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Volcanoes! Glaciers! Puffins!! - 15 days around the Ring Road of Iceland

Volcanoes! Glaciers! Puffins!! - 15 days around the Ring Road of Iceland

Old Aug 6th, 2015, 04:21 AM
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It is indeed! Just breathtaking.
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 05:33 AM
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July 21st, Thursday

Hjalafoss
Gjain Canyon
Crater Lake
Landamannalaugar
Þjóðveldisbærinn Stöng
Seljalandsfoss
Skogarfoss

We got up early to pack before the breakfast crowd – but we weren’t early enough! We got out as quickly as we were sated and got on the road. Today was to be a bit of a long travel day, ending up in Skogar for the night. The long way.

Our first stop was Hjalafoss waterfall, a powerful double waterfall in the middle of a lava moonscape. There were flowing lava formations all around the falls, like something designed by H.R. Giger (he designed Alien). The falls themselves were in a deep canyon that we could climb down from reasonably good steps.

I had written Stöng as a possible visiting place, but never wrote down why it was interesting. We passed by the sign and continued on through the moonscape to Gjain Canyon.

This was our first real F road. F roads in Iceland are, by definition, roads which a 4X4 is required to drive. Dirt roads are not F roads, usually – but rock roads are! And sometimes there are rivers to ford. No rivers yet on this – about twenty minutes of dust, dirt, rocks, and not much else. Some hills here and there, some scrubby plantlife, but not much. Then we got to Gjain.

It looks not very impressive when you park. The only way you know there is something there is because a small service shed has been placed near the parking area. That’s it – and then you see a sign with an arrow, leading to the steps down.

The steps (about 40 of them?) lead down into an oasis in the moon. There was one large waterfall in the back, lush green vegetation growing everywhere, smaller waterfalls along the river, caves, and a plethora of flowers and ferns. It was like the Garden of Eden on Mars. We descended into this paradise, and spent over an hour just exploring, enjoying the mists and the sounds of nature.

Soon, others found our paradise, and descended into our peace. We wanted to keep that special place as our own private memory, so we left. We found the signs posted to Laugamannalaugar.

This was a site that I had debated as to whether it was worth it. It was not just on an F road, it was on 2 hours’ worth of F road. Both ways. That’s a lot of low-speed, bumping, jumping, and juggling. Again, no rivers to ford, but oh, the sites we saw on the way!

We drove up one mountain, which afforded us a vista of bright blue lakes below. We drove by a huge volcano crater, and was able to drive right up to the edge to see inside. We passed more moonscapes and twisted lava formations. We saw mountains in several colors, painted with the mineral formations in the area – green, orange, red, yellow, bronze, and peach. The snow was still clinging to the mountains, making stripes of white and grey between the colors of the mountains.

When we finally arrived at Landamannalaugur proper, it was a giant resort/camping support site. There was a rather large river to go further, but it was VERY crowded. Campers and hikers were stuffed in like sardines, so we opted to turn back. The beauty was in the journey there, not in the destination. We did stop and climb up a small valley, still ice-clad, and found some bits of obsidian and other beautiful stones. The way back seemed like a much shorter journey, but our spines were well-jangled by the time we returned to ‘real’ roads.

As we passed back by the Hjalafoss area, we decided to look at Stöng after all, and we are very glad we did. Þjóðveldisbærinn Stöng is a recreation of the turf cottages found in this area, dating to about a thousand years ago. A small chapel and an extensive turf-covered cottage, built with stone and wood, with dioramas to show how life was lived in those times, made for an interesting display. We stopped to schmooze with the friendly horses next door before moving on.

We turned to the south at Selfoss, and enjoyed watching the mist gather on the mountains along the coast. Everything was clad in green now, and countless mare-tail waterfalls draped across the mountains. It looked very much like New Zealand in the Lord of the Rings movies. We passed Eyjafjallajokul, the volcano that disrupted European air travel in 2009 with eruptions of ash, but it was shrouded in mists, and we couldn’t see more than a glimpse of its snow-clad peaks. We only know we passed it because the visitor centre was on the side of the road.

We tried to stop at Seljalandsfoss on the way to Skogar, but it was way too crowded. People were parking along the road, as no one could get into or out of the parking lot from all the busses. We weren’t staying too far away, so we could come back when it wasn’t so swamped.

Skogar Guesthouse was easy to find – signs helped us out, and it was within walking distance of Skogarfoss, a powerful waterfall that sends off tons of mist, so it frequently has rainbows. Skogar is run by Sigga and her step-son, Ari. They are both delightful! Ari is almost too pretty for words – and he showed us around, gave us our room (3 beds, big space!) showed the lounge and the hot tub. We relaxed for a while before we decided we needed some dinner. It had started to rain a little bit, but nothing heavy. Ari recommended the Hotel Skogarfoss. We went down the road and found Hotel Skogar – not quite the same thing, but I didn’t realize it at the time. The place felt like a funeral – very quiet. We were the only people there. The food was good – seafood soup in a tomato bisque, lamb and salmon for our dinner. It had a nice view outside, and while we were eating, a bird crashed into the glass window (he walked away, indignant).

Jason crashed, tired from the long day. He did much of the driving on the F roads, and was feeling it. I posted on my blog and decided it was too early to sleep, so went out exploring. First I went down to the Skogarfoss. I started to walk (and the local dog followed me) but then decided to take the car, so I could go elsewhere later.

That’s when I found Hotel Skogarfoss, which had a more reasonable selection (burgers and fries, as opposed to haute cuisine), and dozens of campers. The field before the waterfall was littered with tents, as they had campsite facilities (showers, bathrooms, food) on site. I walked up to the falls, and it was a beautiful, powerful, straight fall. There were steps to the top, but I was not feeling up to walking 527 steps to the top! Not after the jangling my bones had endured. Maybe not ever!

I drove back to Seljalandsfoss, hoping that the crowds had diminished somewhat since it was now near 8pm. On the way I noticed several huts built right up to and inside giant rocks. I had been right – the falls were much less crowded. Only about a dozen people were there. This is a place where you can walk behind the falls. Be warned, you WILL get wet. The spray is very strong. But I did walk behind, and got a couple of photos from behind. The sun wasn’t behaving in a nice, beautiful sunset for me, but hey, you take what you can get, right?

When I returned, I had a nice chat with Ari about Iceland, its people, culture, politics, travel around the world, etc. Then I went upstairs and zonked out myself, for a good sleep in a comfortable bed. Luxury!
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 06:22 AM
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Landamannalaugar, Hraunfossar, and Glymur are on my list for a return trip (along with Haifoss, Ófærufoss, Aldeyjarfoss, Thorsmork, and Dynjandi and everything else in the West Fjords).

I'm loving your report!! I went in March, which was a mashup of spring and winter, and this is cementing my desire to return in the next year or so in the late spring/summer/early fall.

Can't wait for more!
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 06:33 AM
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As a note, some roads had JUST opened a week or two before we arrived in mid-July. If you want to drive everywhere, keep that in mind

Glymur - be prepared! Heed my lessons
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 09:08 AM
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July 22, Wednesday

Þórsmörk
Gljúfrafoss
Reynisfjara Black sand beach
Reynisdrangar (puffins!)


A little bit of rain greeted us as we awoke. We came to breakfast a bit early, and Sigga was bustling around the kitchen prepping for the meal. She had homemade bread, jams, meat, cheese, pancakes (delicious!), home grown eggs, and the normal stuff. Today was another F road day – we were headed to Þórsmörk, a mountain ridge named after Thor. Again, this was a journey view rather than a destination.

As we were going past Seljalandsfoss, we saw a scenic viewpoint sign, and took the detour. It went up and up and up. We stopped off at the breathtaking lookout point near a gravel quarry. On the way back down we found a magical waterfall valley, definitely someplace the local elves must live. Moss covered stones and hundreds of tiny falls. The name of the point started with an H, but I don’t recall it offhand. I’ll have to look through my photos for a clue, but it was less than a mile up from the waterfall.

Þórsmörk. This was all F-road again, but not as varied in the terrain as Landamannalaugur. There were, however, rivers to ford. The road was well-traveled – we saw dozens of vehicles either coming the other way, or going with us. None of the rivers looked too bad to Jason, who has done river-fording before. I had never done this, so had to trust he knew what he was doing. It was a lot of fun! After about six rivers, we found a glacier cave, so decided to rest our spines for a bit.

About a dozen people were wandering around, taking photos and exploring the cave itself. However, to get to the cave, you had to climb down the hill (no problem) and then walk across a river. Problem! This is a glacial river – therefore, a bit on the chilly side. There wasn’t any place with stones you could step on. Two choices – walk in your bare feet, or get your shoes wet. If I had been smart, I would have gone back up to the car and put my boots on – they are more water resistant than my sneakers. But, I wasn’t smart – I thought I could take off my shoes (like a man was doing as I watched, a child on his back). I have very tender feet, and there were lots of stones in the river bed. In fact, it was all stones – no soft sand anywhere. The bottoms of my feet got rather bruised and scratched. But I crossed!

We walked to the cave itself, and inside a little bit. We didn’t go too far, as we had no real spelunking gear, but we walked on the glacier itself a little, and got to see inside the cave. Then we went back.

This time I said ‘F this bare foot thing!’ and left my sneakers on. I walked across the river (it was about 10 feet wide) and changed into my boots with dry socks up in the car.

We stopped to have a picnic lunch while still near the cave, complete with parma ham, cheese, and nectarines. It was good. I just wish I had some coffee or hot chocolate to warm me up!

We continued on through about five more rivers to Þórsmörk itself, which was really just a cool place to camp. The river bed between two glaciers was interesting, and made you fell tiny and insignificant beside the giant mountains. We drove along the road a little longer, and came across a big trash can, where we emptied the trash from our car. I couldn’t help but think, this is the longest trash run I’ve ever taken!

Turning back, I drove and learned how to ford rivers. It was a lot of fun! I gained a bit of confidence with the four wheel drive, and went a little faster than a slow crawl. It still took us over an hour to get out of there.

We stopped at Gljúfrafoss on the way back, a waterfall that is inside a canyon that you can walk into. Very cool, but very wet! It’s just near Seljalandsfoss, not hard to miss. We noticed we really needed gas, like badly. We had needed it back in Þórsmörk, but there had been no options. GPS told us there was one just a couple of kilometers from Seljalandsfoss.

GPS lied. There was a restaurant, but no gas station, nor evidence that there ever had been one. We drove a bit farther to the Eyjafjallajokul visitor centre, and the clerk there (who didn’t seem to have much English) said that Vik was our best option, so on we went. We coasted in on fumes, filled up, and filled up our snack quotient at the grocery store.

On our way back to Skogar, we had time to stop at Reynisfjara black sand beach. It was windy, but it wasn’t too bad. There is a great cave with basalt hexagon columns, flowing in a kinetic pattern within the cave. Next to that is another cave area, with all sorts of seabirds perched above, including PUFFINS! Yay, adorable puffins everywhere!

There are some dramatic sea stacks farther down, and back on Dyrholaey on the other side, so I got lots of atmospheric photographs before we retreated to the café for Swiss Mocha. Jason had a double espresso, which meant he got a bit on the manic side with chatter and photos after that. It was like riding with Speedy Gonzalez. I’m glad I was driving!

We thought about searching for the hidden Seljavallalaug hot pool, but Jason wasn't feeling up for it, and the short hike (20 minutes) I was told it had, so we skipped.

This time we tried Hotel Skogarfoss for dinner. I had a local beef burger, while Jason tried the meat soup – and a love affair began. It was warm, savory and delicious, and he tried it every time he saw it on the menu after that. Meat soup is a lamb stew, with varying ingredients, usually root vegetables and stock. Maybe onions, carrots, turnips, rutabaga, potatoes, whatever the local recipe calls for.

Back at the Skogar Guesthouse, Jason crashed from his espresso high while I chatted with some other travelers in the lounge. Miriam and her goddaughter were traveling from Jacksonville, Florida, while Miriam was born in Cuba. We talked a lot about travel, science fiction, politics and languages. She bought a pair of my earrings (cardinals). I asked Ari if there was somewhere I could do laundry, and he graciously offered to do it for me. I felt guilty, as I had two loads, but he assured me it would be fine. He refused any payment towards soap or anything. He was doing another guests’ laundry as well, and I know he must have stayed up late finishing it in the dryer.

I didn’t get to bed until around midnight myself, but it was a good sleep.
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 10:34 AM
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July 23rd Thursday

Cape Dyrholaey
Þakgil, Roof Canyon
Höfðabrekka
Fjaðrárgljúfur mossy canyon
Núpsstaður turf-roof church
Kirkjubæjarklaustur
Foss in Síðu/Dverghamrar Cliffs
Hofskirkja in Öræfi Church


And of course, my body decided I had such a great sleep, I needed to be awake at 4:45 am! Yay. At least they have a super power shower, which was delightful! But we were much too early for breakfast, which began at 7:30, so we went out to explore Cape Dyrholaey before breakfast.

A tiny F road leads up the lava cliff to a seabird sanctuary. Lava of all sorts are around, and Jason had a field day identifying and explaining the different types and what created them. Arctic terns abound, but no puffins here.

Another, tinier F road leads up to the lighthouse, and we did find a puffin nest in the rocks, but no puffins. They must have been wary of our presence. The wind and the mist drove us back down and to the guesthouse for our breakfast.

We got our clothes from a bleary-eyed Ari, ate our breakfast, hugged Sigga goodbye, and got on the road to our next destination.

Our plan was to drive along the southeast coast, up to our evening’s lodging in Hali, near Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. There were several spots I wanted to stop on the way. But fate determined that we didn’t get to all of them.

The first detour was to Þakgil, a roofed canyon. This was another F road venture, and delightful fun, while at the same time, a bit scary. These F roads were up mountains, around bends and down through canyons. A good ten kilometers or so of F roads, and my knuckles were a bit white. Some of the roads were pretty narrow, precarious-looking, and around blind bends. On the other hand, the views they offered of the glacier delta was well worth a few sore hands from gripping the dashboard handle for dear life.

Black lava sculptures rose from the ground, some forming arches, some cradling waterfalls in their gentle hands. Green moss climbed the sides of otherwise barren canyons, and ash rivers flowed across the loose scree on the ground. This was another ‘journey worth more than the destination’, and well worth it, too! This was about the time I decided that it was very much worth the extra cost to rent a 4X4. I am very glad I decided to do so – I waffled about it for weeks before I made the decision. I made the right one.

Once on the main road again, we saw a ‘scenic’ sign and discovered another black sand beach. You could still see the sea stacks at Reynisfjara in the distance. It was a very large black sand beach, and we were utterly alone (except one jogger). Some of the caves nearby had been used for bonfires and probably a lot more in the recent past. It was likely a pretty cool Saturday night party spot!

A mountain – perhaps it was Katla? – sparkled in the distance, huge and white in the sunlight.

We crossed a huge delta then, a road with more bridge than surface road, and most of the bridges were one way. Still, it was a delightful sight, seeing the rivers snake across the sand and rocks into the distance, sometimes lost in the mist. You could see rain angled in the distance, warring with the sun for dominance over the landscape.

At one point, we came across a sea of endless purple lupins. We saw more lupins than any other flower in Iceland, especially in the south. They were everywhere!

The next area had lava formations of light brown, covered in a light, fuzzy moss, almost yellow. It looked like bodies writing in a mudbath.

Another F road takes us to Fjaðrárgljúfur, just about 2 kilometers down, and a lovely view. Unfortunately, as soon as I got out of the car, I noticed the rear passenger tire was going flat. Lovely. Luckily, it was warm and sunny out. Jason had a great deal of trouble with changing it, because the jack was a poor choice for the vehicle (to turn it, there wasn’t enough clearance, and he had to dig into the dirt to make it work) and the lug wrench was too big for the lug nuts. Another tourist had a wrench the proper size, and lent it to Jason so he could complete the change.

While he was under the car wrestling with the jack, Jason noticed something leaking. Uh-oh.

I called the rental owner, while Jason finished replacing with the spare – a spare that was smaller than the other tires. More uh-oh. The owner said to please bring the car into a garage and let him know what’s wrong. So, off we went to Kirkjubaejarklaustur, the closest town. We found a Michelin tire place, and the mechanic was able to tell us that the front differential axis was leaking, and he didn’t have the parts to fix it. We had no idea for how long it had been leaking – it could have just started, it could have been going for weeks. I didn’t want to risk it, though it would only mean our 4X4 would go out. The owner said he’d try to arrange a replacement vehicle. We went to lunch to await the verdict.

It also meant we wouldn’t be stopping at any other places on our way today. Getting to our lodging was priority.

It had just started raining, but we found a restaurant fairly quickly. We had to flag a waitress down after waiting to be seated for about 10 minutes. The sign said to wait to be seated, but she sort of barked to sit down anywhere. I eventually got a lamb burger, while Jason ordered the fish stew, which turned out to be more like a fish curry – tasty, but it looked like dog food. The service was rather terrible, but the food was good. And we had to remind her about the Swiss Mocha we had ordered. The name of the place was Systrakaffi – in this case, the bad attitude of the wait staff outweighed the good food, I can’t recommend it.

We drove on to our evening’s guesthouse, Skyrhusid in Hali. It’s just past several glaciers and the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lake. For some reason, now the 4X4 wouldn’t turn off, and the smaller tire made the car fishtail occasionally, as the 4X4 tried to give more power to the small tire. We finally managed to fiddle with it and get it out of that mode, and it was much better. With it raining steadily now, I was glad.

We passed one glacier lake, Fjallsarlon, and thought it was cool. But then we came across Jokulsarlon, and wow! What a place! It was filled with people, despite the rain, and we didn’t want to stop just then, but even so, it was an incredible site. You drive over the bridge that goes over the small river mouth where the glaciers exit the lake into the ocean. That means that the icebergs sort of gather until they can jostle their way to freedom. So many different shapes, shades and patterns! But we must come back later…

Skyrhusid is more like a hostel than a guesthouse, but it is reasonably clean and had nice large rooms. The biggest drawbacks were that the curtains were very light and flimsy, letting lots of light in, and the only food was at the restaurant across the street, including breakfast. They gave us some free Skyr as we checked in, and we moved the beds together to relax from the day’s adventure.

The rental owner got back to me that he found a replacement, and was driving out from Reykjavik with it. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be able to arrive until 2am, so I set my alarm for that ungodly hour, cleaned out the car, and went to sleep.

2am is an odd time in Iceland in the summer. It’s isn’t quite dark, but a blue velvet twilight. The mists were high and the few lights in Hali glowed like dandelions gone to seed in the fog. The poor owner probably had to drive back to Reykjavik (about 3.5 hours’ drive away) and go straight to work the next day, but he was sweet about the whole deal. He brought us a Nissan XTrail, also 4X4, but not as much clearance as the Land Cruiser had. Also, the trunk didn’t open, which was an inconvenience. The biggest difference, which I didn’t notice until the next day, was no cruise control. That’s a great inconvenience on a trip where you drive 8 hour days at times.
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 11:00 AM
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Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Fjallsárlón Glacier Lake
Kviamyrarkambur
Svinafellsjokull
Skaftafell
Svartifoss
Núpsstaður turf-roof church


Despite my late night interruption, I was up at 7am. We dressed and went across the street to the restaurant for breakfast. It was worth the price – about $12 – for the selection of cereal, lunch meats, cakes (including a chocolate and cinnamon one), home baked breads. We saw our tallest Icelander (must have topped 6’5”) walking out of the kitchens.

The new rental car had a small plastic parrot hanging from the rearview mirror, so we dubbed it Jimmy, in honor of Jimmy Buffet and Parrotheads around the world.

We had seen, in the course of our journey, that Icelanders liked to bag their hay bales in white, black, and pale green plastic, though occasional beige ones appeared. One field looked like an army of white arrayed against an army of black. In our sillier moments, we decided that the greens were sometimes allies of the white, but more often betraying the white by siding with the black. Sometimes we saw prisoner camps, stacks of white or black with an occasional green stuck in randomly. It was fodder for many silly comments throughout the trip.

Now, back to Jokulsarlon, to enjoy the iceberg lake in all its misty glory. We arrived JUST as the mist turned into rain, of course. And a rather chilly rain, at that. However, rain aside, I got some interesting photos and we explored along the beach. The rain didn’t stop anyone else from doing the same, though I had a hard time keeping my camera dry. We decided it was too cold and rainy to do a boat tour just now, perhaps later. As the crowds increased with more busloads of people, we moved on to the smaller lake we had seen the day before.

This was a much quieter experience. The lake was perfectly still, the rain had returned to mist, and there was only about a dozen people wandering around. The glacier was visible in the mist, and loomed large and menacing above. Angry streaks of ash and dirt colored the white ice, making it look like a toddler had scribbled with ash crayon. I saw someone had set up their Gopro on a couple of rocks, the stick holding it up anchored by more rocks. No one was around. I shook my head at the level of trust in this country.

Another stop farther down the road was Kviamyrarkambur, where we could see a glacier up close. The icebergs and chunks calved from the glacier were filled with blue, black and crystalline white, reflecting the ethereal mists of a thousand years.

Oh, look! Another glacier – Svinafellsjokull – this one, Jason walked out with me to the edge. Another site that we had practically to ourselves, which was quite nice.

Skaftafell was our destination for the day, but when we got there, the parking lot was so full, we couldn’t park. We wandered up the road and found a secondary parking lot, and I got out to look at the posted map. I could get to Svartifoss (the black waterfall) from there, so I left Jason in the car to rest while I made the hike. It was only about a mile up, and not too difficult at all. Several historic places were nestled in the grasses along the way, including old sheep enclosures and farming crofts made of stone. Svartifoss was something of a disappointment. Perhaps I was getting jaded with waterfalls, but it seemed like a lot of climb for not much payoff. I was able to get above the waterfall and look down, but that was enough. I headed back down.

We decided to go back a bit further and visit the turf-roofed church and cottages we had seen on the way in the day before, but when we got there, the gate was closed and locked. Sigh. But yay for zoom lenses on cameras!

We went back to the guesthouse to rest, and Jason stretched out while I went to the restaurant for a light lunch. A smoked arctic char sandwich was tasty but messy. It had hard-boiled, sliced eggs and a remoulade sauce, and the bread was about an inch thick. Homemade, but dense and chewy.

I continued on to Jokulsarlon again, determined to get my much-anticipated boat tour. I had a couple of choices. The moon-vehicle tour (an amphibious bus) which hung mostly around the mouth of the lagoon, or the zodiac boat tour that went to the head of the glacier. I chose the latter. They give you a full body suit in dayglo colors. I felt like I was the Michelin man, or perhaps the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man, ready to wreak destruction upon Manhattan.

While my camera kept misting up, I was able to get quite a lot of happy shots. We sped to the glacier (about 15 minutes at high speed?) and then came back in slow stages, to look at individual icebergs.

When I returned to fetch Jason, he was well rested and ready for dinner. Rather than go once again to the restaurant across the street, we decided to head up to Hofn, a town of some size north of us. We saw several people pulled to the side of the road at one point, and realized why. Reindeer! A herd of about 20 reindeer were pretty close to the road, munching on grass, and we all got out to take photos of the graceful, tasty beasts.

We wandered through Hofn, and finally decided to eat at a place called Vikin, a restaurant/sports bar. The place was about dead when we arrived, with two other couples quietly eating. The waiter took our orders for a lobster sandwich and steak, when about fifty people came in. Once again, we arrived before the rush, yay! I ordered apple cider, and got apple juice – oops! Ah, well. The food was tasty enough, but not our favorite.

One thing I’ve noted about Icelandic vehicles – they LOVE big tires. We’re talking serious monster-truck tires, here. A normal conversion van, or even a station wagon, with ginormous tires – hilarious, but probably quite practical in the winter on icy F-roads.

Also, so many hitchhikers. I’ve seen about 30 hitchhikers so far. That’s 10 times more than I’ve seen in my life before. A much more trusting society. Evidently not a lot of axe-murderers in the land of the midnight sun.

We passed one guy several times today and yesterday, who was jogging along Route 1 pushing a plastic-covered baby carriage. We decided he must just be a practical backpacker who would rather push his pack than carry it. Smart man! If we see him again, we’ll be impressed, as we’re heading north tomorrow.
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 11:15 AM
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Whoops, missed the date on the above entry - Friday, July 24th
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 11:46 AM
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What a great trip you are having! I'm enjoying reading about your adventures.

I like your description of 2am in Iceland - blue velvet twilight. I woke up at 1 am when I was in Reykjavik to see what it looked like outside at that hour. Your description is perfect!
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 12:06 PM
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Thanks!

When I was in Edinburgh about three days before summer solstice, I looked out at midnight. It was just a bit lighter, definitely twilight. And I woke up on solstice in Orkney, and it was even lighter than that. Weird!
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 12:32 PM
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You were there for a solstice, and I was there for the eclipse: can't say Iceland doesn't offer some very interesting sky watching!

The first time I saw an unattended baby stroller on the street in Reykjavik, my jaw dropped. By the end, I barely noticed. The casual, friendly, trusting atmosphere is so strange compared to my usual NYC helping of paranoia and side eye, but is such a wonderful breath of fresh air.
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 12:51 PM
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Having grown up in Miami, I totally understand! I live in Amish country now, and am still in the habit of locking my car door every single time I leave. It's a hard habit to break
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 02:35 PM
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great descriptions, GD and you were so adventurous - much more than we were - venturing onto all those F roads. and you're right about those trucks and cars with big tyres - we saw some that were enormous!

one thing that strikes me is the number of crowds you found - far more than we ever saw about 8 years ago. i wonder if Iceland is becoming more popular?
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Old Aug 6th, 2015, 04:45 PM
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What an amazing trip, and a wonderful trip report. Thanks for all the details. We'll be there next year, but not in a 4x4, so we'll try a 'big tires jeep' tour in Landmannalaugar.

Ann, I think Iceland is already too popular. I booked the hotels for next July, and 2 of them were already fully booked for the days we wanted them.
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Old Aug 7th, 2015, 03:43 AM
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Annhig, there has been a very strong marketing campaign for Iceland tourism here in the US the last couple of years - ever since their recession hit. It's really increased the number of visitors. We don't see as many crowds when we head north, but the south coast big spots are definitely bursting! I was speaking to one Icelandic man about tourism, and he said the infrastructure hasn't been able to keep up with the crowds. Road quality, bathrooms, cafes, information centers, all are under siege, at least during the high season.
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Old Aug 7th, 2015, 03:44 AM
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xyz - one reason for the bookings being filled so quickly is that most places allow reservations without penalty for cancellation. Therefore, people book all over the place, but might cancel later. Keep trying the places you like - a room might open up. That's exactly what happened to me with Hlid Fisherman's Village - I finally got a second night about a week before we traveled.
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Old Aug 7th, 2015, 03:59 AM
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Even I felt like there were too many tourists in the major areas (Golden Circle and south coast) - and I went in March, which is not high season. But the seasonality approach to Iceland also seems to be shrinking: many of my guides were commenting on how winter tourism is increasingly popular and not far off from summer tourism highs.

Some stats on Icelandic tourism, and the tipping point, from this website (link is here, but I copied/pasted for those who don't want to click external links)

http://icelandreview.com/news/2015/0...rists-too-many

"On an average day, there are 26,000 tourists in Iceland, or 7.2 percent of the country’s population of 329,101. During the summer months, the number of tourists equals up to one in five people in the country.

The percentage is much higher than any other large country. Tourists in Spain make up 2.2 percent of the population, in France 2.0 percent, and in Italy 1.3 percent. Of smaller European nations, Estonia has the highest percentage with 4.0 percent, a little more than half that which Iceland has. Ireland has 3.7 percent and Denmark 2.5 percent, according to a new report from Íslandsbanki about tourism in Iceland.

Last year was a record year for the Icelandic tourism industry with more than one million tourists visiting the country. The bank forecasts a 26 percent increase on that number this year."
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Old Aug 7th, 2015, 05:05 AM
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Wow. I knew it was high, but wow!
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Old Aug 7th, 2015, 06:45 AM
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GreenDragon,
Thanks - I'll check later, but I will make alternative arrangements anyway, just to be sure.
I hope you will post some of the 8900+ pictures. Just going through all of them to select the keepers sounds like a big job
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Old Aug 7th, 2015, 06:55 AM
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xyz - I will definitely be posting them, but have to go through them first!

July 25th, Saturday

Hengifoss
Namaskard Pass
Myvatn Nature Baths
Grjótagjá cavern
Dimmuborgir Lava Fields
Skútustaðagígar Pseudo Craters

Once again, 6:30am is our wakeup time. We decided not to wait an hour for breakfast at the restaurant, so got on the road, as it was going to be a very long travel day.

We drove up to Hofn once again, and looked for the reindeer again – but alas, they were sleeping it off somewhere else. We gassed up in Hofn, and got some sandwiches and cinnamon buns at the N1, and headed out. These were small cinnamon buns in a bag, and they weren’t as sweet as an American offering would be. We liked them a lot. They were addicting, like crack. This was not the last bag we bought on the trip. I think we had four in total!

Today was misty, soft weather, and we got a little rain later in the morning, but it turned brilliant by the afternoon. The mists were still strong while we were driving along the eastfjords, though. Not a lot of traffic was on the road this morning.

We have been following our route with a combination of GPS, my pre-printed googlemaps and the purchased atlas thus far. Today, they had an argument.

GPS wanted to continue on Route 1, up along a fjord before doubling back to go towards Egilsstadir, adding an hour to our already long route that day. My googlemaps showed a much shorter route on 939 over the mountains, on an F-road.

I should have listened to GPS.

We chose the mountain route, and went up along a rock and dirt road to the misty mountain tops. And up. And up some more. Very quickly, we could see nothing but mist and about 10 feet of dirt and rock road, along with a glimpse of the precipitous drop on one side of the road. It was very scary going, and I’m very glad Jason was at the wheel. We both had white knuckles for the half hour or so it took to drive across this pass.

When we finally got out of the mists, the landscape was gorgeous – green and snow vying for dominance in the now gentling landscape. Hundreds of tiny waterfalls graced the edges of vision, playing in the mists.

Once we met up with Route 1 once again, I took over driving, and Jason passed out. I don’t blame him. I took a lot of his low store of energy to navigate that pass without freaking out.

We drove through a rather varied terrain of stark mountains, lava fields, and occasional great vistas, but the frequent rains kept me from getting out and enjoying them. Eventually the rain went away and we approached the town of Egilsstadir. We found some Tiger Balm (called Tiger Balsam) for Jason’s back and legs, and I drove around the fjord while Jason rested some more. This was for a waterfall called Hengifoss, and I shouldn’t have bothered. It was another long hike up, and I just wasn’t up for such a thing at this point. There were dozens of tourists already there, though it looked lovely from what I could tell. I was getting to the point where it needed to have some great payoff for a great hike.

Another two hours’ drive and we came to Namaskard Pass. I could tell we were approaching, as the hot springs on the flanks of the pass were spouting great clouds of steam. We were too tired to check them out at this point. We passed by Myvatn Nature Baths and a teal lake. We went to Reykjahlid to gas up and use the facilities. When I got back into my car, it wouldn’t start.

About this time, I was cursing the rental company. Two cars in one week? Seriously? I wiggled the steering wheel, checked the 4WD buttons, did whatever I could think of. Not even a click. Then Jason put the car into neutral and back into park, and it worked. No idea why, or what triggered the lock, but it happened about a dozen times throughout the trip after that. At least we knew how to fix it.

We went to our next scheduled destination, Grjogagta, an cave with a hot spring that had been used in the filming of Game of Thrones, the cavern where Jon Snow and Ygritte first got together. We walked down into one of the entrances, but it was very difficult to climb, especially with kids scampering around through it. I went down a bit, got some photos, and had to come out. Jason stayed in a bit longer. It was cool, but a bit underwhelming.

We looked up at the giant crater next to us, Hverfjall, rising like a black wall against the sky – and said nope! Not climbing that. We could see people walking along the edge, and the long trip up. Nope, nope. It’s 1km across and 420 meters high (1400 ft). Nope, nope.

Instead, we went on to Dimmuborgir, another filming location for Game of Thrones, the site of Mance Rayder’s camp north of the wall. This was a surrealistic landscape of fantastic lava formations and natural sculptures. I wanted to go walk and explore, but we needed food first. We went into the café, and had some excellent Icelandic meat soup and espresso. It was even better than the last one!

Jason rested on the patio, in the now sunny skies, while I explored the area. It was very interesting to see the different formations, like violent waves frozen in time. You could see demonic faces and tortured screams in some of the rocks. Or I just have a morbid imagination! This part wasn’t too crowded. A couple of families wandering around, but not at all glutted.

Upon exiting, I saw a sign for a local folk singer, performing that evening at the café. Anna Jonsdottir. I took a photo in case Jason wanted to come later – our guesthouse for the night was about an hour away, so I am thinking he won’t, but just in case.

We stopped for a scenic view sign at Höfði, and took in a very green mossy lake and a great view across Lake Myvatn, after a short hike up the hill. Then on to Skutustadir, with a set of pseudo-craters. They look like volcanic craters, but they formed when hot lava crossed over a swamp or pond, causing an explosion of steam through the lava. The explosive gases form a crater-like feature. They were interesting, but again crawling with people. I took a couple photos, but opted to get back on the road. We were still an hour from our night’s lodging, and Jason was still pretty much out of it.

Lake Myvatn is ‘Midge Lake’, when translated. There were midges, but not the sort I remember from Scotland. They were larger, for one, and didn’t bite, which was the pleasant surprise. They did swarm, though, and get into your eyes and mouth. It wasn’t a huge bother. No worse than I’ve seen in other places. And the not-biting part was lovely! Especially since it was a warm, sunny, still day.

When we finally found our night’s lodging at Langavatn & Klambrasel, we discovered it was actually two different properties, about a kilometer apart. We went to Klambrasel first, as that was the one the GPS found. I knocked on the door, but the woman who answered (who didn’t seem to speak much English) said I should go to Langavatn, as I wasn’t on her list (she showed me a hand-written list of very Icelandic names). No worries, we trucked on down the road to Langavatn.

Langavatn is on the side of a green hill, which opened out into a lush valley and next to a long lake (which is what Langavatn translates into). There is a small bridge over a stream, and two horses on the property. The Hostess, Clarissa, was very sweet, and showed us around the place. A huge dining hall, all recently renovated in wood and glass, two downstairs bathrooms, and our room upstairs.

The place was fantastic – until the room.

Now, I knew going into Iceland that rooms are not luxurious, and no B&B rooms in Europe would be considered large by American standards. But this place was tiny. The room was about 8X10, with a 3X3 chunk taken out by the stairs in one corner. That left little room for the two twin beds and small nightstand. No room for anything else, like luggage or clothes. Or even shoes. Or a purse! We got a little room back by pushing the beds together, but even that didn’t work well – one was longer than the other, and wouldn’t fit into the gap made from that 3X3 chunk, so it was sort of diagonal, but not much. Also, the beds were much harder than we like.

Still, the rest of the place was fantastic, and it was truly out in the middle of nowhere, which was nice after the crowds of the day. The place served dinner, but they needed advanced notice, so we got settled in and drove up to Husavik, which is only about 20 minutes north of our place.

My eggs were achy from driving on cruise control most of the day, but looking forward to a nice, hot dinner kept me going. Husavik is a largish fishing town, and we were confused with the ticky-tacky day-glo items everywhere. One section of town had lime-green things posted everywhere – flags, Shrek, Kermit the Frog, other random frogs, whatever they could put. Then there was an orange section, and then a bright pink one. We decided it must be a local festival or something. I’m certain that, after months of white winter, a little day-glo color must be welcomed!

It was very crowded on the docks, because it was indeed a local festival. There were amusement park rides, vendor trucks, kiosks, temporary tattoos, candy floss (cotton candy), etc. From what we were told, it was a Home Festival. Each area had a color, and you showed your pride for your area. So people were dressed in eye-blinding colors all over the place.

We went to a seafood restaurant near the docks, but they had no meat soup, and Jason was craving it again. We went up the road to Gamli Baukur, and they had meat soup! When we finally got the hosts attention (about 10 minutes of wait staff walking by and ignoring anyone waiting at the door), we had to wait a while for a table, but got some drinks while we waited. They had Kopparberg cider (naked apple, pear and wildberry), which I’ve tried before (pear in Scotland), so I ordered a naked apple. Jason had another stout beer, not as good as Lava.

The place was decorated in wood, like the interior of a ship. Lovely carvings everywhere. We went outside on the patio to wait. A drone flew by. Seriously!

When we finally did get in, and ordered the meat soup and salted cod, we were delighted .The salted cod was amazing! Pan fried with a barley risotto, sun-dried tomatoes and an olive tepanade. So many lovely flavors. I got a second Kopparberg, this time wildberry. Yum! Jason’s meat soup wasn’t as good as at the little café in Dimmuborgir, but still tasty.

We wandered around outside after dinner. The docks were crowded, and we were having fun people-watching. We saw one food cart advertising ‘Krap!’ – which is evidently a slushie. Another cart was selling waffles with dozens of different toppings.

When we went back to our guesthouse, we had to stop to admire and take photographs, as the sun was setting into the clouds over the mountains across the bay. It was stunning, even magical.
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