Up a little later this morning... yesterday was a long day! Our original plan was to be on the road by 8, but our eyes may have opened a bit closer to 8:30. And then we still needed to pack things up.
So instead of a trip to the grocery store with things we could bring back and cook for breakfast, we threw our bags back in the car and hit the grocery store for food breakfast options we could eat while driving. Luckily we've discovered this amazing yogurt-type stuff called Skyr that's absolutely delightful! Especially the vanilla flavor. Combined with a granola bar and an orange, we were quite happy.
Our first stop of the morning was just around the corner (and one of the places that made us understand why doors occasionally blow off the cars in Iceland): Reynisfjara
beach and the basalt columns of Hálsanef.
We'd seen the black sands at Vik the night before, but this is the more famous beach around the corner, which includes an amazing cliff made of tall columns and old lava flows that almost seem to move while you're watching them. The jet black sand, combined with the grey sky and white waves, gave the strange feeling that you were standing in the middle of a black and white movie. We turned away from where all the tourists were gathered near the basalt columns and tried to take some pictures of the desolate beach stretching the other direction. It's hard to believe they are color photos!
Back in the car for just 20 minutes or so and we found ourselves at Sólheimajökull
glacier, where we had originally been scheduled to hike for the day. Turns out you can actually hike right up to the glacier (and onto it, if you were so inclined to do so without a guide). So despite our canceled hike, we really had a good time playing around where the outer fingers meet the rocks that the retreating and advancement have cut through the years. The blue ice was beautiful and clear. The patterns in the larger glacier were, again, almost alive with movement. We ended up staying here for well over an hour, although we had expected it to be a quick stop.
Another 15 minutes down the road is one of Iceland's most famous waterfalls: Skógafoss
. At this point we were, admittedly, a little done with waterfalls. They're absolutely beautiful. And Iceland has done a good job of making each different by cutting steps to the top of some, and paths behind others. But here's the thing: we have all those things in Oregon too. So super-cool, but not a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Instead of spending a ton of time with the hundreds of other people climbing to the top of the falls, we drove around the corner to the Skógar Folk Museum
that was highly recommended by Guðrún, our Airbnb host the night before.
Yes. This was what we both had been looking for to make the trip feel complete. And (baffling!?) almost none of the throngs nearby at the waterfall made their way over.
The museum has three parts:
1. The folk museum which offers a huge variety of tools and implements
used for fishing and farming, as well as artifacts dating back to the
viking age. This was a great way to walk through the history of Iceland's main history and the development of it's people and culture.
2. An open-air museum that features rebuilt turf houses that give you a glimpse into the atmosphere of how Icelanders
lived through the centuries.
3. The museum of transport, which tells the story of
technology and transportation and its development in Iceland in the 19th
and 20th century.
We spent WAY more time here than we'd allotted, but SO worth it!
One stop left in the day so we hit the road to our Day 3 hot spring (yes, we scheduled one each day!): Reykjadalur or "Smokey Valley".
Scott and I had both been looking forward to this hike. We read about it on all sort of blogs (here, here, here, here... you get the point). The hike takes at least an hour and roams into the mountains, through a geothermal area. Steam comes out of the ground all around you, as you hike through streams, past waterfalls and alongside pools so hot they're boiling. But here's the catch. It was really rainy hard when were were there. (As in, we're from Oregon and we still thought it was raining hard.) And windy. WINDY. Like a couple times I forgot to stand with my feet shoulder width apart and almost got blown over. So, although we were passing all of the beautiful things, we were also soaked to the skin. Through thermals, wool sweaters and down coats. But you only get one chance to hike Iceland, right? So we went on!
Finally, we arrived!! We got to the boardwalks and notice something strange: there was no one there. Scott stepped off the side, took off his glove and dipped his hand into the stream and it was COLD. Wait, what?! Apparently the hot springs could not keep up with the rain that day. A phenomenon that was NEVER mentioned in any of those blogs above! But we were not to be defeated! Despite the other people turning around and going back, we were going to do this. We hiked upstream a bit, beyond the boardwalks. Normally this area was deemed "too hot", but it turns out with the rain it was about right. Of course, there was still a catch. Changing out of three layers of clothes, including wool socks and hiking boots, while standing in the open air is, well, VERY COLD. And frankly, nearly impossible.
BUT WE DID IT!
And then we had to change back. Dear Lord. I really don't recommend every trying to put on wet thermals and then hike for an hour, although after about 15 minutes they did start to work like a wet suit - warmed by body heat as we hiked! Finally back at our car an hour later we rewarded ourselves with coffee and dessert (purely by the grace of God that actually had a sugar and gluten free dessert) at the trailhead cafe.