So, when I’m laying in bed waiting to die, and Ethel has gathered the dogs around (that’s all we’ve got – kids are all far away. Don’t have any close friends in Whitefish that are “hang around while you’re dying” friends. It’ll pretty much be Ethel and the dogs) I’m going to look at her and say “Do you remember touring the ice lagoon?”
“Lemme ‘splain. No – is too much. Lemme sum up.” – Inigo Montoya
First off, we started out bad. Not a good morning. They didn’t have much in the way of coffee at the Icelandair Hotel Egilstadir, so we went to the local gas station/convenience store – “N1” – to get coffee and pastries to start our day.
First thing was – they didn’t even open until 8 AM. So we had to wait.
(editor’s note: one of the strange things about Iceland is the limited operating hours for just about everything. You’d think, in a place that never gets dark, that stores and restaurants would keep extended hours. Nope.)
So, we waited until the convenience store opened – but, no coffee? That’s right. They opened, but they didn’t have coffee ready until 8:10 or 8:15. Now, this is not Aunt Olga’s tiny store in a frame house; this is the national brand. Brand new building, large and well appointed – you wouldn’t blink an eye if you saw it in your home town, until you looked at the brand names (and did the math and realized that the gasoline is about $6.50/gallon).
But the convenience store doesn’t open until 8 AM, and when it’s open, it has no coffee at the coffee bar.
But eventually they brought the coffee; but when they did, we found out that I didn’t have my credit card. Seems that I’d left it in the gasoline machine the previous evening. What’s strange about that is this is one of those places where you leave your card in during the transaction; but apparently it spit it back out, and never took it back in, because the card was gone.
So I had to call Capital One and take care of that. Fortunately, we’ve still both got our debit cards, and Ethel has her Capital One, so we’re good.
But this caused us to drive away with expensive late coffee and head south on Highway 1/95 while I was on the phone with Capital One, and this caused us to miss our turn (seems that they’ve been busy renumbering the highways – but the maps and the road signs don’t match). Then, when we did make our turn, we didn’t believe it;we hit a road sign for Highway 1 – the Ring Road, the touristy way to circumnavigate the island – that said, basically, “DANGER! If you take this road, you’re in trouble. If anything happens, your vehicle will be recovered at great expense. Oh – BTW – there’s a 17% downgrade during this stretch of bad road.”
And we took it.
And that’s where the bad morning ended – because that road was AMAZING. A fantastic hour or so of rock road through amazing terrain, with a 1500 or so foot descent at the end through a volcanic canyon down to a fjord.
We got back on pavement at the coast, and headed south – and the views and weather kept getting better and better.
And then we got to the Ice Lagoon.
The Ice Lagoon is a big body of water at the base of a glacier (I can almost pronounce the name, because they taught it to us, but I ain’t about to try to spell it) that is a finger off of the huge Vatnajökull glacial cap that covers a large part of southeast Iceland. Where the glacier meets the water, the icebergs calve off – but they are stuck in the lagoon, because there’s a bottleneck (seen above) where the lagoon goes out to sea, and the icebergs have to float around the lagoo until they are small enough to make it out the bottleneck.
There are a few ways to see the Ice Lagoon, but Ethel booked us into the absolute best, for folks like us – small Zodiac boats that go out and scoot around the lagoon, shooting between the icebergs and getting as close to the face of the glacier as safety allows.
Since we’re in these fast, inflatable rafts, they put us into survival gear in case we fall out. The survival suits are waterproof and poofy – either for warmth, or floatation – and the wearer winds up looking like Ralphie’s little brother in “Christmas Story”. Here’s Ethel, modeling it while getting on the bus:
They drove us to the dock and we got on the Zodiacs –
And then we took off across the water. It was a seven-kilometer ride across the lagoon.
Here’s where I admit that I have no pictures of the ride through the icebergs, or even of the face. I was too busy being in the moment to try to capture the moments. If you want to see that stuff, go be Facebook friends with Ethel – she’s got it all recorded in stills and videos.
I will say that it was an experience that I hope I never forget – shooting between big chunks of floating ice on a Zodiac like we were Navy Seals on a mission. Seeing seals – we saw four of them, including one baby who had one of the sweetest faces I’ve ever seen.
Laying off the face of the glacier about 600 meters, and seeing the big chunks fall – we saw at least two of them falling into the water, saw the aftermath of a third, and heard a fourth but couldn’t find it. An iceberg falling off a glacier makes a sound like a cannon in a canyon.
We had to stay that far away in order to be save from calving – not just the big chunks falling OFF, but also there are icebergs that break off from the underside of the glacier, and those shoot up through the water and break the surface – and will toss your boat through the air if they happen to come up below you.
On the way back from the face, I did manage to take some pics of some of the larger bergs that we inspected close-up:
Then we docked, drove, got out of the puffy suits, and got in the car and drove south – but we couldn’t stop grinning. We both knew that this would be one of those that we’d be talking about forever.
We pretty much stopped taking pictures after this – the four-hour ride home was mostly in rain. We did stop and see one fantastic waterfall (Skogarfoss) and I have to admit that the pass between Selfoss and Reykjavik was one of the most beautiful we’d ever seen.
Now we’re back in Reykjavik. Today we’re going to go see some stuff – Halgrimskirje and the museum with the dead Vikings and maybe do some shopping. Tomorrow we’re booked with Mr Puffin – a company that does tours in the bay that let you see puffins. I never thought I’d pay money to get in a boat to ride out and look at a bird, but – there you have it.