Saturday, July 11, 2015
Saudarkrokur to Akureyri
What can I say about today? Today was, quite simply, the best day we've had so far. It was a combination of multiple once-in-a-lifetime experiences that we will never forget.
Knowing that we'd be whitewater rafting today, and knowing that we were woefully unprepared to be doing so on a glacier fed river in cloudy weather with temperatures of around 10C, we went to the local store to find some warm clothing. Ugh, stuff is so expensive here. A pair of long johns was like $60. So Sarah settled for some fleece leggings and we decided she would just wear my clothes. No one cares how snazzy you look when you're freezing your ass off on a raft.
With rafting not starting until 3pm, we had time to kill. And did we ever kill it in style.
We went to the Glaumbaer Folk Museum. Let me tell you. This place is unbelievable. An absolute must see if you're in this area of Iceland. Not going there should be a crime punishable by permanent exile from the country.
It is the site of a very old settlement, with archaeological evidence suggesting signs of organized human settlement as early as 900 AD. The majority of the property that is displayed dates from the 1700s. It is a traditional Icelandic turfhouse.
We were able to overhear a tour guide giving a bit of a spiel to her group. Although this was a well heeled family, they still lived in hard times. They rarely bathed, instead often saving horse urine and washing with that. They would leave it exposed to the air to gas off the more potent components. Apparently it works really good for keeping your whites white. Try it out! In the winter, they often stayed indoors and did much of their work by oil lamp, as there is only full sunlight for about 3 hours.
But it was amazing the accoutrements they had in this house. They roasted green coffee beans and then ground them up right there. They had massive pantries where they stored all their food. An indoor fireplace,, which obviously smoked out the whole house, but which they took advantage of to also smoke the meat hanging in the meat pantry. Apparently the house was still inhabited in the late 40s, at which point it received money from a wealthy British nobleman who loved it and donated money to start a museum foundation for it.
Check out the pics on Facebook. It was a truly fascinating place, and seeing that this was an actual house that people lived in, and how the turf construction was done was fascinating.
Then we went in search of a secret. There is a tiny natural hot pool nearby called Fosslaug (which translates as "waterfall pool") because of its proximity to Reykjafoss (which translates as "smoky waterfall). I read about it online after seeing it inconspicuously mentioned on a local tourism website. The directions given on one blog were a bit sketchy, so I wanted to ask someone local.
When I asked the lady at the tourism info centre where it is, she looked at me kind of funny. She leaned it and got a little quieter and then pulled a map out from under the desk and said "We don't like people knowing about this. But when they ask specifically about it, we will tell them how to find it."
Turns out this little hot pool is on private ranch property. The rancher is okay with people accessing it as long as it doesn't get out of hand and they follow the rules. She showed me the directions (down a back gravel road, to the end of another gravel road, through three gates and over an old wooden bridge) and made sure to drill it into my head that I MUST CLOSE THE GATES BEHIND ME. "Not on your way back. RIGHT AFTER YOU GO THROUGH THEM!!" See the rancher has almost taken the steps of closing it off completely because some tourists didn't close the gates, and his sheep and horses got out. Not cool tourists. Not cool.
What can I say about this place? Unbelievable is really the only word that comes to mind. It is a small little pool that fits maybe 6 or 7 adults. But it is just a hole dug in the ground and lined with rocks. A natural hot spring feeds right into it. The water is about 40C. And if you sit near where the spring enters the pool, it is unbearable. Like so hot that it burns your skin. In fact, the water in the tiny little brook from the spring is so hot it is bubbling. But when it gets into the larger volume of the pool, the temperature is perfect. And you are only maybe 50 feet from a gorgeous waterfall to boot. So you sit there, soaking in this natural hot water, mud between your toes, listening to the intoxicating, hypnotic roar of water crashing down over rocks. It is enough to lull you to sleep.
Sadly, we couldn't stay there forever. The time came to head off to the whitewater rafting base station. The company, Viking Rafting, is run by a Canadian from Montreal. He hires what looked like mostly foreign young men. The main guide was named Zach, and was clearly American. He comes from Idaho, and just bought a one way ticket, got this job, and doesn't know when he's going back home.
After getting the safety spiel, we took off with the bus. There were 16 of us in all, plus three guides. One from the US, one from the Netherlands, and one from Nepal. It was about a twenty minute drive to the put in. We had dry suits on, which were a new experience for me. But because I was wearing four layers on top, and two on bottom, I was feeling pretty good. But it was damn cold out. Probably only around 8C and the wind in some areas was crazy strong. Enough to blow your paddle right out of your hand. And keep in mind this is a glacier fed river.
We had signed up for the family friendly tour. Mostly due to timing and cost. So it wasn't the most adrenaline pulsing action packed rafting tour you'll ever go on. But the scenery was breathtaking. It was a very deep canyon with fascinating rock formations on both sides. The water was fantastic actually, even though it was ice cold. And the piece de resistance of the whole trip, was our quick shore stop.
They pulled over to the shore where another natural hot spring bubbled up. They had a bucket of cups stored there. We each took a cup and filled it up with what was boiling hot water from the spring. The guide then took out hot chocolate powder. The kind with marshmallows. Yeah he did. It was seriously epic. And the water was perfect. It didn't have a sulfurous taste that I feared it might.
We continued down the river. Sarah and I were the front paddlers so we had to set the pace. And the guide said we were a great team. Uh, yeah, duh. Except for the time my paddle got jammed under a rock and pulled under the boat and I almost fell out. I did say almost. I totally owned that damn rock and kept dry. Take that. Stupid rock. Didn't even lose or break my paddle. Boo yah!
One of the best parts of the trip was at the end. We took out at a part of the river bank surrounded by very steep sides. I had no idea how the guides would get the rafts up the bank. Then I saw a little cart. It was clearly handmade, and just big enough to pile the three rafts on. When we got to the top we saw an old tractor. We couldn't have our phones with us on the raft so I couldn't get a picture. But picture this old tractor. Like really old. It's been sitting in the same spot for 20 years, so is thoroughly embedded in the ground. The tire has been taken off the back left wheel, and the drive train has been disconnected from the back right wheel.
A thick steel cable is attached to the back left wheel. The other end of that cable is all the way down the river bank connected to the little cart, on which the guides stack the rafts. The old guy who helps them out, who I think is like in his 70s, has a hat he got in Gimli, Manitoba (a town full of descendants of Icelandic immigrants), speaks very little English, and I'm pretty sure, despite my best attempts to pronounce the Icelandic word for pharmacist, thinks I am a farmer, hops on the tractor and fires it up. That turns the drive train, which turns the wheel, which pulls the steel cable, and pulls the cart along a handmade wooden rail. It was hilarious and impressively resourceful.
Finally when we got back to their base, and we were changing out of our dry suits, I struck up a conversation with a Dutchman. He thought it was awesome that I'm of Dutch heritage, and he knows exactly where our ancestral town (Dalfsen) is and that of much of our extended family (Genemuiden), this despite my complete butchering of its pronunciation. Then when I put on my All Blacks shirt, his young boy went totally googly eyed. Turns out rugby is becoming a popular sport in the Netherlands. His lad has been playing for six years now and is completely obsessed with the All Blacks. He also plays the same position I did in school (prop). Honestly, I think I made the kids day. Especially after I told him that rugby is way better than football, with which his father wholeheartedly agreed. Risky thing to say in front of a Dutchman, but my gamble paid off.
As always, we finished off the night with a great meal, and are staying in an adorable country hotel overlooking the fjord near Akureyri. Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland. Looking forward to checking out the downtown tomorrow, and then off to the Myvatn area, which is one of the most popular areas for tourism in Iceland. They have nature baths, multiple hot springs, lava formations, craters, and much more. Should be a busy day!