We're back in Reykjavik, turned in the rental car, and picked up my wide angle lens at the hotel. I'm relieved that no speeding tickets were waiting for me, they didn't notice the small pebble shatter on the windshield, or the plugged nail hole in the tire. Of course, we paid a lot to cover more than that, so my worries (other than the tickets in the tunnel) were overblown.
If you really want to see what good photographers can produce from a stay in Iceland, check out the album from today. I promise you'll have no trouble picking out the two photographs of mine from among the collection at Tuesday, August 23rd.
Nothing like a 5km walk over a coastal lavabed to test out your knees. We made it, and are having lunch on a deck overlooking the cove back at the FossHotel Hellnar. Two and a half hours from Reykjavik, we're sitting in 65 degree sunshine, with no-wind, watching a jet overhead fly back to Minneapolis.
A friend here provided some insight into why everyone seems to have found Iceland. The answer: Some tourist spots have become risky - Turkey, Egypt, France. This is becoming the August vacation spot.
Our walk gave us great looks at basaltic hexagonal columns right at the cliff faces, and no one has a better blog about them than Shing.
But if you don't tire of her photos, check out these and other walk shots we took today at Monday, August 22nd.
Today was a sailing day. I doubt if we saved time over driving. but the trip was restful. The main link for island living in the northwest, the ferry delivers tourists returning to the Reykjavik area, and fresh fish to their markets.
We disembarked at Stykkisholmur on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, beneath the ice-capped volcano, Snaefellsjokull. Immortalized in Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, the mountain today was obscured by a thick cloud layer which hung just above equally majestic sea bird cliffs. We drove the remaining 200 kilometers around the Peninsula, and made notes on what we might come back to see tomorrow.
The FossHotel group has provided us with the majority of our accommodations, and done a pretty good job of it. Located strategically in rural areas just out side of small towns, they have brought us clean, efficient, friendly service at a good price. But I have a complaint. What's with the cereal bowls? This morning's bowls were just deep enough for three corn flakes to reach the top. With a small splash of milk, it took about eight spoonfuls to take it all in. This contrasts with the soup bowls at dinner which one could make a complete meal.
To get the scale of this waterfall, be sure to spot the guy standing on the clifftop in the center-right of the photo. This is Dynjanti, one of the jewels of Iceland's waterfalls.
We didn't make many stops today, as we drove almost entirely on rutted dirt roads over several mountains and around fjords at the western end of Iceland. Down steep roads to reach the sandy beaches at Rauoisandur, and out to the very end of Iceland at the Latrabjarg sea bird cliffs.
While gas is expensive in Iceland, if I had it to do over, I think I'd choose a stronger, bigger, more off-road vehicle for these stretches of travel. Dodging rocks and ruts in a little French Citroen with little room between you and the road is exhausting. Pat's a very good sport, but I can see her knuckles getting white as she braces against the dashboard as we slide around the steep hairpin turns. And let's not mention the tickets I'm getting while speeding through the one-lane tunnels to avoid oncoming trucks.
One last photo might give you a sense of place. Fjords and cliffs and roads - leading to a small town trying to make it easier on the swarms of visitors. Patreksfjordur did just that tonight by serving us the best lobster rolls, salad, and seafood soup. We're curled up in our hotel room, looking out at what seems like the never-setting sun, and planning our last few days in Iceland.
We're staying around the town today, taking advantage of the 2-day stay here to do the laundry, and catch up on some sleep. It's a small town, and our hotel is right in the middle of it. We get a perfect view of the townsfolk, and the cruise ship passengers, out our hotel window.
With gas at $6 per gallon, Icelanders are exploring other means of transportation. Without a doubt, cars are necessary to travel the long distances between towns. Around town, it's another story. Skateboards, bikes, scooters, sit-down bikes, and busses are everywhere.
On our morning walk, we explored old houses and a strong salt cod industry, and saw the Cruise ship tourists who came off the two ships parked in the harbor. The largest, carrying 4,000 passengers, unloaded this morning. The ice cream shop across from our hotel seemed the place to congregate, and we joined them for an excellent bowl of chocolate, caramel, and berries.
Driving to a nearby natural history museum, we discovered an exhibit featuring a piece of lignite (formerly a redwood tree) retrieved by a local geologist from a coal mine. Evidently, such trees grew on Iceland 14 million years ago. A larger display is being hosted this weekend near the ferry we will take on Sunday. It's being organized by a local park ranger, and I'm eager to learn more about Iceland's redwood history.
Directly in front of us, almost the whole morning, were rainbows. We drove up and down the sides of six fjords on Iceland's West Fjords today, and were constantly encouraged to follow their lead. It was pretty magical.
Along the way, we encountered the first road signs used in this country. Cairns (piles of stones) have been constructed all across the country since 1100AD marking the early routes taken. Usually about four feet tall, and about two hundred yards apart, these markers were used to guide travelers to settlements.
Lately, it seems that hikers and environmental artists have chosen to build tightly-packed straight-sided stone structures which have you wondering who would spend that much time on something few will ever see.
But then the cairns along the road have been there for centuries.
This part of Iceland is where its fishing industry began, and we visited a local museum displaying the history of cod fishing. They had an excellent video, which followed the exploits of the members of a coastal fishing crew over their 18-hour day (and had me wondering how they captured all of those great segments inside the 6-person oar boat in the winter at sea).
But, as interesting as it was, the collection of accordions donated by a local resident was the hit of the museum.
Lastly, the Arctic Fox Center at Sudavik is the real prize of the day. Did you know that the reasons they can survive in extreme cold are: 1) they have 20,000 hairs/cubic inch (a cat has 200); they have very small ears and noses; and 3) their unique blood system design utilizes something called "counter current exchange" in the legs. The paws are necessarily cold, but blood can circulate to bring nutrients to the paws without losing much heat from the body. Proximity of arteries and veins in the leg results in heat exchange, so that as the blood flows down it becomes cooler, and doesn't lose much heat to the snow. As the (cold) blood flows back up from the paws through the veins, it picks up heat from the blood flowing in the opposite direction, so that it returns to the torso in a warm state, allowing the fox to maintain a comfortable temperature, without losing it to the snow.
Arctic foxes were the first mammal to occupy Iceland, long before the last Ice Age, and this area has the highest concentration of them in the world.
Face it. If I find surf, you're going to see it. On Iceland's North Coast, near the town of Sauoarkrokur, some nice lefts peeled across the long sandy beach. The 16-shot sequence is included in today's photo album.
But we didn't come to Iceland to find surf. Why did we come? Well, the trip was really all about going to Orkney Island to spend some time at a recent archeological project that you'll read all about in about a week. But if we're flying over Iceland anyway, why not visit?
Two million of us decided to drop in this year. From our experience, Germans, Spanish, Chinese, Italians, and French are the easiest to spot (hear). There are tour busses, but lots of folks have opted for small caravans and 4-wheel drive SUVs to go on some of the rougher roads.
It seems like every sizeable farm has guesthouses, and towns have upgraded their old hotels into 3-star accommodations. Old barns are now restaurants, with excellent local arctic char, lamb, and other meat selections (horse?).
But you should come to Iceland for more than a comfortable way to see hot and cold rocks and water. You should come to see how a country ought to operate. Now, granted, no one has ever threatened to attack it, so there's no standing army (and very little defense budget). It has a healthy democracy, that rocks back and forth between conservative and liberal parties in power, but still gets things done. The taxes aren't too high, and residents get health, education, and retirement benefits. There's very little unemployment, plenty of small businesses starting and expanding, and not much of a welfare state.
Yes, they're pretty homogeneous. With 73% Evangelical Lutheran, and 94% native born, they also have a higher net migration rate than we do. They're healthier (second lowest infant (and 8th lowest maternal) mortality rate in the world, and the 6th highest life expectancy) and 98% of the populace has internet. In every major measure collected by our CIA, they beat us.
And they believe in trolls and lake monsters, and Norse gods, and celebrate their poets and writers and artists. What's not to like about Iceland?