Thursday, October 11, 2012

Iceland: Day 2

What better way to combat jet lag than waking up very verrry early on a Thursday morning? I, the perpetual sleeper in-er, was not happy about this. But with glaciers and waterfalls awaiting, I lumbered down to breakfast in our hotel. A cup of strong black tea and a sandwich of what I presumed to be Scandinavian deli meat later and we were on the bus headed south. 

Like the day before, this morning was a rainy, windy one. Clouds hung low over the horizon as our bus glided along the highway, enough to make you feel held between earth and sky. Quite like the feeling of waking up in the morning under a mountain of covers. Not wanting to move...only this was much colder. 

It was in that misty bus ride that Argnr said my favorite quote about Iceland, "if you don't like the weather, just wait 15 mins." And sure enough, we didn't have to wait too long though for it to prove true. The weather did change in those 15 mins and the rest of the 2 hour trip was a lovely mixture of rain, sun, and the largest canvas of clouds I'd ever seen. We passed fields and sheep, barns and greenhouses, which should all have struck a familiar chord with me, but instead pulled me further into awe with the countryside that stretched out before me. 

These fields were more expansive, the wind more twisting, the sky more colorful, and sun more dazzling than I'd seen at home. It was then that my inner fan-girl had an epiphany, this was Rohan. This was Guilder and Florin. True, Hollywood has carved them out of different physical places than this, but for my mind's eye, this landscape rang true. 

Taking a left after our second rainbow, Seljalandsfoss came into view. An incredible, 200 foot waterfall with water so pale blue it matched the sky. What I was not expecting, however, was the immense roar coming from the water. A display of pure power, it filled the air. (By the end of this trip I would become accustom to the incredible sound of waterfalls, but in this first time, it was particularly deafening.) 

Shielding cameras and phones from the heavy spray, our group followed the trail around the back of the waterfall. From there, you could see for miles. The brave among us crept close to the edge, bracing against the slippery, green rocks for a truly breathtaking photo opportunity. 

A 30 minute bus ride later and we were at the second waterfall of the day, Skogafoss. This one even higher and more impressive than the last. Sheep accompanied a few of us up the cliff side as we climbed to get a better view. From our perch at 200 feet, we could see Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that erupted in 2010, who's ash circled the globe. The grass had already begun to peak through the top of the lava beds, a volcanic cycle with which this country was all too familiar .

Climbing back down, Emily and I decided to stray during lunch and take our picnic to the base of the waterfall. Lunch of diet coke, sandwiches we snuck out of breakfast, and skyr (kind of like yogurt), was hosted by a magnificently peaceful view.

Rain soon drove us all back on to the bus however and we headed towards are next and final activity of the day: a glacier walk on Sólheimajökull. The rain continued through our ice pick and steel spike foot-ware fittings, then changed to heavy sleet and hail as we made our way to the base of the glacier. (Side note, four of the gentlemen from New York City had seemed to have forgotten they were in Iceland, several without hats or gloves to fend off the onslaught of water. I pitied them as I shivered from inside my gloved, scarfed, hatted, hooded, and ski-jacketed cocoon.)

But just as it had started, the rain, sleet, and hail ended as we placed our slightly scared, hastily safety briefed, and cautiously forceful first steps onto the ice. Shuffling into a single-file line, we snaked past ice sculptures, ridges, and got far too close to several deep crevasses. The part I remember being the most surprising, though now thinking about it, foolishly so, was the amount of pebbles and rocks, dirt and silt the glacier picked up as it flowed through the valley. Black bands of AstroTurf-like grains not only showed the glaciers age and strength but also protected the ice from the heat of the sun.

There were several times on this walk where I had to stop (mentally, not physically, that would have slowed up the line. Once we all got moving, we did not want to stop until the next place the guides wanted to point out. Trust me) and remember where I was. This was not a snowed in street in the Midwest, I wasn't anywhere close to the ground. I was walking on ice, hundreds of years old. Kind of, wickedly cool.

The hour long hike ended far too quickly and soon it was time to get back on the bus to start in on our, now, 3 hours drive back to Reykjavik. Exhausted from the day and perfectly content to watch the countryside fly by, I drifted.

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