Iceland Adventure 2003
In July 2003, my friend Mark Casey and I ventured to Iceland for a second visit - the first was last November on our way back from visiting companies in Europe. Unfortunately, the first trip lasted just 40 hours, only enough time to see a little of Reykjavík. These are just a few photos from the second trip...
Note: I've set up all of the photos to open in separate windows. Mark's photos have "(MOC)" after them - you can usually spot them easily because they came out better...
Another note: The Icelandic language has a couple bonus letters not present in other languages. To aid in pronunciation, if you don't recognize the letter, generally pronouncing it "th" will get you pretty close.
Here's a glimpse of the region - a view of one of the huts in which you can stay if you're camping, with mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls in the background. Beyond the hut, there was a valley full of small stones, cut through with multiple glacial streams, surrounded all around by rugged hills capped with glaciers.
Climbing one of the hills provided some nice views of the valley below, and of the valley on the other side of the hill, where the bus initially dropped me off. On my way down the hill, there was a trail that led off into a little cave, which nobody else seemed interested in, but it was a really quiet little place with a tiny trickle of a "waterfall".
Museum of Photography
The other stop on the circuit we managed to see was the Gullfoss waterfall. Take note that in this photo, the little specks against the water on the left side of the image are people, and this is what that up close view of the waterfall looks like. One of the great thing about Icelandic waterfalls is that there are no fences or guardrails preventing you from plunging to your doom - you can enjoy the view (or impending doom) as close as you would like.
Lake Mývatn and Environs
Lake Mývatn is apparently famous for the swarms of gnats and blackflies that scourge its coast during the summer, annoying the living daylights out of the natives and tourists - thankfully, though, our stay was largely bug-free. We stayed for 2 days in the centrally-located town of Reykjalið (pop. 452, motto = "And You Call Akureyri a Hick Town"). Just outside of town, we spied a sign that very clearly pointed out where Björk (MOC) lived - or so we thought, but I'm afraid the woman who really lived there was not as convinced as we were. It was on our touring around Mývatn that we got to know Jenny and Kate (MOC) from London, who coincidentally happened to have identical travel plans to ours. Iceland was great fun by itself, but getting to make new friends was all the better. Sometimes the unexpected bits are the most memorable.
Our first stop was to the volanic crater Hverfell. That is the view down into the center of the crater - it doesn't look terribly big or steep in this image, but the crater rim itself is about 160 m tall (~525 ft) and 1 km (~0.6 mi) across. You're not supposed to go down into the center of the crater to avoid damaging the formation, so clearly all of the graffiti of light stones arranged into words you can see must therefore be naturally-occurring, which is pretty amazing. We walked around the entire rim of the crater (about 3 km - ~1.9 mi - or so), which mostly involved getting blasted by really cold air. Hverfell provided some nice views of the surrounding area, including our next stop, Dimmuborgir. For perspective, I believe those little specks are actually buses or camping vans. The water and islands in the background is Lake Mývatn.
Loosly-translated, Dimmuborgir means "black castles", and is also the name of a Norwegian death metal band (just in case it comes up in Trivial Pursuit). Essentially, Dimmuborgir is a maze of strangely-shaped lava formations of various flows that have occurred over the years. There were several small caves around that you could crawl into (MOC) if you so desired. Some caves were formed by lava flows that solidified in weird folded sheets. We spent quite a while wandering around (and getting lost on) a number of the marked paths. You wouldn't think that piles of lava could be so interesting, but the diversity of terrain was quite amazing. Some of the rocks were really brilliant colors. All the way out in the back of the trails, there were grass-covered hills that were quite a nice contrast to the large, rugged standing stones scattered throughout the rest of Dimmuborgir.
As far as we were concerned, the clear winner for attractions in the area were the Fumaroles, essentially geothermal vents that spewed forth steam and sulfur dioxide from deep in the earth, which also gave rise to some pools of boiling mud. We didn't mind that it was raining (MOC) - we decided to visit them twice that day. I also decided to stand in the vented steam and sulfurous gas - not exactly one of my brighter moments (MOC). Really, when you get down to it, any tourist attraction in the world could be made, say, 1000 times better if you simply added some fumaroles (MOC).
We also visited Krafla, a dormant volcano - not really a traditional cone-shaped structure, but just some fissures over a massive magma chamber. Because of the 30 mi/hr winds, chilly temperature, and driving rain, there is very little photographic evidence of our visit.
After waming up, drying off, and refeuling on cappucino (MOC), we planned to go see Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, but naturally ended up on the wrong side of the river (but no $28 in tolls this time!), and were "only" able to see the mighty Dettifoss, a waterfall that has greater water volume than any waterfall in Europe. As with pretty much all Icelandic attractions, you could get right up to the edge, despite the 150 foot drop. Incidentally, that's me in the yellow coat taking the previous picture. You could really get lost in the thunderous roar of the water, and the mezmerizing sheeting of falling droplets. But then across the canyon and through the mist that rose up from the water crashing on the rocks below were these tiny ribbons of water running down the side of the canyon, disappearing into the mist. Ultimately, though, all that action just disappeared into the calm downstream. Hopefully someday, I'll get to see the rest of the park.
Incidentally, we got around to all these places in the trusty funkmobile (MOC), so named because in the year 1000 when it was decided that Iceland would be a funk-free nation...oh, wait a minute. Maybe it was because the soundtrack to our journey between adventures was provided by DJ Honky. More on him in a moment.
Without much else to do in Húsavík, we drove just outside of town to check out a peninsula where the puffins hang out. Puffins are cute little birds who don't really get up to much aside from hanging out on the cliffs, flying about, catching fish, and eating fish. Unfortunately, they're also not terribly bright, as we learned by watching a fellow with a big net catch maybe 10 puffins in about 20 minutes. You'd think they would realize their folly after a while. We never found a single Icelander who'd had puffin, so I assume only tourists eat puffins.
We shared the peninsula with some sheep - actually pretty much all of Iceland is shared with sheep, as they're literally everywhere. Iceland is supposed to have the best lamb in the world, according to Icelanders, especially Icelanders who have never left Iceland.
Reykjavík seemed to have quite above average graffiti, among other things, this somewhat odd large afro man with a bra. This might at first look like a normal street sign (MOC), but to incredibly observant tourists like us, there's actually a deeper meaning somewhere off in the corner. And finally, a reminder that if nobody takes the time to remember the past, the world could be a scary place.
Oh, and lest you worry, the burrito has made it to Reykjavík. It was a build-your-own burrito sort of establishment called Serrano, where the friendly viking staff would ask "Would you like beans?" Yes. "Would you like rice?" Yes. "Would you like tomatoes?" Yes. "Cheese?" Yes. "Corn?" Um...sure. And then we got to the lettuce - "Would you like leaves?" Why yes. Yes, I'd like lots of leaves (MOC). In fact, from now on, I will be asking for leaves every time I order a burrito.
I managed to track down Jón Auðarson, who runs a hip store called Nonnabúð, and also books DJ's for a couple of clubs. He kindly let me be the opening DJ from 11pm to midnight for the two Saturdays I was in town at Club 11 (MOC), on the main drag at Laugavegur 11. A number of clubs in Reykjavík are coffee shops during the day, and become bars with a dance club upstars round about midnight. What Jón neglected to tell me was that Club 11 was a rock club, and I'd brought the funk. I figure that this balanced out OK, as I neglected to mention that I wasn't really a DJ.
After being heckled by two drunk guys at the bar the first weekend ("Hey - when do we get to put the jukebox on again?"), things went much better the second weekend. Largely because DJ Honky had a fanclub in attendance - Mark was there taking photos (MOC). Kate and Jenny from London, whom we'd met up in Reykjalið, bravely attended despite hearing perhaps too many tales of the Funkmobile and despite knowing of DJ Honky's nonexistant turntablism skills. We even convinced Iðunn (MOC), a waitress at Þrír Frakkar (the only restaurant in Iceland that serves whale), where we'd had dinner that night, to come along.
It all turned out quite well - I got offered the keys to the city by some friendly folks in the corner, Jón said that he'd let me play a full night sometime if I came back, and he also wanted to sell some of my mixes in his store. So if you're ever in Reykjavík, be sure to stop by Nonnabúð in the basement of Club 11, and check out his wares - and be sure to ask about the DJ Honky CD's.
After we came back to dock, we passed a group of idle whaling ships. Unfortunately, they're probably no longer idle as Iceland has resumed whaling after a 14 year hiatus - for "research purposes". At first I thought, "oh, come on, surely you cand come up with a better excuse than that" - but then I realized it was pure genius. Thus, I am happy to report that DJ Honky's CD's are currently for sale in Reykjavík, not violating international copyright law as they are sold purely for research purposes.
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