28 in the bed and the little one said, roll over…

We awake early, enjoy breakfast and gather our stuff and find our seats on the bus.  The days have become routine, though the scenery constantly changes. We set off for Landmannalauger deep in the highlands.

We stop at waterfalls leaking from the hills surrounding.  The landscape in Iceland is unique.  It is a country that is constantly changing, its surfaces rough and wild with a beauty that continues to evolve. It is difficult to stop taking photos.  At every turn something demands attention, a closer look, a record.   At home, our landscapes have a more polished look, touched by man and decorated to suit, beautiful in a been there seen that sort of way.

The road quickly changes to a path where the curves have us trusting the process without seeing the whole picture.

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Soon the road deteriorates and we travel on a path where a volcano spewed itsIMG_3497.jpeg contents. The flow hardened and became the road. We off road over pot holed roads with boulders and rivers to cross at every turn. I look out the window straining to see where we are going though there is no discernible route. It is a rodeo ride that gets tiring as we bounce along. I sit up alert believing on some level my focus is helping Eric drive.

We arrive to sparse development.  We are away from the crowd and this place is the only place we have seen since our motel this morning. It would be impossible to have a typical hotel here as the logistics of bringing everything needed across the road we just drove is not possible. It is a minor miracle there are any structures here at all.

The mountain hut is new fitted and well built.  We are told we will stay here. The place is locked, and I take the time to walk around the building, looking in the windows to see what is available.  My expectations high, they begin to become more realistic. There are a few separate rooms, so it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

We enter the structure and are instructed as in all Iceland dwellings to remove our footwear.  We oblige and are further directed to a room. We walk in and see group bunk beds on each side. There are 8 thin, narrow mattresses on each top and each bottom, making this a hopeful space for 32 people. I think about tents with their pie in the sky pronouncement–sleep 6, when 3 is more realistic. There are wooden hooks on the walls where we can hang our packs and small shelves above the mattress for gear that needs to be more accessible. We learn that all 28 of us will sleep in this room.  It is a lot to take in at once.  Now I understand why Kommi felt a need to advise us to lower our expectations.  I claim an upper bunk by the edge of the structure.  John takes the space next to me, so I will have a familiar body next to me. We all know each other through hiking and travelling, though sleeping together is not something we have done before. How fun something like this would have been when we were all several decades younger.  Still, our age has us knowing that we can survive this, it is one night and will add to the richness of the experience and memory.

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We share this mountain hut with several groups. There is a central cooking space complete with a long table for sharing. There is no washroom in this building though it’s a short walk away. There is a natural hot spring another short walk away. Behind the mountain hut, the hiking trails beckon.

There are a variety of trails to choose. It will all be new to us as we set off. The terrain is rough in places, at times narrow. Soon we arrive in another world. The hills are green, not covered in moss or foliage but rather the stone is green. Soon we spy a purple one and inspect. It seems other worldly. Eric tells us its obsidian or dragon’s glass. It seems as though we have walked through the pages of a fantasy book.

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I love looking at shapes in rock. Here, everywhere I see trolls. It is believed that Trolls only work at night and must hide before light. If they do not they become immortalized in stone. I can see several examples of dawdling by trolls.

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We climb to see hot springs and bubbling cauldrons, of rocks that beckon us forward. We summit to the top and I can not believe my eyes. Everywhere I look is beauty, the mountains appear painted, 360 degree body slamming beauty. I take photos, though also take time to imprint the memory and to see.

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We descend, the weather slightly colder, the ground wet. It is tricky getting down, we wait for everyone, no man left behind. We trudge along, the scenery pretty though the bar is raised considerably after what we just saw.

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We arrive and shiver as we pass people in tents, our warm hut beckons. We enjoy a dinner cooked by our guides, then a relaxing soak in the natural hot springs complete with natural jets as the water pulses through an opening just at the level of my lower back. I settle. John and I lean back and look at the night sky dotted with stars. We imagine Northern lights completing the picture, though the moment is perfect without this cherry on top.  Landmannalaugar

We dress for bed and brace ourselves for the night to come. A hopeful young girl in our group cheerfully says, “well as long as no one snores”. I decide she will find out soon enough and let her enjoy hope for a little longer.

Lights out and the next moment it seems I’m awake to the light of day. I’m surprisingly well rested. Around me people are stirring, some look like sleep passed them by last night. John tells me the snoring was a symphony, and that I joined in the fray. Perhaps this is the key?

 

Temper your Enthusiasm

We travel and all civilization falls away,  we seem to have the country to ourselves.

We arrive at our lodging for the night, a motel type affair in the highlands. We are advised that we will be two to a room. We are fine with this as we always share a room.   We secure our key, find our room and take a deep breath. John opens the door to a dormitory type affair, two single beds and not much else.   Still, it will only be us tonight.  I’m giddy with the thought of finally getting some sleep.

Single showers and bathrooms are just down the hall though privacy is possible.  We have brought a pack towel, a washcloth sized affair which makes drying ourselves a lengthy venture. Perhaps if we were the size of a small cat this would be more effective?  John speaks to the front desk and learns that we can have towels, bedding and slippers for $50.00 USD each.  We ask if it is possible to get just the towels for a reduced rate.  We are told that this is not possible, it is all or nothing.  It seems extravagant and I tell John my thoughts.  He is adamant and draws his line in the sand, dying on the hill that includes a towel. I relent and we pay the fleecing rate of $100.00 for two thin towels, housecoats, scratchy duvets and nail salon slippers.  The slippers we are told are ours to keep. How exciting, I cattily whisper to John. Still, I decide I will take them home. Normally, I wouldn’t give slippers such as these a second thought, but they are likely the most expensive slippers I’ve ever owned and will serve as a reminder to this extravagance.

We treat ourselves to a hollywood shower and luxuriate in the hot spray.  It is a treat I decide. It is not worth the cost we paid, though at this moment while I dry off and slip into the robe and don the slippers, the experience is a bargain at twice the price. My frugal self tries to justify by deciding it will be our souvenir of Iceland and imagine peppering future conversations with this firm example of the expense of Iceland. The true gift is a reminder of how we take simple things such as these for granted at home and a reminder to be thankful. Money well spent I conclude.

We enter the dining room and discover that a special dinner has been prepared for our group tonight.  It is a sit down meal  and features wine and a variety of courses. The entree is lamb and I quietly advise the waitress that I will be happy with the soup, salad and bread.  She asks if I like fish, I state that I do and shortly a beautiful salmon dinner arrives for me.  This was so unexpected, though such a wonderful treat.

Kommi tells us that tomorrow we will be going deep into South Iceland to a very special place.  He advises us to lower our expectations. He tells us that Icelandic children are taught to have low expectations and are fed a diet of folklore stories passed from generation to generation.  The stories reflect the harsh natural environment that Icelanders face and serve to teach their children how to live in an unforgiving wilderness.  The children learn to respect both the spirits of the land and the natural environment, where earthquakes, volcanos, and extreme weather conditions constantly pose a very real and tangible threat.

This is so different from my childhood experience, where around every corner something wonderful was about to happen.  I still live like this, well most days, the eternal optimist.

I wonder about the accommodations tomorrow that would have Kommi telling us this tonight.  I decide that we will be surprised with something truly amazing and surely he must be kidding with his grim talk.

Kommi tells us a bedtime story to drive home his point of low expectations. Everyone dies, there is no Disney Prince swooping in at the last moment but rather the last bit of hope when the hero arrives,  ends with him killing anyone left. Makes me wonder how the story could be told with no one left standing. Reminiscent of Grimms fairy tale we are left unsettled.

John and I enjoy our glass of wine and retire to our room.  It is nice to have privacy as we chat about our amazing day.  No sleeping bags for us tonight as we snuggle down deep. We decide sheets are a welcome change and we don’t miss the added exercise of getting into and out of the bag. Settled we listen to the quiet, though a few moments later, John begins to snore, making up for lost time when he was kept awake from everyone else snoring. My silence shattered, I sigh and turn on the white noise.

The word of the day is foss

We wake without sleep, surround sound snoring  disturbed our slumber. I nudge John repeatedly throughout the night only to discover in the morning he did not participate in the melody.  I eagerly pack to leave this place certain that the next place will be better.

We begin the familiar queuing for the bathroom then pack our belongings. I remember to keep my charging cord available. We board a new bus, our bus taken in the night for another group, this one appears to be a downgrade, lacking both the latte button and the USB ports.  My charging cord is rendered useless and my phone desperately needs a charge from last nights white noise serenade. I take a deep breath determined to have a great day, then chuckle.  My goodness I’m in Iceland seeing things few people will ever see, I am with great friends and my wonderful husband.  The day seems brighter with my attitude shift.

Eric tells us the word of the day is foss and it means waterfall. We traverse the path covered just a few days before. We find a young couple with a standard car trapped in the water and sinking with each spin of the tires. We implore Eric to stop and help. He does though there is nothing he can do, help is on the way.  The car is destroyed and the couple face thousands of dollars in costs for abusing their rental car with the hubris of youth. We are thankful for our transport and wisdom of our years though recall similar instances where we had to learn the difficult way.

We arrive at a place where it seems we have left the waterfalls behind.  I’m not sure what the highlight is though we scamper off the bus to find out.  We are directed to a tiny cave.  It is small at first, though enlarges as we move through. The smell of moss permeates. The sound of water running is deafening.   It is a tricky trek, the slippery rock has us concentrating.   The first waterfall comes into view and we exclaim at the beauty.  Just beyond, another waterfall demands our attention, though this one will require work and courage.  Eric and Kommi let us know that we can return back if we do not feel up to the second waterfall.  John and I look at each other, no words are needed as we take this as a dare and move forward.  There are chains embedded into the rock to hang onto, though more haphazard than a Disney experience. I’m scared, not of hurting myself though that weighs heavily on my mind, but more worried about taking someone with me.  I hopscotch across and soon am helped up to the upper ledge where a beautiful waterfall waits.  We snap pictures, pose, take more pictures and  too soon it is time to leave.  Eric advises that the trip back is harder.  I wonder to myself why he felt a need to say that as my nerves kick to higher level.  I am too careful with my footing and fall, sliding until the sharp stone scrapes my knee, slowing me down until I stop.  I shake off the pain admit I’m fine, no wounded gazelle here and keep moving.  I have a little chat with myself reminding myself to plant my feet for the uncertainty of footfall is far more dangerous.  Like a goat I cross the remainder of the rocks to safety.

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Our next waterfall is hidden, though more accessible than the one with chains.  A few steps into a cave, we are treated to a beautiful foss cascading down from the cliffs above.  The power of the mist soaks our fancy waterproof jackets their first chance to prove their promise.   We remain dry, money well spent, though still look like Smurfs.IMG_3316.jpeg

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Our next foss is a quick walk out of the vehicle.  It is unusual and is called helper falls.  The name is perfect as it looks like one waterfall is helping the other. I think about healthcare and how we help people in our daily work.  How important to make certain that we also help ourselves, I think as I watch the larger foss with help from above.  I also notice how the smaller falls contributes and how much we learn from the patients we serve.

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Our final foss is at the site of a Viking homestead. The waterfall is not impressive when compared with the other waterfalls we saw today, though I can imagine how important it was to provide water for the family and livestock that once called this spot home.  We marvel at the workmanship and how the structure complements and blends with the earth.  I think about how far removed we are from this building sense as the majority of our homes are built for their size without a care for the land they will occupy.  We seem to care more for what is inside than what is outside.

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A rainbow rounds out the day as we travel to our lodging for the night.   I silently hope that the accommodations are at least half as wonderful as the day.

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South Iceland Hidden people

We are giddy with our day of trekking on the glacier.  Satisfied we look forward to our lodging for the night.

We off road and soon the road is not obvious as we lumber along in our top heavy vehicle.  It reminds us of the safari in Africa where we lurched along the bumpy roads.  This we decide more of a Disney ride, though we are glad we are not driving.  There are various streams that we cross with our fancy vehicle made for this terrain.  Eric gets out to check the stream before crossing and we are thankful that he also values his life.  We relax knowing we are in good hands.

We arrive and negotiations begin, though it is not clear what is being negotiated.  I read the body language just outside and try to determine what is happening.  Soon we learn that the majority of us will be in one lodge with two rooms to share between 16 of us.  We will sleep in bunk beds, eight to a room.The remainder of our group will share a cabin with 4 people each.  It is disappointing and our excitement of the day falls away while we try to process the logistics of sharing a washroom with 16 people.

We gather our gear and remain hopeful as we explore the space.  It will be dry we decide on the plus side, that side remains with its solo item as we list the many negatives of the arrangement.  We leave for dinner determined to make the best of a bad situation and decide it could always be worse.  That night we learn worse as the cacophony of snoring keeps us awake  all night.  I download a white noise app and decide that the cost is worth the few minutes of rest obtained.  Too soon it is time to wake and we queue for the bathroom and some privacy to get dressed and ready for the day.

Our friends on the opposite bunk begin their day with a coffee and sit cross legged on the bunks next to each other as they begin the day with a smile.  They are clearly better at making the best of a situation and there is much to be learned.

We eat breakfast and then begin our hike into the hills.  It is straight up with relatively few switchbacks, our breath pumping we climb.  I prefer the quick up even with the work of breathing as in no time we summit and marvel at the view.  I decide to stay very close to the front as it seems there is always time for a break.  If I travel closer to the rear, by the time I get to where the rest is, we are on the move again.  Eric has an easy gait and it is easy to follow close.  He points out vegetation, sites, and information on the area.  Kommi, our other guide brings up the rear.

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We arrive at a cave and we all crowd in to listen to stories of Huldufólk, the hidden people or Elves. It is interesting to hear and I think how nearly every culture has these types of stories to keep children in line or safe.  We are told how there was an area in the farm where Kommi grew up.  He was told it was a place for the Elves and he could not go there, so he did not.  I wonder as Iceland is a volcano if there was instability in that area of the farm.  My speculation matters little as generation after generation of his family never ventured to that area.  The small houses we saw earlier make sense now as they are the homes for the Elves and are throughout Iceland.  It is serious for the people of Iceland much like our superstitions are to us, black cats, ladders and cracks on the side walk come to mind.

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We leave the cave and trek back, wide open space abounds.  We are tired from our day and look forward to falling deep into sleep in our cramped quarters.  Perhaps it will be better we decide as we try hope on for size.

 

 

Hurry Hurry Wait

Our group of  28 wakes early to begin our trek to hunt the Northern Lights.  There is much excitement at the Foss hotel as we view our rides with their larger than life tires.  People pass by and gawk, at our too large carbon footprint.

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I still have not wrapped my head around what is expected of us for this leg of our journey.  The vehicles have me puzzling as I had thought we were trekking from place to place. Still this country is vast with not much in between places. We have been told to pare down our gear and over half is separated and will be placed in storage.  Now  begins the all too familiar game of trying to figure out where item A is and if its in the stuff to go or the stuff that is now in a warehouse.  I sigh, perhaps it won’t be needed? Our small backpack holds the essentials for the day, I hope, and we are off. Eric expertly navigates and soon we leave the big city of Reykjavik for vastness. I look behind at where we were, knowing we will be changed when we return.

The vehicle has plugs for our phones and I dig like a dog for my charger that I sadly discover is in one of two places, the warehouse where I will see it again in a week or piled at the back of the bus inaccessible for the foreseeable future.

Eric, our driver draws our attention to an odd button and says it is for lattes, then laughs, everyone else laughs too, though I remain hopeful waiting until no one is looking and press.  Nothing happens, I look out the window, wondering when our hike will begin and hoping I am up for the challenge.

We arrive at a waterfall. I hoist my pack, secure it to my back and sigh as I disembark.   John is close behind.  We are told we will have 30 minutes here. It should be enough to climb to the top, look around and come back. We are off, though not alone as we queue to ascend. Some folks are making a day of the climb, we scamper around them, the time tick ticking. We arrive to the top and are treated to view the top of a beautiful waterfall complete with rainbow. I happily snap pics though also take in the view. We quickly descend as my eye is on the picture prize of the waterfall from below.

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We scamper down the stairs and rush over to stand in queue. I breathe in and out loudly as the long queue snaps one selfie after another, the time tock tocking until finally our moment arrives. I snap a few pictures, then we rush back to the bus on time though we cool our heels while the stragglers catch up.

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We make a plan to stay in the moment and will see what is possible as opposed to everything available. This plan we believe will have us much more relaxed with chances to see and experience the scenery in real time instead of at home when we scan through the pictures, removed from the place, at our leisure.

 

Downtown Reykjavik

We wake early and collectively clean the Airbnb rental, our many hands make the work light.  The property looks better than found and we are pleased to leave this representation of who we are as people.

We venture to downtown Reykjavik, its a small area, though in comparison to the suburbs where we have been staying, its a busy, happening place.

Chaos reigns at the Foss hotel as we arrive en-mass with our too large luggage and too  many questions.  The hotel staff are patient and kind, calmly addressing our concerns and answering our questions.

We opt out of the city tour, culling ourselves from the herd and opt in for time together.  We are giddy with the knowledge that we can explore the city, lingering as desired or speed through the boring bits in favour of what is around the next bend.

We are drawn to the water and happen on the Reykjavik version of, “sealed.”  This is where lovers seal their love with a lock.  The scarcity of locks have it looking like twelve people lost access in stark contrast to Amsterdam where masses  of locks declare love abounds.

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We find a beautiful, octagonal building and join the crowd taking photos of this artistic building, from every angle.  We browse the high priced, tchotkes and the prices decide we are not in a buying mood.

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We amble in and out of shops, browsing.   I choose a too pricey Icelandic pony Christmas  ornament and hand  it quickly over to John to pay before I change my mind.  John is fascinated with the Christmas story of the Elves and we buy a copy for our grandchildren.  It is always fascinating how different cultures celebrate Christmas.  There does seem to exist a commonality in that the traditions all seem to be designed to keep children in line.

We decide to visit the Mariner Museum, John is excited to see ships and artifacts from long ago. We pay our fee, the self directed tour begins in the gift store, odd as it usually ends thus.  We set off.

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Quickly we learn the museum is dedicated to the fishing industry, interesting, though not interested we glance at the items in glass cases and try to get into the tour by listening to the audio.  We both put on a brave face, moving through the museum quickly.  We eye the fish skin shoes and boots, perhaps they have gone too far, I decide.

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The tour ends and we spill out into a restaurant.  We quickly  try to find another way out, we are trapped, the only way out is through. We decide the cost will  break our budget, though wait,   I hear only Icelandic voices and spy a buffet of fish, vegetables–a complete meal. We inquire as to the cost and are surprised by the reasonable price.  The food is excellent, made in small batches and features an array of fish cooked perfectly tender.  We high five our good fortune and pronounce the Mariner’s Museum a highlight of our self directed tour as we sit back and eat like locals.

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.

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