Monday, April 4, 2016

Iceland - South Shore Tour, part 1

Our third day in Iceland involved being picked up at 8:30 AM for another 12 hours of adventures. That would be a sane time of day, if we had not been up well past midnight three nights in a row. This was our earliest pick up, and the only one when Reykjavik Excursions came on time and not a few minutes late.

For our South Shore Tour, they picked us up in a small van, only to have us meet up with a large bus at their main office. I should have counted the number of rows. The bus was so big it had two sets of doors -- which made a huge difference with loading and unloading.

I sat with Ashley. Don made a new friend -- a 30-something year old man from Spain who was about to move to the northernmost point in Iceland for a month. 

Swanna, our guide, is from Iceland. She told us a bit about the history of Iceland during our journey. The end goal was the town of Vik, about 2 1/2 hours from Reykjavik, so we had lots of time to chat. Or, in Ashley's case, lots of time to nap.

We passed through Selfoss ("foss" means waterfall, but the town has no waterfalls), a fully functioning town complete with its own dairy, and ended up at a rest stop. I thought it was for the bus to refuel, but it was so the rest of us could pee and buy snacks. We were  barely within sight of the famous volcano that erupted in 2010 that no one can pronounce, but not close enough to get a good picture. This is from the bus. For the record it is Eyjafjallajokull, pronounced AY-uh-fyat-luh-YOE-kuutl-uh. Easy, right? The volcano is bigger, well longer, than I imagined. 

In the bus we learned Iceland does not have much agriculture, mostly livestock, and by livestock mostly sheep, which live easily in the rocky conditions and don't need much attention. Hence the Icelandic wool sweaters (which are waterproof, warm, and itchy) and lamb stew.

Swanna told us about the 1973 eruption on Heimaey (a fishing island just off of the coast of Iceland) that flooded with lava. They rebuilt and it is now one of the largest fishing harbors in Iceland. In 1963 another volcano erupted (there are a lot of them in Iceland) for three years and ended up creating the newest island in the world. Scientists live there and study the place. Volcanoes seem to erupt about every four years. They are about due for a new one. The most recent one was in 2011 and caused a 2-day disruption to air travel. Eyjafjallajokull's 2010 eruption delayed traffic for six days (I think). It was the first time that one erupted in two centuries, catching everyone off-guard.

Tired of being in the bus.

The walk over

Explorer pose
Our first real stop came at the Myrdalsjokull glacier. Finally a chance to stretch our legs on the 15 minute stroll to the glacier. Oddly enough, we did not need our Yak Tracks here as the path was clear of snow (being on top of a volcano really clears the snow naturally). The walk TO the glacier was tough as the wind was in our face the entire time. The way back was a "breeze."

Glaciers do not stand still. They move at a pace of 10 meters a day (36 feet) "as if they are alive." They comprise of 11% of Iceland's land. I think she said this is the largest one at 8300 square kilometers (3200 square miles). They are also shrinking and melting. Swanna predicts at this pace they will be gone in 200-300 years. So not in our lifetimes, but I for one can trace my genealogy back that far and name people and stories from that not so distant past. This volcano (under the glacier) has not erupted since 1918. They are anticipating a big eruption, resulting in much flooding (from the glacier melting) and a lot more damage than happened in 2010. You read it here first.

This are groups of people who signed up for a 3 1/2 hour hike on a glacier. While it would have been fun to walk on one, I think 30 minutes would be more than enough for me. After that I want warmth and indoor plumbing.
We brought Bialashu the panda along for some adventures.
Into the ice cave for a peek.

Family photo

Back in the bus to go to a Black Sand Beach in Reynisdrangar. I don't want to ever be accused of one of those bloggers who only shares the fun, good stuff on vacation without adding in the raw truth at times. Short of a hurricane, this was the worst wind I have ever faced. Two days after coming home we had a super windy day (no rain), but according to, that day was less windy. The best we could tell, we had 39 MPH winds with gust up to 60 MPH. It was 37 degrees, with a wind chill of 23.5 degrees. We suspect walking on the beach the gusts were even stronger because of the shape of the topography. Someone thought the gusts were closer to 120 MPH, and the wind was 50 MPH (or rather 22 meters/second since that is how they calculate it). The super windy day in NJ was 26 MPH winds, with gusts up to 47 MPH.

Black Sand Beach
Here are pictures of the famous Black Sand Beach at Reynisdrangar. As we are walking the 100 yards from the bus to the beach (not even all the way to the ocean) we are constantly being pelted by black sand and tiny pebbles in every space not completely covered. When we returned to the hotel, we found black sand in our shoes and the creases of our jeans.

The famous rock formations
The waves come straight from the South Pole because there is nothing in-between.

This beach used to be an island, it is now a peninsula. It is always windy, but not like this this. They have cool basalt rock stacks. In the water you can see petrified trolls. 

 The walk back to the bus was unbelievably difficult. Just as the wind was blowing us towards the ocean, it did not want us walking back to the car. I wish there was some way to have wind show up in a picture. There were no flags or other signs visible in my pictures, only my word.

Ashley and I were not the first people back to the bus. People certainly did not linger here. We drove a short distance to the southernmost town in Iceland: Vik. For us it was a lunch stop and a chance to buy souvenirs at the wool factory store (we didn't, but it was warm inside).Vik boast a population of 140 people, a number that doubles, triples, etc. each day with tour buses. The ocean is eating up the village, or, as Swanna optimistically put it "a volcano eruption may destroy it and they'll have to rebuild the road." 

Don and I had a tasty lamb stew (Ashley had a mediocre ham sandwich with an odd assortment of veggies on top). The roadside diner has tourists in and out of it all day, but doesn't seem set up for the tourist flow. After standing in line for the ladies room for 10 minutes, we learned there is one in the back that never has a line. Traffic flow could be improved. Iceland is becoming a top tourist destination, yet parts of it still need to catch up to the concept.

Time for the return trip. There are two directions the tour bus can go in. The way we went, and the reverse. The return trip included stops at two waterfalls. On windy days, you are bound to get pretty wet near a waterfall. We were grateful that was on the last part of our trip instead of the first part (again, full disclosure).

Good breaking point. Pick up part 2 HERE.

1 comment:

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