Monday, June 27, 2011

dinner and a show

By chance, I arrived at Vogar's Vogafjós Cowshed Cafe just in time to snag one of two tables by the milking room window and caught the tail end of the evening's milking. Plus a vegetable crepe and a salad. My camping diet has been a lot of carbs, starch, and cookies, so I ordered the item that had the most vegetables. I didn't even plan on visiting the cafe. I was just walking up the road after a day hike to Hverfjall and Dimmuborgir near Lake Mývatn, when I realized where I was. Moo.

The idea that started this entire trip was to be above the Arctic Circle for midsummer. Most of Iceland lies just below the circle, except for the little island of Grímsey, which straddles 66 degrees north. So the goal - be on Grímsey, camping above the Arctic Circle on June 21. And - mission accomplished. I'm sorry to say that I have no picture of the midnight sun on the longest day, since it was entirely overcast. At midnight I was sitting and shivering on a cliff on the west side of the island, watching a grey horizon in the company of thousands of puffins. Even though the midsummer sun was a fizzle, I did have fun watching the puffins for hours. I especially enjoy watching them take off from the cliffs. They have enormous orange webbed feet which they may daintily point directly behind, so they sort of look like a chubby ballerina in a swan dive, but usually they are stuck out to the sides, two big orange rudders steering them through the sky as they flapflapflapflap over the ocean. Unaccountably, I actually managed to snap a picture of this.

Midnight sun makes everyone stay up late. Despite the eyeshades, I wake multiple times during the night and see the bright sky through my tent and have no idea what time it is. Birds are singing and tweeting, snipes are buzzing through the air, puffins are fishing, sheep and horses are munching the new grass, road workers are repaving the Ring Road at 2200, campers start cooking dinner at 2300, and the eight year old granddaughter of one hostel owner was yammering away on the telephone with her mom at midnight. It'll be weird when I get home and see night again.

Here are couple of pictures from Ásbyrgi Canyon, where I was yesterday and this morning, one from above and one from within. I wish I had one more day just to hang out there. The scenery is spectacular, and it's practically deserted. The enormous campground, which may be bigger than Reykjavík's, was almost entirely empty. I guess high season here doesn't really kick in until July and August. Maybe the winter weather is keeping people away. Have I mentioned that it's really cold? Fine by me; I'd rather take cold weather and fewer tourists. Besides, this is what credit cards and the 66° North outlet store in Akureyri are for.

Speaking of Reykjavík, I'm back here for the night. Tomorrow I will go to Greenland for three nights, and then return to Iceland for a couple of days before going home.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Sauðárkrókur. I don't know why these racks weren't over-run by a million cats. Maybe they were all full.

And it's colorful and sunny in Siglufjörður.

I'm in the public library in Akureyri, waiting for the cafe to open for lunch. I've said a fond farewell to my little Suzuki Swift which took me 2000 kilometers along countless fjords, crunched down gravel roads and weathered massive potholes better than I thought it would. I'll be on buses and ferries for the next few days visiting Hrísey, Grímsey, Mývatn, and the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park (if things go according to plan).

driving through clouds to the swimming pool at the end of the road

First this:

Then this:

Then all the way to this:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

puffins aplenty!

Not caught on camera - one arctic fox. I was hiking along the Látrabjarg cliffs, went around a bend, and at first thought he was a little black sheep or goat (white sheep had been lolling about the footpath not long before, and a small black one was at the campsite earlier, so black/sheep were fresh in my brain). He was a ways off, but caught wind of me, and went loping off into the field. I kept going along the path and managed another look before he disappeared altogether.

what's missing from this picture?

The gearhead geniuses at the Holdur/Europcar Rental Agency in Reykjavík rented me a car without an oil cap. For the record, it is possible to drive 220+ kilometers in a VW Polo without an oil cap.

I picked up the car in the morning, got slightly turned around on the way out of Reykjavík, and headed east for a day tour of the Golden Circle - Þingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss. I started to suspect something amiss leaving Gullfoss late in the afternoon. In first gear with the gas floored, I was creeping around the parking lot at 10 km/hour. That on top of a weird shuddering chugging from the engine when I parked at Geysir. Mysterious signal lights were lit up on the dash, but since Holdur also neglected to include the manual with the car (why?), I wasn't sure what they were. I don't drive very often, so carspeak isn't natural for me. Also, I almost never drive a manual transmission; it wasn't inconceivable that I was doing something wrong, but as far as I know, neutral means neutral. Stopping and starting again seemed to solve the issue, which I figured out after an unplanned stop at a gas station to figure out directions, so without further stops, I made it to the Hveragerði campsite, aka home for the night. After the warden, Óli aka Þor, showed up, and gave me some info about a nearby cave I wanted to visit, I decided he was friendly enough to hit up for car advice. Fortunately it exhibited its engine shuddering bad behavior almost immediately, Óli popped the hood and…gasp!…no oil cap. One of Óli's friends showed up and also took a look. Assuring me it wasn't my problem, they whipped out their cell phones, and about four minutes and lots of Icelandic later, my problem was solved. I wasn't going anywhere for the night, but a new car would be delivered the following morning. And so it was. A brand new Suzuki Swift, oil cap included, showed up the next morning. Óli popped the hood to double check for me. And off I was to Raufarholshellir cave. Iceland really leaves it up to the tourist to take care of themselves. Raufarholshellir is a lava tube over a kilometer long. There's a sign at the start warning of its dangers, and that's it. I managed to clamber over the jumble of rocks at the entrance, past two piles of snow in caverns which roofs open to the sky, and picked my way through a forest of ice stalagmites before deciding going any further would be folly. Also, it was the start of true and utter underground darkness, and despite a headlamp, I was woefully unprepared for a caving expedition. So I just sat for a while in the cool dark, looking at upside-down icicles and listening the steady dripping of water from the roof. All the pictures I took are terrible, but maybe this one gives you the general idea.

Also, here's one from the cliff over Gullfoss, demonstrating the distinct lack of guardrails. I'm just sitting on the edge, looking down.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I fall off a horse…again

Great gyrfalcons! After weeks of planning, and despite vague threats of delay from simmering volcanos and labor union actions, I made it to Iceland. Strange to think I'm finally here and can start doing instead of thinking. Although given the amount of sleep deprivation I suffered the first day, there wasn't a whole lot of deep thinking going on. Departing SEA at 1630, I arrived in Reykjavik a mere 7.5 hours later, ready to start the day at 0645. The first thing I did was buy a cappuccino.

The second thing I did was go to the Blue Lagoon. It's a tourist trap and not worth it, but when in Iceland, do what the tourists do. Besides, there's a handy bus that drops you off on the way into town, and I needed a bath. I paddled around for a bit and gave myself two silica facials, white silica being provided by the bucketful in wooden bins scattered around the pool. The cold breezy morning was making the rising steam swirl about over the lagoon, making it all very properly atmospheric, geothermally speaking. The shower afterwards was unbearably hot, hotter than the lagoon itself. Unable to make it cooler, I bailed. On the way into town I discovered large blobs of drying silica in my ears. There didn't seem to be an elegant way to get it out while in transit, so I just waited until I got to lodging, this being the Reykjavik City Campground. As you can see, not many people here right now. The speck in the upper right hand corner is my tent.

The cappuccino wearing off, I wandered around town a bit of a haze, somehow managing to not fall asleep on my feet in the manuscript exhibit at the Culture House. For preservation purposes the lights are extremely low. This made sense in the manuscript room, and I guess it was just for dramatic effect in the room with reproductions and printed matter. It really just made me want to take a nap. At 1900 I decided I had overextended myself enough, and crawled into bed, aka my sleeping bag.

Today I went horseback riding. I started a quest last year to master as many modes of transportation as are realistically achievable, and started some horseback riding lessons. I signed up for a ~5 hour ride that recommended an intermediate riding level, not because I thought I was intermediate, but because it was the only tour between two hours and multi-day that sounded okay. I was slightly nervous about controlling anything past a brisk trot, but the riding center showed everyone a short video that covered what to do to stay in control, and what not to do, which includes making high pitched screaming noises, or a trilling noise with the tongue, since these cues makes the horse go really fast. The morning session with a large group of two-hour tour riders went well enough, as did the faster afternoon session with a much smaller group of four riders with a guide. We got a couple breaks, activities including untacking and tacking our rides, a small walking detour to visit an ancient sheep corral and shepherd cave (I was the only one who went to the cave), going across a stream, and picking up some decent speed at a moderate gallop. And then, on the home stretch gallop, practically in sight of the riding center, the last rider in line right behind me needed to stop. Or at least that's what I think. By the time the guide at the front got the message, she might have been panicking a bit, and maybe that's why she made that little tongue trilling noise that makes the horse go really fast. It was the last thing I heard before my steed took off like a shot. I went way off balance to the left and couldn't get back in the saddle, the horse tried to cut right around the guide with me hanging off the left, the riding center logo on the back of her jacket getting bigger by the nanosecond…I honestly don't know exactly what happened after that. In the space a couple of seconds I lost control and ended up, remarkably completely unhurt, in a bed of purple flowers. My horse disappeared over the horizon. Literally…we were walking up a hill. And it wasn't that much further to the top.

And that's the excitement for today. Tomorrow I'm renting a car for a day tour of the Golden Circle, and will then start working my way up through Snaefellsnes to the Westfjords.