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Iceland – Day Four

Posted by joeabbott on December 25, 2009

Another entry from my daily journal … 

12-13-2009, Sunday

I woke up at 3:45 AM and couldn’t fall to sleep. Around 5 I got out of bed, dressed, and went into the hall to write this journal. I noticed the Troll Lads had come again last night. Suzy will be tickled … another bag. 🙂

And today’s treat is a couple of large cookies shaped like holiday tree. These will be tasty either later today or on the plane ride back home.

Suz and I prepared for the day – or at least for breakfast! On down we went, and I made the same mistake I’d made in days past: I got the potatoes yet again. Never learn!

But, I also went egg crazy. I tried the scrambled (again … either I’m getting used to the fishy taste or it’s not here today), a hard boiled, and a couple of 4-minute eggs. Egg-o-licious!

Then there was the tea, milk, and water. No juice today. Add some toast – white and poppy seed – then a few biscuits. Er, that is, cookies. A very nice meal. Suzy tried to get me to eat a bit of fruit but I passed. Wouldn’t want to be a pig. 🙂

And now we wait for the bus, or bass-ass jeep, that will take us to see the glaciers. Yay!

<hours later>

Holy crap … that was a tour!

The jeep (could have been a modified Land Rover … I’m just calling it a jeep) to pick us up was late by 15 minutes or so; when it got here we were given a choice of seats: join a guy for three abreast in the middle or by ourselves in the very back. We took the back for the comfort but it did make things a very bumpy ride. Very!

But first things first. We headed across town for two other tourists, got them (a young guy and gal) and headed out.

The two who were in the jeep first, Gavin and Giles, were Brits who talked a lot, laughed a lot, and made the trip fun. Actually, that was mostly Gavin as Giles sat dead front (shotgun) and did very little talking.

The other two were a couple from Glasgow, Scotland. I forget their names and hope Suzy remembers. Both were very nice; the guy said little but he always held the door for us as we got in and out, and seemed like a nice fella. His gal was a tiny, cute thing who seemed more friendly but I didn’t really speak to/with her. She did have a full-head fur hat that was grand! I asked her where she got it, expecting the name of a town or country but I believe she said it came from “The Top Shop” … not quite sure where that is, though. A hat store?

As with the other day, we headed to Þingvellir (remebmer, the ‘Þ’ is pronounced like the “th” in “thing”) and arrived in heavy fog and light rains. Fortunately there was no wind and the light seemed a tiny bit better.

We were able to snap a few pictures and walked a slightly different route to the car … which drove around to the pickup spot after dropping us off). It allowed us to take a bunch of water fall pictures before we drove to a nearby rest station for a quick stop before heading to the glacier.

And off we went.

Suzy and I had a bag of food, some drinks, and the weather seemed to be improving. All the ingredients needed for high hopes for great day. We’d met up with another jeep full of tourists (which is about 8 other people) at Þingvellir. Together the two jeeps made their way north to the second largest of Iceland’s glaciers: Langjökull.

Almost immediately it was clear our driver was more aggressive of the two guides. The other jeep led out most of the time but we were constantly tailgating him (usually on narrow roads in poor conditions). It wasn’t long into the drive before we chose another “impassable” road on our way north, but the jeeps seemed better equipped to make the passage safely.

Not long into the “impassable road”, we stopped at a small pull-out and all jumped out. The first few to jump found they would sink up to their ankles if they jumped out too hard. The rest of us were more gingerly leaving the vehicles.In rising winds the drivers deflated their tires to get better handling on the roads to come.

When the tires were at the right “squishiness”, we got back in and resumed our trip north. Almost at once we hit a puddle that submerged the most of the car and kept us without visibility for what seemed like too long. On we went. That really set the tome. At times along the road, the entire vehicle seemed to be awash in muddy water with no visibility out any window and on our guide powered. We hit ruts at axle-breaking speeds, were sideways in roads that seemed too narrow to support it, and kept pushing forward at high speeds.

Before getting to the glacier we stopped once more at a vantage spot. Almost as if to say, “the worst of the roads are behind us, we can take a breath now before heading on.” The skies were clearing but the ground continued to  be a muddy muckish mire. Iceland is heavily volcanic and the soil hasn’t formed completely … it’s as if the dust and pummice from countless eruptions are barely forming decent ground. While some sinking patterns could be guessed, nothing was certain; sooner or later one or another of us would step onto a piece of ground only to recoil with a soiled shoe.

As we gingerly walked about, the drivers took this opportunity to re-inflate their tires. Or is it tyres? They modified the air conditioning unit to just be an air compressor that they use to fill their tires when they do this sort of thing. Pretty neat. I found a large cairn and decided to scale it. Found an orange sneaker at the top. No sign of the owner.

Back in!

On along solid but narrow roads we made our way until it seemed like we were driving on rocky ice. And then there was a wall of ice before us.

The glacier was grand but we were just before the toe/snout of it and would need to get up on it to truly appreciate it. Our driver was ready to oblige. I later asked him if it was safe to drive people out onto a glacier and he admitted the risk. Additionally, he noted this was a main tourist attraction and the cravasses and dangers were well mapped out. Believe that if you will. 🙂

Unfortunately, recent snow and rain made the transition onto the glacier soft and wet … we it the water, spun our wheels, and stuck fast. You could hear it at once and you knew … we weren’t getting ourselves out. The passengers all got out, jumped over and into the watery snow until we were on the glacier, and hung around an ice field for a half hour while the other jeep helped pull us out. I really had to pee so I scrambled off the glacier and found a discrete rock pile off a bit so I could do my thing.

The cold wasn’t bad but the wind was biting. I was mostly toasty in my warm clothing and Suzy did well, too. The wind did freeze your face, though.

Our jeep got unstuck and it was time to get in and get warm. There was just enough spray in the air that was hitting us to make us a bit wet. I was warm as the other driver had let me sit in his jeep while our driver tried to find a place to minimize people getting their shoes wet in the edge water.

We got everyone and then headed down.

We left the glacier and drove to a minor waterfall and stream crossing. It didn’t seem to be the intent to stop for long but we did. All enjoyed stretching their legs in a semblance of warmth and admired the waterfalls. The jeeps were crossing a river both above and below falls! It was yet another average place in Iceland that was phenomenally beautiful.

Most people scampered for pics of the lower falls and Suz walked the road/trail back the way we had come for higher views. I just jumped from rock to rock around the jeeps and waited to reassemble and head for the lava tubes. And soon enough we did.

The road forwaqrd was the typical bumpy backroads road but without the extreme mess from earlier. The way higher up here is drier – I also saw a few rudimentary signs but not many as we traveled a half dozen miles or so on the flank of the volcano and glacier.

Then the jeep stopped, climbing helmets with head lamps were handed out, and we marched a hundred yards or so to a small cleft  in the landscape.

Looking down we saw a deep but unremarkable cave and two jeeps’ of us carefully clambered down the sharp and unforgiving stone. I was in my element!

In the cave we looked about and I learned a bit about what forms the lava tubes. I’d walked off a ways and stood in a dead end some 15′ inside the tube. It was neat but I was ready to be disappointed at the shortness of the cave tour when I realized the group was heading off in the other direction. So these things do go in a ways!

We marched along and I came to realize my headlamp was quite dim. Bummer. But I was having a great time climbing over caved in sections, ducking beneath low areas, and slipping along the sections where water had seeped in and frozen along the floor.

We headed in probably 1/8th mile when I started seeing light and came to a place in the tube with snow on the floor and an opening to the surface above. There was no way up. I slid along the thoroughly frozen floor another 50’ to a dead end and thought we were done. Nope! I’d missed a turn at the opening and taking a left instead of right led to more passages another 1/8th mile in!

When we got to the end we turned off our lamps to the darkest darkness there is. It was great. Unfortunately, a few folks didn’t appreciate silence as much as darkness. It would have been neat to enjoy several facets of sensory deprivation!

Upon heading back, Suzy reminded me that she’s not all that comfortable clambering around on rocks! Yikes! She did fine in spite of having a headlamp that was more dim than mine … well, maybe she took a few bumps … and we all quickly made our way out.

Upon issuing from the cave opening, the muted sky looked bright and clear. But that was just because we’d been in the dark. While the skies were more open at these heights than in the lower coastal area, it was getting to be the end of daylight and we’d soon enter twilight.

Light was failing so our driver was going all out to get to the next area (waterfalls) before it was completely dark.

At one point we turned as if to head across a river that was clearly too full of water to attempt. We paused … and then plunged! We made it to the far side and turned to watch the other driver. It was very typical for the other driver to cede the lead to our driver for risky stunts. The other driver did fine.

And off to the waterfall viewing area.

We saw two falls: the Lava Waterfalls and the Children’s Falls. Both were in the same location

The Lava Waterfalls is named Hraunfossar and is a series of underground streams that break out along the side of a chasm and spilled into the (Hvítá) river below. Vast sheets of water trickle through the porous lava until it hits a layer of nonporous rock. The water then continues downhill until it issues from the sides of the wall. It was fabulous.

The Children’s Falls was your standard awe–inspiring rush of water but distinguished mostly by a story.

The tale goes that one night a couple of children were lured (?) by someone\thing to a waterfall with a natural stone arch across it. They attempted to cross but fell off. The next morning the people from the village looked for them but only found their tracks … leading to the arch but not over it. Their mother then destroyed the arch bridge so no others would ever lose their children this way.

It was hard to tell in the gloom but it appeared a natural bridge collapsed at one time. A lower/broken (?) arch still exists but it would be a thrilling walk across it, if anyone could. Lots of water pours through the gap in a massive rush.

But it was late gloom (probably 4 PM) and we had great grips to go! Time to leave!

We all climbed in, the windows now somewhat cleaner (compliments of the efforts of the drivers), and continued on. Next stop was the Worlds’ Largest Open Air something. Or so our guide alluded. In appearance it was a small chasm at the base of a natural stone wall that was filled with boiling water. Probably 30’ long, the natural trough spewed and sputtered and threw up a noxious bubble of sulfurous water.

A later web search reveals that we were most likely at Deildartunguhver. According to wikipedia, it’s “a hotspring in Reykholtsdalur, Iceland. It is characterized by a very high flow rate for a hot spring (180 liters/second) and water emerges at 97 °C. It is the highest-flow hot spring in Europe.”

In the dark we attempted a few pictures, walked about, then got in for our trip back to Reykjavik.

While a ride back in daylight promised to be grand (we drove to a town … Akranes… across a fjord from Reykjavik and took a tunnel into town), it was dark and I was tired. Sadly, I dozed for a part of it.

We did take a small stop at a gas-o for coffee and a short break, then into the tunnel and, for me, into a snooze. I awoke as we approached the city and pulled into our hotel.

Suzy and I hopped out, shook hands with our driver, and wished Gavin, Giles, Laura, and Tyler (yup, Suzy did remember their names) farewell.

Up to our room we went. Suzy took a nap but I was a bit more rested (refer to the above where I slept on the way in). I headed to the lounge/lobby to write and returned an hour later. The lady at the front desk didn’t know of a local supermarket but pointed us to The Pearl.

The Pearl is a nearby “place” that has a glass dome roof, is on a hill, and contains a revolving restaurant. In addition, it has a viewing area and, more importantly, a cheap cafeteria open until 10 PM. That was our destination.

Off we walked through lighted paths to The Pearl. The way up was quite neat and at one point a small open air depression some 20’ down lay off to one side. It looked like a little fantasy novel setting for a primitive camp or cloistered grove. Quite neat. Bit it was dark and we were hungry … no time for exploring.

We got to the Pearl and found that our timing was off. They closed at 9, and 9 it was. We took in a round of the observation deck and then back down to our hotel.

We were going to eat at the hotel restaurant but a large mass of people were coming out as we were to enter. OK, not in the mood for being ignored, jostled, and underdressed, we headed to our room and ordered room service.

Suzanne got lamb skewers and apple cobbler, I got a cheeseburger and vanilla ice cream. All if it very competent food. Quite good, in fact.

Then I did a few more postcards and declared myself “all in”. Without much ado, I flopped down and slept.

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