Dose of Awesome # 264

You’d think that hiking an entire day through dark terrain, covered in black sand, under black clouds would be depressing. It was beautiful, in an ominous way.

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Craving a bit of quiet and solitude to go with the scenery, I stopped for a few extra photography breaks for the sake of falling just far enough behind the group that I could hike at a good pace, but keep my solitude for awhile. It was a good day for thinking.

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The weather held out until lunch. We quickly ate our lunch standing up, then hiked in the rain the rest of the way to Emstrur – where we would camp for the evening. It was a light, but persistent rain, but it went perfectly with my surroundings.

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Fifteen kilometers and two river crossings later, we arrived at Emstrur and set up our tents just as the rain cleared up and the sun came out. While some enjoyed a walk to the Markarfjlótsgljúfur canyon, I took the opportunity to shower and enjoy more solitude with tea and a book (which I’d bought at the Boston airport but hadn’t had much time to read since arriving in Iceland).

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We topped off our evening with a delicious dinner of barbequed lamb steaks, salad and soup, and stories of Iceland’s 13 Santa Clauses.

Dose of Awesome # 263

We woke up at the crack of dawn (5:30 am) in the chilly morning. It was to be our first day on the Laugavegur trail. With unfavorable weather in the forecast for later in the afternoon, we wanted to pack up our camp and get an early start on our 24 km day of hiking, so as to avoid the rain.

The day’s hike was a challenging one (just the way I like it) filled with plenty of incline, endless soft snow, our first river crossing. We ate lunch at a hut overlooking Brennisteinsalda mountain after 4 hours of trudging uphill in the snow.

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Then, we continued on for another 4.5 hours over rolling terrain. With tan, peach and pink mountains, vivid green and black rolling hills contrasted by white snow all around, today’s hike was just as colorful as yesterday’s.

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Luckily for us, though angry clouds started to form around noon, the sun continued to shine, and we managed to escape the rain until later in the afternoon. It rained just enough to keep us thankful for the previous several hours of hiking in the sunshine. After successfully completing our first river crossing, we arrived at Álftavatn lake to a tent full of coffee and snacks, which we enjoyed while Gulli cooked us tomato soup, cod with creamy pepper sauce, rice and salad for dinner.

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It was another late night of laughs and good stories in the dinner tent, as Gulli told us about winter in Iceland and in his hometown.

Just as the clouds parted over the lake, I crawled into my tent with a view of the pyramid mountain. It would be our only night camping at Álftavatn, but I think this was my favorite camping spot of the whole trip.

Dose of Awesome # 262

We kicked off our trek with a 14 km day of hiking in the mountains around Landmannalaugar to Ljótipollur crater. This was described as the “warm up” or “half” day, but it was anything but – though not overly challenging, it was a long day of hiking.

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Though Ljótipollur translates roughly to “ugly pond”, the calm, green lake surrounded by bright red terrain was actually very beautiful – and with the backdrop of intense green mountains accentuated by snow, it was breathtaking. Being our halfway point, we stopped and enjoyed lunch overlooking the lake.

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Though the day’s hike was described to be fairly flat, we started off with a surprising incline out of the camp. But since my favorite kind of hiking is hiking inclines, I’d not a single complaint. And to make things more amazing, very time I turned around, the mountains and the colours were different. I’d never seen such diverse landscape on any other hike, in any other country.

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We made it back to the camp just in time to avoid a massive rain and hail storm. Warm and dry in the dinner tent, we shared more stories as Gulli prepared traditional Icelandic meat soup for our dinner. Luckily our tents withstood the elements, and our belongings remained completely dry.

After several hours of laughs and conversation, we zipped into our sleeping bags for one last night at Landmannalaugar before continuing on the 55 kilometer Laugavegur trail.

Dose of Awesome # 261

I had one more day in Reykjavik before joining a group of trekkers and a guide with whom I’d share my next 10 days in Iceland. Coincidentally, I was in Reykjavik at the same time as my friend Nancy, who taught in Tasiujaq with me in 2010. Having not seen each other in almost 5 years, we had lots to catch up on over lunch at Café Lokí, coffee (and, conveniently, laundry) at the Laundromat Café, and a little afternoon of shopping.

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That evening, I headed back to the lobby of Hlemmur Square to meet the group I’d be trekking with, and to go over the details of the trek. Gulli was to be our guide (from the West Fjords of Iceland), and our group consisted of Vlad (from Mississauga but originally from Poland), Ardelle and Jennifer (mother and daughter from Alberta), Steve and Eva (couple from British Columbia), John (from Scotland), Ted (from California), Beth and Loraine (friends from Florida), Bek (from Australia), and Gokchen and Mustafa (from Turkey).

We were to begin our trek from Landmannalaugar. In the Fjallabak Nature Reserve in the highlands of Iceland, Landmannalaugar is at the northern end of the Laugavegur trail. But first, we had to get there.

Maximizing our opportunity, we broke up our commute from Reykjavik with a stop at each point of Iceland’s famous Golden Circle.

First, we went to Þingvellir National Park for a tour of AlÞingi, which served as the site of Icelandic parliament at Þingvellir from 930 until 1798. It is also where you can see the cracks that result from the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian plates. Þingvellir is notable for its unusual tectonic and volcanic environment in a rift valley.

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Next, we went to Iceland’s famous Gullfoss (“Golden Falls”), located in the canyon of the Hvíta river.

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We finished the Golden Circle with a trip to the geothermal area of Haukadalur – home of Strokkur and Geysir. While the bigger Geysir erupts very rarely, Strokkur erupts every 5 to 10 minutes, giving us the opportunity to catch 15-20 (sometimes 40) meter high eruptions.

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We arrived at Landmannalaugar with plenty of time to set up our tents, take in the scenery, and enjoy our first of many meals together full of laughs and great stories.

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Dose of Awesome # 260

Two months ago, I’d booked an all day hike with Arctic Adventures. My hike was scheduled for what turned out to be my first day in Iceland. However, after more than 30 hours of flying, waiting and sleeping on a bench in the Boston airport, and considering the fact that I would have only gotten 4 hours of sleep before the hike, I had to reschedule. Thankfully Arctic Adventures were extremely accommodating.

So, my third day in Iceland took me 2.5 hours driving by super jeep outside of Reykjavik to the Þórsmörk valley.

The Þórsmörk valley is an incredibly beautiful mountain ridge situated in the south of Iceland between the glaciers Tindfjallajökull and Eyjafjallajökull (this is the site of the first two massive volcanic eruptions you may recall happened in 2010).

Picked up conveniently right in the lobby of my hostel, our guide Otti drove myself and seven other hikers to the start of our hike.

The drive first entailed both smooth driving on the Ring Road, and very bumpy driving on a dirt road into the valley (complete with stream crossings!).

Arriving shortly after 11 am, we began our 6-8 hour hike up and back down the Fimmvörðuháls volcanoes, eating lunch at the summit overlooking the glaciers.

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We lucked out weather-wise (which was apparently far more beautiful than on the day I was originally supposed to hike). The sun shone strong throughout our entire ascent, and, despite a nasty black cloud forming behind us, the sunshine seemed to follow us until we were halfway back down. Though it did start to rain the last 1/4 of our hike, I was fully prepared with rain gear.

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This hike was unforgettable not only thanks to the breathtaking landscape, but also Otti’s great sense of humour and story-telling abilities. I’ll also never forget the fun hilarity of pretend-skiing partway down the steep mountainside.

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We concluded our hike with coffee, traditional Icelandic “Happy Marriage” cake, and the Seljalandsfoss waterfall before embarking on the 2.5 hour drive back to Reykjavik, the same way we’d come.

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Dose of Awesome # 259

My second day in Iceland brought me to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa located in a lava field in Grindavik, approximately one hour’s drive out of Reykjavik. It is also one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. However, despite inevitable crowds and exorbitant prices, I couldn’t go to Iceland and not spend a day there. I’d even purchased a brand new bathing suit (the first I’d worn since I was about eight years old) for the occasion.

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My day entailed several hours of soaking in the warm mineral rich waters of the lagoon, hanging out in the sauna, drinking coffee, eating lunch and chatting with a small group of Canadians whom I’d met randomly, chilling with a book on the relaxation deck, and an hour-long full body massage while floating on a mat in a private part of the lagoon.

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I topped off my day of luxury with a delicious dish of local fish from Grindavik, with extravagant caramel date cream sauce, asparagus and greens.

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What a perfect way to prepare for my upcoming trek, and awesome is the fact that my messed up flight did not interfere with my plans for this day.

Dose of Awesome # 258

I arrived at Hlemmur Square hostel close to 1:00 am, exhilarated but exhausted, and half-ready to fork over any amount necessary for a private room. After the trip I’d just had (see last post), I couldn’t fathom sharing a dorm with 5 strangers, no matter how much money it’d save me. However, stars aligned, and the universe spared me 40000 isk – I was blessed with a 6 bed dorm to myself for the night.

Despite losing an entire day in Reykjavik, I was still able to see and do almost everything I’d hoped to do. I had to sacrifice the National Museum of Iceland and two out of three parts of the Reykjavik Art Museum, but it was too beautiful to spend all my time indoors anyway.

I kicked off my first day in Reykjavik with a lift to the top of the Hallgrimskirkja church. Built between 1945 and 1986, it was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson to resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland’s landscape. It is the largest church in the country, and provides one of the best 360 degree views of Reykjavik.

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Next, I went to the National Gallery of Iceland to take in some Icelandic art. Currently exhibiting selected works of narrative art by contemporary Icelandic artists, the National Gallery was small, but interesting.

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I had my first taste of traditional Icelandic meat soup, with lamb on flatbread at Café Loki. Then, I set off on a walk around the perimeter of the city which took me through the Harpa concert hall, past the Sólfar (Sun Voyager) sculpture, and all the way back to the other end of Laugavegur (one of two main shopping streets, and the street on which my hostel stood).

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My next stop was the Icelandic Phallological Museum – home of the world’s largest display of penises and penile parts (I figured, why not?)

Over a coffee at Kaffitár, I realized that I had just enough time to take in one of the three locations of the Reykjavik Art Museum (I went to Hafnarhúsið) for more Icelandic art. I had just enough time – I finished just as it closed.

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A light dinner of Noodle Station soup (I was trying to be frugal but it wasn’t, really), I returned to the hostel to discover I had a roommate – a man from Korea whose name I never learned. It turned out that we were both planning on walking the entire path along the water and back, so we went together. Like me, he was in Iceland for the hiking, and was wrapping up several months of worldwide travel. This was about the only time we crossed paths during my entire stay in Reykjavik, but it was a nice way to spend an evening and end a fantastic first day in Iceland.

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