We began today’s tour of the South Coast at 7:30am and got back to the hotel about 11pm. We are not normally tour people, but we heard that the South Coast is the thing to see and it did not disappoint. We ended up traveling about 1/3 of the way around the island, ultimate destination - Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. This grueling schedule was compounded by the fact that we need to get up for the flight tomorrow at 4:30am and finish those last two time zones to actually arrive in Europe. One wonders how many more years we will be able to sustain such a pace, but apparently we are still good for short spurts of travel madness. The guide broke up the drive with stops and narration and we must admit that at one point a nap was the best thing to do even while she was talking.
Again Grayline was very efficient, picking us up in small vans and redistributing us at their main center. The bus was huge and quite full, but in the back we found room to stretch out and each get a window to document every inch of this unique scenery. It’s odd how much Iceland has in common with Hawaii. Both of these volcanic islands as still in the process of being built by volcanoes. But climate makes a huge difference. We drove past areas of eruption from 300 years ago that looked like they just happened yesterday. In Hawaii they would have been camouflaged with vegetation. Recently the Icelanders have begun importing trees; they planted five million last year. The volcanic soil is fertile, but the growing season so short and odd - 24 hours of sunshine in June, 24 hours of darkness in December, that it is the rare plant that will put up with it. In Hawaii we got the impression if you put a stick in the ground, it would flower the next day. Here they have had trouble with a black sand beach area we drove through. High winds whip the sand around and scrape the paint right off your car. They have started planting an Alaskan lupine that is happy to be here to hold the soil and prevent the blowing and erosion. The lava takes so many unique forms as it flies through the air and cools. We passed areas of gently rounded boulders and craggy hay stack formations.
Every so often we came upon an area that was steaming. The crust is thin in these spots and the rainwater has come to a boil with the volcanic heat and is making its escape. It’s an eerie sight. This is a constantly evolving situation. We passed a town that ended up being built over a hot spot. No one can have a basement; people bake bread in holes in their back yards. The cemetery had to be relocated a few kilometers away lest the dearly departed give off cooked meat smells. Eeeew…
Although the glaciers here are melting fairly quickly as they are all over the world, the largest Jökulsárlón Glacier still contains as much water as is held by the Amazon River. Our guide is quite concerned by the fact that volcanoes currently buried under that ice are overdue to erupt. It is hard to imagine the damage that molten lava followed by all the water contained in the Amazon would cause over much of the island.
But today was a mostly beautiful day, although there were times when it rained on Ken’s side of the bus and was sunny on mine. At the glacier lagoon we got on vehicles that can drive off the land and into the water and got up close and personal with huge pieces of ice. It is amazing how many colors are generated by the compressed white snow. Some pieces had vivid black stripes, bits of rock and soil they had picked up along the way. Others were crystal clear and looked like they belonged in a margarita. The ice that has been squeezed the longest and hardest gives off an eerie blue glow. Spectacular.
Much of the South Coast drive lies beneath the ledge that the glacier lies upon. We passed one gorgeous waterfall after another and got off the bus at Seljialandsfoss and Skøgafoss for a closer look. Nearly every waterfall had a cluster of buildings beneath it. Running water provided by Mother Nature. The glacier made its own weather. At times it was easy to see; at others it was cloaked in thick gray clouds.
Each of the spots where tourists would linger also had some sort of campground, mostly patronized by tenters. Some had shared cooking facilities and shower houses, but were definitely up to our spoiled standards. Overall Iceland is still struggling to catch up with infrastructure for tourists. Our guide said that twenty years ago many roads were still unpaved. The places where we stopped to buy lunch and dinner were crawling with customers, because there were so few of those places. It is as expensive here as we had heard - two sandwiches, two apples and one bottled drink cost about $16. We splurged for dinner - one fishburger, one hamburger, no drink - total $25. We are looking forward to great eating on the cruise so a bit of privation was probably a blessing in disguise.