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Iceland 2016 – Day 20

June 23rd, 2016 Comments off

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 – Today we are doing the “Inside the Volcano” tour. Our tour guide picks us up the hotel to take us to the bus station where we wait on another van that will take us out to the dormant Thrihnukagigur volcano. Along with us from our hotel is a group of Austrian tourists who seem to be into amatuer geologists. They are taking pictures of the controls in the cab of the super van we are in, and this vehicle is also equipped to drive on snow and ice. Not surprisingly they also make the transfer to the van taking us to the volcano tour. The van slowly fills up as others are gathered from their various hotels. Then we have about a one hour drive to the starting point for our hike.

The starting point appears to be a small ski area with lifts and we see pictures of several groups of children who appear to be in ski school. Fortunately they also have flush toilets and water to fill up our water bottles. It has been threatening rain, but at this point is is just a bit cloudy so even though they have rain gear available we decide to go with what we have brought. We have about a 45 minute hike across the snowy lava fields to the volcano entrance.

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The snow is melting in areas along the trail, and in some areas there is ice as the snow melted yesterday and then froze again over night. But all in all the footing is fairly good as we make our way along the trail. There are large bags of gravel deposited along the trail, which we think will be spread out over the trail in the next few days, making it easier for future tourists to make their way to the base camp. Once we are at the base camp, we get outfitted with helmets and climbing harnesses and get divided into 3 groups. Vicky and I are in the first group to get to go down into the volcano.

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Ready to go, it just another 5 minute walk to the open cable car that will descend 120m into the depths of the volcano. We are excited to start the long descent down.

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Descending into the volcano, the cave opens up into the third largest and the deepest crater of its kind. We get a sense as to the depth as we see streams of water droplets falling from the roof areas down, down, and out of sight. The expansive room’s walls are rich with colors from the minerals such as yellow iron sulphates and sulphur, whitish gypsum, and oxidized iron. We get to spend about 40 minutes walking around and taking pictures. While the chamber is lit up, I am wishing I had brought my tripod with me.

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All too soon it is time to gather back up for the ride up to the surface. We again peer into the side tunnels and admire the rich color of the walls. Then we emerge again on the mountain top and make our way back to the base camp where they have hot meat soup and tea waiting for us. We enjoy the warmth as we wait for the other two groups to finish.

The trip back over the snowy trail again goes well even though it seems clouds are building up and ready to dump rain on us. We do hurry along not wanting to get wet, and so we are some of the first to make it back to the ski area. Soon the van arrives to take us back to town, but where are the Austrians? After a short delay, they come in with one member who is quite obviously red faced and out of breath. I am guessing there were just too many distractions for a geologist to hurry along the hike.

Categories: Iceland 2016 Tags:

Iceland 2016 – Day 19

June 21st, 2016 Comments off

Tuesday, May 24, 2016 – Today starts off a bit more relaxed as we don’t meet our guide until 10:00. However, the breakfast area is filled with a tour bus full of hungry tourists who are standing in the way of me and my breakfast. Fortunately, the staff keeps the buffet stocked and there is enough for all.

Our guide arrives about 10:30 and after a quick round of introductions we get into the van to do some sightseeing before we go snorkeling. Yes, I said snorkeling. Yes, in Iceland.

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On the way we stopped at a greenhouse where they were growing some incredible tomato plants. These plants are at least ten feet tall being trained to grow along a cord suspended from the ceiling. The environment is totally computer controlled and heated by the local thermal vents which also provide a healthy supply of carbon dioxide. They import honey bees to pollinate the plants and we see a few buzzing about around the plants. Greenhouses like this are the source for the majority of the fresh vegetables on the island growing tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and berries. This one is packed with a German tour group who will soon sit down to a delicious smelling lunch of fresh tomato soup. Alas, all seats are filled so we go on to the next spot after snacking on some sweet cherry tomatoes.

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The next stop on the schedule was Geysir and this time it wasn’t raining and “Mr. Orange Jacket” didn’t get in the way. The time allowed us to explore the nearby hill and other features in the area that we didn’t get to yesterday.

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The next stop was Gullfoss. We didn’t spend as much time at the falls as we did yesterday. But we did take opportunity to enjoy a bowl of traditional Icelandic meat soup with bread (and free refills!). The traditional meat soup is usually made with lamb and a variety of vegetables and herbs like potato, rutabaga, onion, carrots, and rosemary or thyme. This one hits the spot and we do go back for seconds.Now how about some of that blueberry skyr cheesecake for dessert.

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Each of the stops were a bit of a time filler as our time slot for the snorkeling was not until 5:00pm. As our time slot approached, we arrive at the national park, Þingvellir. It is obvious where the tectonic plates of North America and Europe meet as there are large fissures in the landscape. We will be snorkeling in the lake over the Silfra fissure which is a location the two plates are slowly drifting apart. The water coming up the fissure is 100 years old, and has been filtered through the volcanic rock. The water’s origin comes from the Langjökull, or Long Glacier which we ventured into way back on May 8th. The water temperature is about 2°C and we will therefore be wearing drysuits.

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The drysuits were an experience in themselves. First you have whatever base layers you may already be wearing. Next, you get a suit described as a body shaped sleeping bag. This provides an additional layer of thermal protection. The next layer is the actual dry suit which seems not that much different from a wet suit. Generally looser fitting than a wet suit, but still a bit of a trick to get into. The dry suit is extremely tight around the wrists and neck to prevent water from seeping in. So we had to grab the sleeves of the body sleeping bag to travel down the sleeve until the last minute where we had to bunch our fingers together in a little beak shape to push through the sleeve band. A zipper across the back of the suit allowed the exercise of getting the head through the neck hole a separate step. Getting a big breath of air as the rubber around the neck was tight and impermeable, we thrust our way through. To make it even tighter around the neck, they add a rubber choker before donning a neoprene hood. Gloves are next and finally the mask, snorkel, and fins. Keep in mind all of this pretty much requires someone else dressing you.

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After a short walk, or waddle, to the entry platform, we were making final preparation to enter the water. A quick spit into the mask, and help with the fins, we were heading down the steps into the water. Surprisingly, or not, all there layers kept us dry and somewhat warm as we entered the water. Once fully in, then we could feel the cold in our hands and around the mask.

Both the gloves and hood allow water in while the drysuit keeps everything else dry. The water was amazingly clear with 45-50m visibility. We quickly find that the dry suits are extremely buoyant. We also had to take great care in how we maneuver in the dry suits lest we break the seals around the wrist and neck and allow the nearly freezing water inside the drysuit. While not life threatening, it would certainly be uncomfortable. Instead of turning our heads, we had to turn our whole bodies making it difficult for Vicky and I to keep track of each other.

Diving in 2°C water in Iceland is very different than 80°F in Florida. At this particular location there are no fish and there are no corals. However there are huge rocks and boulders from eons past lining the channel. Occassionaly, holes would appear on the floor that would just disappear into the darkness leading one to wonder what adventures might await. How deep? Colors would provide clues to the depth as the water filters certain wavelengths of light. We did determine that adventures like this would justify the expensive of a GoPro.

While I was cold, in particular my fingers, I was disappointed then the snorkel trip came to an end. After getting out, we made the short hike back to the vans where we begin the arduous process of getting out of the dry suits. But we were rewarded with hot chocolate and cookies.

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On the way back we made a stop at another location where the North American tectonic plate was clearly visible. There was a waterfall flowing over the wall of rocks where lore has it that a Viking chief broke his axe. A clearly defined canton separated the two plates.

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While we were in the area, we happened upon some sort of filming. We are not sure of the nature; I suppose it could be some sort of indie film or commercial. The actor was wearing a space age backpack and a virtual reality visor. We watched for a while as the actor did various poses and action scenes.

Exhausted from the day, as it was now after 9:30pm, we opted to get a couple of sandwiches at the hotel and a couple of drinks from the bar. I am going to sleep good and fortunately we don’t have to be up too early tomorrow.

Categories: Iceland 2016 Tags:

Iceland 2016 – Day 18

June 20th, 2016 Comments off

Monday, May 23, 2016 – This morning we wake to a misty rain and overcast skies. This is disappointing as we are supposed to go on a mountain biking tour all day. Neither one of us are excited about spending the day out in the cold rain, but we get packed up and go meet our guide. The guide asks Vicky, “Are you scared of the rain?: To which she responds, “Yes!” Not really the rain as much as the wet cold mountain trails. Not being mountain biking experts, muddy trails seem to be more than the novice level introduction that we were hoping for. He is very accommodating and agrees to cancel the trip and gives us some recommendation of other things to do. I think he didn’t want to go out in the rain either.

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We decided to make our way to Geysir, which is the namesake of all other geysers. On the way, a lamb was out in the road. I quickly stop and the lamb comes running up to the car bleating at me at the door. It had apparently gotten out of the fence and separated from mom. Vicky hopped out of the car and tried to corral it back towards the gate. Best she could do is get it back to the fence line and away from the road. So much for herding sheep.

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Geysir, the geiser, only erupts after earthquakes, so luckily we did not see that one today. But another geiser, Strokkur, erupts about every 8-10 minutes. We had a perfect spot set up and patiently waited about ten minutes after seeing the pattern of the last eruption. Then just before it erupts, “Mr. Orange Jacket” comes and gets in the picture. It’s not like he is going to get a decent picture that close with that big telephoto lens. Sigh.

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Next on our revised itinerary is Gullfoss, This phenomenal waterfall was at one time the potential site of a hydroelectric plant. Due to a grass roots effort of Iceland’s “First Environmentalist”, the project was halted and this waterfall saved. The volume of water exceeds that of Niagara Falls, and the multiple tiers proved many different photo opportunities. The mist fills the air settling on the visitors as well as nearby fauna.

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As the day was a misty rainy sort, we have been taking several short excursions from the car and not getting too wet. But next on the agenda is a stop where it doesn’t matter if it is raining or not. We visit the “secret lagoon” which is Iceland’s oldest swimming pool. This natural hot spring provided a relaxing afternoon just lounging about on the float tubes and watching the nearby bubbling steam vents. If you are going to get wet from the rain, may as well soak in the volcanic mineral water.

Next we drove to our hotel in Reykjavik completing our circular journey, but not all of our adventures. Dinner was at the nearby “Pots & Pans” where Vicky and I both ordered the rack of lamb.

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