14 Days in Heaven
Life in Bombay makes one forget about the actual joys of life. We get stuck in the daily routine so much and run behind our goals so much that we forget that life is beyond all this. After almost three years of no holidays (my work keeps me travelling all around the world but again that’s for work), we had planned a camping trip to the beautiful valley of Sangla and Spiti in mid of October. But as luck played part, a day before we were suppose to leave, I got Dengue and our much awaited holiday got cancelled. I was super disappointed but I think everything happens for a reason. To make up for the lost holiday, my wife planned a road trip to ICELAND (gotta thank http://brokencompass.in/ ). One country which almost every Indian who has ever filled any form online would have read of. The name appears just over India and numerous times we have selected that instead of India
I am starting this Travelogue and will share my entire 14 day trip experience with some amazing photos everyday. It is a journey that took me to some wonderful places and I hope you like what you see.
20+ hours of flights is what lay between us and Iceland. A quick read on the weather told me its going to be cold (this is Oct in northern hemisphere we are talking off). But the excitement kept things warm. The first thing that I did after my first meal was to mount the camera on tripod, point it towards the sky, take a long exposure and wait for the magical green lights to show up on the screen (I may have forgotten to mention that we were there at the time of freaking NORTHERN LIGHT season!!!! :D). However, Northern Light it seems has a mind of their own. After some futile attempts and a now show by them, I decide to doze off for the long day ahead.
The next morning as we drove through the this poster perfect country, I realized that this country is not about the points of interest.. this entire country is a “POINT OF INTEREST” … every thing you see on the way is breathtaking and you are compelled to stop and admire the natural beauty. Below is what I saw …
Day’s Route: Reykjavik – Þingvellir National Park – Geysir – Gullfoss – Hella
We stayed overnight in a farm hotel “Hótel Lækur” a beautiful place to stay and relax.. almost everything in Iceland is family run and the warmth is instantly felt with their hospitality. Day 02 was going to be a day devoted to the two most famous falls “Seljalandsfoss” and “Skogafoss” . We planned on starting the day early morning, 9 AM is when the sun rises in November, so we woke up early and went around the farm to see the beautiful countryside on foot. And again, everything was looking unreal. One thing that I made sure was not to rely too much on the GPS. That is how you get lost and discover those hidden tracks!
In the evening, a quick glance at the weather website made us believe that we could see northern lights that night.. the predictions were looking a bit hopeful from 4 am till 6 am the next morning.. so a 3:30 am alarm was set .. after waking up at 3:30 and not seeing anything in the sky, we put a 4:30 am alarm again.. and this time around we saw some faint activity in the sky.. so we jumped into our protective clothing and decided to head again to the waterfall seen in the pictures.. and YAYYYY !!!!! our first good sighting of Northern Lights .. but the lights were not dancing since the activity was very very low… but even seeing what we saw was unreal .
Day 3 was all about wanderlust and amazement. The first stop was “Sólheimajökull”, our first glacier in Iceland. Also called the black glacier, this is a mass of ice that is full of volcanic ash! The word ‘unreal’ had started to lose its sense and we were not complaining. After loitering into some ice caves and walking on the glacier we decided to the beautiful cliff of “Dyrhólaey”. The landscape Gods were particularly kind on the drive and we ended up halting more than actually travelling (again .. no complaints :D). Next was the amazing black beach of “Reynisfjara” which houses the famous Basalt Columns that looks like giant church organ. The surrounding cliffs have many caves in them which are a must see. Portions of the upcoming Russell Crowe film “Noah” was shot here. Technically this was the last stop of the day before we bunked at “Lilta Hof” farm but somehow time had started to lay still in this amazing journey.
The day started on a slightly lull note. Our scheduled tour of the glaciers got cancelled and after much debate we decided that we will do it ourselves (stupid .. yes. worth it? absolutely!). The thing I realized when we reached the glacier is that scales and measurements go for a toss when man is surrounded by 100% nature. Imagine a wonderland of Ice if you would and imagine being the Alice in there. That is exactly what our state was.
But, there is always that little “icing” on the cake … in the middle of our self voyage to the glaciers, Einar from the “Local Guide” company called us up and said a tour of the ice caves is possible. It was difficult, but we managed to jump and dance on the ice!! Our tour with Einar was like living a Discovery Channel Documentary. After a rough ride in a monster truck, we managed to reach base of mountains that were home to the ice caves. These caves are like a giant living entity, transforming every day and storing within them the secrets of the mountains … hundreds if not thousands of year old. Even if this sounds cliched I shall chose to call this ‘experience of a lifetime’
Day 5 - Skaftafell – Fjallsárlón – Jökulsárlón – Breiðdalsvík - Riders on the storm
Day 5 was to be dedicated to a beautiful Ice Lagoon called “Jökulsárlón” but (there is always a but!) .. weather was going to be a major make-or-break. Let me elaborate what I mean by that, we are talking -6 degrees here. Not exciting enough? Add 50 m/s winds to it and we are at a 14 degrees below. To repeat, that is 50 meters per sec (that’s almost a level 2 hurricane!!). How does that look … check out this small clip.
On the way to Jökulsárlón there was one more of smaller ice lagoon which is not so popular. We stopped there to get a ‘trailer’ of what was to come. To live ‘Ice Age’ in person, just left us spellbound. Btw, our camera was ‘spellbound’ too. With conditions this extreme three out of four lenses froze (quite literally), the camera body had ice formation over parts but (!!) … they kept going. Kudos Nikon!! We eventually did make it to Jökulsárlón and spotted some reindeer too but I guess this day was more about the journey than the destination …
Day 6 - Breiðdalsvík – Lake Myvatn - ’Winter is coming’
We were heading north today in the country where Game of Thrones has been shot. So the anxiety quotient to see what ‘ice’land had to offer today was on a high.
This day was mostly a regular (long) drive from Breiðdalsvík to Lake Myvatn (pronounced as Lake Miva). But then, there is nothing just ‘regular’ in Iceland’s Pandora’s box. On our way we were greeted by a herd of 100 odd wild reindeer. To put things in context, we were as surprised as most foreigners in India when they see wild cows. Of course, we were shutter happy too! Interestingly, there were stretches in the drive where we were the only ones on the road till wherever we could see ahead and behind of our car. It’d feel like someone just made the whole place for you and you only (ah! Royalty :D).
Just before reaching our destination we also stopped at sulphurous mud springs called solfataras and steam springs called fumaroles. But I guess the ultimate experience of the day was trying to find our next place of stay. We never made any bookings and usually google mapped our way into farms where we could stay. Today, upon calling a farm, the owner said that he wont be there when we will reach but he will leave the keys for us for our cottage. We told him that unless we see the cottage we cannot finalise it. Upon reaching the destination, we saw no one at the farm. We went up to the house of the family who owns the farm and no one there too. We then saw a note hanging on a door which read “If you don’t find anyone at the home please call on this number from the mobile phone hanging below”. There was a small bag in which there was a mobile phone. We were stunned !!! The entire place was open and accessible to anyone ! TRUST and SAFETY !!!
The Pandora’s box called Iceland!
Day 7 - Lake Myvatn - ’Mist on the water and (green) fire in the sky’
This day was going to be special in so many ways. The morning started with a trip to two waterfalls in northern Iceland “Detifoss” and “Sellfoss”. The road conditions on the weather app suggested “maybe closed” & “extremely difficult driving”, but a little boost from the locals and a leap of faith later, we were out on the roads, ready to witness some raw nature. The misty ice covered waterfall looked almost right out of Lord of the Rings (or Game of Thrones, if you’ll please :D). Next up (and this one is for all you black metal fans) was a forest area called Dimmuborgir. Literally means ‘dark’ ‘cities’. We decided to do a trail in the forest and I could quite relate to the joy the protagonist must have felt in ‘Into the wild’ movie. Surreal, all the way.
Our planned end for the day was a sumptuous meal of local fishes and some wine to go along. BUT (and this is a big one), just as we were stepping out of the restaurant, we saw a faint green cloud like formation in the sky. We knew what was to follow, mad run to the car and driving to a spot with less city lights. What we saw post that was the best light and no sound show I have even seen in my life. The green flame of auroras danced around like a candle fire in the wind, sometimes slow … fast sometimes and enticing all through. We can say that there was something magnetic about it (pun intended ;)).
We came back to our farm in some time and the visuals continued. The intensity went down over time, but our spirits just kept going up .. up and up in the air!
Day 8 - Lake Myvatn – Akureyri – Blönduós – Of Churches and Cityscapes
After a 20 hour day yesterday, we were looking forward to a *slightly* lazy on day 8. We decided that our overnight stay today would be at Blönduós and we will only do a stop over in Akureyri, the second biggest city in Iceland. Since this strech contained a lot of churches, we decided to visit as many as we could. Icelandic churches have the kind of simplicity that resonates with the simplicity of the country itself. Single building structures with tapered roofs and lit with dim but inviting lights.
On our way, we also managed to visit a *frozen* waterfall by the name of Godafoss.
By mid day, we had reached the town of Akureyi. Bright pastel-y bulidings set against clear blue skies in a town that seemed to have been at a standstill … as if telling us to do the same. After spending sometime there, we headed to our pit stop for the day, a farm near the town of Blönduós.
But (how many times have I used ‘but’ in this blog already), the day is not over in Iceland until the customary last minute surpises. Northern lights .. again!!
Day 9 - Blönduós – Hvítserkur – Grundarfjörður - ‘Horsing’ around in alien landscapes
Thank you for the amazing response … now here are some amazing pictures!!
Day 09′s end plan was to reach the town of Grundarfjörður. Again, no ‘point of attraction’ (I hope you’ve come to terms with non useage of this term by now :D). First up was an 80km detour to a beautiful rock formation in the middle of the sea called “Hvítserkur”. We were the only people till wherever we could see and it was a happy surrender to nature. Drive further witnessed some magnificient herds of wild Icelandic horses (they looked more like horn-less unicorns to be honest!). By mid-day we took another detour to a small village called Stykkisholmur. A small hike up a mountain took us to a small beautiful lighthouse which made for a fantastic vantage point. Just before dusk we reached Grundarfjörður and by nightfall weather had become really stormy. It was then that mother nature showered upon us some more light (green light to be precise) … Aurora!!! Packed up our gear and in a SUV that was shaking like a toy we made it to Kirkjufell mountain. Tried my heart out at shooting, but there is only so much that a monopod can take against winds of 50 meter/sec. None the less … green, windy and happy!
Day 10 - Grundarfjörður – Borgarnes – The Day of the SUPER STORM !
Of bad ideas and good luck
Day 10 was orginially inteded for drive around the beautiful peninsula of Snæfellsnes. But the morning began on a rather stormy note. In our past 9 days in Iceland we thought we had all of weather’s fury, but this one was going to go beyond anything we had seen. To gain some time we decided to take the shorter route to our destination. 500 meters down that route and the ford 4X4 was shaking in the 50 meter per second winds like a toy. Longer route it is.
Our drive this day was emptier than any of the previous days. Not a single soul visible for hours at strech. Our conquest of man (and his ford) v/s nature continued. Mid way through the trip, I tried rolling down the car window to click some pictures … bad idea! cross winds like these can literally throw off a 4X4 much like in end-of-world movies. It was clear that we’d have to make a mid way stop at the town of Borgarnes.
We looked for a hostel and nested oursevles … for good 30 minutes. The wanderlust took over again and we decided to try out luck visiting the waterfalls at Hraunfoss & Barnafoss. This time around luck was on our side. As we reached the weather was a bit more merciful for us to witness this series of waterfall flowing out of volcanic rocks. The most amusing part? There was no visible source of water, no lake, no river … nothing! The water was making its way from within the rocks. We could barely manage to grasp this true wonder of nature and the winds had started to pick up again. We came back to our hostel for dinner. A small video of what it was outside is down below … unbelieveable … believe it!
Short Clip of the Storm
Filled Under : travel