elemental delights

3_Dryholaey CliffsDyrhholaey Cliffs West of Vik – Day 3

We head east again along the Ring Road and drive across the narrow peninsula to the nature reserve of Dyrholaey, arcing out from the mainland. We look back directly across to the farmhouses dotting the virulent green of the South Shore. Mounting the cliffs secures a spectacular view of the elemental wonders of a different geology – earth uplifted, after our ice excursion. These cliffs are composed of rock from submarine volcanic eruptions 100,000 years ago made of tuff , volcanic ash ejected from underwater vents during eruption, eventually compacted into solid rock containing bedrock, tephra, and volcanic ash all ground into one impressive cliff. This “haey” or high island consists of tuff while the eastern “lagey” or low island is composed of dolerite, basalt, and labradorite. One landmark feature includes a promontory archway, large enough for boats to pass through, the source of its place name meaning “Door Hole Island.” In his signature navy blue winter coat, Greg treks across the center of this image exploring the surrounding geology. The view across the bay is a Tolkien wonderland. To the north the jagged peaks of the Myrdalsjokull glacier surmount the sky. To the east, the series of black lava seastacks called Reynisdrangar meander across the shoreline, and to the west spreads the black coastline of Reynisfjara Beach. Seabirds including puffins, guillemot, and razor-bill breed at the seastacks and along the headland crags of Dyrholaey. It is simply breathtaking to spend so much time in such a short distance marveling over, and walking across such accessible geology. We chose Iceland for our first bucket list travels because of these elemental features that so fascinate and allure us. Each mile continues to deliver an abundance and variety of fascinating geography.

day 2 night 2 day

Glacier_SolheimajokullSolheimajokull, Myrdalshreppur Iceland – Day 3

It’s an oddly intoxicating sensation to be lost in time. I always feel this on vacation, but more so in Iceland in summer when the sun never sets and it’s daylight through the day and into night. For Greg this is Day 3 and for me it’s Day 2. Fortunately it’s all day for the entire trip. We’re prepared with eye masks and farmstays with blackout curtains, but we are not prepared for the hyper-charged energy that comes with 24 hours of daylight. Stopping to photograph and tour along the South Shore from Keflavik to Skogar it takes us about 10 hours to make the 130 km drive. We arrive at Guesthouse Steig at 9:40pm, but it feels like 4pm all day long. Their kitchen is closed but our host recommends the Strondin Bistro in Vik. Luckily they’re open until 11pm, like many restaurants in Iceland, as tourists like us get lost in time and surface closer to midnight, suddenly hungry and ready to savor Icelandic cuisine. The grilled lamb and Arctic charr are exquisitely delicious – not just because we’re hungry, but because the sauces and seasonings are a salivary delight. We fall into an easy pattern for our days starting with a guesthouse breakfast of homemade breads, fruits, and eggs or waffles, followed by skyr and fruit throughout the day, ending with a fabulous meal at a restaurant near our stay. We regret not walking out to the nearby cliffs beyond the bistro to see puffins fly in from the sea and roost for the brightly lit night. Instead we literally fall into bed and sleep as in a coma from midnight until 8am every day. This manic travel and sightseeing followed by late dinners and deep sleep becomes our established pattern. In the morning we’re excited to explore two great geological wonders a few kilometers in either direction. Solheimajokull is an easy access glacial tongue that branches from the vast Myrdalsjokull ice cap, Iceland’s 4th largest glacier. A short 15 minute drive west and then up a dirt track that leads to the exquisite glacial lagoon and the iridescent blue-white of glacier rimmed by the green of summer and azure sky dappled with incessantly raucous gray clouds. Greg runs down the path as I just take in the natural beauty of this place, the gift of this day, savoring panoramic views in every direction. In his signature navy blue L.L. Bean jacket, Greg turns back to watch me then scurries down to touch the tongue of  glacier – its name translated as “sun world glacier.” His first time on a glacier, my second experience (first at Mt. Baker National Recreation Area in Washington) at being humbled in geological time, these 10,000 years until now, as we live in the on-going global glaciation. Our very lives are illuminated by the majesty of geological time, on display 24 hours a day in June in Iceland. We culminate our awe with a cappuccino from the current epoch in the quaint bunker of Café Solheimajokull.

running behind

ICE_FallsDay2cSeljalandsfoss on the South Coast of Iceland – Day 2

Greg meets me at the airport terminal with an avocado on pumpernickel toast sandwich from Joe & The Juice. Within minutes we have our car and are cruising the Ring Road on the southern shore. “Tell me everything,” I command, and hang on every word of his last 24 hours, drinking in the lush green of shoreline and moody grays of skyline. A slight sense of panic that I will always be one day behind in the adventure stalks me. I shake it off and simply savor the gift of being here. Our first stop is a grocery store along Hringvegur for bottled water. I leave Greg at the checkout and walk around back to a small store with a large hand-written sign for Icelandic souvenirs. A cinnamon colored, shaggy goatskin and a thermal shirt with an artist print of glacier sandar are my first purchases. Greg hands me a cup of skyr and a spoon as we properly toast our first day of joint Icelandic adventures. The guidebook leads us to our first of hundreds of spectacular waterfalls. Seljalandsfoss in Rangarping eystra crests over the mountainside in a series of pristine falls increasing in size to the main falls nearest the road. We walk around the riverbank and surrounding meadows for over an hour. Greg hikes down beneath the spray at the base of the highest falls as I chase a pair of redshanks calling to each other along the meadow fence-line. The expanse of sky framing mountains fills with a perpetual explosion of clouds, changing on the hour, as the arctic winds scour the countryside. In every direction, each view continues to thrill.

dream delayed

Ice_Day1Akurholt Farmhouse Lodge Iceland – Day 1

For half my life I’ve had some version of a recurring travel nightmare. In the dream, I am at an airport, boarding a plane for a spectacular destination, and just as I walk toward the plane, I suddenly realize that I don’t have a passport and cannot go. I’m overwhelmed with shock, regret, angst over how I could have possibly let that happen. Consequently in my waking life, I triple check my passport before any international travel. Sometimes even triple checks cannot change the oracle. I arrive at SFO international check-in at 8pm with Greg, packed and pumped for our Iceland adventure. The agent asks me, “Do you have another passport?” I’m stunned, what an odd question. He informs me that even though my passport is dated valid for another 6 weeks that it has actually expired from use due to international regulations that require a passport expiration date up to a year. The nightmare unfolds. Greg goes on without me, sleeping for the next 9 hours on the flight to Keflavik. I spend the next 4 hours on the phone and Internet to change my flight, his car reservations, research the requirements for same-day passports from the government office in San Francisco. The following morning, my daughter is chauffeur for the day,… to the drugstore for passport photo and copies of flight details, then across town to long lines through security followed by multiple levels of numbers for various queues completing paperwork. Eight hours later I have a new passport in hand. All I can feel is gratitude that a government office even exists to expedite a passport in a day. We head to the nail salon to celebrate and four hours later I check into the airport once again. Throughout the day I read Greg’s posts about the extraordinary farm guesthouse, Icelandic horses, hand-knit sweaters, and cumulus clouds. Throughout the next week we discuss all the interesting Icelandic stories that his history major host imparted in that precious lost day. I sleep soundly on the plane and wake up to spectacular clouds and the crest of ocean against the jagged coastline of Keflavik as the sun rises into a new day.