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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.


Before Mark got there, I had a few days completely unsupervised - it's a wonder the country survived at all, really. Easily the most memorable part of this 3 days was my visit to Þórsmörk (the Woods of Þór). My original plan was to rent a car, drive out, park, and hike for a good part of the day - except that I hadn't banked on the fact that you have to drive across rivers to get there (i.e. no bridges), and none of the rental car agencies would insure me for river crossing. Of course, in Iceland, there's a regularly-scheduled daily bus service (which is 4WD) that goes out there. Naturally.

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

Another stop I made was to the Museum of Photography in Reykjavík, on the top floor of the town library. After looking at the one exhibit there, I ended up talking to one of the curators for a while about the museum and about photography in Iceland. As it turns out, the museum has a fairly extensive archive of photographs by many early Icelandic photographers. He let me look through their work and pick a couple to get made into prints. I focused on the work of Magnús Ólafsson - three thousand photos and several hours later, I'd selected 3 images - but this one is by far my favorite - something about the way the light falls that is just sort of otherworldly and haunting. Most of Ólafsson's work is of landscape photos of the country - in fact, in 1909 he applied to parliament for a 1,000 kronur grant to take images for postcards in an effort to increase tourism to Iceland. Sadly, he was denied. Even after someone proposed dropping the amount to 400 kronur. Poor guy, if only he'd stuck it out to 2003, he could have sold me reprints of his images for more than 1,000 kronur.

Golden Circle

The day that Mark arrived, we had just enough time to scoot around a typical "touristy" circuit just outside of Reykjavik, called the "Golden Circle" - actually, we had to cut it short because we got totally lost when we started out and managed to drive in exactly the wrong direction. However, our error did allow us to drive through the Greatest Tunnel in the World that Goes Under a Fjord in Western Iceland, and had the pleasure of paying $28 in tolls (yes, $14 each way). Once we got sorted out, we did make our way to Geysir, which is in fact where the English word "geyser" comes from. Sadly, after earthquakes in June 2000, the original Geysir stopped, er, geysing, and so we made do by gawking at its little sibling Strokkur, which looked like this before it got going, launched forth every 10 minutes or so, and finished up steaming out the crowd as it settled down.

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.


We flew AirIceland up to Akureyri in Northern Iceland - interestingly, people in Reykjavik (pop. 180,000) made fun of the folks in Akureyri (pop. 15,000) for being hicks and living in a really tiny town. On some level, that strikes me as both quite funny and sweetly endearing. Akureyri (MOC) was really just a stopping-off point on our way to Lake Mývatn. As long as I'm at it, though, I should point out that during the summer (we were there just a few weeks after the solstice), technically the sun set around midnight and rose around 3am, but in actuality the 3 hours of "night" were really just sort of twilighty gloaming. To prove a point, this is what 10pm (MOC) looked like.

Lake Mývatn and Environs

On our way over to Lake Mývatn, we drove past Goðafoss (Waterfall of the Gods - so named in the year 1000 when it was decided that Iceland would be a Christian nation and paganism was outlawed, a member of parliament tossed his carvings of the Norse gods into the river) - really quite amazing that these beautiful little waterfalls were just sort of scattered randomly around the countryside.

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.


On our way back from Lake Mývatn to catch our flight in Akureyri, we drove to Húsavík in hopes of going whale watching, though sadly all ships were cancelled since the seas were too rough. In lieu of actual whale watching, we got to visit the country's whale museum, where they have information (size, demeanor, etc.) about every major species of whale that visits Iceland. I decided that if I were a whale, I would be a shy whale. Especially now that Iceland has started whaling again - what is your upside as a whale to being outgoing and curious?

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.


After getting back from Akureyri and Mývatn, we had one weekend left in Reykjavík, much of which we spent wandering around town. It's hard to avoid going anywhere in town without seeing the Hallgrímskirkja, a striking modern church with amazing views of the town and harbor from the belltower. I know there are some out there who don't believe it's ever sunny in Reykjavík, but let this serve as proof. For those who keep good records on gifts you have given to people in the past, say at Christmas, or perhaps on the 1000th anniversary of a parliament, you should know that if you were thinking of giving Iceland a statue of Leifr Eirícsson, take note. Iceland already has one.

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.

DJ Honky

Some of you may not be aware, but I have an alter-ego named DJ Honky, a collector of old funk, soul, and jazz LP's and 45's. Until this trip to Iceland, DJ Honky would periodically make mixes of tunes for friends, but would dream of someday DJ'ing a club to share all these old records with more people. And then it hit me - why not DJ a club in Iceland? Since I had no idea what I was doing behind the wheels of steel - if I made a fool of myself, what better place to do it than Iceland, where it's unlikely that word would get back to LA? So I wrote a couple of clubs I had visited in my first trip, but never heard anything back. Clearly, they were just too busy to write, but really wanted to let me DJ. So I bravely packed a little pile of 45's in my backpack before I left and set out.

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.


How do you top a blowout night in Reykjavík? Easy. One word. Whales. To make up for lost whale watching in Húsavík, we decided to spend our last afternoon out in the harbor. Before we saw much in the way of whales, we got some great views of Reykjavík - just to provide some perspective on just how tall Hallgrímskirkja is, and how flat the rest of the city is. We came across a group of terns, wheeling and playing. And then finally we saw some Minke whales - as you can tell by the photograph, Minke whales are very clearly related to the Loch Ness Monster as they live in a very grainy, poorly-focused habitat. We were also followed for a while by a pod of North Atlantic porpoises, which were just absurdly cute - especially the one in front who appears to be smiling. In this photo, you can tell that the ocean is actually slanted somewhat when you get close to the Arctic Circle - something I'd learned on the Discovery Channel, but never actually seen.

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.


"Bless" is how you say "goodbye, see you soon" in Icelandic. Fitting, as I need to be heading off now - if you need me, I'll be hiding in the fumaroles (MOC).

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