Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Glacier and his friends. Days 9

The next two days were when things got really, really serious.  Also - they are the days with the best costumes.

Day 9 was glacier day.  We prepared ourselves in the way we assumed, based on our imagination of what climbing a glacier would be like, was best - by putting on six layers of clothes.  Once we got to the meeting place, we were promptly laughed at and went back to the car to take off 4 or 5 of the layers.

After we disrobed in public (some of us for the second time, Musar) we were ready to get fitted for crampons and helmets and given our ice axes.  These costumes were easily the most bad ass of the entire trip.

Once we were suited up we headed out to Skaftafellsjokull.  According to the guides on our hike, we were very lucky because we were hiking just after the eruption of near by Grimsvotn so instead of having nice, pretty blue and white ice - our ice was blue, white, and grey.  It did make for really pretty contrast in the pictures.  But I am fairly sure its also pretty gorgeous when it's pristine and not volcanic ash-ified.

There was a bit of the hike that happened before we put on all our gear.  It was no more than 20 minutes but I felt myself getting a little out of breath.  It was then that I realized I was probably completely unprepared for what was about to happen and my new goal became just not embarrassing myself and not dying.

Once we put on the crampons we had to practice walking in them a bit.  I have this somewhat inexplicable fascination with mountain climbing (since I have no interest in actually participating in such an activity, just learning about it) and so getting to strap on crampons made me feel very much like Jon Kraukur.  Which was kind of cool for exactly 10 minutes.  Then I realized I had another 4 hours ahead of me and reverted back to my original goals.

The hiking guides (just like the horse-back riding and whale-watching ones before them) were awesome and incredibly patient with us.  And they had this really subtle, polite way of stopping for breaks but pretending that we were stopping to learn about various glacier things.  The flat bit wasn't too bad at all.

I had assumed that we would get to the part where its no longer flat, eat our sandwiches, take some pictures and hike back down, but the guides had other plans.  They kept us climbing long past what I felt was necessary.  Apparently, we had to go up so far so that we could find a place high enough to rappel down.

If I had any lingering thoughts that perhaps I would like to pursue this hobby more seriously, they were quickly squelched with this exercise in clumsiness and un-coordination.  At one point I was dangling in mid-air... and then ran shin-first into the glacier.

This, coupled with my tumble down a volcano in Hawaii last year, cemented my place fairly close to sea level.  For keeps.

As with anything, the hike down was a piece of cake in comparison.  I couldn't believe that what took three hours to traverse up only took about thirty minutes to get down.  As soon as we were back at the bus, they whisked us off to the glacier lagoon for a far less ambitious way to take pictures of ice.

The glacier hike & boat ride were by far the most crowded tourist excursions we booked (with the exception of the Blue Lagoon which was essentially the Disney World of Iceland).  After 6 or so days of relative solitude, it made me kind of hate people.  My heart is still in the city, but it made me really angry when a fellow tourist answered her cellphone in the middle of the lagoon while the adorable little guide was talking.  As if there is something so important it cannot wait until we're all back on dry Icelandic land.

I got all mad, but then I ate a piece of 1,000 year old ice and felt better.

After many more photo ops it was time to travel to our next adventure - Svartifoss.  This is one of the most famous waterfalls (as opposed to the hundreds of unnamed, unimportant waterfalls we saw along the way) but we were so tired, we couldn't really properly enjoy it.  We were so lazy we took the Old Folks short cut and still didn't make it all the way to the top.  Also, after seeing so many waterfalls, it was hard to get excited about another one.  So we took two or three far-away pictures and called it quits.

This picture show just how disinterested I was in the whole waterfall trek.  Also, this is the most outdoorsy I've ever looked.  Ever.

After the hike we hightailed it to our hotel with a brief stopover in Vik for a trip to the black beaches.

On our way to the black beaches I made the most amazing discovery!

While my friends were busy driving around and playing DJ with our limited music selection.  I divided my time between being the galley master and distributing sandwiches and trail mix, taking blurry out-the-car-window pictures, and engrossing myself in our guide books.  I spent so much time with the guide books that they came to be like friends.  They each had their own personalities, the Lonely Planet was the crazy partier who was looking for some booze and illicit drugs, then there was the big fancy one who's name I never learned because he was big and fancy and had absolutely no information about where the party "was at."  But then!  There was Frommer's which was the perfect compromise.  I spent hours pouring over that thing, planning our next adventure on the fly. 

I was so excited to see the cover of Frommer's in real life, I had to take a really terrible picture of it.

Then finally we made it to our hostel.  The strangest of all sleeping arrangements.  While we had shared bathrooms already this was our first time sharing a room with other guests which was totally fine (I do know what a hostel is and everything).  I was anticipating sharing with some other 20-something travelers and either A-having to sleep with my wallet in my pants or B-getting to share awesome Iceland stories, crossing cultural divides and making life-long friendships but instead when we got there (Fashionably late - around 11 or so at night) there was a family (a mother and 2 children) quietly reading and sleeping which totally killed our post-glacier buzz. 

Knowing that just as much adventure lay ahead the next day, we hung out for a bit in the common room and then promptly went to sleep.

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She's pint-sized and amazing.