Driving Iceland: Part 4

As I threw my legs over the side of the bed on the morning of Tuesday, August the 27th, I knew that I was in trouble. The climb on Stori-Dimon the day before had nearly hobbled me, and Blondie wasn’t faring much better as she moaned and stood slowly to stretch next to the bed. Our moods matched the soreness of our muscles as we limped into the main dining room where fifty or so non-sore tourists were enjoying their breakfast – we loathed them and cursed their good health. Luckily for everyone involved the food and restorative effects of good coffee brought us down from our homicidal perch and sent us forth onto the highway in good spirits. This was to be a simple day – Take a thousand pictures, walk on a glacier, silently ridicule tourists, see some icebergs, then go to bed.

The theme for the today was Ice. Click Any Pic to Enlarge.

The theme for the today was Ice. Click Any Pic to Enlarge.

Just another roadside waterfall, you know, no big deal.

Just another roadside waterfall, you know, no big deal.

Damn fine view by Blondie.

Damn fine view by Blondie.

At this point we had already taken fifty photos and we weren't further than 5 kilometers from our starting point.

At this point we had already taken fifty photos and we weren’t further than 5 kilometers from our starting point.

The road north to Vatnajökull.

The road north to Vatnajökull.

North of Efri-Vik the landscape changes from cliffs and lava fields into the wide floodplain of Skeiðarársandur. Glacial rivers, light brown with silt, flow fast from the Vatnajökull Ice Cap past the bones of bridges that were caught short by one of the catastrophic floods caused by the eruption of Grímsvötn and its neighboring volcanoes. The bridges in this section are long and have only a single lane with small pull-outs for oncoming traffic – crossing them is a bit stressful especially when meeting oncoming trucks, but there is no use building two lane bridges when they’re just going to be washed away within a few years.

A wide expanse of lava gravel with the glacier Skeiðarárjökull in the background.

A wide expanse of lava gravel and moss with the glacier Skeiðarárjökull in the background.

The twisted remnants.

The twisted remnants.

By the time we reached the park headquarters at Skaftafell we had just missed the bus to go on one of the more advanced hikes. We settled on a shorter two-hour trip that was more suited for families and kids (ech, kids), and wasted the time we had before the tour departed by walking down to take a look at the Skaftafell glacier. Just before departure we were sized up for crampons, given an ice axe, and loaded onto a school bus that once faithfully served the Petersburg, VA school district. I like kids and I enjoy horsing around as much as the next guy but if you give an eight year old an ice axe I will show you an ice-axe murderer. We had two such little devils walking on the ice with us and there wasn’t a single minute during the walk that one of them wasn’t hacking away with the fury that only an eight year old can muster when given a dangerous weapon. One of them was there with his mother, an icy German woman with hate in her eyes, and they would elbow and budge and walk off the trail just so they could be the ones walking right behind the guide. Of course we did our best to get in their way and frustrate their attempts at being the guide’s pet, but we finally called it off when the little shit went for a dirty pass causing me to stop short and accidentally rap Blondie on the knee with the business end of my ice axe – Single mom and son – 1, PMO and Blondie – 0. The tour itself was great though and the guide and his trainee daughter were funny and quite smart. I have always had sort of a man crush on anyone who could make their living by being a guide, be it on glaciers, rivers, or somewhere in the backcountry. Our particular tour was on one of the many spur glaciers leading down from the peak of Öræfajökull. It wasn’t a particularly active glacier so we didn’t hear the creaks and cracks that fast-moving glaciers make, but it did not diminish the excitement we felt as we stomped around clumsily on our crampons. We were shown some large crevasses and a very deep moulin that gave everyone who peered over the edge the creeps because if you fell in there would be no way out until the ice thaws.

Strapped in and ready.

Strapped in and ready.

At the beginning of the summer they drilled a fifteen meter hole into the ice and dropped those poles down into it - since then over twelve meters of ice has melted, which is a drastic amount of wasting compared to the past. One only has to go to places like Iceland or Greenland to see how the climate is changing.

At the beginning of the summer they drilled a fifteen meter hole into the ice and dropped those poles down into it – since then over twelve meters of ice has melted, which is a drastic amount of wasting compared to years past. One only has to go to places like Iceland or Greenland to see how the climate is changing.

It was a beautiful day on the ice. As it turns out one doesn't need a guide to walk onto the glaciers but the crampons are a must.

It was a beautiful day on the ice. As it turns out one doesn’t need a guide to walk onto the glaciers but the crampons are a must.

View uphill to the ridge. If you enlarge the photo and look at the center you can just see the other group making their way up to the face.

View uphill to the ridge. If you enlarge the photo and look at the center you can just see the other group making their way up to the face.

I could spend all day on the ice.

I could spend all day on the ice.

We called these people the Italians because they were Italian. They rarely listened to the guide and that annoyed me.

We called these people the Italians because they were Italian.

After leaving the glacier and making a pact to forgo any future group tours or procreation we headed north to the glacial lake Breiðárlón and its more well-known neighbor Jökulsárlón. The icy blue of the bergs floating on the clear water against a ragged mountain view was overwhelming so I will just let the pictures speak for me.

Breiðárlón looking good.

Breiðárlón looking good.

An even better view by Blondie. How does she do it?

An even better view by Blondie. How does she do it?

Jökulsárlón by Blondie

Jökulsárlón by Blondie

Jökulsárlón Panorama.

Jökulsárlón Panorama.

Jökulsárlón is truly one of the blue-est places I’ve ever seen. The bergs, cracking like gigantic ice cubes, flow slowly from the glacier face and eventually slide out to sea under a suspension bridge just off to the right of the photo above. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay long because our tour had sucked up most of our day and we needed to get to the hotel in time for dinner, but of course we stopped on the way and took a few more shots.

I would like to like somewhere in the middle ground of this photo.

I would like to live somewhere in the middle ground of this photo.

I'm really not sure which glacier this is and it bothers me.

I think this is the Fjallsjokull glacier.

Our hotel, the Fosshotel Vatnajökull, was and is an old farmhouse with a large dining room built onto the front of it. The views from the yard as well as the rooms were postcard perfect. During our visit the wind had died down to a whisper so all you could hear were the echoes of the sheep and the horses making conversation out on the meadow. The food was fantastic and the sunset views were worth the lack of sleep we got because of the guy snoring in the room next to ours – I never did get to see him but I imagined that to snore like that he must be huge and look like Hagrid from Harry Potter.

Sun setting behind Vatnajökull.

Sun setting behind Vatnajökull.

The next day, Wednesday, August the 28th, was a transit day with no planned stops. Our route was to take us up through the fjords on the east coast, over to the eastern capital of Egilsstaðir, and then up into the tundra across to Mývatn. Since we only made a few stops I will spare you the long narrative and let you enjoy a few of the pics from the drive. It was a great day to relax and just let the country pass by.

The route for the day.

The route for the day.

The drive along the eastern fjords reminded me a lot of the PCH in California but with more sheep.

The drive along the eastern fjords reminded me a lot of the PCH in California but with more sheep.

I may have a panorama addiction.

I may have a panorama addiction.

Damn fine day for a drive.

Damn fine day for a drive.

A study in contrast by Blondie.

A study in contrast by Blondie.

Reindeer on the run by Blondie.

Holy S__t Reindeer! Captured on the run by Blondie.

Meadow, mountains, and sky.

Meadow, mountains, and sky.

Exiting our first tunnel of the trip. By Blondie.

Exiting our first tunnel of the trip. By Blondie.

A moon-like view in the middle of nowhere.

A moon-like view in the middle of nowhere.

Desolate. By Blondie

Desolate. By Blondie

View southwest towards the Ódáðahraun lava fields.

View southwest towards the Ódáðahraun lava fields.

We arrived at our hotel, the Hotel Reyniheld, on the shore of Lake Myvatn just as the sun was going down. The hotel itself was immaculate and the restaurant next door, called the Gamli Baerinn, was superb and the prices and beer were perfect . Since we spent the entire day driving the plan was to spend two nights in Myvatn before heading west to the coast – there are a lot of things to do in the area and I can assure you that two weeks wouldn’t give you enough time to explore all of the beauty of the northern coast.

Check back soon for the next installment of Driving Iceland where we visit some stinky fumaroles then decide to drive off-road for a couple hundred miles in order to see a volcano that once erupted so hard that chunks of rock fell on mainland Europe. Will the Jeep make it? Will Blondie continue to take better pictures than I? Will I finish writing about this trip before the next one is upon us? Find out relatively soon.

© Peter Molgaard and Afield Book, 2012-2013. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of photographs and original content without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided that permission is granted and that full and clear credit is given to Peter Molgaard and Afield Book with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. If you would like to use any of the imagery displayed you may send your requests to molgaardpmo@gmail.com

Driving Iceland: Part 3

After surveying the chaos left behind by the raving horde of breakfasting senior citizens, who ate all of the bacon spread, we were glad to leave the Hotel Hvolsvollur behind. The plan for Monday, August the 26th, was to see a couple of waterfalls, visit the black sand beaches at Vik, do a little F-Road driving, and then head northeast to our place of lodging in Efri-Vik.

The day's route.

The day’s route. Click Any Pic to Enlarge.

Our tour contact insisted we stick to the side road heading east out of town so we could see some “glorious nature” – he must’ve said that twenty times during his speech on our first morning. To the left of the road was a large bluff with thread-like waterfalls pouring down behind farmhouses and green fields dotted with sheep. To the right were the lowlands leading south to the sea that were adorned by crepuscular rays cascading down between the rain clouds that would come and go as the day went on.

The locals cover their round bales in plastic and they look like gigantic marshmallows. Photo by Blondie

The locals cover their round bales in plastic and they look like gigantic marshmallows. Photo by Blondie

The rain fell mainly on the plain.

The rain fell mainly on the plain.

On our way to Route-1 we stopped by Stori Dimon, a small volcanic mountain that sits alone on the west side of the Markafljot flood plain, and climbed to the top so we could get a view of the valley and the west side of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano. The trail leading to the top was muddy and slick from the rain but the views were magnificent and well worth the struggle we were going to have getting down. After taking all of our pictures and waiting for any non-sheep witnesses to leave the parking area we made our way down the mountain. The loose footing meant that we needed to have at least three points of contact with the ground otherwise we would slip and tumble to an embarrassing death. I started backing down carefully but the Exorcist-like crabwalk that Blondie was using proved to be the winner. Thankfully nobody was there to witness our less than graceful descent. I am not sure if it was the climb or the ridiculous crawl down but our thigh muscles screamed for the next five days – to this day I still have tightness in my right thigh. Remember to always stretch after exercise boys and girls.

Looks easy, let's climb it.

Looks easy, let’s climb it.

View east of Eyjafjallajokull and the river Markafljot.

View east of Eyjafjallajokull and the river Markarfljot.

Same view but wider and therefore more awesome.

Same view but wider and therefore more awesome.

If I ever fall to my death I want to be in front of that view.

If I ever fall to my death I’d like the view to be this pleasant.

Hey, let's drive up on that levee and take a short cut.

Hey, let’s drive up on that levee and take a short cut.

In the panoramic picture of the river above, on the right hand side, you can see a road/dyke going south toward the sea. We foolishly decided that it would be awesome to drive it all the way to the ring road. At first it was quite smooth and we were having a bit of fun, but I was nervous because if we met someone coming the other way we would be either up a creek, in this case the Markarfljot, or rolling over the steep embankment on the other side because our jacked up Jeep was a top-heavy death wagon. After a mile or so the rain started coming down hard while the coastal winds rocked the truck and of course there just had to be a huge construction vehicle sitting atop the levee just a quarter-mile ahead. When we drove onto the dyke we were unsure if that sort of thing was allowed – there wasn’t anything preventing us from doing it but that doesn’t mean we were in the right so instead of going forth and risking trouble with the man we decided that we would turn down the music, put the truck in reverse, and carefully back up to the nearest turnout about a third of a mile back. Backing out of a driveway or a parking spot is easy and relatively stress free but backing down a narrow two-track path with certain death on either side will make anyone a little uneasy. I began sweating profusely and barked out orders to Blondie telling her to watch her side close while I imagined us falling ass backwards into the incoming tide on my side. It was what can only be described as a shit-show and we were the star players. After a few really close calls on my side we managed to turn off and as we did I let forth an honest to god cry of relief while Blondie looked on in relieved contempt – she does not take kindly to the barking of orders or the spaz I become when I am stressed. Thankfully there aren’t any pictures of this portion of our day.

No better way to cool off after doing something stupid than walking behind a freezing cold waterfall.

No better way to cool off after doing something stupid than walking behind a freezing cold waterfall.

The pic above is of one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss. Other than being beautiful the best part about it is that you can walk into the hollow cavern behind it and get really really wet. There were many visitors navigating the slippery trail, among them an entire tour group of blind people, and it was difficult to find a dry spot because the wind was blowing the mist directly into the cave. The sound and mist combined with the smell of wet earth was truly wonderful and I was happy that the sight-impaired group was able to experience it for themselves.

I wonder what it's like under there during the springtime melt.

I wonder what it’s like under there during the springtime melt.

Seljalandsfoss is located on Route 249, which runs northeast between the Markarfljot and the volcano Eyjafjallajokull, and turns into F-249 a mile or so up the road from the falls. We decided to take this particular F-Road the night before hoping that it would provide us some up-close views of the volcano and its glaciers, and let’s face it, I wanted to drive into some rough country and get gnar gnar with the Jeep. At the transition between regular roads and F-roads there are usually a handful of signs telling you to turn back unless you have four-wheeled drive, that there are no gas stations anywhere close, and that you will be crossing unbridged rivers – sounds like fun. Also, there is a very prominent warning inside our car that states that any damages incurred during river crossings will void the rental insurance. It is a shame that I am too cheap to buy the video option for this blog because we recorded some of the larger crossings – one of which was moving very fast and bottom-of-the-door deep and you can hear Blondie say ‘Oh God Oh God Oh God’ no less than ten times followed up with a ‘I f__king hate you!’ as we finally pulled up out of the slippery river bottom.

One of the nicer stretches of F-249.

One of the nicer stretches of F-249.

A view west across the Markarfljot to the little mountain we climbed earlier.

A view west across the Markarfljot to the little mountain we climbed earlier.

You can just see the blue ice of the glacier peeking through the clouds on the left.

You can just see the blue ice of the glacier peeking through the clouds on the left.

A rainbow arching low over the river.

A rainbow arching low over the river.

After a particularly rocky crossing we decided to leave the road and take a rough path up to the glacier because in Iceland if there is a path you sure as hell can drive on it. Though before doing so I decided to run up on foot to make sure that once we got up there we could get out safely – I wasn’t going to be backing that beast out of anymore tight spots on this trip. On top of the hill the breeze coming off the glacier was refreshing and the view was worth the run. Small streams spider-webbed across the dark earth left by the retreating glacier and tire tracks led right up to the sheer ice face. I waved ok to Blondie and she slowly drove the truck up the hill – the only time she took the wheel during the trip. I wanted to drive up to the ice as well but the climb down into the valley as well as the iffy river crossings were beyond my skills and those of the Jeep. We were satisfied to stay there and have a walk around instead.

Probably the only photo you will see of me and definitely the only one of me running.

One of the few photos you will see of me and definitely the only one of me running. Photo by Blondie

A few years back the ice was all the way up to the foreground.

A few years back the ice was all the way up to the middle ground. Photo by Blondie.

We are in the middle on nowhere.

We are in the middle of nowhere.

The sky was beginning to threaten rain so we took our last pics and headed back to the Jeep. When I walked up to it I could see that something was leaking from the front end and immediately I started to rehearse the ass chewing I was going to give our tour company for giving us a piece of s__t Jeep with the check engine light on. I did what any man would do at this point; I grumbled while secretly panicking and got under the front end to see what the issue was. It turned out to be water from our last crossing that had collected in a hollow area of the frame and it was dripping out because we were parked at an angle. Thank Jeebus! At that point we made a unanimous decision to turn back before anything really bad happened.

The weather went to hell as the day went on so we spent a lot of time making picture stops along the way to our next destination, Skogafoss. The falls were beautiful but the winds and rain coming off the ocean were taking all of the fun out of it. Thankfully we had a warm vehicle to get into after we made our pictures – many people had ridden bikes and were camping near the base of the falls in flimsy tents. I am sure it is pleasant enough during the nice weather but to hell with that suffering.

An impressive butte on the south side of Eyjafjallajökull. Photo by Blondie

An impressive butte on the south side of Eyjafjallajökull. Photo by Blondie

Just an impressive farm sitting at the base of the mountain. No big deal.

Just a big farm sitting at the base of the mountain. No big deal.

Holy S__t! Run! I wonder what their insurance costs are.

Holy S__t! Run! The same farm in 2010. I wonder what their insurance costs are.

Skogafoss from a distance.

Skogafoss from a distance. It was at this point that Blondie coined the name Adventure Sheep  – a fitting name for the local breed that can climb sheer rock faces in order to find food. To the left of the falls are three such sheep grazing precariously – can you spot them?

Skogafoss up close. It is a miracle that there isn't anybody in this shot.

Skogafoss up close. It is a miracle that there isn’t anybody in this shot – bloody tourists.

Even though it was raining and neither of us wanted to get out of the truck we decided to go check out Vik because it was too early to make tracks for the hotel. It turns out that Vik is the rainiest city in all of Iceland and the local glacier, Mýrdalsjökull, gets up to ten meters of precipitation a year – the weather during our visit reflected that fact perfectly. The frigid winds and sideways rain were impressive and kept us at the wheel and staring out the windows. Our tour contact told us that we had to see Dyrhólaey, which is an impressive rock formation sticking out to sea with a huge hole in it – apparently large enough for a small plane to fly through it. We did not get a great view of it when we got there but the coastline was very impressive – huge waves breaking on black sand beaches and shorebirds making an incredible racket.

View of Dyrhólaey looking west. You can't really make out the hole from this angle.

View of Dyrhólaey looking west. You can’t really make out the hole from this angle but trust me, it’s there.

View of the black sand beach looking east.

View of the black sand beach looking east.

Blondie was supposed to tell me when I was in the middle of the arch but she got nervous and told me I had gone far enough.

Blondie was supposed to tell me when I was on the middle of the arch but she got nervous and told me I had gone far enough.

This was my view from above the arch. tell me that doesn't look like the face of a rock monster.

This was my view from above the arch. tell me that doesn’t look like the face of a rock monster.

The drive to Hotel Laki in Efri-Vik gave us an opportunity to get dry and relax for a while. The road is flat and straight east of Vik as it cuts first across a glacial plane made by the runoff of Mýrdalsjökull and then through an otherworldly lava field. Moss has grown on the globular outcrops, gives everything a soft brain-like appearance, and it stretches off in every direction – it is a very bizarre sight. It was on this stretch that we saw the first of only two police cars during our trip.

Don't you just want to touch it?

Don’t you just want to touch it?

Hotel Laki is one of the nicer hotels we stayed in during our trip. The room was big and had a balcony as well as a huge bathtub, in which I soaked my tired old body til it was time to dress for dinner. I am always pleased when there is a bar in the hotel and when I asked for the usual two pre-dinner Tanqueray and Tonics the bartender asked me if I would prefer doubles. I said of course, not thinking about the exchange rate or the fact that something had to pay for all this fancy, and paid promptly with a credit card not even looking at the receipt. As I sat down at the table where Blondie was waiting for her drink she asked me how much the drinks were – I have a bad habit of not paying attention to these sorts of things, I am not a money guy because I rarely have any. I checked the receipt and told her the price and her eyes nearly bugged out of her cute little head as she nearly choked on her drink. Two double-tall T&Ts cost 5,800kr or approximately $48USD – I switched to beer after that.

We learned some important lessons during this day in Iceland 1) Always stretch after exercise 2) Do not drive on one-lane levees 3) Know when to turn back and 4) Ask how much the drink is before you order it. Come back next week for the next Driving Iceland so I can bore you a little more and show you pretty pictures or really old ice, Italians that don’t listen, and more really old ice.

© Peter Molgaard and Afield Book, 2012-2013. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of photographs and original content without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided that permission is granted and that full and clear credit is given to Peter Molgaard and Afield Book with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. If you would like to use any of the imagery displayed you may send your requests to molgaardpmo@gmail.com

Driving Iceland: Part 2

The Golden Circle

Our area of operations for the day.

Our area of operations for the day.

The soft light of morning crept through the open window of our room at around 5:30am on Sunday, August 25th. The weather, looking much like it did the night before with alternating rain and mist, did little to dampen our excitement as we quickly packed and loaded our gear into the Jeep. At breakfast we gave the maps a once over and did our best to eat what we could despite our lingering hangover. Many trips were made to the juice machines and water pitcher because some food service manager thought that providing juice cups not much larger than shot glasses was a good idea – I can assure you mister or miss food service manager that I am going to stand here and fill this ketchup cup and drain its contents as many times as it takes to get the taste of strong ale and sulphur out of my mouth so keep the stink eye to yourself.

The plan for the day was to explore the Golden Circle, a 300km tourist route popular with day trippers out of Reykjavik, and then head to our next place of lodging in Hvolsvollur. Specifically, our trip was to take us first to  Þingvellir National Park, to the area near Geysir, after which all geysers are named, and finally to the massive waterfall called Gullfoss. The first hiccup came when we attempted to program a word into the GPS that started with the letter Þ, or thorn, an Old Norse letter pronounced with a “th” and currently only used by those living in Iceland. Perhaps there was a trick to find it somewhere in the provided Garmin, but we were in a hurry so we navigated to the approximate waypoint by hand and hit the GO button only to be shown a blank screen with a blue car in the middle. Blondie and I glanced at each other and I am sure she could see the doubt and the anger and the I-can’t-believe-this-shit-we-could’ve-went-to-Jamaica look that was causing my cheeks to burn, but like all adventurers worth their salt we pointed our truck up the road and hoped we could use the maps to pick our way through the city. After a mile or so the detail came back onto the screen and our route was laid out ahead of us in a bold and reassuring pink. It was early Sunday morning after the biggest party of the year so there were few people on the roads, which reminded me of the roads of urban New England with numerous roundabouts and street signs pointing to locations named after people and places from the native past. It did not take us long to leave the city behind and get our first views of the rugged country.

The road north to Þingvellir.

The road northwest to Þingvellir.

Our first impression of the stark treeless terrain was that of a mossy moonscape and throughout our adventure the Moon came up often as a way to describe the many vistas we surveyed. We both thought that if the whole country was this beautiful and alien it would take us forever to get to our nightly destination because we had to get out every ten kilometers to take photos while wondering aloud about the forces of earth-building that created what stretched before us. Luckily the tour was designed to require being on the road for only a few hours each day, daylight lasting from 5:30 – 21:00, so we had plenty of time and light for detours and excursions on foot. Our first stop was just west of Þingvellir at a parking area that overlooked the largest lake on the island ,Þingvallavatn, and the mountains beyond. Over the years visitors have stacked hundreds of cairns on the slope leading down to the lake from the parking area, which adds an interesting feature to an already stunning view. It was funny to see that about 75% of the tourists, regardless of nationality, photographed a member of their party squatting with a grimace over the stacked rocks acting like they just shat out a pile of turd colored stones  – it is good to see that toilet humor is alive and well in the travelling class.

 View of Þingvellavatn. Even though the rain was a bummer the clouds always gave a sense of emotion to the photos.

View of Þingvallavatn. Even though the rain was a bummer the clouds always gave a sense of drama to the photos.

Cairs that somewhat resemble large volcanic poos. Photo by Blondie

Cairns that somewhat resemble large volcanic poos. Photo by Blondie

At the parking area we also learned a crucial lesson. During the week leading up to the trip we watched the weather closely in order to gauge what sort of clothing we would need to bring along and since it looked as if it would remain in the fifties we decided that we would bring only a single pair of long underwear just in case. After photographing the cairns and the lake for maybe five minutes the cold Icelandic wind cut through our clothes and chilled us to a shiver. We rushed back to the truck and with little modesty we stripped down and donned our single pair of long-johns, which we wore every day (and washed every night) for the rest of the trip. Summer in Iceland is only summer for Icelanders. For New Englanders it would be considered a chilly Spring whereas for those living in the South it would be considered a bitterly cold wasteland only fit for crazy people – luckily we haven’t lost our New England toughness completely.

Walking into a giant crack in the earth.

Walking into a giant crack in the earth.

Þingvellir National Park is simply amazing. I could write ten posts on the geologic, cultural, and historic importance of the area, and I can assure you that each one of them would bore the hell out of you. The weather wasn’t on our side during our visit so we only saw a sliver of the park before we made a retreat to the truck. It does feel weird to be on the floor of a rift valley though, knowing that the mountains far off in the distance are growing apart at a rate of a few centimeters per year and that at one point they were as close together as bricks in a wall. I can get hung up on the geologic scale of things and start spouting Sagan-esque platitudes that would make even Carl’s eyes roll (may he rest in peace), so I will spare you and leave it at that. I must mention, however, that the first Icelandic parliament was established in the valley in 930 and remained there until 1798. For 868 years powerful Icelandic men from all points travelled over the rugged landscape to the valley to participate in what is now the oldest existing parliamentary institution on earth. When you read that last sentence did you imagine massive blonde men wearing furs and walking bent against the harsh wind and snow, possibly wearing helmets with or without horns, and speaking with Minnesotan accents? Just me?

Oh, pretty.

Oh, pretty. So verdant.

Tectonics as work - be patient.

Tectonics at work – be patient. Photo by Blondie

Lava patterns. Photo by Blondie

Lava patterns. Photo by Blondie

Another stunning view from the lens of Blondie's camera. She was on a roll.

Another stunning view from the lens of Blondie’s camera. She was on a roll.

After leaving the park we stopped for our first “meal” of paprika chips, Fanta, and cookies (It took Blondie a solid ten minutes to choose the right package of cookies – she is THE cookie curator). Paprika chips are just like any other potato chip but the seasoning is a magical spicy BBQ flavor except way better and far less messy. We seek them out like ravenous dogs the moment we step on European soil – they are possibly a perfect food and I wish I had some right now.

The next stop was the valley of Haukadalur and the two most popular geysers in Iceland, Geysir and its more reliable neighbor Strokkur. The rain did not give us much of a break on this stop either but we managed to have a good look around and saw Strokkur do it’s thing while Geysir remained quiet. Trying to take a good picture of a geyser in the driving rain is a skill that neither Blondie nor I posses. You can sort of tell when it is going to blow its top by the movement of the water but every time it erupted we were either too early with the shutter or so surprised by the sudden explosion of steam that the photo is just a big blur of stupid.

I'm sad to say that the best pic we got was with my phone.

I’m sad to say that the best pic we got was with my phone and for some reason we never bought an umbrella.

Gullfoss, or Golden Falls, in my mind is a world treasure and it is unbelievable that at one point there were plans to dam the river and virtually kill it. I can guarantee that the first person who walked over the bluff to figure out what all the racket was probably died of surprise on the spot or at least needed a change of furs. The torrent is hidden from passers-by and the only thing that gives away its location from the road is a fine mist hanging a few hundred feet above the floor of the fissure and once out of the vehicle an ominous angry roar can be heard over the cold wind. During preparations for the trip I saw many pictures of the falls but didn’t grasp its massive scale, however, once we were on top of the ridge and saw the tiny people on the jut of land at mid-falls it was then very clear.

Our first view. The sound is otherworldly.

Our first view. The sound is otherworldly.

Let's give the Photomerge  option on CS5 a hearty round of applause for making this photo almost work.

Let’s give the Photomerge option on CS5 a hearty round of applause for making this panorama almost work.

Big fan of this shot by Blondie.

Big fan of this shot by Blondie.

Upper portion of the falls. Note the minimal wire barrier separating the public from a watery death.

Upper portion of the falls. Note the minimal wire barrier separating the public from a watery death.

With soaked clothes and nearly ruined cameras we said our farewells to one of the most beautiful scenes in the solar system. Hotel Hvolsvollur was our stopping point for the day and we were happy to take the cross-country drive required to get there. Even though we were wet to the core and fully exhausted the rolling valleys, red-roofed farmhouses, and ubiquitous Icelandic sheep kept our eyes on the move during the hour it took to get to the hotel. Hotel Hvolsvollur was similar to our first hotel and filled to the brim with blue-haired tourers (we call them Q-Tips – it’s mean but you know it’s funny) from Germany, who arrive in gigantic bus sized waves to devour their discounted buffet (while we paid full price), and hit the sack by sunset so they can presumably watch the Icelandic version of Matlock. We drank stiff drinks, eavesdropped on some English fisherman with a penchant for 90s music, and waited for the big groups to finish before we took our seat at the table. Once the mainlanders vacated the buffet I went to scope out the food and on my way I passed an older female tour guide who was on the phone in the open space between the tables and the buffet. As I passed within a few feet from her I heard her release three tremendous trumpet-like farts from her stretch-pants and then continue on with her conversation like nothing happened. It stopped both I and a passing waitress dead – partly in disbelief and partly so we could exchange that twinkle of understanding between two people who will now be going somewhere private to giggle like a grade schooler. The faint scent of old lady gas, however, did very little to keep us away from the buffet and our main meal of the day. The offerings were roasted pork, potatoes, limp roasted veg, and a great deal of salads, herrings, breads, and smoked critters. We tried a little of everything and had a decent meal despite the fact that some Icelandic food should be kept to the Icelanders.

In Driving Iceland: Part 3 we will be heading out onto our first F-Roads, climbing a small mountain that nearly crippled me for the rest of the trip, recovering from stress sweats, and paying $48 for two double tall gin and tonics (I switched to beer full-time after that one).

© Peter Molgaard and Afield Book, 2012-2013. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of photographs and original content without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided that permission is granted and that full and clear credit is given to Peter Molgaard and Afield Book with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. If you would like to use any of the imagery displayed you may send your requests to molgaardpmo@gmail.com

Driving Iceland: Part 1

Farewell America, don't bomb anyone while we are gone.

Farewell America, don’t bomb anyone while we are gone…seriously, I shouldn’t have to say that.

I have an active and romantic imagination so when I thought about this trip prior to our departure I imagined epic views and cozy hotels and blonde people eating weird yet delicious foods, but then in the back of my mind I worried about this being the first trip where I was to drive in another country. To get to some of the most beautiful places on earth Blondie and I were going to have to drive on some of the most unpredictable roadways in the hemisphere and that’s just the sort of thing my overactive mind will focus on. My fears compounded when our tour contact picked up our jet-lagged corpses at Keflavik Airport in the Jeep that we were to use for the next ten days. It was a 2004 Jeep Laredo purchased in New Hampshire and the damned orange engine light was already on. When I questioned our contact about the engine issue he assured us it wasn’t a big deal – someone had stolen the gas cap and the new cap wasn’t Jeep-specific. Neither I nor Blondie felt good about this and the distrust for our vehicle that it spawned weighed heavily on our minds, but who were we to question this large work-hardened man who was nice but yet looked like he could change moods as quickly as the Icelandic weather. Our man drove us up a very foggy Route-41 to our hotel in Hafnarfjordur, which is a southern suburb of Reykjavik, pointing out lava fields and mountains hidden by the fog as well as letting us know the Icelandic mindset on climate change. Along the way he also informed us that we were lucky to have flown in on August 24th because it was the annual Reykjavik Culture Night and half the country was in town to listen to bands and drink and celebrate all things Iceland. However, since it was 6:30 am we were only interested in getting checked in, shaking off the jet lag, and working on ridding ourselves of the smell of Croc-feet that permeated our clothing and airspace on the flight from Minneapolis thanks to a pair of grubby Icelandic children who sat behind us. We needed food, a nap, a shower, and copious amounts of local beer, but first our contact wanted to trace the route we were to take on a map and suggest a dozen or so must-see places along with all of the particulars regarding accommodations, emergencies, and local laws and customs.

The pink line is our proposed counter-clockwise route, the blue lines point to our hotels, and the green bits are points of interest.

The pink line is our proposed counter-clockwise route, the blue lines point to our hotels, and the green bits are points of interest.

Hotel rooms in Iceland, or at least the ones we stayed in, are clean utilitarian affairs often with two twin beds and very little TV options. They are for sleeping and bathing and that is it. Our first room could have been two blankets on the floor in a closet and we would’ve been grateful because even though we love to travel abroad we can get jet lagged driving to Fort Worth. Since we checked into the Hotel Hafnarfjordur early we had to settle for a room in a second building, about a block away, that looked more like a warehouse than a place of comfort, however, the room was spotless and the beds were perfect. After sleeping for a few hours it was time for our first shower. Iceland sits dead center over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American and Eurasian plates are pulling apart therefore making it highly volcanic which in turn provides the island with a nearly unending supply of geothermally heated water used for heating, washing, and bathing. The only downside to this naturally heated water is that it contains a hint of sulfur so when you shower it smells like a juicy rotten-egg fart. This can be a disconcerting smell when one is trying to get clean or brush their teeth with warm water (just don’t) but it does not leave behind a scent and even if it did the entire island population would smell the same way.

Map of Reykjavik city center courtesy of Vidiani.com

Map of Reykjavik city center courtesy of Vidiani.com

The local busses were running free of charge due to the events in Reykjavik so we boarded a packed #1 Bus bound toward the city center. Our dinner reservation wasn’t until later on in the evening so we had a few hours to walk around and make an attempt to stay dry since the rain started the instant we stepped off of the bus. There is a saying about rain in Iceland that it will fall from all but the expected direction and I would say it is a true statement. It did not take us long to seek out a bar that suited our personal need to be around loud people who drink too much. Drinking in Iceland is a complicated subject. Beer was actually outlawed in the country from 1915 until 1989 and overall alcohol is very expensive. A local beer will run about 1,000Kr which comes to about $8.25USD so most people will pre-drink at home then go out later in the evening. Keflavik Airport is one of the only airports I’ve ever seen that has a duty-free shop on the way into the country and many locals and tourists alike picked up gigantic cases of beer and liquor before fetching their luggage and heading home. We did not buy any alcohol at the airport so we did our best to find a happy hour once we got into the city and like a beacon out of the mist The Lebowski Bar called us in and offered two for one beers, the kind of cheesy movie themed interior that makes us very happy, and all of the Creedence we could handle. The place was packed with revelers and the walls were bedecked with Persian rugs and hung above the booths along one wall was an entire bowling alley complete with pins, a ball, and some phantom shoes.

A poorly shot panorama of the Lebowski Bar on a quieter day.

A poorly shot panorama of the Lebowski Bar on a quieter day.

For 2,000Kr one can take a chance and spin the wheel behind the bar and win free drinks or just lose 2,000Kr. On both of our visits we were able to share in the winnings with someone lucky enough to land on a strike, which is 10 beers poured immediately and set in front of the winner in the same configuration as a set of bowling pins. Most of the time however people landed on Over The Line, Shomer F__king Shabbos, or Mark It Zero and tried to look like it wasn’t a big deal to lose $20. I wanted to give it a try too but I was restrained by Blondie, who doesn’t go in for such nonsense. That is why we make a good couple, I take everything way too far and she brings us back to an acceptable level of insanity just before we do something really stupid. This trip would test that hypothesis to its fullest.

The wheel I did not spin.

The wheel I did not spin.

The beer we got to share because we were there. The winners were from Boston.

The beer we got to share because we were there. The winners were from Boston.

We ate at a new place near the water called Mar and for the most part it was a pretty good restaurant. They were offering a special beef with chimichurri sauce for Culture Night so we both ordered it and thought it was just ok. We realized then that when one is in the seafood capital of the North Atlantic they should always order the fish or at least the lamb, which is guaranteed local and fresh. The most memorable part of the meal was the price. Like drinking at a bar, eating in restaurants is an expensive affair so we nearly choked when we did the conversion and realized that for what we spent we could eat at the best place in Dallas and have money leftover to buy a round at the bar on the way out. We always had to remind ourselves that Iceland is far away from everywhere and that many things are imported and are therefore expensive as hell. For the rest of the trip we ate as much as we could during the free breakfasts offered by our hotels and bought inexpensive snacks on the road for lunch, such as European Fanta = best thing ever, Paprika Chips = second best thing ever, and some sort of cookies. At night we dined at either the hotel, which was often the only choice in town, or at nearby restaurants.

One has to be resourceful to get a view of the stage.

One has to be resourceful to get a view of the stage.

Just a few people walking up and down Laugavegur, the main shopping, eating , and drinking street.

Just a few people walking up and down Laugavegur, the main shopping, eating , and drinking street.

By the time dinner was over the local fiesta was fully underway and music was blaring from the various stages set up in the area. Even though we did not understand what the musicians were saying or singing we rocked out like the old pros that we are. The weather was wet and cold yet it was still one of the most positive experiences I have ever had. 100,000 people packed the main streets and the city square but it never seemed too crowded or out of control. There was very little police presence, kids ran around freely, and one can walk the streets while drinking a beer – many of the bars and restaurants had makeshift to-go counters outside just for the convenience.

A beer for me and some sort of watermelon concoction for Blondie.

A beer for me and a watermelon concoction for Blondie.

Look honey, they have hipsters too. This town has everything.

Look honey, they have hipsters too. This town has everything.

Kids doing kids stuff. i swear the one highest up was just a short ninja because that girl could break out the gymnastics in a full snow suit.

Kids doing kids stuff. I swear the one highest up on the statue was a ninja because that girl could break out the gymnastics in a full snow suit.

The main stage and approximately 1/3 of the island's population.

The main stage to the left and approximately 1/3 of the island’s population to the right.

The rains started to get much heavier as the night went on and we did not wear the appropriate clothing for prolonged exposure so we headed back to the hotel before the fireworks. It was really for the best because we beat the rush and we were both insane from travel and needed sleep in order to prepare for our first full day of driving. The night was a great introduction to what Iceland’s people had to offer, and a positive omen for the rest of the trip. We didn’t see any fights or hear an angry word the entire night and everyone that waited on us was far more cheerful than we are used to especially in such busy situations.

Since this post ran a little long I am running it as is rather than tacking on another day. I promise that the pictures and stories will get better. Stay tuned.

© Peter Molgaard and Afield Book, 2012-2013. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of photographs and original content without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided that permission is granted and that full and clear credit is given to Peter Molgaard and Afield Book with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. If you would like to use any of the imagery displayed you may send your requests to molgaardpmo@gmail.com

Driving Iceland: An Introduction

Road_Cover

The Road

Four days ago my wife and I arrived back in the DFW after what can only be described as the best f__king trip ever. We spent the better part of ten days driving Route 1 (aka The Ring Road) around Iceland and did our best to see as much as we could. Our car, a lifted ten-year old Jeep Laredo with the engine light on, took us to places that one would think a moon rover couldn’t go. We drove that Arizona Beige bad boy up to glaciers onto volcanoes and across at least 15 unbridged rivers – which elicited many curse words and threats from my wife. Due to the grand nature of this adventure it makes more sense to split my posts into five parts or two-day increments – the first of which will be posted early next week. For now I offer ten photos, one per day, of our tour of Iceland.

We were lucky enough to land on Culture Night. 100,000 people drinking and listening to music. It was beautiful and peaceful.

We were lucky enough to land on Culture Night. 100,000 people drinking and listening to music. It was beautiful and peaceful.

Our first day on the road exploring the Golden Circle. It rained and we donned our long johns.

Our first day on the road exploring the Golden Circle. It rained and we donned our long johns.

Our first day driving F-Roads. Roads that require heavy 4x4 vehicles due to river crossings and terrible road conditions. Funnest thing ever.

Our first day driving F-Roads. Roads that require heavy 4×4 vehicles due to river crossings and terrible road conditions. Funnest thing ever.

We walked on a glacier and it was rad.

We walked on a glacier and it was rad.

The eastern coast looks a lot like the PCH just with more gravel roads and suicidal sheep.

The eastern coast looks a lot like the PCH just with more gravel roads and suicidal sheep.

We drove an eight hour round trip over the most bone-jarring terrain to see a volcano in the fog. Worth every second.

We drove an eight hour round trip over the most bone-jarring terrain to see a volcano in the fog. Worth every second.

The northern coast was cold and windy. A storm was blowing in from the southwest.

The northern coast was cold and windy. A storm was blowing in from the southwest.

An abandoned house near Hellnar. The former occupants are buried nearby.

An abandoned house near Hellnar. The former occupants are buried nearby.

Graffiti has a home in Reykjavik.

Graffiti has a home in Reykjavik.

Greenland looks very cool from 37,000 feet.

Greenland looks very cool from 37,000 feet.

© Peter Molgaard and Afield Book, 2012-2013. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of photographs and original content without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided that permission is granted and that full and clear credit is given to Peter Molgaard and Afield Book with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. If you would like to use any of the imagery displayed you may send your requests to molgaardpmo@gmail.com