Iceland Day 8: Fjaðrárgljúfur, Skogafoss, and Seljasandsfoss

Having had a long day of hiking the previous day, I slept in as much as I could and rested up before I headed out. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich later, I was back on the road. My first stop was a really cool canyon that I was really looking forward to seeing, Fjaðrárgljúfur. This was one of my most anticipated spots on the trip, so my excitement was pretty high. The canyon was only about 45 minutes away, so I hit the road at a leisurely speed. One thing I started noticing, as I did the day before, was the heavy increase in people out on the road. I was finally coming full circle, inching my way closer and closer to Reykjavic. It was expected, but not desirable. 

I finally arrived at the canyon after taking a short drive up a dirt road from off the main highway. I wriggled my jeep down the rocky one lane road, and parked at the small parking lot. There were close to a dozen cars already parked. It was a little busier than I anticipated, but having seen so many cars on the road already the last day or so, it made sense. The land in the area was different shades of green and brown, with a weird mossy-type grass that covered it. I knew the canyon was going to be a unique visit. I headed up the main trail which lead to a few viewing platforms. My first look at the canyon was amazing. 

The canyon was pretty amazing. I kept exploring the trail, which didn't go far. I was a little upset there weren't many more places to explore in the area, at least none that were open at that time. I disobeyed a few of the signs already as I headed out on a few ledges that probably weren't all that safe. I needed the best view I could get. I had seen the canyon plenty from above, and headed back down to see if I could get on the ground level inside.  

I got down to what was a path that lead to the ground level of the canyon, but there was a small sign that indicated there was no walking allowed. I pretended like I didn't see it and head down there anyways. I didn't make it very far before the river took over most of the ground, and I had nowhere to go. I really wished I could of walked through the whole canyon, but I guess it just wasn't possible. It was still nice seeing it from the ground level though.

After wrapping up at the canyon, I headed back out toward my next stop: Skogafoss. After another fairly short drive, I arrived in a huge parking lot. The area had a restaurant, hotel, and hostel all right next to each other. Like a lot of the stops along this southern area, it was very touristy. Again though, understandable. I found myself a parking spot, recharged my batteries with a delicious Snickers, and headed to the falls.

The waterfall itself was by far the tallest I had seen yet. It was incredibly powerful looking while staring up at it from the black dirt and rocks at its base. The sun was shining at that time, and there were a few rainbows forming at the base of the falls. Families and couples alike were all staring and smiling admiring the beauty of it all. Just wonderful.

Couldn't avoid all the mist and splashing. no complaints though.

To the right of the falls was a very steep stairway that led up to a viewing platform that hangs above the waterfall. I made my way up the area next to the stairs, and noticed a very sketchy "viewing" ledge that was near the top. Nobody was there, so I figured it was a good place to capture a different angle than the crowd. The view was definitely awesome as I traversed my way very carefully to the edge of the cliff. The drop off was pretty high and steep, but the cool angle it gave me was worth the risk. I went about it pretty cautiously, I suppose. 

From here I continued up the remaining stairs and past the crowded viewing platform to a small ladder that lead over a fence. From here, there was a ton of open terrain that lead back into the hills and who knows where else. I walked around a little bit, taking in the amazing views and quietness from the high elevation. I was curious to keep going and explore some of the trails up there, but it was getting a little late and I had one more stop. After relaxing for a bit, I made my way back down to my car. 

From here, I wanted to get to Seljasandsfoss for a nice sunset. I headed there quickly as it was getting late, and arrived after a short drive. I made it before sunset, but the sky was extremely cloudy at that point, and there wasn't much available light. I was a little disappointed because I knew this was a great spot for sunset pictures. I was also pretty tired already by the time I arrived, so I didn't take much time to find a good shot. I set up my tripod in a few areas and snapped off a couple of shots. I wasn't liking what I was seeing, and was getting tired and cranky. I had to just make due with the few shots I got. 

I decided to stay the night in the parking lot of Seljasandsfoss that night. I cooked up some pasta, tossed it around with marinara, pesto, and hot sauce, and cozied my way into my sleeping bag for a little warm relaxation. The day was pretty eventful, though I didn't get to see everything I really wanted to. Still, I knew my trip was nearing its end, and wanted to finish strong. I slowly fell into a comfy nights sleep, ready for the next day.

Iceland Day 7: Jökulsárlón and Skaftafell

I woke in the morning from my campground in Hofn, having slept in until about 9:30 AM. I was about to enter the southern strip of the Ring Road and hit some of the more popular and touristy sites that Iceland had to offer. Everything from here on out was a relatively short drive away. First stop: Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon.

The lagoon is one of the most popular stops in all of Iceland. I first pulled into the main parking area of the lagoon. It was packed. Tour buses and floods of people populated the area. I felt uncomfortable. I immediately pulled back out of the parking lot, crossed a short bridge, and parked on the opposite side of the highway. Here, I could easily access the black sand beaches that the lagoon flows into. The beach was littered with different sized pieces of ice that floated down stream from the lagoon. A very cool sight indeed. The beach went on for quite sometime, but I just explored about a half mile of it or so. It was lightly raining at this point, but I really wanted to get some beach shots of the ice and sand. 

Got my feet and lens wet. Worth it. 

After diddling around the beach for a bit, I headed back across the highway to the adjacent parking lot. This lot was across the river and lagoon from the main lot. Far less people here. I ventured down a path that brought me to the edge of the water. It was cloudy and gloomy, but the rain calmed down to a very light drizzle. I continued walking along the water, getting different perspectives of the lagoon and glaciers, even spotting a few seals in the process. The bright blue waters was a sight to see, but the troves of people across the way and tour boats floating through the glaciers took away some of the majesty of it all. It was still a pretty cool place though. 

The weather was cold, so I heated up some water and made a quick pot of Earl Grey tea before I got back on the road. Up next was Skaftafell National Park. A short drive away from the lagoon, I knew I was headed to another busy location. Nevertheless, I was excited to do some exploring. After a short drive, I arrived at another crowded parking lot. Much expected considering it was a pretty large park, with a visitor center, tour guides, campground, and restrooms. There was a particular hike I wanted to do here, so I packed my gear, and made my way to the map outside the visitor center. 

After plotting out my course, I knew which trails to take, and was off. The weather was still very gloomy, but my hopes were up that the sun would eventually shine through. I made my way up the trail that led to the Svartifoss waterfall. The trail climbed pretty rapidly up the terrain, past the campground and deep into the park. Elevation gain was quick, so I had to lose a layer before I started sweating too much. After about 20 minutes of a brisk pace, the hike brought me to the beginning of the trail down to the waterfall. It was love at first sight. 

The waterfall was so unique from anything I had seen before. The rock formations around the falls were naturally carved out by lava flow however many years ago. Apparently the type of lava and rock that was in that area created these natural vertical rock slates. A beautiful backdrop for the waterfall itself. I ran into several people there, including a fellow amateur photographer from Vancouver. I hung out for a bit, getting various perspectives of the fall. For a few minutes, I even had the entire area to myself. I played around here for a bit and grabbed some fun shots. 

After my time at the falls, I continued back up the mountain and toward a lookout part called Sjonarnipa. I continued along the trail at a leisurely pace, enjoying the quietness. At this point I was the only person on this particular trail. It was so peaceful and quiet. All I could hear were the small creeks that ran close to the trail and the birds chirping. It took me a good 45 minutes before the trail leveled out and I was at a pretty high elevation. I approached a big lookout area, and made my way toward the edge of the mountain. Another surreal moment was about to take hold of me. I've lost count at this point.  

The view from the top was simply breathtaking. On one side I had a clear view of the large glacial area that ran through the park and surrounding mountains. On the other side, an endless view of the landscape that seemed to go on forever. It was a huge valley covered with small winding rivers and barren terrain. I took my time just staring out into it all. It was probably the most peaceful and powerful feeling I had had so far in the trip. The raw beauty and power of it all was unbelievable. Small bits of snow started to slowly fall while I was up there. A nice dramatic touch to the already surreal moment. I eventually snapped out of the dream-like state, and began to make my way down the mountain.

Mile and miles of amazement. 

After about an hour of descent, I finally made my way back down to the visitor parking area where my car awaited me. I grabbed some water and sat for a moment, trying to comprehend the amazing things I just witnessed. It was getting late at that point, and my body was tired. I drove down the road a bit and parked my car, cooked up pasta, and decided to call it a night. Another successful day of amazing Icelandic nature. The trip was making its way into the home stretch. I anticipated the next day's adventure as I comfortably fell into a well-deserved sleep.

Source: http://www.kevintackett.com/travel

Iceland Day 6: Highway 1 and The Vestrahorn

With a little bit of back tracking, I knew I had a long day of driving ahead of me. I was basically going to head down the entire eastern side of Iceland on Highway 1, on my way toward Vestrahorn mountain and the town of Hofn. Driving out of Akureyri was tough, I knew it was for sure going to be my last time in the city, after having quadruple checked that I didn't forget my sleeping bag. The city truly was a home away from home, but I had to keep moving on. I bid my farewells and hit the road. The now familiar highway of the area was still a joy to look at as I headed out, but I was ready to see new landscapes. 

The wonderful northern town of Akureyri. 

Most of the day consisted of driving. It was kind of nice being on the road and just coasting. Not really having so many stops and turn-offs was nice and relaxing. Highway 1 provided no short supply of amazing views. It's amazing how quickly time goes by when you're looking out at such a unique landscape. Your mind kind of drifts and wanders at each turn. Very peaceful. 

Highway 1. 

The majority of the day was just driving. Nothing extraordinary to the reader, but trust me, it was quite amazing. My first actual stop I had planned was to photograph the Vestrahorn, a mountain in the southeast of Iceland. The mountain was viewable from the black sand beaches next to an old radar station. The radar station was used by NATO during WWII. Pretty interesting. The drive there was a little ways off of Highway 1, down a gravel road. There's a small café there where guests are asked to leave donations. I complied. 

At first, I headed down a dirt road on foot, toward the base of the mountain, thinking this was the right area to be. It wasn't. I came across a single house and continued toward a small manufactured village. I later found out that it was a production set for an old movie that had been kept in tact. I dead-ended pretty quick on that trail and headed back. After getting back in my car, I headed down what I thought was a private road toward the radar base. There I saw the black sand I was looking for, and the amazing view of the mountain. There was one other photographer there, who left shortly after I arrived. 

The place was spectacular. The black sand had these small hills of long grass rolling for hundreds of yards. The ocean was just to the side as well. It was a spectacularly unique landscape. I could of spent hours there trying to find the right shot, but the sun was almost set, so I tried to get off as many shots as I could. I wasn't sure of the right angle to get, and didn't have time to experiment too much, but I did my best.

Sunset at Stokksness. 

After spending about an hour or so here, it was getting late, so I decided to head to the town of Hofn for a night's sleep. It was going to be hard going back to sleeping in my car after three nights in a row at a hostel, but hell, this was a road trip after all, so I was prepared. I settled down at a campground next to the water, cooked up some spaghetti, ate a few oreos, and nestled into my sleeping bag. The day was all about visual spectacle, and it didn't dissapoint. I went to bed knowing the majority of my long drives were done, and there was a lot still left to see as I moved into the southern area of Iceland. 

Iceland Day 5: Borgarfjörður Eystri

After not anticipating staying another night in Akureyri, I was eager to keep pushing on down the country and to see a new area. There was an interesting small town in the East that looked like a good spot to spend a day hiking and exploring, Borgarfjörður Eystri. I packed my things, and said good bye to my cozy hostel once again. The sun was out, and the weather was the nicest I had seen so far. I threw on my shades, cranked some tunes, and I was off. 

On the way to my destination, I decided to stop off at Hverarönd, a geothermal "hot earth" spot. I first noticed it on the way up to Viti Crater, and figured I might as well check it out since it was just off the road. I pulled into a parking lot full of cars and tour buses. People of all ages wandering aimlessly around the steaming rocks and colorful ground. The first thing one might notice when visiting the area is the intense smell of sulfur. If you'v never smelled a very intense concentration of sulfur before, the best way I could describe it would be "Earth fart." The area was cool, but I didn't want to stay long. 

Back on the road, I took my time on winding up and down the roads, once again soaking up the amazing views. Blah blah blah, it was beautiful, you get it. I stopped off in a new location just below a bridge, where I had a great view of a small river running through a canyon and under the bridge. It was a pleasant little surprise that was thrown my way. 

Iceland is full of random gems like this. 

I continued onward, making my way toward what would be considered the Eastfjords. As I pulled onto the one road leading into Borgarfjörður Eystri, I really started to feel like I was in the middle of nowhere. Small towns and homes began showing up less and less. I knew I was headed into a very remote part of Iceland. I began winding up and up a steep grade, into the snowy mountains. As I descended on the other side, I spotted a very small village on the edge of a beautiful bay. Still not my destination. As I passed that village, I began wrapping around yet another mountain, this time hugging a cliff with the bright aqua blue ocean on my side.  

After wrapping around the mountain, the town I was looking for was finally in sight. I made my way into the isolated village, only to get a very weird gloomy backwoods kind of vibe. Maybe it was the weather or the atmosphere, but the town just seemed cold and empty. Nevertheless, I pulled up to the first spot I wanted to hike, Álfaborg. Icelandic folklore claims that the Álfaborg was home to Hildur, queen of the elves, as well as various other creatures like trolls and goblins. It was pleasant getting to see something of cultural significance. Hiking up the "mountain", was a little underwhelming. It only took a few minutes to reach the top, but still, it was a great spot that offered a wonderful 360 degree view of the village and surrounding mountains. This was another spot I took my time at, enjoying the silence and peacefulness of it all. 

Surrounding mountains of Borgarfjörður Eystri.

After I got back to my car from Álfaborg, I lit up my Jetboil and started to cook some pasta. As I was looking in my car, I noticed something was missing. Something I kind of needed to continue my trip. My sleeping bag was nowhere in sight. It dawned on me pretty quickly that I probably left it at the hostel, so I called them up, and sure enough, they had it. Being basically in the middle of nowhere with only one road leading in and out, I really only had one choice: drive my ass 4 hours back to Akureyri and get my sleeping bag. I was definitely upset at myself, but hey, at least I could enjoy another beer or three and a bed. 

So I ended my day after about 8 hours of driving, back at the coziest of cozy hostels in Akureyri. I began to grow a little attached to that city and hostel, and deep down kind of missed it before I even knew I was going back. Regardless, the day wasn't completely ruined, but it did change my schedule around a little. I went to bed peacefully knowing tomorrow was going to be another great day, so long as I didn't forget my sleeping bag again. 

I'd live there. Yup, definitely.

Iceland Day 4: Ásbyrgi Canyon

With a pretty decent night's sleep in, it was time to explore the north. First stop: Ásbyrgi Canyon. At about two hours from the town of Akureyri, I imagined I would just continue down the Ring Road after some exploration here. I arrived sometime in the late afternoon, after taking my time at the hostel, and having another amazing shower. The drive, yet again, was spectacular. The roads in the northern area of Iceland weave in and out of snow-capped mountains and beautiful streams and canyons. Elevation fluctuates quite a bit as well. It's a good thing I got to drive a similar route several times up there because it was just amazing. 

When I arrived to the canyon, I was a little surprised at how empty it was. There was an eerie sense of abandonment as I pulled into the parking lot. Nevertheless, there were a few people who showed up shortly after me. I quickly heated up some delicious canned Italian stew, and decided to explore the area a bit. Shortly after walking down one of the short paths, I ran into a pretty deep layer of snow. In fact, most of the area on the ground level was covered in snow. I knew I was in the wrong place for a hike. 

Frozen goodness.

After walking around the immediate area, I knew the hiking trails I was looking for weren't there. I headed back up to the visitor center, and monitored a map they had displayed outside. I quickly discovered where I needed to be, and head to the area which was just a few minutes away. I parked my car, grabbed my gear, and head off on the trail. The trail lead me along the bottom area of one of the canyon walls, and then eventually up it. After a quick ascent, I was on one of the canyon hills, heading upward and into the main canyon. The trail was moderately easy, with a mellow climb as I moved toward the inner part of the canyon. While hiking, I felt another moment of surreal isolation. There was nobody around but me. I couldn't see a single human or car in either direction I looked. All there was was the path at my feet, and the amazing landscape around me. 

Isolated trail. Nothing but fresh air and serenity. 

I made my way along the trail, which cut close to the edge of the cliff I was ascending. The view started to become better and better. The canyon itself was a little stale, as most of the trees were dead brown, and there wasn't much of a landscape, but still, It was such a unique site to see. The feeling of isolation while walking the trail was amazing. It was quiet and peaceful, and each way I looked I could see for miles, into the amazing river-filled land and snowy mountains. I took my time going in and out of the trail, exploring wherever I felt looked interesting. I eventually stopped on the edge of the cliff for a few photos. I couldn't resist. 

The trail kept going up toward the inside of the canyon, and the view stayed basically the same. Beautiful. I stopped several times and just basked in the amazing atmosphere. I eventually made my way to the end of the trail, which brought me to the very edge of the cliff I was walking on. I looked into the canyon, amazed at the simple beauty of it all. Quiet, clear, spectacular. I hung out for a bit before I eventually made my way back down the way I came. From what I saw from the ground level, I wasn't expecting to enjoy the area as much as I did. It was surprisingly pleasant. 

Peaceful viewings. 

After finishing the trail, I decided I would make a stop at Dettifoss, Europe's most powerful waterfall. On my way there, I came across a big patch of snow in the road. Having not seen signs that the road was closed, I figured it was nothing. I drove forward, thinking my 4x4 Jeep could handle it with ease, only to find myself quickly spinning my tires, momentarily stuck on a sloping hill in the middle of nowhere. I threw it in reverse and punched it, spinning the tires for a good 20 seconds until I finally made it out of the snow and back onto the road. Not my finest hour. 

The alternative route to where I wanted to go was going to take several more hours than I had originally anticipated, and after a long hike, I wasn't ready for that journey. I decided it was best to head back to the town of Akureyri, and back to my little home away from home hostel. I eventually made my way into town, and settled in for the night. Not as an eventful of a day as expected, but still solid nonetheless. Tomorrow, yet again, another adventure awaited. 

Iceland Day 3: Viti Crater and Akureyri

I woke from a slightly better night's sleep, at the early hour of 6 AM. A bowl of delicious all bran cereal later, I was back on the road.  Next stop: Akureyri. The city of Akureyri is the second largest in the country outside of Reykjavik, so I was planning on using this as a home base for the day's adventures, as well as stock up on whatever else I needed. After leaving Hvammstangi, I felt much more optimistic having started to adjust to the new time change...sort of. 

I was now entering what would be considered Northern Iceland, and once again I was greeted with a spectacular display of mountains, valleys, winding roads, and beautiful blue skies. The weather had definitely cleared up, and it immediately put a smile on my face. It's amazing what a little sunshine can do to lift the spirits. Not that my spirits really needed lifting, after all, I was in fu**ing Iceland.  At one point in the drive I came around a bend and was greeted with an amazing view of a valley landscape. I had to stop to take some photos and soak in the site. 

Endless mountains.

From there I headed into Akureyri, not certain what I was going to do except get some food. The city was definitely large (by Icelandic standards), and I knew there was going to be plenty of places to grab food, stock up, get gas, and maybe even shower. After a little bit of debating over lunch, I decided I would stay in a hostel for the night, and recharge the batteries. This brought me to Akureyri Backpackers. This cozy, welcoming hostel was in a main center of the city, surrounded by shops and cafés. A good base for the time being. The hostel itself was the perfect place to hang my hat and do a little planning. 

Akureyri Backpackers. My home away from home.

Next stop: Viti Crater. I decided to head east a bit, and wanted to check out this crater. It looked interesting from what I had researched. The drive was about 2 hours from Akureyri, which again, flew by in no time. I made my way to the snow-covered area, and took a road up the mountains and past a small power plant just below the crater. The road finally ended, and the crater was a short walk up the mountain, on a mostly snow-covered path. I did not have to best shoes for walking on snow, but I did my best to keep my balance and not fall on my ass. I mostly succeeded. 

When I arrived at the top of the crater, I looked down expecting to find a cool lake inside. It was completely frozen over. Not surprising considering the entire area was covered in snow. However, the view from the top of the crater was absolutely breathtaking. Surreal moment number 3 (or is it 4 now...) had just kicked in. From here, I could see what seemed like an endless landscape of snow-covered mountains and valleys. It was like I was on top of the world. Simply spectacular. 

Top of Viti Crater.

After taking my time absorbing the view and atmosphere, I headed back down the mountain. Next stop: Lake Mývatn. I didn't have a solid plan for the lake, just knew I wanted to check it out. Most of the trails I came across looked closed due to the snow, although I probably just didn't see a lot of them. Either way, the lake and surrounding area was beautiful. I drove around the entire lake, trying to keep my eyes on the road instead of staring at all the beauty. I pulled over for a few minutes at a viewpoint to take a look around. Having not found a clear hiking path anywhere, I decided it was time to head back to Akureyri. 

Mývatn area. 

Mývatn area. 

After having spotted it on the way up to Viti Crater, I figured I'd make a quick pit stop at Godafoss waterfall. It was a small pull off the road, so I figured why not. It was actually quite a nice spot, and my second of Iceland's many waterfalls. It definitely had much more of a presence and amazement than Kirkjufellsfoss. I could feel the power of the falls shaking the ground. Mist was in the air. The small rainbow was a nice touch too. I snapped a few quick pictures then headed back out, not staying too long.

That pretty much put a wrap on the day. I made my way back into the great town of Akureyri, where a warm bed, a shower, and a few beers awaited me. Day 3 was another success, and I was really starting to sink my teeth into the amazing things Iceland had to offer. But I wasn't done. In fact, still just getting started. 

Iceland Day 2: Snæfellsnes Peninsula

As I woke from what could be described as a moderately terrible night's sleep, I was ready to get back on the road and keep exploring.  I woke up at about 5:30 AM, still not fully adjusted to a new sleeping schedule, but at least I had the whole day ahead of me.  After munching down a quick bowl of cereal, I plotted out a course for the town of Arnarstapi, which is located on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.  

Whole grain cereal with almond hazelnut milk. Actually pretty good.

As I hit the road, the gloomy weather and lack of sleep was getting to me a bit.  What started off as excitement turned into a bit of frustration and grumpiness.  These feelings completely disappeared in about 10 minutes as I began to drive through an amazing landscape of mossy rocks and snow-capped mountains.  It was still a very surreal feeling for me being here.  It's just hard to look around and not feel a sense of wonderment.  It was also hard not to want to stop every few minutes and take pictures of the landscape, but I couldn't resist.  

Your average Icelandic road. 

My first actual stop was the town of Arnarstapi.  I pulled into the coastal town in the early afternoon, ready for another mellow, but eventful day.  There is a great coastal walk that I went on that connects Arnarstapi to Hellnar, another small coastal town a few kilometers away.  Much like Þingvellir, I wasn't committing to anything too advanced or treacherous.  The walk was peaceful, and needless to say, beautiful.  The terrain changes from smooth dirt patch, to rocky volcanic rock as you weave your way along the coast.  Each area of the path offered great views of the ocean, towns, and mountains surrounding the area. 

At the end of the path, I arrived at the small town of Hellnar.  There was a small café right by the water that I read about.  I was hungry, so I stopped in.  The café was just opening as I arrived, and I was the only person there for a good 20 minutes. The menu was small, but I couldn't pass up on some fish soup.  I started with a coffee and waited patiently for the fish soup (it wasn't quite ready yet since they just opened) as I stared out of the small windows and watched the small harbor outside.  The fish soup arrived, and giddily went in for my first sip.  My mouth exploded with a wonderful rich, yet light seafood broth with small bits of vegetables and different fresh seafood.  Seriously, it was amazing.  Here, I ended up meeting a couple that was traveling from Maine and talked to them briefly about their travels.  Those bastards only had a 4 hour plane ride. 

After filling up on delicious soup and coffee, I made my way back to Arnarstapi on the same trail, only to find even more amazing views as I headed back in the opposite direction.  The view this way back was even more spectacular, as I was looking into the mountains east of Arnarstapi.  It was such a pleasant walk, and again aided to the surreal feeling I had leading up to that point.  After I got back to my car, I hit the road and continued around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

Back on the road, I made my way around the western and northern side of the peninsula, taking in the views and thinking about what to do next.  My initial plan was to spend a day in the Westfjords, but after discovering that it's about a 5 hour drive to the city I wanted to go to from Snæfellsnes, I decided to finish driving the peninsula before I found a place to stay for the night.  

On the north side of the peninsula, I stopped at the Kikjufellsfoss waterfall, one of the most photographed locations in Iceland.  It was definitely a bit touristy for my liking, but I wasn't going to pass it up for that reason.  I spent a good hour or two here taking a crack at photographing the small waterfall and the adjacent mountain.  It was a beautiful spot that I loved taking the scenery in at.  The place was flooded with photographers, all trying to get the infamous shot of the falls with Kirkjufell mountain in the back.  I can see why it's such a popular spot for photographers. 

After a pretty damn long day, I needed to find somewhere to bunk down for the night.  I began searching for campsites on the way to Akureyri, and came across one in the town of Hvammstangi.  Driving along the coast and mountainsides, the sun began to sink toward the horizon.  It was about 11 PM when I finally arrived at the campground, and there was still plenty of light left.  I boiled up some water, threw in some pasta, and watched the beautiful sky as I waited for it to cook.  After a full belly, I was ready for bed.  Not before I spent another hour and a half writing a script for one of my classes, of course. THEN I was ready for bed.

Home sweet home.

Iceland Day 1: Þingvellir and Sleep

After months of planning, shopping for the right gear and clothes, and countless hours of lost sleep staying up late trying to imagine the perfect trip, it was finally time to leave for Iceland. My level of excitement for the trip matched my excitement of not having to spend any more time planning things out in conjunction with the other responsibilities of my life.  The time was here, and I was ready to go. 

The journey began with a quick flight from LA to Seattle.  After a short layover, I boarded my plane on Icelandair, and was ready to jump countries.  The flight wasn't terrible, considering I slept most of the 7 hour flight time.  Thanks sleeping medicine.  After finally landing, my first glimpse of this new world was a short walk from the plane to a shuttle that was waiting for us on the runway.  My first impression of breathing Icelandic air: cold.  

After quickly making my way through customs and picking up my bag, I grabbed up a small bottle of Jameson at the airport market and headed out to the main terminal.  A few hours later someone from my car rental company arrived to take me to my car.  Paperwork filled out and all, I hit the road.  First stop: Reykjavik.  I spent a good two hours in the capital city buying some provisions and getting a SIM card for my phone so I could use GPS and internet.  Well worth it.

The first stop on my itinerary was Þingvellir National Park.  Located about 45 minutes northeast of Reykjavik, I found this the perfect place for my first adventure.  The drive up there was a bit of a sensory overload, as I took in the vast, unique Icelandic landscape for the first time.  It was definitely a bit surreal at first, considering I spent so many months planning this trip and looking at pictures online.  Seeing it for real and breathing in the air was pure satisfaction.  

So I arrived at the park around 1 PM, and quickly made my way up to the first viewing platform which overlooked the valley and surrounding mountains that the park sat in.  Again, pure satisfaction.  My initial glimpse of Iceland nature was breathtaking, to say the least.  I was ready to explore a little more.

Þingvellir National Park

The park itself provided plenty of mellow walking trails.  Considering there were people of all ages and families strolling around, I knew I wasn't in for any extreme adventure.  This was exactly what I was looking for for my first outing.  I took my time walking through the park, taking in the scenery, and trying to mentally come to the conclusion that I was in fact actually in Iceland, and that all of the planning and anticipation had finally brought me to this destination. 

I spent about two hours here, casually making my way from one path to another, taking pictures and breathing in the unique Icelandic air.  Every few minutes I had to stop and stare at how incredible this place was, and I was just getting started.  

After making my way back to my car, it immediately hit me that my body was completely drained and I needed some rest.  Something I was not anticipating this early into my trip.  I laid down in the back of my jeep and quickly knocked out into an exhausted slumber.  The lack of sleep from the night before and the drastic time change had quickly caught up to me.  I ended up napping for a solid 4 hours without really even noticing.  I had to force myself to keep moving, as I didn't travel all this way to sleep the days away.  

Having not anticipated sleeping for that long, I decided to skip out on a few other stops I had planned for the day, as to not burn myself out too quickly.  My next stop was the town of Akranes, where I figured I could sleep for the night before heading out the next day.  After arriving at a small campground, my tiredness was amplifying, and I knew it was time to get to bed.  I set up my sleeping bag and pad in the back of my jeep, and watched the beautiful ocean out of the back door as I slowly fell into sleep.  It was only about 8 PM, but I knew tomorrow had plenty of more adventure to come.  Having already been exposed to the beauty of Iceland, my first day ended with pure satisfaction and anticipation with what was to come.  

Big Sur in February

This trip was to celebrate my 27th birthday on February 27th.  It was awesome.

We started the trip on a Friday morning, leaving Anaheim, CA around 6am.  We thought we could try and get past LA County before the traffic really picked up.  We were wrong.  After two hours of stop-and-go traffic, we made it past LA and into Ventura County, where we were able to pick up speed.  Excitement quickly set in as I knew there was nothing but open road ahead to one of my favorite places in the world, Big Sur.  The first stop was San Luis Obispo, where we refueled, grabbed some refreshments, and loaded up on ice, beer, whiskey, and firewood.  You know, the essentials. 

A few hours later, we were driving through the beautiful winding coastal roads of central California.  The views here are just breathtaking.  Having the ocean just off the road while winding up the cliffside definitely makes the drive not suck.  I loved seeing and hearing my friend's reactions having seen this area for the first time.  It's quite spectacular.

Behold, the California coast...

The first real stop in Big Sur was Nepenthe.  I've now been here all three times I've been to Big Sur.  It's the perfect lunch spot, and offers great food with spectacular views.  The perfect place to relax and have a drink and some food after a long (though beautiful) drive.  This place offers a fairly small, but delicious menu.  I ordered my usual shrimp BLT.  The perfect little sandwich with jumbo shrimp, crispy thick bacon, and a tomato jam.  So damn good.  After we fueled up our bodies here with food and bloody Mary's, we headed back up Highway 1 to find our campground. 

Lunch with the dudes at Nepenthe.

Just a short way up the road, we arrived at the Ventana Campgrounds, our home for the next two days.  After putting way too much thought and effort into finding the right campground, I settled on this place based off of the location and fact that it's in the middle of a redwood forest.  Would I stay here again?  For the price, maybe.  It was definitely the most expensive campground I've ever stayed at (our site was about $70 per night).  Nonetheless, once we got settled in, I was glad I had spent the extra money to stay here.  We set up underneath the shade of beautiful redwood trees, and the atmosphere was relaxing.  Oh, and we also got incredible cell service here (something I'm not used to, nor do I care for while camping, but it was nice to have when I wanted it).

Kicking my feet up after setting up camp.

After a long day, and not much sunlight left, we decided to "stay in" for the night.  So what do five grown men do while sitting around a campsite?  The obvious answer is drink.  So obviously, we drank.  Being as it was my birthday the next day, and my friends being who they are, we drank quite a bit.  For most of the night, we had a blast.  It's always a good time having good company and just being able to talk about weird/fun/crazy/stupid/silly shit.  Eventually, we made our way into the whiskey.  It sounded so brilliant at the time, and for most of the night, was such a great decision.  We decided to play a game that me and Gil play at work, called "No Skips."  The concept is each person takes a drink out of a bottle and keeps passing it around until the bottle is finished.  Typically this game is played with beer, which is the safe bet.  We played with Templeton Rye Whiskey.  Now, we didn't particularly finish the entire bottle in one non-stop motion of no-skips, but we definitely did a few passes in between breaks, and about 45 minutes later, the bottle was dry.  Needless to say, one of us ended up getting sick by the end of the night, and violently vomited out of their tent most of the night.  For their own personal sake I won't mention who it was, but I will say that it was definitely me. 

Cheers to 27.

I won't talk about my hangover the next day, but I'll just say it was bad.  Anyways, on to the activities.  Since this was our only real full day, I wanted to make the best of it, and show the guys what Big Sur is all about.  One day is definitely not enough time to do this, but we still made it fun.  After a quick breakfast and lots of coffee, we packed up our gear and headed down the road toward Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.  After a quick pit stop at McWay Falls (a must), we headed across the street and into the park itself.  We decided to do the main hiking trail here, the Ewoldsen Trail, as I've done it before and knew it was great, so I wanted to show the guys.  Plus, it isn't a super challenging hike, nor does it take an extreme amount of time (probably took us about 2 hours).  

Behold, Chase.

The hike starts at ground level, and you quickly emerge into the forest underneath giant redwoods.  After a quick switchback near the beginning, we began to gain elevation rather quickly.  There are several streams you cross over, and lots of beautiful fallen trees to get yourself around.  We were hiking at a decent pace, though we were really in no hurry, and why should we be when we are in such a beautiful environment.  After a few quick breaks, we eventually made our way near the top of the trail, where elevation gain slows, and we had breathtaking views of the ocean at our side.  It was pretty hot near the top, with little shade once you get out of the redwoods, but the view was too spectacular to complain.  

LG feeling like a King.

After walking along the coastal side, the trail heads back into the forest from elevation, and you get great views of the valleys that form from the park.  We stopped just off the trail underneath some trees for about a half hour to rest and munch down some Cliff bars.  After the quick rest we headed back down the trail, and began to descend back into the forest and the shaded trees.  We took our time the rest of the way down, as it was extremely relaxing being underneath the trees and walking over creeks.  The guys seemed to really enjoy where they were at.  After ascending out of the forest, we decided to head back to camp for some sandwiches and a beer or three.  Here, we decided to head to Bixby Bridge to watch the sunset.

The classic Big Sur landmark. Bixby Bridge. 

We made our way out of camp and up Highway 1, through the winding roads, taking in the beautiful coast along the way.  The sun was getting lower in the sky and the atmosphere was amazing.  We lucked out and had pretty clear skies.  We decided we weren't going to try and cram anything else in for the day, so just relaxed on the cliffside and watched the sun go down.  The parking area on the North side of the bridge is definitely overcrowded with tourists, but it worked fine for our group.  I definitely want to seek out a new spot for Bixby Bridge the next time I head up in the area.  Even with plenty of extra on-lookers, there was a wonderful sense of happiness that washed over me as I watched the sun slowly fade below the horizon.  Being in my favorite place, with some of my favorite people on my birthday was just incredible.  It's truly moments like these that I live for, and am grateful for the friends I have and the fortunate life I have.  I can say that 27 is off to a good start. 

Walking on sunshine.