Published: August 1st 2011April 26th 2011
"Oh My God I can't believe it, I've never been this far away from home..." As the crow flies, it is 16,600km from Reykjavik to Sydney which is the furthest we have ever been from our home in Australia.
I'm not sure if Lara had really recovered from her last couple of months in Uganda when we set off for Iceland. She had only been home for 5 days, had only just done all her washing and got used to having electricity again before heading off. She was not really being her over-excitable self, which made me think Iceland might be too much too soon. Normally at the mention of a holiday her eyes light up, she runs to the book case, grabs the guide book (which she would have bought "just in case") and then starts reciting whole sections and itineraries of things to see and do. You'd think she was the daughter of a travel agent or something! There was none of that this time: the night before our flights not a bag was packed, nor had the transport to the airport been booked, we hadn't even checked-in. What was going on? Had we left all our enthusiasm
somewhere on Lake Victoria? Or had I promised to do all those things?
As things tend to, everything fell into place. Mostly because of Keith and Kristie, who we had travelled with previously. They organised everything for us and all we had to do was get to their place to catch the cab to the airport. Compared to our last attempt to get to Iceland, this trip was going extremely smoothly, no volcano's erupting, no snow, nothing. And with an uneventful flight we landed in Keflavik, picked up the car and drove to our hotel for the weekend - Hotel Cabin. Cabin is a suitable name as every one of the hotel rooms looked like a smaller version of my college room. At least it was warm and functional and we weren't planning on spending much time there anyway. It was fairly late at night so we all went to sleep, still with no plan of what we were going to do all weekend, with the exception of meeting up for breakfast the next morning, and hopefully planning the up coming day.
Armed with thousands of brochures and two guidebooks we sat down at breakfast and planned our
day. As we had a car we had complete freedom from bus timetables and other tourists, so we thought we would take a leisurely drive to Gulfoss, the largest waterfall in Iceland and then on to Geyser and Pingvellir completing the 'Golden Circle' of Icelandic attractions. Try as I might, I couldn't get the 3 points on the earth to look anything like a circle despite my best attempts.
Iceland is bigger than I had anticipated. I expected it to be tiny, so after driving to get to Gulfoss for more than an hour I was starting to get impatient. Once we arrived we were immediately bowled over by the wind and then shortly afterwards, by the view. Made better by the fact that there are so many vantage points to see the falls. As I was already sick of being in the car, it was lucky that Geysir was not far away from Gulfoss so I had no time to get bored before arriving at the geysers. There were quite a lot of fart jokes relating to the heavy sulphur smell in the air and we watched some of the geysers erupt while walking around the park. We
stopped off at a restaurant nearby before setting off for Pingvellir.
Pingvellir is a point in Iceland where the European and North American plates tectonic meet. It is also an historic site for Iceland as it is the first recorded site of Vikings meeting to form a government in 930AD. Iceland has a variety of unusual landscapes - some lunar, others desert-like, but this was probably the most surreal: a small canyon running through the scenery, punctuated by waterfalls and the occasional person walking along the path that runs in the 'gap' between the two continental plates.
After returning to Reykjavik, we had a lovely dinner, even being slightly controversial and trying whale (minke whale, which has a large population in the North Sea). The food in Iceland was of a really good standard, though more expensive than London and we had more than one excellent meal on the trip.
Having seen the three sites on the 'Golden Circle' (yes, that is still bothering me) I had a particular image stuck in my head from Flickr
of Seljalandsfoss (not that exact one). Not knowing what it was called at the time, all I said was that
I wanted to go and see waterfalls the next day. While aiming for a glacier we ended up stumbling across it, I was really chuffed, even if the weather wasn't very cooperative. The nicest word I would use for Icelandic weather would be 'variable'. In the 20 mins we took to look at Seljalandsfoss it had rained, snowed, hailed, and even had a sunny spell, but not in that order.
From Seljalandsfoss we headed off tarred roads aiming for the town of Porsmork, after numerous river crossings and no sign of the glacier we were aiming for, we back-tracked and headed around the southern tips of the glaciers - stopping in a hailstorm to have lunch in Skogar before more off-roading to reach the Myrdalsjokull Glacier. Lara had smiled at someone sitting in a van at the turn-off from the main road who then proceeded to turn around and follow us. The area was so isolated and there were no other cars around, we conjured up horror movie scenarios for the reasons he may be following us. As it turned out he was a tour guide waiting for this tour group to arrive and he thought we may be
On reaching the car park we had a walk of a few hundred metres to reach the glacier and scrambled all over it - including underneath it. We were impressed by its colours, brilliant aqua and white with sections of black, and its size. The section of the glacier we could see was huge, but on looking at satellite photos afterwards we realised it was such a small section of the glacier as to be barely visible.
Although we had seen our fill of waterfalls already, there was one just off the road where we had had lunch so we decided to have a look. Our efforts were rewarded by not one, but two rainbows at the base of the waterfall. We did our best double rainbow youtube video impressions, enjoyed the fleeting sunshine and then thought it was time to drive back to Reykjavik satisfied that we had seen what we had set out to see, and more.
There were three things still to do - whale-watching, visiting the Blue Lagoon and having Taco Bell. The former we did on our last full day in Iceland. Well, we would have watched whales if we had
managed to see any; the water was choppy and it was freezing, and after three or four hours we returned to Reykjavik tired and windblown - Perhaps scorned by Lara’s efforts to eat them, the whales knew to steer clear of us.
The latter two items on the to-do list, like true procrastinators, we did on the morning before our flight back to London.
The Blue Lagoon is a large man-made complex of blue thermal baths. The water is used in the baths is actually the output from a nearby geothermal power station, where the mineral rich, heated water is channelled into pools were people can bathe and swim despite the freezing ambient temperatures. We spent an hour or so, lounging in the water, with Lara smearing the sludge on the bottom of the pools all over her face (something she read was done by the locals and was supposed to be very good for your skin) until someone pointed out the hundreds of human hairs that were in the sludge!
After we had turned to prunes we did the final thing on our list which was to have Taco Bell, and this one was specifically for Keith,
an American residing in London, who was very excited to learn there was a Taco Bell in Iceland. It was an unusual end to the trip which had otherwise been about the Icelandic scenery, so in a moment of protest I had KFC instead!
Iceland was spectacular; its vastly differing scenery, waterfalls, glaciers and geysirs make it a great place for outdoor enthusiasts - we could have spent a lot longer driving around the country as we only saw a little of what was on offer and we managed to miss both the puffin season and the Northern Lights.....so maybe we'll have to go back!
There are more photos below