Iceland 2014

Camping, Hiking, Kayaking, Climbing... You know, that kind of stuff!

Iceland 2014

Postby Garmachi » Mon Mar 24, 2014 6:38 am

Hi everyone!

Sorry for the lack of updates recently, but Mark and I have just returned from spending the last week having crazy adventures in Iceland!

As is typical of a trip with Mark, there are hundreds of pictures to sort though (actually, THOUSANDS this time!) and many great stories. We're also pretty brain-fried from a six hour flight, nearly two hours in customs and then a six hour drive. We have piles of stinky gear to deal with, and only one of us (Mark) had the sense to take today as an additional vacation day. That means that this one's going to take a while, so please bear with me.

Meanwhile, please enjoy this sample photo of Reynisdrangur, along the southern coast of Iceland. Legend has it that these stacks are ill fated trolls that got caught in the sun.
My pants don't smell like sunshine anymore.
User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 5537
Joined: Sun Jul 09, 2006 9:43 am
Location: Tucked away in the hills of Asheville, NC.

Re: Iceland 2014

Postby Magnum » Mon Mar 24, 2014 9:33 am

Glad you are back safe and sound!

I love it that there is a wonderful legend to go with the rock piles. Anxious to hear more.
Nothing wrong with a straight line....
User avatar
Posts: 848
Joined: Mon Jul 10, 2006 8:07 pm
Location: Ravenna, OH

Re: Iceland 2014

Postby Garmachi » Tue Mar 25, 2014 5:14 pm

When Palli disappeared into the hole, Mark and I just looked at each other. Looking to the French couple would be no help; the only two words they knew were "honeymoon" and "thank you". I don't mean English words, I just mean words. They never said anything in French or any other language to each other, to us, or to our guide, who had just vanished into the earth. Icelandic is a language of whispers, so when we called after Palli his replies were muffled by the wind and the snow drifts piled at the entrance to the cave. We had no choice but to follow him in.

The opening was about the size of a manhole, although nowhere near perfectly round. Had he not moments before slid right in, we would have thought he was joking when he told us that this was the entrance. How he located it was beyond my reasoning. We were in near whiteout conditions, and aside from the silhouette of the volcano obscured by the blowing snow, the landscape looked the same in every direction. Bulbous mounds of porous black rock poked out of the white, some the size of soccer balls, others like discarded bean bag chairs. This, for as far as the eye could see. Which, in this snow was not far.

"Well, since I'm smaller I'll go first," Mark said. He sat at the opening, dangled his legs in, leaned back like a kid going down a sliding board and a second later he was in the black. Our French companions went next while I adjusted my headlamp and thought, "How's that a reason to go first?" I shined my lamp into the hole and saw faces looking up. Taking care not to kick snow on them, I took the plunge.

Sunday. March 16th, 2014. Charlotte, North Carolina. USA.

I said goodbye to Katie at the curb. She dropped me at the US Airways departures entrance at Charlotte Douglass International Airport and drove off. After passing through the sliding doors and turning left I immediately spotted Mark on one of the dark leather seats by the window. He wore the face of a man who had just stubbed his toe for the second time and had already gone through all of the fun swear words.

He approached me and didn't return my smile. "Hey man, what's up?" I asked.

"Well, we're not going to make our flight to Iceland," he said.

"Why not?"

Mark took a deep breath and pressed his lips together. "Our flight to Boston has been delayed by two hours, which leaves us seven minutes to make our connection to Iceland."

"Well shit, that won't work," I added helpfully.

"Nope. And I couldn't do anything because you have the tickets."

Time to put on the Spock ears, I thought. "Let's see what they can do," I said, and nodded toward the check-in counter. Bags in tow we marched toward the line. "What's the worst case scenario? If they can't get us to Boston on time some other way... Hmmm. I bet that's the only flight from Boston to Reykjavik tonight. What do we miss if we're not there by tomorrow morning?" Our plan had been to fly through the night and wake up in Iceland on Monday morning.

"Tomorrow's our day to just explore the city during the day on our own. The aurora tour is tomorrow night."

I had been looking forward to having that downtime; our planned activities were going to be nearly nonstop once we got going. "Okay, so we might miss that. That's not so bad." I reminded Mark that a true worst case scenario would involve pirates, or some other variation of not making it there at all, but he was not amused by my jokes. "Well, we don't necessarily have to go through Boston either," I said to Mark as we approached the counter.

"Where you tryin' to get to?" asked the large black woman on the other side. She held out one brightly clawed hand and flipped open my passport when I relinquished it. "Mmm. You ain't makin' that!" she said to the computer. "How many bags you got?"

"Two," Mark said.

"One," I added. "I mean two. Two total. One each. So, two." Apparently one of my Spock ears had fallen off.

She printed baggage stickers, slapped them on our bags and handed us our boarding passes.

"Excuse me," I said. "These are for the delayed flight to Boston. Can you help us figure out how to get to Reykjavik?"

"I can't do nothin' for you honey. You have to go to the gate where you board and see if they can. D12. Security's that way. HEY CHARLIE, I'M GOIN' ON BREAK!" She then walked out of our lives forever.

Mark looked at me and pressed his lips together even more tightly.

Once through the mandatory TSA diddling, we headed toward D12. "Bah! Of course the gate is empty! We're two hours early. Well, we're certainly not waiting two hours to figure this out. I remember walking by a customer service desk on our way here. Let's go see what they can do."

"There wasn't anyone there either," Mark said.

"Okay, we'll hit the one down in E Terminal. Follow me!"

The one down in E Terminal had obviously taken on all of the passengers from our screwed up flight as well as the countless others that get screwed up every day. We got in line and I pulled out my phone. Katie was already on standby out at the cell phone lot in case we had to bail, and I decided to try calling the airline while we waited in line. Whoever got to me first would win a prize. A very nice phone lady picked up after the twentieth iteration of the commercial for their credit card. I miss the days when we had annoying hold music. That was better than annoying hold commercials. The only reason I'm calling this number is because I'm unhappy about something and you're going to try to spin that into "give us more money!" Bold move guys, bold move.

The very nice phone lady apologized after a few minutes of clicking and typing and told me that the best they could do was send us via Frankfurt, Germany. We'd leave the US later that evening, and then backtrack out of Frankfurt the next day getting into Iceland just before dinner. We'd lose our day of exploring, but still have time to make the first scheduled event, the Northern Lights Tour. I broke the news to Mark and we agreed that this would be our best course of action.

"Have you checked any bags?" Very Nice Phone Lady asked. I told her that we did, and she assured me that they would meet us at our destination. "Could you please describe your bag?"

"Well sure. It's the one that has that computer generated bar code on it that you charge so much extra for. Other than that it's a medium sized black rectangle. Should stand right out."

"Tell her mine's red," Mark said into my other ear.

"Well sir, all you have to do now is go to the nearest customer service desk and show them your passport."

Mark and I spent the next hour in the line and while we waited we called our wives to tell them of the change of plans. We laughed and joked about how quickly everything was resolved compared to how much we were stressed out by it. After collecting our new passes we had a quick meal which neither of us finished and a beer which each of us finished.

"Now all we have to do is hope that our bags don't go to Boston."

"Damn it Gary! You said it out loud!"

Monday, March 17th, 2014. Frankfurt, Germany.

"How many times has that pink one gone around, Mark?"


"I'm going give it one more turn. I think they're still putting bags out."

"I'm going to go ask someone." Mark headed to the nearest uniformed personnel, in this case a friendly looking employee from some other airline. She told him that we didn't have to get our bags here and take them through customs. They'd be waiting for us in Iceland. She wore a smart hat. And a pin. We believed her.

Monday, March 17th, 2014. Keflavik, Iceland.

"How many times has that flowery one gone around?"


We moved to the lost luggage line where I asked Mark, "What did the tour company say about our shuttle to Reykjavik?" We were ten hours late, and it would not have been reasonable to expect our ride to wait for us. Their last vehicle had already left for the day and another company offered to honor the voucher for us. They all do that for each other. All of our clothing and most of our gear was gone, but we had a ride to town, so we had that going for us. We filled out some forms, exchanged phone numbers and tossed our meager belongings into the seats of the bus which awaited us. Other than the driver, we had the whole thing to ourselves. We texted home that we'd arrived and within minutes of leaving the airport we had pressed our faces and cameras against the bus' windows. Miles in the distance were jagged snow covered mountains and plateaus. The ocean surrounded us on three sides, shimmering bright blue. Small buildings, small cars, and weird road signs filled the foreground.

Mark flipped through our itinerary and said, "Once we get to the hotel we'll have about two hours before the guide meets us. We should have plenty of time to find a place to replace some of our gear and a quick bite to eat." I agreed that that sounded like a great idea. I was wearing light comfortable pants for the long flight, but they would certainly not provide any kind of warmth while standing in a field somewhere in the middle of Iceland. My good gloves. Warm socks. Boots. Draw a circle around Iceland. All we knew for sure was that most of our warm things were somewhere outside of that circle. At least I had the sense to put my down belay jacket into my carry on. At least I wouldn't *die*.

We checked in and shared our woes with the concierge who showed us on the map where the nearest outfitters were. They were just a few blocks away!

"But you will probably not get what you need at these places," she said.

"Why not?"

"Because everything closes at six o'clock," she said. It was 6:05. " You can still try though, there might be some others here, and here," she pointed.

"Thanks!" we said, and bolted for the door. I looked at the map. "What street are we on?" I asked Mark.

"I see the sign but I have no idea," Mark said. "Sherfta... berka something. Voss. And a 'D' with a line through it."

I stuffed the useless map into my pocket. "That way!" I said and headed to a street that looked like it had some shops. Most were in fact closed, but a few still had lights on inside. I managed to scare up a pair of merino wool long johns, Mark got what he needed and we rushed back to the hotel. "We have just under an hour before the van picks us up," Mark said. "And I didn't see anything quick food-wise, did you?"

I suggested that we just try the restaurant in the hotel and that if we needed to we could pay first and bail mid-meal.

We split a fancy club sandwich and a gigantic bowl of French Onion soup and moments after we paid our bill the van arrived. We stepped outside and were greeted by a friendly man with a round face. He shook our hands and said “I am Gilli! Are you Mark and Gary?” We were his last pickup, so we squeezed into the back of the van. Sitting in the seat directly in front of us was a gregarious Australian couple we had met while boarding in Frankfurt. It turned out that he was both an astronomy enthusiast as well as a photographer. She had heard all of this before and mostly looked out the window while we three boys conversed in the universal language of gear talk. Lenses, focal lengths, apertures and so on. It quickly became apparent that he was going to “one-up” anything Mark or I said. Even once we stopped feeding him, he continued. “I did a thesis on gravity drives,” he proudly announced. "Dark matter doesn’t exist and is just a cover up created by the scientific community to hide something from us." That sort of thing. The sky darkened and we drove for about an hour to a remote field north and east of Reykjavik.

“Okay, now let’s talk about the aurora,” Gilli said as he rounded us up. “It is very unpredictable. Sometimes it is very bright. Sometimes it is very faint. And you must know that most times we see nothing at all.” He went on to suggest the most effective exposures, F-stops and other settings. He even had an extra tripod ready when Mark explained our luggage situation. While we waited, I passed around my binoculars and showed people how to find Jupiter and the Orion Nebula.

After about fifteen minutes of looking up and shivering, Gilli shouted, “Look to the north! Do you see it?” There was definitely something, a dim glow at best. It could have been a cloud catching the moonlight, or it could have been…

“Is that it?” someone asked. “I think I see it.”

Mark shot a quick thirty second exposure and then looked at the screen on his camera. “Guys, that’s it! Come look!”

The group formed a crescent behind him, confirmed that the dim glow was in fact, aurora, and quickly dispersed to set up their own tripods. As they did so, the glow brightened into a lime green wave. “Wow! Look at how it moves!” someone yelled.

For the next thirty minutes we stared up at the sky, watching the lights dance, retreating to the warmth of the van, and then going back out. Despite the thick cloud cover during our descent into the airport, the sky had unexpectedly cleared allowing what little heat from the day to radiate out into the blackness of space above. Without my boots my feet stung from the cold. People were doing jumping jacks and those with cameras danced with exposed fingers tucked into their armpits. A second van had joined us, and half of the group decided to take it back to town, having had enough cold in exchange for what was in their opinion, a less than spectacular light show.

Of course we braved the chill and stuck around, hoping for an increased intensity which, after another thirty minutes never came. The lights were fading, and we were all cold and it was late. We piled into the second van and headed west, back to town.

To give you an idea of how cold it was, as we were driving back to Reykjavik, those of us in the back of the van couldn't see out because a thick frost had formed on the inside of our windows. A frost thick enough that it had to be scraped. An Asian tourist in the row in front of us (presumably, our Aussie friend, Dr Gravity Drive had pressing matters back at his imaginary headquarters and had left on the earlier van…) had just rubbed a portal into his window, pressed his forehead to the cold glass and started hooting and pointing. “Ohhh! Ohhh! Look! Lights!” He began making bigger and bigger circles into the frost with his glove. I leaned forward and shared his view. “HOLY SHIT!” I yelled. “Sorry, I couldn't help it, but you guys have GOT to see this! Look!”

More people began pawing at the glass and yelling. “We have to stop!”

Our driver (Gilli took the first van) pulled over at the first opportunity. We bundled back up and spilled out into the cold yet again. The entire sky was ablaze with green plasma. It was as though someone had flipped a switch. Just an hour earlier we had been oohing and ahing over a small triangle of sky with a greenish tint to it. Now, impossibly tall curtains of light swirled in massive loops overhead, bright green like weird alien searchlights. The full moon rose and illuminated snow covered mountains and lava fields in the foreground. Green spikes would appear, shimmer and shrink, only to reappear moments later miles away.

This second show continued for another half an hour, maybe more. All sense of time and space was lost. Since last we slept we’d flown thousands of miles. For reasons we still don’t understand we’d spent part of that morning in Germany. Most of our possessions had disappeared. Or maybe it was we who had disappeared, standing there in that moonlit field watching ions glow and soar above. Still cold but no longer shivering, we stood and gaped at the heavens until the lights subsided.

We climbed back into the van, and rode back in silence, still in awe of what we’d seen. It was after midnight by the time we returned to the hotel. Despite being physically and mentally worn out, sleep did not come easily, which was unfortunate because tomorrow was supposed to be a very full day, culminating with the exploration of a lava tube beneath a dormant volcano.
Mark vs the Volcano
Mark, crawling out of the hole where we lost Palli
Streets of Reykjavik
More Aurora in Iceland
Aurora in Iceland
My pants don't smell like sunshine anymore.
User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 5537
Joined: Sun Jul 09, 2006 9:43 am
Location: Tucked away in the hills of Asheville, NC.

Re: Iceland 2014

Postby Travisimon » Tue Mar 25, 2014 6:08 pm

More more more! This is fun! :eek:
I'm tired of these motherf*&%ing Primordial Hydras on this motherf*%$ing plane!
User avatar
Posts: 1184
Joined: Mon Jan 19, 2009 5:43 pm
Location: Down yonder in the holler

Re: Iceland 2014

Postby dreamer » Tue Mar 25, 2014 6:30 pm

1) Loved the story and the photos that are trickling in!!
2) That photo of Reynisdrangur looks like a majestic painting.
3) Type/edit faster!
The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.
User avatar
Matron Saint of Perpetuity
Posts: 1071
Joined: Wed Jul 12, 2006 9:08 am
Location: SPortland, ME

Re: Iceland 2014

Postby Magnum » Tue Mar 25, 2014 7:28 pm

Question: Did Gilli have good English, broken English, not much English at all? I don't know what Icelanders speak.
Nothing wrong with a straight line....
User avatar
Posts: 848
Joined: Mon Jul 10, 2006 8:07 pm
Location: Ravenna, OH

Re: Iceland 2014

Postby Garmachi » Tue Mar 25, 2014 7:40 pm

Magnum wrote:Question: Did Gilli have good English, broken English, not much English at all? I don't know what Icelanders speak.

Every single Icelander we encountered spoke nearly perfect English, just with a weird accent. I have no idea who this guy is, but here's a great example of how the accent sounds:

My pants don't smell like sunshine anymore.
User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 5537
Joined: Sun Jul 09, 2006 9:43 am
Location: Tucked away in the hills of Asheville, NC.

Re: Iceland 2014

Postby Boogieman » Wed Mar 26, 2014 3:39 pm

I remember having a nice view of an Aurora and only having to drive to Moraine State Park.

The two most common elements in the Universe are Hydrogen and Stupidity.
User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 2236
Joined: Mon Jul 10, 2006 1:05 pm

Re: Iceland 2014

Postby Garmachi » Sat Mar 29, 2014 3:45 pm

"Where am I?" I thought as I sat upright in the dark. "Oh yeah, Iceland." I squinted at the clock across the room. Four AM. The last time I remember seeing the clock it was two. Sleep had not come easily, and it didn't stick around once it did, either. Mark and I had agreed to meet downstairs for breakfast around eight thirty, which meant that if I could get back to sleep immediately I could still get four more hours and feel okay for our big day. I did the same math again at 5:30, 6:30 and finally at 7:30 I submitted to the notion that I was just going to be red eyed and grumpy. "I'll get a good night's sleep tonight," I thought as I put my smelly clothes back on. My only pair of socks were a bit crusty at the start of their third day. I turned them inside out. Good as new.

I drew the curtains and looked up at the gray sky. Any assessment I might make about the weather based on this lone observation was pointless as I was planning to pack every piece of gear I had with me regardless. Doesn't matter, I thought. Must get coffee.

Mark was already downstairs when I arrived. He looked about as rough as I felt. "How'd you sleep?" I asked.

"I think I got about two consecutive hours at one point. I'm pretty beat. You?"

"Same," I grunted and slid into my seat. "Wow, this coffee is really good. Any word on whether we're still on for today?" Gilli had told us last night that we should check with the concierge in the morning to verify that the day's activities were still a go. Some crazy weather was coming our way and it was not uncommon to cancel for safety reasons.

Mark said, "We're still on. The van should be here in half an hour or so."

In addition to bacon and scrambled eggs, I had some kind of crunchy bread-like pastry thing with a spread of the Icelandic equivalent of Nutella. Mark added some fruit and yogurt to his plate. We finished up, retrieved our gear from upstairs, and minutes later the van arrived. Aside from the driver, the van was empty.

"Are you Mark and Gary?" our driver asked, offering a handshake. "I am Palli." At six foot three, there are few people who I LITERALLY look up to. I had to lift my chin slightly to meet his eyes and return his handshake. "You guys are first today," he said. "We have one more pickup to make and then we're on our way. Get in!"

I looked to Mark and declared, "Shotgun!" as I climbed into the passenger seat.

"So, have you guys had a good trip so far?" Palli asked. We told him about our travel woes and explained that our bags should be brought to the hotel at some point that day, so it wasn't too bad. Of course, we couldn't wait to tell him about the northern lights. When we told him that our guide was Gilli he said, "Gah! We all hate that guy!"

But he was so nice. "Why do you hate him?" we asked.

"Because he always sees the lights! Every time he takes a group out, he knows just where to look. His eyes are better than anyone should be. He sees the aurora half an hour before it's really there. He is just the best. We hate him." Palli concentrated on the road while he said this, and only the barest hint of a smile betrayed how he really felt. "Well, good that you saw it! It was supposed to be all clouds last night. You were lucky to be with Gilli." He gave us the full smile this time.

Our next stop was at another hotel a few blocks from ours. Here we picked up our travel companions for the day, a fair skinned pair of young lovers, most likely newlyweds. Palli opened the door for them, they said, "Thank you," and slid into the row behind Mark.

"Okay guys," Palli started as we left the city. "Do you see this big mountain across the water?" We couldn't possibly miss it. "She is called Esja (ESS-yah). There are trails that go to the top. I have a friend who goes up her every day before he starts work. He does this for exercise because it is crazy. But she is beautiful up there."

I asked Palli, "Do you call all of your mountains 'she' and 'her'?"

"No. Just the ones who are women. The man mountains are 'he'." His expression told me that this should have been self evident.

We all looked out the window and Mark and I agreed that if we had more time we would like to go up there. As we drove on, the city faded in the distance and the road ahead faded into the approaching snow storm.

Palli continued, "Okay, our first stop today will be a place called Thingvellir. It will take us maybe an hour to get here. This is a very important place in our culture because it is where the Vikings held their parliament. You will see the place where they met, all the leaders and powerful men from all over the island. There is a place where the rock makes a trick so that when you talk everyone can hear. The Vikings did not have a writing system, so they would have one person whose job it was was to memorize all of the laws, and that person would speak the laws at the parliament gatherings.

"It is also on the UNESCO world heritage site because it is the place where two continental plates join, and you can see it. You can stand with one foot in America and one foot in Europe. It is a beautiful place."

We rode for a few minutes in silence, everyone but Palli straining to gawk at the landscape through the glass and thickening snowfall. The mountains began at near ninety degrees, soaring straight up from the snow covered earth, not really peaking but turning at ninety degrees again to form high plateaus, a kind of split level home for ice giants. So it only makes sense that En Vogue was playing on the radio. Free your mind, indeed.

"Guys, I want to tell you another reason why Thingvellir is such a special place." We turned our attention to Palli. It was getting hard to see anything outside anyway. "There are these stories the Vikings told to keep the history of Iceland. These are the Sagas. If you read them, you will know everything about Iceland's history and her people.

"I want to tell you the saga of Ayed*. Well, just a small part of it. The whole thing would take all day to tell you, so I will start by letting you know that this guy was very powerful. He was very successful as a farmer and he had a lot of money. He was such a bad ass though because much of his money also came from just killing guys and taking their stuff. Their money, their land, their women. You know. This guy was a Viking.

"So anyway, he has many children, but his oldest son, his heir is a disappointment to him. His boy wants to look at paintings and wear silk clothes. He is what you would call in English a fancy-pants.

"So you can see that his bad ass Viking father does not want all of his life's treasure to go to this fancy boy, so he decides to do something else with it. When he is very old and he knows that he can probably not live much longer, he calls his slaves in secret. 'Go and pack up all of my silver,' he tells them. 'Put the trunks on your backs and start walking to Thingvellir!' he commands them.

"His plan is to take all of his treasure and go to the Parliament at Thingvellir while it is in session. He plans to climb to the cliffs above the session and throw his silver down upon them because it is his dream to see the most powerful men in the land crawl on their hands and knees, picking up what he is throwing away.

"But he is so very old. And when he only gets about halfway there he realizes that he is going to die soon. So he commands his slaves to bury all of the silver. They do this and then he kills them. He dies somewhere in the fields there, and the Icelandic people believe to this day that his treasure is still buried at that place. You will see people walking all over the place with metal detectors in the summer time."

We arrived at Thingvellir and Palli walked us to the edge of an overlook and pointed at the land below. From where we stood we could see the line where Tectonic plates met. A walking path led down into the canyon formed at the base of the plate where we stood. He pointed to a small church down in the valley below and told us he'd meet us there in about an hour. The four of us split and Mark and I wandered among the rocks and snow, stopping often to photograph, well, everything. The sky was bright white, and snow covered nearly everything, only broken by towers of black volcanic rock. A stream so clear it looked empty ran through the center of it all.

We piled back into the van, made a quick stop for coffee and snacks, and then drove on.

"Okay guys how did you like it?"

Mark and I expressed our enthusiastic approval while the French couple smiled and nodded.

"All right. Next we are going to a very beautiful place, the waterfall called Gullfoss. Gullfoss means golden waterfall. You will see that this is one of the biggest waterfalls in the world and certainly one of the most beautiful. Not too long ago, the land that this is on belonged to a man named Tómas Tómasson. This man's daughter was a girl named Sigrid. Sigrid loved these falls very much. But in the government, there was a lot of talk about maybe using it to build a hydroelectric plant. She loved these falls and wanted to preserve them forever as a national treasure. She made many speeches before the government and every time she would walk from Gullfoss to Reykjavik. Sometimes her feet would bleed, but she kept doing it to protect the falls. After years of fighting she finally told the government that if plans were approved for the dam that she would throw herself over the falls.

"As you will see, there is no hydroelectric dam here, and the falls have been protected." We pulled into a flat paved lot where several buses and vans were already parked. Palli pointed to a gift shop atop a hill behind us and instructed us when to meet him there. I pushed open the passenger door and the wind pushed it shut again. Palli smiled at me and I gave the door a second try. Mark and the others climbed out the side door and the four of us immediately leaned into the blowing wind. "Do not go into the falls," Palli added. "You will die."

Iceland still has a very "wild west" feel to it, especially when it comes to tourist safety. A thin, ankle-high rope and a shred of common sense were all that separated us from certain doom.

The wide Hvítá rushes southward. About a kilometer above the falls it turns sharply to the right and flows down into a wide curved three-step "staircase" and then abruptly plunges over two stages into a crevice 32 m (105 ft) deep. The crevice, about sixty feet wide, and more than a mile in length, extends perpendicular to the flow of the river. As one first approaches the falls, the crevice is obscured from view, so that it appears that a mighty river simply vanishes into the earth. Towers of frozen spray made it impossible to tell where the water ended and the land began.

We didn't stay very long because the high winds were throwing freezing spray and hard bits of ice against our faces. The best way to view the falls was to turn your back completely and point your camera behind your head. We quickly headed to the gift shop where I devoured a bowl of lamb stew and a hunk of bread.

Palli asked us how we liked the falls and then told us of a raft guide he had met in Nepal who was planning to go over Gullfoss in a raft. "These guys are crazy," he told us. "I spent about a month in Nepal rafting, and those guys look at what we call a class five and to them it is a three." Mark, who is among the more skilled kayakers I know, had plenty of questions for Palli about his rafting experiences. "When I was training to be a guide here, they gave us a class on how to read the river. The instructor takes us to this crazy, raging rapid. I have never seen water this crazy and big before. The instructor, he says, 'If you can't save yourself during a swim, you can't save clients. Now get in!' And the next thing I know, I'm in the river!

"Next, we are coming to a place called Geysir." He pronounced it "Gay-sir".

"This place makes me mad just a little bit, so I hope you forgive me," Palli said and shook his head side to side slowly. "There are geothermal vents all over Iceland. If you walk in many places, the ground just gurgles at you. You can see and hear it hissing everywhere. This word, geyser, we are very proud of it. It is the Icelandic word for 'to gush', and it is the only Icelandic word to make it into other languages. We came up with that!

"So, this one, this geyser, it is over ten thousand years old. It is on land owned by the government, and for years, you could just walk right up to it. But just now... just last week in fact! The people who own the small strip of land between the road and the geyser, that is their private land, and they have started charging to go over it. So, this is what makes me mad. You don't have to pay them if you don't want to, but that means that you have to look at it from far away. What do you want to do?"

He told us that what they were charging amounted to about five dollars, and we all decided that we could handle that. And Palli had told us the truth; the ground did in fact gurgle here. Steam squirted out from pencil sized holes in the earth while nearby Jacuzzi sized pools of aqua simmered and churned. One bore a sign with the silhouette of a thermometer and a frowny face warning, "You will boil in this." That and an ankle-high rope saved us from certain doom. The air reeked of sulfur.

About a hundred yards beyond the boiling pools stood a crowd of about a hundred humans. They were staring intently at a large hole in the ground. We joined them.

In addition to belching steam, the hole also had greenish bluish water rising and falling at its opening. The water would get sucked below, the hole would burp, and the water would form a small dome, spilling over and around the edges of the hole before getting sucked back down. With each rise and fall, the height or depth would increase until finally the whole thing violently sprayed dozens of feet into the air with a loud sulfurous fart and a hefty splash. This happened every six minutes until we had seen enough.

"Well, that was worth the extra five bucks!" I said, and Mark agreed.

"The geyser you saw was actually the smaller of the two," Palli told us once we were on the road again. "The bigger one hasn't erupted in years, and we think that means that the lava flow has changed. It might come back, but it probably won't. And a few years ago when it was declining, the guy who owns the gift shop nearby was nervous that it would affect his sales. So it is rumored that at night he began sneaking soap into the geyser."

"Why soap?" Mark asked. "Does it have something to do with the surface tension?"

"Something like that," Palli said. "It allows the water to boil at a lower temperature, plus it makes bubbles and I guess he thought that tourists would like to see that. Well his plan does not work, and he just wastes all of this soap. He is like some kind of bad Scooby Doo villain, you know?"

The heavy snow and wind had turned into a genuine whiteout. The road was barely detectable as a slightly less white path stretching out into the white ahead of us, and Palli handled it with ease. We were headed back to the city, but before we arrived, we still had one more stop. We could see the volcano up ahead despite the snow. Palli stopped the van by a pile of lava rocks that looked exactly like all the other piles of lava rocks and said, "We're here!"

He passed out helmets and headlamps and led us into the field of rocks, the volcano looming behind us. Not long after that the five of us were underground.

*I took notes during his story and googled "saga of Ayed" and found nothing. I may have got this name wrong.
My pants don't smell like sunshine anymore.
User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 5537
Joined: Sun Jul 09, 2006 9:43 am
Location: Tucked away in the hills of Asheville, NC.

Re: Iceland 2014

Postby Garmachi » Mon Mar 31, 2014 7:21 pm

Sorry for the slow updates guys. The pain pills for my knee have left me a bit foggy for the last couple days. In the meantime, here are some pictures to go along with yesterday's update:
Canyon and trail in Thingvellir
Clear stream in Thingvellir
The valley of Thingvellir
Gulfoss 1
Gulfoss 2
Gulfoss 3
Pools of steaming sulfurous water
The big woosh! (Photo by Mark Calcagni)
My pants don't smell like sunshine anymore.
User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 5537
Joined: Sun Jul 09, 2006 9:43 am
Location: Tucked away in the hills of Asheville, NC.

Re: Iceland 2014

Postby Travisimon » Mon Mar 31, 2014 7:47 pm

Good job on the water editing.
I'm tired of these motherf*&%ing Primordial Hydras on this motherf*%$ing plane!
User avatar
Posts: 1184
Joined: Mon Jan 19, 2009 5:43 pm
Location: Down yonder in the holler

Re: Iceland 2014

Postby Garmachi » Wed Apr 02, 2014 6:17 pm

Once I was inside the cave, I smacked my hands together to get the snow out of my cheap mittens. I'd bought them back at Thingvellir because our luggage hadn't arrived yet, and my hands were freezing. Down here in the cave it was at least fifty degrees and there was no wind. Water dripped and dropped around us.

"Do you remember Gollum, from Lord of the Rings?" Palli asked us. "Do you remember how he walked? On his hands and feet. You will have to do this in some places in this cave. There is also a place just up ahead where you will have to crawl on your belly, but just for a few meters. Then we can all stand up, and I will tell you where we are." With that, he dropped to his belly like a Marine in mud and scampered through a crack the rest of us had somehow not noticed until we saw his headlamp fading from within.

"You guys go ahead," I said, and stopped to just take it all in.

I managed to scoot through the narrow opening with a few inches to spare. The floor was rough and jagged in some places, but mostly wet and icy in spots. When I entered the next chamber, everyone was standing. "Sit," Palli commanded. He tilted his chin up and his headlamp shined on the ceiling of the cave. "Do you know what we call these things that hang down?" Before anyone could say stalac--"Lava titties!" he said with glee. "Because they look like the things that hang from a cow..."

He mimed milking, and I said, "udders?"

"Titties! Go ahead and find a place to sit, we are going to be in here for a while," he told us. "Look at the walls around you. See how they are round, like a subway? We are in a lava tube. You know how when a stream is frozen on the top, but you can see the water flowing beneath it? This is the same thing with lava. This tube around us is the frozen lava, that's what rock is. This one was made twelve hundred years ago when the volcano above was last active.

"Now we are going to see what real dark looks like. Go ahead and turn off your headlamps, and we will just sit here for a few more minutes and see if your eyes adjust." The French couple reluctantly turned off their lights, then Mark snuffed his. I fumbled with my mittens to find the switch. It was dark. Close your eyes dark. I opened my eyes extra wide as if that would help.

"Have you heard of the hidden people?" Palli asked. The French couple stopped their giggling.

"Most times you hear them referred to as Elves," he continued. "Many people here in Iceland take the Elves very seriously. When a farmer gets a new piece of land for the first time, one of the things he will do is to check the field for Elf stones. I don't know how they know which ones are the Elf stones, but sometimes they find one. And when they do, they will not touch it. They believe that bad things will happen if they touch one, so they will plow their fields around them. They take this very seriously. But to me, well I hope no one is offended by this, but to me it is like the Americans and their invisible man in the sky. These things are stories we tell our children, no more." Water dripped.

"What would you do, Palli?" I asked. "Would you touch an Elf stone?"

"No! I would not touch it, and I would not let my children touch it. Now wave your hand in front of your face and tell me if you can see it."

I waved my hand and presumably so did everyone else. I don't know because I saw neither mine nor theirs.

"One of our legends talks about the hidden people. Have you heard of this one? There was a village who found out that they were going to be visited by God. The big guy himself! So they cleaned themselves up as best as they could. And they cleaned their houses, and they put on their best clothes. But some of them, their children would misbehave. And their children were dirty from playing and would not bathe. So because they didn't want God to think they were dirty people, they took these kids and they hid them.

"And on the day that God came to visit the village, he said, 'You have hidden your children from me. So now they will remain hidden!'

"And these are now the hidden people. Some people say that they are the same as the Elves, and that if you ever see one, they will take you and you will be forever hidden too. Now where do you think the hidden people live?"

"In the lava tubes?" Mark replied.

"In the lava tubes," Palli said. "When I was a boy, seven years old, my father took me into a lava field just like the one we are under. He pointed to the hole in the ground and said, 'Boy. Get in that tube.' He is my father, I had to go in. He brings me deep into the tube and we turn off our lights and he tells me this story of the hidden people. Can you imagine telling this to a seven year old boy?!?"

Mark waved his hand in front of his face, but no one saw.

"Now, I have to ask you one more question. When we turn our lamps back on, would you rather there was one less of us... or one more?!? You can turn your lamps back on," Palli told us. "Be very careful following me into this next part," he added and scuttled into the next chamber. "Don't hit your head on the lava titties!"

We hunched, scooted and Gollum-waked into another room which was just big enough for the five of us. A metal chain dangled from steel posts cordoning off a stalagmite half a meter tall. A small plaque bore the universal symbol for "No."

"Do you know how many lava tubes there are in Iceland?" When we replied in the negative, he continued. "We have only found a couple hundred of them. But based on how big the island is, the most common estimate is that there are three or four thousand! Every cave that everyone knows about has been vandalized." He nodded toward the small pillar behind the chain. It was intact, but after a moment's glance it became apparent that its neighbors had been snapped off. "So now, when somebody finds a new cave they don't tell anybody. Think about how many caves must be out there!

"Follow me this way," he said and stepped through a wide, low arch. At least this place was flat!

Palli stopped in the next chamber and shined his light on a peculiar formation hanging from the ceiling. The rock was frozen in place like drips of candle wax, the shape of an overturned bowl. "We call this one the alien because if you put your head under it..." He squatted into position. "It looks like an alien sucking out your brain!" Indeed it did.

We all took turns posing with the brain sucker.

"Now let me ask you another question. If I asked you to point to the van, could you do it?" Everyone pointed in a different direction. Another small tower stood in the corner behind a chain but it wasn't the same one we had seen earlier. Or was it?

I said, "I feel a breeze coming from... that way. So there's probably an opening," I pointed. "But we came from that way." I tossed a thumb over my shoulder.

"Did we just go in a big circle?" Mark asked.

"We did!" Palli said. "Very good!"

I mentioned to Mark later that that was the first time I had even thought about our location, how to get out, and so on. We were all completely at Palli's mercy. I mean, we probably could have eventually found our way out, we wouldn't die or anything, but we'd have a tough time getting out if it were just up to us.

"Let's go toward the breeze," Palli called back to us. After a bit more scrambling he said, "Because there is so much snow we will have to dig our way out of the cave." Had he not begun pawing at a dimly glowing white crack, we'd have thought it another joke. More and more the sun shone in. The breeze quickened.

Palli wriggled out, and then the honeymooners. Mark asked me to go on ahead so he could get a shot of my backlit exit. I widened the hole, crawled through and took a snapshot of Mark as he crawled out of the earth.

We marched back to the van (in the opposite direction I'd assumed) and began our return to the city. "Well," Palli announced, "you have had a very big day! You have seen a huge waterfall. You have seen water spray forth from the earth! You have stood in the Parliament of Vikings, and crawled in a lava tube. But your visit to Iceland would not be complete without what I want to show you next."

At first I was dimly aware of the fish smell. But the "dimly" part didn't last very long. Within moments the smell was overpowering. "Where is that coming from?" we asked.

"There!" Palli said and pointed to the right. In half a kilometer he turned right, and we could see rows of wooden scaffolding marching into the distance, fading into the snow. Every available inch of space had a large fish head dangling by a string. "That is the smell of money!"

We continued to drive toward the stench until we were upon it. The inside of the van smelled like Captain D's dumpster and we hadn't even opened any windows or doors yet.

The French guy opened the door.

His wife followed him out and the both raised their cameras. "Well, the smell can't get much worse," Mark said and followed.

Palli looked to me and said, "You know, we could just be funny and drive off right now and leave them with the fish."

"I'd have to find a new friend," I said, smiling at the thought. If the van just... left. All three of them would just look at each other.

"I'll be your new friend," Palli said. "Go on, go out. I won't leave you here. I only get paid if I bring all of you guys back."

I climbed down from the passenger seat and walked among the stinky heads. Dead eyes and silent mouths gaped at me from every direction. "Hey Mark!" I called. "Check this out! It's an angler fish!" I heaved it by its rope.

"Whoa!" Mark lifted his camera to his eye. "I didn't know they were that big!"

Twice the size of a football, the thing was all head and teeth. A long petrified dangly bit arched from the beast's forehead with some sort of lure at the end. When the wind spun the thing toward me I flinched. "Did you get your shot? I'm putting this thing down. I don't like it."

Drying fish heads are only interesting for so long, so we climbed back into the van and returned everyone to their hotels. On our way back, I received a text message from the airport that our bags would be awaiting us at the hotel, which indeed they were. It was getting late and we were hungry, but both agreed that a shower and change of clothes was an absolute must. Hours later with bellies full of food and beer sleep came easily.
Fish Heads Closeup.jpg
They Stink!
Fish Heads.jpg
Fish Heads
This wasn't even the small one!
Gary digging his way out
My pants don't smell like sunshine anymore.
User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 5537
Joined: Sun Jul 09, 2006 9:43 am
Location: Tucked away in the hills of Asheville, NC.

Re: Iceland 2014

Postby Dvonneh » Wed Apr 02, 2014 9:18 pm

What do they do with all the fish heads sell them to who and for what?
My mind is mine.
User avatar
Posts: 303
Joined: Mon Oct 09, 2006 9:16 pm
Location: Western PA

Re: Iceland 2014

Postby Garmachi » Thu Apr 03, 2014 5:41 am

Dvonneh wrote:What do they do with all the fish heads sell them to who and for what?

It's a very popular snack. Every gas station has about as much shelf space dedicated to dried fish as we do with beef jerky or pork rinds here in the US. I thought about sampling some, but overheard a fellow tourist telling his friend that just opening the bag is "enough to clear the room." The analogy which keeps coming up is stinky cheese. There's a particular variety of blue for example which instantly reminds me of a wet basement, and I'll happily gobble it up. I'm pretty bold with my sampling of native cuisines, but after standing in that field and breathing it all in I had no desire to taste it. Maybe next time!

Here's some more information on the fish: ... n-iceland/
My pants don't smell like sunshine anymore.
User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 5537
Joined: Sun Jul 09, 2006 9:43 am
Location: Tucked away in the hills of Asheville, NC.

Re: Iceland 2014

Postby Garmachi » Sat Apr 05, 2014 11:26 pm

I sure hope Mark doesn't mind if I share this here! ... ie-deutsch

This is a VERY entertaining read, and hopefully will hold you at bay while I concoct my latest tale. Tag Mark, you're it!
My pants don't smell like sunshine anymore.
User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 5537
Joined: Sun Jul 09, 2006 9:43 am
Location: Tucked away in the hills of Asheville, NC.


Return to Roughin' It

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest