Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Iceland Trip Summer 2018

The adventure started on our way to JFK because there was a major downpour in New York that evening and the highways were totally clogged. We opted for the subway and made it to JFK in under an hour. On the E train subway car, an advertisement caught our eyes. It was a drawing of lots of people doing fun summer activities in New York, rather like Where's Waldo.  I commented, “Oh, that looks a lot like Finding Wallace”!  That made us all chuckle, and even made it into one of Riley’s Instagram posts. Max also managed to get us 4 rides for the price of 3 on the AirTrain!

There are many photos on our Photo Website and there are now 2 videos of the trip, Part 1 & Part 2 each about 20 minutes long.

DAY 1  Our majestic, fast-paced day
Lambafellsgjá, Þingvellir National Park, Öxarárfoss, Laugarvatnshellir, Gullfoss, Geysir, Strokkur, Bruarfoss, Laugarvatn
Today was our first day in Iceland, and it didn’t disappoint, and neither did our tour guide. This vacation has been months in the planning. We arrived at KEF at 7.30am, organized our coffee, WiFi box, rental car, and set off on our adventure. We headed out from Keflavík along route 41 toward Reykjavík stopping at Lambafellsgjá (Lamb), our first destination.
We exited the highway onto an extremely rough and bumpy road. Riley aptly named it “5.5 Earthquake Road”.  We navigated the 5k of potholes and rocks very carefully and parked our car in an area where steam and hot vapor were escaping from cracks in the earth -- pretty cool. There was, of course, no one else anywhere around.
Charles led the way with great spring in his step. Our first hike took us along a winding path, to the frustrated subglacial volcano vent called Lambafellsgjá. It’s a huge bubble-shaped mound cracked through the center showing exposed pillow basalts that formed when hot lava protruded up into the ice shelf which covered Iceland. The walls of the crack are perhaps 20-30 meters high, but the width of the crack is only about 1-2 meters. It was fascinating and our first taste of adventure, but a romp in the park compared with the journey ahead.
The ground was smoking!
We returned to the car and drove back on the same bumpy road and met an Aussie couple looking for Keiler, a nearby volcanic cone. We commiserated on the terrible road and gave them directions as best we could. Finally, we got back to the highway and navigated our way to a Bonus grocery store, one of Iceland’s chain supermarkets. We bought sandwiches for the road and supplies to last us at least a few days. Ris Buffs were an excellent purchase.
We drove right past Reykjavík to Þingvellir National Park and the Golden Circle as it is called. Þingvellir is the site of the 930CE Icelandic Parliament, Laugarvatnshellir (cave homes, lava tubes, and pillow basalts), Gullfoss, Geysir, and Bruarfoss.
We hiked the huge Almannagjá fault between the North American plate moving west and the European plate moving east. It is a huge crack in the earth the result of plate movement. The entire graben is riddled with cracks and faults. We walked down the path which took us to a gorgeous waterfall, Öxarárfoss. Charles tasted the water, the boys hopped over the rocks, and we took some great pics. Charles and Riles ran back to collect the car; the plan, to drive back and pick up Max and me. Their return took much longer than anticipated. Once reunited, we made a unanimous decision to stay together for the remainder of the trip - four birds of a feather must stay together, well, at least until those baby birds are ready to leave the nest.
After visiting Þingvellir, we had to detour and missed Gjabakki- earth homes we had named “Gabb.” So many of the Icelandic names are hard to pronounce, so we ended up giving them nicknames. We did still see the cave houses, pillow basalts, and lava tubes in the canyon at Laugarvatnshellir.
Layers of solidified tephra over cracked pillow basalts
It’s hard to imagine living in one of those, but I guess the cave houses provided warmth to the people way back when. Simple living I would say. We climbed a little way up into the pillow basalt canyon and learned how the rocks had been formed during a volcanic eruption under the mile high ice shelf which covered Iceland.
We checked into the Golden Circle Apartments, a very comfortable one bedroom with a bunk bed for the boys, a kitchen, and a beautiful view of the lake, Laugarvatn. We quickly jumped back into the car and headed for Bruarfoss but found all roads which led to the falls blocked by gates. Riley looked it up and found out that tourists had littered and destroyed the entryway to the falls, so the community decided to make it off limits! It is on private property after all.
We were disappointed but drove straight on past Geysir to see Gullfoss, a double falls that cross each other at 45° to the river’s course. It was amazing and beautiful. On the way back to the car, Charles scolded a young couple for smoking in this gorgeous environment and around all of the tourists. They were nonplussed, but Mother Earth was very pleased.
Our next stop was Geysir and Strokkur. It was a challenge to time our photos and videos to capture the powerful eruptions of water shooting up from the ground, but it was lots of fun.
We had another family discussion, urged on by Riley, about a hike to Bruarfoss, but by the back way still through some private property. We decided to do it, found the back road, the hidden path, and were very respectful hikers. The falls were gorgeous beyond belief. This was definitely a highlight for Riley. The crystal clear blue water and the purity of the falls were simply hard to match.
We dined in a fancy restaurant, feeling like real foodies. Riles ordered Atlantic Cod, beautifully presented, almost too perfect to eat. Of course, he ate it, and every morsel was obviously enjoyed immensely. Max ordered a hearty burger and Charles and I shared some succulent lamb and lobster bisque, all masterfully displayed and very satisfying.

After dinner, Charles and the boys took off to the Fontana Mineral Baths just down the road on the shore of Laugarvatn. I stayed behind to shower in the apartment. I probably should have gone with them as my shower went cold midway through my shampoo. In my efforts to correct the problem, I managed to pull the shower faucet right out of the wall. Thankfully, it was easily replaced, but my shower left me pretty soapy. All in all, a glorious fun-filled, adventurous day. Can Day 2 possibly surpass day 1? Knowing Charles, it most definitely will.

DAY 2  Our Epic Day
Kerið Crater, Vestmannaeyjar (Heimaey, Stórhöfði, Eldfell) Gljúfrabúi, Seljalandsfoss

We hopped out of bed, well, almost all of us, gobbled down brekkie, consumed strong coffee, packed our car, and zipped out the door at 9.30am. We were on our way to Kerið (newly nicknamed Carrot, by us). Kerið, a spatter and scoria cone is a crater formed about 6,500 years ago, 270 ft long, 170 ft wide, 55 ft deep. There is a beautiful blue lake at the bottom which Riles loved. We walked around the rim and took some great photos, then Riley and Max ran down to the water and around the bottom rim of the crater. Kerið was extremely picturesque. Its vivid aqua-blue water fed from the water table was very striking. It seemed proud and majestic, sleeping as a docile giant, a place of awe for travelers.
We had to make a detour around Selfoss as the main bridge was being repaired. After a brief gas stop at Landvegamót  (“Land of Vegemite”), we were on our way to  Landeyjahöfn and the Vestmannaeyjar Ferry to Heimaey. We were a bit ahead of schedule, so we made a quick stop to see Seljalandsfoss in the bright sunshine with lots of tourists, then on to the ferry. The 45-minute ferry ride to island departed at 12.45pm and provided an excellent opportunity to soak in some sun on the top deck. Riles and I had a lengthy discussion about the signs for safety on board the ferry. At first, we thought the sign was a boy with a balloon, but soon realized it was a boy with a life raft. A life raft would certainly provide more safety than a balloon. It was a fun way to pass the time. Along the way we noticed a single white house sitting up on top of a tiny yet very tall island near Heimaey. There seemed no apparent way to get to the house. Helicopter perhaps? Scaling the cliff? How did those people get there? We came up with no obvious answer but read that it’s sometimes rented for the summer for those looking for isolation.
As we entered Heimaey harbour we were treated to a gorgeous view of the island,  it was truly beautiful. When the Eldfell volcano erupted in 1973, lava flow would have been permanently closed the entrance to the harbour making the island uninhabitable. There is a great retelling of the heroic efforts to reroute the lava and save the harbour in The Control of Nature by John McPhee. How lucky it was, the harbour was able to be saved.
We set out from the ferry terminal on rented bikes. Max was impressed with the quality of the bikes. He estimated the cost at around $3,000 each. The girl who hired us our bikes couldn’t have been much older than 16. She seemed young until we had a checkout boy later in the day at the Bonus supermarket who couldn’t have been much older than 14.
Our bike ride took us a little short of 2 hours. We passed by the island’s golf course where we thought of our good friend Ron and were given a view of Elephant rock. Charles said the hike on that part of the island has chutes and ladders -- meaning chains and ropes-YIKES. I would not be happy to climb that one. We pedaled hard on several steep slopes, who knew Iceland was so hilly and made it out to Puffin Lookout point at Stórhöfði at the southernmost part of the island. We spent time taking photos of puffins from a grassy slope above the cliff and were kept company by a few bleating Icelandic sheep.
atop Eldfell
We followed a different route to return the bikes and just left them as the girl was nowhere to be found (we decided there’s not much crime on the island), then climbed the volcanic cone of Eldfell for a wonderful view. In 1973, Eldfell started spewing lava from a massive split in the earth, and everyone evacuated. Many homes were covered with 12 meters of lava and everywhere was covered with 10 meters of tephra. We saw several plaques describing what used to lay under the lava on the way up. Professor Barker provided us with a detailed history lesson on the eruption of Eldfell. We have decided there should be a new word added to the English dictionary- “DISTORY," short for Dad’s History.
Amazing color contrast, the light green is moss and the black is lava without moss, the red is Eldfell
Back at Bonus, we replenished our supplies, bought 3 frozen pizzas, and various other Icelandic staples -- licorice allsorts and more Ris Buffs (chocolate covered rice marshmallow cookies) were essentials. De-lish. While waiting for our return trip, Charles treated us to 4 delicious hot chocolates, sitting at a table outside at a restaurant close to the ferry terminal. At 6.45pm we boarded the ferry for Landeyjahöfn, and perched ourselves on the top deck at the back of the boat, just like four happy puffins. We noticed the flag on the ferry had a pink elephant on it and tried to work out what it meant. “No pink elephants allowed,” and speaking of pink; the Bonus grocery symbol is a pink pig on a yellow background! We had the sun shining on our faces the entire trip home, and we had an extremely comfy pillow to rest our heads on too -- we labeled him Charles “Pillow Basalt” Barker.
Upon arrival at our farm Airbnb, we were greeted by a herd of Icelandic horses along with the owner of the farm. He opened the door to our apartment and showed us how to light the oven. Our apartment contained a bedroom with a bassinet to the side and a cozy main room with a small bed to the side. Luckily Charles and I like each other so when we eventually tucked in for the night, we gave the boys the big bed and Charles and I snuggled in the small one adjacent to the kitchen. It was a better solution all round as Charles could make morning coffee without worrying about waking up the boys.
Seljalandsfoss, this is not an Iceland promo shot; Riley took this!
The pizzas we bought at the Vestmannaeyjar Bonus were a good call for dinner, an excellent idea of Max. The sun was still up when we finished eating, so with full bellies, we headed to Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi, 2 magnificent waterfalls. I can find no words to describe their beauty.
Watching the sunset from behind Seljalandsfoss was truly exhilarating. Our spirits were higher than high. Riley’s word sums it up perfectly. “Epic.” After watching the sunset from behind the falls, we walked the short distance to Gljúfrabúi which is a waterfall inside a cave. We walked through the tiny crack in the bluff, stepping on well place stones in the outflow stream until we reached the waterfall.
This was a day to christen our rain gear. We got pretty wet behind Seljalandsfoss and even wetter at Gljúfrabúi. The campground in the area was lovely and inviting but we headed back to our farmhouse to sleep.

The crevice to get to Gljúfrabúi
Max inside Gljúfrabúi.

DAY 3  Our busy, rainy day
Skógafoss, Fimmvörðuháls Trail, Dyrhólaey, Reynisfjara, Halsanefshellir, Hjörleifshöfði, Laufskálavarða, Fjaðrárgljúfur, Kirkjugólf, Dverghamrar, Svartifoss

We left our farm Airbnb at 9.15 heading east. We passed the EPIC falls of yesterday driving toward Skógafoss, yet another impressive waterfall. Skógafoss was simply gorgeous, a true rival for Seljalandsfoss.
We hiked to the top of the falls and along the Fimmvörðuháls Trail. At one stage in the planning, Charles had thought we might walk the entire trail which winds between 2 glaciers but it would have taken a full day and perhaps gone through snow too. We didn’t have that time luxury; too much to do, too much to see. We hiked up the trail for about an hour looking at more waterfalls at every twist and turn before heading back to the car. The scenery was simply gorgeous. Rugged is the word I think best describes the landscape, vividly green and super lush.
Fimmvörðuháls Trail above Skogafoss
Our possible plan to hike to the edge of Sólheimajökull Glacier didn’t end up happening as the glacier has receded too far. We would have had to hike for too long to reach it. Instead, we headed for Dyrhólaey Arch. Unfortunately, it had become very rainy and windy. We hiked regardless (a short hike) and saw some very cute puffins using the strong headwinds to back into their cliff-face nests just as though they were parking their cars. Riley and Max set about to capture them in flight and they were successful. We didn’t linger too long because of the awful weather. Our next stop, the black sand beach, Reynisfjara, and the fantastic basalt column cave, Halsanefshellir.
Halsanefshellir basalt column cave on Reynesfjara black beach
We were hopeful the wind and rain would break, and sure enough, it did. The weather gods were on our side. We were able to walk along the black sand and we waited for but didn’t see any “sneaker waves.” There were many opportunities for awesome photos. My favorites were the ones of the boys up on the Halsanefshellir basalt columns. We will have an excellent homemade calendar next year.
Not only were the weather gods on our side, but the food gods also. The Icelandic hot dogs, in particular, were very tasty, the chips too. It was an excellent pause amidst our day’s adventure and our timing was impeccable as a huge bus load of hungry tourists arrived just as we were leaving Reynisfjara.
With lunch consumed and us totally full-filled, we headed in the direction of Fjaðrárgljúfur, a gorgeous canyon. We went off-road to Hjörleifshöfði cave but decided not to hike the 1k but to drive on as Max had fallen asleep. On the way, we saw many rootless cones or pseudo-craters, mini-volcano-looking mounds caused long ago when lava flooded over a marsh area and the superheated water below pushed up through the lava in gigantic bubbles and left these conical shapes. And there were hundreds of stacked stones at Laufskálavarða, an area where travelers have for centuries placed stones one on top of another to bring good luck. We skipped a 4k detour to a roadcut that’s an excellent example of tephrochronology because the rain was now heavy.
We turned onto the road to Laki which lead to Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, arriving around 3pm. It was still raining, but we braved the elements anyway and hiked up the paths along the edge of the canyon. It was well worth it.

They must have recently defined specific paths above the canyon blocking off entrances to precipices where others had stood for photo ops. Since now it was raining steadily, we didn’t feel safe stepping over the rope just for a photo.
Still pouring, we made a very brief stop at Kirkjugólf (no one seems to know why it’s called “Church Floor”) to walk on the exposed tops of basalt column.
One kilometer further, the Dwarf Rocks, Dverghamrar,  provided Riley with a very needed bathroom break and Charles time to take in the fantastic columnar basalt formations. Max and I skipped this one as it was still pouring. We pressed on over a huge sandur plain caused by centuries of jökulhlaups or glacial floods at the base of the Skeiðarárjökull, a massive glacier, which we couldn’t see well because of the rain.

The weather gods have been angry today, but also, have smiled upon us, occasionally providing little pauses in the wind and rain allowing us to see some of the sites. We entered Skaftafell National Park and with every last ounce of our energy, we hiked to Svartifoss, another breathtaking waterfall flowing over huge basalt columns. We opted to hike the full circuit, roughly 5km in length. Along the way back, Charles and Riley hiked up a steep slope to see the Skeiðarárjökull glacier from above. Max and I declined to ascend and continued along the circuit toward the car park at a moderate pace, encouraged all the way by gummy bears. Charles and Riles eventually caught up, their pace was faster even without the help of gummy bears. We had already done quite a bit of hiking and Charles’ continual encouragement became the quote of the day, “I think this is the last hill!”
We were tired but grateful travelers when checking into Hotel Skaftafell. The hotel sits at the bottom of the Svínafellsjökull Glacier, just 5 minutes from the National Park and tomorrow morning’s guided hike on a glacier. Our rainy day had given us many amazing things to remember.  The room was cozy, and we had a full, fancy, and free brekkie to look forward to in the morning.

DAY 4  Our Glacial Day
Skaftafell Glacier hike (Hvannadalsjökull), Fjallsárlón Glacier lagoon trip, Jökulsárlón, Borgarhorn; Hvalnesfjall, Búlandstindur, Egilsstaðir, Seyðisfjörður

Today is our big glacier day. We have reached the halfway mark in our vacation, so it seems fitting we are peaking with a guided hike on a glacier. So with our “all you can eat” brekkie gobbled down with gusto, our bags packed, we were on our way toward our first glacial experience, the Icelandic Mountain Guides Blue Ice Experience on Skaftafell, or at least we thought on Skaftafell. 
At the base of Hvannadalsjokull
We mde, Elsbeth, who was about 22, knowledgeable and very charming. Charles had arranged a tight schedule for that day and after the glacier hike, we had only 45 minutes to drive around the mountain for our 1:30pm glacier lagoon Zodiac boat tour. So, at her suggestion, we drove our own car behind the mini-bus to the setting off point of our glacier hike. No time to waste on this trip! Every second counts. As it turned out, the hike was not on Skaftafell, nor the glacier next to it, Svínafellsjökull, but the next glacier on, Hvannadalsjökull, which was even closer to Fjallsárlón. Good news for us. When we arrived, the tour guide asked everyone to stand in a circle and introduce themselves and say where they were from. Riley boldly went first, and afterward, Riles turned to me and said, “Hey mum, we just did an icebreaker!”
We donned our crampons and harnesses and headed up the glacier with our guide. The glacier was spectacular, we stopped every so often to regroup, take photos, and wonder at the breathtaking view before us. We pondered how small we are as humans in the presence of such a huge, majestic, living, breathing, moving thing on the earth, and we were saddened by the reality of what we (not so) intelligent human beings are doing to this beautiful planet. It’s in the presence of something so great and majestic that one simply can’t turn a blind eye to the role we are playing in the warming of the planet.
Our informative and eager guide taught us about glacial movement, the ridges and peaks it forms, the weight, and the lagoon. The valley walls showed distinct layers of different volcanic flows, columnar basalts, and tephra all stacked on top of each other.

          On the glacier, we dipped our water bottles into the rivulets running down and drank the pure glacial water. It was amazingly delicious perhaps because it was water that fell as snow hundreds of years ago before man-made pollution. We basked in the glorious sunny morning experience. When the tour concluded we jumped into our car and zipped along at a quick pace mindful of speed cameras all the while eating our lunch in the hopes, fingers crossed, that we would make our Zodiac boat tour, and, we did!

At Fjallsárlón we donned our huge amazingly warm and windproof jackets.  We looked a great deal like firefighters but there were no fires thankfully, just feisty winds and glorious vistas. We walked over the ridge and down to the lagoon. The boat ride was choppy and everyone got splashed with the freezing water. The poor guy in front was drenched! If we had had more time, we would have opted for the boat tour on the next glacial over, but we would not have made it in time. Time can stretch only so far. We were delighted with our glacial experience; it was even better than we had dreamed. Charles hadn’t changed any US money into Icelandic Krona because all the guidebooks said that the entire country worked with credit cards. This was true except for the pay bathroom at Fjallsárlón. Charles didn’t have any 100kr coins to feed the turnstile so had to sneak the boys into the bathroom before we left.

          We drove further along Rt 1 and stopped to see Jökulsárlón. This would have been our lagoon of choice. Jökulsárlón is extremely blue, a magical blue, and today, it was also less windy than Fjallsárlón. We spotted 2 seals swimming among the icebergs in the lagoon, took some pics, and watched some little (truck-sized) icebergs drifting under the bridge and out to sea. We continued around the island to the northeast toward our final destination for the day, Seyðisfjörður, a beautiful town in the Eastern fjord region.

We passed a vast alpine valley, 2 huge and well-formed cirques, were treated to spectacular vistas and given the historical details from our super knowledgeable Charles. We stopped at a waterfall, Sveinstekksfoss, then took a shortcut, Rt. 939, a gravel road, up along the side of the fjord where we saw hundreds of waterfalls (no exaggeration). It was a beautiful uphill 25-minute drive connecting with the paved Rt 95 to Egilsstaðir. From there it was just another 25 minutes over the still snowy ridge and down the fjord to beautiful Seyðisfjörður.
At the end of the road, we found beautiful Seyðisfjörður and the adorable Hotel Aldan. Had we known how charming it was, we would have stayed an extra night. But, that will be for another time. We checked in and were given keys to the “Old Bank Building” down the street, behind the church. We climbed the stairs and opened the door to a beautifully decorated room. We had a fridge, a warm steamy shower, and clean bathroom. Heaven. The temperature had dropped considerably, but we took a quick walk around the tiny, artsy town -- artfully-graffitied buildings, colorful walkways, it was charming in its entirety. Back home we climbed into our soft, comfy beds with the boys in an alcove under a skylight. We slept well, needless to say.
The next morning, Charles and the boys headed to breakfast while I stayed in the room to send a few texts. It wasn’t long before they swept back into the room in a whirlwind flurry and we were on the road again. As we left our hotel, Charles and I both agreed, Mona would have loved our room and this delightful town.

DAY 5  Our stinky day or “F-Day”
Gufufoss, Fardagafoss, Stuðlafoss, Stuðlagil Canyon, Dettifoss, Selfoss, Hafragilsfoss, Hrevid, Námafjall, Reykjahlíð

At 9.45am we were on our way. Goodbye Hotel Aldan, we will miss your delightful ambiance and comfy beds. Goodbye, beautiful Seyðisfjörður, you are an incredibly beautiful fjord town. We wonder, will we ever have another chance to drive through you again in this lifetime? If not, we can truly say we have been treated.
We ascended the steep road up through the fjord, stopped briefly to take a pic of Gufufoss, then on top of the fjord, we viewed Fardagafoss.  Another quote from Charles, “Just one more waterfall!” On the way up we passed tarns and paternoster lakes then crested the ridge and got a view of the town, Egilsstaðir where we had feasted on delicious burgers the night before. The Salt Cafe (Saltkaffi), with free WiFi, excellent bathrooms, tasty food, and vibey music, was an excellent choice. Charles, our awesome tour guide, husband, dad, could not have planned better.
For this day we debated 2 alternatives. Option 1 was a hike up to the top of the mountain overlooking Seyðisfjörður. It would have provided a great view, but secretly we knew Charles was hoping we would go for Option 2, a hike that took us on a path through farmland to view a waterfall and canyon of columnar basalt. The ultimate canyon of our trip.  
We drove back through Egilsstaðir, filled up on gas, and continued on Rt 1 toward Reykjahlíð to Stuðlafoss and Stuðlagil Canyon -- Option 2. Following the Jökulsá river, we pondered the landscape and agreed that one thing seems to be consistent in this country -- sheep. They are everywhere in groups of 3.
We left the highway and drove south on a gravel road for about 12k. We parked the car by Klaustursel farm, crossed a tiny bridge to the east side of the river, and hiked a tractor path further south parallel to the river. We scaled 3 fences and strode confidently through private farmland, hoping not to bump into any angry farmers. I doubt very much there would be any of those in this friendly country. We did, however, bump into a few -- yes, you guessed it, Iceland’s most deadly animal -- SHEEP. They really didn’t seem to mind a bit.
Following our noses and our excellent tour guide’s navigational skills, we found Stuðlafoss, another columnar basalt waterfall, perhaps even more beautiful than Svartifoss and certainly less populated. We were again the only people there. 2k further, past a few more sheep, we came to Stuðlagil Canyon. This was perhaps the highlight of the trip for Charles. Riles was hoping for blue water (his highlights seem to involve the color blue) and apparently a few weeks ago, the water WAS blue, but the dam upstream had been recently opened to release floodwaters as there had been much rain in the middle of the country. The color of the water today was more green/gray/brown.
Stuðlagil Canyon
We climbed down the canyon wall on steps of the tops of the basalt columns. Once down and by the very rapidly flowing river we gasped at the canyon’s natural but striking beauty. Max was perhaps the most adventurous of us. Exploring up, exploring down. Exploring here, exploring there. In fact, exploring everywhere.
Back on Rt 1 toward Reykjahlíð, we drove past some barren landscape, surprisingly beautiful in its nakedness. There was no vegetation growing here, just jagged mounds in hues of blacks and browns. We turned north off of Rt 1 to Dettifoss, Europe’s largest waterfall.
We planned to hike to 3 waterfalls but ended up hiking to 2. We saw Dettifoss first, Selfoss, next. A midge (a little mosquito-like insect) flew into Max’s eye, which definitely dampened his experience. We unanimously decided not to venture to Hafragilsfoss, the 3rd waterfall and agreed that “2 out of 3 ain’t bad.”
One whacky thing, whilst returning on the boulder-lined path from Selfoss, with no one in sight, a 65-year-old Asian man jumped down from the rocks right into Charles. He said “parking lot?” and was apparently lost -- but that he came out of nowhere seemed very strange. He became our new friend and we got him back to his group safely.
Back on Rt 1 toward Lake Mývatn, we observed similar terrain to our very first day. Charles explained how the mid-Atlantic ridge runs crookedly through Iceland. Apparently, where we were driving is where the ridge turns its way back north, hence all the strange looking cracks in the earth’s surface. This country is so changeable and varied in its appearance.
Next on our agenda, a trip to see and SMELL the stinky sulfur mud-pots, fumaroles, and climb stinky, stinky Hverir. My grade for that -- A BIG FAT STINKY F. The stink, the sulfur, the slippery slopes, and the midges, all made this the ultimate stinkiest experience ever.
We begrudgingly climbed Namafjall on a slippery path to get a bird's eye view of Myvatn. Riles had a good quote at the stinky summit: “I’m taking a ‘sulphie’!” On the way down we passed a large group of Italian tourists who were cussin’ and spittin’ like we were. To one straggler Charles remarked, “Ma la vista est bella!” She was not impressed.
We were on the fence about bathing in the Mývatn Mineral Baths. We took a quick look and the general consensus was, nice, but not necessary. We checked into Elda guest houses, sorted through our dirty laundry, gave a bag to Eva to be washed, and decided to eat in. We bought more pizzas from a nearby store, and Max finally had the opportunity to eat the Mac & Cheese we had brought from home. We were happy to be in for the evening, EXCEPT for the stinky sulfuric stench released from the kitchen and shower taps.
Charles and I eventually succumbed to the smell and braved having showers but I made so much commotion in the bathroom that the boys decided to skip showering. Better to be dirty than stinky, they thought. The water, despite the stink, was surprisingly soft and after our showers, we didn’t stink like sulfur after all. The common theme of the day - stink, and the winning quote of the day was from Miranda, “I give this part of the tour…..a big fat stinky F”!

DAY 6 "J-Day", Our less stinky, slightly more stressful, midgie, somewhat godly, and finally, more mellow day.  
Krafla, Grjótagjá cave, Hverfell, Lake Mývatn, Skútustaðagígar, Höfði, Dimmuborgir, Vindbelgjarfjall, Goðafoss, Akureyri

We slept like logs except for Max, who came into our bedroom halfway through the night saying he was being bitten by a black fly. We woke later than usual and enjoyed a free hearty breakfast. We tried Icelandic Skyr (coffee and blueberry flavor) and rúgbrauð, a rye bread baked for 24 hours in the natural heat of the earth. After the car was packed, we were on our way to view Krafla which erupted 4 times from 1975 to 1984. We’re hoping there was going to be no action today.
We hiked up the Krafla Viti crater, a scoria cone, admired its intensely blue colored water, and hiked to the black lava fields which were part of the last volcanic eruption. On our way back to the car, Charles picked up the litter left by tourists. Not too stinky of a trip.
Returning to Myvatn, we drove back passed Hverir and the stinky Namafjall geo fields of yesterday, and with pedal to the metal, bid that stinky place goodbye. Ten minutes on, we stopped to wonder at the Grjótagjá cave, once a popular bathing spot before the recent eruptions raised the temperature to 50° Celsius.
Grjótagjá cave
At this point, Riles realized he had left his water bottle at the guest house. Luckily, we were just a stone's throw away. This gave Charles an opportunity to dump the trash he had picked up from the Krafla walk, so with Riley’s water bottle retrieved we were back in the car and headed for the black tuff cone, Hverfjall. We climbed the cinder cone to the top for a grand view.
Next stop, Dimmuborgir. Legend has it that this is the place where the Icelandic “Yule Lads” live. They live in the caves, sleep in the summer, and come out in the winter. You can see them best in December when they are preparing for Christmas. They are dwarf-like in appearance.
Of the many paths to choose from at Dimmuborgir, we hiked the most challenging trail, of course. We didn’t stay long as the midges were unbearable. Had we known we could have bought protective head-nets and our experience would have been very different. In spite of the invasion of the midges, Riley thought Dimmuborgir very cool. His words, “I’m digging this place.” Max didn’t dig it at all.
We returned to the bug-free zone of the car and headed to Höfði. Charles and Riley took a quick look at the strange volcanic columns standing in the lake while Max and I stayed in the car. We weren’t up to any more battles with bugs. Back on the road, we passed more pseudo craters at Skútustaðagíga and decided against climbing Vindbelgjarfjall. That seemed just a tad too ambitious for the day which had already been rather traumatic for Max. We discovered his tipping point. Bugs and flying insects. My tipping point was steep slippery slopes and stinky smells, as seen yesterday on the slopes of the geothermal sulfur climb. Happy to be bidding our farewells to stinky, midge country, we headed west toward Akureyri.
Goðafoss (God’s Falls), our next stop, was incredibly beautiful. Blue as blue. Thankfully, there were very few midges. We spent a long time there, on both sides of the river, soaking in the beauty. It was a great way to wrap up the day. There were only a few moments of stress for me when the boys got a little too close to the edge of the falls, and I used the “J” word. Hence, we have decided to call this day J-DAY, rather fitting since the name of the falls is God’s Falls.
We continued west towards Akureyri and checked into the Icelandair Hotel, a beautiful room, nice hot shower, and dinner. NB: Riley googled why we see groups of only 3 sheep on our travels. The reason - ewes give birth to 2 lambs at a time. Mystery solved. We drove through the town and found it very charming, we ate burgers at Djs Grill and later bought takeout sushi from Sushi Corner. Riley found a new friend, an obese, roly-poly puffin he named Oskar with a k.
Oskar photobombing us at Glannifoss

DAY 7  Our wind-down day. Wending our way to Reykjavík
Kolugljúfur Canyon, Grábrók Volcanic cones, Glannifoss, Reykjavík

We had a relaxing morning in Akureyri and at 11am we headed back to Rt 1 toward Kolugljúfur Canyon. There were many beautiful farms in this part of Iceland. Along the way, we noticed bundles of hay wrapped in various colors - green, black, white, pink, yellow, and black & white striped. Riley said they looked like little-colored marshmallows. We wondered why the different colors? My guess- different colors for different times of harvesting. Charles’ guess- different colors for different crops. It would be fun to know.
Kolugljúfur Canyon
We spent 30 mins at Kolugljúfur Canyon, admiring its shades of blue, it's 5 waterfalls, and the bluest of blue water cascading down. Here we were able to walk to the precipices and look down the 30 meters to the water below. Soon we were back on Rt 1 to Grábrók,
another volcanic cone. Our last and final stop of the day involved a pleasant walk to Glannifoss (“just 1 more, and final, waterfall”). I would say we had definitely reached saturation point though it was a beautiful waterfall.
We drove into Reykjavík and checked into the Hilton Nordica. Charles got us 2 wonderful rooms at the end of the hall on the 6th floor. Prime real estate with all the comforts. We had use of the executive lounge (lovely view) for happy hour, free brekkie in the morning, and use of the spa. Riles stayed at the hotel whilst Charles, Max, and I went in search of sushi. We found ‘Tokyo Sushi’ which had good takeout, but the line was too long, and we were after “an experience.”
We eventually struck gold, it wasn’t easy, but well worth it. Charles found us the perfect place in downtown Reykjavík. We chose 3 rolls from the menu, Salmon Lover, Kamikaze, and Volcano. What better way to celebrate and culminate our Spectacular, Adventurous, Volcanic, Glacial, Icelandic Vacation. It was delicious. We wished Riley had been with us. We hurried back to the Hilton to find Riles showered and eagerly awaiting his KFC meal, the only chicken we could find at that hour. Most places in Iceland seem to close early!  He was very pleased.

DAY 8 Our travel day -Iceland to New York    

Reykjavík, Keflavík

We woke up refreshed, all except Charles who woke at 4.30am. He was worried because while checking in for our flight home he saw we had seats scattered all over the plane. After brekkie in the executive lounge, we took a relaxing spa in pools of varying temperature, checked out around 11:30, and drove to the funky part of Reykjavík where we had eaten sushi last night. We strolled through the colorful streets, saw the ominous looking Hallgrímskirkja, indulged in crepes and hotdogs, explored the funky Harpa Concert Hall with its honeycombed glass windows, and then headed for the airport. Charles was eager to arrive early to change our seating allocation. On the way, we stopped at Bonus to stock up on Ris Buffs, but unfortunately, they were out. Luckily we found some at an alternative supermarket, Kronan, after refueling the car. We returned our extremely dirty hire car, rode the airport bus to the terminal, changed our seats to sit together, checked our bag, and waited until the boarding call.
Reykjavík --  Hallgrímskirkja in the background

We did it. What an incredible vacation. You know the saying, “now you need a vacation from your vacation”? Well, that is true for us. It has been a full 8 days. A round of applause for Charles and the rest of the Barker family. We certainly don’t do things by halves. Our kind of travel is not for the faint of heart. Thank you darling Charles for enriching our lives. We love you.

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