The Icelandic photo safari journey continues around the northern part of the country, through a vast wilderness of lush vegetation and sparse, arid wasteland. All of it is stunning!
After a surprisingly restful evening, we woke with the hope of clear weather, though that dream was quickly dashed when we walked outside. It was pretty rainy and stormy this morning. Extremely cold too. At least hot pancakes made breakfast tasty, along with my most favorite Skyr-yogurt.
The campground was extremely crowded last night though we didn’t notice until this morning in the WC there were probably 25 people here. This camp ground has a community space, more like a hostel, than the others so far. That would be awesome if we were tent camping. Jake braved the showers, which was a bit nutty this AM.
We headed over to the seal research center, only about $6 per person and cute and informative museum. Its all about the local seal population and behavior in Iceland, along with history, biology and behavior of seals and their integration in Icelandic culture.
The place was pretty cool, despite its small size. We enjoyed a short 20 minute video and then meandered through the different exhibits. There was a lot of taxidermy seals on display and tons of information. Apparently seals have been commercially hunted in the 1970’s and it only lasted for 2 years, because they realized how terrible it was for the population. How cool that Icelanders realized this and stopped this activity. They also observed their behavior in “captivity” and found that seals are extremely sensitive to people, which affects their natural behavior causing issues. Did you know seals can swim underwater for 30 minutes at a time without air and are completely weather-proofed animals. They never get cold or hot or even uncomfortable in any temperature, they just don’t like wind. And they can see better underwater than humans. Plus, they are super cute!
We spent about an hour at the exhibit and then decided to drive up to a harbor seal colony, only about 15 km away. The weather may be deterring but we figured since we’re here, we should check it out. The first part of the drive was fine, and then the road turned into a muddy, off-roading nightmare forcing us to take it VERY slow, especially with the downpour of rain and strong wind.
It took us almost 40 minutes to go this short distance and when we got there, it was pretty crappy weather out. I jumped out to try to get a few pictures, but even that was a challenge in this freezing blowing rain. We did spot a face below that COULD be a seal…so that’s what we will believe. 🙂 We definitely spotted a pretty cool sheep farm, but I don’t envy those guys in this crazy bad weather.
After driving around half the country, I’m surprised by the lack of guard rails on the roads. We’ve gone up mountains and down the other side (in snow and ice) and it feels very precarious without any kind of protection. There could be hundreds of feet below and a narrow little road. Its probably way scarier in true winter!
Anyways, we continued on about 200 kilometers to the next town of Akureyri, sort of like a mini-version Rejkavík. In the high plains you could really feel the punch of wind hit the car. It was hard for Jake to keep the van on the road. Then we rounded a few bends and surrounded by mammoths on all sides cutting the wind out. And wow the fall colors in the trees (yes there are trees!) were so pretty in contrast to the greens and ice blue colored water.
The city came quick and we noticed a huge cruise boat parked right downtown (later learned it was part ferry and part cruise ship). We decided to go out for a late lunch (as its now 345pm). So we found a place “Akureyri Fish” mentioned in the guide book we brought along, it was a cute little quick order type place with their specialty being fish and chips. We each got our own order and some beverages for 5100isk ($55’ish US Dollars) which is kinda expensive for a meal like that in the states but very cheap for Iceland going out to eat and maybe cheap for fish that was probably loaded off the boat that morning.
It was so delicious. Then we walked the adorable streets, over to the Hof culture center and then to the landmark church that sits on top of a pretty steep hill. We were 5 minutes passed closing so we didn’t make it inside (dang) but it was fun to walk this city and view it from atop this overlook. We shopped a bit before moving on.
It was late enough in the day that we wanted to get to our camp ground. On the way we stopped off at a Bónus store for some fresh groceries. We got a few more goodies (cookies, snacks, cordon bleu – which has become a favorite and ramen). It was only a few kilometers just outside of the city to the small campground, Lónsá. I was surprised how beautiful this place is, especially as its so close to the city. But the lush greenery and small river were just enough to hide the traffic on the road.
RV Bosco is extremely comfortable with his heater running. As soon as it goes off, its cold in just a couple of minutes. No point in turning it off though, at least not until we’re in bed.
We’ve settled into a nice pattern in that every afternoon we break out our map and guidebook to determine the route for tomorrow. Its fun to look at a map and just say, lets go here, or to verify cool things to see and do fro our handy guidebook. And it will be yet another night sans-northern light action.
Tomorrow came early for Jake and I, around 630AM. We were anxious to get a move on because we made plans to stop at a lot of places along our route, and wanted to give ourselves ample time to do it all. The cream-filled donuts from Bónus made a super scrumptious breakfast!
Once we hit the road by 8, we got sidetracked by outlooks at every turn. I couldn’t help but marvel at these new sights, of the fjords and gorgeous icy blue water and the city amongst the mountains. Eventually we made it out of the photo-zone and drove to our first official exhibit for the day, Godafoss waterfall. Its rainy so that was a bummer but I enjoyed taking photos in the rain. There seems to be a trend here with weather. Its crappy every day! 🙂
The next stop on our little tour was just a short jaunt up and down and around the winding road to Lake Myvatn. Despite the grayness, it was pretty cool. We have entered into a new landscape, something like lava fields and volcanic craters with scattered growth of brown and green moss. Not as lush as Akureyri, this is starting
Then we saw the steam rising in the distance and we’ve entered Geothermal-Pool-Madness! If you have ever been to Yellowstone National Park, you’ll have some experience with these pools of deep blue and smelly sulphur. They are beautiful and stinky!
From here we thought about going to a Geothermal hot springs, at the Myvatn Lake center, which is just around the bend from us. The Blue Lagoon is the big touristy place that everyone goes to when they visit Iceland, but we wanted to try to experience something a little more low-key. I managed to talk Jake into it, but first we have to check out the cave from Game of Thrones…
That’s right, a celebrity sighting here in Iceland. The cave, known as Grjótagjá is famous from a scene in GOT when John Snow is in the north with his Igrit. And surely it was pretty packed with people when we pulled in. I was shocked by how SMALL this cave was in real life. It barely had room for a few people to be in there comfortably and way too much steam to do much with. Jake discovered a third cave, sort of off in the corner that was devoid of people, so we snuck over to that one to enjoy its geothermal goodness for awhile. Now that was cool!
So now is the time – do we go to the spa or don’t we? Jake was on the fence, leaning towards no, but I talked him into it. It is a bit expensive (4000ISK per person), but that’s about 25% cheaper than Blue Lagoon. Plus we’re in Iceland. How many times will we have an opportunity to be in Iceland and do something like this? Probably not to many, unless we move here (which I would love!). So we had to do it.
The weather was terribly cold, which made the pools even more appealing. Once we paid, we had to go through to the locker rooms, get naked and shower/rinse everything with soap before putting the suit on. It was a little strange to do this in a gigantic, open locker space – so everyone is walking around naked.
The pools were so amazing. We spent an hour playing around, swimming, filming and just relaxing in the warmth. Obviously the water had a bit of sulphur smell to it, but it was so pleasant. I could have stayed here all day long, but Jake has limited capacity for such things. We did okay though after an hour it was getting late and we still had places to go and things to see!
The last “stop” along our route to the East was Námafjall, located at the foothills of a volcanic mountain complete with mud pools, sulphurous mud springs called and steam springs. The beauty of the colorful minerals defies anything on this planet. There is zero vegetation, but then again its wicked hot and stinks of potent fumes.
And it was awesome. Very much like Yellowstone but much more barren and powerful, not to mention that there are no rangers or people telling you not to get too close. In fact there isn’t much of anything, so you people can just stroll right up to a steam vent and stick there face next to it for a selfie. I’m pretty sure you would disintegrate if you fell into one of those.
By today’s end, we were caked in wet mud, sand and smelled of sulphur from the pools (Even though we showered the smell lingered on our skin). The drive through the north was probably the most interesting sort of apocalyptic wasteland. Everything was black. The hills, mountains, roads, fields all black and gray. It was so cool.
Finally we reached the eastern “border” of Egglistathir, a very cute little town. But our camp sight was on the opposite side of a huge mountain pass – 25 kilometers. It took us almost an hour to go the distance because at the top was snowy roads and very step terrain. But holy cow my jaw hit the floor as we drove down and down the winding road into Seydisfjordur! A true pearl of a city hides in a valley of 1000m mountains and the harbor is one that is frequented by European ships. Seriously imagine Star Wars, Alderaan with lakes and waterfalls and mountains. Like that only with snow on it. These pictures don’t do this justice.
At the bottom, the town is pretty tiny. But it looks like a ferry just came in because the only camp sight is PACKED to the brim with people. We were lucky to find a spot right in front near the bathrooms. Seeing as how we got here so late, our dinner was fast – mashed potatoes, cordon blue and apple juice. I tried to plan tomorrow, but I was too tired. The smell of sulfur never left us on that night either.