2015 Aug 2 & 3 – Days 9 & 10 – At Sea and Reykjavik, Iceland

What a difference a day makes!

During the night (Saturday to Sunday) we entered the Denmark Strait which is notorious for bad weather and rough water.  By the time we woke the ship was sailing through high waves and winds of 46 knots.  All accesses to the promenade deck were roped off.

John and I, fortunately, are not bothered by rough weather but navigating around the ship became a bit hazardous with all the wave action so we spent most of the day in our cabin – emerging for lunch, long enough to do a load of laundry, and dinner; our third formal night

We have met quite a few new friends on the cruise.  Our table in the dining room is open seating – meaning no fixed table at no fixed time.  Before we boarded the dining room manager had made a reservation for us for the first three nights at 5 pm at Table 134 – a round table for 8, not beside a window but next to the tables beside the window so we still had a good view.  Meghan told us that if we liked the table at the end of the three days to let him know and he would book it for us for the duration of the voyage; which pretty much gave us fixed seating.  We had a few different couples join us the next few nights, but over the course of the week we have become a regular eight; John and I, Bob and Barbara from Florida, Jim and Lynn from Victoria, and Lois and Sheila from Seattle.  Sheila and Lois had made no dinner reservations but were seated at our table the second and third nights and then tried for the next three nights to get back.  Last night they were brought to the table and happily announced that they were joining us from now on.  We have a blast every evening.

Due to the strong winds and high seas all day the Captain had to go slower than was required if we were to make it to Reykjavik by our scheduled 8am Monday morning.  Unless things calm down a lot overnight so he can speed up considerably we will be late arriving – possibly as late as noon.  This may put paid to our 8:15 am, 8-hour tour in a 4X4 on the glacier and into the ice cave.  I hope not.  I am looking forward to that one.  We may still be able to do it by switching the lunch stop for a dinner stop since the sun doesn’t set until 10:20 pm.

We saw a note in our mail slot when we left for the dining room at 5 o’clock.  Our tour is on for tomorrow with the full itinerary. Whatever time we dock is when we head off on tour.  Yay!  And the weather is supposed to be not too bad – partly cloudy and 12C (54F).

We woke Monday morning as we sailed into Reykjavik under blue sky.  And it was 8 am.  Once we had cleared the storm last night the captain poured the coal to it and made up a lot of our lost time.  We were told to go out to the parking lot at 9:30 and wait for our bus.  It arrived at 10:30 (many of the buses were late and there were a lot of very unhappy people. Turns out – rumour has it anyway – the shore excursions desk did not inform the tour company until we were docked that we would be arriving almost on schedule so many of the drivers had to go get their buses and guides and hotfoot it to the cruise terminal. There will be several letters of complaint sent to HAL in Seattle I am sure).

We boarded our bus and headed out of the city.  Iceland has a population of 300,000 – 2/3 of whom live in the greater Reykjavik area (the actual city boundary population is 100,000 but the same amount again live in the suburban sprawl.)  Iceland is 80% uninhabitable – all under ice or volcanic rock – and everyone lives along the coastline.  And since they have lots of coast they just spread out at will.  Tourism has recently become the number one money earner, followed by fishing and aluminum smelting; which is quite controversial because it does not employ many people, all the bauxite is shipped from Australia and Jamaica to be melted down and turned into aluminum in Iceland because the energy is so inexpensive here.  Then the ingots are shipped out to USA, Japan and Europe.  Icelanders are VERY proud of their clean environment and many are not pleased that foreign companies are benefiting from the country’s natural thermal power to produce a product that employs few people and puts pollution into the air.

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Icelandic Horses – the only 5 gaited horse in the world.IMG_7219Our first stop was at Thingvellir National Park.  Here the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian tectonic plate are slowly separating – which will split Iceland in half in about 15 million years. The plates are spreading apart and separating by 2cm per year.  It was very easy to see where the earth is splitting.

IMG_7237 IMG_7238 IMG_7242 IMG_7244 IMG_7245 IMG_7249 IMG_7252 IMG_7254 IMG_7269 IMG_7270It took almost three hours to drive into the Highlands and through the lava rock desert to arrive at the base of Uxahryggir Glacier.  We only had to wait 15 minutes or so for our pre-arranged entrance time into the ice cave.  The cave is man-made; actually carved out of the glacier by two farm tractors with sandstone tunneling drills attached.  It took 14 months to make and the company expects (hopes) it will last 10-15 years.  The cave is about 150 meters beneath surface of the glacier so you don’t have to worry about the roof caving in.  With all the bodies moving about the big open spaces though there are lots of places where water drips and puddles have formed. It has become a huge tourist attraction.

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You can just spot the big 8-wheel trucks near the top of the glacier.IMG_7387 IMG_7388 IMG_7429 IMG_7498 IMG_7433We walked into the glacier and descended slightly to a bench-lined room where we added Crampons to our shoes for grip on the ice as we walked.  The loop takes almost an hour to do.  There are several ‘rooms;’ one was rented out recently to 60 people who had a summer solstice party and they also have a chapel where people can and do get married.

Our guide around the ice cave asked me if we were from British Columbia because we were both wearing the Painted Lodge jackets we bought at the Hanna Reunion in Campbell River.  I said yes, but not from the Island, that we were from Salmon Arm.  He laughed.  “I spent 8 months in Kamloops taking adventure guide training and went to Salmon Arm a couple of times. Lovely area.”  Small world.

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Looking back at the entrance.IMG_7440  Crampons – great grip

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Pointing out the ash-line from the 2010 volcanic eruption.IMG_7443IMG_7448 IMG_7455 IMG_7457 IMG_7469 IMG_7474 IMG_7481After our tour of the ice cave we drove about 20 minutes to the hotel for our lunch.  By this time it was almost 4 pm and we had had nothing to eat since 8:30.

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IMG_7531 IMG_7532 IMG_7541An hour later we were back on the bus heading for Hraufossar and Barnafoss; two waterfalls, neither of which are very tall.  Hraufossar is an actual waterfall from glacier run-off water and flows down a river. We could only see the channel as we didn’t have time to walk up the pathway all the way to the waterfall itself.  Barnafoss is a wall of running water that just comes out through the lava and flows down the walls.  It is strictly melting glacier ice that soaks through the lava rock underground.

IMG_7551 IMG_7561 IMG_7565 IMG_7567 IMG_7571 IMG_7579 IMG_7581 IMG_7582 IMG_7583 IMG_7584 IMG_7585We boarded the bus for the final time and started our long drive back to Reykjavik. Aug 3 was a Bank Holiday long weekend in Iceland and is a huge family holiday time.  Our drivers (there were 3 trucks of guests) felt we would get caught up in returning holiday traffic if we went the normal highway route so we took a detour which became two detours and added over ½ hour to our trip but gave us a lovely scenic drive back to the MS Veendam.

IMG_7632 IMG_7657 IMG_7663 IMG_7669 IMG_7706 IMG_7711 IMG_7720 IMG_7725 IMG_7727 IMG_7730 IMG_7738 IMG_7741 IMG_7743 IMG_7768Iceland reminded John and me of New Zealand just the way the mountains were so close-up and of Hawai’i because we were constantly driving through lava beds from one scenic spot to another.  It is called The Land of Fire and Ice yet has quite mild winters with a normal snow fall of one and half to two meters and normal winter temperatures of 1C.  The sun rises for 3-4 hours in the winter and sets for only 3-4 hours in the summer. Tourist come all year round.  There were over a million visitors here last year and even more are expected this year.  I can understand – why there is a lot of beauty here; even in the deslolation of the lava rocks.  Tomorrow we are here until 1 pm and have another tour scheduled at the horrible departure time of 7:30 am.

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