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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Reykjavik, Part 2

Just a long drive in the car today, from Akureyri down to Reykjavik. We did stop a couple of times, to see one seamount and outside Blönduós for some horses that were by the side of the road. That last one was a bit of a mistake - the roadside ground was a swamp, which we didn't find out until I'd sunk in almost to the tops of my shoes.
(Update - Mom wants you to know that the horses loved her).

Finally we made it to the apartment in Reykjavik. We're on the outskirts of downtown. It's not quite as nice as the other places we've stayed, but we're only here the one night. Interestingly, the van we rode in out to the horseback riding tour is parked in the lot behind the apartment - the driver must live here or something.

Tomorrow we're going to get up, go out for coffee and pastries, get some last-minute souvenir shopping done, then head for the airport. We need to be there before 2 to drop off the rental car, and to hit the Duty Free for some brennivín.

Next stop... Home!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Today was the day that we spent the most time agonizing over what to do. Akureyri is a very nice place - I wouldn't mind living here, actually - but in terms of tourist things to do, there's not a whole lot. That's why today we decided we were going to go east again.

Our first stop was at Krafla, a caldera just southwest of Dettifoss. It's an interesting place - formed during the Mývatn Fires in the 1720s, it now hosts a geothermal power station. One of their pipelines runs across the road, and instead of burying it, it goes up in an arch over the roadway. We hiked around one of the craters, Víti, said to be an entrance to hell, that has a green-blue lake in it. We also stopped at the site of the Iceland Deep Drilling Project, which meant to drill down to super-hot rock 4,000 meters down, but hit a magma chamber at half that depth. On the way back to the Hringvegur, we stopped at a little roadside parking lot that was centered on a pipe coming up out of the ground connected to a shower head. It was spraying water at just the right temperature to take a shower, though rather exposed...

Back at the Ring Road, we decided to head east and cross the border into the East Iceland region, so we could say we'd been to all of them. We went a little further than we anticipated, because there is NOTHING THERE. It's like driving through the Midwest, but more so. Eventually we hit the town of Egilsstaðir, the largest settlement in East Iceland. It's home to about 2,000 people. After a refuel and quick bite to eat, we headed east out of town to go look at a waterfall that was mentioned on a map at their visitor center. It turns out that from the official parking lot it's about a 90 minute hike in the wind, but there's a pull-off up above the falls where you can walk down to the river for some good pictures.

Rather than turn around, we decided to go out to the end of the road (Route 93), to see the small town there. On the way we stopped at Gufufoss, another waterfall. This one you could walk all the way out onto right from the parking lot. There was evidence of some flood control facilities (weirs across the channel, a depth gauge), and a monument with text in a rune-like script chiseled into it. Once again, this served as a reminder of how different the US and Iceland approach risk management - we could walk out onto the edge of the falls themselves, with a 70-80' drop inches away, and there was no guard rail or warning signs.

From Egilsstaðir onwards, we'd seen tour busses, which seemed odd for such a remote area. Then we drove into Seyðisfjörður, the town at the end of the fjord. Tied up at the dock was the MS Norrona, a cruiseferry from the Faroe Islands. The busses were carrying tourists who had taken the ferry about 48 hours from Denmark. The town itself wasn't very big - maybe 500 residents - but they have a blue church that appears in a lot of tour guides, so we stopped for pictures.

At that point it was 4:30 and we were a four hour drive from the apartment, so we hit the road and headed for home. Tonight we're eating leftovers and packing - tomorrow we drive back to Reykjavik for one last night, then off to the airport. This is probably the last post until we get home Friday night or Saturday morning - see you then!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Grimsey Island

This morning was off to a later start. Breakfast was leisurely, and then we headed into town. Our first stop was at the camera shop on the main street in town. I picked up a floaty back and a chest harness for my GoPro. Mom picked up a new sling for her DSLR, to replace the factory neck strap, This one is about twice as long and is quickly adjustable for stability when it's held up - a lot like a single-point rifle sling. The only minor downside is that it attaches on the tripod mount, so you can't use both.

After that we wandered into IceWear, a clothing and souvenir shop that was closed when we by on Sunday. I picked up an Iceland flag hat and some thinner gloves - the ones I brought with me being Outdoor Research Pro expedition-weight elbow-length Kevlar.

By the time we were all done, it was time to head to the airport. Mom and I checked in for our flight to Grimsey, then Nick and Rachael headed off to explore town. While we waited, we met Vivian, a geotechnical/mining consultant for TetraTech from Vancouver BC who was also going to Grimsey. I've worked with TetraTech on our hazard mitigation plan at work, so we chatted for a while. More passengers turned up, and at about 12:55 the plane rolled up. We were flying on a DHC-6 Twin Otter, which was full. There were tourists from Canada and the UK, the gate agent who was with two unaccompanied minors, and someone visiting the school on the island for a work meeting.

The Twin Otter is an interesting plane. Lots of lift - we were in the air well before the halfway point of the runway, and were a good 500' in the air before the end. Not a ton of speed, though - according to the GPS, on a clear flat road with no traffic or police, I could have beaten it in a decent sports car.

Once we arrived on the island, most of us headed out the door of the terminal and a few steps north, to the Arctic Circle monument. Everyone got pictures, then Mom, Vivian who had no plans so tagged along, and I headed off towards the cliffs to find a geocache. It was an easy find - in a pile of rocks about 10 feet back from the edge. Once we'd signed the log and left the last travel bug, we decided to see how far north we could get. Turns out - not terribly far. The airport is on the north end of the island, and while there is a road farther north, it goes straight uphill and doesn't go far. We did find an interesting art piece, though. It's a concrete sphere maybe 12 feet in diameter, with a hole bored through it and a metal plaque around the hole. It was resting on a giant tire, and had hoisting straps laying around it, so I'm guessing that it wasn't at it's final place.

We walked back south and found another geocache, then walked out onto a rocky point over the ocean. The geocache was callled "the real angry birds of Grimsey", but there were no angry birds in evidence. There were, however, a lot of dead birds on the rocky point.

Finally we walked down into town and visited the gift shop. Mom got a T-shirt, and we all got certificates stating that we'd crossed the Arctic Circle. Then we headed back to the terminal, where we received another certificate, this time from the airline and signed by the pilot.

After a 25-minutes hop back to Akureyri, Nick and Rachael picked us up. Mom demanded a hot dog, so we swung by the stand in town to get her one, then to the Netto for milk and butter, plastic bags, and some snacks. Dinner was chicken carbonara, and we went out for ice cream for dessert. To me ice cream seems ridiculous when it is 3ºC out, so I had some warm apple pie instead.

Tomorrow we're going to run out to Katla, a volcanic crater 90 minutes east of town, and maybe farther so we can say we reached East Iceland.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Diamond Circle

Today was our exploration day for northeast Iceland. We got up, had a leisurely breakfast (taco scrambled eggs, hash browns, cinnamon buns, and peaches), then headed out.

We've been east before, to Húsavik, but we chose a different route this time. At the bottom of the driveway we turned left instead of right, and instead of taking the ring road around, we took the gravel road over the mountain. It was very pretty, though it drops you out the other end in an active quarry or construction site.

Our first stop was Goðafoss, a waterfall right off the road that is reasonably large. Mom found a geocache there after Nick and I walked by it several times, and she dropped off her last-but-one travel bug; she's saving the last one for tomorrow's trip. The mud at this place was incredible - it was the better part of an inch thick n the soles of my shoes when we got back to the car, and had to be scraped off. I know that one of the questions on the US Customs form for coming into the US is whether you went to any farms, pastures or fields; I suspect I may be walking out of the Customs area without my shoes.

The next site on our trip was Lake Mývatn. This is the largest lake in the area, and it's a huge hiking area. We saw a nice roadside memorial that seemed to be for two workers who were laying fiber optic cable when they drowned in the lake, and someone from a diatomic plant that drowned the same day. I haven't been able to find any history on this. Mostly we just drove the shoreline - the area is mostly for bike or hiking tours, and we weren't on either. We did stop on the lakeshore for pictures and to scare some sheep, though.

After the lake we headed towards Dettifoss, but stopped on the way at Hverir, a volcanic area. There are a number of boiling mud pots and stream vents coming out of the ground at the base of a volcano. It's not really marked on any of the maps or in the guidebook that we have, but I found it described online as one of the most beautiful and cataclysmic areas in Iceland.

Cataclysmic, certainly, but beautiful... I don't know. The whole area between Mývatn and Dettifoss seemed like driving through the Badlands in South Dakota - there's just nothing but dirt and rock. I suppose the colors produced by the sulfur deposits is pretty, though smelly.

Finally we arrived at Dettifoss. There's a parking lot about half a mile from the canyon, and you can walk a loop from the lot to Dettifoss to Selfoss and back. Dettifoss is the largest waterfall in Europe by flow rate. Selfoss, upstream, is smaller, but you can get right up to it. In the US, the barriers would be keeping you back from the edge. Here, they were keeping you towards the edge, away from the open field they don't want you to walk on. It's better in video than it is in words, so click the YouTube link in the blog header to see the video when it finishes uploading.

From Dettifoss we continued north towards the visitor center, passing through an area that used to be its own national park, but is now part of the Vatnajökull park. This means we've been in all three national parks in Iceland now. The road we were on was an F road, one that supposedly requires four wheel drive. It was certainly bumpy, but there weren't any rivers or creeks for ford, or rocks to crawl over. You could have taken a Prius or a Nissan Leaf down the road if you'd gone slowly.

The road took most of an hour to get down, and the whole time we only saw one other car, headed the other direction. They were stopped at a passing point; most of the road is only wide enough for one car, but there are spots every kilometer or so for passing. The road was pretty plain - it looks like someone put the blade of a large bulldozer down and just drove, cutting a path the whole way. In places, the road was cut two feet down from the surface.  Other than the road, it was nothing but heather and similar low brush for miles.

We arrived at at the visitor center about half an hour after they closed, naturally. Looking in the windows, there wasn't anything major to see there, so we headed west on the main road, which looped us through Húsavik and back towards Akureyri. Back in town, we hit the N1 gas station for a parking clock, and Akureyri Fish and Chips for some of the freshest fish and chips I'd ever eaten. Definitely real cod, not whatever frozen whitefish was cheapest.

That was the whole day. Now we're all relaxing, Tomorrow Nick and Rachael are going to explore the town some more while Mom and I fly on a super tiny plane up to Grimsey Island and cross the Arctic Circle. Only four more days until we're flying for home, and I don't want to leave.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Around Akureyri

Today has not been a very adventurous day. We were up quite late, as the owner knocked on the door at about 11pm and invited us out to see the aurora. Even over the lights of the town, it was much brighter than we'd seen in our drive out to the countryside.

This morning we got up and headed into town. First stop was right at the bottom of route 828 where it terminates at Route 1. There's a little park there, and the first geocache here in the north. It was very easy to find, and we placed one of the travel bugs into it.

When we arrived in town, we parked at Hof, the local cultural and convention center/performance hall. We went inside, but the tourist bureau is not open on the weekend. In fact, very little in Akureyri is open on the weekends. Even the hot dog stand in town was closed. Mom selected another geocache, and off we went. When we'd made it about half a mile on foot we discovered that the selection had gotten bumped - the GPS wanted us to head up a large hill, when the description of the cache said it was near Hof. We reset the GPS and backtracked, and found the cache near a sculpture just west of Hof. It was just a film canister size, though, too small to leave a travel bug.

While we were walking along the waterfront and the marina, we noticed that the water looked kind of odd, almost thick. As we reached the marina, we realized it was because it was in fact ice - the water has started to freeze for the winter. There were still people wanting to go out in the rigid inflatable boats for whale-watching, though.

Our next stop was Akureykirkja, the local church. It has double spires and beautiful ironwork hinges on the doors. Mass was just getting out, and we didn't want to disturb them, so we didn't go inside, just got some pictures, then headed down to the next cache. This one was in a rock wall behind a poet's house - you found it by going halfway down the church steps, then around a path to the house. The path is starting to erode away, and they're going to need to do some serious hillside stabilization work before too much longer, or the church is going to end up on top of an apartment building, and in the fjord.

We did a bit of shopping around town, then headed out south. We came in from the north and the west, and we're heading east to explore tomorrow, so we wanted to see what was south. Turns out... not much, just farmland. We did see quite a few dead evergreen trees, though, just like we saw on our trip up here from Reykjavik. It's like they were growing fine, then just died.

Back in town, we hit the other church for pictures, though it is much less impressive close up than far away. Then we headed to the Bonus for food. We picked up stuff for tacos and chicken alfredo - tacos tonight, chicken some other day. I also want to hit the fish and chips shop in town one night, since this is a fishing town.

Mom was feeling a bit under the weather, so we came back to the apartment so she could nap. Nick and I ran out to pick up some things we'd forgotten, and this evening we're just going to relax. Tomorrow we're going to head out to Goðafoss, Lake Mývatn, Dettifoss, and maybe farther east. I'd like to hit the national park that's up here, so we can say we visited all three. Tuesday is the trip to Grimsey Island, Wednesday is TBD, Thursday is the drive back to Reykjavik, and Friday is close out and fly home.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Whales and auroras

Today was whale-watching day. It was a late start, because we'd all stayed up late looking for the northern lights. While the house to the north does have lights on it, we didn't see the aurora. If we don't see anything tonight from the house, we're going to pile into the car and head out into the countryside, away from town.

I've stopped noticing the sulfur smell in the hot water, which is nice. More Cheerios for breakfast, then we headed out. There are some whale-watching companies in Akureyri, but we've been told that Húsavík is better. Húsavik is a small town about 70 minutes northeast of Akureyri, on the east side of the next fjord over. It's where commercial whale-watching started in Iceland, and there are four companies that run tours. We spent some time last night deciding and booking tickets. One company only operates during the summer, and one was significantly more expensive than the others, so we were left with Gentle Giants and North Sailing to choose from. GG offers tours in a couple of larger boats, but features their rigid inflatable boats, whereas North Sailing uses restored oak whaling boats. Since Mom and I both enjoy sailing, we chose North Sailing, and booked online.

This turned out to be a great decision. The boat we went on was the Náttfari, a trawler built in 1965. It has a listed passenger load capacity of 90, and the tour that returned as we were arriving was pretty full, but our tour only had 12 people on it. As soon as we got on board, we were handed warm waterproof coveralls to put on. These were very comfortable, and I'm thinking about getting a pair for working out in the rain or getting field deployed at home (UPDATE: Nope. Further research indicates these were immersion survival suits and cost upwards of $900).

Almost as soon as we got started, there were white-beaked dolphins around us. We also saw a humpback whale, which got very close a couple of times. Like... I could have jumped over the side and ridden a whale. Much different than in the States where the ecology laws prevent tour operators from getting very close to the animals. It was a very slow day for whale-watching though, I suppose - two boats on the water in the morning and two more in the afternoon. During the summer, there can be dozens of tours running, and that would get more stressful for the whales, I would think.

After that there was a reported sighting of a Minke whale, but I didn't see it. We did see another, larger pod of dolphins, and a different humpback whale. This one was so close we watched it through an entire dive cycle; it blew on the surface, and we could see the white on its flippers as it sank back down, swam alongside the boat, and surfaced again. On the way back to the harbor, the crew served hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls, which were delicious.

After we arrived back in the harbor, we headed out to a spot we'd seen on the way into town. Near the Húsavík airport is a memorial to Jóhann Sigurjónsson, a poet in the early 1900s. More importantly for us, though, was the river a few hundred feet away that emptied into the bay. It was without a doubt the most beautiful place we've seen so far, and that's where we decided to scatter my grandfather's ashes, returning him to be with his ancestors.

After eating in town, we headed back to the apartment in Akureyri. We charged devices, downloaded pictures, and swapped out memory cards. Then when it was fully dark, we headed east again, away from the valley full of city light. We found a turn-off just east of the base of the pass, turned off all the lights, and waited. It's a full moon, or close to it, so it washed quite a bit of it out, but we did see the aurora for a while. We got some long-exposure pictures that are pretty good, but I'll have to wait until we get home to clean them up and post them.

Best of luck to everyone back home, and stay safe out in the storm.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Akureyri-ing we go

This morning we woke up to find it was blue skies and sunny, a nice change of pace. To accompany the change of pace, we made a change of location as well, to Akureyri, in North Iceland.

After eating breakfast, doing a quick clean-up and last-second packing, we hauled everything down to the car and hit the road. As we headed north on Route 1, we decided to detour via 47, to avoid the toll tunnel. Shortly after taking the turn-off, we found a herd of horses gathered by the edge of the road, so of course we had to stop so Mom could take pictures.

About 30 minutes later, we ran into a sheep jam. Similar to a traffic jam, but in this case the road was packed with several dozen sheep. There was a woman running after them, and a truck and a dog were helping to herd them off the road. Finally the way was clear, though about half the herd was still down on the beach.

After we reached the end of the bypass loop near Borgarnes, it was your basic long-distance drive - though a very beautiful one. We stopped a few times for pictures, and a couple times to grab sodas or lunch.

We arrived in Akureyri and drove through town. It's very small, more like Covington than Kent. Oddly some of the traffic lights have heart-shaped red bulbs instead of round ones. Nick searched Google and found that this was because the town wanted to promote a positive atmosphere after the 2008 financial crash. Translating this from government-speak, someone ordered the wrong bulbs and didn't want to admit it...

The place we're staying is up on the hill on the opposite side of the fjord from town. We have the lower level of a house built into the hillside, with the owner, a wilderness guide, living upstairs. We'll be here until next Thursday, when we'll leave for Reykjavik for one night, before flying home.

Once we were settled in, everyone else headed into town for dinner. I had a pounding headache by that point, so I took some decongestants and relaxed instead. I spent a few minutes on my work email this morning, and found that the paperwork for the generator and truck for Skykomish has been completed and it's ready to go. I'd let my boss know, and when I checked again this evening, she'd made plans to deliver the truck tomorrow before the major storm hits. Apparently she'd been told it was a pickup truck with a generator in the back, when in fact it is a 1996 GMC Topkick commercial truck - at 38,000lbs, it's the size of a medium dump truck. I gave her a call (thank you, AT&T wifi calling) and now she's looking into other options.

No luck thus far with seeing the aurora. I'm going to take a nap for a couple hours and see if it comes out after midnight.