ORCA WHALES

Hello framily (that’s friends and family),

I was gonna first write a post about the Golden Circle before getting to this, but I can’t hold it any longer.

Here’s a video from our Ribsafari trip yesterday, during which we saw ORCA WHALES swimming happily as a family in their natural habitat .

It was, without a doubt, a beautiful moment

Þórsmörk (or Thórsmörk for those without a cool keyboard)

This post is coming a little late (two weeks late, actually), but I definitely wanted to capture this adventure on the blog.

Our trip to Thórsmörk, or “Thor’s Woods,” was excellent, though unexpected.  It was a very rainy day (this has been the rainiest summer in recent memory, just my luck), but our friendly guide Jon Gisli encouraged us to tag along on a trip into Thórsmörk and the foot of the glacier Eyjafjallajökull, which happens to also be an active volcano that erupted as recently as 2010!  Eyjafjallajökull means “Island Mountain Glacier” and is super fun to say.

Here we are at the foot of Eyjafjallajökull:

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A closer look into the mouth of the beast:

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I can definitely imagine this being the entrance to the Bat Cave during the Snow Age.

We had to cross a dangerous river with wobbly rocks (you can see Jon helping us across):

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Here’s a view of Thórsmörk from where we were:

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And this looked like a crack into the center of the Earth:

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I thought the trip was pretty cool:

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We managed to get two flat tires on the way back (one in the super jeep, the other in our sedan), so I finally got to help change a flat tire–another first for me!  You can see Dimon in the background, the first hike I took in Iceland!

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Westman Islands Part II: The Volcanoes!

My day on the Westman Islands was nicely split into two parts.  In the morning, I hiked a mountain ridge surrounding a beautiful valley, and in the afternoon I climbed the two volcanoes:  Eldfell and Helgafell.

The following two photos show both volcanoes–Eldfell on the left, Helgafell on the right.

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At first, I did not know which volcano was which.  I saw a classic-looking volcano on the right and a big pile of lava debris on the left.  So, I started by climbing the big red pile on the left.

As I hiked, I was surrounded by huge piles of red stuff on all sides, and I didn’t find it that exciting.

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I found a junk yard amongst all this old lava, and while it caught me off guard, it makes a lot of sense.  Might as well use a volcano’s junk yard to hide our junk, right?

I eventually reached what seemed to be the peak and looked around:

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I really didn’t know what I had just climbed.  In that previous photo you can see a girl on her knees digging around the lava rock, but I just shrugged and climbed down this lava junk yard.  I wanted to climb the thing that actually looked like a volcano!

Looking at my map, it looked like I had to walk all the way to other side of the volcano to reach the hiking trail.  Luckily, I found a makeshift trail on my side–all it takes for something to be a trail is for enough people to walk that path until it LOOKS like a trail, ya know?  Anyway, the peak of this volcano gave me an unbelievable view.  I could see the ENTIRE island.20140704_180659

The southern tail that you can’t see in the picture above:

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And I think this is where the lava shot out from!

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From the top of Helgafell, I was finally able to get the appropriate perspective of Eldfell and understand its immensity:

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Best of all, I saw a group of people playing in the field below, and they were playing ULTIMATE FRISBEE!

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It was impossibly windy on top of the volcano, so I couldn’t believe they were playing ultimate frisbee in that wind.  Also, with the World Cup craziness and the fact that I hadn’t seen a frisbee for over a month, I was ecstatic to see my sport being played over here.

Before descending Helgafell, I made sure to pull out my ukulele and play some songs.  A woman was at the peak as well, and she listened to me play a couple songs.  I played “Pompeii” and felt all clever (they call the Westman Islands the ‘Pompeii of the North’), and took my favorite picture of the trip:

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As I came down the volcano I saw that the ultimate game was 7 vs. 6, so I hurried down, hoping I could jump in for a point or two.  Unfortunately, the game ended just as I reached the sideline.  Disappointed, I walked back to the town.

But then I stopped:  when was the next time I was gonna run into a group of people playing ultimate frisbee in Iceland?  I HAD to meet them, so I awkwardly made my way across the field.  Turns out, they were a cool group of dudes (one of them was even from the States), and we played some 4 vs. 4.  Lesson learned:  when you have the opportunity to play ultimate in the shadow of a volcano, DO IT.

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After our game, two of my new friends dropped me off at the ferry.  What a day!

 

So, it turned out that Eldfell, which I formerly saw as just a pile of lava garbage, is the active volcano responsible for the eruption in 1973, while the 5000-year-old Helgafell is dormant.  I learned from my ultimate friends that, if you dig a hole on Eldfell about 30 centimeters deep, you can still feel the heat from the eruption (all the way back in 1973!).  Another lesson learned:  don’t judge a volcano by its cover.  The one that looks like a giant mess is probably the one that just erupted, creating that giant mess…duh!

Vestmannaeyjar (or The Westman Islands)

Visited the Westman Islands yesterday, and it was easily my best day in Iceland yet.  I’ve tried to go the Islands on several occasions, but it has been rainy each day I tried to go, and it is very important to go with good weather because these islands can be downright unpleasant in bad weather.  Well, we lucked out, absolutely could not have asked for a better day.

My friend Anne and I went to the Islands together, and we started our first hike together, but it quickly became apparent that we go at much different paces.  I walk at a much slower pace (Exhibit #320 that I’m becoming more like my Dad, he is a notorious slow walker when we’re walking as a family), so Anne and I gradually split up and went on our own adventures for the day.

Here’s where our first hike began:

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My legs burned as I climbed, and I began to think, “Man, this sucks!  I’m in no mood to hike today!”  Then I looked around to my first wonderful view of the day:

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Well, that certainly perked me right up.  I looked to the top of this peak, and for a moment was like, “Meh, I wonder if anything cool is on the other side.”  Oh, you bet there was:

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An enormous ridge shaped like a half-bowl surrounded a valley on the other side.  Before reaching the top, I thought I was going to have to hike down the way I came, but after searching around I found a path to take me to this other side.  I was very excited.

After climbing to the other side, I walked along the top and looked down on the cliffs and water below.  After a while, I started to question whether I was walking on a real path or just recklessly walking on loose rock at the top of a cliff.  I decided to go down the path pictured below.

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And man, did I regret that decision.  That path SUCKED.  Inhospitably steep, each dirt step was littered with little rocks that would roll out under my feet after every step.  It was like someone went down the path dropping rocks behind them to make it as treacherous as possible.  My boots also have the tendency to come loose, so I was just cursing under my breath as I slid down this thing, trying not to sprain an ankle.  After making it halfway down the path, I looked behind me to see two people walking across the top, where I thought no path existed.  DANG.

After I reached the bottom, I continued my walk along the coast, but I felt unsatisfied.  I looked behind me at this wonderous half-bowl ridge thing:

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I had conquered the section on the right (you can see the evil path about 1/3 from the right), but the huge rock bluffs on the very left called me back.  They just looked so epic, like a scene from LOTR, ya know?  I knew I had to go back and climb that if I wanted to leave the Islands with no regrets.

The path up was extremely steep and demanding, and I had not eaten much of a breakfast that morning.  But I climbed in spite of this, knowing I needed to get to the top.  I wanted to see the water on the other side.  Here was what I saw as I looked across the ridge:

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I even ran into some mountain sheep!

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I kept climbing, hoping to get to the absolute highest point of those bluffs, maybe even see the rest of the island from there, but I soon reached the end of the path and started to climb loose rock.  I like to think I reached as high of a point that any novice hiker could reach:

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I love how the picture below shows how the mountain on the right drops off completely just like *that*, that was where I took the 3rd picture, where I looked over and saw this amazing half-bowl thing.

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My next post will continue with my second part of the day, exploring the volcanoes on the island!

 

 

 

 

I’m My Father’s Son (Happy Birthday Dad!)

When I’m asked whether I am more like my Mom or Dad, I say that I’m the perfect combination of the both of them, like the Wee Bear in Goldilocks–“Just right.”  

If you’ll indulge me, I will try to elaborate.  I have my Mom’s resourcefulness, opportunism, and pie-in-the-sky attitude, but I also have my Dad’s diligence, integrity, and appreciation for the simple pleasures in life.  In short, I like to think of my Mom and Dad as the dreamer and the realist, respectively.

This quote from Modern Family’s episode about dreamers and realists really captures my parents:

“There are dreamers and there are realists in this world. You’d think the dreamers would find the dreamers and the realists would find the realists, but more often than not the opposite is true. You see, the dreamers need the realists to keep them from soaring too close to the sun. And the realists, well without the dreamers, they might not ever get off the ground.”

I mean, at this EXACT moment my Mom is trying to formulate a plan for them to come visit me here in Iceland, while my Dad is all like, “Not so sure about that…” haha.

 

Although it may seem like I’m psychoanalyzing my parents’ marriage, I’m only just getting to the main feature of this post:  it’s my Father’s birthday today (HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD!), and I’m my Father’s son because I’ve come to share one of his main passions, bicycling.  

When I arrived at the hotel, the first thing I asked was if we had bicycles to ride.  Turns out, bicycling isn’t that popular in Iceland.  They got all these horses, ATVs, and crazy manual transmission cars, they just don’t seem to want to ride boring old bicycles.  Well, I like bicycles, they are my favorite way to explore a new place.  I can’t run anymore due to shin injuries I developed back in high school cross-country, and biking allows you to get farther, faster.  

At first it didn’t look like the hotel had any bikes for me, so we went to Selfoss, a town exactly halfway between the hotel and Reykjavik, to explore their two bike stores.  The cheapest bike they had was 60,000 ISK (roughly $540).  Check him out:

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Now, I’d only have this bike for two months–I’m certainly not bringing it back with me on a plane.  And I was still *this* close to buying that thing.  I wanted a bike BAD.

Well, thanks to sage wisdom from my Dad, I knew to wait at least 24 hours before making a purchase like this.  When we got back to the hotel, bike-less, my boss told me that she thinks they had a bike in some cow stable in the middle of some field.  We headed out, and sure enough, in the shadows of this manure-filled, dark and abandoned building, there was a mountain bike.  

It was rusty, the tires were beyond flat, and the front wheel didn’t even spin, but I was in love.  After some tender loving care, it was rideable.   May I present to you my trusty two-wheel steed:

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And that’s how I got my bike.  

 

 

ONTO THE WATERFALLS!

So, if the south of Iceland’s got anything, it’s waterfalls.

I reached the first, Gluggafoss, by bicycle (a future post will detail my stubborn efforts to get this bike):

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A closeup of the ‘main drop’ (I need to learn some more complex waterfall terminology):

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There was another I’ve been yearning to see since I arrived at the hotel.  Across an expansive meadow are some mountains, and in the tiny cliffs on the very right is a waterfall:

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Can you see it?  Here, let me give you a closer view:

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The great Seljalandsfoss.  You want even closer?  Okay…

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Now THAT’S a waterfall.  This is the one where you can walk behind it:

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Pretty cool, eh?  There were more, smaller falls nearby, but I’ll go into those at a later time.  It’s late here in Iceland and I’m off to bed.  Catch ya later!

 

Learning How to Drive Stick (and a whole bunch of waterfalls)

In the last couple days, I was starting to grow tired of this whole Iceland schtick, to be honest with you.  I miss Denver desperately (particularly volleyball and Settlers of Catan heh heh), but I also knew I wasn’t getting out and doing all I could be doing in this remarkable place.

During my previous days off I would frequently sleep past noon, spend a significant amount of time on my computer, and wonder why I felt unsatisfied with the day.

Well, not today!  Today I learned how to drive manual transmission and saw some wicked waterfalls!

Let me introduce you to my ride, the Skoda!

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When I say this thing is old, I mean it’s the oldest, most dilapidated automobile I’ve ever driven.  Tape player, roll-up windows, no tachometer on the dashboard (a big, broken analog clock takes that spot instead), we have to unclip the battery whenever we park so it doesn’t die…this thing is an old geezer.

AND I LEARNED HOW TO DRIVE STICK ON IT!!

Thanks to the plethora of automatic automobiles in the U.S., I’ve never had the opportunity or need to learn how to drive stick.  And because the Skoda is our only vehicle to get off the hotel premises, I kinda had to learn.

I’m pretty darn comfortable with starting and shifting up between gears, but I’m still mastering the art of decelerating (I can feel my Dad’s blood pressure increasing from here, sorry Dad! heh heh).  

ANYWAY, ONTO THE WATERFALLS!

 

Actually, I’ve decided to make the waterfalls their own post (coming right up!)