Sunday, August 26, 2007

Iceland, The Director's Cut - Day 4

The weather so far had been fantastic. 17+ degrees C, lots of sun. It got a bit overcast and windy at Gullfoss the day before, but otherwise everyone, including the locals, was impressed. We have a tendency to change the weather when we travel. When in the Alps, it was the hottest heatwave they'd had in 20 years; Japan - we missed Typhoon Robin by a day the whole way, with it starting to rain as our plane left Tokyo; Banff - it went from -26 for two straight weeks to +2 when we arrive and +8 when we left. Iceland? Overcast, rainy, and chilly to Sunny, calm, and warm.

We headed out from Reykjavik to Kirkjubaejarklaustur (Klauster), with a few planned stops along the way. The drive starts out with rather uneventful scenery. Kilometers of lava desert on either side, and a road over a small mountain. Then, as you come down, you see a valley spread out below you, the town of Selfoss in the distance - it's a welcome sight. We unsuccessfully searched for a particular cafe, and carried on to our first stop.

Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland's more famous waterfalls. Tall and narrow, falling over a grotto into a small pool, it's incredibly picturesque. This day, there was a bit of a wind, so the cascade was blowing around, with the mist reaching the parking lot a couple hundred meters away. The most unique aspect of this falls is the ability to walk behind it, into the surprisingly dry grotto.

A tangent here. Iceland has a few naming idiosyncrasies. One that I've noticed has caused some confusion (both with me and online) is the name Selfoss. Foss = Falls essentially, so Gullfoss (Golden Falls), Goðafass (Falls of the Gods), etc, are easy to pick out. Selfoss, however, is both a waterfall and a town. The problem is, they're nowhere near one another. The town of Selfoss is near Seljalandsfoss, not too far from Reykjavik. Selfoss the waterfall, however, is located in the northern part of the country. That said, I've seen more than a few people confuse Seljalandsfoss with Selfoss, although they look nothing alike and are hundred of kilometers away from each other. End tangent.

So, we pull into the lot and I walk out to the falls, snapping pictures along the way. I had learned my lesson at Gullfoss and brought my lens cloth so I could wipe my camera off as I went. Even so, the mist was everywhere, and try as I might, a lot of my pictures are marred by water on the lens. Still, they views make for some great shots, moisture or not. As I was crouching to get a low shot of the falls, I saw my first rainbow of the trip. Now I know it's just the refraction of light through water droplets, and I've seen many in my life. But it's a rare occurence when you find one right next to you. I took a picture and moved on. Climbing behind the falls on a rather treacherous path of slick rocks and rough steps. Behind the falls I took what might be the most artificial-looking shot of my life, with my brother in front of (behind?) the cascade. It looks photoshopped, despite how real it is.

The walk out from behind the falls was slightly better, and afforded some absolutely fantastic pictures... like the one on the right. I must have taken a couple dozen from various angles. I think it was more than worth it. In fact, I spent so much time taking pictures at this site, that my family had grown fairly impatient with my delay. One of my brothers echoed my thoughts exactly though - "Sure, he'll wait until the next time he's in Iceland."

We carried on down the road to our next stop - another waterfall, and one I was looking forward to seeing since before the trip. Skogafoss.

A few weeks ago, I posted some random links. Among them was a flickr link of people standing under a rainbow in Iceland. At Skogafoss to be precise. I could only hope the conditions would work for me to see something similar. My hope was not in vain.

Where the previous falls were tall and narrow, Skogafoss was majestic. Taller than Seljalandsfoss, and wider, in a cove that had been cut out of the hillside over centuries, it is an impressive sight to behold. Unlike Seljalandsfoss, you can't go behind this falls, but you can climb to the top. I decided to stick around the bottom and middle, and got more than my fair share of shots. It was a gorgeous sight, and a big destination for tourists of all stripes.

Like every other falls in Iceland, you can get as close as you want to these. Many of us emerged from the shore soaked from the mist, while others literally chased rainbows. The sheep on the farm next door seemed disinterested.

After a long time (with no complaints), we continued. Next stop - Vik. No, wait, we turned off early because something looked interesting... and we found Dyrhólaey.

A peninsula that is about as South as you can go in Iceland, this was a side trip that shouldn't be missed. The road was rough (to call it unpaved would be an understatement), narrow, blind, but luckily - flat. A 4x4 isn't necessary, but you can't avoid the potholes.

Jarring our way to the end of the line, we were greeted with one hell of a view. Black sand beaches, rocky shores, cliffs, caves, basalt sea stacks, glaciers, and ocean. Then we looked closer. Why were all those people up on that hill? The answer was obvious very quickly - puffin nesting. Dozens of puffins were on this cliff, many barely a dozen feet away, unperturbed by the small mass of people and their cameras.

But as I said, there were more than puffins to see here. I walked away from the birds and wandered onto one of them many rocky cliffs to see what was out there. A bridge that looked like it was made of shale crossed over a cauldron of violent water. My brother decided standing on the precipice to get a good look as a brilliant idea, and he manage to not fall to his death. Looking back at the fishing puffins, I noticed the other wildlife - a seal near the beach, loons diving, ducks gathering, and gulls and terns overseeing the whole menagerie. It had easily been the most wildlife we'd seen in one day, let alone one spot.

We had a fair ways to go, and a stop or three left, so we got back on the bouncy road and headed to Vik. Vik's a fishing town that is the southernmost town in Iceland. It offers more views of what we'd just seen, so we didn't stay long. We stopped at a few restaurants on the way, but none offered much of interest. Finally we made it Klauster (there was some napping on my part), and our hotel. Unfortunately for my appetite, the dining room was full of a tour bus's passengers when we arrived. Luckily, we were able to squeeze in 30 minutes before close.

I may have mentioned there's a sheep or 2 in the country. I had the lamb, it was delicious. In fact, everyone loved their meals. It made for a good ending to the day.

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