Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Super Jeep FTW

Our last day in Iceland was mostly dedicated to another day-long tour. This time we were headed south, and had booked something a little more off the beaten trail. Literally. We would be traveling in what is called a "Super Jeep," basically an SUV that has been given giant tires which allow for off-roading and trekking down bumpy rows inaccessible to standard motor vehicles. The tours allow for, at most, 6 people and we ended up with our own car and private tour guide. Aren't we fancy?

Me and the Super Jeep

We got picked up right on time at 8:45 and headed out of the city. Our first stop was to a waterfall called Uridafoss, which has the largest volume of water of any waterfall in Iceland. In order to access it, you need to go down a bumpy gravel road and there's no way our bus from yesterday could have handled it. Score one for the Super Jeep! Unfortunately, it was really cold and rainy (about 45 degrees) so after a quick photo-op we ran back to the car and headed to our next stop.

The upper falls of Uridafoss

Chris and I shivering in front of the falls. I don't think Kent even got out of the car for this one. He is a delicate flower.

The next part of our tour was one of the most interesting. After traveling on the highway we turned onto a deserted gravel back road that wound its way around the volcano, Eyjafjallajokull. You'll probably recognize the name (but don't try to get me to say it) as it was the volcano that erupted last year and shut down air traffic to most of Europe due to the ash. While driving to the volcano we went through miles and miles of green farmland which had been completely covered with a huge ash cloud for months. In an example of Icelandic ingenuity, firemen from all over the country (as well as other farmers) all came together to help clean up the mess, from public and private areas.

Fording the river on the way to Eyjafjallajokull (the water is all glacial melt from the volcano)

I jumped out of the car for a quick shot of our driver being badass.

Scenery on the way to the volcano (the waterfalls are melting from the....)


.....glacial cap!

But back to the road! It would have been impossible to navigate without our huge tires, in fact we passed a few regular rental cars that had become mired in the river shallows, dips, and gravel because they weren't equipped for it. Suckers. We circled around the volcano (and passed many beautiful waterfalls) and drove as close to the base as was safe to get pictures. It's not possible to get too close, as the volcano is surrounded by loose sand which can swallow cars and people. On top of the volcano, or at least as far up as was possible to see due to the mist and clouds, there is a huge glacier. Later that afternoon we would circle around to the other side of the volcano and actually touch the glacier!

The front of Eyjafjallajokull


After taking our pics and staring in slack-jawed wonder for a few minutes, we headed back down the same treacherous road and visited another waterfall, Seljalandsfoss. This one falls from an impressive height and has a rocky steep path around the back, where you can look out into the lowlands from the base. It was a little scary, but my rock-scrambling skills from hiking in Las Vegas came in handy and we navigated it without too much trouble.

Seljalandsfoss

That's actually me standing on a rock directly behind the waterfall. It was wet, but awesome!

From the waterfall, we drove toward a black sand beach on the Arctic Sea. One of the coolest moments of the whole trip: we were driving down a gravel road when all of a sudden our driver just veers off onto the sand and starts off-roading. For some of you that may not seem too exciting, but trust me, it was awesome. On the beach was the skeleton of an old US Navy airplane that had crash-landed. We also saw some whale bones that had been on the beach for many years. The black beach itself was very cool, but I have to say my favorite part of the experience was just driving right off the road and across the sand. We felt invincible!

Black sand beach.

Goobers.

Looking towards the glacier (our next stop) from the black sand beach.

Down the road from the beach (and by down the road I mean about 30 minutes) it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to another impassable gravel road to the glacier tongue Solheimajokull. This glacier comes down from the top of the volcano and you literally walk right up to it and take tours, walk, snowmobile, or be a little lame like us and just touch it. In our defense, the whole thing is a huge piece of ice and y'all know how much trouble I have on solid ground. But touching an actual glacier is probably my favorite thing of the day.

In front of the glacial tongue.

The glacier!

Looking across the glacier.

Our final stop was another waterfall (you basically can't walk anywhere in Iceland without tripping over a waterfall), Skogarfoss. This was the tallest one of the day, and I was able to walk right down to the base of the poll where the water hits. I was doing really well too until a sudden gust of wind blew the spray all over me, but hey, that's why God invented waterproof jackets. Besides, I had a two hour drive back to Reykjavik and my pants totally dried by the time we got back. Heh.

This is the closest I dared use my camera, but I really walked right up to where the spray is coming from. Look at me, I'm an adrenaline junkie!

One of the most surreal moments of the day came during the ride back to Reykjavik. We were all kind of tired, wet, and starting to get a bit grumpy, so the tour guide switched on the radio. The first song? Taio Cruz's "Dynamite." I'm not sure I've ever experienced that amount of cognitive dissonance before: here we were, driving past volcanoes and glaciers in a country halfway across the world and we were all singing (including the tour guide) about throwing our hands in the air sometimes. And then as soon as the English dance song ended, the radio hosts start chattering in Icelandic. Weird. But fun!

Some final notes on Iceland: it's pretty much the ideal summer getaway. The temperature is cool (we did get up to 55 on the last day and the sky eventually cleared) and everyone speaks English. The people couldn't be nicer, and since it's so small, even Reykjavik, nothing ever gets really crowded and you have plenty of yummy restaurants. You can also get up close and personal with the sights; there's not a lot of fences or restraints between you and the waterfalls and geysers. Our tour guide told us that Icelanders believe in Darwinism: if you are dumb enough to get so close to the edge, you're asking to get hurt. You get some low-slung ropes to establish the limits of what's safe, but after that you are pretty much on your own and expected to use your judgment. Since Icelanders are so practical, it's not very hard for them. Tourists however...well, we didn't see anyone fall off a waterfall, but some people did get drenched by the geysers.

We're already thinking ahead to our next Iceland trip (we didn't get to see the Northern Lights or the northern fjords) but now it's onwards and downwards to Amsterdam.

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