and indicated that coffee and tea were free and always available. There was also a hot tub which we did not venture into.

    The guesthouse has a family dog whose name we never quite caught but it sounded like “Sholi” so that’s what we called him. He was a little terrier and he followed us when we went to the convenience store to get some items to add to our Indian meal dinner. We walked over to where Skogafoss is and peeked into the Hotel Skogar restaurant, which looked inviting but a little fancier than we really wanted. We found the convenience store and bought rice and bananas and a Nizzah! chocolate bar. I also got postcards for the kids and some stamps.

    We fixed our dinner from the pouches of ready-made Indian meals I packed as well as the rice and one of the bottles of wine. We chatted a bit with an English couple who were also staying there.

    After dinner we were all pretty tired and retreated to our room to rest up for the start of our hike tomorrow. I wrote my postcards and kept licking my stamp to put it on only to have it not stick. Finally J pointed out that it might be a peel-off sticker stamp. It was. Oops.

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    July 6, 2015:
    Breakfast went until 10:00 a.m. and we wandered down rather close to the end. There were homemade pancakes and bread (we had smelled the bread rising the night before), tea, coffee, orange juice, cereal, lunchmeats, and cheeses. It was very filling and we felt we would be sustained for our hike.

    Planning on having tons of daylight we were slow getting packed and out of the house. We made it out around 11 and were on the trail shortly after that. We all had our packs and headed up the stairs next to the falls to begin our journey.

    The Skogafoss waterfall is beautiful and the hike continued to encounter waterfall after waterfall. Especially as the crowds thinned out (only about a mile past the top of the stairs) it became a peaceful and wonderful hike. We stopped for lots of photos along the way and the trail basically hugged the river for this portion. We stopped at a very small falls and ate our lunch there. I took a lot of ribbing because I brought PB2 dehydrated peanut butter and cited an advantage of it being lighter. As D pointed out, you still have to carry the water to rehydrate the PB. So we ate PB and banana tortillas and dried fruit and granola bars.

    As we continued the hike we got past the portion where vegetation could grow and started seeing a lot of snow still on the ground. Luckily it was still a warm bright day. There were not many people on the trail at that point.

    The hiking was much harder when we got to the snow. It was slushy enough to make every step more work than simply walking. At last we spotted the first cottage, which wasn’t ours but which was heartening to see. We went up a fairly long uphill to get to it and stepped inside to get our bearings and get our jackets on. A girl came by and said she heard the other cottage was full--thank goodness we made reservations. The wind had picked up when we continued on our way. We could see the other cottage from where we were but soon realized there was a big downhill and big uphill that stood between us. We called that moment of realization “heartbreak ridge.” But we managed.

    Fog started to move in and we worried we could get caught in some rain, which would be miserable out there on the mountain. We hustled as much as we could and finally arrived at the cottage around 7:00.


    There were people who were already there on all the lower bunks--a couple of German women and an Aussie couple and an Italian man. We settled into the upper bunks. There was a warden but he was asleep when we arrived so we felt rather lost. We weren’t sure exactly what the rules were or anything. Eventually we just started cooking as others finished up their meals and figured out that the big pots of snow melt on the stove were communal. The warden awakened and checked us in and showed us a closet of warm pipes where we could hang out wet things to dry. There is also an indoor chemical toilet in another room, which is a pretty nice luxury. There’s no running water because the pipes are still frozen. The cabin was toasty warm, though.

    We unrolled our sleeping bags, filled our waters and cooked the remaining Indian meals and rice we had. D poured our wine secretly up in the bunk--we were allowed to have it but it seemed so rude to open it without sharing, which we didn’t want to do given all the work he had done to carry it up. We had chocolate for dessert. The Italian cooked a huge pan of risotto and offered to share, though no one took him up. The warden came down and ate an unappetizing meal of a pinkish white swirled meat rectangle and a white tub of sauce and plain, boiled potatoes. Certainly the kind of meal I would pass up in favor of delicious smelling risotto. But when offered and the Italian explained he had “too much” the warden replied in a fairly staccato tone, “That is your problem.” I think he was joking but it was really odd.

    We all began to chat for a while and glance through the guest book. That made us appreciate today’s nice weather--many people mentioned rainy, miserable days and fears of being lost.

    The cabin was way too hot for comfortable sleeping. I didn’t even get into my sleeping bag. Plus, the arrival of the additional people meant D and I were sharing the bunk space and it was really too tight for either of us to be comfortable. To top it off, the warden snored like a buzzsaw and in my half-sleep state I kept nudging D to get him to roll over because I thought it was him. We slept very little.

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    D is my husband so once it became obvious that the bunks were full we doubled up voluntarily. Since the cabin sleeps twice as many people (essentially) as there are beds, I assume if it is actually full then other folks double up, too, as the spaces are double wide. The Aussies were also doubled up but they had initially set up that way anyway. There were supposed to be a few more people in the cabin....we ran into them the next day, they hadn't made it to the cabin and had camped all night, poor things.

    In hindsight there's that little single bed by the window and I wish I had taken it.

    Was it hotter than Hades when you were there? I never complain about being too hot but it was roasting.

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    So glad to read your positive report on the food. I really enjoyed the food I had on my trip, but frequently on this forum there is reference to a trip report by annhig which very negative about the food. So, thank you.>>

    SusieQQ - I can only write as a find, and of course what I say is balanced by accounts by others like you, who were luckier than us.

    though I note this from the OP's latest post:

    <<The warden came down and ate an unappetizing meal of a pinkish white swirled meat rectangle and a white tub of sauce and plain, boiled potatoes. Certainly the kind of meal I would pass up in favor of delicious smelling risotto. >>

    that sounds horribly like some of the stuff that we encountered; no contest with the risotto I would have thought, but what can you say about the taste buds people who eat rotten shark that's been buried for 6 months?

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    Did you stay here?

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/93108868@N00/6359379767

    We arrived there late in the day. It looked like it was going to be really cramped (people were already there and there were nine of us) and it had a distinctly unfriendly aroma. Our guide jumped on his phone and arranged for us to stay in the A-Frame hut that may have been the first hut you came to.

    I think he/his company had forgotten to make our reservation at the hut in the picture and so he was scrambling to find us somewhere. The A-Frame hut is open during the day to all hikers but is not supposed to be used for overnight stays.

    We were going in the opposite direction to you. We could have easily become lost going down to Skogar. We couldn't see 25 feet.

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    Yes, cold, that's the one we stayed in. The A-Frame is indeed what we came upon first. Our hut was very pleasant otherwise, just waaaaay to hot at night. When we were there it looked like the A-frame was allowing overnighters. They can accommodate many more people as well.

    annhig, I actually tried to find harkrl to bring back for a coworker's request. no luck. I didn't realize it comes vacuum packed and kept looking for it canned. It's probably best I didn't find it.


    July 7, 2015
    The fog really moved in last night and was still thick this morning. We got up around 7:00 and the rest of the cabin began to stir as well. We organized our water and made some oatmeal and tea. D still had hardboiled eggs from the guesthouse that he ate. The Aussies packed their lunch and it was vegemite on crackers so I teased them that they weren’t doing anything to dispel Australian stereotypes.

    We got back onto the trail, which was not really well marked in this portion. The snow was still deep and mushy, though harder packed than yesterday which made it a little easier to walk. But the markers were far apart so we generally just followed the tracks in the snow. We again felt glad of our warm lodging last night when as we walked we heard someone calling out. When we replied he said, “Can you see me? The guy in the red shirt.” We said we could and he said, “Oh good, we lost the trail last night and you have helped us find it again. We had to camp out here last night.” We all agreed that if that had happened to us it would have been a miserable night.

    We went down a very long steep downhill in the snow where you could basically ski on your feet. The guidebook had even suggested sliding on your butt but none of us wanted the bother of putting on our snow pants. So we slid down and felt rather sorry for the tired souls we met en route who were headed up. We met a couple different groups and all wanted to know how much more uphill they had to do.

    There were parts of the trail that were rather treacherous. Especially a part where the path was along the snow on the side of a steep incline. We all made it without incident, though, and we finally met some people who said that the fog would ease in about another hour of walking. Sure enough, it did. The clear views ahead were beautiful and green.

    The walk through this area called Thorsmork was incredible. There was a glacier and a purple moraine and plenty of vegetation again. We eventually took off our jackets and enjoyed nice sunshine and beautiful views. We knew we still had to conquer the “cat’s spine” portion of the trail where there are sharp drops to the left and right. When we came upon it, though, it didn’t seem as intimidating as photos I saw online and we had no problems traversing it. I wasn’t even nervous.

    After a long downhill walk we came to another campsite and realized we didn’t really have any more directions to get us to the place where we would get the bus. That was a bit worrisome. We asked someone and he pointed out a camp that we all suspected was our destination and we headed in that direction. We could see the glacier perfectly as we crossed the river bed over the small wheeled bridges used to help hikers cross.

    The camp we arrived at with feelings of relief and happiness was, sadly, not where we were to catch the bus back to Skogar. We had to walk another half hour, which was a tense walk because we were not 100% sure we were going to the right place. When we arrived at Volcano Huts we were highly relieved. I had walked quickly ahead just to try and see if we were going the right way.

    I had hoped to get into a hot tub at the huts but the front desk described it as being more of a “medium tub” so we passed on that and had lunch. There was self-serve soup and bread--mixed vegetable or creamed leek. The leek soup was the best. And we were also able to have coffee, tea and some little gingerbread cakes that we thought wouldn’t be good but were surprised to enjoy. After that we all had a shot of local birch liquor to celebrate a wonderful hike. We sat in the lodge and used some wifi and relaxed. At one point the restaurant was horribly crowded with a tour bus group but then they cleared out and we relaxed.

    The bus arrived around 4 for the 4:30 departure and we rode back out of the interior to get to Skogar. The buses had to cross the river and were high sitting in order to do so. The bus had two options--stopping at Sejellandsfoss or Hellisvolar to then change for Skogar. Since it seemed annoying to backtrack from Sejellandsfoss to Hellisvolar and then back to Skogar we just got off at Sejellandsfoss. It was gray and chilly and rainy, though so it wasn’t terribly pleasant to wait there. J had hot chocolate and I had tea and D had coffee. We all would have liked gigantic hot beverages but there is only one size of hot beverage in Iceland and it is rather small, probably 8 oz.

    The Aussies and Germans were also on the buses. The Germans opted for Hellisvolar but the Aussies were there at Sejellandsfoss with us and suddenly D noticed they were eating hot dogs. Hot dogs were not on the snack bar menu. So he asked how they got them and they said you can ask for a hot dog basically anywhere in Iceland and they have them and they are generally cheaper than any menu item. So D ordered one and the clerk asked what he wanted on it--he said, he didn’t know and she just said she would put what she thought he would like. When he asked what that was she said, “everything.” Turned out she was right--he liked the hot dog and it had peppers and onions and a few different sauces on it.

    We watched a guy fly a drone around to take photos of the waterfall. I haven’t actually seen anyone do that before. We also saw a guy stand in a dumpster for a minute and then get out and just walk away. So people watching helped pass the time until the bus arrived for the very short trip to Skogar.

    We got our car and headed toward Skaftafell for the night, which is a rather long drive. At least it's long after doing a long overnight hike. We stopped for gas and dinner in Vik. Gas was an adventure that D and J navigated. Once they sorted it out they realized they had to buy a pre-paid card if they wanted to fill the tank, otherwise people just choose a set number of litres. Gas costs over $6/gallon here. We tried to stop at one restaurant that had a really long wait and opted instead for one that overlooked the black pebble beach we already saw but from another perspective. It was a nice view and the food was good. I had pizza and wine and we all shared some mozzarella sticks and “nachos”--which were Doritos and salsa.

    We drove onward to Skaftafell and I realize why the Icelander on my other thread said there wasn’t much in this area. There were long stretches with very little of anything and one portion that was just a huge gravel pit.

    We arrived just before the gate would have closed to cars for the night. D paid the attendant who looked like a shorter, friendlier Dom Delouise in a cute cap and we picked our site. Only to find as we began to set up that the person next to us was smoking. We moved. It was really easy to sleep that night.

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    On my trip we visited Bjarnarhöfn farm where they process Harkri. We tasted it but didn't eat much since it was really pretty nasty tasting.

    It's an interesting place, kind of a museum and shop selling not only Harkri but also handicrafts. Worth a visit.

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    The A-Frame is the Baldvinsskáli hut which according to one of the 2014 posts in Tripadvisor ... "We intend this hut as an (emergency) shelter and for eating your food, but not for ordinary overnight stays. For regular overnight stays we refer to the excellent hut higher up at Fimmvörðuháls, owned by Utivist."

    http://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowTopic-g3676471-i29326-k7272790-Huts_on_the_Fimmvorouhals_trail_from_Skogar_to_Porsmork-South_Region.html

    But then according to the official Hut website it is indeed open for overnight stays in 2015:

    http://www.fi.is/en/huts/price/

    So looks like you're right - it was open to overnighters in 2015. I wouldn't care too much about this but we are hoping to go back in a year or two and do a longer trek in the area.

    "When we came upon it, though, it didn’t seem as intimidating as photos I saw online and we had no problems traversing it. I wasn’t even nervous." - Thanks for not pointing out that an internet fraidycat had droned on about how scary it was.

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    SusieQQ: Bravo to you for trying harkarl! Very brave. My husband is adventurous with food but he wasn't willing to give it a try if we found it.

    cold: no way I'd call you a "fraidycat!"--you've been on tons of adventures. I was really just being honest. I have a fear of heights and I was genuinely nervous pre-trip. I hoped that my experience would be reassuring to anyone else who was worried about traversing the spine.

    July 8

    After a good night’s sleep we were ready for more adventure. J found the shower house when she got up a little earlier and D had bought shower cards for us all. It bought us five minutes in a hot shower, which was nice. Then we headed to the tour guide booths to see about booking a trip ice climbing. All the ice climbing was booked and so we chose a glacier walk instead. We needed to make sure and choose an activity that gives us time to get to Jokursalon for the ice lagoon tour later tonight.

    After some granola bars and tea we checked out the visitor’s center which wasn’t terribly exciting and then it was time to head off on the glacier walk.

    Our guide was a German named Kuba and the group was about 10 or 12 people. We were given crampons and ice axes and rode about 15 minutes to the trail up to the glacier. The glacier is beautiful and blue with volcanic ash within it from past eruptions. Once we were on its edge we put on our crampons and Kuba told us how to hold our axes so that we wouldn’t swing them and injure someone. At first it made me a bit nervous to walk along ice. And initially we weren’t allowed to stop because we had to traverse an area that had recently had a lot of rock slides. But we got out on the glacier and Kuba showed us cool features and taught us about them. There were mounds of black volcanic sand that are conical. These are leftover from when a glacier has an ice hole. The water flows down into the hole and melts away the surrounding ice. Eventually, when the ice has receded, all that is left is the ash. The melting holes were pretty with turquoise ice. Some flowed heavily and others were lighter.

    We stopped to look at glacier moss, which, with Kuba’s accent, sounded like “glacier mouse.” The moss is unusual because it grows on all surfaces of the stones because it rolls so slowly down the glacier that all sides of the stone get enough sun to cover it in moss. So much for the adage that a rolling stone gathers no moss. Once the stones are all furry with moss they do rather resemble a green little round mouse. We walked up to the part of the glacier where there were some deep crevasses and interesting formations. When Kuba’s back was turned J and I had a pretend axe fight. Then we got to drink glacier water --we had to do a pushup on Kuba’s ice axe set over the running stream. The water contains no minerals at all and therefore humans cannot subsist on it as long as they could on mineral water. The glacier recedes a bit each year and is not being renewed. Kuba ended up kind of denying climate change in this portion of the talk, which was weird. He is really into the outdoors and loves outdoor sports; usually the type of person who understands climate change and worries about it. His take on the receding ice was that it is probably part of a natural cycle. In any case, he explained that the huge gravel fields we drove across to get here were once a place of glaciers. And even before that, the portion of the glacier that is a lagoon/lake below it now was once a green and fertile farming village.

    The walk was fun. The group was pretty good despite one rather strange older man who kept walking off alone and not following instructions. We all got back on a larger bus along with another group and returned to Skaftafell around lunch time.

    We just ate tortillas and PB and dried fruit and nuts for lunch. Not terribly exciting but a little money savings and avoids the difficulty of trying to find a place to eat.

    After lunch we decided to make an early start to Jokulsarlon so we could stop at the smaller lagoon on the way called Fjallsárlón. We got to it and were impressed with the icebergs floating near the glacier and mountains. It was cold and windy but we watched as two people took of their shoes to stand in the icy lagoon for a photo. They had zodiac tours on this lagoon but we had booked ours for Jokulsarlon so we continued onward to that one.

    While we had oohed and ahhed over Fjallsárlón, Jokulsarlon was considerably more impressive. It is huge and beautiful with turquoise icebergs everywhere. When we got there we checked in for our tour and then walked along the lagoon. We saw a seal swimming and we also saw an iceberg calve! It was exciting. The gift shop was horribly crowded with tour buses so D braved it for us to get hot chocolate with rum in it. That sustained us while we waited and then we got internet passwords and looked through the photos while J rested in the car. Soon it was time to suit up for the zodiac ride.

    We all had our snow pants and winter coats on and were told to put on special waterproof suits for the boat ride. We put them on and felt like marshmallows--D resembled Ralphie in his snowsuit from “A Christmas Story.” We also had life vests and then a van drove us over to the zodiacs. It was weird--there must be proprietary reasons but the bus just drove us to the shore of the lagoon that is within walking distance of the tour kiosk. Our guide was jovial and loud and swore quite a lot as he took us out in the boat. We made our way to the glacier about 7 KM away from shore and it suddenly seemed so peaceful. There had been a HUGE calving about 4 hours prior and you could see the extra-blue portion of the glacier where it had broken off. The ice there is more turquoise because it is denser and blue light is the only light that can penetrate that density. As it melts and is exposed to the sun the density decreases and it changes to white or clear. We saw a seal swimming and lots of pretty glaciers. The guide told us that last year during the ALS icebucket challenge he actually did a flip off an iceberg into the lagoon, which hovers one degree above freezing--he acknowledged it was a stupid thing to do.

    We returned to shore and got out of our suits and then were back on the road. We were debating about whether to try and eat at the little store/gas station or try a restaurant. I went in to check out one restaurant and it seemed a little expensive so we continued on.

    We ended up asking for a table at the hotel Skaftafell. They were understaffed so it took us a while to be seated and it seemed they generally only catered to hotel guests because the waiter seemed baffled that we had no room number. He was a bit surly and inattentive for a while, I think because he didn’t have anyone helping him with his tables. Also, he was the only Icelander we met who didn’t speak English well. When I asked him what the vegetarian dish was he simply said, “nut steak” (which I heard as “nut stick”). When I asked what that was he just repeated it. For all I know he was just insulting me. I ordered it anyway, though. D and J had Arctic char. We had some bread and the meals came out quickly and were delicious. Nice salads and veggies along with the main courses. The nut steak was more like a vegetarian meatloaf type thing and it was quite good.

    We had a long day but wanted to at least do one thing within the park and took advantage of the daylight to do it. It was about 10:00 pm but we took a hike to see Svartifoss. The hike was supposed to be 30 minutes and unlike time estimates on US hikes, the ones in Iceland are geared to people who actually hike quickly and are thus accurate. We made it to the beautiful basalt falls and had it all to ourselves. There were some other nice falls along the way, too. We saw only a couple others on the trail, though there was a biker racing down it that almost ran over D. Luckily he heard him coming and jumped out of the way.

    We were ready for a good sleep by the time we were back at the tent and tomorrow we have to make our way all the way back west toward Rekjavik. But we will make fun stops on the way. J’s been the navigator and has a map all marked up with cool stops and attractions.

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    July 9, 2015

    A long day on the road was in store today. J was up early for a shower and then we ate some granola bars and oatmeal and tea for breakfast. D packed up the tent and we were soon on the road. It’s sad to be heading back west since it means the trip is almost over. Today J and I are wearing our new matching puffin shirts for good photo ops.

    The weather today was nice. We made our first stop on the overlook of the black pebble beach from earlier this week. This stop gave us a view of the “elephant rock” out in the water. The view was completely different from the rainy gray sea we saw before. Today it was a little windy but the water was blue and beautiful. We had to drive up a rather winding gravel road to get to the overlook and lighthouse. There were lots of cute sheep around the road.

    We stopped to finish off the gas card in Vik and there was a huge line of cars at the station. D waited in line and I ran into the Icewear shop next door to do a little shopping. J joined me. We shopped while D waited out the line. Then as soon as he got to the pump the American guy on the other side was occupying the payment machine but didn’t seem to know how to operate it. D offered several times to help now that he had the hang of it and the guy kept refusing in an annoyed tone. Then, when he finished, he realized he had paid for D’s pump, not his own. He asked D to switch. D tried to be helpful and agreed to switch so he waited until that guy pulled into his slot. But the guy did nothing to hold his own slot for D so another car scooted in. He was prepared to go to the end of the long line but then saw that a pump was open that no one could get to due to the traffic congestion. He zipped in there, much to the ire of the other cars waiting. People were yelling about cutting, etc. He felt crummy about it because he had tried to help out a rather rude person only to end up seeming like he was rude himself.

    We continued west so we could stop at Seljvavellir pool. This is a natural hot springs pool that was built in the 1920s so Icelandic children could learn to swim. It was a little difficult to find--we thought it would be more of a hike to get to it but it was a short 5 minute walk from the area where people were parked. We decided to eat a lunch-y snack of bananas, PB2 and dried fruit before we went to the pool.

    We had no problem getting to the pool. We changed in the rather dingy changing building. It actually looked like a dim prison cell with hooks on the walls and wet dirty floor. But it is a free pool maintained by volunteers so it’s rather picky to complain. The pool was green with algae but warm and pleasant. The bottom was slimy from all the growth. We sat for a while by the rocky natural wall where part of the natural spring was trickling into the pool. There were a few other people there enjoying the springs but it wasn’t a crowd at all. The worst part was getting out of the pool because the air temperature was considerably cooler than the pool.

    Onward to our next stop, which was a ways down the road at the oldest standing turf houses in Iceland. They are in Keldur. It was a little ways off of Highway 1 on a rather washboarded gravel road. But we found it easily and parked in the designated lot. It was clear that the site is part of someone’s current home and it was unclear where to walk to get to it so we ended up walking along their property and hopping over a stone ditch. But the houses were really cool. There’s a pretty wooden church that was built much later and then the houses are all connected to each other with turf for roofs. We were allowed to go in (putting covers over our shoes) and look around the houses. It was dark inside since there are few windows and everything felt rather small--kind of like a hobbit hole. There were only two other visitors there. Every building had a turf roof--even the outbuildings and the spring house.

    We noticed that most villages have access to Highway 1 from two directions, making kind of a semi-circle of access and so we took the other road to get back to the highway this time. It worked out and we continued onward toward Geysir and Gullfoss.

    We needed a pit stop for a restroom and coffee and noticed that a cabin/hotel site had a restaurant and shop and stopped there. When we got in we saw that their coffee machine was broken. As I was looking for the bathroom the clerk asked for our room number. We explained that we were just going to use the shop. He told us that they were really just a shop for the hotel and that there was a convenience store a few km down the road. This was similar to the attitude we had gotten in the hotel for dinner last night. It’s weird to be willing to spend money and have it turned down. We figure the issue must be that it is so difficult to get supplies in that places want to preserve their goods for their guests. At least the next stop was a close one.

    J was excited as she read the guidebook and said that since it was a weekday, we could stop for a surprise. I immediately asked what it was. She pointed out that I seemed to be missing the idea of a surprise. But she told us anyway---there is a farmer’s market in a town that is known for its mushrooms and strawberries. We found the town and made some wrong turns before asking directions. One wrong turn was particularly creepy as we ended up in front of a house with a bunch of weird baby dolls in the garage and around the property. I asked for directions in the grocery store and we found the market. It was rather sad and the produce was exorbitant (about US $6 for a pint of sad-looking strawberries) and sparse. We took a brief walk around the market (which had its own highway sign!) and left. It made for a good laugh if not a good stop.

    We made our way to Gullfoss to see the huge falls there. It, along with the geysers and Thingvellir, are the most popular attractions in Iceland because they are close to Rekjavik and accessible. The falls were impressive. We walked down a boardwalk and stairs and saw its huge powerful waters. Its similar to Niagara Falls, which we saw in May, but a huge difference is that the falls flow into a river that flows out from it at an angle rather than straight out. So the falls go into a gorge isn’t highly visible as you stand in front of it. After a few photos we went on to see the geysers.

    The Geysir at the geothermal area only erupts rarely but there is a geyser that erupts regularly called Strokker. We saw it go off a couple of times while we were there. There was a lot of steam and activity in general. The guidebook had also noted that the souvenir shop here is huge and has a restaurant so we headed in there. We decided to just eat in the restaurant since we were hungry and weren’t sure how out-of-the-way another restaurant might be. We bought Brennavin for later and some chocolate bars we hadn’t tried yet.

    J navigated us to our overnight Air BnB place, a horse farm. It was a pretty drive. As we left the geyser area a woman was driving some beautiful horses along the road. They were so many colors and patterns, really gorgeous site in front of the geothermal area. The horse farm where we are staying is an active farm. We pulled up and were shown a nice room with its own lock and sitting area downstairs. The woman was welcoming and had a nice little fridge and tea and coffee station downstairs and asked us what time for breakfast. After that we were able to just get packed and relax. I looked up at one point and saw a beautiful rainbow out in the field. We all ran out for some photos. When we were back inside we decided it was time to toast the trip with our Breannavin and the vodka that we had bought on our first day. The Brennavin, which is distilled with caraway seeds, was like drinking rye bread--really unappealing. The vodka was much nicer, and the chocolates were fun.

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    annhig, I actually tried to find harkrl to bring back for a coworker's request. no luck. I didn't realize it comes vacuum packed and kept looking for it canned. It's probably best I didn't find it.>>

    lol, perhaps it's like a Durian and you're not allowed to bring it on a flight anyway! [but then who would want to ?]

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    That was my reaction to Brennevin - drinking rye bread :) Not my favorite bread! But I loved the Amarula, which seems to be popular in Iceland, even though it's a South African import.

    I tried the Hakarl in Reykjakvik, and it was much milder than I'd been led to believe. I think I got a whimped-out touristy version.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the stay at Skogar Guesthouse - we loved our 2 nights there. We weren't up for hiking, but it's great reading about your adventures!

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