Tour de Iceland...

Trip Start Jul 05, 2010
Trip End May 15, 2011

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

So our 60+ kilometer Tour de Iceland turned out a little different from what we had anticipated.  First, we overslept—we ignored not only the alarm at 6:00, but also the one at 6:15, 6:30, 6:45, 7:00 and so on until 10:00.  We are still not used to the "sun always shines" life that goes on here; where there is absolutely no way to tell by looking outside whether its 10:30 AM or PM.  Luckily this didn't really hinder our trip, because we did not need to get back to the hostel before dark…which doesn’t exist here.  We left  at around 10:45am.  We were biking on the highway, but due to the scarcity of cars, this was not a problem.   The highway was mostly straight, with occasional ups and downs, but for the most part the hills were not so severe.  With the wind at our backs we reached Hafnir, only to notice that the town depicted on our tourist map was only a scattering of a few houses.  We viewed their church and main farmhouse from the highway and decided to ride on, deciding to leave room for other attractions.

After an hour more biking, we saw the road sign for the bird cliffs of Hafnarberg.  We chained our bikes to the sign and left on the surprisingly long walk through sand dunes to the cliffs (about 30 minutes each way). In our hearts, we carried the hope that we would see either an orca or a puffin (the description of both were on the aforementioned sign).   We got to the bird cliffs and David began to assemble his secretly purchased telescopic lens.  We were able to use the lens to zoom in on the birds and observe a mother regurgitating food and feeding her chick. It was amazing.

We saw many types of birds belonging to the auk family.  One of the birds even looked liked a small penguin. Unfortunately, however, no orcas or puffins graced us with their presence.   SLIGHTLY disappointed, and very hungry, we made the half hour trip back to our bikes.

Our next stop was the “Bridge Between Worlds.” This is a bridge over the site where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and there is an enormous crack in the ground.  Apparently the plates are constantly drifting farther and farther away from each other, each moving about 1cm each year away from the center line.  Hot magma from the center of the Earth fills the gap between the seperating plates, but is already cool by the time it reaches the surface.

Standing on the bridge between continents, we ate a romantic meal consisting of bananas and digestive cookies. I do not know what digestive cookies are exactly, but they were the cheapest cookies in the Icelandic grocery store.  I cannot tell if they cause diarrhea or if they just have extra fiber, but they did not taste too bad.  We bought bread and cheese as well, but our cheese was stolen from the hostel fridge, and we were unable to swallow the dry pieces of bread after hours of dehydrating cycling.

Next, we biked on to see Iceland’s enormous geothermal power plant.  Apparently the country obtains 99% of its energy from renewable sources, of which the largest percent comes from geothermal energy.  The volcanic nature of the island makes it an ideal location for geothermal power plants.   

 We then rode on to the bubbling swamps of Gunnuhver.  At this area, heated liquids from deep within the Earth actually rise up, melt the minerals in the soil, and spew out as mostly hot gases and steam.  When we got to the area, we saw a sign that said “Dangerous! This area is closed to all persons.” However, the sign was not in the middle of the road; it was only sideways.  We couldn’t figure out if the sign was always there and put in the middle of the road when there was danger or if the mere presence of the sign meant the area was closed.  Naturally, we decided to enter the park. Walking down the trail we began to smell the horrible sulfuric fumes released from the swamps. Hot steam was spewing out of the swamp and making it impossible to see the wooden pathway that lead through the swamps.  We ventured into the stinking cloud nevertheless, but as the temperature rose dramatically along with bursts of stench, and we could not see the walkway ahead of us, we decided to hastily retreat.  We contemplated another attempt into the fumes and just as we were about to chicken-out and bike off,  a group of young people materialized before us and walked out of the steam much like in a horror movie. We asked them if it was safe. Naturally they said it was.  Naturally we believed them and walked off onto the wooden path.  It was quite difficult to breathe and see, and our clothes got drenched, but as we walked on, there were clear areas where we could stop to catch our breath. This place was breathtaking…literally. Surrounded by lava rocks and bubbling swamps and mist and the smell of sulfur I felt like we were on another planet.

After the swamps, we rode on hoping to reach a village called Grindavik, a famous fishing village. We dreamed of buying fish here and eating it with our dried bread.  Perhaps the fish would even come with fries or potatoes.  Oh, it sounded so good, too good…and it was.

It took us hours to reach the village. At this point, the wind had become intolerable and made it impossible at times to bike forward. It would routinely push us off the side of the road, or come head-on so strong that we had to get off and push our bikes against the wind. At some points, I couldn’t even bike DOWNHILL the wind was blowing against us so strongly.

 On our way, we passed through and area with a cryptic sign.  On the sign were the Icelandic word for caution (among other words we didn’t understand) and pictures of birds taking off and flying. We rode on a bit confused, but not worried in the least.  We then noticed that on both sides of the road there were thousands of noisy birds.  As we approached they got louder and began flying around like crazy.  As I rode my bike forward, I noticed that the noises were getting louder and louder. I noticed shadows of birds right above me.  They were attacking!  They would fly up and then dive down, missing my head by inches.  Their nests must have been close to the road and they saw us as threats to their young. I put on my hood and covered my head with my hands.   I put on my sunglasses to protect my eyes and screamed for David.  At this point, I was walking my bike because the wind was so strong.  I got back on and tried to ride off quickly.  It was useless, the wind made it less efficient to bike than walk. Fortunately, David had a whistle and for some reason the birds were afraid of it.  They would fly back a little bit whenever they heard the whistle.  After about 45 minutes of agony, we made it past the heavily birded area.

We finally reached Grindavik.  Unfortunately, it was not the way I had pictured it.  There weren’t rows of coffee shops and fishermen selling fish and chips. We didn’t see any grocery stores selling cheese or lemonade. This village seemed completely deserted.

We got off our bikes exhausted. I lied down into a ditch at the side of the road to escape the intensely cold wind.  David went to find humans who could either sell us food or tell us how far we were from the Blue Lagoon, which we had now appointed as our final destination if we could even make it that far.

David returned without food to tell me the bad news. We were still 5 kilometers from the Blue Lagoon. Normally, a five kilometer trip on bike is not such a big deal. But we had already gone 40 kilometers and walked for several hours. And the wind made it a thousand times slower and harder. Not to mention the fact that we were starving, and the five kilometers would begin up a two kilometer mountain.

I wondered if this might be one of those situations where you could just give up.  Perhaps one of the kindly villagers would offer to give us a ride.  Maybe a fish and chips truck would come and drive us to the Blue Lagoon for free.  Maybe a benevolent helicopter driver would stop and airlift us to our destination.  Nope.  We would have tried hitchhiking, but we had the bikes.  Who would offer to take two strangers and two strange bikes?

We forced ourselves to swallow to pieces of dried wonderbread and got back on our bikes and began our journey against the wind up an enormous hill.  After ten minutes we had to get off our bikes and walk them to the top.  I figured it would be easy biking downhill.  Not so.  It was impossible.  The wind was so strong it nearly tipped me over, and I had to peddle with all of my might just to move down a little bit.  It took us hours to make that five kilometer trip over the hilly, windy terrain.

We finally reached the Blue Lagoon, the famous natural spring and spa.  We paid the pricey admission, locked up our belongings, and changed into our bathing suits (well at least I remembered to bring my bathing suit, David looked somewhat silly in his silky boxers). The Blue Lagoon is beautiful, the water is a milky aqua color and it is lined with volcanic rocks.  The water is fed by natural springs from underground.  Since common bacteria do not thrive in this water (because of the minerals it contains), no chlorine or artificial cleaners are used.

I would be lying if I said that it was pleasant walking outside from the changing rooms wearing only my bathing suit (it was about 45 degrees and windy). But as we lowered our tired, aching bodies into the water, everything changed.  The water was welcomingly warm.  It took me a while to adjust to the fact that my body was hot, but my head was turning into an icicle. What a bizarre thing to swim when it is so cold outside.  David and I found the white silica mud pails and covered our faces with it so that we too could “achieve maximum beauty and soft skin.”   We were like real Icelandic tourists…like the ones who stay in hotels and take taxis and embark on helicopter tours.

The Blue Lagoon was lovely and rejuvenating, but there is no way that we would have been able to bike another 20 kilometers back to our hostel at 9:00PM.  We were able to find a bus that was willing to transport us and our bikes back to Keflavik in about 20min for $25. 

We planned to drop our stuff off at the hostel and walk to the grocery store, buy fish, cook it at the hostel, and eat it with our remaining bread.  That would complete the day.  We got back to our hostel, put our stuff down and fell asleep.
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Reka Keresztes on

You guys are amazing! Good luck on your adventures!
I'm thinking of sending you care packing filled with FOOD!!
Enjoy every minute and take lots of pictures!
The Blue Lagoon sounds wonderful!

Hobausz Melinda on

Iceland has a way of truly testing people. It is the place that one of our favorite family sayings was born. After traveling for weeks in Europe, we landed in Iceland and decided to stay over. We were very lucky because it seemed that when anything went wrong, somebody was willing to help. For example, we missed a bus, and they called it back for us. Perhaps this was because we were traveling with relatively young children. On the day we visited the Blue Lagoon--again by bus--my young daughter was complaining bitterly about the stinging rain as we approached the door. I turned and said, "Be quiet, we are making memories." Since then, whenever the family hits a rough spot while traveling one of us will mention that we are making memories. It seems you are doing the same.

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