Of Waterfalls and Rainbows: Iceland Part 2

This is the 2nd part of my Iceland trip summary. If you've missed the first part of our Iceland trip you might want to read that first. It's taken quite a bit more time and effort to do these than I expected, but I'm going to try and get them done. It's been almost 6 months since our trip after all! 

Days on our trip around the Ring Road began with the alarm going off in the camper van at 7 am. While we were there the sun rose and set about 12 hours apart, so we used up every last minute of daylight, even if that meant getting up earlier than we usually would on vacation.

On our fourth day, we woke up to sunshine for the first time. It was amazingly invigorating and our plan was to head out to Skógafoss first thing in order to avoid the hoards of tourists.

We arrived early, but not early enough. Despite the fact that we ourselves were tourists, we had a hard time with how overrun certain locations were with bus groups.

Luckily Skógafoss wasn't the only thing we had set out to see. Because of the lovely weather, we wanted to get some fresh air and hike. We knew there was a path above the waterfall and climbed the hill/cliff on the right to get to the top. The path was easy to find and once we had walked a mere 100 yards, we had it all to ourselves.

For the rest of the trip, this became our favorite way to avoid crowds. We loved finding the long way around and getting off the beaten path so that we could enjoy the sights without too much company.

As we hiked into the Fimmvörðuháls Pass, the Skógá river flowed by on the left. It felt like every bend hid another, more beautiful waterfall than the last. Our plan was to hike for an hour or two and then head back. However, once we got started there was no way to turn back. We'd say "after the next waterfall we'll turn back." At the next waterfall, we'd see the mist from another and we just had to keep going.

Before we knew it we'd gone 8km and decided we had to go all the way since we'd gotten so close already. Now this wasn't a hiking loop, it was a there and back again hike. So once we hit the 10km turn around point, we still had 10km to hike back to our car. We hadn't been prepared for a 12 mile hike, but it was worth every bit of soreness we paid for it.

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We got back to our car hours later than we meant to and dug straight into our cooler. Dave finally remembered to get the AUX cord out of the suitcase. We cranked our Fire + Ice playlist as we pulled out of the parking lot. We drove down the road high on fresh air and sunshine, belting out "Into the Wild" and scarfing down out well-deserved salmi sandwich lunch.

I felt the ball of anxiety I'd been fighting since we'd left home loosen and I finally felt like myself again. This was the trip I'd imagined and hoped for. Everything was Beautiful. Awesome. Wild. Amazing. And I was going to be ok. 

We stopped in Vik for a bathroom break and some Icelandic ice cream. My new found confidence and light-heartedness led to some really fun and cheery interactions with the Icelander who served the ice cream.

We took a windy walk on the black sand beaches below the Reynisfjara sea stacks. We stayed away from the waves since they're unpredictable and dangerous, but there was no need to get close, the beauty was all around us.

I also performed the most epic save when my ice cream fell off the cone and I caught it before it hit the beach. I'm still proud.

At this point we thought we could zip up the southern coast and quickly hit up a few sights on the way. However, our hike had eaten up a big part of the day and while we did make it to (2 million year old) Fjaðrárgljúfur Masjid Canyon, we realized we had totally forgotten about Skaftafell National Park and knew we couldn't just skip it. We pulled into the park's visitor center as the sun began to set and quickly found the campsite. 

Skaftafell is best known for it's huge glaciers and for it's famous black waterfall, Svartifoss. We took a sunset hike up to the falls and a sunrise one to check out the glaciers. We really wanted to hike more, but with a heavy rain and sore muscles from the previous day it really wasn't possible.

Instead we headed east on the Ring Road. It was drizzling and wet, but as we drove rainbows started popping up everywhere. We pulled up to Fjallsárlón, the first and smaller glacial lagoon, as a huge rainbow appeared overhead. I had never seen such vibrant or close rainbows. We could see both ends and felt like we could run up and touch them. (In fact I may have tried chasing the end of the rainbow.)

I had worn rubber boots which made wading to a floating mini iceberg easier. I can't begin to explain the beauty of the glacier flowing down from the mountains into the lagoon, the rainbows, blue water and green hills. In a land that felt other-wordly every day, this day especially felt surreal. The changes between sunny and stormy created an atmosphere of drama. It felt cinematic. This was one of the best days of our trip.

We continued down the road surrounded by rainbows toward Jökulsárlón. This is the more famous of the ice lagoons. The intermittent sunshine revealed the most beautiful shades of blue in the ice and water. I've never thought much about icebergs (except perhaps negatively in regards to the Titanic), but I was blown away by how stunning they were in real life. The easiest way to describe them might be as giant wild diamonds. 

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Across the road from the lagoon was a black sand beach scattered with ice chunks. A storm was coming in over the ocean and huge black clouds and waves came crashing in. If it hadn't been freezing cold, with a biting wind, I could have stayed on that beach for hours. Walking up to a huge chunk of ice and looking into it's depths didn't get old. It felt impossible to capture the shades of blue with my camera, yet looking at the pictures now, I can't believe the colors were even richer than that. This stop on our trip is one I'd love to do again. 

Sadly we had to leave the lagoons behind, but luckily the drive for the rest of the day were equally stunning. We were followed by the storm as we drove east. This meant that we constantly alternated between rain and sun, with a smattering of rainbows in between.

As we drove down the south coast, we saw many little farms nestled at the bottom of steep hills. Many had small waterfalls in their backyards. I can't even estimate how many different waterfalls we saw. I'd even go so far as to say we were never out of sight of one of some sort or another.

We made it to Höfn for a late lunch and found Hafnarbúðin, a little diner on the harbor. This small fishing town on the southeastern end of Iceland has a large export of fish and langoustine. We had read that it was one of the best places to get seafood. Iceland in general has a love of fast food and seafood, which can be a really great combo. We couldn't believe that langoustine were available alongside hotdogs and hamburgers. I probably could have eaten three times as much as we did. If only eating out hadn't been so expensive there!

We spent the rest of the day driving through the eastern fjords, surrounded by rainbows. It will take a pretty spectacular rainbow to impress me after the ones we saw there. After hours of striking colors and double arches, we almost got desensitized to them.

"Oh look, another double rainbow with full arches!"

"Yeah, but this one doesn't have all the colors like the last one did"

"Maybe we can drive through this one" 

We could have easily spend a couple days in the quiet towns and peaceful shores if we'd had more time. Instead we took a shortcut through the mountains and headed back over the mainland north to Egilsstaðir and the campsite there.

That night we had one of our fanciest dinners: noodles and red sauce. I don't want to call it Spaghetti, because that implies meat sauce and peppers and such. This was truly noodles, sautéed onions and red sauce. The food we made in the camper was so basic, that this seemed complex. Usually we ate ramen, perhaps with an egg cooked in the broth with the noodles to create a sort of egg drop soup. Once we even had sausages, but things had to stay simple at camp. The wind was too cold to stand outside while we cooked and ate, so things had to be fast, hot and cheap (groceries were expensive). If we ever go again, I'd pack a few things like spices and hot sauce to liven up simple ingredients. 

While I'm talking about the camper van, I might as well mention a few other things: 

  • We used Snail Motorhome Rental and got their Snail Micro with 4WD. This was their smallest (cheapest) model. We would definitely recommend Snail. They're a family run business and even though we returned with multiple things broken (spare tire, cooler extension cord) they didn't nickel and dime us.
  • Everything we needed (from cooler to clothesline and cooking supplies) was included. The only problem was they didn't communicate that before we arrived, so we ended up bringing an extra suitcase of camping stuff we really didn't need.
  • We choose to do the camper van instead of a regular rental car so that we didn't have to commit to spending the night at specific places since we had no idea where or what we'd actually end up doing. This worked out really well for us. We were able to follow the weather and take advantage of the sun. 
  • The bed/living platform was elevated behind the two front seats. Our storage was underneath. So the living space was only 2.5ft, maybe 3ft tall. I enjoyed having our own space every night and not having to spend the night in a new hotel, b&b or hostel every night. However, I'm almost a full foot shorter than Dave. When we got home Dave admitted that he wouldn't do the camper van again. I think other companies have better lay outs and set ups in their small vans, and I might look into those if we were ever to do a trip around the entire island again. By the fourth day we had a system down which included a clothesline in the back to dry our towels and swimsuits, teamwork in setting up and stowing away our bed, and putting up the privacy curtains.
  • The biggest annoyance about the camper other than the lack of space was the fact that we were constantly searching for things. Because we shifted from driving to sleeping in the same small space we'd lose track of simple things all the time. 
  • It was a bit chilly at times, but we only woke up with ice on the windows once. 
  • It was worth have 4WD if you're remotely adventurous, which if you're in Iceland, I'd hope you would be.
  • We had been told you could camp anywhere, but found that most places had newly erected "no camping" signs, which we assumed were due to the tourist boom over the past 5 years. Campsites were absurdly easy to find. I was worried and had marked them on our map which was totally unnecessary as campsites are as common there as McDonalds are in the US. 
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I was hoping to only write 3 posts about this trip, but I'm only halfway through, and this post is a monster already. Here's to hoping the next one won't take me 3 months to write. 

If you have any specific questions, I'd love to hear them and do my best to answer them! Let me know in the comments.