þingvellir and Gullfoss

The original vision for the Iceland tour route  that I had plotted out in June entailed starting in the large West Fjords peninsula in the northwest and then making a clockwise circuit around country’s ‘Ring Road’ with occasional forays into the highlands.  Had I been alone at the beginning I might have held to that, but with Maurice having arrived for a two week stay at the beginning I decided to aim for the highlands first to start on an adventurous note.  

I was not sure how adventurous to be so contacted Ice-Rovers, a local company that organizes highland trips, for route advice.   After spending some time with looking at a map with (name????)  we decided to cross the island from south to north using the F35 out of Gulfoss.    We agreed to head east from Reykjavik on the way to Kolour highland route, which took us en route through the so-called ‘Golden Circle’.   This is  not really a circle at all, but a relatively small area of southwest Iceland that contains more than a few sites of natural and historical interest. 

Golden Circle route map, Iceland
Maurice and I took the north leg through Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss, before heading due north on the F35

We started out at þingvellir, (pron. Thingvellir – the þ, or ‘thorn’, is one of the old Norse letters in the 32 character Icelandic alphabet),  a place of great socio-historical significance for Iceland and of global geographic interest.  Socio-historically it is where for centuries the chieftains of the Icelandic Free State, created by the first Norwegian settlers in 930, held the annual ‘Althing’, or Commonwealth,  to make laws and resolve legal disputes.   Today it is considered hallowed ground by Icelanders for its role in defining their political culture.   Geographically, þingvellir is a point where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet.  It is this meeting of the plates which make Iceland one of the most active volcanic regions in the world.   At Þingvellir the two plates are about 5 kilometres apart and separating by a couple of centimetres and the valley between is dropping at about the same rate.

Hikinig trail along a fissure at þingvellir

There was a lovely lake at þingvellir  that was lined with fisherman.  Maurice, who had the foresight to bring his gear, tried his luck, but did not have any.

þingvellir Lake

We set up camp at what we came to learn is a typical format for many, tho’ certainly not all, campgrounds in Iceland: a large field with no specific site assignments.   This is actually normal European camping, but it differs dramatically from what we know in North America, and not in a positive way.   It works fine if, as was the case at Þingvellir, it is not crowded, but we later learned that those campgrounds can sometimes get very crowded.   þingvellir was fine tho’; we even got a rainbow with no rain.                                                                

The morning after the night we were at this campground we were treated to a group of motorized paragliders coming down from the hill above Geysir that flew right over the campground and carried on out of sight.
The next day we were off to Geysir, a proper noun after which all other geysers are known.   This was the first of several geothermal fields I encountered in Iceland, this one consisting of several vents and dominated by a so-named Great Geysir, which actually erupts every 4-5 minutes, much more frequently than the smaller-yet-more-well-know  Old Faithful at Yellowstone.     Iceland is a volcanic creation and has some 30 separate volcano ‘systems’.    These systems are tapped for geothermal energy to provide about 40% of the electrical power and heating for virtually the whole country.  They even melt the snow in the streets in Reykjavik using geothermal water.     

Geothermal field at Geyser, with some evidence of the tourists that are flocking to Iceland

The same day as we went to the geothermal field we also got to one of Iceland’s iconic waterfalls.  Gullfoss (Waterfall of the Gods)  is a beautiful two-stage cascade tumbling down from the highlands.

At Gullfoss we were already at the beginning of the F35, the first mountain road of our trip, and one of two great routes crossing Iceland through the middle from south to north between glaciers.   That was the real beginning of the adventure, and I will save that for the next post.

First Week in Reykjavik

One week in Iceland and things are coming together very nicely.  I arrived very early in the morning July 19 and spent the day making sure all the documents required to clear customs were signed and had gotten to the right place, before checking into my simple but comfortable hotel right in downtown Reykjavik.
Hotel Metropolitan – green awning on right

After a weekend spent exploring and planning and resting I picked up Maurice at the airport at 5:00 Monday morning in a little one-day rent-a-car. We came straight back to the Hotel so he could take a nap and by the time he woke up at 9:00 I had received an email saying that the Defender had been cleared by Customs and was ready for pick-up from the Port. By 11:00 with the help of a couple of guys from EIMSKIP, the local freight company, we had gotten the truck and tent out of the container and installed the tent on the roof.  We now have transportation and accommodation!

The timing could not have been better.  I am still pinching myself because there are so many ways this could have gone sideways.   I would not have been terribly surprised if the Defender was a week or two or more late; or the customs clearance took a days or weeks.  None of that happened, everything has gone perfectly.

Maurice and I at the Viking Ship Sculpture in Reykjavik Port at the beginning of the Iceland Adventure

 Next we left the rent-a-car parked at the port and continued in the Defender out to a town about 10 km north of Reykjavik to try to track down a Land Rover mechanic that had been recommended to me by a local tour operator I contacted the day I arrived that uses Land Rovers.  I need the mechanic to install my  “snorkel” (a raised air intake to allow one to drive  through  deep water) so we can cross rivers on some of the highland trails.  Obviously, it would have been better to do that in Ottawa, but the snorkel I had ordered from England had not arrived when time came to put the Defender in a container, so I brought it with me, in one of my suitcases!   I only had a street name to find the mechanic but we just drove along until we saw a bunch of Land Rovers parked outside.  The owner, Mr. Gislason, said we just needed to come back the next day and he could do it in an hour.   They did a great job, for a reasonable price.   We are now ready to cross rivers!

SS Gislasson shop installing the new Safari Snorkel on the right front

On the way back into Reyk we had time to find out what kind of propane campers use in Iceland.   We bought a 5 lb tank  at a hardware store that fits perfectly into the same carrier on the Defender that first bore a propane tank around West Africa 6 years ago when Laura and I did our West Africa Wander.   We went to an outdoor store near our hotel(Ellingsen https://www.ellingsen.is/ellingsen/utilega/gas-og-aukahlutir/gashylki   to get a burner that fits the stove.   I also brought our old Coleman camp stove with me, but it is not possible to connect that to the Iceland tank but the same outdoor store also sells the green Coleman 1lb propane tanks that fit the Coleman stove.    The price makes my wallet bleed ($10 for 1 tank),  but we got two of them anyway because when Maurice and I get cooking one burner is just not enough.  We are now ready to cook, with 3 burners!

Before we could actually move into the Land Rover we still had to get some groceries.   Grocery shopping  is always fun in a foreign country, and Iceland was no exception.  This was a big shop, because we are starting (almost) from scratch, we each brought a few things from home but we still need lots of basics to be able to ccok.  Maurice and I have travelled together like this in my trailer for many weeks so we have a fairly developed idea of what we need to cook, and we know each others preferences  There was some culture shock on this occasion, because while some products have english labels, lots do not.  So….what kind of fish is this, exactly?  Or, what is the Icelandic word for nutmeg?  As is often the case in Iceland there was some sticker shock.  Grocery prices do not seem as inflated as those in restaurants, but still exceed those in Canada.  The financial system Maurice and I have adopted consists of an envelope into which we each put an equal amount of cash to cover all the common consumable expenses like food, fuel and camping fees.   It works well, we just need to keep putting more money in that envelope.

Once we got the food we could start to camp.  I wanted to do a test camp here in Reykjavik before we head off into the highlands because inevitably there will be things we have forgotten and it is better to discover those oversights while we are within easy range of stores and services.   There is a large campground in Reykjavik that is quite European, with lots of tents but also lots ‘caravans’, as RVs are called here in Europe.

Maurice at Camp in Reykjavik
There is quite a large covered common area, with lots of shared kitchen facilities, a library and Wi-Fi.  The best part is it is located next to the largest thermal pool in Reykjavik.    Iceland is (apparently) full of naturally heated “swimming pools” that are (apparently) very popular with the locals.  One guidebook said the pools in Iceland have a similar social function as pubs in Britain or cafés in France.  You go there to hang out with friends.   These are geo-thermally heated and I am looking forward to enjoying lots of these all over the country as I travel around for the next few weeks.    We finally got into the Reykjavik pool on Wednesday night and it was quite something.  We bopped around between 4 pools or tubs that ranged from 4 deg cool to a blistering 44 deg. C.   A great experience, and one that made me feel like I have finally arrived in Iceland.
So now we are ready for the road.   Next Post will start with our visit to Pingvellier and (the original) Geyser.

Bound for Iceland

This is the tale of an adventure in Iceland in the Summer of 2018, featuring the 1995 Defender as transportation, accommodation, kitchen and dining room. Over the past 5 years since we returned to Canada with the Land Rover we have enjoyed the occasional outing with the Ottawa Valley Land Rover Club,*OVLR) with whom we have been able to do some great off-roading, but without any e of the expedition travel that we enjoyed in West Africa after restoring and outfitting the vehicle for that purpose. Inspired by a suggestion made by a fellow-OVLR member (thanks Eric) in the winter of 2018 I began to plan to ship the Defender to Reykjavik for an extended stay. Like the West Africa trip it actually went ahead as planned without any hitches. I was joined for different parts of the trip by my wife Laura and friends Maurice and Stephen and the posts in this section provide an account and images of of some of our experiences.