Monday was great fun. Sylvie, Watts and I decided that we wanted to go see a lava field and ride horses, so we booked an afternoon horse ride through a lavafield. Don declined to join us, claiming that it was against his sense of animal rights to make a horse carry him places. Given that he ate horse at dinner that night, I’m of the belief that he’s afraid of looking awkward and falling off.
Saturday booked the tour at the Tourism information office on Aðalstræti. In the process I told them where to pick us up, i.e. Guesthouse Einholt, and they told me to be there and ready at 1pm. Sylvie, Watts and I took the bus from lunch to the hotel to get picked up, leaving Don near the commercial strips to engage in music store perusal. Since we were staying around the corner from the rest of the hotel, we were on the street waiting a few minutes early. It was a touch rainy again, and when the wind blew it was chilly. There was a steady breeze. About 1:10 we started to worry about whether the bus was going to show up. When Don appeared, having decided to walk back to the hotel before his music quest, we sent him back to the room to make sure we were right about the time, the date, and the tour company. We were. Then I took the brochure into the lobby and tried calling them. Their English speaking customer service line never answered and their accounting office transferred me back to customer service, what with them not having a clue about the day to day tour operations. This lead to a defeated return to the curb, brochure in hand, and more concern about whether we’d make it to our tour. Several minutes later, Sylvie decided to go in and try her luck.
Either the universe likes Sylvie better, or she’s better at looking like she could use help from strangers, because this is when she gets to meet the mysterious voice on the phone from check-in day. He calls the tour company, uses his native Icelandic speaking skills, and discovers that the shuttle meant to pick us up went to a different hotel. The tour company is very sorry, there’s a cab on its way. The cabbie has fabulous traffic-weaving aggressive driving skills.
We get there in plenty of time for the tour. It’s just the three of us and a French lady who speaks a very little bit of English. Our (Belgian) tour guide speaks a decent amount of French so that’s good. They query us for our past riding experience and it turns out the French lady is the only one with any she’s willing to claim. She says she’s ridden a lot. My camera is explicitly not allowed on the horse because it’s a startle risk.
Icelandic horses are short, stubby, and passively indifferent to everything. My horse really took after me. It didn’t like to run and was really more interested in lunch than in schlepping around a n00b. We bonded over this similarity in disposition. I lucked out in this respect, Watts’s horse was pushy and completely ignored him, and Sylvie’s didn’t have a personality that I could discern.
Despite the weather report claiming we were in the clear, it rained on us several times during the afternoon. I didn’t mind since my new cargo pants are made of magic and not only kept the paperback in my leg-pocket dry, but dried out completely between rain storms.
Sylvie and Watts got a few pictures from their tiny cameras but I don’t think anybody got a picture of the rock formation I immediately took to calling the elfin amphitheatre. You’ll have to trust me about it. We also got to see a dried up river bed paved in black lavastones. I filched one while nobody was looking and squirrelled it away in one of my many handy pockets.
French lady couldn’t ride a horse to save her life. There was a point where our guide got pale and looked certain she was about to watch French lady shatter leg trying to dismount.
We went for Tapas for dinner that night. So. Yummy. Spanish interpretations of Icelandic food were really interesting. Icelandic renderings of Spanish food equally so. I highly recommend consumption of puffin and foal.
Tuesday was the day we decided to climb a glacier. We hadn’t booked that tour before coming, but did some research in various brochures at the tourist offices because the glacier tours were so expensive. Ultimately we decided the best value was the whole day tour that started with a hike down into a valley, a soak in a hot-spring-warmed river, and then the glacier. This was one of the smartest decisions we made the whole trip.
The weather gave us a break and it finally stopped raining. It was windy, but that mostly added atmosphere. And boy was there atmosphere. I spent most of the morning walking through Middle Earth. You think I’m kidding? I am not kidding.
My Middle Earth. Let me show you it.
I am unreasonably fond of this photo. It took it from the tour van which was being driven by a cute tour guide/climber/amateur photographer at high speed because he hates the five hours of driving involved in that particular tour. Something about it captures the layers in the Icelandic sky. We didn’t have a single moment where we could look up and just see a stretch of blue sky. It was always ornamented with dramatic clouds so high that they’re playing tricks with the sunlight on its way down. You also get a bit of the power line motif I got a little obsessed with that day.
It’s not my fault; the power lines seem to be iconic Iceland. This is a country with a functionally limitless supply of free electricity and water right there for the taking. It’s the size of Kentucky, but the vast majority live in Reykjavik. The power plants are out in the countryside where they can drill into the pockets of hot water without bothering anybody. That means the countryside is draped in these long lines, marching across barely-fertile plains of black rock. They’re efficient and strong, yet a little bit lonely.
Last one, I promise
Our hike was great. I am very glad I brought my snow boots for purposes of hiking. I have finally found something I cannot do just as well in flip flops. That something was climbing down this hill.
Yes, I went down this hill.
Iceland looks like Middle Earth, including Mordor.
We hiked quite a ways along the river. The place where the hot springs came to the surface and joined the river was very neat.
There were three small damns along the river to create pools for soaking in. Our guide stopped us at the middle one, it being the goldilocks pool. This was the point where the members of the tour looked at each other, looked at the mountains rising around them, and turned into a pack of chickens. “It’s cold. I’m not changing out here and getting into that,” they said. Please recall, we paid more for the privilege of swimming in this river. My sense of frugality took over. “I don’t want to hold us up so I’m won’t do it by myself, but if anybody else gets in, I’m going in,” I said.
“I don’t know about you guys, but I am going in,” the guide said. Did I mention he was a bit cute? He was.
This caused a cascade effect. The next thing I knew, Sylvie was caving in and the Canadian girls were headed over the hill to change. It was windy and cold, so the rest of us changed right there at the bank, in the mud. When I say the rest of us, I mean everybody but Don and Watts. They plead masculine frailty and opted to guard our bags from lurking trolls rather than enjoy the pleasures of natural water swimming. To be fair, Don opted to watch my stuff by putting on my layers as quickly as I took them off, so he definitely was cold. He was also lame.
There was an incident upon getting out where I decided that the best way to get my shoes back on without putting muddy feet into socks was to stand on the damn where I could get dressed in water an inch deep, stay mud free, and conquer the universe. This plot ended in slipping in the mud while wearing my bathing suit and my shirt. This incident is the now-famous “Anaea slipped in the mud with no pants on” story. It is not a story. The real story is that boys are lame.
After this we hiked back to the van, taking a slightly different route that was less steep, but longer. This was when I discovered that I had overcooked myself in the river. I handed my coats off to Don and had copious quantities of water at lunch. I also had chocolate cake. Cake is a big deal in Iceland, and I received approval from the tour guide for knowing how to say chocolate cake in Icelandic. (I studied the really important parts of the language, yo)
From thence we went on to the glacier. To get to the glacier we had to drive up a long, narrow, gravel road. This was great fun, but made picture taking hard. I persevered all the same.
Product of perseverance
On the final approach to the glacier we passed another tour van that was heading home. The winds were getting so fast that he’d decided they’d be better off giving up. In about an hour they were supposed to reach 100km/hr and the tour company’s safety guidelines required us to quit at 80km/hr. This prompted our tour guide to drive faster and be very efficient in teaching us how to use crampons and whatnot. Most people couldn’t get pictures because volcanic ash was getting blown at us at high speed. I did not let a minor thing like natural exfoliating stop me.
Picture of glacier
The orange speck in that photo? That’s a guy wearing and orange jacket. Just in case you needed some scale.
Crampons are these neat overshoes you attach to your hiking boots. They’ve got metal spikes all around their edges that dig into the ice and keep you from slipping. To use them correctly all you have to do is walk like a Cyberman. Needless to say, the glacier hike was full of Doctor Who jokes.
We cut the glacier hike short since the tour guide didn’t want to get anybody killed or something. To make up for it, we went to check out some waterfalls. One of the nifty things about Iceland is that they just have waterfalls. Everywhere. I’ve already not shown you dozens of photos of waterfalls that we passed on this road trip. They just hang out on the side of the road, taking water down from the top of the mountains that also hang out everywhere.
It really was quite windy
The second waterfall was quite big
Also had a rainbow
And you could walk behind it
On the way home we passed a volcano
When we got back home we discovered that Reykjavik is techni-color in sunlight