Sunday, June 21, 2015

A stone cairn a day keeps the sand storm away

When people say that they feel like pulling over ever 5 minutes on the Icelandic road, they are not kidding. I had the same feeling of wanting to take a pause, stop time and then digitally preserve all of the impressions that my eyes were bombarded with. We did plenty of stops on our roadtrip, but then again - not nearly enough compared to the amounts of hidden treasures that are not so often spoken of and which only requires a quick pitstop or a minor detour from the main road. Time was, however, rather limiting for us even though we ditched half of our original plan. This meant we mainly focused on the well-known attractions on the south coast and saved the treasure hunting and random off-roading for another visit.

Driving towards Kirkjubæjarklaustur we couldn't help noticing this one particular lava ridge surrounded by stone cairns. This is known as Laufskálavarða. Travelers crossing the desert of Mýrdalssandur for the first time would pile up stones to make a cairn, which was supposed to bring them good fortune on the journey. We did not follow this tradition, which at the end of the day would come back to haunt us - as I will tell you about later. Instead we admired the different arrangements of the stones and tried a few jump-shots before hitting the road again. Another interesting stop was Skaftárhraun, one of the world's largest lava plains. It looked so soft and I felt like plunging into it and cuddle up with this big green teddy bear. That was until I laid my hand on it and realised it was actually rather stiff and dusty as hell. This green carpet kept on for miles and miles, so as soon as you see it, you do not have to pull over immediately. You will have plenty of time to find the perfect spot to pull over.
Before passing the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, we took a small tour away from the main road to visit Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. Katyhawk was kind enough to share the location of this remarkable place with us and after googling some pictures I was sold! The canyon is up to 100 m deep and about 2 km long, with the Fjaðrá river flowing through it. There are two possibilities for hiking in Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon - either you follow the river at the bottom of the canyon or you walk up hill following the hiking trail from the parking lot along the edge of the canyon. We did the latter to enjoy the majestic scenery from above. The canyon is a beautiful walk and serves as a great spot for challenging your fear of heights .. or your inner fool. Fresh foot prints could be spotted on the older closed trails and at the very edge of these massive walls. This is something that can really tick me off. Of course it can be hard not to venture near the edge of the drop-off for the classical "I am the king of the world" photos (we did it too), but putting yourself in danger by taking a few extra steps towards the edge just to get the perfect picture is insane! Anywho, do drop by this grand place, but please be sane and respectful so in the end you can go home with a smile, a story and a great snapshot.
Since Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon was on the agenda for the following day we wanted to set up camp relatively close. However, as we reached Skeidararsandur, a vast sand plain, I had to hit the breaks. When picking up the car we had passed down on a sand storm insurance, almost ridiculing the offer. Now, right in front of us, whirling sand, standing meters tall, where transversing the landscape and hence blocking our path. We were in awe. For minutes we were discussing what to do. Should we attempt to drive pass the blowing sand and hope that the car would not look like it had been rubbed with sandpaper for hours? Was this the curse of not laying down the stones at Laufskálavarða? Eventually we were forced to turn around.

The sand storm was caused by a strong wind that evening, so we had a hard time finding a place to put up the tent. We tried a couple of home stays but it was either fully booked or too expensive for our taste. Luckily we found the perfect place - nicely sheltered from the wind and with an outstanding view. Not to mention the perfectly arranged pile of dirt, which served as the ladies room for the night. We quickly cooked dinner as we wanted to hit the sacks as early as possible. It turned out to be an extremly spicy garam masala, which was almost non-edible and not even a good amount of sweet raisins and dried bananas could disguise the burn. This night we agreed to roll out our sleeping bags in the car. It was actually really comfy and we thanked the higher powers for our petit figures, otherwise it would probably not have been possible ;)

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Three Waterfalls: Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss and Svartifoss

Between the water spitting geysers on the Golden Circle and the frosty diamonds at Jökúlsárlon we simply found ourselves in a waterfall galore. Besides the double cascading Gullfoss, three other highly popular waterfalls were on our agenda: Seljalandsfoss which allows you to peek behind its curtain, Skógafoss which showers you with rainbow smiles, and Svartifoss which plunges in between hanging basalt columns reminiscent of organ pipes.
Seljalandsfoss is right of the Ring Road and can easily be spotted long before you reach it if you are coming from Reykjavík. This particular waterfall has claimed its fame as it allows visitors to go behind its curtain. This gave us the possibility to photograph Seljalandsfoss from every angle imaginable. We tugged away our cameras and put on our raincoats as we were guaranteed a refreshing dusch. A well-developed loop trail led us backstage. It was a marvelous feeling - yet again, I was reminded of my small existence in this phenomenal world. For some reason I always gets surprised of how deafening and loud such cascading waters can actually be, but I guess it makes sense when you notice how powerfull the water is pounding towards the ground. We did not stay here for long, but if we had had the time, we would probably have taken a stroll along the mountain range and visited some of the many other waterfalls found along the road. Hidden behind a large cliff you should be able to find Gljúfrabúi. From the outside you are only able to see the top of the waterfall. It should be possible to see Gljúfrabúi in all its splendour by wading the river into a narrow opening in the cliff or by climbing a steep path up the cliff. We heard that the seight is well worth the trouble, but extreme caution should be exercised when attempting to reach the fall. Next time!
Skógafoss is half an hour drive from Seljalandsfoss and if you are a sucker for waterfalls, then you should definitely put it on your agenda. Skógafoss is beautiful, no doubt about that, but it didn't really do anything for me. Good thing the smiling rainbows where there to cast some additional shine on it. Just right to the waterfall you find a man-made stair case. We walked up the steep steps in hopes of getting an interesting view of the fall, but let me just tell you - save yourself the trouble, instead stay on the ground and simply enjoy the view. If you are up for some hiking however, this stair case is actually a great starting point for hikers, who want to trek to Landmannalaugar or Þórsmörk. When researching about Iceland I found both areas to be highly praised and much loved by hikers.
Svartifoss was in my eyes the most interesting waterfall of them all. This solitary black waterfall is hidden away in Skaftafell National Park and compared to the other ones, it requires a little more effort to reach as you have to do an inclined 1.5 km hike. Skaftafell National Park is huge and is one of these places where you can hike for days through valleys and across glaciers without crossing another soul. So it is pretty darn lucky, that Svartifoss is only a couple of kilometers from the entrance. Rain was drizzling when we paid this blackster a visit, but it was the perfect touch - adding a melancholic feel to the scene. I talked about them before, these columnar jointed basalt looking like an organ pipe. Here the columns are all pitch-black and serves as the walls of a spectacular amphitheater, which Svartifoss plunges itself into. The surreal appearance of this iconic waterfall is the architectural inspiration behind Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík. When we finally stood there, gazing upon Svartifoss, we completely understood why. Unfortunately we had to rush on, leaving little time to actually walk around and admire the waterfall from different viewpoints, but a long drive was waiting a head and night was catching up on us.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Sunrise at Ballehage Strand

Getting up early can be the most rewarding thing. This morning, we biked down to the beach of Ballehage Strand in Aarhus, Denmark to watch the sunrise at 4.30AM. It's not something we normally do. We did it once last year when we watched the sunrise with Ch&E at the pier of Aarhus Ø and had a very special breakfast. But other than that - never. I guess the long Danish summernights make this the ideal time of the year to do things like this. It hardly gets dark during the few hours at night when the sun is gone and the air doesn't get too cold, so in principal you can just find a good spot, pull an all-nighter and wait for the magic to happen.

In the early hours we met with our friend Maria to do a morning photo walk at the beach. These days there are a lot of sculptures located a long the coast because the biennial art exhibition Sculpture by the Sea is being held on Tangkrogen and Ballehage Strand. Normally the beach is swamped with people visiting the exhibition but not at this time of the day. It was refreshing to have the entire beach almost to ourselves. No distractions. No disturbance. Just us, the water and birds in the sky. As we reached one of the installations, The Eternity Bridge, the sun had taken it's first peek above the horizon. A couple hiding under a blanket was sitting quietly on the bridge, just enjoying the moment. It was so peaceful, calm and breathtakingly beautiful! We watched them watch the sunrise. Seemed like the perfect way to start the day.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Halsanefshellir basalt columns on Reynisfjara Beach

After seeing frosty diamonds at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon we took the long drive back to Vík. We made stops at Svinafellsjökull and Svartifoss on the way and didn't arrive in Vík before late evening. Personally, I was tired but even more so I was in need of a good hot shower. Three days had past since the last so a shower only seemed well-deserved. We searched high and low for a place to stay in town but all accommodation were already fully booked. Word of advice: Vík is definitely a popular stop over for tourists exploring the southern coast of Iceland, so make sure to book in advance if passing through! Thankfully, we were not completely out of luck as Nordur-Vik Youth Hostel came to our rescue. They offered us a good deal with free use of the bathrooms and a full high standard breakfast buffet the next morning, which included waffles and homemade bread. Definitely an upgrade from our usual self-cooked oatmeal! We took our well-deserved hot shower and spent the remaining evening in the dining area to fully warm up our bodies before returning to another night in the tent.

Next morning we took off around 9AM, heading towards Reynisfjara. Puffins can be seen at Dyrhólaey and Reynisfjara - the beach on the western side of Reynisfjall in Vík - so we were hoping to start the day off with a glimps of these colourful beaked birds. However, as we arrived the puffins had already left for the sea and only a large colony could be spotted in the distance, floating in the waters in front of the black volcanic sand beach. I am not really a bird-fanatic but I still had to swallow a ball of disappoinment as I realised we were indeed too late. Luckily, Reynisfjara beach is not only popular for its rich birdlife. Here you also find Hálsanefshellir which is a remarkable sea cave made of columnar jointed basalt, better known as the "organ pipe". Hálsanefshellir is a remarkable architectural work and these rock formations were surely speaking to our inner-geologists. Basalt rocks are formed from the rapid cooling of basaltic lava and this phenomenon can be observed at several places in Iceland, e.g. Svartifoss and Kirkjugolf on the Southern coast. I could have stood there the entire day completely mesmerized by those formations!

In real life, we spent and hour or so on the black beach; we climbed the columns and watched the ocean waves crashing into the rocks, before we continued our journey towards Reykjavik.