I licked a glacier and I liked it

or Waterfalls, volcanoes and glaciers, oh my!

Another early start this morning and by early I mean 7:15. Anything before the sunrise rises is early.

Today we went on the South Shore Adventure tour with Reykjavik Excursions, a ten-hour tour along the southern coast of Iceland.

The first hour-and-a-half we went through some amazing landscape, a lot different from what we saw yesterday. Lots of snow-covered plains, and of course the ocean not too far away. We slept through most of it though, waking up when the sun began to rise and we stopped to pee at a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere.

By the time we got back on the bus, we were awake properly and could marvel at what we were driving through. After snow-covered plains, we just saw regular plains next. Because of their position, they were protected from the snow by the mountains so you could see the dead grass.

Chasing waterfalls

Our next stop was a waterfall called Seljalandsfoss. In the summer you can walk behind the falls but at this time of year it’s too slippery. Instead we risked our necks climbing the ice covered steps to one of the lookouts. We slid down on our butts because it took too long and was too dangerous to climb down. Sliding down was much more fun anyway.

We climbed back on the bus and then drove to another waterfall called Skógafoss. I walked along the frozen water on the edge of the river, only once putting my foot through and getting wet (much to Glen’s horror). There’s something thrilling and incredibly satisfying about the sound of cracking sheets of ice.

We then walked nearer the waterfall and checked out the icicles hanging from the rock face. Twenty minutes here and then back on the bus. As we drove we passed Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that caused such trouble in 2010 for air travel in Europe.

Glen and I thought we had the pronunciation down but when we asked for clarification that night we were a bit far off. It’s three words rolled into one and the last part is the most difficult because of the final side. But fun to say when you get it (or even when you don’t).

Interestingly, though the farmers who were worst hit by the volcanic ash originally wanted to give up their farms, after they returned following the eruption they saw that the ash was very good for the soil and some of them got three yields that year. Also the volcano didn’t affect the rest of Iceland very much as it’s on the southern coast and the wind just flew it all over Europe instead.

How to come down an iced staircase. #slipandslide #iceland

A post shared by G (@jamalt) on

Glacier-licking

We next stopped at a glacier called Sólheimajökull. This was amazing and sad at the same time. Amazing because of the many different ways ice can look. Sad because the glacier has retreated drastically over the past ten years. In 2000 the car park wasn’t there as it was covered in the glacier. Now it’s quite a walk from the bus to the glacier.

We clambered over part of it but because we didn’t have crampons and pick axes we couldn’t go very far. We did, however, lick part of the glacier. It was very cold. I expected our tongues to stick to it but mustn’t be the right kind of cold.

We headed back to the bus, desperate for a pee. On our walk back we saw people crouching behind one of the rocks. The rock blocked them from the buses but not from everyone walking back up. Quite a sight and must have been pretty cold for the girls when they squatted. Glen and I found a much more secluded rock and were greatly relieved. Please note that neither rock was actually on the glacier but quite some distance from it.

Around the glacier there was also a lot of black sand, made up of volcanic ash. Was pretty cool. We also noticed that the we were quite protected from the wind down at the glacier so it wasn’t all that cold. We warmed up too because of all the climbing. And did you know that glaciers cover 11% of Iceland?

Vík í Mýrdal

Next we drove to the town of Vík í Mýrdal for a 3 o’clock lunch and to look at the ocean. This town of probably fewer than 200 people has a roadhouse that catered for the 200 or so tourists that come by bus every day. We were quick enough to be served in reasonable time and get our lunch of burgers and chips.

We then walked down to the beach. Black sand beaches are something else. I’ve seen one in New Zealand but it’s still an interesting sight. Just off the coast there is a volcanic plug, remnants of volcanic activity.

The tour guide says that there’s a legend about them that says they were created by a troll who, one night, went out to sea to capture a three-mast ship. He pulled it back towards shore but couldn’t get it to his home before the sun rose so he and the ship were turned into stone. Much more interesting than volcanic plugs (unless you’re a geologist).

We then drove back through the mountains to another black sand beach with black pebbles and basalt columns. Another stunning landscape.

Skógar Museum

Then back on the bus for our last stop at the Skógar Museum. (I was surprised at the number of stops on this tour. Certainly got our money’s worth.) The Skojar museum is made up of grass huts that are replicas of the ones fishermen used to live in. And the museum is filled with a lot of stuff that the fishermen used to use, living in this incredibly inhospitable environment.

The guide told us about the clothes they wore, how the fishing boats would go out and you never knew who was coming back, how people would fight over stranded whales because they were so useful, and how rare and valuable driftwood was that you could only take a certain amount.

And then the guide told us how the houses weren’t heated because they could only burn dung and that would stink the place out, therefore the kitchen was a separate building, and they had to sleep in every bit of clothing they had to keep warm.

Women had to be able to spin wool and make clothes before they were married because after that they’d be living in some isolated bit of Iceland and have to make these things themselves.

In short, life was ghastly and death was never very far away.

Once Iceland gained its independence, the Icelanders’ lot began to improve and the farmers and fishermen, who’d lived these hard lives, began throwing all their old stuff away and upgrading. This meant a big part of Icelandic history was being thrown away so a guy built the Skogar museum and people would bring all this stuff to him.

It’s quite a collection of everything from fishing tools to plows, bread-baking boards (for making lyme bread because wheat was imported and expensive) to playing organs, even a natural history collection. The museum could do with a bit of organisation and thinning because it’s a bit overwhelming and crowded. It looks like every item is on display and every bit of wall is covered. Would love to get in there and do a bit of arranging.

The huts outside are decked out so you can see what a school or church or house looked like. I think Glen and I were the only two people who actually went and looked at them. I’m glad we did though.

We then got back on the bus, the sky was dark and we began our two-hour journey home. We drove through flower city (it has an Icelandic name but I can’t remember it) where a lot of fruit and vegetables are grown in greenhouses. So strange to think you can buy Iceland grown bananas.

Hunting the Northern Lights

It was a bit of a rush when we got back as we arrived about 8pm and the bus for the Northern Lights was coming at 8:30. We dumped our stuff at the hotel and ran down the street to see if we could find some food.

Being the 27th of december, there were more options and we found a noodle shop that served just noodles with either beef or chicken. The real bonus of this place was the gorgeous Icelandic guy serving behind the counter. He was, quite simply, beautiful. Dark hair, gorgeous eyes and lips, and he spoke Icelandic. Stunning.

We ate our soup in the lobby of the hotel. It was pretty good soup, much spicier than we’ve found in Toronto. And then the shuttle picked us up and took us to the bus terminal for the Northern Lights tour. This time we boarded the eleventh bus (out of twelve) and went to the same places as the night before, just in the reverse order.

We looked at the stars, found out that what we thought might be Jupiter was in fact Venus, and then spotted the North Star and a satellite. The light pollution from flower city was also pretty strong and I got some nice photos of that. Unfortunately, there were no Northern Lights tonight either.

Glen and I got a bit silly waiting for them, pretending the Northern Lights were some petulant teenager who didn’t want to put on a show, meanwhile rainbows are a three-year-old child who can’t focus on anything. We laughed, even if no one else would have found it funny.

At the second stop, the car park, we were only there for ten minutes so Glen and I didn’t get out. We were home a bit earlier than the night before, about 12ish, which was fine as it had been a long and awesome day.

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