May 2, 2011
Iceland Day 4: South Coast tour
We got up early and met our tour bus driver outside of our hostel. His name was Helgi (or Helge, the male version of Helga). As it turned out we were the only 2 people on the South Coast tour that day! So it was a private tour, which was amazing :) Our driver was so funny, and he had a lot of hilarious catch phrases. He called himself a "1/3 of a century tour guide" as he's been doing this for over 30 years. He explained our general plan, "We'll do whatever comes naturally", he kept saying. So excellent.
We left quite early so he told us about the history of Iceland and early settlers. As we were driving there was an insane amount of crazy geological stuff: lava fields, lava tubes, magma forming into layered rocks, crazy moss growing on the lava fields, people planting Blue Lupin to prevent sandstorms, people digging trenches to help prevent floods, rock dykes also to prevent floods... and what sounded like a fairly consistent threat of landslides, flooding, volcanos erupting and earthquakes!
There is some totally crazy geology here. We saw some "homes" in the rocks - settlers used rock caves as shelter from the elements but apparently people still use them, sometimes as homes and sometimes for storage I think. We drove into Selfoss, a University town with a brand new University comprised of tons of slanted glass windows. Clearly this is concerning in the land of 1000 geological explosions every minute. People were quite concerned about this, but our driver said it recently withstood a 6.2 earthquake and it is "very good engineering!" So people are more comfortable with the building design now.
We skipped the waterfalls in the morning as our tour guide said the light would be better on the way home. We then headed off-roading in the tour van for a bit and ended up at the Sólheimajökull glacier, which was absolutely magnificent. We walked up to the base of it and took a whole bunch of photos. There were some amazing ice caves there, sculpting themselves over time. It looked gorgeous. The sad part about this though was the glacier has been receding more and more rapidly over the years. Helgi and other tour guides talked about that a lot - since our tour guide has been doing this every year for 30 years, he's noticed that it has been retreating further and further back every year. The other tour guides were very frank that it was definitely due to climate change. We saw a lot of geology students from the UK there, testing the ground and surveying. Visiting such an amazing site like this is certainly a good method to get people behind climate change initiatives and other environmental causes!
We then headed to Vik for lunch, a small village on the south coast. The store there had some more woolen sweaters and I mentioned to Helgi that I really liked them but they were too itchy. "Like Barbed Wire!" he said. I bought an Icelandic Wool hat there which was super sweet and not too itchy. From Vik we headed to see the Basalt Columns at Reynisfjara Beach. They were AMAZING!!!!! I loved this part too and the caves were so insanely awesome. I couldn't believe how rectangular and right-angled the rock formations were, and it was really stunning to see. There were some cool landing areas where some seagulls were chillin' out, and they looked to be having just as good a time as us. The rocks on the ground were unique too - every rock seemed to be a perfectly flat, smooth, good-for-skipping stone. I could have stayed there for hours, it was truly amazing there. Sometimes you can see puffins here, unfortunately there weren't many today. Helgi said he saw one or two flying around with his binoculars.
But alas there was even more to see along the South Coast, so off we went. The next stop was Skógafoss waterfall and it had a glorious double-rainbow! It was really nuts, you could walk right up to it and basically stand in the middle of a rainbow circle... you were standing right in the middle of it. "Where's the pot of gold?!" I asked our tour guide. :) Truly stunning.
We then headed to the 2nd waterfall, Seljalandsfoss. Helgi had instructions to drop a Geocache there for a friend of his, and was on the phone trying to figure out where to drop it exactly. You could walk behind this waterfall but I didn't realize it!! Darn!! I just watched it for a while and it was glorious and also had a huge, constant rainbow. Amazing stuff.
Off we went back to Reykjavik and I slept for a little bit in the back of the car. We woke up as we were getting back into Reykjavik and Helgi gave us some more descriptions and we chatted a bit more about the city itself. It was super fun. After getting back to the hostel, we said goodbye and "Takk Fyrir" to our fantastic tour guide, and then wandered around for a bit. The sun was at a perfect level and I got a few "magic hour" photos of the church with my iPhone. Norm and I stopped in at the grocery store and asked the girls about what kind of candy we should try. "Oh, you should get something Icelandic!", the one girl said as she suggested some chocolate-covered licorice. We tried it and it was super good.
Tired and exhilarated from the busy day, Norm and I went back to the hostel to watch some Little Britain from the hostel's DVD collection. We had a late dinner and chatted with Fei, the Chinese/Australian girl about travel and her adventures in Iceland so far. I caught up on my journal and played with the cat who was lounging around on the couch too. I then went to bed a little early as I needed to get a good start the next morning. Our tour pickup was to be at 8:30, and that is the same as the famous coffee shop down the road opens... so I wanted to get going a little early to try and grab a quick coffee before the tour bus arrived. :)