Iceland: To the edge of the earth and then take a left
FUN FACT: Iceland uses all renewable energy to produce all of their electricity. The majority of it comes from geothermal sources. They even use the water from the hot springs to pump into greenhouses in order to grow fresh produce year round.
This picture shows one of the green houses and the fresh tomatoes grown inside it for sale.
One of the things I really didn’t expect to happen on this trip was to wake up on a plane to see the sun rising over Greenland. That was a very awesome, very unexpected start to the day. At first I wasn’t sure what I was seeing, it looked like grayish black mountain peaks shooting up from whipped cream but I realized that it was actually not whipped cream, or even clouds for that matter, it was the Greenland ice sheet, and it was stunningly beautiful and a bit eerie at the same time. Seeing that much land completely void of any sign of life, plant or animal, was strange. This experience also wouldn’t have even happened had our plane not been delayed for three hours leaving Denver so I felt it was a way the travel wizard was telling me to never get too mad about a delayed flight because you never know what unexpected magic might come our way.
Once we arrived in Keflavik Airport we booked a bus to the Blue Lagoon. On the way there, Ronen and I were looking out the window and Ronen said, “I think we bought a ticket to the edge of the world, and then took a left.” I couldn’t have said it better. The landscape in Iceland is like Kona, Hawaii with A’a and Pahoehoe lava flows, but its wet so there is a thick (sometimes 12 inches thick) gray moss growing all over it. The moss is so soft you could take a nice nap on it if it wasn’t for the fact that it was gusting wind and only 40 degrees outside.
Once we arrived at the Blue Lagoon, about a 20 minute bus ride from the airport, we found out that it is pretty pricey to get in (40 euro and that doesn’t include a towel) but it is well worth it. The Lagoon is a massive natural rock pool that is steaming hot from the geothermal energy plant on the island. The water is a milky blue color that is quite unique; I have never seen anything like it before. Ronen and I relaxed, enjoyed the silica mask and sweated it out in the sauna. Be warned, there are a lot of people there so it won’t be a private romantic experience unless you pay more for access to the exclusive areas. Also, the food there is not so great. Actually, it was the worst panini I have ever had and it cost me $18.
After the Blue Lagoon, we rode the bus to Reykjavik and found our hostel, The Loft. It was right in the downtown area so we were able to walk and explore the shops, restaurants, and bars very easily. I must mention that Iceland is expensive. A beer is $9.50 and a meal is around $30 dollars a person (on the low end) so we ate freeze dried backpacking meals for most of the time we were there. We had brought them with us from Colorado and just added boiling water and VOILA, Pad Thai! We did splurge one night and ate at the Tapas House. It is a Spanish style tapas bar complete with sangria and Spanish music. I would recommend eating there to anyone venturing to Iceland, just order the “Experience” which is 7 tapas all chosen by the chef. Ronen and I split it and it was plenty of food.
Another note about the food in Iceland is that they eat some interesting things. For instance, puffin, foal, fermented shark, and whale frequently show up on restaurant menus. So just be prepared to ask the chef to skip those tapas if you aren’t inclined to try one with some local flair.
Besides the food being adventurous, there is definitely some kick ass exploring to be done in Iceland. Our first night, we dove in Silfra at midnight on the Eurasian and American tectonic plate boundary. I had never dove in a dry suit, in cold water, or in fresh water besides a pool, but it was surprisingly easy. Once I got past the feeling that my entire face had brain freeze then it was pretty darn awesome. There were some fish cruising around and the giant crack of the tectonic plate boundary below us. The sides of the crack were covered in stringy green algae. It felt like you were in a totally different world. When we had booked the trip, we were under the impression that it would still be daylight when we were diving. It was however, dark, like nighttime dark. So we were a bit disappointed but it was still absolutely worth it, we were the only ones diving in the middle of nowhere in a lake in Iceland. My understanding from our guide is that during the day there are a lot of divers and snorkelers so it gets stirred up and the visibility is quickly diminished. I would take our midnight dive in the dark over poor viz and a bunch of people any day!
Me, freezing in my thermals before our dive:
On our last full day in Iceland we went on a Jeep tour on the western part of island. We were picked up and driven back to Silfra, where we had done the night dive. The lake is where all of Icelands’ drinking water comes from and it is 4 degrees C and is so clean you can drink directly from the lake. They do not allow any boats on the lake to prevent it from becoming contaminated.
After Silfra, we drove through the highlands to see the second largest glacier in Iceland, Vatnajökull. When I say we drove, I really mean we went off-roading through the middle of no where with no sign of other people within miles of us. When we arrived at the glacier, the weather took a turn for the worst dropping to 2 degrees C and raining so the glacier became VERY slippery. We were able to drive around on it a little and we did get a chance to stand on but we had to hold onto the jeep to prevent ourselves from sliding all the way down the glacier.
When we left the glacier we headed to a series of lava tubes and then to waterfalls. The waterfalls came through the rock on the side of the river bank and poured down into the river.
The drive between these locations was incredible! There are tons of sheep everywhere. The sheep farmers in Iceland let the sheep roam freely during the summer months to graze on the fresh grasses. In the fall, the farmers round-up all the sheep and then separate them based on the unique tag that each farmer has in the ears of his sheep.
The other unique animal in Iceland is the Icelandic horse. The Icelanders are extremely proud of their horses, they don’t allow any other horses to come to the island and any Icelandic horse that leaves for a competition is not allowed to return because they want to ensure that the breed is kept pure. What makes the Icelandic horse so unique is the number of gaits. It has five gaits instead of the typical four and it is the only horse in the world to have this many. Its extra gait is, as our Jeep tour guide explained, such a smooth trot that you could balance a glass of champagne on the horse and not spill a drop.
Our final destination on the tour was the Whale Fjord. This fjord is used for Icelands’ whaling fleet and the whaling boats and dock is located here. We were there during whaling season but there were no whales caught the day we visited. Our driver also informed us that most Icelanders don’t really eat whale except for once a year at a festival to celebrate the arrival of spring. He also told us that in recent years, the whaling boats typically only take 1-4 whales a year because of the decrease in demand for whale products in Iceland.
This picture is of the whaling dock and boats:
My overall feeling of Iceland was that it is a gray and cold place, although I will admit, the days we were there were cloudy and rainy. What did make it warmer was the people.