QC Blog: Iceland, Part Five

Friday, October 31, 2008

Iceland, Part Five

The next day dawned with blue skies and the sun shining. Not a hint of rain. We can see that it snowed more on the mountains last night. Our AAA tour guide, Barry, was handing us off to the Super Jeep driver named Hlynur, who started off the tour taking us through what he called the "Wall Street" area near the Harbor. He kept making jokes about how he owned the banks now that Iceland is bankrupt. We started our 90 minute drive up Highway 1(it seems like there is only one big highway there) and midway made a bathroom stop at Thingvellir, and then continued on to the Langjokull glacier, which is the second largest glacier in Iceland.

In a Super Jeep, the seat backs are pretty high, so you can't see out the front window, unless you're up front. Patty and Chrissie were in front of me in the first seat and I was in the second seat by myself. I could only listen to Hlynur's spiel as he talked about the scenery and the people. Someone asked if there were Polar Bears in Iceland. He said there had been two, but they shot them. It seems they swam over from Greenland. The first one terrorized a family and was finally shot, and then he said people were saying "oh, the poor Polar bear...blah, blah, blah" (Literally, he said blah, blah, blah). Then when the 2nd Polar Bear came over, people just didn't say anything and they shot him. He mentioned the 101's who were all upset over the poor bear. 101's, he explained, were the young people who hang out in coffee bars, talking art and smoking, and are in Reykjavik. They are called 101's because that's the zip code in Reykjavik. Patty explained to him that an American term for what he was saying might be "tree-huggers." He loved that, and continued to use it the rest of the trip.

Then someone asked him about the shirts we had seen in a store about Killer Sheep. Were they real? Of course, he says. Patty and Chrissie are enthralled with this story he's telling. Now I, who can't see him, can hear in his voice that he's putting us on. I happen to have a husband who does that a lot, and Hlynur sounded just like him. But up front, they're buying this story, hook, line and sinker. Finally after about 5 minutes, Patty says, you're putting us on aren't you? And he laughs and laughs and they realize the joke has been on them. But in an utterly charming way.

So as we're talking, we're driving up a mountain. The higher we go, the roads get a little snowier. We reach a point where those up front (my sisters) are a little nervous. He tells them that the road we just passed on our right is an easier route, but it's the chicken route. And he doesn't take the chicken route. He tells us how he's done these tours for over 20 years, first working in Greenland and now Iceland for years. He tells us he's also part of the search and rescue team here in Iceland, so if we get lost, he can find us. He tells us a story of how a friend and his family went through the ice in a jeep, and then tried to call for help, but also lost his phone in the water. He was in freezing water (standing height) for about 15 hours, and Hlynur told how he and his friends all rescued him, and in the end they even found his phone (a Nokia) and it still worked.

So it's snowy and bumpy, climbing this mountain. Wearing your seat belt was a must or you'd be thrown all over the jeep. This is where the camera excelled. First, I took most of the pictures on this day through the window of the Jeep, which sometimes had moisture, or snow on it. Second, my hand was moving up and down with the movement of the Jeep - at least 6 inches up in the air and then 6 inches down with each rut we hit in the road. That's where the Vibration Reduction lens came in set to Normal. Third, the Jeep itself was moving forward so blur would've been an issue, except that the Vibration Reduction set to Active is just for that purpose. The only other issue was the reflection on the window, which sometimes you can see, and if I was really good, you can't.

On some hills, Hlynur is struggling to get up the hill, while he tells us his life rescue stories. Our Patriots fan, Joe, is sitting next to him and told me later he was putting us on about that too. No way he was having any trouble getting up the hill. But, that didn't change the nervousness of some of our "front seat" passengers. I figured he does this all the time, he must know what he's doing, so I really wasn't worried.

The scenery is changing before our eyes. We went from a green plush landscape with snowcapped mountains in the background to being in the mountains and surrounded by the snow. It was similar to seeing clouds when you look out of a plane window. Suddenly, you're "in them," and it's just so cool. Gradually, we're getting closer to the Glacier. All of a sudden the snow with rocks in it turns to pure white. This is the Glacier. We drive up onto it very, very slowly, and when we get out Hlynur tells us not to stray too far, because there are crevices very near (he's not kidding about this one). It was 24 degrees here on the glacier. And the wind was cold. But, having purchased a nice coat with liner before I left home, I was toasty warm. The beauty was astounding. It was pristine, as though we were looking at freshly fallen snow. I felt overwhelmed by the beauty I was seeing. We took photos of one another and with our Terrible Towels. Then we had to get back in the Jeep. I didn't want to. I could've stayed there indefinitely.

As we drove down the alternate route, or "the chicken's path" to our next stop, the scenery continued to change. We stopped for lunch at another place that had delicious lamb stew, with turnips and carrots in it. They had a tiny supermarket, where I bet you recognize this product, even written in Icelandic. We then moved onto see a different waterfall, that Hlynur told us is cut in the hillside from lava flow. Incredible.

We stopped again to see another hot springs where the temperature was 100 degrees C. Then as we drove on, the Atlantic ocean pops up on the scenery on the right hand side of the bus. By this point, although I took one or two photos out the opposite window, my arm was so tired, I could hardly hold the camera anymore. I had camera elbow. So I contented myself with saying I can't take a photo, it's on the other side of the bus. We drove back into Reykjavik, still with a clear blue sky, and Hlynur said if any night was perfect, this would be the kind of night we could see the Aurora Borealis -sometime between 10pm and 12:00am.

We went to dinner and got back, exhausted, but felt obligated to stay dressed to see if we could see anything. Even though we went down to the Harbor at 10pm and stayed until 11pm, we couldn't spot anything in the sky. I hear it's very fleeting at this time of year. So we went back to our room. Chrissie and I knew we weren't going whale watching the next day, so we could sleep in a little. Patty did go, and we shopped.

Tomorrow: Our little village

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