Up and at ’em! For today’s activities we had to set our alarms. Missing our 9:00am pickup deadline would result in a devastating loss of money, activities and accommodation. A lot was riding on that iPhone. We made sure all 3 of us set our alarms! Fortunately, since we were rested up, we hopped out of bed eager for the day’s adventures to begin.
Another hearty breakfast of eggs and Skyr (Banana Split flavored rather than Licorice) had me ready to roll. Conveniently, we will be returning to the same Airbnb at the end of our tour, and were able to store some items in the provided storage, limiting the extra junk not really needed on our jaunt into Iceland. We hiked our lighter bags onto our backs and walked the quick 5 minutes to the bus stop.
Just a moment later our tour bus showed up and we joined a group of 6 who’d been picked up before us. There was a gentleman from Sweden, a woman from Germany who is currently living in Reykjavík, and a group of 4 from California. As it turns out, two of them are nurses! Let the stories begin…
We picked up two more sweet ladies from Malaysia and our tour guide, Ricky, gave us a brief introduction and a rundown of what to expect on our day. Many people rent cars and take out into the country on their own. The problem with doing so in Iceland is that the weather is so unpredictable, and routinely, tourists who are unfamiliar with the area and terrain can get themselves into trouble pretty quick.
I usually try to avoid tours. You never know what kind of people you’re going to be “stuck” with, and you have limitations on the amount of time you can enjoy each stop. However, in this instance we opted for an experienced driver who knows the history of Iceland. As a bonus, we’ve gotten to hear many relevant personal stories as well. The other added benefit is that we could just sit back, relax and enjoy the landscape, or snooze, as all of us have found out.
Like a Pac-Man game, we soon maneuvered our way out of the city and onto the highway that runs alongside the ocean, snow-capped mountains in the distance. As we were driving, Ricky told us many things about Reykjavík, the culture and the people. Hallgrimskirkja got smaller and smaller as the mountains became larger.
Suddenly Ricky pulled the mini bus over and announced we were at Laxá í Kjós – which of course meant nothing to me. I turned and peered out the window across from me and saw rumbling, bubbling water gushing over and between jagged rocks. The sun was still rising and illuminated the water and moss with it’s bright warmth.
We stepped out of the bus one by one and took our positions for “the perfect photo”. The perfect photo for me is one that doesn’t have any other people in it. This feat can be near impossible in other countries, but I’ve found in Iceland (at least in March), there really aren’t many tourists littering God’s beauty, or my pictures. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.
I let the dramatic waterfall captivate me for a moment. I stood in my own silence and soaked it in, immediately more excited for the other beautiful things I’d being seeing!
Before I knew it, the group was back up by the highway getting ready to board the bus, and I was missing some explanation of the area or the falls. I made a mental note to pay closer attention because I don’t like missing out on the interesting details of the places I’m seeing!
We got back in the bus and went to Hvitanes, an old WWII British navy installation in Hvalfjordur. Amidst the beauty of a bright, sunny day the remnants of a dreadful war are ever present. An old rusty pier juts out into the fjord and old dilapidated buildings can be seen from the viewpoint.
As we continued driving we also circled through an area where the US Navy stayed during the war. The living quarters looked perfectly kept but Ricky told us they were vacant.
We drove a while longer and soon arrived at a farm. We’d been told we’d meet some real Icelandic horses, which was not listed as an activity on our tour when we booked it. Ummmm, yes please! We pulled to a stop and entered a little welcome room. We soon met Hrafnhildur who told us the history of the farm and all about the lovely horses we would be meeting! While these horses are much smaller than horses with which Americans are familiar, they are not considered ponies. They are simply just smaller horses! Hrafnhildur took us out to the stables where we met some of the younger horses who were protected by the warmth of the building. These horses were each around 5 years old. Some of them were very friendly and wanted some petting, or perhaps to nibble on our coats and hats. Other horses literally turned their butts to us and stood at the back of their stable. Point taken.
Hrafnhildur left us to enjoy all the horses while she went outside and brought in another horse on a lead. She introduced us to her and said, “this ol’ girl is very friendly! Come and give her a hug!” I don’t need to be asked twice.
When we’d all gotten our fill of horsie lovins, we followed Hrafnhildur up a hill behind the stable. As we neared the top I could see steam coming from the ground and knew right away it was a hot spring. What I wasn’t expecting was for all the grass downwind to be covered in thick, glistening ice as a result of the steam coming from the spring.
Hrafnhildur explained to us that this was the first hot spring discovered in the area, and the original owner, (her husband’s grandfather), was the first at the time to use a hot spring for house and farm heating, a hot pool, and other purposes.
Before sending us on our way, Hrafnhildur took us to another stable where we met more lovely horses.
She then enticed us back into the welcome room with promises of fresh baked bread, hot chocolate and coffee and puppies. Just when I thought this day couldn’t get any better, she throws baked goods and puppies into the mix!
I backtracked my steps through the stables, taking the opportunity for a few more mane strokes and pictures. I absolutely love their manes; goofy, bushy bouffants that they pull off so well with their innocent eyes peeking out from underneath! I passed through the last stable, down the stairs and into the welcome area.
Hrafnhildur had already set out some delicious baked bread. She explained this bread was cooked by pouring the bread mix into a milk carton, sealing it up and placing the carton in the steam of the hot spring. The bread is baked in this manner for 25 hours. Once done, the carton is torn away from the bread and it’s ready to eat! She said the spring could cause a sulfur-like taste, but it only tasted sweet, moist and delicious to me!
I took some bread and poured myself some hot chocolate, when suddenly I was presented a puppy! The sweet little guy was so soft and sweet. It whimpered so preciously when I tried to turn it around for easier holding. His little tongue licked my finger and I could smell the sweet smell of puppy breath! Only 3 weeks old, this little guy was hard to share with the rest of the group! Fortunately, there were a few to go around, so I hung on to him as long as I could!
It wasn’t long before Ricky tore the adorable puppy out of my death grip… ok, so it wasn’t quite like that. I gave mama and papa pup some tummy rubs and then we all piled back into the minibus.
Our next stop was Hraunfossar. Per Wikipedia, because it was too cold to stand and read the sign:
Hraunfossar is a series of waterfalls formed by rivulets streaming over a distance of about 900 meters out of the Hallmundarhraun, a lava field which flowed from an eruption of one of the volcanoes lying under the glacier, Langjökull.
The waterfalls were majestic and I was surprised at how big they were when I reached the end of the path and looked over the fence. The wind had really picked up, tossing me from side to side, and I decided to head down the path looking for more photo opportunities to hopefully create some body heat and get out of the wind.
After a short walk I came upon a bridge crossing over Barnafoss. I took one more opportunity to snap a quick photo before a group of tourists came onto the bridge and ruined my picture with their shadows.
On my way back across the bridge, I turned my camera toward Barnafoss, which means Children’s Falls. Legend has it a couple left their children at home while they went to Christmas Mass and told them not to leave the house. When the parents returned, the children weren’t there. They followed their tracks to the edge of the waterfall where an arch bridge stood. With the children nowhere in sight, the mother deduced the children must have fallen into the waterfall. She then had the arch bridge destroyed so it could never happen again.
Despite such a sad story surrounding these falls, their violence is simply beautiful. The loud continuous crash almost deafening; the swirling of the water, mesmerizing.
Check out the sights and sounds for yourself right here!
Feeling overstimulated from the sounds, sights and temperatures, we retreated inside the nearby restaurant for some lunch. Some comfort food sounded good, and the cheapest of the options was a bowl of Tomato, Lentil & Vegetable soup for a mere $15. Sarah, Taylor and I sat down together and quickly devoured our lunch.
After the falls, Ricky took us to the little town of Reykholt to show us an old school, and tell us about Snorri Sturluson, a widely known Icelandic man who was very successful and politically influential. He had a tunnel built from his house to his pool. The pool is thought to be one of the oldest geothermal pools in Iceland.
We then went to a famous hot spring, Deildartunguhver. This spring is one of the largest in Iceland and pumps out 180 liters of water per minute! That’s unbelievable!
On our way to our hotel we passed several other beautiful sights:
Borgarfjordyur was definitely worth a stop and a photo. We also stopped at a convenience store here and I picked up an Icelandic bar, called Rís. It reminded me of my sister, Marissa “Riss”, so I had to try it. My sister is way more awesome than that odd little candy bar. It looked, (and tasted like), the old corn puff cereal I used to eat, drowned in sub-par, waxy chocolate. Milk chocolate at that. Blech.
We also stopped and viewed these beautiful basalt columns formed from the lava of a nearby volcano that had erupted 1200 years ago.
He also took us to a farmer’s land and showed us “the healthiest water you will ever find, which will make you live a very, very long time.” The minerals in the water are much higher than that of any water you can find in Iceland – natural or store bought. The water tasted like metal, as the iron content is extremely high. It also had natural carbonation in it. At first it tasted like a slightly salty carbonated drink, with an odd flavor. Then I realized it was just disgusting and I couldn’t drink it anymore.
The next (and last) stop was our hotel, Rjúkandi. We received a warm welcome from the owner and were instructed on dinner plans. We had a couple of hours to relax and clean up and then met back in the dining room for a group dinner. For such a small restaurant, at such a small hotel, in the middle of nowhere, they sure make fabulous meals… and charged us as such.
I got the “Catch Of the Day,” cod with a mango chutney sauce with mashed potatoes and greens. It was delicious and the presentation was aesthetically pleasing. I don’t think I would pay $36 at home for it, though. I also got a glass of the house wine for $12 and a Skyr cake dessert, which was delicious. My total bill was around $50. I couldn’t help but think to myself how I could get a nice steak back home for that! But, I knew what to expect when I got here and I budgeted appropriately for it. It’s worth it for me to experience Icelandic culture and cuisine.
After dinner we all met up in the back of the hotel where there was minimal light. Ricky gave us information on how to spot the Northern Lights. You just look up! It’s as simple as that! He was questioned about some of the Aurora Borealis forecast apps and he called them “nothing but computer games!”
In order to spot the Northern Lights in Iceland, there needs to be clear conditions, adequate solar activity, no unnatural light, and it must be the right time of the year – generally September to April.
I stood outside for over an hour. We saw some weak Northern Light activity. It was hard to discern between clouds or the lights. In many of the pictures you see online, they are always a bright green. Apparently they don’t always appear that way when they are on the weaker side. It was still possible to see them “dancing” through the sky, as they say. One spot would get brighter and brighter and then it would dissipate, and sometimes the spot would change in shape and weave around in the sky. Some of what we saw was linear, appearing like a wide jet stream. Other ones were just blobs!
I noticed someone had gotten a really good picture that showed the bright green. Knowing we hadn’t actually seen bright green, I attempted to take some photos of my own. I used a “Northern Lights” app that took pictures capturing some of the green. I also used my GoPro and captured some better photos. None of the photos truly captured what I was hoping to bring home with me, so I’m holding out for more opportunities to see them.
Frozen to the core, with temperatures in the 20s and a wind chill in the teens, I finally returned inside to thaw out. I peeked out the window a few times to see if I could spot anything more vibrant, but all I saw was an influx of clouds and decided to give it up for the night and get some much needed rest.
Nonetheless, I am so happy I was at least exposed to them. Even if it didn’t meet my expectations, it’s such a fascinating phenomenon. If nothing else, I at least experienced them!