Travel Journal Archives: Iceland and Beyond: Days 5 and 6

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017, East Fjords:

On the bus again that morning, headed east, we finally glimpsed blue skies.

There's nothing like the flat marsh lands that abruptly meet the dramatic incline of the mountains.

I wrote, or tried to write in my journal while on the road: Iceland, you and your unapologetic weather and your many environments and landscapes of diverse color and terrain; you and your risk and your hearty yet pleasant locals...you've already left me spellbound.

First on the agenda, we stopped at Djupivogur, better known as The Eggs of Merry Bay, due to the row of 34 eggs of artwork, leading to a small harbor with beyond amazing views of the southeastern fjords.

Once Stone parked the bus, I was first to head straight out into the sunshine down to the pier.

I then decided to climb up a small rock face, cutting my fingertip in the process, in order to get to higher ground above the water.

After I struggled up there, of course, I realized the others had found an easier, albeit longer, way up, that didn't require bloody fingers.

Oh well. I had band-aids.
I seemed to scare Clive quite a bit with my knack for sitting and standing "too" close, or hanging my feet over the edge of cliffs, that day in particular.

I just can't help but want the best view possible. I didn't want to get home, look at my photos, and wish I'd taken just a few more, or gotten just another angle.

By this point, we were all just handing each other our phones or cameras.

Half of the time we didn't even use words; it was a mutual understanding.

Gone were the super polite requests and the shy smiles, and I liked it that way.



The morning air was cool, just like an ocean breeze should be, but the sunshine was warm.

Even though we were right along the bay, we all agreed the smell was sweet instead of fishy or stale, like you'd expect it to be.

After marveling and chatting some more, we drove over to the historic hotel and restaurant for an early lunch.
If Icelanders know how to cook anything consistently well, it's soup. Really, and how could you go wrong with a steamy, nutritious bowl in a country like this?

We all sat outside on the deck, shedding some of our layers, as the happy guests to enjoy the first spoonfuls of the sweet potato soup and dense bread they served us.

Yes, mostly-gluten-free me did give in a bit to the bread this once. If you're wondering, I lived. I know my limit.

As much as we filled our bellies with soup and bread, we also filled it with laughter.

We didn't have to talk--we were all comfortable in silence if it happened to fall upon us, but finding things to talk and laugh about was never a difficult task, either.

"Does it always work like this?" I asked Stone. "Is every tour group kind of the same, where they might be quiet at first but then end up a fun family along the journey?"

"No. Not always," was Stone's only reply, and I suppose it was enough for me.

We had only drove a little ways up the main road when Stone took a turn in what seemed to be a split second decision.


"We are doing well on time, thanks to the weather, so maybe we can see another waterfall for a few minutes."

Chyeah, why not?

So, I don't know what this one was called, since it wasn't on the original agenda. I think one of us asked and then we all immediately forgot, because Icelandic ain't for sissies.

Didn't matter. The view was gorgeous, like every other waterfall, but at the same time, not like any other waterfall.

I remember one time during our cruise through Norway, I overheard someone say, "you see one or two waterfalls, and they all start to look the same."

Nothing could be further from the truth, for me.

The best part about this one was the pathetic wire fence that had clearly been permanently bent enough that even short-legged, skirt-clad me could step over it easily.

Fences and signs are more like guidelines, Stone more or less said with a shrug.

I asked another time, in all seriousness, if park rangers existed in Iceland. If they did, I couldn't recall seeing one yet.

The answer? Sure, they're out there. But the land is so wild and vast, it would be impossible to keep every natural wonder under surveillance.

Thus, you really are at your own risk. Fences, loose chains or ropes, and signs might be put up for caution, but crossing or ignoring them doesn't necessarily mean you'd break a law or be fined for it.


On the road again, I noticed we were beginning to gain elevation, heading directly into the mountains.

I walked as quickly and steadily as I could down the aisle to plop myself into the booster seat at the front of the bus, right next to the sliding door.

Mostly, I wanted a better view of the pass we were clearly about to drive through, along with what seemed like thousands of runoff streams glistening down the steep slopes and jagged rock faces.

But, I also didn't want to take the chance of feeling nauseous on what might become a twisting, windy road.

There was a bit of midday fog still captured in the highest cliffs, but mostly the way was clear.

Stone drove cautiously, dodging as many potholes as possible.

After about an hour, we began to descend and, once again, the landscape on the other side was vastly different than all the others we had observed so far.

The land on both sides of the road reminded me of plains, or even the high desert of northern Arizona.

We drove by dry grass and farm fields, and, for the first time on the island, we saw some slender trees along the bank of a lake.

Stone announced that trees do not easily grow in Iceland. It is believed that, upon their arrival, the first Vikings cut down all the trees for their uses, and didn't replant or reseed them very well.

"So if you are ever lost in a forest in Iceland, just stand up," Stone joked.

Litlanesfoss
The trees weren't plenteous, though, and just as soon as we'd seen them, we drove out of them and into open country again.

At last, we came to a stop off the Highway 1 to stretch our stiff limbs and take a hike to Iceland's 2nd tallest waterfall.

The hike itself is probably only 3 miles round-trip, but it's a carb-killer for sure, especially if you've been sedentary in a car for a few hours.

Not far from the main path there is a rocky drop-off and overlook (with no signs or fences) of a smaller waterfall, apparently called Litlanesfoss, thanks to this blog.

From all the rain the country had been getting the past few days, the water below appeared quite mucky and full of sediment, but the roar of it through the canyon was still exhilarating.

According to the rest of the group, I hiked to Hengifoss rather swiftly.

I didn't think I was fast. Nor was I trying to be the first to the top. I really don't think it's because I'm in amazing shape, either.

I mean, yeah, I work out, and thanks to boxing my endurance is much better than ever, but that doesn't mean my calves weren't burning something fierce up that steep trail.

I've just always had a quick pace.

Whether I'm walking in a mall or a place like Disneyland, weaving my way through a crowd of shufflers, or on a "leisurely" hike, I naturally walk fast.

I don't think that means I rush experiences, though. I always take in the beauty of my surroundings and snap an adequate amount of pictures.

I guess I just do it quicker than others, even more so when I have a goal in mind.

Although it had been super breezy on the hike, the sun was warm enough, and I had exercised hard enough, that I was wishing I'd peeled off a few layers before I'd started.

Such a contrast from just 2 days prior.

Stone and I were, in fact, the first of our group to reach the end of the trail.

Or, at least where the trail now ended, as a large portion of it had been washed away from excess rain, and the smaller waterfall to the left had expanded into something more raging.

Normally, visitors are able to get right up close and personal with Hengifoss, and stand near the base of it.

However, unless I was willing to jump across the tumultuous runoff, where we could hear rocks and boulders occasionally crashing above, or wade barefoot through the slippery, shallow river below, taking the long way around and hoping for an opportunity to climb up again to the continued trail, I was unlikely to be greeted by the mist of Hengifoss.


I came exceedingly close to being truly irresponsible for once in my life, staring at my options.

I really wanted to have a heart-to-heart with the large waterfall on the other side.

With Stone's assistance in offering a hand, I really did try to jump across the rapids.

But after succeeding to make it over the first one, and not without barely splashing the bank, the next was even wider and more treacherous.

I really couldn't risk my camera, not to mention my life, since missing the other side could mean a 40 foot plummet over a small falls and onto the rocks below. These little falls, seen above in the bottom of the picture, look like nothing compared to the massive 400 foot flow of Hengifoss behind it.

Nevertheless, reasoning and logic took over after all, and I decided to jump back across to safety and do some exploring along the muddy river banks below instead.

Sue, a solo traveler from Singapore, and I began the downhill hike together, chatting about the different places we'd both been or wanted to go next.

Walking back was, of course, much easier than going up, but I noticed on the way down how uneven and barely existent the path actually was.

I suppose winter weather and increased foot traffic was to blame.

Unlike hiking in Arizona, though, there was no real threat to wandering off the path in regards to creepy crawly creatures.

That's right, besides a skittish arctic fox or a very rare, lost polar bear who has drifted from Greenland too far, there are no harmful animals or insects in Iceland.

That link will tell you: Iceland has no snakes, few spiders--all of which are non-poisonous--and there is no need to worry about mosquitoes.

Are you beginning to see why I fell in love with this country?

Just a few miles down the road and we arrived, early evening, to our hostel, where we were requested to promptly remove our shoes at all times while inside.

The owners are a married couple who hardly speak English, but boy, does she make a mean lamb burger.

These people know what tradition is, and to say they're proud of their heritage is an understatement. Through the historical narrative the older gentleman gave around the dinner table, as Stone translated for us all sitting happily barefoot or in our socks, we about felt as passionately patriotic and environmentally responsible for his land as he did.

As the weather had most definitely cleared, we all became more hopeful for the chance to witness the Northern Lights on display at nighttime.

However, with it staying light so late, and the temperature not being cold enough, we were unlucky for the duration of the trip.

Just another reason for me to go back, I suppose.

Bummer.


Thursday, May 4th, 2017, Lake Myvatn to Akureryi:

The Fourth was definitely with us this day.

I know it really isn't fair to try to pick a favorite day--just like a teacher should never admit to having a favorite student--but if I had to narrow it down, I'd probably say this was the day.


After an included, well-spread breakfast at the hostel, our first stop was brief, to take a look over the wide valley of Modrudalur, where the morning sun cast pink hues across the earth all the way to craters and mountains still capped with snow in the distance.

Next, we piled out, ready for another pair of powerful waterfalls--one of them declared the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe, actually.

Selfoss and Dettifoss were just a short distance apart from each other, but it took considerable time to get to each.

The ground here was still covered in inches of melting snow and ice, which also meant muddy puddles and volcanic slush to avoid.

I tread nimbly from one sturdy looking surface to the next until my feet landed on dry stone and I looked up to see what my ears already heard.

The rushing waters of Selfoss were unceasing, and cascaded all along the wide mouth of the cliff wherever it could find an opening.

This one was easy to get close to, but we definitely needed to watch our steps. Erosion was occurring in several spots along the edge, and some rocks looked likely to give way at any time.

I enjoyed the fact that hardly anyone was at these falls, but I also knew that it was because Dettifoss, a short distance away but out of sight at the moment, was definitely more popular.

And not without reason, I discovered.

Although the color of the water was a grey-brown, filthy from the rain earlier that week, Dettifoss' surging roar was still quite captivating.

However, due to lingering ice, the path that normally leads all the way down to where one can get a level eye with the falls, was closed off.

I probably could have stepped over the rope, just as I'd seen a man, with a baby on his back, do in front of me.

To be quite honest, I had worn the wrong shoes that day. My faux-leather brown boots were slick on the bottoms with practically no traction.

So I settled for sharing the high viewpoint with a good 30 other tourists and chatted with Stone and the two Korean sisters, from Toronto, also on our tour.

Just as we were ready to turn back, however, Stone made a surprised gesture, drawing our attention once again to the falls.

As if attempting to make up for my disappointment of not being closer, a bright, beautiful rainbow shown out from the mist (get it) of the falls.

I couldn't help but feel reassured, reminded that God was still with me, watching over me, and happy to show me some of His best handiwork.

The tentative walking, or hopping, back to the bus seemed much longer than it had seemed on the way in.

By the time we got back to the parking lot, I was sweating.

I am very glad I thought to bring my water bladder along on this trip. It was super easy to pack with me, since I could twist it up tightly and stick it in a side pocket. And with the regular tap water being so wonderful everywhere in Iceland, I was able to fill it up every day and keep it in the shelf above my seat, where I could conveniently pull the hose down for a drink.

I'd also managed to pack a bunch of snacks for the week, like Kind bars and jerky, knowing food would be expensive, like everything else.

But I had bought other stuff along the way to keep at my seat, including a bag of chocolate covered black licorice bites.

You're probably like the majority of the world who think black licorice should be exterminated, but I love the stuff.

Clearly Iceland has a mutual respect for it too, because it's in every store. Before going on the trip, I'd even heard I could find a licorice latte, and had been on the lookout all week.

Unfortunately, I had temporarily forgotten that licorice is made with wheat flour (I know, go figure), so I had to put an end to that snacking habit abruptly before my stomach made me hate myself.



If we hadn't realized we literally tread over the top of massive calderas all over the entire island by now, it definitely sunk in when we arrived at...however you pronounce the sign on the right.

This was a big hot spot, literally--geysers and bubbling mud pits and sulfuric steam vents littered this place.

Apparently this was also one of many locations on Iceland where the newer Star Wars scenes were filmed.

In fact, there were multiple movies and shows and documentaries Stone mentioned that had been filmed in different scenic spots all along our tour.

But if I didn't already know that this location was in Iceland, I'd never guess judging by the pictures.







Right?

I felt like I was suddenly transported to Jordan or the Sahara, or maybe even Mars; it was totally unlike anything we'd seen yet, even though I have seen hot springs before.

Then again, Iceland had a way of surprising me, multiple times a day.

Beautiful really isn't the word for this location, but otherworldly and diverse and fascinating come pretty close.

Not going to lie, though, the rotten egg smell was so overwhelming I was glad we left when we did, as I was on the verge of getting a headache.


I was really feeling exceptionally independent this day, for no particular reason.

I don't think I acted any different--still chatted with my fellow tourists here and there and yet happily took off on my own with my camera, too. Somehow, subconsciously, I just felt more present, and absolutely confident.

Our next stop was the Myvatn Nature Baths, which is much like the Blue Lagoon, just in the northeast of Iceland. I wasn't going to get in, though, and was really just wanting food and a short time to just sit and reflect.

So, I did just that. I picked up a $5 plate of smoked trout from the little cafeteria, and headed to a table outside in the sun. There, I put in my headphones, promptly removed my boots and propped up my bare feet on another chair to air out and get some Vitamin D.

Some of the others who also didn't want to swim ended up staying indoors, I guess.

You'd think since Phoenix has about 320 days of sunshine per year I'd be hiding from it, too, but with the air so mild and refreshing, it was the perfect balance.

Stone actually came outside to join me. Naturally, Icelanders take full advantage of mild, sunny days when they have them.

Not far from us sat three other Americans, close to my age, and for reasons I can't recall now, we eventually ended up chatting quite a bit with one of the guys.

From Kentucky, I think, he and the other two were in medical school together. Aside from ranting a bit about Trump, as most Americans apparently seem obligated to do while in a foreign country, our chat was friendly, and he was apologetic to Stone on behalf of other American tourists he knew gave the rest of us a bad rap while visiting his country.

Well said, whatever his name was.


Moving on, we stopped only a bit at a small cave with a crystal blue pool inside of it, then continued on to Dimmuborgir lava fields for a nature hike.

This was probably one of the only times Stone actually told us to stay close and follow him.

The area had many twists and turns and various paths, so it was easy to get lost.

And, put plainly, ain't nobody had time for that.


Volcanic rock was everywhere, sculpted into all kinds of interesting shapes.

Experts say that over 2,000 years ago, a lava tube collapsed, pouring lava into a small lake nearby.

Over time, the lava sunk into or around the empty places or land masses beneath the water's surface. Once the water had dissipated into the atmosphere after being boiled by the mass of lava, the molten pillars were all that were left standing as we see today.

The next stop on the agenda was highly anticipated. I'd seen this waterfall on Pinterest and Instagram so many times, I was excited to behold it with my own eyes, at last, hoping it really was just as spectacular in real life.

Short answer: it was.


The time was around Golden Hour, where the lighting was soft and glowing.

Godafoss, or waterfall of the gods as it is known in English, thundered its welcome to me.

Supposedly, the name was given to it after a previously heathen priest accepted Christianity and acted upon this declaration by throwing the idols of his gods over these falls.



















You wouldn't know it from the pictures, but there was a good chunk of other tourists here.

A few of them were bold enough to wade out barefoot onto the slippery rocks at the very top of the falls "for the 'Gram!" of course.

But I can't judge too much, or I'd be a hypocrite, since I spent a fair share of my time hanging over the edge as well.

Taken and sent over by Clive and Fiona :)
I let my hair down here, literally and figuratively. There was something both soothing and freeing at Godafoss, and it was hard to turn my back on it.

We took a group picture here as well, but I think it was on Clive's camera and they still haven't shared it with us all  finally sent it to us!

There we all are...including Stone's hand.



Lamb Inn and the view behind it

I don't remember how much time was spent driving between places. Some distances felt longer than others but may not have been, necessarily.

The views down into Akureyri kept my eyes awake and enraptured, as the soft sunlight sent a dust of gold upon the towering mountains, green hills and sparkling fjords between them.

Of course, this also made it hard to get a substantial picture through the window panes, as well, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

Our place to sleep for the evening was a quaint and homey place called the Lamb Inn, which is an old farmhouse on the outskirts of the town.

They raise lambs in the pastures behind the house, and all of us girls were fawning over the little babies shyly peeking at us behind their mothers' bums.

Once we all realized that these same lambs were likely on the menu for the hotel's restaurant, though, we were happy to get back on the bus and head into town to find dinner.

Stone dropped us off at a central location saying to meet back in a couple hours.

At first, we all headed off toward the same direction, searching for good grub with our noses in the air.

However, Stone had told me where it was possible to find my coveted licorice (lakkris in Icelandic) latte, at a local bookstore very similar to Barnes and Noble, so I made that my first goal.

You guys. YOU GUYS.

I took my first sip and instantly wanted to order another one.

I'm bound and determined to find a way to make this delicious beverage at home; it'll happen. And then I'll make everyone I know try it before they diss it.
Anyway, when I came out of the shop I didn't spot any of my fellow tour mates, so I shrugged and headed out to explore the city by foot with my camera and coffee in tow.

First stop was the church at the top of a huge flight of stairs that could be seen from the main street we were dropped off at.

From there, I really just followed my curiosity, now fueled by caffeine, wherever it lead me.

I walked downhill by little shops; overhearing a raucous of applause at the conclusion of a live performance inside a hole in the wall bar, I smiled to myself.

For not being a lover of city life, by first nature, I really liked the overall feel for this one.

It's the right mix of quirky and sophisticated, charming yet modern, with little personable touches scattered everywhere.

Red streetlights are in the shape of hearts instead of circles--click that link to read why.

Urban art and rugged graffiti walls greeted me on almost every turn.

Some were so cool I couldn't stand it and decided to get creative with the self-timer on my cell phone to take some artsy-fartsy angles.

This took much longer than it should have, but it was a blast nonetheless.

I found myself not caring one bit if the locals came by, seeing a silly, shameless tourist being, well a silly, shameless, selfie-taking tourist.








In fact, I ended up making a couple of "friends" while in the middle of my photo shoot.

There's an alleyway covered in probably 50 or more layers of graffiti, with a shabby hideout in the middle of it.

At one point two teenage girls came walking through there, exploring the ruins as well, though they seemed much more familiar with it than I did.

"Hallo!" they both chimed at me, to which I reciprocated. I watched them, with a little concern, as they climbed up to the roof or whatever it was above us, helping each other up with giddy giggles, and couldn't help but laugh myself and take a few pictures.

When they seemed to have their fill of the thrill and came down to depart, they looked back at me waving, "Bye-bye! We are good friends now, okay?"

And it was about that time my stomach gave me a growl to say I'd better find dinner for it soon, or else.

In all honesty, I always crave sushi.

But this week the hankering was extra urgent for some reason, and I decided to try to satisfy it at the Sushi Corner I'd seen earlier that evening.

I walked through the cracked-open front door and sat down on a high stool where the sushi plates came rotating by on a magnetic tract.

Right when I was getting comfortable the manager came up and let me know they had actually just closed.

But when I apologized and started to grab my purse to leave he urged me to stay and enjoy as much as I wanted, as there was plenty left and he'd rather me eat it than have it all go to waste.

He left a large carafe of fresh water at the table along with wasabi, soy sauce, and chopsticks and I started realizing just how hungry I was after such a long day.

The only other guests in the restaurant were getting up to leave as I began snatching colored plates to place in front of me, so after he'd locked the door behind them he turned to me and told me to take as much time as I wanted since they had plenty to do anyway.

Including, apparently, a dance off between the chef and dishwasher.

The cook changed the restaurant music to classic 80's songs, and I couldn't help but chuckle to myself.

I guess even Icelanders aren't immune to American hits.

When I finally felt full, and on the verge of gluttony, I went up to the register to pay.

To my surprise, the young manager told me he was giving me a 30% discount because they didn't make "new plates" and I didn't get "full service."

God sends us angels in disguise from time to time, I was reminded.

When he assumed I was living in Akureyri for the summer because he'd thought for sure he'd seen me in the restaurant before, I found I was almost flattered, for not automatically being dubbed a tourist, I guess.

Funny thing is, though, I sort of felt the same way about him, like I'd seen him before.

Who knows, we all have doppelgangers out in the wide world, so they say. Or, maybe he really was an angel.


On the way back to the inn that evening, at dusk, though it was after 9 PM already, I couldn't help but silently wish I did live up there in the summer, instead of only playing tourist for a couple of hours.

From its stunning stretches of pastures surrounded by a shield of mountains basking in a sunset glow that lasted after midnight, to its friendly locals and upbeat city streets and eats, Akureyri definitely deserved another day to be explored and enjoyed for all it has to offer.


I spent that evening up until 1 or 2 in the morning, writing and reflecting in the comfy leather chairs outside mine and Janice's room.

Maybe I was still partially wired from drinking coffee so late.

But I think it is more likely that the day's variety of experiences left my brain swarming with too many thoughts that would have kept me awake for hours had I not written them out.

I crawled into bed later, dreaming peacefully about my next cup of licorice latte.


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