Iceland – February 1, 2011
Flying into Iceland at 7am from Seattle has been a great stop on the way to Europe! I looked out the window to see a fresh dusting of snow on the ground. I was advised that there had not been any snow until now. That for the past 10 years Iceland’s winters have been very mild. But I was happy to see the snow, after all that’s how I had envisioned Iceland this Northern island.
Exiting the small airport was a rather simple process that did not take much time at all. Upon exiting I took my bus transfer ticket that I had purchased in advance and provided it to lady manning the early morning “FlyBus” ticket desk just by the last exit door of the airport. She provided me with my return transfer tickets that I would need to get to and from the airport. Upon boarding the bus we had to wait at least 20 minutes before the driver was satisfied that all of the people wanting a ride had exited customs and had collected their bags. I was rather anxious as I had booked a 9:30am Volcano Jeep tour with “Iceland Rovers” to pick me up from my downtown hotel. I had researched out that it takes on average 40 minutes to get from the Keflavik Airport to the capital city of Reykjavik. What I did not take into account is that the average 40 minute drive takes 40 minutes at most time except for the one morning bus that we took. This is because traffic for people going to work in Iceland is almost at a standstill.
Iceland only has about 320,000 inhabitants but most of them all live in or around the capital city. This turned our 40 minute bus ride into 1.5 hours. We pulled into the bus station at 9:25am and we still had to continue on to stop at various hotels before I would be where my tour was going to pick me up. I rushed into the bus station to call the tour company only to have them tell me to call back in 5 minutes as they were in a meeting.
I rushed back outside as the bus was pulling away and barely made it back onboard. I finally arrived at our hotel 15 minutes late and saw no sign of my “Super Jeep” driver that was going to pick me up. After checking in I went to the tour desk of the hotel who managed to get hold of the tour company and said that they would come back to my hotel to pick me up! I was relieved as I didn’t want to spend my first day in Iceland just hanging out at my hotel. I only had four days and I wanted to make the most of every one of them.
I had selected a Jeep Tour that was to take me through volcano landscape trails before ending up at the ever so popular geothermal waters of the “Blue Lagoon”. The jeep tour started out easy enough on some nicely plowed back-roads. We pulled off the road to see some fish hanging to dry. They use this technique to dry the fish for 3 to 6 months and then turn it into powder. As it was slightly below freezing you could catch a whiff of the fish but it wasn’t as strong as it could have otherwise been.
We continued on down the road before turning off to what looked like regular snow on the side of the road. It was however an old trail that had been freshly covered by a dusting of snow. This was the beginning of what turned out to be a crazy ride. Our 4×4 jeep that was raised at least 3 feet off of the ground, plowed through deep snow. As I watched the one other jeep in front of us I saw cracked ice appear between his tracks and was wondering if I was going to have to get out and push us out. “Not to worry” I was assured, “we’ll be just fine.” And we were. This jeep driver plowed through every type of terrain imaginable and kept us passengers all having a great time as we bumped along the rocky lava stone trail.
We stopped for a photo break at the crest of a steep snow covered hill that I couldn’t believe we made it up. It was a vista of an old volcano crater that was covered in a magical white dusting. It was at this point that our driver started to deflate his tires so that they were only about 8 psi. He advised us that to get the traction he needed for the rest of the trip we would need to have softer tires to get through the snow.
I thought we had already taken a rough trail but it only got better. We rocked from side to side and at times I was wondering if we were going to flip as we drove up a steep bank to the one side. Then came what looked like a cliff. We came to the crest of a hill and then our jeep pitched forward to descend the steepest snow-covered hill I had ever gone down. Near the bottom our driver tried bashing his way through a snowbank that had a pool of water below it. The snow however was much deeper than the clearance under our jeep. After taking 4 runs at the snowbank and not making it much further each time, we realized that too much snow had fallen and we were not going to make it. I thought we would be stuck but our driver just reversed back up the hill and turned onto the easier trail to the side.
We continued our drive along some more trails to the south-western coastline. We made another stop at some hot-spring geysers that bubbled up into mud pits and steamed boiling water as it ran into a creek. It reminded me of something I had seen at Yellowstone National park. We then drove all the way to the ocean before following the coastline to look at small farm villages and shipwrecks along the coast. After 3 hours we arrived at one of Iceland’s most popular attractions, the Blue Lagoon.
The Blue Lagoon is scraped out of the lava rock that covers this entire region. It contains 4 million gallons of water that is flushed out every 40 hours. The water comes from holes drilled deep in the earth and is mixed with surface water to bring it to the right temperature. Without a mixture of seawater and freshwater it would be much too hot to swim in. With the water comes silica which is a white sandy substance that is ankle deep in places. This creates a milky blue color in the water that makes it impossible to see below the surface. The baby blue colour however is so striking that it makes you wonder what is in the water. A mist of steam continually blew across the surface of the water as first a cold rain and then snow blew down on us. It was too cold to stay outside but the temperature of the water was perfect.
After having been awake for 1.5 days I started dozing off as we drove the 40 minutes back to our hotel. It was a fun day full of an adventurous trip that had me anxious for even more.