Day 3 in Iceland was technically the first day of our big road trip adventure. Six days, one car, one stereo. Let the Ultimate Marriage Test 2015 begin!
After packing up our bags, the contents of which we'd managed to strew across the entire hotel room (how does that manage to happen in just 3 nights?), we headed out to the bakery down the street from our trusty Reykjavik hotel. One of our dive guides recommended it to us when she dropped us off the night before. Spot on recommendation! The bakery had a variety of pastries, muffins, roles, etc. We grabbed some breakfasty foods and a loaf of local bread as part of our road trip bounty. Our next stop was a Bónus! grocery store. This is Iceland's discount grocery store. For anyone who's roadtripping through Iceland, this is a must stop. Especially if you like to snack (like me). We bought a little cooler bag and some ice to hold perishables such as yogurt (Skyr is the best!!!!) and cheese. We also bought a box of granola bars, Digestives cookies (yep, big fan), some apples, and some prosciutto. Our goal with the groceries was to stock up on some basic foods we could eat for breakfast and between meals. For the most part this worked really well and we just restocked the ice every couple of days. Definitely pack snacks on a Ring Road trip! [space_20] [space_20]
For the road trip portion of this journey, we chose to tackle the Ring Road route in a counter-clockwise fashion. No idea why we chose this, but it seemed like a good idea when we were planning. Our first leg of the trek was Iceland's Golden Circle. This "circular" route through Thingvellir National Park begins roughly an hour outside of Reykjavik and it is a very popular activity for most of Iceland's tourists. In fact, this area of our trip was the most "crowded" outside of Reykjavik.
Its primary stops are the Almannagjá fault, Geysir, and Gulfoss:
The Almannagiá fault is located between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. Technically, this "no man's land" where the two plates are pulling apart is many kilometers wide. This particular fault is caused by the slow separation of the two plates. So it's not where the tectonic plates are actually separating, per say. That said, it's one of the most striking visual examples of the tectonic plates and their movement, so it's often described as the actual separation point.
If you're looking at this photo and the scene looks familiar (and you haven't been here before) you may be recognizing it from scenes in Game of Thrones. These sheer rock faces have made numerous appearances. Consider this your first Hollywood reference in Iceland - there are many!
This is the original gesyir, folks. All geysirs are named after this one. I'm not sure when or why the word geysir (meaning gusher) was adopted by the English language, but that's a question to ponder at a different time. Disappointingly, we didn't even get to see the geysir. That geysir, The Great Geysir - or Stori-Geysir - has been dormant since 1916. We saw a smaller geysir called Strokkur instead. The whole area around Stori-Geysir is highly geothermically active so there is lots to see and you can get closer to the geysirs and other thermal sites than you can in most state parks in the US. [space_20] [space_20]
Ready, set, BLOW!
[space_20] After seeing the geysir up close and personal, we decided to hike up a neighboring hill for a better look around. [space_20] [space_20] I'm not sure this was entirely allowed, however. On the one hand, there was a barbed wire fence that we crossed to reach the hill. On the other hand, there was a wooden stepladder already installed over the barbed wire fence to allow many like-minded tourists this opportunity. Either way, no one told us to leave. My apologies to the owner of this property if we really were trespassing! [space_20] [space_20] I'd say the view was totally worth it! [space_20] [space_20] A nice gentleman offered to take our photo and then I took a photo of him and his daughter. I love random little exchanges like this when we travel :) [space_20] [space_20]
Our final stop on the Golden Circle was the great waterfall Gulfoss. This is the largest waterfall I've ever seen so I was pretty impressed. Who wouldn't be impressed by 100 feet of loud, cascading water? What's really neat about this particular waterfall is that when you first walk up the path to it, you can't see the bottom. It looks like the water is just falling into a crevice in the earth. Which, in a crazy-terrain place like Iceland, wouldn't be that outlandish... [space_20] [space_20] Oh, there's the river. [space_20] [space_20] Water! Water! WATER! [space_20] [space_20] Gulfoss was our last main stop on the Golden Circle tour. After we left the waterfall parking lot, we headed to our first hotel on our roadtrip, which were the Volcano Huts in Thorsmork. (Something about that name makes me immediately think of Lord of the Rings...) On our way to the hotel, we drove along Iceland's beautiful south coast. To our right was the shoreline; to our left, lush green cliffs set back from the coast and brimming with waterfalls. My kind of road trip. Far in the distance we could see an especially spectacular waterfall that I really hoped we'd drive by. Turns out, my wish came true - and then some! [space_20] [space_20]
This waterfall was a great little stop on our drive! We arrived close to 7 PM, a perfect time to walk around, snap some photos and visit the tiny gift shack at the base of the waterfall. You can even walk behind the fall! [space_20] [space_20] [space_20] Just hanging out behind a waterfall in Iceland. NBD.
After we'd walked around a bit we decided it was time to head to our first hotel. According to our Google phone, we were about 15 minutes away from our destination. I could practically feel the hot shower and nice warm meal. We keyed in our destination into Google Maps and hit the road! As we'd been warned (many times), a lot of roads in Iceland are not paved and a 4-wheel-drive car is required. Our trusty Rav4 checked all these boxes, so we hardly thought anything of it when the route to our hotel turned into a very bumpy dirt road. We could handle it! [space_20] [space_20] [space_20] We couldn't handle it. About 15 minutes into what was supposed to be a 15 minute drive, we were only about 1/5 the way there! The driving was that slow on these roads. At about that time, we reached a small creek that was about 8 inches deep. Vince surveyed the scene and determined the best way to ford the creek. Check "reenact the Oregon Trail game" off my bucket list.
Once on the other side of the creek, I got out to take some photos and mentally congratulate myself for being such a good passenger on that little adventure. Vince took a more practical approach to passing the time and looked up the hotel's website to make sure we were going the right way. Thank goodness he did because it made us realize we weren't supposed to drive ourselves to our hotel! To actually reach our beds that night, we'd have to ford 8 more streams and a raging river! Turns out our Rav4 wasn't invincible on Iceland's roads...
Thankfully there was one more bus driving to the hotel that night. It was set to leave at 11 PM... from Seljalandsfoss. We quickly bought two tickets on our phone and drove back to the waterfall to have dinner at its little food cart.
After we ate dinner, we had some free time to kill (it was probably 9 PM by this point), so we decided to drive up this steep road that led to what we hoped would be the top of the waterfall to have a look around the surrounding area. Turns out, we were driving up onto Eyjafjallajokull! That's the famous volcano that erupted back in 2010 that stopped air traffic all over the world. [space_20] [space_20] As you can see, the views really were beautiful up there. We were foiled from walking to the top of the waterfall by a barbed wire fence, however. I was tempted to explore further, but I really didn't want to trespass on someone's property (potentially for the second time that day). Plus a nearby sheep kept eyeing us suspiciously. [space_20] [space_20] No matter! The "sunset" was still gorgeous to see from up there. [space_20] Later, when our bus finally arrived, I understood why it was going to get us to our hotel when our car failed. [space_20] [space_20] Now that's a bus! (And don't you just love that it's a Mercedes?) We drove for about an hour in near darkness to reach our hotel. The ride was pretty great, though! The bus was equipped with lights all along the sides, so you could see what was around you in about a 3-foot radius. This made crossing ever-deepening creeks all the more thrilling. We even had a recorded audio guide to listen to along the way! At the final river, the guide was kind enough to explain the dangers of this particular river and the number of lives and cars it has claimed. It closed the commentary by adding, "And that's why we ask that hikers wear bright clothing, so it's easier to spot them when their bodies wash downstream." Nice. We reached the Volcano Huts of Thorsmork with little incident, lots of excitement, and plenty of new fun facts! The check-in staff were extremely hospitable even though it was about midnight at this point. We were sent off to our little room and feel asleep right away!