My heart was racing. My feet were getting their hustle on. In the darkness of the early Icelandic winter morning hours I felt anxious. I didn't want to be late for a two day excursion in the south of Iceland that included an ice cave tour. I was late once for a Stonehenge tour leaving from London and I missed the bus by a minute. And as God as my witness, I swore that I would never be late again....... for a tour that is.
I was carrying a heavy weekender on my left hand and a dslr camera bag slung on my shoulder. Who brings a weekender to a hiking trip? With certain doubts aside, I was determined to make this bus. I made it to our meeting place, the majestic Hallgrimskirka church, with 15 minutes to spare. But with not a soul in sight, I couldn't help but feeling like I did it again. Feelings of denial and sorrow started to creep in. My heart was about to shatter into a hundred pieces when a tap on my left shoulder made me turn around. "Good morning! If you're here for the Goecco tour, the bus will arrive shortly." a woman said behind me with whom I later learned was one of my tour guides named Erla. Jesus! The day hasn't even started yet and I already needed a xanax.
I was fully impressed when the bus came. Instead of renting those typical white air conditioned tour buses, they copped a whip souped up to withstand an ice age. I got so excited. Get out of the way whitewalkers, daddy A-train is coming through!
As we make our way out of Reykjavik, our guides Arnar and Erla broke the ice by cracking jokes, telling us mythical stories and important historical facts. They even made everybody introduce themselves. I was thoroughly surprised with the different backgrounds everyone revealed. There was a group that came from as far as Singapore just to visit Iceland. It's one thing to notice the different types of ethnicity in the group. I wasn't new to that. But listening to their spiel made me appreciate why I travel in the first place. Suddenly, they were relatable. I see them as crossing my path to remind me of my own humanity.
Our first stop was an underground cave in the middle of nowhere 30 minutes outside of Reykjavik. We were informed that this specific cave is where they filmed Batman Begins. It is also the cave where Jon Snow lost his virginity in Game of Thrones. Goecco tour provided us with crampons- rubber slip ons with spikes on the bottom for an easier trek through the 2 feet of snow. Getting there looked like no joke. We got off the truck and all I could see was snow covered flat lands for miles lit by a hint of the sun's rays poking through the horizon. I felt like I was in Star Wars. Then we get to the site and we had to lower ourselves into this deep dark hole. I found it a little funny to see everybody being active with their expensive cameras and tripods slung on their necks. But when it came time for me to do it, it was not that difficult at all. The jump down was shallower than it seems.
I found the cave pretty surreal when I ventured inside. I've never been in one before, much less during the winter time. Huge mounds of snow formed underneath holes in the ceiling. Icicles were dangerously overhead. But surprisingly, the temperature was bearable compared to the surface. We took pictures. Some wrote their names on the snow to immortalize themselves for the next three months. And after Arnar arduously dug us a hole to exit for what seemed like an eternity, we were off to breakfast.
Our next stop was Seljalandsfoss waterfalls. But our driver passed this main big tourist attraction and stopped at a hidden gem. Just further up the road was Gljufrabui. It is a smaller waterfalls that stood 50 feet high nestled several steps inside a canyon. We just followed a little creek inside and it revealed its beauty. Heavy mist was everywhere. The sound of gushing water blasted in our ears. And the second I was able to look up, I was astounded. I've always been in awe of waterfalls. There is something spiritual about them. Truth be told, it would take a thousand waterfalls to wash me of all my demons. But under Gljufrabui's mighty stream, I couldn't help but feel like I've been cleansed if only for a fleeting moment.
Afterwards, we ended up stopping at a more grandiose waterfall called Skogafoss to take some pictures. I was humbled.
Next on our agenda was Black Sand beach. Arnar spent almost 20 minutes talking about how strong the ocean current is on our next site. He forewarned us not to go near the surf or else be pulled in by the strength of the waves. No less than 30 seconds pass by after we left the bus, an Asian couple from my group ran next to the surf to take pictures. Guess what happened?...... A giant wave came out of nowhere! The boyfriend ran for his life and the girlfriend just stood there. She ended up getting toppled over by pure force. Luckily, Arnar dashed to save the day and got her up and out of the water just in time. The next wave would have sucked her into the ocean. Oy! It must have been a language barrier. I don't think anyone would choose to ignore the tour guide's warning after he talked about it for 20 minutes. Not to mention, the boyfriend must have been in deep trouble. I'm sure his "save myself" attitude didn't sit too well with the girlfriend after all was said and done. The guy is probably in the dog house for the remainder of the trip.
After I found out that everyone was safe, I redirected my focus on the beauty of this beach. It literally looked out of this world. The cliffs and rocks looked like enlarged black bricks cemented to each other like grills on a gate. The sand was black due to the active volcanoes prevalent all around Iceland. The clouds were overcast setting the scene up for a clip worthy of Lord of the Rings. I was lucky enough to capture some stills with the waves violently crashing onto the rocks. After seeing with my own eyes what these can do, coming back during the summer time to lay out on the beach is out of the question!
We stopped by the small village of Vic for a late lunch and some shopping before our 3 hour journey to our accommodations for the night.
I took a nap here and there while Arnar played some amazingly soothing Icelandic music. But I mostly stared into the darkness. I could make out some rock formations in the distance. But as the night progressed, visibility became difficult.
15 minutes before reaching our destination for the evening, we made a detour. The bus stopped and Arnar stepped out. He was gone for 5 minutes leaving us deliriously curious what he was up to. He came back with a big piece of ice he set in the middle of the bus. He pointed a flash light at it as we drove away. I was not impressed. What's the big deal about a block of ice? He then started to explain that it is a tiny piece of glacier. It's over a thousand years old. He was going to bring it to dinner so we could use it to ice our beverages. I changed my story so quick. My jaw pseudo dropped. I got a kick out of knowing that I was going to drink super clean tasting, non-polluted, thousand year old water.
We relaxed for a bit and settled in when we arrived at our accommodations for the night. Dinner followed after. We were led to a small structure several steps away from where we were going to sleep. It was made out of layered stone with a vaulted ceiling. In the center was a long communal table set for dinner with benches on each side. Lanterns hung down from the wooden beams and candles were placed along the middle of the table. There was even wolf skin hanging on one of the corners. All I needed was a tunic and a two horned hat and I was ready to eat like a Viking.
Our first course included fermented shark, sheep's testicles, dried haddock and smoked salmon. Needless to say, I helped myself to seconds with the salmon only. The fermented shark tasted like formaldehyde and the essence lingered in my nasal cavity. The sheep's testicles were okay. The sour vinegar flavor hid the gamy taste. The texture of the dried haddock was similar to biting into feathers. But when in Rome, do as the Romans do. I tried to explain to myself how the Vikings came about this smorgasbord of peculiar dishes. When I find out, I will write about it.
Our second course was Icelandic meat soup. It had oxtail with vegetables and potatoes in a hot broth. It was yummy and perfect for a cold night. I especially liked my share because my oxtail had a good amount of bone marrow. I LOVE bone marrow.
The room was alive. Everybody was conversing and having a good time over good food and drink. I couldn't even hate on the boxed wine being served. It was decent and did its job in getting everyone to loosen up. It was a fun way to end a day packed with activities. And after some light conversations about American politics, professing our love for travelling and the amazing day we had, it was time to hit the hay. Our journey was halfway finished but I was sure the most astounding places were yet to come.
For more information about the variety of tours they offer, go to www.goecco.com