For those who enjoyed the first part of the Iceland Bucket List stories as experienced by NO&YO ambassador Sammy, Iceland Bucket List part II just arrived. Just in time for the New Year’s resolutions and making plans to adventure, explore and travel, so get your bucket lists ready. If you have any questions for Sammy about Iceland, please comment below. Enjoy!
By Sammy Silkovic, NO&YO Ambassador
The parking lot at Dettifoss emptied and we were unsuccessful in securing a lift back toward Ásbyrgi, where Rick and I began the hike and the VW Golf rental waited for us in the parking area outside the information office. We were hoping to get a ride back to save us time, we were four days into a two week long trip in Iceland and didn’t feel the need to hike back on the trail we had seen already. I suggested to Rick that we walk on the road meant for 4×4’s rather than on the trail since it would be dark soon and even though the chances were slim, we still might catch someone driving north on the road and hopefully hitch a ride.
We left the trail and hiked up a hill and toward the road used by super jeeps (rugged outfitted 4×4’s) that ran somewhat parallel to the canyon at some spots. We knew we’d be safer hiking on the road rather than the trail when the sun went down. 10 minutes into the hike we decided to set up the stove and prep some food but before I could get the fire going a small caravan pulled up. I see Rick walking toward the passenger side of the vehicle and the window came down, once the passengers face was exposed I say ” we were just about to eat” with a smile. Rick started to explain that we needed a lift and the two men agreed to get us to Ásbyrgi.
Rick and I hopped in the back and became acquainted with the gentlemen in the car, who were traveling French nurses named Chris and Quentin. They asked why we would walk and not just drive and pull-up into the parking areas to take in the sights – why hike, camp and hitchhike? We explained that it was all about the journey and how much people (that do just pull up, step out and take pictures) miss out on so much of what places like this have to offer. I wasn’t sure if they understood our point, me and Rick were just elated that we were saving time and energy.
The entire ride I smiled just thinking about how sweet it was that we didn’t need to hike back to the car and that we can move on to whatever it was that was in store for us on this trip. The universe was doing its thing and it was starting to feel like we could do no wrong. After the first couple of days of poor weather and just doing the best with what we had, we were really ready to just enjoy the shit out of this place and not try to force things.
When we got back to the car we exchanged stories with Chris and Quentin, Rick shared some of his outrageously good homemade granola trail mix and we sent them off with some beer money in gratitude for the ride. Ah the French, they came through in the clutch and team USA (Rick and I) were back in the V Dub headed toward the unknown, Sure the universe could have been a bit more generous and sent us two FEMALE French nurses, but we didn’t complain, we were grateful and feeling good about the direction we were headed.
We headed west from Jökulsárgljúfur National Park on route 85 and then south, deciding against staying in a hotel in the town Húsavik. On our way to Jökulsárgljúfur a couple days earlier, we drove by and missed Godafoss, and so we figured that it would be the perfect play for us now, setting up camp near a waterfall. Godafoss (waterfall of the Gods) isn’t the largest or most powerful waterfall in Iceland by any means but damn this place was just so pretty.
We pulled into Fosshóll (near Godafoss) and into a driveway to a big yellow house offering rooms, we took a spot on the campground for about ten bucks American (each). As I paid Rick sparked conversation with a young woman making her way up a flight of stairs off to the right of the check in desk. She had a high end camera and tripod and explained to Rick that there was a high probability of seeing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) later and that they’d even be intense. This was great, neither Rick or I have ever witnessed the Northern Lights and it was happening tonight in Iceland near a gorgeous waterfall.
We washed up, set up camp and met some professional photographers from Germany and France and shared stories over beer. We prepared our food and just hung around by our tents. Music was coming from the Frenchmen’s camper, you can hear the sound of the waterfall in the distance, the air was brisk and refreshing, the sky was clear and “is that them?” Rick pointed at what looked like long lengthy clouds, “I think that’s them!” I had never seen the Northern Lights before so I couldn’t answer, I simply stared, Rick made his way to the camper and knocked, the door swings open, I hear Rick ask while pointing in the direction of whatever it was we were looking at. “Yes, that’s them” the Frenchmen answered, he hopped out of his camper and set up his tripod. A few other photographers followed, some were nice enough to assist Rick and then me with the settings on our own cameras to catch some images. For the most part, I stood there just observing, it looked like white clouds dancing in the sky, rapidly changing shape.
The images on the camera show color but I didn’t notice any greens or blues. It was all over after about forty five minutes and before I knew it I was waking up in the morning.
First thing in the morning after packing up our gear we headed over to the waterfall for pictures. The mist coming off the water coupled with the sunlight made the scene so picturesque that while snapping away with my camera I knew that sharing pictures wouldn’t translate well to someone back home the beauty that I was experiencing. The sound of the water crashing down on itself, the brisk air filled with micro droplets of water that float on air with the sunlight blanketing the wet volcanic rock. This place was a dream and I hated the fact that I had to wake up.
We were back on route 1 and headed west stopping in and around Myvatn Lake. We hiked up Vindbelgjarfjall (529 m) for a nice viewpoint of the region, Rick somehow made the steep rocky hike up in his signature flip flops (the guy is a legend). After surviving the walk back to the car (another bout with the swarms of tiny flying insects) we pulled up near the Viti explosion crater for a walk around with the tourists. We hopped back into the Golf and made our way east toward a small town called Seydisfjördur. We made good time from Myvatn in the Ferrari, I mean VW, pulling in at the Hafalden HI Hostel before dark. It was cloudy with rain so we got comfortable at the hostel before going out for some dinner at Kaffa Lára – El Grillo Bar while watching some soccer. We came across the two Frenchmen we met on our first hike near Dettifoss (not to be confused with the Frenchmen who gave us a lift to Ásbyrgi) and enjoyed the fish and lamb that we ordered. Back at the hostel we recharged batteries, cleaned our dirty laundry and planned our next day over our map while talking to our hostel mates.
The next morning we treated ourselves to a fancy breakfast at The Hótel Aldan (seen briefly in Ben Stiller’s “Walter Mitty”). It was still raining and with heavy fog we couldn’t really get the pictures we wanted of this tiny picturesque town. We hopped on 93 (if you’re following on a map) – to 92 -to 96 and back on the 1 where we picked up a hitchhiker named Caroline who exited the car ahead of us. She needed a ride to Höfn, where we were headed for some seafood (the town is known for its fresh langoustine) on our way to Jökulsarlon. After dropping Caroline off we stopped in at Hafnarbúdin for a couple of insanely delicious fresh langoustine baguettes.
A short drive after Höfn we pulled into a pretty busy parking area at Jökulsarlon. People were out with their cameras photographing glaciers of ice that were floating in the lagoon and slowly drifting out to the Atlantic ocean. Here we bumped into a group that we had met while boarding the plane back at JFK airport in NYC. Turns out they were a team of young professional photographers, Rachel, Milad, Tommy and Owen.
On the other side of the road (route 1) we stopped for more pictures, this side is where the ice comes crashing back to shore after floating out from the lagoon. The beach is black and the ice was being washed to shore by thunderous waves crashing over the large chunks of ice, smaller pieces scattered the beach as if diamonds were tossed across a black sheet. After enjoying the scenery at Jökulsarlon we continued on route 1 now heading east toward Skaftafell National Park, which is the southern portion of the greater Vatnajökull National Park. We pulled into the campsite and set up for the night preparing food and planning for a day long hike in the park.
We got up early the next morning and started the hike with clear skies. It was nice to hike without packs and shortly after starting we come across the popular waterfall Svartifoss (Black Falls), seen on many postcards at local shops. We took the route S2 – S3 – S6 off of the trail map near the visitors center. For a good portion of the day we didn’t see many people on the trail, we hiked for a bit with a newlywed couple from the states and after an hour they had left us behind as we stopped to take pictures. The trail gets very picturesque the higher you get with mostly slow altitude gain with places that are steep, but every step well worth it. We got off the path for a bit and near the edge over looking a wide canyon where the glacier Skeidarárjökull feeds narrow streams into a vast open plain (Skeidarársandur) before reaching the ocean.
When we reached the part of the trail that overlooks Skaftafellsjökull we started to see more people. This is a popular part of the park and most people hike a portion of the trail and back and not the loop Rick and I chose. Heading back we came across a girl from Atlanta named Rachel that was on a solo trip and after brief conversation we continued on with what was a great day hike that ate up most of our day, it did take longer than expected but again we did stop for plenty great photos. The day came to an end with us getting back in the VW and continuing on route 1, we headed toward a town named Vík….
Find out what happens next in part III of my Iceland trip here on the NO&YO blog…