Monday, September 29, 2014

ICELAND'S SOUTH SHORE: SEA STACKS, BLACK SAND AND GLACIERS

Today's tour was our longest at 11 hours and the only one we did in a full-sized bus of Reykjavik Excursions. This 70-pax coach had disadvantages over the mini-bus/van tours we had done previously. The biggest being no spur-of-the-moment stops or detours for photography and little chance to ask the guide questions — they run on a tight, unwavering schedule. The benefit is the height above the road, but I would avoid this mode of tour in the future and willingly pay more for a mini-van tour.

That being said, I had sunshine yet again on my last full day in Iceland. Once we got to the real start of the excursion as we neared the coast, about 90 minutes after we left Reykjavik, it began to get interesting. 

To the north the mountainous highlands appeared capped in snow, and the nearer mountains were craggy and green with moss. We drove through the Icelandic horse breeding region and I saw many foals with their mares in the fields and was lucky enough to watch a horse and rider doing the tolt — a fifth gait that is a cross between a high-stepping walk and a trot. But what is intriguing is the the rider is absolutely still in the saddle and can carry a full glass without spilling it. Of course, it was the only time that I didn't have my camera with me at a rest stop.

This view to the right is typical of the day's drive showing a good road and a farm tucked beneath the hills. Our first major stop was at the Myrdalsjokull (glacier), where seven tour participants joined some mountain guides for a three-hour hike on the glacier itself.

I joined the rest for a trek along a rocky path past the glacial lagoon to the tongue where the icebergs break off and float away to melt. The bergs and tongue are covered in black volcanic ash and sand, so were dirty and not so beautiful as I'd expected. This trek is not accessible to those with mobility challenges. It takes half an hour of ups and downs over sharp lava rocks. Very worthwhile indeed. On the return, a heavy shower produced a rainbow, but we were drenched. This is common apparently as the prevailing wind blows the clouds up over the first height of land here.

I saw the Eyjafjallaj√∂kull volcano that erupted in 2010 looking benign in the sun. The farm below was safe but got covered in 15 cms of ash and so were the sheep in the fields. People can be evacuated quickly, but over 200 animals presented difficulties and many did not survive despite heroic efforts on the part of the rescue services.

But the highlight for me was the long stop at the black sand beach at Vik. This is a photographer's paradise. Here the wild North Atlantic has carved rocks, holes, stacks, caves, and sand from the black lava. 

The cliffs behind me were home to fulmars and they soared and wheeled around their perches on sheer rock faces. Below the birds were two caves that were bordered by the same hexagonal basalt columns I'd seen in Staffa, Hebrides.







But the iconic view was off the beach — the sea stacks. The sun was shining brightly from behind them through the sea spray kicked up by the breaking waves. The photography was tricky. But here are my efforts below.
















I had one of my fave Icelandic dishes for lunch here — the famous meat soup. This is really lamb stew packed with veggies and butter-tender shredded lamb and served in a huge bowl with a spoon. It lasted me till 8 p.m!

After lunch I saw two more stunning waterfalls — Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss, the one you can walk behind if you want to get soaked through. Also stopped for over-long at an Icelandic Folk Museum next door to Skogafoss that was ridiculously packed with every artifact they had been given, and a modern transportation museum next door. The latter was of no interest to me so I went out to see the turf houses. They had been restored inside as they were during the early 1900s with small but cosy living quarters, storerooms and workrooms. 


On the left is a typical "box bed." They are shorter than we are and often have a curtain for privacy. The living/dining room (right) was roomy and well- equipped.

The ride back to Reykjavik was long and covered the same ground as we had traveled in the morning, so it was boring. The tour company failed to deliver everyone back to their hotel door, which was disappointing as everyone was very tired. For my husband, the half-mile walk uphill was impossible so we refused to get out of the bus. They then took us back to the terminal and a mini-van drove us home. By then it was 8 p.m. and a beer and dinner beckoned.

I appreciated the opportunity that Reykjavik Excursions provided so I could experience the south shore of Iceland.

IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos 2014. All rights reserved.