After a week of outbound travel from Reykjavik on Monday July 2nd we started making our way back to the capital. Up to this point we have had a lot of fun and are sad in some ways to start the journey back towards home. But we have been gone long enough and it is time to start thinking of our return to “normal” life. Frustrating in some ways of course, but all vacations must come to an end I suppose.
Our day started in the normal way it has for each day we have been in Iceland except for the first day – a “hotel” breakfast. The food at hotel Framtid was good but they lacked the waffle making capacity that we had experienced in other hotels. Still we filled up on food to tide us over until we could stop some where along the way for lunch.
We gassed up at the automatic pumps at the local supermarket and then hit the Ring Road heading south. The first part of our journey was almost due south along the coast. With each turn in the road another wonderful scene was revealed to us. We stopped at several pull offs that featured dramatic views of offshore sea stacks. Unfortunately, Zack had a bit of a stomach ache so he wasn’t enjoying the scenery as much as was I.
One of the most dramatic sights we saw during the morning had nothing to do with the scenery – it was the animals we saw! Rounding a curve we saw a camper van stopped in the other direction in such a way that they were partially intruding into our lane. As is normal for me I cussed out loud, and wondered to myself what the hell is this guy doing? Then I noticed the car in front of me coming to a very quick halt at which I did the same. Looking to see what was causing all the commotion, I observed a herd of 10 – 20 caribou grazing in a grassy area about 50 feet from the right hand side of the road. Caribou were the animals of Iceland that I thought I would be the least likely to see and there was a whole herd of them right in front of my face!
Quickly finding a place to pull over to the side of the road both Zack and I got out of the car to get a better observation point. They caribou were calm and did not seem too bothered by the growing group of humans watching them. I even had enough time to open the back of the car and get my telephoto lens on my camera. Shooting frame after frame with this zoom lens I was able to get at least a dozen really good photos of them before they were finally spooked by another car coming down the road. What a surprise it was to see these magnificent animals when we had not expected to see anything of the kind.
Seeing these animals led Zack and I to have a debate in the car as to whether they were caribou or reindeer. Of course this led us to “google” what defines a caribou versus a reindeer. On only one website was I able to find a definition that describes a difference between the two. The supposed difference is that when these animals live in the wild they are called caribou. When they are domesticated and live in herds used by man they are called reindeer. The primary areas in which these animals are domesticated are in Lapland which is the far northern region of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. Lapland is not an official state or territory it is the land that is occupied by the Sami people – previously know as Lapps. But Lapp is now considered a derogatory term for these people who still live off the land in aboriginal fashion. Ok – so that is the lesson on reindeer versus caribou and Lapland for the day!
The caribou ran off behind a hill when they were spooked and that was the last we saw of them. I took a few more pictures of the landscape and then we headed off to the south again.
(Spooked caribou running away.)
As we neared the town of Hofn, the road began to separate a little from the coast. We stopped in Hofn to get Zack something to eat to see if that made his stomach feel a little bit better. For a while it was touch and go with his stomach, but then everything righted itself and he felt much better.
From Hofn onward the Ring Road begins to head to the west instead of the south. Within a short distance we came to understand why the road was moving away from the coast – as we began to see large fields of glacial sand and debris on the left hand side of the road. To ease the construction of the road, it was built further inland to avoid as much as possible the ever changing surface structure brought about by the flooding of rivers and waterways as they reached the coast.
Further in the distance to the north (on our right hand side) we began to get glimpses of the source of the glacial sand and debris, the Vatnajökull icecap. At first I couldn’t tell if it was clouds or the ice cap. I knew at some point along our journey from Hofn to Vik, we would see numerous glaciers, but with the low hanging cloud deck it was difficult to determine what I saw was. After a few minutes that we didn’t understand what we were seeing it became apparent the only thing it could be was part of the ice cap or a glacier. How cool was that – seeing both caribou and a glacier in one day!
We tried to see if there were any roads leading to the north that would take us to the edge of the ice cap, but there were none that would be passable for the rental car we were driving. Our only hope was that we would get to have a closer look further to the west. That was definitely going to happen!
Driving further to the west we got used to seeing the glacier in the distance to the north. So it was with great surprise that we rounded a corner and right in front of us was a river filled with icebergs! Slamming on the brakes we saw that there was a “tourist trap” set up right by this river. It turned out that we were at the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. This glacial lagoon is very famous and has been featured in two James Bond movies – “A View to a Kill” and “Die Another Day”. It was additionally featured in the movies “Tomb Raider” and “Batman Begins” also with the TV show the “Amazing Race”.
Parking the car we scrambled out to investigate the massive icebergs floating serenely in the lagoon. The lagoon is one of the exit sources for ice flowing out of the Vatnajökull ice cap. Here’s the write up from Wikipedia about the sources of the lagoon. “Jökulsárlón (literally "glacial river lagoon") is a large glacial lagoon in southeast Iceland, on the borders of Vatnajökull National Park. Situated at the head of Breiðamerkurjökull, it evolved into a lagoon after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The lake has grown since then at varying rates because of melting of the Icelandic glaciers. The lagoon now stands 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) away from the ocean's edge and covers an area of about 18 km2 (6.9 sq mi). It recently became the deepest lake in Iceland at over 248 metres (814 ft) depth as glacial retreat extended its boundaries. The size of the lagoon has increased fourfold since the 1970s. It is considered as one of the natural wonders of Iceland.”
There were many things to observe about this lagoon. The first was the back and forward struggle between water flowing to the ocean and the incoming tides. When we first arrived water was flowing out into the ocean as one would expect. By the time we left the rising tide was rushing in, pushing the icebergs back towards the glacier. Another interesting thing to notice was the color variation between the various icebergs. Some were pretty much totally white like snow with maybe a little bit of black or brown coloration mixed in. Others were bright blue and looked like pure hard ice. We couldn’t figure out the reason for the color differences. We had our questions answered about the colors when we signed up for a guided boat tour of the lagoon. The white colored icebergs are ones that have been exposed to the air for a long period of time. As has often been remarked, what you see above the water is only the tip of the iceberg. That saying is very true and the white part of the iceberg above the water is when the iceberg hasn’t rolled over in a long time and the ice has been exposed to the air. The dark parts of the iceberg were places in which mud, sand and earth deposits were mixed in with the ice. An a blue iceberg is one that has recently rolled over and the ice is smooth and clear. Ice for a reason that is beyond me, cannot reflect blue wave length light. So the blue wavelength light becomes trapped in the ice and continues to bounce around within the iceberg, causing it to have a bluish appearance. As the top of the iceberg stays above the water it begins to melt and weather causing it to take on the white snow like appearance which is less able to trap the blue wave length light.
(A variety of colored icebergs floating off toward the ocean.)
(Almost totally blue iceberg. Pretty cool looking!)
(Holding a 1000 year piece of ice. Best ice in the world for adding to your drinks. Too bad we can't bring this slab home for some wonderful cold icy drinks in hot, hot Colorado!)
A company established there offers “duck” tours of the lagoon. A “duck” is a former military landing craft that can traverse on land with wheels and then uses propellers to move through the water. We of course had to take this tour. Getting out among the icebergs was magnificent and gave us views that would not have been possible on land. The “duck” won’t go too close to any of the icebergs in case one would rollover striking and destroying the “duck”. Regardless we got close enough to see the icebergs in a very detailed way. Additionally, the tour guide provided us with a detailed understanding of the lagoon and the glacier. He even had a piece of one of the icebergs that was estimated to be over 1000 years old. At the end of his talk he let each of us hold it and then he chipped chunks off of it so that we could taste 1000 year old ice.
The tour only last about 45 minutes and then we grabbed some hot chocolate at the little café by the lagoon’s shore before returning to the car and the drive.
In a short distance we found another spot in which the ice cap was calving icebergs into another more remote lagoon. We could see the ice cap off in the distance and we noticed a road running from the ring road that looked passable. So I thought - what the hell let's give this a try. The road was a little rough but not too bad and before you knew it we were at a parking area and off in the distance we could see the glacier. When we arrived we had the entire place to ourselves so I was quick to scramble up the rocks to get a look at this immense river of ice. The climb over the rocks was tricky as everything was wet, but it was worth it as I got an intense view of the very end of the glacier. Looking further to the north I could see the bulk of the glacier looming in that direction. I started to climb even higher but then I recalled a memorial we had seen by the parking area to two German men who were lost in this glacier in 2007 and have never been found. That kind of stopped me in my tracks and made me climb back down to where Zack was waiting - as he had the smarts not to follow up up the rock face. We stayed about 20 minutes and then headed back to the car when another group showed up. We let them have the serenity and peace of this location to themselves.
(Zack in front of the glacier lagoon we had 100% to ourselves!)
(Scary reminder that even if you are careful, bad things can happen.)
Continuing further east we saw brutal evidence of flooding caused by a volcanic eruption under the ice cap. On September 30, 1996 a volcano under the ice cap had erupted causing huge quantities of ice to melt in a very short amount of time. The water was held up underneath the ice cap in great lakes until it burst forth in a dramatic flood on November 2, 1996. When the flooding occurred it wiped out miles of the Ring Road and destroyed bridges built to span the rivers flowing from the ice cap. Twenty thousand ton blocks of ice were swept from the glacier out into the ocean in a matter of minutes. The remains of one of the bridges destroyed by the flood have been left embedded in the sand and gravel to serve as an example of the destructive power of the water.
The road continued through this no mans land of volcanic sand and gravel plans for many, many kilometers until the impacts of the glaciers and ice caps became less apparent upon the land. Traveling further west we came to the beautiful town of Vik and the natural beauty of the sea stacks found in the ocean on the outskirts of town. Given this magnificent sight we stopped to walk on the beach of black volcanic sand and take some pictures of the sea stacks. Due to the beauty of this small town I made the mental note that whenever I come back to Iceland in the future, I need to make this town a several day stop.
Leaving Vik we began to turn to the north and started to head further inland from the ocean. We didn’t stop any more on the trip as it was now growing late and we wanted to get to the guesthouse at which we were staying. The guesthouse was at a little place called Lambastadir. I can’t even say that it was a town as it was more just a gathering of two farms. The guesthouse was built on the property of a local farm. It was brand new and was in excellent shape. We enjoyed it because it was directly on the farm and we could see many of the farm animals as we pulled up to check-in. It was truly a “mom and pop” operation as the farmer and his wife were doing almost all the work to run the place. I assume it allowed them to supplement the income from just the farm.
To conclude our evening after checking in we drove another 10 kilometers or so to the town of Selfoss to find some dinner. We had what I am starting to consider the second Icelandic national food – pizza! It seems as though you can get pizza at just about every restaurant in Iceland. That is perhaps an exaggeration, but we found pizza in most everywhere we stayed.
We then drove back to our guesthouse, used their Internet connection for a while and then went to bed looking forward to another day of adventure in Iceland! (A quick note upon that last statement – in most of the hotels we have stayed there has been no television. We have normally not settled down in our hotels until almost 9:00 or 10:00PM every night. But neither Zack nor I have wanted to go immediately to bed so we have sat down and worked upon our computers. These times have traditionally been the times I have spent writing these blog updates. We don’t like spending time in our hotels but we do need an hour or two of down time before we go to bed each night – and so we use the Internet to stay in contact with the rest of the world. I am sure if there were TV we would probably watch that instead, but that hasn’t even been an option.)
Anyway – that is it for now. I am still 2 days behind in my writing so this is being writing on July 4th. Happy 4th of July to everyone. I hope it is a fun and safe day for you all.
Thanks and peace to all! ~J.