Thursday, April 30, 2015

Iceland: Vestmannaeyjar II

We awaken, still full from our feast at Slippurinn, and are faced with a slightly more incessant drizzle than we've been used to. Fortunately, there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear, so we lightly breakfast and start exploring.

Drizzly volcanic coast

We first make our way to the lava flows that devastated the island four decades ago. We tramp around through the neighborhoods surrounding the flow, which survived intact and are largely unchanged since then. Before too long, we have a huge pile of lava to clamber around on. Fortunately, lava is still grippy when it's wet.

Sums it up nicely


After a healthy amount of exploration, we continue to the other end of the island and look south out to the vast North Atlantic. There's some grazing land up there, which terrifyingly ends in sheer cliffs to the sea, and I imagine at least a sheep or three has miscalculated a step.

More of the Westman Islands

Wonder what's over that way?

I do my best to not be one of the clumsy sheep.

Oh right it's a cliff don't die please

Mind yer own bizness

The sun has made a grand appearance for about an hour, and we revel in being able to soak it up, even if it means walking around ankle deep in sheep dung. As our first walk through the lava flow featured poor weather, we head back that way to poke around some more. There's lovely detail and evidence of life trumping destruction around every corner and in every nook and cranny.


Looks good anywhere


We've finally had enough of the lava flows, so we make a retreat to a spot we scoped earlier during a rather unpleasant downpour.

I almost fell down these stairs to make this photo

Murphy is a very patient model, and I believe this is one of my favorite photos of her:

Summoning Mothership (#neverleavehomewithoutalight)

Mission complete, we find our way back near the harbor and burn up some extra time; pretty easy upon discovery of an old church along the waterfront.

Proper church

Looking up

Lovely cliff

Fun with water

Time to go :(

Finally, our time in Heimaey has expired and we have to board the ferry. It's a short and pleasant trip back to the mainland, and now our journey across the highlands can begin.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Iceland: Vestmannaeyjar I

We jettison Joe and Svein into The General's care at the ferry terminal and drive our trusty steed onto the lower deck; next stop Vestmannaeyjar. The ferry ride is short, and it takes us past a few incredible tiny islands that are used as farming outposts. Waste not, want not.

Don't slip

There's a near-constant escort of birds surrounding the ferry; they range from gulls to terns to puffins to guillemots. The puffins are a bit clumsy when it comes to water takeoffs, hilariously splashing along until they finally generate enough lift to go aloft.


As we approach Vestmannaeyjar and the main town of Heimaey, the ferry winds its way between massive sculpted cliffs that are filled with birds in every nook and cranny. These cliff walls are surreal in their form and coloration (much of which is attributable to the birds...).

Guillemots and gulls

Upon landfall, we locate our accommodation and pretty promptly make a move for dinner. We have been advised to go to Slippurinn as a treat, and HOLY WOW is it amazing. We kinda splash out, have some delectable food and drink, and are made to feel exceedingly welcome by the staff (including the chef). We eat fish and lamb and skyr, all seasoned with herbs and flowers from the island, and I know I'd recommend it to anyone as well as go back there at the drop of a hat.

Bustling metropolis

We stumble, engorged, from Slippurinn at something like 10 or 11pm and decide to walk it off for a while and explore Heimaey.


This island has a unique history; it was substantially destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1973, forcing widespread evacuations and altering the landscape forever. Or at least until the next eruption...

Hearty growth

Fun fact: the harbor was saved from the lava flows by the application of nearly 7 billion liters of seawater. Saving the harbor was a big deal, as their primary industry is fishing. No harbor, no industry, game over. Ever resourceful, Iceland built power plants that harnessed energy from the cooling lava to provide heating for the island. Again, waste not, want not.


There's a fair bit of traffic, surprisingly, for a town of ~4000 people. Turns out we're walking around just before a shift change at the fishery, and once that clicks over, it's back to being a ghost town.

Drizzly crossing

Guillemot/puffin art

You are here

Kiwanis Club

We make a pretty good lap of town and finally meander back to our hotel. The majority of the island is well outside "downtown," and we've got most of the next day to explore the outskirts.


After a few days of no darkness, we're starting to settle in to simply being awake until we're actually tired of doing stuff, no matter what time it happens to be, and then peacefully sleeping until we're rested, somehow not minding the brightness leaking in from outside. Perhaps the perpetual drizzle has something to do with it...


Monday, April 27, 2015

Iceland: Cold Things at Jökulsárlón

So there's this famous black sand beach that has a bunch of ice as driftwood. Driftice maybe? It's called Jökulsárlón (mm hmm, good luck), and it's equally famous for its beach as it is for the adjacent glacial lagoon.

It's kind of a photo destination, mostly because it's awesome, but that also means it's also a total zoo. There are a few assholes about, too, which is highly uncharacteristic for what we've seen so far of Iceland. Anyhow, we don't have a whole lot of time here as we've got a booking to go see some other cold stuff, which is in no short supply.

I have seen some truly amazing photos from this place, and part of me wants to spend a whole day here, and another part of me is still cursing some brain farts I have while figuring out my approach to photoing these things.

Driftice I

Driftice II

Driftice III

So if I'm ever back here or somewhere like it, I promise to not care that it's been done to death and I promise to take the time I need to make photos that make me happy.

ANYhow...we've got a booking for a zodiac tour of the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, and it features icebergs that are constantly calving off of the massive glacier. Somewhere between the beach and the lagoon, we navigate a massive and constant flock of arctic terns.

These guys are total bastards, and they're quite loud, too

A quick look up at the glacier suggests that we're utterly dwarfed; this is no small ice cube. This is geology and glaciology and earth-shaping action happening in realtime (albeit slowwwwwly). Glaciers are responsible for so much of the landscape that we're familiar with across the globe, and while their widespread recession is tragic, it's equally awesome to have the opportunity to see them up close.

Poking through

Before we get underway, we're ushered into some sweet survival suits, which might be overkill and might just add some touristy fluff to the experience, but then again, the water would get pretty cold pretty quick if something went wrong...OK, I'll wear the suit.

The boys in a very Top Gun kind of moment

Once we launch, we cruise eerily through the maze of icebergs. There's a good chance that a kayak is the correct vehicle, but the zodiac ain't bad, either.

Not close



Save our motor, it's pretty quiet, but every so often there's a hearty CRACK that's anywhere along the spectrum between a creak and a gunshot. Our guide tells us that sometimes they'll be in the right place at the right time and watch a big one calve off, but today will prove to not be our lucky day. Well, "unlucky" would be "iceberg lands on you," so I guess we're just less lucky.


Iceberg tour complete, we pile back into our trusty steed and continue back towards Reykjavik. Roadside attractions are abundant.

What secrets lie within these slopes...

But wait: the selfie crew strikes again

OK, proper group photo

Roadside find

Instead of heading all the way back to Reykjavik, however, we pull into the ferry terminal that is the jumping off point for Vestmannaeyjar, aka the Westmann Islands. Here, The General collects Svein and Joe and leaves us up to our own devices. We'll spend the next few days on our own, but not without a pile of excellent advice from TG, Joe, and on!


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Iceland: Höfn Dip

Our road trip with the boys (and I don't mean The Boys, but they could probably earn a few extra krona by pretending from time to time) continued along the SE coast to Höfn, where we holed up for the night. Our primary requirements for our lodging and feeding quest were the ability to watch soccer and the ability to drink beer that we had purchased elsewhere. One of these was easy to fulfill...

Anyhow, one thing led to another, and we found ourselves making a midnightish excursion to a nearby hot spring with a couple of locals that Svein knew (because Iceland). Unfortunately, the hot spring was closed for the evening, much to our dismay, so we retreated dejectedly to Höfn and vowed to return in the morning.

Random midnight twilight wildlife sighting

I'd say that we returned bright and early, but cute lower-latitude phrases like "bright and early" don't make as much sense in a place where it doesn't get dark. Anyhow, we went back in the morning after a leisurely and delicious breakfast at our hotel and treated ourselves to a soak.

You might die

These springs, maintained by one guy, are pretty simple, but there's no reason to make things fancier than they need to be. Because the setting makes up for anything that could be perceived as missing...

Horrible view

Sniped during a selfie...

...and from the other camera

Iceland is the world's largest green energy producer per capita, with ~75% coming from hydropower and ~25% coming from geothermal. Astonishingly, 85% of Icelandic homes derive their heating from geothermal sources. In other words, they're winning.

The relevance to this post is that there are vast areas of the country that are simply known as "hot areas" due to the proximity of the geothermal sources to the surface. End result: hot springs everywhere.

Murphy practicing crucial relaxation skills

Somebody else finally came to enjoy this particular spring, and having more than just us within a few kilometers felt a little crowded, so we let them have them place all to themselves and continued on our way.

Campervan paint jobs...always good for a laugh

Our meanderings were starting to take us back toward Reykjavik, but it'd be a looooong time before we showed our faces there; too much else to see!


Past Detritus