Trekking Iceland

Our group of 28 wakes early to begin our 5 day trek.  We enjoy breakfast and most excellent coffee before returning to our rooms to stuff the remaining items that have spilled out into our too large bags.  We have needed to cull our gear, paring it down to a small bag and sleeping bag for each of us.  We are not clear on the type of accommodation, though have made certain to have everything on the list provided.  I think into the future and wonder which item I will wish I had and which items were not necessary.  There is always room for improvement in packing.

Our group has hired Arctic Adventures.  Our drivers and guides are Eric and Commi and have briefed us yesterday, answering the majority of questions. We are picked up in large Mercedes buses with huge tires.   The vehicles are impressive and create quite the spectacle as strangers snap pictures of our ride.  I’m concerned about where we are going that we will need such a ride, I kick myself mentally for not researching more.  I wonder if we will be trekking from point A to B, our luggage trailing behind us in these fancy buses.  This country feels vast and I wonder how many hours we will be walking daily.  I decide it’s a little too late to worry about it now.

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We board the bus.  Eric, our driver points out the latte button.  A chuckle ripples through the bus, though I test it anyway, wouldn’t want to miss a chance for a latte.  Sadly the pushing of the button is futile and it still is not clear what the button does.

We travel to Skogafoss waterfall and John and I sit back and enjoy the ride.  The bus is top heavy. We list across the road, crossing the centre line and then Eric regains control  and the vehicle sways as it sorts itself out in the proper lane, only to repeat the process again a few moments later.

We arrive and are provided with a time limit.  It is just enough time to climb to the top of the waterfall, take photos, climb back down, walk to the base of the fall and then back to the bus. We move quickly.   The waterfall is breathtaking complete with a rainbow.

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Our next stop is Gigjokull glacier.  We don crampons, are fitted with a harness and helmet  and grab an axe.  We walk a short distance, stop and attach our crampons.  We listen intently to our easy to listen New Zealand guide as he explains potential dangers.

Its tricky at first walking with crampons, though our Guide provides us with two visuals, “Walk like a gangster,” when walking down an incline and plant our feet like “a baby dinosaur stomp.”  Perfect visuals that easily are recalled when we start to lose our balance.  We remain upright.

There are many small and some larger crevices.  Our Guide explains that crevice is a French word that means, “Big bloody hole”  We are mindful of where we step though are mindful we lack the expertise to read the snow and ice correctly.   We rely on our Guides to keep us from falling into the abyss.

Our axes though super cool to carry are idle as other Guides chip stairs for us to ascend and descend.  We thank them as we pass, and walk on the stairs making our journey easier and safer.

The landscape is like walking into a black and white world after living in technicolor.  It looks like a charcoal drawing, complete with smudges.

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We climb to a high spot where our guide slams two axes into the snow traversing a small stream.  He demonstrates how to drink water like a Viking.  John gives it a try.  I wait, not wanting the audience and waiting for our group to lose interest.  I know that my plank will sport a swayed back, though I want the experience.  I drink the sweetest water I’ve ever tasted.  John and I look at each other then dump our water bottles in favor of this water.  I wish I could take more.  We are informed the water is approximately 500 years old.  I wonder if all water tasted this sweet all those years ago.  I know I will remember this taste for a long time.

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Our Guide has found some mud and John and I don this soft mud under our eyes, like the Warriors we are. We then dinosaur stomp and gangster walk our way back to the vehicle.  This experience has us feeling like children.  We arrive back to the beginning changed.  Our smiles and eyes bright, I wonder if there was something even more  special about the water.   We pronounce this day one of our very best days, a terrific beginning.

john and cheyrl

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South Iceland

We wake early with a plan. Our group of eight is a well oiled machine, eating, showering and tidying in shifts. I save time by not coaxing the finicky fancy coffee maker for a beverage. It mocks me, I avoid eye contact and drink out of the community carafe and enjoy my morning skyr.

We venture to a waterfall where we have the opportunity to walk behind the falls. The ground slick with rocks and mud, every step is calculated. It’s a busy, happening place where  long lines snake the route. We stop for photos, jumping out of line then continue nose to tail through the predetermined route.

We finish then patiently wait for our friends as we sip a $10 coffee. We troll the gift store, a kings ransom for nearly nothing. Our new game is to find the most overpriced item. A hat wins, $90.00, it’s nice though not worth the amount.

After a delay our friends arrive. They have ventured to two other falls while we cooled our heels. We are annoyed and I voice our displeasure. We decide on future time limits to keep us all on track.

We set off for the ocean and black sand beach with its amazing cliffs and caves flanking the sides. We have read about sneaker waves and John and I take photos solo while the other is charged with vigilantly watching . The ocean is powerful though some people didn’t get the memo as they climb the rock structures away from land. Its always interesting how people foolishly think there is always a net for them.

We listen to the pounding of the waves, mesmerized. The timing of the waves becomes predictable as we set up our next photo learning to watch the water and soon learning to notice the build of waves before they crash on land.

I look for seaglass though am not rewarded. I suspect it’s there though closer to where the waves break.  I would need to risk life and limb for pretty garbage and decide its not worth the risk, though I spend some time wondering if its possible.

We leave after our predetermined time to our next destination where our car navigates a twisty road. It has no shoulders and barely enough room for two complete with steep drops off on either side. At times we shift forward in our seats urging our little car that it can.

The view is worth the effort as we happily snap photos before beginning the journey down

We arrive in Vik, a small quaint town surrounded by jaw dropping landscapes and spy the sea just beyond. The restaurant, Sudur Vik is predicatably expensive like all food in Iceland. We have had several days to get used to the money we will spend on this lunch.

I open the menu and as always have sticker shock. I have the money, though can’t spend $45.00 for chicken opting instead for a couple appetizers a bargain when compared. John asks if I want wine. I point to the price, he orders me a glass anyway, perhaps I need it I decide. The food is fantastic, though I suspect the high price influences our taste buds.

We leave, tour the town and find a gift store where the prices shock us anew. I buy a small book on Icelandic horses telling myself I deserve this luxury due to my frugality at lunch

We begin the journey back to Reykjavík. Gilles keeps an eye out for Icelandic ponies and I’m touched. We pass many ponies, not enough, too far away. I’m disappointed though not destroyed as I scroll through the beautiful pics I already have on my phone and leaf through my beautiful pony book.

We round a bend and a field of ponies awaits complete with a rainbow, there is something for everyone. Our small group is patient while I snap pictures, pet and shake my head in disbelief as the light intensifies, the ponies appearing golden.  I feed them grass for their efforts.

We leave a crowd behind us who have stopped to spend time with the ponies and return to Reykjavík satiated with all we have seen.

Kayaking in Iceland

We booked a kayak tour. Our group splits into two groups, morning and afternoon. I’m happy to be part of the afternoon group and enjoy sleeping in a little longer. I begin my day fighting with the fancy coffee maker and enjoy a latte for my 30 minutes of effort. I sit at the table and enjoy my crime brûlée skyr, a cheese type product, its consistency similar to Greek yogurt.

Our group decides to tour a nearby lighthouse though arrive too early, the tide still out making the journey not possible. We salvage the moment by scavenging the beach and soon are rewarded with sea glass.

We journey to a nearby park and stop for a walk. We spy a beautiful waterfall and hear excited children’s voices as they enjoy a last day of summer. It’s raining, we bundle up against the cold and shake our heads at the Icelandic children, clad in bathing suits playing in the water. I wonder if it’s a hot spring? We check and find it cold. Little Viking children we declare.

We leave to arrive at the kayak site, a small bay where we will need to portage our kayaks a distance. Hordur, our guide is friendly and despite his years, stronger than all of us as he pulls our crafts into the water, one after another. The kayaks are narrow, able to track fast though tippy as a result. We mention this to Hordur who simply states you will get used to this fact. He is right as the alternative is getting wet in the frigid water.  We weigh our options, an Eskimo roll, beyond our capabilities or removing the spray skirt upside down if we upturn as we are wearing the boat.  Survival instinct takes over as we glide through the water, balancing the craft with our hips

We are off on this grey day hoping to see seals, or puffins or something else equally as cool. We paddle around easily and then fight a current to cross to the other side for no other good reason then to get to that side. There are many seabirds, flying above, leading the way to our obvious direction. We learn the puffins have left for the season and the seals that were here this morning have also left. I enjoy the paddle anyway, it’s cool to be kayaking in Iceland I tell myself. Soon there is excitement as Carol spies a seal. There are many such citing and I seem to miss them all. It is time to get back.  Reluctantly I leave, then look behind where a seal has decided to follow me, making certain my kayak experience is memorable. I decide to take no photos and instead snap off a few photos for my memory where when recalled is certain to make me smile.

Western Iceland

We wake early, the house already stirring with our friend’s morning activity.  The kitchen is cramped with its too large table.  We make it work eating in shifts.  I fight with the fancy coffee maker and am victorious for my efforts.  I try for a beverage for John, the coffee maker says no can do and I give John my hard won coffee and enjoy one from the community carafe.

We have rented two cars and today will travel to Western Iceland.  John and I are with Maxine and Gilles, the married couples, the other car with the 4 single girls, Carol, Coleen, Laura and Maureen.  We have wifi in each car and can communicate.  We set off to explore the magic of this country.

We follow each other, then a stop needs to be made and we twirl around, lose each other, frantically text one another and find one another again.  We still have not left Reykjavik, though finally  we find our way out of town, Gilles expertly navigating the traffic circles that come one after another.  Traffic calming devices that do little to calm.

John and I sit back, relax and allow Gilles and his co pilot, Maxine to expertly guide.  We have a large itinerary today, each vista more beautiful than the last.  I can’t stop taking pictures and even take pictures out of the car window, a practice I never do though the scenery begs for a photo and I happily snap away and comply.

We stop at Snaefellsbaer and I begin looking for sea glass.  John finds the first piece and the game is on as I search for more.  Maureen shows me her finds, more than me, now I have competition.  Soon, Carol and Maxine are hooked and now the small amounts of glass on the beach will need to be shared with the growing group of sea glass aficionados, eagle eyes necessary, I employ John’s sharp eyes for my team.

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We spy some pretty horses and stop to take photos.  They are lovely with their don’t care, long hair and remind me of friendly puppies as they amble to the fence for petting.  The Vikings brought this breed of horse to Iceland. They are the only horses that are permitted in Iceland, thus the breed remains pure.  Their pretty hair with their perpetual baby look at odds with their strength.  All the horses are owned, though they appear wild except for their friendly manner. I learn that every summer the horses are set free in the highlands where for several months they are free to be their own community.   In the fall, the owners band together to gather the horses, sort and return them to their owners.  In this manner they stay wild, though strangely relaxed.  I think about the horses at home, high strung, perhaps they could benefit from this practice?

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We stop for lunch in Arnarstapi and opt for a tailgate party of homemade sandwiches.   We huddle behind the car eating out of our kitchen trunk and save money not eating fast food fish for $25.00 each where we could huddle outside stand up tables in the rain.

The area is beautiful, scenery surreal, it appears as though we have walked into  a postcard. I spy a lion in the stone with his grassy mane. The scenery beckons and I comply. I no sooner take one photo thinking how beautiful when the next photo presents itself and wins the prize. We reluctantly leave the area, check the time and realize that our set itinerary was too ambitious. We negotiate between two sites, majority rules and we set off for Saxholl crater.

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We arrive and are greeted with stairs yawning towards the heavens and I’m thankful for the stair training I have done, happy to not shame myself. The rise and run is off though gradually sorts itself out. The view is stunning and we take in all 360 degrees, happily snapping photos. Soon we are satiated and decide everyone should count the stairs on the way down. It’s comical as we all come up with a different number.

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It’s late as we return to Reykjavik with its never ending traffic circles we twirl even certain of our destination. It has been a great day I decide as Maureen and I compare sea glass and I scroll through today’s cache of photos.

Iceland Roomates

We arrive in Iceland.  The view from the plane depicts a small village with not much going on, such a contrast from Amsterdam. Perhaps it has secrets to explore we muse?

Our friends have arrived early this morning from Canada and kindly wait in Keflavik to chauffeur us to Reykjavik and our rental where eight of us will share the space.

Soon we are zipping along the highway trusting the GPS navigation to lead us to the correct place.  We twirl around, get lost, found again and arrive.  We haul our too large bags in and settle into our spacious room where it appears we have won the bedroom lottery.

A few of us venture to a nearby grocery store to buy provisions.  We rely on the GPS unable to argue and blindly follow directions and turns that seem to come too soon.  “Turn now,” I implore as Gilles going straight has to make a hairpin turn to keep up with my directions.

The store is our first look at prices in Iceland.  Despite what is said about the high costs in Iceland, nothing prepares, a king’s ransom for nearly nothing.  We bite the bullet and buy less than we might have, had the prices been reasonable. We have to eat we decide. Coleen strokes the chocolate bar she has chosen for herself and I wonder if we will learn that less is more in Iceland.

We return to the rental.  John and I have brought cheese, meat, crackers and wine from Amsterdam to share with our friends, pricey though after the grocery store trip, much less than Iceland.  We sit back, relax with each other.  Our conversation begins where we left off,  the way it always is with great friends.

Carol has bought Brennivin, also known as black death, or burning wine. It is 40% proof,  a  unsweetened schnapps considered to be Iceland’s signature drink.  Generally it is served on special occasions and taken as a shot. Today is special as it marks the beginning of our newest adventure together.  Carol pours each of us a large tumbler.  A small glass of wine leaves me tipsy, so I decide to sip.    It is smooth and reminds me of the sipping gin John’s grandfather drank. I decide the sipping method works better for me as I would like to remember tonight.  John with his higher tolerance, drinks like a Viking all at once. “Skal,” we shout as we clink our glasses and announce the beginning of the adventure.

I smile, sit back, let the couch swallow me whole and relax while I think about how we met.  We  answered an email about an adventure to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and trained for a year, physically and mentally preparing ourselves for our assault on that great mountain.  We were victorious.  Although we thought we knew one another, the experience itself cemented our friendship in a way none of us could have imagined at the outset.  Since that time, we have included others’ into our group as I look over at Maureen who I’ve known for 19 years and Carol’s sister Coleen who sat out the Kilimanjaro climb and enjoyed the Safari that followed. Coleen has earned her Iceland stripes and our gratitude by researching the best places to see in Iceland in our relatively short amount of time.  We are blessed I decide, as I remember  countless evenings just like this one, drinking wine, eating great food, laughter talking about our shared experiences. Life is always sweeter when its shared I decide.  I wonder what we will experience in Iceland that will have us reminiscing years from now, on a cozy night just like this one.

Leaving Amsterdam, hello Iceland

We wake early and begin the process of packing.  I’m always surprised that eventually it all gets into the bags though at the outset it seems like a tall order.  I look over and see John sweating as he forces his kit bag shut, then point to my hiking boots and asks him if he has room.  He looks at me incredulous, smartly says nothing and begins the process anew.

Marieke and Nelda have prepared coffee and breakfast for our last morning and will drive us to the airport.  We are thankful for all that they have done to create a perfect trip to the Netherlands.  We hope that one day we will be able to create a memorable time for them in our country.  It was a leap of faith for them to open their home to us, not knowing much about us save for our wedding photo circulated through the family and a few anecdotal stories about John along with memories of his last visit 20 years previous.  From the first night our fears and hopefully theirs were put to rest as we were talking and laughing as if we had known one another forever.

We haul our too large bags to the elevator and then into their car.  An elderly gentleman rides the elevator with us, then hops on his bike and zips out of the parking lot.  John and I look at each other and shake our heads at a sight that we will likely not see for some time.

We arrive at the airport expecting to be dropped at the entrance, instead we are escorted to the correct airline.  We are touched at this extra effort to ensure that we will not waste time twirling around.  It is time to say good-bye.  Thank you at moments like this always seem inadequate, good-byes sad.  We will miss them a great deal.

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My bag is overweight, though the lovely girl says she does not notice as she slaps a heavy sticker on its side.  Security has me standing on a podium as I am searched for nothing.  John says its because I look shifty as he clears security without a second look.

Our next stop is Iceland and we are excited about this next experience. We will enjoy the first few days with 6 of our friends.  We sit back, relax and smile at the faux northern lights display on Icelandair.