Friday, October 14, 2016

Iceland road trip - day 3

Friday 16 September 2016

I remember dreaming about the Northern lights and at some point, I even woke up to draw the curtains and do a quick check. The sky was still cloudy, and there was no sign of the Lights, so I went back to sleep. I'd been keeping a close eye on the aurora forecast, but it disappointingly only said 'low' to 'moderate' for most of the days we were going to be in Iceland. 

Xena woke up early again, but not as early as the morning before. Around 5.30 or so, I heard a giggle, followed by "Mama, there is a piece of mushroom stuck to my teeth! Wait, it's in my tummy now!" I sat up indignantly, wondering who it was who had brushed her the night before and not done a good job at removing the errant piece of mushroom. Turns out, it was me. Damn. So I went back to sleep after convincing her to lie down too, at least till her father woke up and took over. Viv, of course, had no jet lag anymore since he'd been at Amsterdam for over a week. No wonder he slept like a log, until it was almost time to leave. 

Xena checks out her bunk bed. She hadn't used it at all, by the way. 

And off we go! Can you see the cloud cover over the mountains?

Xena declared that she 'wanted to climb up this mountain and touch the clouds'.

Beautiful scenery along the way

On the way, I briefed Viv about the day's detailed itinerary. We were going to start with the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, and see a few more fosses, and then try and find a glacier, and then head to the black beach, which some of you might remember from the song 'Gerua' in Dilwale. 

I'd read many people raving about the back of Seljalandfoss on tripadvisor, and it had prompted only one question in my head -- what on earth was 'the back of a waterfall'? My question was soon to be answered, and how!

The day before had been so spectacular that I was wondering how the rest of the days were going to beat that. One look at the Seljalandfoss waterfall and I wondered no more. 

It was stunning, to say the least. (And this photo doesn't even do it justice.)

One of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland, Seljalandfoss has a height of 60 metres. It is a part of the Seljalands river that originals from the glacier Eyjafjallajökull. 

Okay, so you see the little coloured specks in the background? Yeah, those are people. 

So that's what 'the back of the waterfall' meant! You could literally walk up and stand between the rocky cliff and the waterfall. 

It was drizzling again, but even without the rain, we'd have got wet from the strong mist the waterfall was sending out in all directions. Anyway, we put on our raincoats and started the slippery, muddy, treacherous climb towards the waterfall. Viv was walking in front, and I was holding Xena's hand and guiding her along. 

The muddy, scary, slippery path

At one point, I almost lost my footing and got really panicky, wondering for a second if it was a good idea to have brought Xena to a place like that. Maybe I should have stayed in the car with her and let Viv do this. Or he should have stayed in the car with her and I should have gone, considering I'm the one more likely to get excited about hiking up to see 'the bum of a waterfall'. Somehow, Viv sensed my fear (it is no secret that I'm infinitely clumsier than him) and immediately took Xena's hand. So now he had the two precious items - Xena and the DSLR, while I focused on preventing myself from falling straight into the waterfall. 

Finally, we found ourself standing between the cliff and the waterfall. So this is what the back of a waterfall looks like! 

Standing there was a surreal experience. 

We admired the back of the waterfall for a while and then started another rocky, uphill climb to go around it. This climb was even trickier than the previous one, and I was really proud of the way Xena handled it, with nary a complaint. At last we were on the other side near the stream. Thanks to crazy amounts of googling before the trip, I knew about the lesser known, but unique Gljúfrabúi, a waterfall so cleverly masked by its own canyon that if you don't know about it, you totally miss it, even though it's just metres away from the spectacular Seljalandfoss. 

Walking towards the Gljúfrabúi waterfall

More dried wildflowers

You need to follow the stream to find the way to Gljúfrabúi

We followed the stream and reached Gljúfrabúi. And that's when we realised it. There was ankle deep water between us and the waterfall. 

That's Viv telling us to stop. There was even a sign saying that it was possible to go into the cave, but it was not for everybody. It also advised people to remove their shoes and wade into the water if they wanted to safely get closer to the waterfall. And oh, it also warned of falling rocks from the top. Great. It wouldn't be a good idea to get inside with Xena. 

Viv said he'd try to get as far in as possible and get some photos. 

And boy, did he capture some amazing shots!

It's amazing how a 40-metre tall waterfall can be so well-hidden away from sight. 

We saw a Singaporean couple getting their wedding photography shots. It looked incredibly corny, if you ask me, to see them running in slow motion towards the photographer and I really wondered how Bollywood actors manage a straight face when filming songs.

We were soon on our way to see another foss - Skógafoss. It was strange that we were not yet sick of seeing waterfalls. Each of them had a unique character and beauty, and it was sheer delight to see something so huge and so spectacular. I had no idea that Skógafoss was going to be my most favourite waterfall ever!

Oh nooooo... rain again!

By now, Xena was taking her apparent rain-warding off powers quite seriously, and to our amazement, every time we'd be on the road, it would rain a lot and by the time we reached each of our destinations, it would slow down to a slight drizzle or stop completely. 

Our first view of Skógafoss

Check out the number of tourist buses and cars. And this was the off-season!

There was a viewing platform at the top and we only had to climb about 400 steps to get there. No big deal -- I'd climbed 704 steps at the Eiffel Tower.  

Xena and me trying to sprint up the steps. (Yeah, that didn't last too long.) 

Finally! We'd made it to the top!

View from the top

Viv carried Xena down, while I descended slowly, taking more photos along the way. 

Crazy mist from the waterfall

By the time I got down, father and daughter were engrossed in a shoe-cleaning session at the stream. 

"Mama, I'm a swan!" She said. 

Skógafoss is one of Iceland's biggest waterfalls, with a width of 25 metres and a height of 60 metres!

Parting shot with the stunning waterfall

Lunch in the car -- my tikka masala kjúklingur ('kjúklingur' means 'chicken' in Icelandic) was surprisingly tasty for something we'd picked up at a supermarket. 

Lo and behold -- as soon as we sat in the car, it started raining again! We had planned to check out the Sólheimasandur plane wreck, also a very popular tourist destination. In 1973, a US Navy DC plane had run out of fuel and crashed on the black beach at Sólheimasandur. Fortunately, everyone in the plane survived, but the wreckage (white plane on black sand) presented quite a sight and because such an iconic object that it was never removed. By the way, I read that the plane had 'run out of fuel' because the pilot had switched over to the wrong fuel tank. Oh boy! Some of you may remember the plane again from the song 'Gerua' from Dilwale, where Kajol and SRK are literally standing on top of the wreckage and dupatta-udaofying. 

Much as we wanted to see it, the rain made it impossible, as it was a 3.6 km walk from the carpark to the plane. There was no way Xena (or even we, for that matter) would be able to walk 7.2 km in the cold, windy, rainy weather. So we decided to skip it and head for the Myrdasfjökull glacier.

We followed directions to the carpark, but strangely, there was absolutely no glacier in sight. Were we in the wrong place? Or had the glacier melted because it was not winter? Okay, that sounded ridiculous. 

And then we spotted this sight -- glacier hikers! So we were in the right spot then. 

We decided to head in the direction that we had seen the hikers go in. It was around 4 degrees and quite windy. And then of course, it started drizzling. We were in two minds about whether to carry on or turn back because it was cold and we could see no sign of the hikers we had seen earlier. However, Xena was quite adamant that we carry on till we could see the glacier. 

And just like that, the glacier could be seen peeking in the distance!

This is my favourite photo from the entire holiday! I wanted to show how Xena's pink raincoat was popping against the whiteness and the greyness, and the fact that Viv's clothes blended in so beautifully into the background was the icing on the ice! A lot of friends who saw this picture refused to believe that it had no colour filter applied or Photoshop done to it.

Looking at a glacier from such close quarters had to be one of the biggest highlights of the holiday. Not only was it a first for all of us, it was just an incredible experience to be looking at something so magnificent standing right there in front of us. I remember feeling very cold, and also remember not wanting to leave!

Somehow, Xena had the idea that she'd get to climb the glacier, so she was somewhat disappointed when we stopped at the sign asking people not with a professional glacier-hiking guide not to venture any further. 

So we took pics... lots of them!

Daddy and baby having a moment

The Myrdasfjökull glacier is the fourth largest glacier in Iceland, with an area of about 596 square kilometres! 

It was a long, long, long walk to get close to and back from the glacier, and we saw very few people. We did meet a lady on the way back though, who seemed very amused at the sight of Xena bravely marching along with us. She smiled and remarked, "Is this any less than Disney World?"

Viv was quite keen on doing the glacier hike some day. The minimum age for the hike is 10 years so it was impossible for us to go with her. I offered to stay back with Xena if he wanted to go for it, but he didn't want to leave us behind and go. 

Soon, we were back in the car and headed towards the last destination for the day -- the famous black beach at Reynisfjara. And of course, part of 'Gerua' was shot here too. The movie was so bad that I bet the producers didn't even recover the amount they spent on the song!

First view of Reynisfjara

It is actually a black pebble beach, and not so much a black sand beach as it's commonly known as.

Can you believe Viv put his precious DSLR on the ground to get this shot of the pebbles and the beach??

Xena, for some reason, wanted to jump on the pebbles. So she jumped. A lot. 

We managed to make her stop jumping just for a bit, so we could take some photos. 

This cliff is made of basalt columns! Can you spot Viv?

Xena and I climbed the columns too. 

Why is her expression so teenager-y? Hmmmph!

Basalt sea stacks known as Reynisdrangar

There was also a beautiful basalt cave at the beach, known as Hálsanefshellir.

Check out the projections inside the cave!

We saw these two fish lying at the beach -- probably dropped by a puffin. The area is known to have very rich birdlife. 

We saw this strange object and Xena immediately wanted to know if it was a part of a dinosaur (she's big into dinosaurs these days)!

Viv and Xena spent some time playing 'chase' with the waves, but they had to be very careful, as the waves at Reynisfjara are known to be very powerful and unpredictable that can sneak up on you unannounced, knock you over and pull you in. 

Here's a video I took of the waves.

After describing the day's travels, it almost seems wrong not to include the video of the song 'Gerua', so here it is (along with the making)!  

We were quite exhausted by now, and happily headed to our homestay in Einarsstadir. Our host had a dog that was named after him, and it was hilarious to see Xena half-afraid and half-curious about it. 

It was still early evening, so we went to have a snack at a nearby restaurant called Vikurgrill. They had an amazing veggie burger! We returned to our homestay and found that a guy from Singapore was our flat mate! He was very friendly and even offered to make us pancakes for breakfast the next day. We politely declined it for ourselves, but I did tell him that I'd be very grateful if he could make a pancake for Xena. (She wasn't eating much during the trip and I was getting worried.) 

Dinner was at a place called Strondin, where I finally had a chance to try the famous Icelandic lamb soup. Well, it was okay, and I was happy to check it off my list, but I found myself enjoying the flavour of the broth and the vegetables much more than the actual lamb pieces.  



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