When I looked around a realized I hadn't seen anyone in 3 hours, I started to get teary. I did what I thought my only option was and called my Mama Bear, back in the United States. Please note, I do realize how helpless and somewhat pointless this call was, but it felt right at the time. Mama Bear comes before roadside assistance. After she told me to do what I already knew to do, I called road side assistance. Let me tell you how fun that was... talking to an Icelandic man trying to explain where you are, at 9 am, after being up 30 plus hours. He tells me he's going to "call me back". Once he does he tells me the man at the airport told him I wasn't driving the car properly.
Insert slight attitude... I tell him it's not a problem with my driving, it's a problem with the car and it's been that since start. I told him I needed a new 2015 or 2016 4x4 SUV brought to me asap and that I needed to be credited for one day of the rental. He tells me it would be 2-2.5 hours before the car would arrive, but he still needed to find out where I was. I looked around for land marks and I tell him all I can see and still nothing, he has no idea where I am. I asked if I could drop him a pin and not to my surprise that wasn't an option. Finally, a man on a tractor comes by and I asked him to please tell the man on the phone where the hell I was. He smiled and said "ok".
I take a shot of vodka, smoke a ciggy (sorry Mama Bear), take more deep breathes, put on an extra layer of clothes, wipe the mascara from under my eyes, re-apply mascara and set out to meet some Icelandic Horses. Just over 2 hours later one man and one car show up. One would think he would have had someone follow him out to me, seeing as how the car he's swapping me for doesn't work. He told me he was told he could probs get it started. Well guess what? He couldn't. I thanked him for bringing me the car. I also, as nicely as possible, told him I was not taking him back to wherever he came from, I had already wasted 3 hours of my day.
*Side note: There are actually no mountains in Iceland as we know them to be mountains... only valleys, these things that look like mountains are called Pyramidal Peaks. The entire landscape was craved out my slow moving glaciers creating deep valleys. Glaciers actually are responsible for carving out everything in this country that wasn't shaped my magma and earthquakes!
I drove off the main road onto the dirt road that is route 332 and smile when I saw the sign for Haifoss. I drove some more then stopped. My dirt road was covered in water up ahead. This part of the landscape is very flat with large patches of ice and snow all around, The day is "warm" and the sun is out without a cloud in the sky so the snow was melting. I get out and investigate. The water was only ankle deep, so I had this. I drove through and continued on the dirt/ gravel road up the mountain. I have to make another stop to review the access. Road is gone. All snow. Deep hard snow with soft fresh snow on top. I can see where other vehicles have done this but I make an executive decision not to chance it. I said out-loud, "this is why I'm here" as packed up my water bottle and camera and began walking. I walked for 30 min, and didn't see it so I turned around. Once I arrived back down the mountain my dirt road that was just ankle deep water, is now mid calf high. I yelled out "what the fuck" and threw my hands up in the air. It appears the high sitting sun of Iceland can melt a lot of snow in 1.5 hours. I didn't feel comfortable driving around the dirt road, as it was just flat land for as far as I could see, no telling what was under the ice and snow, and from what I could see, the water was deeper on either side of the road. I did the only thing I could do: get in the car, put the it in 4 wheel drive and drive (probably faster than I should have) through it. After this I give my self a pep talk: "Ok Em, take it easy, you are alone in a remote country. If something bad were to actually happen off road, it could get bad! Reign it in a little". I'll see you next time Haifoss!
|New car trying to get to Haifoss. This is where I stopped and started walking bc the road behind the car is all snow|
Gullfoss was my next Golden Circle stop. There are two places to view this waterfall, from the road level/ up high or going down beside it. I did both. It was really windy Saturday so the mist could be felt all the way to the top! This is the most powerful waterfall I've ever seen. There are small ones that resemble steps and they lead to a major drop off into a crevice 105 feet deep, then the water continues to run down the Hvita River. The other waterfalls I saw were much higher, but this one, it just had force!
We spent 2 hours grazing, laughing, sharing stories about where we were from, things to do, etc. I learned that Iceland contributes less than any other country to global warming, they are the most eco- friendly country on Earth and that houses are heated and get hot water right from the ground. Pipes from the ground to the bathroom and sinks provide hot water and often have a cooling device on them because the water is so hot. Pipes are specifically placed around the house for heating. I was tired after, but I still wanted to see the night life of Saturday night. We went to one bar that I can't recall but it was packed to the rim so we walked to Prikid. We found a window table upstairs and ordered beers. Within 30 minutes the bar was packed, shoulder to shoulder. The crowd looked to be a little younger and on a mission to get as drunk as possible, as quickly as possible. One of Ada's friends came to meet us and around 2 am I called it a night. When I walked outside the streets were full of people, there were a couple food trucks and for everyone else, they still had 3 hours to go!
My hostel, the Loft, was right across the street. If you go to Reykjavik and are looking for a hostel, stay here. It's by far the best hostel I've ever stayed in. It is clean, spacious, the staff is excellent, the cleaning service is impeccable, it's fully equipped and the ambiance is most perfect. The 4th floor is the gathering spot, check in, deck, kitchen, music corner, Foosball, reading nooks and a stage for performances!
I slept in and then loaded the car up and headed to the peninsula for whale watching. I booked my tour through Laki. My tour was set to leave from the marina in Olafsvik. The drive to Olafsvik was just stunning, especially the part when I drove route 54 through the "mountains". At one point I had gone 3 hours without seeing anther soul. On long stretches of roads you would see speed warnings (or cameras for if you go to fast, I may or may not be getting a ticket in the mail). There was a digital display screen to show your actual speed and beneath it was a simile face or a sad face. Those of you know me know which face I got every single time. As I was coming down the the mountain, the road suddenly turned to gravel, and my GPS lost service but I kept trekking along and finally saw a sign for Olafsvik! It was pretty easy to find the marina. When I pulled up everyone was putting on waterproof oversize jumpsuits. I followed suit then hopped aboard. We left the port and within an hour we were watching whales frolic! Once we were close enough to really observe, the captain turned off the engine and we were able to observe them in their most natural habitat. It was a pretty incredible thing to witness. The only noise was nature and snapping of cameras. No one was talking except the occasional "wow" "ahh" and "unbelievable". We saw 14 Ocra/ Killer Whales and two Humpback Whales. The company made a point to tell us how they help preserve the whales and their natural habitat. We were not allowed to feed them or make loud noises.
Killer Whale facts:
- Largest of the Dolphin family
- Feed on fish, squid, birds
- Use echolocation (bouncing sounds) to help them hunt
- Are one of the fastest marine mammals, going top speed of 35mph
- Their pods work together to catch meals
- They are very social and curious
- Pods are usually 5-30 or if pods combine can be up to 100 whales
- They have social hierarchies that are lead by females
- Researchers have found that each pod has a different dialect / language
- Gestation is 13-16 months
- Birth is in Autumn and they can be up to 7 feet long and weigh 400 lbs
- Male calf stays with mom for at least 2 years or longer.. until they mate
Humpback Whale facts:
- Can be up to 40-50 feet long
- 48 tons in weight
- Markings are like finger prints, each whale is different
- They have complex mating songs that males sings.
- Researchers believe they are very intelligent animals
- Only 30,000-40,000 left
- They are Baleen whales (filter feeders) and eat fish and krill
- Eat up to 1 ton of food a day
- Newborns drink up to 100 lbs of milk per day from mama whale
- These whales only feed in summer, in winter they head to tropical waters to mate and give birth
- Their migration journey can be up to 10,000 miles!
- They breathe voluntarily, unlike humans. Since they have to remember to breathe, scientist think they have to shut down / turn off half the brain to sleep, and the other half reminds them to breathe.
- Humpback Whales can live up to 50 years.
|For perspective: that little dot on top of landing to the right- is a person,.|
|8pm in Iceland, not so bad.|
I love to drive, so I knew driving alone wouldn't be a problem for me. But when you are completely alone, not just in your car but in the area you are driving, it's a pretty pleasing thing. My driving tunes were going, I had time to self reflect, I could not help but take in the natural beauty and really just be in the present.
It's a landscape I've never seen and sure to never forget. The sky looks bigger, the ground is rugged, rocks cover the ground instead of grass but the rocks are covered in moss, from a distance some of the tundras look like fields of drip castles, black beaches, huge cliffs and more water than I've ever seen in a single location. It's all glacier or volcanic land so when something does grow it's taken years, like hundreds of them. The best way I know to describe is that it is like Dark Crystal and a magical fairy land had a baby. Which doesn't seem to far fetched since 60% of Icelanders believe in Trolls and Elves.
I arrived at the Harbor Hostel around 8:30 pm. This town and hostel came by the recommendation of my friend Levi who had just been there in December with our buddy Cory. The hostel is housed in a old house whose name means palace by the sea! When I walked in, there was a note on the desk to use their phone and call for assistance. I followed directions and then a lady appeared. She showed me to my dorm. I was in a room for 12, however there were only 4 of us there. Me and three guys. One slept the entire time, two showed up at midnight. After getting settled, I walked across the street to the green house for supper. I had a really yummy salad and pasta with fresh scallops in a white wine sauce. So. Good. After dinner I walked over to the lighthouse island and took some snaps. I was in the cozy bed by 11. Both hostels I stayed in came with a sheet, down blanket and pillow and most importantly free wifi!
I drove a little further up the road and see a some cars. I follow suite and happen upon a site that is sketched in my mind forever. Hraunfossar was just sitting there looking all gorgeous in mid morning light. The falls are also known as Lava Falls. Clear, cold, subterranean water seep through the lava and run as lots of tiny waterfalls into the river. This is all happening due to a volcano lying under the glacier I was going to, Langjokull. The water can be a milky white or a bright turquoise or both!
Just above Hraunfossar is another waterfall, Barnafoss. The name means The Waterfall of the Children. Legend has it there used to be bridge that crossed from one side of the river to the other. Two children crossing and playing fell to their death into the river. The mother then put a spell on the bridge saying anyone who passed it would drown. Soon after the spell, an earthquake demolished the stone bridge.
Along the way he tells us that all the rescue teams are volunteer based. The brother of one of the other guides was called in after a mother and son fell through a crevasse while glacier hiking. The mother fell deeper than her 7 year old son. The crevasse was so narrow in some spot the rescue volunteer had to turn his entire body and even face sideways. He was able to get the boy out safely, but the mother did not survive. We got to see a crevasse like one they fell into. The glacier is always moving and melting, knowing that, makes this tour makes you feel as if you are being a dare devil.
After Into The Glacier, I slowly make my way back to my hostel in Rey. I find a parking spot right in front of Loft and wander the main drag. I stumble across a little Italian place and then all the sudden it was like I could eat nothing but Italian, it smelled so scrumptious in there. I ordered the Carbonara, per the server's recommendation. HOLY DANK. Prob the best I've had. It was just perfectly creamy, not to heavy, the bacon was crispy, the egg was cooked how a poached egg should be cooked and the cheesy bread and salad were on point too. By the time I finished I was ready to shower and get in the bed! The days are loooooooonnngg in Iceland. Once in my room, I started talking with a girl from Germany. She is 21 and traveling Europe for 6 months. We went up stairs to sit on the roof top, grab free cucumber water and have life talks. She was alone as well and wanted to join me in exploring on Tuesday. We emailed the horse tours and added her to the list. Lights are out by 12 and back on at 7am.
I knew when I planned this trip there were certain things I wanted to do, see and others I hopped to see (whales and northern lights). One of the must do things on my list was horse back riding on Icelandic Horses. After some due diligence, I felt most good about Eld Hestar. Three brothers started it and still own it today. They have a hotel, show room, and several tours you can do. Time was limited so I opted for the Heritage Tour. Icelandic horses has a special gait. This breed is a "five-gaited" (walk, trot, canter, tolt and flying pace) horse and they are known for their sure-footdeness They don't blink an eye at rough terrain! This was Natalie's first time on a horse so she was even more excited than me. With such a smooth gaited horse, she picked a good time to have her first ride! We had about 15 people in our group with 3 guides. Two guides were in the front and one trailed along us providing advice, answering questions, keep the horses in line and chatting it up with us. We walked through a river stream, around the volcanic land surrounding the farm, and along water troughs. Along they way the guides gave us some history of where we were, the surrounding lands and Iceland in general.
-The grass we saw, had only been there several years, all of Iceland is volcanic land or glaciers so things do not grow at the pace most of the world is used to.
-The volcano we could see in front of us was the one that provided most of the electricity to the island.
- Each volcano / glacier serves a purpose
- Icelandic horses were brought over by a Norwegian man who brought two horses with him when he came to Iceland. It was said at the time each passenger traveling could only bring two livestock. He chooses two horses. So overwhelmed by the land, he could not decide where to settle. He decided he would let the horses choose. He stood on top of "long bench mountain" and let them go free. Weeks later he found them in what is now Reykjavik, so that is where the first settlers settled!
-Reykjavik was settled in 874.
-Reykjavik means "Bay of Smokes"... as it was a very geothermal active area
Once we were done with our trail ride, we were given coffee cake and tea, hot choco or coffee. Just the fuel we needed to keep on with our day. We left Hvergerdi and headed South to Vik.
Huge waterfalls was something else I was determined to see on my trip and it happened. Seljalandsfoss was our first stop. It's just off the route 1 and it's stunning, even from the road. We pulled up and literally just had to stop before even reaching it and take it all in. It's massive. She's got a 200 ft drop into a small pool, which leads to a stream, which leads somewhere I couldn't see. The drop that is 200 feet, is the formal coast line. How insane is that!? This waterfall is extra special because you can walk behind it. There is a path that leads you along the side, behind and out the other side. We got a little wet, but totally worth it!
Skogafoss is another waterfall that drops 200 feet from the previous coast line. This one you can't walk behind, but you can walk right up to it and it's much wider than Seljalandsfoss, stretching 82 feet. When we first arrived, a tour buss arrived...we kinda stood back took it in and let them get their selfies in. Since you can stand as close as you dare you can really get a grasp on the magnitude of this waterfall. A rainbow appeared and we all went crazy. Once the tour group left, we each took turns standing on a rock that may or may not have strategically been placed there. After you are done getting sprayed and are ready to dry off and get a different view you can walk up 370 steps to get to the top. For as powerful as the waterfalls seem, the top where veil begins is not as rushing as you would think.. quite peaceful actually... then boom. 200 foot drop.
Legend has is a Viking buried his gold treasures in the cave behind the waterfall. Legend continues that the treasure was found but the finders were only able to grab a ring before the chest disappeared again! The ring was given to a local church and now sides with pride in a museum.
|this really shows you how massive the waterfall is|
|"Troll houses" all over the place!|
The drive to the black sand beach is 10 min from the lighthouse. We see the clouds looming over, but that does not stop us! The beach is covered in black volcanic sand and soft stones. To the left as you enter the beach, there are enormous basalt sea stacks just off the shore and well as basalt columns. If you ask locals, the sea stacks got here by trolls. They dragged a three-masted ship to land, unsuccessfully. When day light broke, the sun turned them into stone, that are now rocks. In case you didn't know, trolls do not like sunlight.
As we left the sky cleared just in time for the most beautiful sunset....
We arrived back at the hostel around 10:30 pm! It was a gloriously full day. While asking the guy lady at the front desk what was open late, another Loft employee walks over. He tells us "the lights are outside!" We walked outside. At that moment, my trip was complete. It was an eerie feeling of silence as the handfull of stood up there and watched the lights dance around this sky. Shades of green and yellow and hints of pink. They would come in focus really strong then slowly move and go out of focus. As if it couldn't be more magical, Into the mystic begins to play on vinyl. It was so beautiful I got teary.
These pictures do not do it justice- I wasn't prepped for this set up!
Natalie was able to see them the night I left outside the city, check out her picture here...
On a natural high we set out for food and end up just getting food for the 24 hour market and cooking at the hostel. By 12:30 I needed my bed. I snuggled up smiling 100% satisfied not only with my day, but my entire trip.
Wednesday: Go home day.
I slept in, packed up checked out and wandered the streets of Rey until I made my way to the church. I went to the top and took it all in, Reykjavik and her magnificent city. I said a little prayer of gratitude up at the top and walked back down the stairs. The inside of the cathedral is powerful. The pipes for the organ adorned the wall above the entrance and steal the show. A gentleman started playing. I sat and said a couple more prayers. One for a friend who I had learned just lost her father and another friend who was recovery from brain surgery in the hospital and still in ICU. Even if you are not religious and don't believe in the big man upstairs (I do)... some places you just go in and you feel a presence, something bigger than you. This church with that organ playing was one of them. People all around standing in astounded by the sounds and the interior of this church.
This beauty was built in 1945 and stands 244 feet tall. It's designed to resemble the basalt columns found around Iceland.
Tips and notes if you go:
1. Download Google Maps. My iphone 6 maps did not work.
2. Don't bring USD. No one takes it.
3. You will feel like you are lost most of the time once outside the city. Enjoy it.
4. It's pricey. Add a few hundred dollars to whatever your budget is.
5. Keep a swimy suit with you in the rental car. There are hot springs everywhere
6. Rent a car.
7. Kolaportid Flea Market. Try and go. I wasn't in the city the days it was open.
8. Sunscreen. My chest and face got a nice tint of red every day.
9. Lip moisturizer!!
10. Water bottle! Cleanest water in the world, take advantage!