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Posts Tagged ‘horse’

Up at 6:15 and out of my alien spacecraft at 6:30.  I transferred our laundry to the dryer (thinking ahead), and went back to Laugardalslaug.  This was the perfect time to be here.  It was all old people, who knew the ways of the pool.  I managed the whole process correctly, following by example, sat stewing stoically in the hot pots with the old birds, and even used the hair dryers and lockers properly.   Back to camp, I started breaking, packed the car, waked my bro and retrieved the laundry.

Off to the camera store.

This is a matter of perspective.  Was it tremendously lucky that they had the exact same model camera as Derek’s flooded DSLR (only one of them), and that it had recently been reduced by 500kr, or did it really suck that it was still roughly twice as much as he’d got his on eBay?  It didn’t take very much discussion.

We bought it.

I tried to strong arm them for a further discount (pre-arranged; Derek said “I can never do that”; I said “for a thousand bucks, I can”), but there was no dice.  This is Iceland, she said.  Things cost more here; suck it up.   To preempt any suspense, the other camera came back to life (but waited until it was back in Canada to do so), and we recouped plenty of the cost, eventually.  But even without that compensation, that camera was totally worth it.

We left with the exact same camera, well, two actually, slightly a weird feeling, but one new one, working exactly like the old (new) one, now packed back into the (new) box.   All the lenses and accoutrements matched perfectly.  Derek was as overjoyed to have his camera back in his hands as I was to be driving.  Back out towards þingvellir, assured that it was worth seeing, on a now familiar road, under a cloudless sky.  Free to choose our destiny, and able to stop anywhere we pleased.

It was a very good morning.  We were bursting with happy and excited again.

At þingvellir in the blazing sun we walked around the historic area.  I really wasn’t feeling the whole “original democracy” legacy of this place, where the landowners and tribe leaders of Iceland’s history first gathered to argue, barter, revel and agree on early laws in the shelter of the natural ampitheatre of rocks, but I really liked the rocks, and we wandered far down a fissure away from the ”central attraction”, then back along the water of þingvallvatn (vatn= lake), looking at ducks and the elite summerhouses, to the little þingvallakirkja (kirkja=church) and cemetery at the bottom of the rift.

We wandered rather circuitously and timelessly around the paths and rivers in the sun, then back up through the Neðrivellir to the big, grandly flagged platform that now stands at the Lögberg, and up through the grand rift Almannagjá that’s as wide as a road.  This place is a tectonic boundary where Europe and North America are tearing away from each other (well, all of Iceland results from that fault and the associated volcanic activity), and here (as in other places in Iceland) you can see the ground literally splitting apart.  It’s sobering.  You can look down into the cracks in the earth’s crust at your feet.  Wow.

I had no patience for the cutting edge multimedia centre at the top of the hill, but let me tell you, the WCs were amazing.  Don’t miss those.  The entire wall of the bathroom was glass, a window looking out into the plain.  All the sinks and faucets were strangely suspended and automatic- you just waved at everything and it worked.  It was striking, like a magazine or art gallery, only with the whole room wide open to the wild with that glass wall so large it didn’t seem to be there at all.  Very impressive.

We drove around the other end of the park to look at Oxarafoss.  Yep, another foss.  I liked this one, I wanted to climb right into it, and it was very strong and blustery, so I got very wet creeping around the edges like Gollum at the pool of Ithilien.  We took some fun pictures and took some pictures for the other group of tourists there, quietly eating lunch on the rocks.  Remarkable- we were only a few hundred metres down the way from the logjam of tourists at the Lögberg, and here at this lovely spunky waterfall, almost no one.

þingvellir is one third of the “Golden Circle”, a trio of attractions that are so close to Reykjavík that almost everyone, even weekend trippers to the city, makes this circuit of Iceland’s features.  A foss, a geysir, some history, and we’ve seen Iceland.  Thank you come again.  This circle is so hyped and so abundantly supplied by every tour company in Iceland that I was all for skipping it entirely, but we were told not to, so we didn’t.  Despite the high traffic it’s still worth it- good advice.

Headed for Laugarvatn, it seemed to be a lot farther than we thought, and the gas light came on as we stopped at the caves.  Why here?  There was a little knot sign, (exactly like the command key on a mac, hmm?),  so we stopped.

An aside about the knots:  these little knot signs are EVerywhere.  They mark every and all “points of interest”, large and small.  What we found, though, when we started stopping at them, was that every one was totally worth the stop, for completely diverse reasons.  Most don’t qualify to “make the guidebook”, but every one is special.  One could make a project of taking Iceland knot by knot.  I’d love to visit every single one.

This one was the Laugarvatn caves, that the interpretive sign told us had sheltered a herd of sheep in a terrible storm, and had also been home to two families.  The men had been great carpenters and built front walls and doors on the front of the caves, and made them deeper, too, to accommodate growing families.  Looking into the “raw” caves, dripping and dark, it was a stretch to imagine.   The sign also matter-of-factly mentioned the elves that were known to live here (!).  Not to get all woowoo, but that was palpable.  It was  very magical place.

In Laugarvatn in the nick of time to tank up, there was a tense moment when both of my credit cards and my brothers’ didn’t work.  At least Derek’s was explainable; he hadn’t informed the bank he was going to Iceland, and he’d used his card in that vending machine!  Lockdown.  That could be fixed.  No idea why mine stopped, but it was a moment of stress.  I decided to ignore the problem and see if it went away (it did, by the next day).

Who needs money though, we had a car with a full tank, and we were off to see Iceland’s largest waterfall, Gullfoss.  We’d seen a fair few fosses already, and were prepared to be underwhelmed, but this one was really, really, big.  Too big for any pictures to really get it across.  It was like Niagara, in fact. Huge.

The giant swath of water turned a corner and dropped over two major steps.   You could walk around on the cliffs above it and it was big, you could walk down in the canyon, get soaked in the mist, walk right up to it, and it was BIG.  Massive.

We ambled around, taking pictures from every possible viewpoint, hanging out on the cliff above with the mist rising up from the river.

Here we got a good picture of what Iceland thinks about tourists.  Either they have far too much faith in “average intelligence”, or they don’t mind if they lose a few in the drink every year.

No guardrails, just a shelf of rock projecting into the bend in the river, with parents taking pictures of their kids standing around on it.  You can lie down and touch the water, screaming past at murderous volume and speed.  Niagara; I’m not exaggerating, and you can just walk around next to it.  Slip near the edge, and no one would even hear you scream, you’d just be gone.  This place sees thousands of tourists a day.   I was marveling.

The risk was intoxicating, vertiginous.  It was so loud, and wet, and windy.  I can’t believe you can be that close to so much power, and no one tries to protect you from yourself with sturdy guard rails.  I was frequently scared out of my mind in Iceland, but it was fantastic.

Next stop, Geysir.  O.G., the Original Geysir.  Yep, the geysir that all geysers are named after.

Geysir proper, the original 80m waterspout, has become irregular, reacting badly to people throwing stuff into it in the past and now erupting an unpredictable few times a day, but a literal stone’s throw away is “little” Strökkur, going off every 3-7 minutes, all day.  I was totally enthralled; we stayed here till sundown, and I wore

out a camera battery taking pictures of it.  It was great sport trying to capture the whole thing with multi-shot sport settings and video- there was hardly any warning.

This living pool of water would surge, ebb and flow, seething and subsiding out of the cauldron in the rust coloured earth, then suddenly would bulge like an overturned bowl with a great turquoise bubble, and shoot into the air, showering the whole area downwind with boiling water, which would then dart like snakes back into the hole in the ground to gather energy and repeat.

Amazing!  Lots of false quickdraws on the shutter.

I did get pictures of the bubble though, the most transient and pregnant moment, too fast to ever catch with the camera except by anticipating it with guesswork.

Again with the cavalier attitude towards tourists- all that boiling water flying around and a thin crust of earth over volcanic activity everywhere, and there’s a few ankle high ropes suggesting you stay back from the scalding zones- lots of little pools, pots, and spouts.  “Haetta” (=hot).  There was a bowl of water a crazy blue here, too, and up the hill, another brass marker pin, like we’d see lots of.

We stayed for probably 40 eruptions as whole sets of other tourists came and went; I was still unwilling to be torn away, still shrieking with surprise every time it fooled me.  Happy and satisfied, we eventually drifted away near sunset, taking the 500 north from þingvellir over some kind of pass towards Snæfellsnes (nes=peninsula).

We stopped randomly on the highway to take many many pictures of some horses, who promptly came up to the fence to visit and then gazed wistfully at us when we left.  Too cute.  We stopped again for Derek to take pictures of the developing (ridiculous) sunset, and I wandered off eating blueberries for supper.  Blueberries everywhere!  You could feed an army on blueberries in August.

Farther into this dirt road (that had looked like a highway on the map) and our surroundings turned ominous, to ash and rock before the light faded.  When the light died, we were trapped between nowhere.  Fog settled like a cage, and I could only see the edges of the road, and that barely.   Luckily the edges of the “road” were rocks mounded up, as though the road had been created by a plow pushing through rock (it probably had been, by a grader).  It was rough.  Derek revised his opinion of Kokanee Glacier Park road as “worst dirt road ever” on the spot.

The road seemed to climb forever, then it went up and down, and never once did the fog break even for a breath. It’s a bit weird to not see any other cars on a road for 12 hours too, and a bit disconcerting.   It was very isolating, and surreal, listening to Björk on repeat, three times through Gling Glo before we snapped out of it (after 2 weeks with 4 cds, I’ve lost the urge to ever hear Gling Glo again).

I was hugging the wheel always squinting at the ground directly in front of me and tensed, ready to correct, for sheep, or precipices, or pedestrians- who knew what could pop out of the fog. It was very fatiguing, and even after I said Ok, I just can’t go on like this, it was another half hour before the road seemed wide enough anywhere to park.

When I did park, we could hear water running, and I went to investigate.   I stumbled around in the dark off the road into a patch of giant ankle-twisting hummocks of grass, but I was so thrilled to see grass at all that I pronounced it totally suitable for camping.  Derek demurred, and pronounced me crazy.

I “set up” my tent (I had to get into it to hold it down in the wind- the video Derek tried to take of me wrassling with my tent in the headlights shakes with his laughter), and he elected to sleep in the car, which was actually rocking in the wind as well.  I had to wriggle around to get myself comfortable, curving my body to fit around the big mounds of grass, and my tent was bending to the wind down to my face, but I passed out effortlessly and slept without moving all night.

Right away we started taking glamour shots of our car, because everywhere we parked looked like a car advertisement. We ended up with 100s of car commercial photos.

I had one of my best nights of sleep ever, with amazing dreams.  I was just starting to feel the magic of sleep in Iceland, as we started to get out into the edges, and pretty soon I was like a junkie for sleeping on the ground here.

I have never slept and dreamed the way I did in Iceland, even on hard tilted ground or wriggled between chunks of rock.  I’m going to abandon trying to describe it, because I can’t, but the air and the earth in Iceland made sleep and dreaming a whole new layer of spiritual experience.

I can’t stop using words of shock and awe, “most, best, ever, never, -est, -est, -est”- superlatives all.  It all seems like hyperbole, but it’s not.  Iceland is superlative.  The whole place is elemental.  I really did see the edges of my experience there, with almost everything natural.

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DSCF6714I woke up in the early dawn suspecting that rain would catch me out and scooted inside.  When it didn’t rain I scooted back out to the grass, disliking the nylon barrier between me and the sky.  I wasn’t even sleeping on my mat anymore, just using it as a pillow.

I'm in here, doing a backbendOur clothes we had draped on the shrubs were mostly dry.  We went looking for Hjálparfoss in our vicinity- a very nice foss tumbling over basalt arches.  I tried to do a handstand perched on a tip of rock facing the foss, but the battering wind made it too dangerous.  I had to settle for a backbend.

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Leaving there, we came unexpectedly on Stöng II, þjóðveldisbær. This is a modern recreation of the sod farmhouse at Stöng.

IMGP7256We were very lucky that there were some men working there when we showed up.  They let us walk around inside, and we got to see the sod building techniques in action.  What is that!  Oh, a dog.Inside, the house was deeply dark, and we were taking flash pictures again to see what we were walking around.  DSCF6646

In the dark, something brushed against my legs.  I thought I’d imagined it, then it happened again, and it felt alive.  I took a picture of the area and it was a coal black dog checking us out.

When one of the men said “Oh, lights,” and turned them on for us, then we could see all the features – the wooden bed boxes that seemed quite short, the central fire pit, the pooping area – and some interpretive signs.  It’s a gorgeous place, ready to move right into.

Outside, the men were repairing a corner of the building, laying a piece of sod and then slicing the edge off of it to match the layers beneath, in a very crisp line.  He was using a drawknife, constantly stropping it to keep it sharp cutting through sod.

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Their dog, a bit of a puppy, was sweet and very bright, and we had some fun throwing sticks for it in the lush green backyard.  In spite of the extension cords and tools lying around, this place felt like a pre-machinery farm, relaxing and vibrant.   I remember this area being full of green and rock valleys, where the road would wind around and up and down, sort of hobbitty.

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The sun was out and with the good weather we backtracked to Háifoss, Iceland’s second highest waterfall.  It was very impressive, and you walk right up to it and look down into the big gorge that the waterfall drops into.

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Around lunchtime we stopped and took a short walk around a tree farm at a place possibly called Selfit.  The wind had been intense all day and it was nice to take a break walking in the woods.  It was unusual to be in proper trees, so I realized that I hadn’t been missing trees at all in Iceland; it fact I’d barely noticed their absence and it was strange to be reminded of trees walking through a forest.

IMGP7406We got back to the car and I made some open face sandwiches.  We had a very simple diet in Iceland, and it revolved around the most readily available fruits and veggies.  Lots of sandwiches with spiced cream cheese, cucumbers and tomatoes.  We’d snack on bell peppers and bananas, (supplementing of course with plenty of sweet and savoury candy/snacks).

Today, it was cucumber  with cream cheese on rye.  As soon as I made mine I opened my door, and just as Derek was saying “are you sure you want to do th–“ the wind lifted all the cucumber slices off my bread as one and whisked them away, throwing some in the gravel, some rolling away like wheels.IMGP7394  I ran out chasing them while Derek shook with laughter inside the car.  Sigh.

Just up the road there was a big knot sign but there was no interpretive sign.  We climbed up this big promontory that seemed like the attraction – unusually bulky and separate, standing by the side of the road.  Perhaps the sign might be up there, but there was nothing.  It was a mystery.

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View straight downThis was our last whole day in Iceland, and we were on the hunt for another chance to ride horses.  We were in the area for horse farms, the agricultural southwest, and there were plenty of horses grazing in the fields.  Eventually we made some phone calls out of the book.  someone said No, too windy, then someone said Yes, come in an hour.

With an hour to “kill”, we put some gas in the car and some ice cream in us.  We drove out to Skaholt, then back to the farm for our date with the Icelandic horse (I think this farm was Sýðra Langholt, but that is not entirely sure.  I can’t recommend them highly enough, if I knew who to recommend).DSCF6693

Our last riding experience had left something to be desired, and I really wanted to try again.  This time is what all it could be.

The whole event was different from the beginning.  We were hovering around the barn when three beautiful young women rode up to us and jumped off their horses.  They asked us a bunch of questions, introduced themselves and their friend who had come along because we were going for a ride,  and pointed out the helmets for us to choose from, all while they quickly saddled up two more horses for us as theirs stood.  We all set out together, continuing to chat, while they discussed where we might go, deciding on the loop we would take back to the barn.  There was no speech, no safety briefing, no trail, and no formality. No performance.

DSCF6696The moment I got on my horse it was listening and responding to me, ears swiveling around at me alertly.  It was wonderful!  I was riding the horse, not sitting on the horse while it walked behind another horse.  We rode on the road for a bit, then left the road and went through fields, along a hill, all riding in a group, changing our order, picking up and dropping speed. The horses wanted to stay together but we were also clearly in charge of our own horse, and they were sensitive and obedient. The girls were friendly and asked us some questions and also boisterously chatted and laughed in Icelandic with each other.  It was exactly like we had stopped in on some friends and were just out for a ride.

We totally tolted!  It was fast, so I was a little bit nervous when all the horses opened up together, but then it got very smooth, and I felt very comfortable again.  Possibly we paced too.  It’s hard to tell from on the horse, but the trot is very rough, even more so than a western horse because their stride is so much shorter with the short legs, and then it just becomes comfortable and sustainable, while you’re still flying.DSCF6704

Two hours!  We stopped for the horses to eat some grass and drink, rode some more, let the horses run and then we brought them in, took their saddles off and watched them all drop to roll the saddle itch off.  It was such a blissful experience, and not like a business exchange at all.  She passed me the wireless card reader in the barn like an afterthought, we said goodbyes, and left content.

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Feeling like we had now definitely had the experience of riding an Icelandic horse, we headed back to the big city.  We saw a stone réttir on the way – the sorting pen for sheep.  DSCF6720It was a work of art.

At Selfoss we found that washing your car is always free, which is fantastic, to not rush against the time a few quarters buys you.  Maybe not so fun to wash outside when it gets cold and windy.

In Reykjavík we went straight to Perlan for the waffle I was craving since our first breakfast, then to the campsite to empty out the car.  DSCF6741Nearly packed back into my suitcase, I had a giddy moment of thinking “I can bring so much more stuff back” with the empty space I seemed to have.

Then we drove the waterfront for the first time to Kryddlegin Hjörtu for a most satisfying supper.  This is probably my favourite restaurant in Iceland – relaxed, great value, always tasty, predictable, high quality vegetarian soup and salad bar.  Ahhhh.  Already a bit emotional to be at the end of our trip, I drove us back to Perlan for some nighttime pictures of Reykjavík from the deck.

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After vacuuming out the car at a gas station I tried to find my way back to the owner’ place just by following my nose.  I’d been there once to pick up the car, but that had been weeks ago.  I didn’t do too bad but got lost right near his place.  Dropped off back at the campsite (Reykjavík’s city campsite), I couldn’t find Derek anywhere!  Turned out he was asleep.  I left my luggage in my tent on slept on the ground outside it, as per usual.  The night was cloudy, but it didn’t rain until morning.

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There are several more pictures from this sunny day on the Extra Photos page.

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