Tuesday, November 20, 2012

October 18th: Essential Iceland

We woke up the next morning, grabbed breakfast at the hotel, and layered on our warmest clothes. Since we weren't flying out until the next morning, we were going to spend the day doing an Essential Iceland superjeep tour! Shortly after breakfast our driver picked us up in a jeep with HUGE tires; after picking up a couple more people, we left the city and headed north.

Our first stop was Thingvellir (or Þingvellir, if you want to be really Icelandic). We stopped here briefly last year, but this time we actually got to walk around a bit and got a much better view.

The jeep driver pointed out a parking lot at the far end of the trail and said he'd meet us there when we were done, so we had a bit of time to wander around and get a better look at some of the scenery. Since there were only six of us, we could pretty much set our own pace - much more fun than last year's bus tour!

We eventually made our way down to Law Rock (Lögberg). Parliament was established in Iceland in 930AD and Law Rock was where speeches and announcements were made. That rocky cliff toward the back is also the edge of the North American tectonic plate. Historical and geological...fancy!

There are a series of paths that spread out pretty far...maybe next time we'll get to check out some of the others.

Looking back at Law Rock.

We eventually made our way back to the jeep and hit the road. A quick stop to grab some coffee, hit the bathroom, and let some air out of the tires later, it was time to take advantage of having a superjeep!

The high point of Kaldidalur mountain pass. I was really glad we stopped when we did; the road was so bumpy and winding that I was starting to feel less than fantastic. We must have been driving for at least an hour; eventually there were no more trees or fields and all you could see were rocks and mountains.

The driver said that when he saw the pictures that the Mars rover took he thought they looked awfully familiar. The wind was blasting, it was somewhere around freezing, and the rocks and mountains just stretched on for miles. We hung out here for a few minutes, then hopped back in the jeep to thaw out again.

After a little while we rounded a bend and you could see Langjokull Glacier. Why check it out from a distance when...

...you can just drive right out onto it? We stopped and piled out of the jeep to get a closer look. It was WINDY and freezing!

A few more superjeeps were already there and had driven further up the glacier. Supposedly they know where it's safe to drive so that you don't break through and drop into a crevasse. The danger just makes it more fun, right?   :)

Our jeep and most of the people on our little tour. It was really nice to have such a small group; aside from me and Mark there was a couple from Japan, a guy from Germany, and a guy from Australia who had taken four months off to travel all over the world.

Now we're chilly buddies!

We didn't spend too long on the glacier since it was so cold.

After driving for a little longer we came up to a small river. Rather than follow the road around to the bridge, the driver cut through and drove down to the bank...

...and took a shortcut. Why drive over the river when you can drive through it?   :)    Just out of the frame is a van that was doing a similar tour; our driver did a circle through the river to show off before crossing to the other side. The van had us beat though; when we turned around and looked back, it was climbing straight up the side of that triangular hill to the far left!

We drove a bit further past a few farms. It's amazing how sparsely populated Iceland is once you get away from Reykjavik.

We eventually stopped in the middle of a lava field. Our driver hopped right out and started walking, so we all followed him to...

...Surtshellir, an old lava tube. You can climb down a steep ladder into the start of the cave, so we all followed him and started picking our way down the rocks. At some point the ceiling caved in, but you could still see the marks on the walls from where the lava flowed. In the 10th century outcasts and bandits used to live in here and steal sheep from nearby farms.

This is part of what I like about foreign countries. There's no way you'd be able to hike down something this precarious and steep in the US without signing pages of waivers, but here it's just part of the normal tour and you don't realize until you're already partway in just how rocky it is. Good thing they told us to wear hiking boots!

The lava field stretched out for miles. It's crazy to think that just a little more than a thousand years ago this was all fire and molten rock.

After a short drive, we stopped at a small parking lot and the driver sent us down a path to check out Hraunfossar, a kind of crazy waterfall. The water flows through the rocks in the lava field and comes out of the sides of the rock wall.

I love how the water seems to appear out of nowhere.

Another waterfall, Barnafoss, is just down a short path. Its name means waterfall of the children, and it's called that because at some point in the past there was a natural bridge over the waterfall. Two children from a nearby farm fell off the bridge to their deaths and their mother had the bridge destroyed. Nothing but cheery stuff here!

After the waterfall we made a quick stop at Deildartunguhver, the highest flow hot spring in Europe. The water comes out of the ground at 97 degrees C (206 F), so the warning signs aren't kidding when they say don't touch the water! The water gets piped to several towns and is used for heating.

So steamy.

The hot spring was the last stop on the tour, so we made our way back to Reykjavik and the driver dropped everyone off at their hotels. Mark and I were the last ones to get dropped off at the end of the tour, so we asked the driver to let us out in front of Hallgrimskirkja so we could grab lunch/dinner in Reykjavik and save the walk back from the hotel.

Looking up the street in Reykjavik toward Hallgrimskirkja. We walked back down to a restaurant that we ate at last year...much tastier than eating the bus stop sandwich we had brought along for the tour!

Mark and I eventually wandered back to the hotel, got cleaned up and repacked our bags for the next day. We had to go to bed pretty early to catch our flight the next morning, but we figured we might as well enjoy our last night in Iceland so we grabbed some drinks and dessert from the restaurant downstairs.

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