Saturday, October 22, 2016

Iceland road trip - day 6

Monday 19 September 2016

We were up early and gathered in the kitchen to make pancakes for breakfast! I'd looked up the Icelandic text on Google Translate and found that all I needed to add to the powder was butter and water. Our host had kindly told us to use whatever we wanted from his fridge so butter was not an issue. It felt nice to be sitting and having breakfast in a place that was not the inside of a car! 

Soon, we were ready and set off. Xena was incredibly sad to say goodbye to Gulli, but she was soon distracted by how cold it was that day. 4 degrees C, to be precise. It was so cold that even after we were inside the car, our collective teeth were chattering. 

Xena found a good way to keep warm -- use Mama's warm jacket as a blanket. 

And off we go! 

More haystacks -- black and white, this time!

Our first stop was Dettifoss waterfall in the Vatnajökull National Park. Holding the distinction of being the most powerful waterfall in Europe, it is 100 metres wide with a drop of 45 metres down to the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. The average water flow is 193 m3/s

It was quite a long walk to get to the waterfall...

...which seemed even longer because of how bitterly cold we were feeling.

After hiking about 600 metres, we finally reached! 

It was magnificent!

The sheer size of it was mind-boggling. 

Crazy amounts of mist caused by the powerful Dettifoss

We walked around the waterfall, taking photos. Some of the people were taking the rugged footpath down to get a closer look at the falls, but it looked too dangerous for us to take Xena, so we didn't go all the way down. Even the grassy slopes were wet and slippery, so we had to be very very careful while walking around. 

We didn't stay too long because of the cold, and soon started our walk back to the carpark. The 600-metres on the way back felt like 6 kilometers, given that all of us were freezing by then. And for some weird reason, my shoelace knots kept coming off, delaying my exit from the area. My face and limbs actually felt numb. I can safely say that the walk back from Dettifoss was the coldest I'd been on the entire vacation. I was very proud of Xena though. She was visibly cold, yet she really kept her grace and patience levels up. 

Viv and Xena trying to make a mad dash on the way back

We were supposed to go see another waterfall called Selfoss nearby but we were in no state to go see it. All we wanted to do at that point was just get into the car and stay there. 

As soon as Xena got into her carseat, she did this. Poor baby. She was that cold. 

But soon, her cheeky little face emerged... and borrowed my sunglasses!

We spotted the white steam coming from the Krafla geothermal power plant. Xena hilariously kept referring to Krafla power plant as Powerpuff plant!

I'd read somewhere that Iceland is the only country in the world that gets 100% of its electricity and heat from renewable sources, with 75% coming from hydropower (so many fosses!) and 25% from geothermal power. 

Krafla is Iceland's largest power station. 

The Krafla area includes a famous Viti explosion crater with a beautiful aqua blue lake inside. 'Viti' in Icelandic means 'hell', named by people in the olden days who believed that hell existed under the volcanoes. 

The diameter of the crater is about 300 metres. It was formed as a result of a massive eruption in the Krafla volcano, known as Myvatnseldar, which lasted five years (1724-1729)! 

Viv and Xena pose with the Viti crater. 

Ooh, just looking at this photo reminds me of how cold and windy that day was!

The area around the crater was muddy and slippery, and I backed out of the rim walk after just taking a few steps and looking at the state of my shoes. Xena, of course, followed suit. She's even more finicky about keeping her shoes clean. So Xena and I decided to give the crater walk a miss, but Viv went and got some amazing shots of the area.

It looks like a whole other planet, doesn't it?

The entire area was full of such shallow craters. 

We drove to the Krafla power station, but we couldn't get inside (of course, what was I thinking?), so we drove past it. 

Check out the magnificent lava fields in the area!

I was so fascinated by the thought that we were driving in an area that once had boiling hot lava spilling everywhere!

Within a short distance from the crater is the geothermal area of Hverir, full of boiling mudpools and fumaroles (an opening in the ground, usually near a volcano, through which hot sulphurous gases emerge). We almost missed the area, but we saw some cars parked in the middle of nowhere as we were driving past and we knew that it had to be Hverir. We'd already driven past but Viv turned the car around and took us back there.

The stunning landscape of Hverir

As soon as we got out of the car, the strong sulphur smell hit us. Xena must have said "disgusting" some 30 times over the 5 minutes we spent there. 

The boiling mudpools reminded me of the ones we had seen in Rotorua in New Zealand nine years ago. That, incidentally, was our first road trip ever!

These boiling mudpools are created when fumarole gas rises through the surface water, forming sulphuric acid that dissolves the rock and soil to form the 'mud'. 

I couldn't get enough of the mudpools and kept peeking into them. Xena had had enough of the smell. 

Glad I remembered to capture a video. Wish I could have captured the smell as well. Just for kicks, hehe!

Xena couldn't believe I was standing right next to the fumaroles. 

Fumarole gas contains sulphur hydroxide, responsible for the typical 'sulphur' smell that hot spring areas are associated with. The smell was revolting, but the experience was riveting. 

I was sad as I took this parting shot of Hverir. It had truly felt like an other-worldly experience. Xena, meanwhile, couldn't wait to rush inside the car. 

Our next stop was Myvatn, featuring the famous shallow lake by the same name. But a lot of drama happened before we got there. We had just set out towards Myvatn when we encountered a Korean family stuck by the side of the road with a flat tyre. Viv tried to help them but their car didn't have the right tools. Even our car didn't have the right tools to fix it. They didn't have a working phone with them, so Viv asked them for their rental documents and called the folks to send help. The Korean couple thought that after doing this, we'd be on our way, but we just couldn't leave them there. I was so glad that Viv and I were on the same wavelength as I heard him tell the family that we'd wait till the repair guy came and everything was sorted out. 

An hour's wait and several phone calls later, a mechanic finally reached. I'm so glad we'd stayed on because the repair guy was having difficulty locating us, so we had to call him again to guide him. Finally, he reached and confirmed that the tools were indeed missing. He went back to his giant van, took out a giant power tool and in 10 seconds flat (no pun intended), changed the tyre. Gosh! 

The Korean couple were extremely grateful to us and even gave us two Korean cup o' noodles as a token of thanks! How cute! Once we drove off, I told Viv how proud I was of him for everything that he'd done to help them, and he said that he knew he wouldn't even have to consult me about staying back till the mechanic came, and that he knew I'd be totally on board with his thoughts. That's true. I was also glad that Xena got to witness how you need to help a fellow human being in need, even it meant changing your plans.  

And back we were on the road, enjoying some lovely views. 

More haystacks -- don't these remind you of marshmallows?

We were quite hungry by the time we reached Lake Myvatn, so we headed straight to a cafe nearby for lunch. In general, we found food in Iceland to be on the expensive side. Even a simple sandwich could cost as much as 15 dollars!

We had a nice view of Lake Myvatn from the cafe. 

Xena was eating her pasta rather slowly, so Viv started a ridiculous game with her in which she was a ferocious velociraptor (her dinosaur-obsession was at its peak, remember?) and the pasta was other animals that needed devouring. 

Viv's expression will tell you how ferocious and hungry the velociraptor was. Xena, like me, seemed very amused at first. 

But soon, she was engrossed in the game and every bit of pasta and vegetables, pretending that they were all sorts of land and sea creatures. 

It was absolutely hilarious!

The cafe also had a tiny play area for kids, with lego blocks. We let Xena play there for a few minutes after her lunch. 

Then we took a walk to see the beautiful Lake Myvatn. Here, Viv and Xena break into a run to see who gets to the lake first. 

The lake was gorgeous. The wind was very strong and it created beautiful ripples on the lake. 

As you can see, the lake was indeed very shallow. This might have been the location where SRK and Kajol shot the 'walking on water' section of the song 'Gerua' in Dilwale.

Xena and I walked around the lake for a bit, looking at the ducks. She was very amused to see them dive head-on to catch fish. 

Soon, we were on our way again towards our accommodation - Storu Laugar Guesthouse. 

Whatever reservations I had about the word 'guesthouse' rapidly disappeared when I saw the place. It was absolutely gorgeous. It was right in the middle of the mountains with scenic views all around. 

Our room was clean, cosy and beautiful. They had even provided really warm, woollen bathrobes! Outside, in the corridor, was a shelf with a kettle and dozens of flavours of teabags so you could make a cup of tea anytime you wanted. 

There was even a cosy reading/tea area with a window in front. I was so amused to see the two of them in identical poses, reading their respective books. In case you're curious about what Xena was reading...

...what else? Ha!

After a while, we went out to check out the place. We discovered that they had a horse stable and an outdoor hot tub. An outdoor tub on a 4 degrees C day? Sounds crazy, right? But Xena and I were determined to get in. We'd skipped the famous Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik because I'd read that it's too touristy and expensive and that a better option were the Myvatn nature baths. To discover a hot tub in our own backyard was delightful. Xena and I changed into our swimwear, but we saw that a group of four people was already in the tub. It wasn't big enough for all of us, so we waited and hawkishly kept watch (luckily we had a clear view of the hot tub from our room's window). Finally, we saw them leave and literally leapt for the tub. 

Viv, who's not a fan of getting into water bodies of any kind, opted out so we appointed him the official photographer. 


A kiss from baby Voly (her nickname for 'velociraptor') to mommy Voly

The water was very hot — almost 38 degrees C — as measured by the duck-shaped thermometer bobbing in the tub. It was awesome. We tried again but Viv absolutely refused to get into the hot tub. "Dude, it's almost 40 degrees!" I teased. "It's not the 40 degrees I'm thinking about," he said, "it's the 4 degrees when I get out of that 40-degree tub!" I remember cracking a PJ about how that would be the real brrrexit, and I remember him laughing a lot.  

Xena and I stayed in for a while, just enjoying the warmth of the water and views all around. Even after we got out, we realised we didn't feel cold. I suppose the wind makes all the difference. Just a couple of hours ago, our bones were freezing because of the cold and the wind and now even with a lower temperature, we seemed to survive just fine in nothing but our swimwear! 

We showered and headed for dinner to this place called 'Dalakofinn Utibu'. It's a family-run restaurant and grocery store, and it was the only other place in the area that served food. 

Posing as we wait for our dinner

Check out the very well-stocked bar behind us!

Xena took this photo. I'm not kidding. I'd to help her a bit with keeping it steady, but she's getting quite good with handling the DSLR. 

Yummy food and drinks — I had the most amazing pizza and long island tea ever! 

Cheeky Xena pretending to be fast asleep

As we were leaving, I realised how strong my drink had been. I was glad I wasn't the one driving, because I was so high I was ready to conjure up my own Northern Lights! The aurora forecast had showed 'high' for the first time in the time we were there and we knew that that night would probably be our best and only chance. I also kept telling Viv that I had a very good feeling about the place we were staying at but I didn't know why. 

I found out that night why. 

I went to sleep with my alarm set to wake me up every two hours as usual. Viv said he had some work to finish and would take another 20 minutes. His 20 minutes became two hours and just as he was wrapping up, I sleepily reminded him to look out of the window to see if the Lights were there. He did and I heard him say, "Hmmm... What's that..." I literally jumped out of my sleep, out of the dream I was having about the Lights and rushed to the window. There were some white streaks in the distance, which to the untrained eye, might have seemed like clouds, but after extensively researching the Lights, I just knew that that was what we were looking at. We stared hard and after a long time, they started swishing around, confirming that they were the Northern Lights and not clouds!

We must have made quite a commotion because Xena woke up. I'd promised to wake her up anyway if the Lights came on, but I thought I'd do that when they were very prominent. Anyway, she was up and stayed up for another 45 min trying to see the lights. It was very hard to photograph them though, but Viv tinkered around with the exposure and soon, we actually saw the GREEN lights! In fact, the camera showed a lot more green than we saw live. Viv switched lenses and soon he was taking the most gorgeous photos! I was so excited I thought I was going to faint. Seriously. I messaged everyone in every part of the world who would care about the fact that we'd seen the Lights! 

Viv put on the woollen bathrobes provided by the guesthouse and went outside to take more photos from next to and inside the car. We were up till about 3 a.m. taking photos and admiring the lights. Then I asked Viv to pose next to the car and I took a photo from inside our room. The exposure time was so long that it was difficult to keep the camera still for so long. We didn't even have a tripod. So I just had to click and hold the camera steady even after clicking, for as long as I could, and hope that it was sharp. Luckily, that photo came out stunning. 

I was so excited I couldn't sleep. I wanted to post the photos on Facebook as well as my blog that very instant. So Viv lent me his laptop. My iPad wouldn't let me upload photos to the blog, grrrr.

Finally, we decided that we'd had enough and that it was quite late. But much as I tried, I just couldn't sleep. I couldn't believe how lucky we'd gotten. That too, on multiple levels. The fact that the aurora forecast showed a 5 (the only 'high' rating during our entire trip) on a day when we were in the northernmost part of Iceland, closest to the North Pole, away from any city lights, was a real boon. Also, the fact that a sleepy Viv decided to say the words "what is that..." instead of silently dismissing the white steaks as clouds and going off to sleep was another big factor. If he'd slept off without saying anything to me, I wouldn't have jumped out to see what was going on, and we'd have totally missed it. We'd have missed seeing THE NORTHERN LIGHTS THAT WERE ON OUTSIDE OUR VERY ROOM!

I'll leave you with some of the photos of the Lights that we took that night. No captions needed.



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