Author: Linda V.
Date of Trip: July 2005
June 29, 2005 Wednesday; 11:55 p.m. Icelandair Flight Vacation – Day 1
Oh my gosh!! I’m sitting in business class, and I have my own row! Woo hoo!! What a treat. I’m just so excited!
Darlene and I got to the airport at 9:30PM and found the Icelandair counter. No passengers in line – yeah! The ticket agent for business class called us over, and I said, “Oh cool! You’re gonna upgrade us!” He laughed implying, “in your dreams.” We joked around with him, and he got ready to hand us our boarding passes. My friend, Renee, is traveling from Columbus, Ohio to meet us in Iceland and her flight was cancelled due to weather. She’ll try to leave tomorrow. The agent printed our boarding passes and gave us the good news, “For your friend’s troubles…you’ve been upgraded!” We thanked him repeatedly and chatted a bit more.
Off we headed to Gate 12A and waited about an hour or so to board. Naturally I kept gushing about being in business class – seat 4A. When we got on the plane we discovered that there is no first class – we’re in the best seats of the house. Yippety do dah. I’ve got 3 pillows (one from home), 2 blankets, 2 travel gift packs. I’m really living. They gave us a choice of juice, wine or water, when we boarded the plane. Then they came around with the digeplayer. I can watch 8 movies, a bunch of TV shows, and music videos. I just don’t know what to watch first! I also have my iPod Shuffle – loaded up with 200+ songs, so I am set.
Let me go into details about the trip. Nina (my roommate from Antarctica), Renee (also from my Antarctica trip) and I all booked this trip in October. Darlene decided to join us and booked the trip 2 months ago. GAP Adventures is our tour company. They led my trip to Antarctica last year. Since then they have purchased the Little Red Boat (the Explorer) and do all kinds of adventure cruises. This will be their inaugural trip to Iceland and Greenland. We received a 15% discount from the regular rate of $2795 (still expensive). The price has since gone up to $3075. This trip is called the Fjords & Viking Odyssey. We’re on the boat for 12 days traveling from Iceland to Greenland, doing zodiac cruises and hopefully seeing lots of wildlife (polar bears, walruses, whales and puffins). This will be great. We have a chance to go on a ton of zodiac cruises. In Antarctica, we were only able to do these 2½ days out of 11. After the cruise we’ll spend five days in Reykjavik. I’ve rented a car for us, and we’re staying at Room With A View – apartments right in the downtown. They came highly recommended on various message boards. Originally my reservation was for Room 602 at $159 per night. With Darlene joining us, the room was too small, so I had to go with Room 510 at $280 per night. Ouch! At least we’re splitting it 4 ways.
Renee was originally going with her boyfriend, but they split up. She lost his $500 deposit and switched to our room. Darlene will be with 2 strangers. This should be a fabulous trip. Friday morning we’re all supposed to go horseback riding on the Icelandic ponies. The weather forecast is rain and wind…hmm…we’ll just make the best of it. We are hoping to go dog sledding at the end of our trip. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. The 10-day forecast shows temperatures of 55 for a high and 40’s for a low with rain every day. Sunrise is at 3 AM and sunset at midnight. That’ll give us plenty of time to play.
Well I better drink my split of champagne and check out my digeplayer…I’ve ordered the tandoori chicken salad for dinner along with chocolate cake. I had to pass on the foie gras, prosciutto-wrapped cod, and goat cheese stuffed Portobello mushroom. Ahh…
June 30, 2005 Thursday; 10:10 p.m. Reykjavik, Iceland Vacation – Day 2
We arrived after the fabulous business class flight – it took less than 8 hours. Unfortunately wasn’t able to finish watching “The Wedding Date.” The movie had about 10 minutes to go when the flight attendant took my digeplayer away. Bummer! Too bad the flight wasn’t a bit longer.
We went through immigration very quickly. This is the first time I remember not filling out a customs form. We had to wait quite awhile for our luggage at the carousel. We didn’t find an ATM so we headed outside to the FlyBus. They accept credit cards (as do most places in Iceland). We boarded and headed from Keflavik to Reykjavik. The drive was nice – so far Iceland appears to be lots of volcanic rock. It’s pretty with all the moss growing around it. The day was gray and wet. We had to transfer to a mini bus at the bus station and continued on to Room With a View.
Room With a View is an apartment building above a bookstore right in the center of town. We arrived at 4:30 p.m. and took the tiny elevator to the 4th floor reception and met the owner, Arni. He was very helpful. He brought us over to Room 512 with a small balcony and view over part of the city. The leather couch is very comfortable. The bathroom is pretty small. We have a kitchen behind folding doors and a small dining table. There is a double bed in the bedroom. The floors are all hardwood – overall fairly nice.
Arni gave us pointers on where to eat and walk. After changing, we headed out for several hours of walking. The town is really cute. Our hotel is on a great street – Laugavegur – plenty of shopping and restaurants. We found the 10/11 store. The Bonus Supermarket was already closed. Many stores close at 6:00 p.m. Restaurants and bars are open much later. We checked out the Icelandic Wool sweater place – ouch – mucho expensive! There is a cute one with the Icelandic ponies on it. I also found those “Thor” type hats with Viking horns. Nina and I may need to get some (and braid our hair).
We made our way to the harbor and found our boat, the Explorer, and tried to get aboard. Ernie from GAP came out and talked to us. He was on my Antarctica trip. We aren’t allowed on the boat until 4PM tomorrow, but we can drop our luggage off earlier. The guard in the shack let us look at the manifest. It’s not final, but it looks like those of us in triples got converted to doubles. Yeah! Now Renee will be in a room with a stranger from Canada, but at least it won’t be real crowded. I suggested that they upgrade us to the Captain’s Suite. Hey never hurts to ask! Ernie says the boat is not full – 80 passengers instead of the 110 or 120 it can fit.
We visited the tourist information center and collected some brochures. We continued walking and checking out menus and bakeries. We ended up at the fish ‘n chips place. I settled for just chips — frozen French fries, but they went down okay. One of the restaurants had a yummy looking chocolate cake – kind of a Death by Chocolate number. I’ll have to go back for it tomorrow.
It’s still pretty bright outside – I won’t be able to stay up much longer. Viking horses in the morning! (Arni told us we can just leave our luggage in the room. He’ll bring Renee and Nina up tomorrow morning.)
July 1, 2005 Friday; 11:58 p.m. The Explorer – Day 1; Vacation – Day 3 Icelandic Horses & Leaving Reykjavik, Iceland
“Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip, a trip takes us.” — John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley
We are safely on the ship and heading north along the coast of Iceland. We’ll then cut across toward Scoresby Sound in Greenland.
Darlene and I both woke up at 1AM. I was convinced it was at least 5AM. Two hours of sleep and I was ready to go. The revelers were down on the street partying and making noise. We had to close the rest of our windows. I was in the bedroom part of our apartment, and it wasn’t too light/bright. I turned over and slept until 7AM.
Took my shower. Hmm…the water gives off a faint sulphury smell. Yumm! We went out to try to find breakfast. The bagel shop wasn’t open at 8AM (or even at 10:00 when I checked back). Darlene grabbed a ham and cheese croissant and coffee (for over $10). I got a chocolate croissant for 160 ISK ($2.75).
We waited for Nina and Renee to arrive. We expected them between 8 and 8:30. Hmmm…at 9:00 we went downstairs looking for Nina and our tour company, Ishestar, for our horseback riding excursion. At 9:20 we went into a local tour office and cancelled the excursion. I know Nina really wanted to do it. We asked for other suggestions at the tour office, but we were limited on time since we must get on the boat at 4:00. We considered a puffin island trip, but we’ll be on a boat the next 12 days. What to do, what to do…
Nina and Renee arrived at 10:30. Their flight was delayed, and they missed the first FlyBus. They had to wait another hour for the 2nd bus which was also waiting for passengers on other delayed flights. Arni called and told me, “Your friends are downstairs.” Oh my gosh! Renee had 2 full-size suitcases, a rolling backpack, and a large camera bag around her waist. Amazing she could drag all that stuff with her.
We visited and then decided we should check out of the hotel and take our luggage to the ship. When I asked Arni if he had any tour suggestions since we missed our horseback riding trip, he immediately made a phone call for us. We were on a trip to a small farm – Laxnes – for riding. They would pick us up at Room With a View at 1:00 and take our luggage with us AND drop us at 4:00 at the ship. Woo hoo! It’s about a 10 block walk pulling luggage over uneven pavement. Thanks Arni!
We had an hour, so we grabbed lunch at Taco Mama. I enjoyed 2 crispy beef tacos, fries and a diet coke for 695 ISK (around $11). We ran into Steve from our Antarctica trip. He was here on his own for our cruise. Dashed into the 10/11 for diet coke and headed back to Arni’s. We retrieved our massive amount of luggage and waited to be picked up. The guy came around 1:05, and we picked up 3 other passengers. Laxnes was located about 15 minutes from Reykjavik. What a beautiful setting. There were yellow, purple, and white wildflowers in the lava fields and mountains in the distance.
We got situated with our riding helmets and were assigned horses. The guide asked if I wanted one with spirit. I said no, but got one with spirit anyway. The horses are so cute. They are smaller than those I’ve been on before and have beautiful long manes. They are great tempered and love to be near each other. My horse had a thing about being in the lead. If another horse attempted to pass him, he’d speed it up. The guide told me a number of times to “pull back.” We crossed through meadows, fields, and streams. There was even a 9-hole golf course adjacent to us. My horse liked to trot, so I bounced around a lot. The saddles were English saddles rather than western, and I didn’t have a horn thing to hold onto. I had to tuck one hand under the front of the saddle and hold the reins with my other hand so I would feel stable. What a nice trip. My legs are sore!
We got to our ship only 15 minutes late. Perfect. Once we boarded, we discovered that we were waiting for other passengers and didn’t have to be back on the ship until 6:15. Nina and I are in cabin 312. Darlene is next door with Mary Jane (MJ) from Canada. Renee is across the hall with her roommate, Angelika, also from Canada. I recognized Angelika from our Antarctica trip. This cabin is so much smaller than the Orlova. Thank goodness Renee got another room. With all our suitcases, it would have been crazy! We are using the top bunk to store more of our stuff. There are only about 80 passengers on the ship (including expedition staff) — 11 Americans, 11 Canadians, 40+ British, a few from South Africa, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Denmark. The British folks booked the trip from Noble Caledonia in England. Most of them are senior citizens. It brings the average age on the ship to 55. Several of the expedition staff brought their children with them on this trip. We’ve got quite the variety.
We had a briefing at 6:15PM where we were introduced to the expedition staff and GAP personnel. The expedition leader seems really nice. Not stern like Susan from the Orlova. We had to do our little safety drill and put on our beautiful orange life jackets and go to our muster station. Fun stuff. As we headed off for dinner we heard there were puffins on the starboard side. It took awhile, but we saw them… from a distance. They fly so goofy. They were compared to bumble bees. The have a kind of awkward fluttering of their wings. About a week before our trip, I received an e-mail from GAP telling us that the ice is heavier than it has been in the past 25 years and that we may not be able to get to Scoresby Sound. We’ll wait and see.
Dinner was good – a salad, tomato soup, steak, taters, carrots & peas, and ice cream with whipped cream and fresh fruit. We sat with the family from Wisconsin and closed down the dining room. This trip is a high school graduation gift to their son, Paul. How nice!
Visited with Darlene and Angelika till almost midnight. I went out to try and get a sunset shot, but no. They sky was still pretty bright, and the clouds and fog were obscuring the horizon. Bummer!
I expected to see more passengers on the ship from our Antarctica cruise. Besides Nina, Renee and me, there are Angelika, Steve, Brad and Margaret from Canada, Ernst from Switzerland, and Ernie with GAP.
The expedition staff includes:
Kim Crosbie, Expedition Leader – Scotland
Morten Jorgenson, naturalist – Denmark
Roger Lovegrove and wife, ornithologist – England
Sabeana and her son, GAP – Canada
Jacky Booth and 12 year old daughter Clea, oceanography lecturer – Salt Spring Island, British Columbia
Scobey, zodiac driver – Tasmania
Steve and Heidi
Saturday; July 2, 2005 The Explorer – Day 2; Vacation – Day 4 Denmark Strait – towards Greenland
“The old man knew he was going far out and he left the smell of the land behind and rowed out into the clean early morning smell of the ocean.” — Ernest Hemmingway
Nina and I woke up at 7AM and went back to sleep until 8:30 until the “bing bong” intercom greeting woke us up, “Good morning ladies and gentlemen.” I jumped into the shower but couldn’t figure out how to make the water warm (instead of scalding hot). Ouch. Breakfast was served until 9:30, so I dashed down and grabbed a bite and brought some breakfast back to Nina in the room. They announced that there would be a celebration as we crossed the Arctic Circle and to get out on deck immediately. I made it there as they counted down, “10, 9, 8…” and sipped some really gross strong booze – Aquavit. Nice toast!
At 10AM, Roger gave a lecture, “Introduction to the Arctic”. He shared some nice photos. The next lecture was, “Introduction to Cetaceans” with Morten. This also included some great photos of the various marine mammals that can be seen in the Arctic. Hopefully we’ll see that elusive polar bear!
We ate lunch with a nice older couple from England – Jane and Michael. He seemed like such a proper English gentleman. He kept making jokes about being old – he must have been in his mid 80’s. It’s great that he’s out here seeing the Arctic. After lunch, I took a quick nap and then went to Frank’s lecture on “Tips for Trip Photography.” Frank is a professional photographer hired by GAP for this trip to take photos for their Arctic brochure. He presented many photos with tips for capturing your subjects. He suggests in illustrating your travels – use photos of people with the object of interest in the background. This highlights what you saw on vacation. He suggests not framing your subject in the center of a photo – to push it off to the side. Also landscapes/horizons should not be in the center – either have more sky or water to make them more interesting. The boat offers the use of a Fuji digital camera while on bard at no cost (well…except that $200 deposit.)
I hung out on the deck outside and watched the birds fly behind us and dive back and forth across the sky. It was a beautiful blue day. Grabbed a couple of cookies at tea time and hung out more. I’m being brave and not taking any seasickness medication. Hopefully it’s a smart move…
At 5PM another lecture took place – Jacky’s “Introduction to Oceanography”. She went into detail about our oceans and the earth. Unfortunately, I snoozed for much of it. Kim Crosbie, our expedition leader, calls the lecture hall “the womb.” Everybody gets nice and warm and comfortable. The lights are low, and it’s easy to drift off.
Darlene and I hung out on the back deck enjoying the day. One of the expedition people rushed to tell us to go up by the bridge to see the fog bow. It’s like a rainbow but consists of fog. It was a cool sight. An arch of fog reflected back into the ocean with lots more fog surrounding us.
Went to the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Party and had a mimosa and a kir royale and chowed on pretzels. The captain, Paul Heslop, was British and a funny guy. He introduced some other crew members and ship staff. He kind of reminds me of the actor, Alan Cumming.
At dinner we sat way in the back and were joined by Kim, the expedition leader. She’s from Scotland. This is supposed to be the fancy Captain’s Welcome dinner. Unfortunately, the entrée choice was salmon or eggplant stuffed with feta. It was a nice dinner though. Kim was great. It doesn’t sound like we will actually see much wildlife on our trip – she slipped by saying we’d head over to the Iceland coast at the end of our trip to make up for the wildlife. Scoresby Sound (they refer to it as Scoresbysund) is supposed to be amazing. She says we’ve got a great captain and excellent ship so we should be able to penetrate it and see amazing cliffs and stuff. The boat used to be chartered by Abercrombie & Fitch (the really expensive company). They switched to a fancier boat. She is writing a book on South Georgia Island and tourism. This will be used by cruisers to that island. She says it’s a great place.
Nina and I hung out the rest of the evening in the lecture hall and found Darlene in the lounge at around midnight. I wanted to get my sunset photo, but the fog had obscured it. Bummer. I can’t believe it’s so bright outside! It seems like the middle of the day.
July 3, 2005 Sunday; 9:45 p.m. The Explorer – Day 3; Vacation – Day 5 Approaching Scoresbysund, Greenland
“The ice was here, the ice was there, the ice was all around: It creaked and growled, and roared and howled, like noises in a swound!” — Coleridge, Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner
We’re relaxing in the lounge after a full day of cruising. We pushed our way to Scoresbysund – smacking into icebergs and breaking them apart. It was neat to lean over the deck and watch as the ship broke through. Sometimes we had to back up and find a new path. The day was mostly foggy with sun peaking out once in awhile. We didn’t have fog in Antarctica – I guess because the air temperature is much cooler down there. The warmer Arctic air meets the ice and creates fog. Our port holes have been closed, now it’s like a cave in our room so it’ll be very easy to sleep.
Oh yeah – yippee – our shower was fixed, and I was able to take a nice warm shower and wash my hair. Nina and I made it to breakfast around 9AM.
We listened to a lecture in the morning by Morten, “North Atlantic Pinnepeds.” The Arctic doesn’t have fur seals or sea lions – these are the seals with ears. Instead, the Arctic has harp seals, bearded seals, ringed seals, and a bunch of others with holes for ears. Walruses also live here. Morten isn’t very encouraging about the possibility of seeing walruses. The seals are a favorite food of polar bears and Inuits.
We ate and ate and ate all day long, hanging out in the lounge and running out to the bow to crunch through the ice, look at seals and birds. We saw quite a few little auks also known as dovekies. These are tiny birds and very common this time of year.
At 3PM we went to a short video documentary on Scoresbysund and the Ittoqqortoormiit village (pronounced ee-ta-kor-two-me). This means “those who live in big houses”. There is a population of 500 (with 180 children). They live in cute colorful houses, but it looks like a rough life. These are Inuit people, and the area is rich with polar bears, muskoxen and seals. Helena Dejak (owner of Nonni Travel in Iceland) presented the video. She helped produce it in 1995 to help the villagers market tourism to their area. She made a comment that they were so lucky that the white people came there to help them. (She didn’t mean this in an insulting manner.) We got to watch a dog sledding trip on the video – too cool!
We enjoyed yummy warm peanut butter cookies at tea time. Great stuff. We visited with Margaret from Toronto. She had trouble getting to Iceland – stuck in the Boston airport overnight. I had to complain that our flight got in early AND we got upgraded. She and her husband, Brad, were also on our Antarctica trip.
Suddenly around 5PM, Kim announced that there was a polar bear swimming on the port side of the ship. We all ran outside – even left my coat and gloves behind. He was a little far away, but I had my binoculars and was able to see him pedaling through the water. Kim said he was distressed, so we would not follow him. He would climb out onto an ice flow and then slip back in the water. He was very large. From way far away you could see him lumber across the ice. Yeah! We saw one.
We had a briefing at 7PM and heard from Kim and the naturalists. We are being very flexible with our schedule. Our captain is continuing to push through the ice and hopefully we’ll be able to zodiac around tomorrow. It will be neat to visit Ittoqqortoormiit. Now I’m just hanging in the lounge, reading, writing, and looking at photos as Renee downloads them…
July 4, 2005 Monday; 2:55 p.m. The Explorer – Day 4; Vacation – Day 6 Entering Scoresbysund, Greenland
“Give me dogs, give me winter and you can keep the rest.” — Knud Rassmussen, the famous half Greenlandic half Danish explorer
We’ve had quite an interesting day. I went to bed around 1:15AM. At 3:45AM, Kim came over the intercom announcing that there were 3 polar bears on an ice floe with a kill. You didn’t have to tell me twice! Nina and I hopped into shoes and jackets and stumbled up on deck. Oooh – it was c-c-cold. I had on my flowered pajama bottoms with a fleece, jacket, and my Russian hat. Unfortunately, I only brought my glove liners, so my hands got cold. I was the only goober wearing flowered jammies also! I was afraid to miss the bears and didn’t want to change into real pants.
When we first arrived on deck the bears were pretty far away, but you could see their heads once in awhile popping up (as I looked through the binoculars). The boat was making her way through sheets of ice, just pushing forward.
Nina and I dashed up to the top of the boat for better views. Eventually the bears moved into clear view, and the boat got pretty close. Sometimes, the bears would pause and look at the ship and stand up. They dragged their kill around. This was a mama polar bear with a boy and girl cub – around 2½ years old. She ushered the bears off to the right and they began walking on the ice floes, their reflections in the water below. It was incredible. I only wish my digital camera had a better zoom. My binoculars certainly came in handy. I could see their black tongues as they ate scraps of the kill. There were two bloody kill sites. Poor little seal. Not much left of him – just a flipper and some insides. The cubs went back to the kill and started flinging it around in their mouths – back and forth across the ice. After about an hour, they started retreating, so Nina and I headed back to the room to continue sleeping. It took me the longest time to warm up enough to fall asleep. Before I knew it, an announcement came over the intercom saying it was 9AM and breakfast would be served till 9:30. Well I certainly couldn’t miss a meal, so we got up there in time to grab a plate.
At 10AM, we had a lecture from Morten on polar bears. They are also known as ice bears, white bears, and Nannuq. It was interesting. The babies are tiny, tiny when they are born in December or January. Mama keeps them in the den until spring time nursing them. Depending on which part of the world the bears live in, the mama will care for the bears until they are 2 to 4 years old. Here in East Greenland, she’ll kick them out at about 2½. The bears we saw this morning will get the boot pretty soon.
Went out on deck to see the ice. The captain has tried numerous routes trying to get us to Scoresbysund. We spent hours plowing through so much ice. Darlene and I were outside the bridge laughing and talking and observing our progress when the mean captain pulled the door closed. Oops. I went to the other outdoor area near the bridge. There were about 4 of us out there. As we got to a nice open area of the sea, I commented to Roger (the ornithologist), “Full steam ahead!” Then the nice captain, Paul, closed the other door to the bridge with a glare. Oops again. Guess I should take a hint and stay away from the bridge. Went back inside where it was nice and toasty.
Before we knew it, it was time to eat again. Our captain had to turn the boat around and try a new entrance to the Sound. Fortunately, after another hour or two we made it to Scoresbysund. Spent more time at the bow of the boat admiring the icebergs and stuff. It was cool to lean way over the side of the ship as we slammed into pieces of ice. Sometimes they would push out of the way; other times they would split apart and move out of our way.
As we moved through the sound you can see large-ish mountains covered in snow. We passed Ittoqqoortoomit. I was hoping to see those colorful houses, but we were kind of far away, and all I could see were a few brown looking houses on grey snow. Bummer! We will be stopping to pick up a few Inuit people to join us for a few days. That should be interesting. Uh oh…I’m getting tired. We will be doing a landing soon. It will be great to get out and walk ON Greenland.
— later — 11:45 p.m.
I haven’t missed teatime yet – 4PM everyday – with yummy warm cookies. I’m partial to the peanut butter and the shortcake cookies. Do you think 3 cookies adds a lot of calories? Oh well…
At 4:45PM we were ready for our first zodiac adventure. Nina, Darlene, Mary Jane and I hopped into the first zodiac with Morten as our driver. The water was like glass – so smooth. The mountains, icebergs and ice floes all reflected into the water – it was so beautiful. I think 4 zodiacs went out with passengers. We cruised between the ice and found two little awks and trailed them. I took a ton of pictures of everything – hopefully some will be great. You could see where the red paint had rubbed off the bottom of the ship. Slamming into all of those ice floes tends to help you lose a lot of paint. Frank, the photographer, was in our zodiac and took a ton of photos for GAP. He’s supposed to create the GAP Arctic brochure.
We returned to the ship at 6PM and three Inuit villagers were onboard. We weren’t able to get to Ittoqqortoormiit to pick them up, so they came to us. They will travel with us through the sound for the next three days. Their names are Scoresby, Emil, and Enu. Enu is only about 13 years old. They brought two Greenlandic dogs on board as well. They were cute, but extremely shy. We found them all up on the pool deck. Some crew members built a wooden structure to house the dogs. Scoresby dragged them (literally) one by one into the makeshift shelter. Hopefully they’ll get comfortable in a few days.
We visited in the lounge, and I got to see a few of Frank’s polar bear pictures. Oh my gosh – they were great. In one – the bear was holding the remains of the seal carcass in its mouth and you could see the flipper. Incredible. In another, one polar bear was leaping from one ice flow to another with its sibling in front. They were all amazing. I asked Frank if we were going to be able to buy prints from GAP of his photos. He said he wanted to give them to us, but has to get GAP approval first. An e-mail was sent to headquarters for permission. Let’s hope so.
We enjoyed cocktail hour after the zodiac cruise. Nina, Renee and I polished off a bottle of wine, and Darlene and MJ worked on the Bacardi. We had our recap and briefing at 7:00 with Kim and company. She described and illustrated the path our ship had taken so far trying to get into Scoresbysund. We all gave the captain a big round of applause. Tomorrow we get up earlier – 7:00 – with breakfast complete by 8:30. Then it’s time for the short, medium, and long walks on shore. We may see wildflowers or muskox. It all depends on whether we make it through the Sound. Later we’ll visit bear island and lastly, the boat will try to go through a narrow fjord.
At dinner, Nina and I sat with the couple from Iceland – Biergen and Gundor. He is the “Iceman” and is helping the captain plan and plot our way through the ice. They were such a nice couple. He gave us pointers on what to see in Iceland and how to pronounce things properly. They are friends of Helena, the owner of Nonni Travel, and were invited on this journey.
Relaxed in the lounge after dinner…watching Frank’s progress on the slideshow. Very cool stuff. We went in and out on the bow of the ship to capture more photos. The water was pretty still, and there were beautiful reflections. We even got a hint of blue sky as the sun was disappearing behind the mountain. It’ll pop back up shortly. Guess I’ll grab some much needed shut eye!
Tuesday, July 5, 2005 The Explorer – Day 5; Vacation – Day 7 Exploring Scoresbysund and Viking Bukta, Greenland
“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures, and the whole of nature and its beauty.” — Albert Einstein
We had another great day in the arctic. Nothing that was originally planned happened as scheduled. Hey – you gotta be flexible in the Arctic!
We had a wake up greeting at 8:00 instead of 7:00. Due to heavy ice, we did not make as much progress through the sound. So we just hung out, went out to the bow and stuff enjoying the scenery – all the beautiful and colorful icebergs and mountains. We started out with lots of fog, but eventually got a beautiful sunny day. We went to a lecture from Jacky on ice. It was a bit of a snooze session. The afternoon ice was amazing. We just pushed and pushed through tons of it scraping and breaking it all up.
Nina gave me an acupuncture session when it started sprinkling outside. She had me stick out my tongue first (I guess to see if I’m healthy). She put in about 10 needles to see if it would help my shoulder problem. She put them in my arm, leg, shoulder, and neck. It didn’t even hurt. Now my shoulder feels a bit better, and I have some more flexibility, but no where near normal. Maybe repeated sessions would help. That was so nice of Nina to do that for me. She has a successful practice in Malden, Massachusetts. She got her Bachelor’s degree at USC and then had 4 more years of school for Acupuncture.
At 4:30 the group did a shorts and t-shirts photo session. I squeezed into a pair of Nina’s shorts and wore my lovely Russian hat. It was fun. The pictures will be funny. Afterwards, Nina, Renee and I did our Charlie’s Angels routine as Darlene took the photo.
Yeah! We got to do our first landing! Three different walks are offered – long, medium and short. All the walks give participants the opportunity to see and experience similar things but cater to different fitness/energy levels. We chose the long walk and were in the first group to leave the ship. There were probably about 25 people with Morten and Heidi. Morten was carrying a rifle in case we ran into a mean polar bear. This site is known as Viking Bukta. We had huge rocky mountains around us as well as a glacier. We trudged through the boggy muck and scrambled across rocks up the mountain to a little glacier lake. We all put on some insect repellent before disembarking. Greenland is known for its mosquitoes, and they were there to greet us. There was a large colony of Arctic terns on a small island nearby. The mosquitoes kept them very happy.
The walk was nice – very scenic. The shore was dominated by spongy polar vegetation. It was difficult hopping across boulders to make progress. We saw mosses and tiny wildflowers. There were also areas with tons of smaller rocks. It was a great spot. Plus we made it to Greenland! We trudged back to catch our zodiac to the ship. It was already after 8:00, but still perfectly bright outside.
Had another great dinner and rushed out to see the evening sky several times. The sky was clear again and the colors reflecting were amazing. We enjoyed a hazelnut soufflé for dessert and then retired to the lounge. Pretty soon we were all outside enjoying the evening sunset. Wow! The sun dipped down behind the mountain around 12:15AM or so. I managed to take around 25 sunset photos including one of our feet. Nina was wearing flip flops and my feet are attired in my attractive sheepskin slippers with the sun behind them.
We began heading down Fønfjord, but I gave up staying outside (I only had on my slippers and gloves – no coat). I toughed it out for 2 hours. Tomorrow we’ll do some zodiac cruising and another walk. We may even see some more wildlife. We’ll see! The expedition staff doesn’t want to put it on the schedule – since it can change so quickly.
July 6, 2005 Wednesday; 3:10 p.m. The Explorer – Day 6; Vacation – Day 8 Fønfjord, Greenland
“To dine with a glacier on a sunny day is a glorious thing and makes feasts of meat and wine ridiculous. The glacier eats hills and drinks sunbeams.” — John Muir
What a beautiful day we’ve had so far. The sky is blue; we’re surrounded by snow peaked mountains; and lots of icebergs are floating nearby.
At 6AM, Kim woke us up with an announcement of a zodiac cruise before breakfast. We had 45 minutes to get prepared. We were in a protected area called Rødeø, and there were huge icebergs everywhere. Nina and I were both tired – up till 2:00 – back up at 6:00 – but what the heck. Can’t miss a viewing opportunity. I didn’t wear my protective rain pants – hey it’s sunny out, but had on my coat and a turtleneck. We hopped in the zodiac with Morten as our driver along with Ernst, Frank and the Icelandic couple.
The icebergs were enormous and many were so blue. The shapes were varied and spectacular. We saw an iceberg arch and wanted to cruise through it. Now we know – very bad idea. We were heading toward one large iceberg, and all of a sudden the backside calved into the water. Bummer! I wished we were on the other side to capture photos. Uh oh! Now the part we were facing calved into the water. How amazing! I tried to get photos, but my camera doesn’t click fast enough. All of a sudden a tsunami-like wave started rolling toward us bringing the debris from the calving. Cool! I tried snapping more photos. Suddenly the tsunami wave caused yet another iceberg to calve and sent a flying piece of ice at our boat along with water. Unfortunately it smacked right into my back and knocked me across the zodiac. Ouch! It was rather painful and was a fairly large chunk of ice – at least 2 feet in length. Nina tossed the ice back into the sea. I asked, “Did anyone get a picture?” No. Bummer. They were all worried about me. Lucky it hit me in the back instead of the head. I might have been seriously injured. How many people can say they were attacked by an iceberg? My back is still sore – probably just a bruise.
We continued cruising, but now we were all apprehensive when we heard the rumbling sound of a calving. We all know how sudden and dangerous they are. We saw a blue iceberg with a little waterfall and many more interesting shapes. Up on the mountain, the Iceman saw muskoxen. We all whipped out the binoculars to take a look. Okay – I saw two or three brownish specks moving along.
Got back to the Explorer around 8:30 or so – just in time for breakfast. Then we had an hour and a half to rest before we made a landing at Angervik. After resting we headed out for the long hike – about 2½ hours. The terrain here was spectacular. It was so warm outside, we were all removing layers. There were tons of different wildflowers growing. It was so beautiful. Little creeks flowed down the mountain, and there were green mosses. Just lovely. I wore my hiking boots instead of my wellies this time. We had a fantastic hike – with Morten and his rifle in front and Heidi bringing up the rear (accompanied by me quite often). We had to keep stopping to take wildflower photos. The flowers are only there for a short time – from June to mid-July or so. This was great and colorful stuff. We walked to a little cliff-like drop with the glacial creek racing to the ocean down below. The mountains were majestic. It’s all I could do to stop myself from bursting into song, “The hills are alive…with the sound of music…”
We got back to the ship around 1:15 – just in time for lunch. This time we earned it. Scooby and Kim sat with us, and we had enjoyable conversations. Our boat, the Explorer, will take on a group of 70+ teenagers at the end of July for a 14-day cruise – Kids at Sea. These are primarily 14-18 year olds from the U.S. and Canada. What a great opportunity for them. Lucky they have generous parents! Scooby looks a bit like Popeye the sailor, and was quite interesting. He’s originally from Manchester, England, but has lived in Tasmania since 1980. He worked for the Australian Arctic Survey group. Scooby hopes to buy 2½ acres on the east coast area and build a whale museum in a warehouse-like building. Sounds like a great plan. We asked him about travel tips in Tasmania. It sounds like a fabulous country. I must visit. 40% of the area is set aside as national park land. They’ve got wallabies, kangaroos and other unusual animals. He said that nearly 90% of the west’s Tasmanian devil population has died from some disease. Hopefully they’ll figure out what it is and stop it from attacking those on the east side.
Now we have a few hours before we land at Hekla Havn on Denmark Island for another hike. This will be our 5th outing already. In Antarctica, we were only able to do 5 outings (zodiac cruises and landings) the whole time we were there. We’ve still got nearly a week, so we’ll be doing lots more (hopefully).
Better rest before those warm cookies are served at teatime. Today (at Nina’s request) the chef is making chocolate chip – yum!
— later —
Yeah! We made our last landing of the day at 8:45PM. We visited Hekla Havn. They had hoped we could do it earlier in the day, but the ice dictates what and when you do things.
I made it to the lounge in time for the chocolate chip cookies. Great stuff. We hung out for awhile and learned we’d be doing the landing later, so I grabbed a nap. I was awakened by Kim’s announcement that the recap and briefing would take place at 6:30. There Morten talked about the muskox (since we saw them way far away). Kim told us that our plans for the cruise have been changed. We won’t have time to make it all the way to Amassalik. There is a 40 mile ice pack we’d have to work our way through. Instead we’ll stay further north and eventually make our way to some uninhabited areas of Iceland on the way back (assuming we have time to do so). If we have problems getting through the ice, then we won’t. Tomorrow Helena, Scoresby, Emil and Enu will give a little talk on the history of the area and in particular Ittoqqortoormiit (pronounced eat-o-kor-two-me). Depending on the ice conditions, we will arrive some time tomorrow at their settlement. They have a post office and other small businesses. Should be cool. Tonight we were also told we could swim in the Arctic if desired. No way baby! Nina plans to do it. Then we were off to dinner for yet another great meal. Clea (Jacky’s daughter) and the proper English couple – Michael and Jane – also joined us. The English couple is such a kick and very nice. Michael is about 85 and has some difficulty walking, but they are also bow people and are always out there with us admiring the view.
Right after dinner, we had to change into our landing clothes and get off the ship. Nina and I were late and had to catch up to the long walkers. We asked Sabeana if that meant Nina could still go swimming, and she assured us it was okay. Roger was leading the group with Jacky bringing up the rear. The site was beautiful and full of rock mountains/hills. It was a LOT of work climbing up those dang hills. The rocks were large, so it wasn’t like yesterday where we scrambled over little boulders. The elevation gain just seemed to continue and continue. Huff, puff. Nina and Jacky were kind enough to offer a helping hand so I wouldn’t slip. We were heading up yet another rock mountain, and almost at the top when I began hyperventilating and couldn’t catch my breath. I tried breathing through my gloves, but was wheezing away. Nina made me sit down and got me to breathe in my nose and out of my mouth until I got it under control. How embarrassing. This happened to me one other time in Machu Picchu. I guess I was trying to keep up with the group and didn’t rest enough to catch my breath (plus I wasn’t carrying any water).
Jacky came down to us and kicked us off to the medium walk group who were down below us. We actually should have been with them in the first place because these were the swimmers. Nina planned to swim, and I had to get photos. We caught up with the mediums and made our way down the mountain. There was a huge amount of mosquitoes swarming each of us during the entire hike. I had to keep swatting them away and try to breathe with my teeth clenched so I didn’t inhale a bunch of snacks.
Yeah we made it to the shore. The swimmers all took their clothes off (except bathing suits of course). The skeeters were enjoying all that exposed flesh. About a dozen people jumped into the Arctic including Nina and Clea (the only girls) and the chef, doctor, Brad, Frank, Patrick, Steve, Ernst and more. Yeow – that looked too cold to me! I got lots of photos, but I was not tempted to get in.
Got back to the ship around 11:00 and then hung out in the lounge till 1:20. Frank was working away at his photos and slideshow. He said that GAP is going to offer a CD of the slideshow and selected photos for a small donation – maybe $20. Yeah! I hope well be able to get it before we get off the ship.
Now it’s bed time. Hopefully I can sleep late-ish & maybe 7:30 or 8:00?
July 7, 2005 Thursday ; 5:30 p.m. The Explorer – Day 7; Vacation – Day 9 Attempt at Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland
“When I stand up and look out over the valley I can feel the tremendous depth of time: myself at this 100 year old campsite, before a valley scoured by glacial ice and which the modern Eskimo say is and has been a sacred precinct. The muskoxen graze out there as if I was of no more importance than a stone. The skulls of their ancestors lie in the sun at my feet and cool winds come down the slope and ride up over my bare hand.” — Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams
It has been rainy all day, and we’ve gotten stuck in lots of ice. We had hoped to get to Ittoqqortoormiit late morning, but luck wasn’t with us today.
Spent most of the day eating, being a lounge lizard and going out to see the ice. It was amazing. The boat was completely surrounded as far as the eye could see. How the heck will we ever get out of this mess? The captain forced the boat to simply push these large ice floes out of the way to try and gain a path through it.
Frank went out in the zodiac earlier today to get some photos (at the captain’s request) of us pushing through ice. They were mostly just posed pictures – we didn’t actually slam through it. Nina and I were out on the bow so we could be in the pictures. We stuck out feet through the hole in the ship so we can tell it’s us.
I caught a lecture by Helena with a slideshow of Ittoqqortoormiit and the surrounding area. These were taken at various times of the year. Looks great. There are a few buildings – a gift shop/travel office, and a post office. At this point I hope we’ll still be able to get ashore – we’ll see. One of the slides looked like congealed grossness. Helena warned us not to step in this stuff while walking around. It’s seal blubber and will stick to your shoes like gum. Yuck! Enu got up and tried to teach us how to pronounce Inuit words and phrases. The only ones we were good at were – hello – which is “hello” in Inuit and goodbye – which is “bye” in Inuit.
In the afternoon, Roger gave a talk and shared slides of Arctic wildflowers. We saw many of them yesterday. The pictures were great, but put me in a dark room, and I’m snoozing!
While Darlene and I were up on the bridge area at 5PM, the captain made an announcement informing everyone that there were a series of explosions on the Underground and a bus in London. We’re not sure how many were killed. Reports vary saying 2-50 were killed with 150 seriously injured. The transportation system in London is crippled right now. This was an Al Qaeda terrorist attack – stupid idiots. We’re staying tuned as more news develops. About 2/3 of the passengers on the ship are British, so this is very worrisome for them. Many have friends and family in London.
Guess I’ll go hang out in the lounge some more . . .
— later —
Well bummer. The ice did not cooperate. We tried 3 or 4 different routes to try to get to the village. No luck. The ice pack was just too thick. Our captain sure gave it his best shot. Now our hostages (I mean guests) have to stay on board. Helena had hoped to go to her Greenland home. Scorseby, Emil, Enu and the dogs will have to come back with the ship next week when the next cruise sails. What a drag for them. It was a wait and see game all day.
We had a briefing at 7PM and found that we’ve given up on Greenland and will have no more chances for landings there. I really wanted to go to the town and buy souvenirs and stuff. Just like Antarctica…we never made it to Port Lockroy so we were never able to buy anything there either. The villagers really could have used our tourist dollars. Morten shared a story about his first cruise to East Greenland. He went in late August, and they were never able to even get into the Sound or land on Greenland. At least we’ve had 5 outings so far. The plan is to try to get out of this ice and hopefully make it to Iceland for visits to deserted areas. Maybe we’ll get a close look at puffins and other wildlife. What can you do? We’ll be at sea for probably the next two days. We have 4 full days left of our trip. We might only get to sit around, look at ice, and eat the rest of the time (whine, whine).
They certainly do feed us well. The chef – Ranier – is great. We’ve spent a lot of time talking with him. He’s from Denmark and is so nice and has a great sense of humor. His wife and kids live in Portugal and he’ll be on the ship till the end of the month. He kind of does “substitute” chefing on various ships. The waiters are all Filipino and are so friendly. We asked if they ever get a chance to go ashore. No, they pretty much have to work all the time. When they do have spare time, they usually try to sleep. When they’re not serving us, they have to vacuum and do other chores around the boat.
This evening they showed “Whale Rider” in the lecture hall. The DVD machine kept getting stuck and going to the blue screen of death. We could hear the poor Greenlandic sled dogs outside crying. Poor things. They love when we come out and pet them. Oh well…time to call it a night.
July 8, 2005 Friday; 10:22 p.m. The Explorer – Day 8; Vacation – Day 10 North Atlantic Ocean, Denmark Strait
“Big floes have little floes all around them, and all the little diatoms couldn’t do without them, forty million shimplets feed upon the latter, and they make the dovekies, and the whales and seals much fatter.” — Apsley Cherry Gerrard (abridged)
I’m sitting in the lounge riding the waves. The sea has gotten pretty rough (or else I was used to the peacefulness of the Sound and crawling through the ice). I had to put on ½ a scopolamine patch and am carrying a barf bag with me just in case. I’ve also been dashing outside to the 4th floor periodically to get fresh air and watch the horizon. It’s sunny and beautiful right now. We should have a fabulous sunset if the sun actually dips below the horizon.
Anyway…woke up to rainy skies. We had only traveled 12 nautical miles in the past 12 hours or so and had quite a way to go to get out of the pack ice. After breakfast we went to Morten’s lecture, “Polar Bears – Part Deux.” Something about going into “the womb” causes me to nod off. Between naps we learned about threats to polar bears – like indigenous hunting, pollutants, loss of ice, etc. Some countries (I think it’s Canada…) allow the indigenous people to sell off the right to kill a polar bear to big game hunters. That makes me mad. During the lecture we could hear the dogs crying. Their “home” is on top of the pool right outside the lecture room. Poor things — they get lonely and want to be pet. After the lecture, we went out there and gave the dogs some attention.
I sent an e-mail to Elaine from the ship for her birthday. While I was composing it at the computer, Roger began another lecture on Arctic birds, “The Miracle of Migration.” He shared the story of the incredible feats completed by birds during their bi-annual migration. I managed to stay awake for that one.
We ate all day long. Unbelievable. I was going to nap but never got around to it. A National Geographic documentary, “Arctic Kingdoms” was shown at 3PM. What an excellent program on wildlife in the high Arctic. They captured all sorts of animals on film including polar bears and narwhals, beluga whales, and sea birds. It was so interesting. After most of the passengers left the room, the “making of” portion of the DVD began. That was also excellent. The film makers had to spend two summers on the ice capturing all these amazing moments with the animals. They had to endure some harsh conditions and were unable to shower. They lived on an ice shelf. At one point, the ice shelf began to separate and float out to sea, and they only had a few minutes to tear down camp. They had to pack their things on snowmobiles and use floating ice to get themselves to a new ice shelf attached to the land.
Nina, Darlene and I hung out in the lounge. Heck – it was cookie time. I showed them a few of my photos in the camera. Clea showed me how to use the digital zoom, so I doomed into a photo of the ship doctor during his Arctic swim. Nice torso! We cracked up and couldn’t stop laughing. Some old biddies exclaimed, “We’ve had just about enough already. Just shut it up.” I guess they don’t appreciate us having a good time. Go to your cabins!
At 5PM we caught Jacky’s session on the history of oceanography. The room was pretty empty – lots of seasick passengers. I nodded in and out, but she shared a timeline on oceanography going back to BC. At 7PM we had a gumshoe dance demo where Jacky, Heidi and Steven demonstrated three different dances as they jumped around slapping their wellies (rubber boots). Too funny.
Spent time getting fresh air, and so far so good. Dinner was also pretty empty. John Jessie from Florida sat with us (Nina went to bed to avoid getting sick). He commented that Nina sure seems to have a great time all the time. She also gets those around her to have a good time. What a nice compliment, and so true. Jacky ate with us also; Clea tried but had to go to bed to deal with her seasickness. At 9:00, Scooby shared some stories of his time in the British Antarctic Survey.
Now that I’m in the lounge, there are only 4 passengers in here and a couple crew/GAP members. What a difference from last night – the room was packed and full of energy. I’m going to attempt to stay up and see if the sky turns into a beautiful sunset and read my book.
We spoke with the chef at lunch today and convinced him to give us a tour of the kitchen this evening. Maybe we’ll postpone till tomorrow.
Kim announced that we’ve made incredible progress. We’ll be on the coast of Iceland tomorrow morning. We hope to do a cruise or hike. In the afternoon we’ll land at an island called Vigur where there are puffin and an eider farm. Yeah! It’ll be great that we are able to get off the ship again after all.
July 9, 2005 Saturday; Midnight-ish The Explorer – Day 9; Vacation – Day 11 Westfjords, Iceland
“The Westfjords Peninsula and the far Northwest of the Country looks like a giant amoeba that is struggling to break off from the rest of Iceland and escape into the North Atlantic.” — Paul Harding and Joe Bindloss
We made it through the rough seas today all the way to Iceland. We didn’t get there as early as expected, but what the heck.
After breakfast, I caught Roger’s lecture, “Seabirds of the North Atlantic.” I managed to stay awake through most of it. Nina skipped dinner last night and breakfast and lunch today. She’s been sleeping – hoping to avoid seasickness.
Renee and I were visiting with the dogs that now have this net thing over their pen and the whole pool area. They got so excited when I came to visit, the girl dog stuck her head out of the net so I could pet her, and her head got stuck. Uh oh! I ran downstairs and grabbed Kim. Expedition Leaders can fix anything. She freed the dog and then climbed under the net to get them fresh water. Naturally I got a picture of Kim under the net, extending her “paws.”
I skipped the lecture at 11:00 on Whaling – part 1. It felt good to nap. I thought about skipping lunch, but me…miss a meal? Never!
At around 2PM we made it to Isafjordur, the largest settlement in West Fjords. We had to pick up an officer to check our passports and stuff and admit us back to Iceland. We saw tons of seabirds today. They love following the boat. The day was cloudy, but Roger promised it would clear up in time for our landing at Vigur, a small, small island with an eider duck farm and a great place to see puffins, guillemot, and Arctic terns.
Roger was correct! We had success – some blue sky and a wonderful little hike. A family owns the island, and they gave us permission to land and join them for tea. The owners took us in groups around the 1-mile island. The only windmill in Iceland is here. Our guide demonstrated the use of a puffin catching net. Looks mean. The island was so green and beautiful and had some neat rock formations. We saw lots of nesting sites. The puffins are just so darn cute! The Arctic terns were plentiful. We even had to carry sticks to protect ourselves from the terns. They try dive bombing your head if you get too close to their nests. Nina protected me by waving her stick. The puffins look so funny when they fly. Their wings just beat away – looking a bit awkward. One of the guides on the boat compared them to bumble bees. Often they eat too much and have a difficult time getting off the water. Very comical.
At the end of the little walk we came back to the farm house area. There we saw two lambs, an eider duck strolling, children playing in the yard, and a black guillemot. The guillemot was perched in a little grassy area on a building structure waiting for his mama to return with food. The birds would fly by really low with a fish hanging out of their mouths.
Went into the gift shop/post office and learned how they collect and clean eider down. Very interesting. One kilo (2.2 lbs.) of eider down sells for 100,000 ISK (or about $1,400) They collect 60 kilos per year on the island. The stuff is really, really soft but we are not allowed to bring it back to the U.S. – marine mammal parts aren’t permitted.
Visited the little café and had some cake and juice. It was tasty. What a great little place. We did a ½ hour zodiac cruise with Scooby and traveled around the island. It’s so cool to watch those darn puffins! The water was a bit rough and splashy, but it was great.
After returning to the ship, we had a briefing at 7:00 p.m. on what to expect tomorrow as well as a recap of what we saw today. Tomorrow we visit a waterfall in the morning and do another hike in the afternoon. Should be another fabulous day.
Had dinner with Jane and Michael (our favorite English couple) and Sarah from New Zealand. Renee made me take pictures of our appetizer – sliced mozzarella and tomato and the dessert – cream puffs shaped like swans with Chantilly cream and whipped cream. Great stuff!
Hung out in the lounge, and the chef found us at 10:45 for our kitchen tour. We had to sneak out just as Captain Paul began playing some really nice music on the piano. He’s Mr. Multi-talented. Ranier took us into all parts of the kitchen and showed where the food was prepared, how they thaw the fish, showed us the pantry, the refrigerator, freezers, etc. It was so interesting, and they still have a ton of food! They get much of it from Germany. (Food in Iceland would be soooo expensive!) We climbed into the bowels of the ship to get down to the pantry. He warned us that the ship is very old, so the kitchen is not dirty – just worn. Tomorrow night they do a deep cleaning. We chatted with the chef for a very long time. He told us it is so difficult to get a good paying job as a chef in Portugal. That’s why he’d been doing the ship thing. His next gig is a few months cruising the rivers of Europe. (He likes the Arctic better.) He’s a lot of fun.
The sunset didn’t quite happen tonight. The sky was blue in parts, but the sun went into a big cloud bed. The mountains of the fjord were amazing with color throughout. Just gorgeous. Now it’s beddy bye…
July 10, 2005 Sunday; 5:10 p.m. The Explorer – Day 10; Vacation – Day 12 Westfjords, Iceland
“It looks like the world turns inside out, like a part of the surface of the moon transplanted onto the surface of the sea. So it is perhaps not surprising that only a quarter of a million people live here, on the Rorschach blot-shaped pile of black and still warm volcanic rock that has been known over the centuries as Thule, Snowland, Butterland, but which is now officially called by its Norse name, Iceland.” — Simon Winchester
We’re relaxing in the lounge enjoying tea (or in my case diet coke). They ran out of cookies before I got here – bummer! I had to settle for cake.
Today was another great day. It rained all day long, but that didn’t stop us! After breakfast we did our first landing in Dynjandavogur Fjord. It was such a beautiful place. There was a wonderful waterfall cascading down the mountain in multiple tiers. There were lovely rock formations and a multitude of wild flowers including a few purple orchids. We made it all the way to the base of the highest cascade. The spray flew through the air swirling all around us. I was surprised to find that the wall of rock was actually orange in color. Amazing.
I was so surprised when we first landed at the waterfall site. A bus pulled up as we were getting off the zodiacs. The road is narrow and unpaved – we didn’t expect to see anyone this far out. As we were leaving, 4 or 5 cars had parked at the trail head. Quite the popular spot!
We were soaked and hung our things up to dry. I managed to stay pretty dry under my rain pants and rain jacket. Lunch was good – I especially enjoyed the Hungarian Goulash. The ship moved on down the fjords, and our next stop was Sudurfirdir Fjord. We did the landing at about 2:30. I felt bad for Michael (the 85-year old English gentleman). He really wanted to do the landings today, but the terrain was too uneven, and we don’t want him to fall and break a hip or something.
Nina and I opted for the longer hike. This area was completely deserted. However, there were a few uninhabited log cabins and an old house in the area. The beach was covered with yellow and orange kelp – gave it kind of an autumn feel. There was a forest of spruce trees growing as well as other bushes and tons of wildflowers. We waded across the river and hiked up the hill to a beautiful overlook. (I huffed and puffed and had to watch my footing.) There were a number of uneven rocks and mud to contend with. At the top were petroglyphs – not ancient – they were from 1930. Nina found two abandoned bird eggs. The area had a ton of pesky mosquitoes. I had to keep smacking them out of the way and breathe carefully and blow out my mouth. All in all a great little hike.
Now we’re heading on down the coast. Not sure what’s in store for us next.
— later — 11:10 p.m.
Had our briefing at 7PM. Looks like we’ll get one more landing before we return to Reykjavik. Yeah! We’re stopping tomorrow morning at Flatey. It’s supposed to be a good place for seabirds and a cute little island. Sabeana kind of put Helena and the Inuit guys on the spot. She asked them to explain why it’s good for them to hunt whales. Then she and Jacky disagreed with Helena’s response and were citing studies, etc. We found the whole thing a bit inappropriate. It was unfair to have environmentalists ganging up on them for their traditional ways (even though we don’t agree with those ways). They are our hostages…I mean guests on the ship, and we should be more sensitive.
Dinner was another great affair. Afterwards, we passed by the cliffs of Latrabjarg. Roger says this is the best place to view seabirds. We saw guillemots, razor bills, puffins and more. The sky was just full of the birds. They would dart by in large flocks, pairs or just on their own. Quite a sight.
I used the ship’s MAC computer to copy my photos onto CD. It’s a great service – we copy them ourselves and pay $1 for the CD. Hopefully they’ll be viewable on my PC.
Monday; July 11, 2005 The Explorer – Day 11; Vacation – Day 13 Flatey Island, Breidafjordur and Snaefells Peninsula
“A bird of comic solemnity, the Atlantic Puffin’s cuteness belies a resilience demanded by its unforgiving territory.” — Kenneth Taylor
Today is our last full day on the boat. Boo hoo! The day remained gray and rainy. But, as always, that did not stop us! After breakfast, we visited the island of Flatey – a very small, flat island with just a few houses, a coffee shop, and a church. It is known for the highest concentration of snipe in Western Europe (and I thought snipes didn’t exist & snipe hunting anyone?). Flatey supposedly was a major cultural center between the 12th and 18th centuries. The island seemed to belong to the birds, and we were just visitors. We went into the little church. The walls inside were painted in interesting scenes. Jesus was at the altar wearing an Icelandic wool sweater. Someone else was using the puffin catching net. The cemetery outside was also small and dated back to the 1800’s.
We walked through town, admiring the cute houses, and headed to the cliffs to see birds nesting below. It was a great little island. Nina and I bought Scooby a cup of coffee at the little café. We headed back on the zodiac with Morten for a quick cruise around the nearby rock islands. We got to see puffins, shags and kittiwakes up pretty close.
We returned to the ship in time for lunch and set sail for Reykjavik. Spent the day relaxing. The ship has a nice book containing drawings and poems created by passengers and expedition staff. We have a few really good artists on the boat. A few days ago, Nina and I sketched little re-enactment drawings of the whole iceberg-hitting-me-in-the back episode. Nina’s version shows me lying on the bottom of the boat, with a big “BAM” sign, and I’m surrounded by smiling faces. Mine has tackily drawn cartoon characters riding in the boat with the iceberg sailing toward my back. We giggled and taped them into the book accompanied by all the fine art work. Today we found a pack of colored pencils and had to give the drawings some final touches (with help from Clea).
Caught Morten’s talk on “Whales – part deux”. Unfortunately I nodded off through most of it. I think, basically, his presentation was against the taking of whales.
We all got to enjoy Frank’s slideshow at 5:45 p.m. He did a fantastic job capturing the whole trip – it took about 45 minutes for the whole thing to play. We were also given the opportunity to purchase a CD containing the slideshow and the individual photos for $35. This money will go to charity – to Planterra’s Scoresbysund project.
The expedition staff offered to order us a taxi tomorrow since the ship won’t be docking in the downtown area – we’ll be way across town. I let Kim know that we had reserved a rental car with Avis. Kim had Helena contact Avis, and they will bring our car to us tomorrow at 8:30. Getting the rental car means we can skip the $30 cab fare. It’s so sad we have to leave.
Dinner was quite an affair. We girls were invited to join Rolf, the Chief Engineer, for a special farewell dinner. The poor guy didn’t know what hit him! We ate, talked and drank the evening away and enjoyed Chateaubriand. Rolf hightailed it out of there the moment we saw land. Kim, the expedition leader, put us at his table so that we could draw him out (he’s shy).
Darlene ended up drinking way too much wine and had to be escorted down the stairs by Nina and Clea and put to bed. We went into our cabin and heard a big thud. Darlene had fallen out of bed and they tried helping her back to bed (twice). Poor Darlene. Lucky I was there to capture it all with my camera! (Just kidding!)
At 12:30 a.m. or so, Nina and I tried packing all of our junk together and put our large suitcases in the hall. We have a 7:00 a.m. wakeup call tomorrow.
One of our waiters – Jovan – nicknamed us the “spice girls”. Early on he asked Nina and I at breakfast – where are the other spice girls? We told Darlene and Renee about our nicknames and just laughed and laughed. We started picking our spice girl names. Renee is Ginger Spice; Nina is Tabasco Spice; Darlene is Cinnamon Spice; and Renee named me Old Spice. Hey! Jovan came back a few days later and told me I’m Paprika Spice – much better.
July 12, 2005 Tuesday; 11:55 p.m. The Explorer – Day 12; Vacation – Day 14
Disembarking, Reykjavik & Golden Circle
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” –Lao Tsu
We are now in our beautiful, large, one room apartment at Room With a View.
We were awakened for the last time by Kim with the bing bong announcement at 7:00. We showered, packed up our remaining things and grabbed breakfast. I noticed that Darlene’s suitcase was not in the hall and knocked on her door. No answer. I went in and shook her awake and told her she needed to get packed because we had to leave the ship. Talk about a hangover. Poor Darlene. Will she ever learn? Her roommate, MJ, ended up sleeping on the couch in the lounge because Darlene was making loud noises.
We said our goodbyes to everyone again. Avis was supposed to pick us up at 8:30, but didn’t show up until 9:30. Helena was on the phone making sure they got us. (I think the staff just wanted to finally get rid of us.) Helena advised us never to use Avis again! We walked down the gangplank and waited & and waited. Kim invited us to come back in to stay warm. On this cruise, our group was the loudest, most fun and obnoxious bunch on the ship. I’m surprised she allowed us back on the boat!
The Avis guy showed up with a tiny blue Volkswagon Polo. We were unable to fit all of our luggage and passengers in the car, so Renee and I went with most of the luggage and the Avis representative to their office. We signed some paperwork and took off in the car in search of Room With A View to drop off our bags. It took us awhile, but we finally did it. Found a parking spot right in front of the building and took our suitcases upstairs. We called Arni, and he met us there. He asked how many of us there would be in the room. When I told him 4, he kind of freaked out. Oh – that apartment is much too small for 4 adults. (We had exchanged several e-mails, and he said we could add a cot.) He was going to go back and check his e-mails. He thought we should be in the 2 bedroom apartment – but it’s $395 per night – very steep.
Anyway…Renee and I hit the road. We found our way back to the pier pretty easily. Picked up Nina and Darlene at 11:00 and told them we couldn’t get into our apartment so we would go ahead and begin our Golden Circle tour. Arni had given us some directions and suggestions on our itinerary, and we headed off in search of Highway 36. Darlene was extremely disappointed she couldn’t sleep at the room all day. She looked like she would barf at any time.
It took us awhile to get out of town, but we found a local mall and stopped to go potty. What the heck, they’ve got a food court. So we stayed and had lunch. I had a 749 ISK Big Mac value meal ($12). It hit the spot. We took our food to the crepe restaurant to eat with Nina, but the cigarette smoke was horrible and I had to leave.
After much searching, we were finally on the road to Pingvellir. We passed the Laxnes horse farm on the way. The drive was beautiful. Iceland is a breathtaking country. We traveled over lava formation areas covered in moss and fields full of horses. Pingvellir was great. This is the site that the Icelanders chose for their parliament in 930 AD. It is kind of a natural amphitheater made of lava rock. There was a lovely waterfall tucked in one area. We hiked to it and along the river. We walked around the whole area and even visited the little church. I got up on the pulpit and began preaching, “and lo, the angel of the lord came upon them, and the glory of the lord shown round about them, and they were sore afraid…” Darlene stayed in the car.
We hit the road and drove to Geyser. As we were crossing the street, we ran into Sandy and John from Edmonton. They were on a bus tour. This area was steamy. It didn’t smell nearly as bad as Rotorua in New Zealand and wasn’t as active. We watched Strokkur (“the churn”) do its thing and spit the water up about 60 feet every 5 minutes.
Onward to Gulfoss (“golden falls”). It was really cold, but we hiked to 2 of the view areas. What a fabulous and powerful waterfall. If it had been hot out, I might have been tempted to hike all the way to the drop of the falls. A few people did, and they were quite wet. We could see the Langjökull glacier off in the mountains from the parking lot. That’s where we are supposed to go dog sledding.
We continued driving in search of Kerid, the collapsed crater, recommended by Arni. After back tracking, we found it. This was a beautiful blue water-filled crater with lots of vegetation growing inside.
We pushed our way on back to Reykjavik and the Perlan restaurant. Darlene and I ate in the café. Nina and Renee ate in the nice restaurant. I had my yummy vanilla ice cream cone and a ham & cheese sandwich (460 ISK). Nina had whale carpaccio, some sort of fish, and our friend, the guillemot for dinner (5900 ISK). She thoroughly enjoyed hers. The Perlan is set up on a hill and has an observation platform with great views. If only the sky were blue instead of gray! At least Nina finally got to sample some local cuisine. She has been hoping for putrid shark, puffin, whale, and ram’s testicles. She likes to experience the true local scene. I much prefer to find the best French fries and chocolate cake in whatever country I visit.
We made it back to Room with a View at 11:30 p.m. without too much trouble. I found a parking spot 1½ blocks away. We just have to remember to feed the meter if we’re there between 10:00 a.m. and 6 p.m. Arni gave us the keys. What a great apartment. We have a large living room with a comfortable leather couch and chair along with a huge wall of windows. The bedroom has 2 twin beds. In addition, we have a thin mattress to put on the leather couch and a folding cot. We have a dining room and kitchen with all that we need. Very cool. We’ve even got a huge balcony with a great view of the harbor. I’m not sure why Arni thought the room would be too small for us. It’s palatial compared to the ship! Tomorrow it’s off to Vik.
Wednesday; July 13, 2005 Vacation – Day 15 Reykjavik to Vik
“It is what it is.” — Alix MacGregor
Today was a big driving and waterfall day. We intended to be on the road at 9:30, but it was more like 11:15. Oh well…we’re on vacation! Had breakfast at the bagel shop and stopped at Sandholt bakery, where Nina and Darlene got coffee and pastries.
We had to feed the meter beginning at 10:00 (parking is metered from 10 – 6:00). The day was gray again. We all packed a bag with our wellies and bathing suits (just in case). We found our way to Highway 1 – the Ring Road – and headed toward Vik (pronounced veek), which was nearly 190 km away. The drive was fun. We made so many stops along the way. I really love the area that’s sprinkled with lava rocks. They are covered with moss and there are large mountains in the distance.
Our first stop was Seljalandfoss, the waterfall that you can walk behind. It was so beautiful. Being smart girls, we put on our wellies. The waterfall had a lot of spray, so the area was muddy. I managed to drop my camera twice in the mud. Bummer! We scrambled over the rocks and made our way behind the waterfall. It was so cool to be able to look out from there. We kept seeing tour buses pull in. They only stayed a short time for quick photo ops. I’m so glad we have our own car. It’s so great to be able to set our own schedule and spend as much time as we want to each stop.
We wandered down the path where there were two more smaller waterfalls. All pretty. Nina and I climbed across the stream and then hiked up to a little cave. This was an opening in the mountain’s rock wall, just above the stream. It was overgrown with plants and wildflowers and was gorgeous. There was a little turf house down below. We then climbed up to the waterfall adjacent to the cave. I managed to get all muddy from this area and had to crab crawl down the hill on my butt.
We traveled another ½ mile down the road and stopped to check out another waterfall. Nina read in the guidebook that there was a hidden waterfall. This was located near Hamragarder farm which has an area for camping. Nina and I had our wellies on and headed across the meadow toward the mountain where we could see a waterfall above the rocks. Oh my gosh! We climbed into the stream and what incredible views we had. You could see the waterfall between the rocks. We continued wading through the water and came to this circular opening with the waterfall pouring down from above. What a sight! You would never know how beautiful it is unless you went all the way back through that canyon. Wow.
Nina and I gave our wellies to Darlene and Renee and insisted they go see the waterfall, too. They loved it. Unfortunately Renee fell and got my boots wet inside. Poor thing.
We drove a little further up the road and saw a sign that seemed like it was marking a good place to visit. Big mistake. We headed up the hills on a dirt/rock path that was rutted. Yikes! Get me out of here. I was afraid I’d scrape the muffler and gas tank off the bottom of the car. I was finally able to turn around after doing a 12-point turn (on a cliff).
Moved on down the road and saw lots more waterfalls but didn’t stop at all of them. We came to Skogarfoss. What a great place that was also. It’s kind of a wider waterfall that emptied down the mountain (and managed to spray us pretty good). Fools that we are, we climbed the stairs to the top of the falls for a different view. I’m out of shape. Huffed and puffed but finally made it. We could see the river flowing along the ridge and emptying down the mountain.
Continued on and then stopped at Dyrhólaey. We had great views of the bird life on cliffs that overlooked the black sand beach. A few tour buses stopped there for maybe 2 minutes. We were there nearly an hour. You could see the peaks of Reynisdrangar (the troll rocks) off in the distance. I sat on the cliffs watching the kittiwakes and puffins flying back to their nests and feeding in the ocean. I tried getting close to a puffin nest, but they burrow into the mountain and were hidden from my watchful eyes as I snaked my way along the edge of the cliff. I had to be careful not to trip, because there were huge holes in the ground covered by grass. We drove up the nearby hill to the lighthouse and saw the big arch and some more stunning views of the mountains.
Onward to Vik. We filled up with gas (3900 ISK or $50+). We had dinner at a cute little restaurant in town called Halldórskaffi. We almost made the mistake of eating at the Esso cafeteria. Thank goodness we consulted our Lonely Planet guidebook for recommendations first. I had a marguerita pizza and a diet coke (1020 ISK). The pizza was great. Nina was very excited – she got to have puffin. She said it tasted like a cross between tuna and smoked turkey. Poor little puffin! There was a group of around 20 people at the restaurant that began singing loudly – must have been Icelandic tunes. They all had the music sheets to follow along. We clapped, but after 2nd song we wanted to change the station. They were having fun. Perhaps they were part of a choir or something.
We drove down to the beach area and spent time walking along the black sand, admiring the sea birds and enjoying the area. We had great views of Reynisdrangar. Nina scaled some cliffs and waded into the ocean. I kept my parka on. As we started to drive away, Nina noticed her wedding ring was missing. She had it in the bathroom at the restaurant and thought she may have lost it at the beach. She searched her clothes, purse, car, and parking lot. We retraced our steps along the beach for about an hour, but no luck. She was so depressed and we felt terrible for her. Nina is a newlywed and had designed the ring and was crushed. She checked back at the restaurant, but still no luck. We were a quiet group as we headed back to Reykjavik at 10:15. About an hour later, Nina exclaimed, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” She found her ring. It somehow got stuck in her pants legs (she was wearing polar fleece leggings). We all cheered. The mood in the car lifted, and we made it back to the hotel at 12:45.
We ran into Arni as we were entering the hotel and chatted with him a bit. He gave us some advice for tomorrow’s adventures. Stay tuned…
Thursday; July 14, 2005 Vacation – Day 16 Reykjavik & the Reykjanes Peninsula
I woke up with the sun beating through the curtains. This was our first day of blue skies in Iceland, and it was so beautiful. It was warm! Took photos from our balcony and didn’t have to rush anywhere for a change.
We went to a little café for breakfast that had teapots everywhere. I had a chocolate chocolate chip muffin. We walked around a bit and asked at the tourist office about the location of the Phallicological Museum. Bummer! It moved to Akureyi. Everyone was too embarrassed to ask. So I went up there and said, “My friends want to know…”
I called Dennis at the dog sledding place to make reservations for tomorrow. They were booked, but told me to call back in 5 minutes. He was going to check for cancellations. Yeah! He was able to get us in for the noon ride tomorrow. Hope we’ll be able to find our way there! We made periodic stops at the car all morning long to continually feed the meter. We could have parked a couple more blocks away in the residential area and not worry about meters. Next time…
We headed to the church – Hallgrimskirkja. It’s best seen on a blue sky day. We took the elevator to the top for great views of the city. Checked out the inside of the church and ran into Angelika (Renee’s roomie on the boat). She was getting ready to fly home. I stopped at the cheapie store and bought two Viking hats for me and Nina (400 ISK each). We are so cool! Then we ate yet again at 1:30 at the bakery. Ham & cheese for me.
It was finally time to hit the road for our drive around the Reykjanes Peninsula area and to the Blue Lagoon. Renee did the driving. We took Arni’s advice and drove to the Krisavik region and Lake Kleifarvatn. The area was so cool. It was full of huge volcanic mountains with the blue lake and dark sand beach down below. We walked down to the water and took some goofy pictures with our cool Viking hats. We stopped at a beautiful pasture with a bunch of cute horses grazing. The Icelandic horses are adorable. Next stop was the stinky sulfur area, Selún Hot Springs, full of boiling mud pots and steam vents. The earth just seems so alive here. We hiked around for awhile. We then continued on toward Grindavik. Unfortunately the road wasn’t paved. The landscape consisted of lava rocks everywhere – kinda like we were on the moon. It’s so amazing – nothing but lava rocks as far as the eye can see. Our vehicle started acting up – the light came on for “check exhaust”. The book said to take it in for service asap. We were very worried but drove on to the Blue Lagoon. (Heck we were in the middle of nowhere.) I called Avis, and the representative told me to check the oil and water. If they are fine, then it is probably just the light malfunctioning. That didn’t give us much comfort. Yes, the oil and water were fine.
We did our thing at the Blue Lagoon. What a great place. The water was an unusual powdery blue color with steam rising off it. It was set in black lava rock and wasn’t too crowded. We paid our entrance fee (1400 + 300 ISK for a towel). We got our locker keys and went to the changing room. You have to shower before going in. We Americans are all shy and shower with our bathing suits on. The other women parade around naked. I was expecting the Blue Lagoon to smell sulfury, but it didn’t – thank goodness. The water was a really comfortable temperature, so we all hopped in. I had read there was a gross sludge in the bottom of the pool, but it was nice. On the far side, we found some gross sludgy stuff. When you scooped it up, it had hair and stuff in it – ewwwwh! We didn’t stay in that area long. Darlene got a massage. They actually give it to you in the water. Afterwards, Darlene said it wasn’t much of a massage – they just rubbed the silica mud on her. We all gave ourselves silica masks. It made your skin feel really soft. We stayed at the Blue Lagoon for nearly 2½ hours. Great place. I got out and tried to wash the crap out of my hair. Gross – it still feels disgusting. I tried not to get my hair wet, but there was a cool waterfall I had to go under. All that silica gets stuck in your hair. I dumped tons of conditioner on my hair and tried to get a comb through.
We had planned to go to Grindavik for dinner, but it was already 9:00, so we came back to Reykjavik. I drove, and the car seemed to do okay, but the idiot light is still on. We ate at Pasta Basta, and I had a meaty spaghetti Bolognese.
Nina, Renee and I dashed down to the waterfront because the sky was an incredible pink color. We had to take an evening picture of the sculpture in the harbor. Gorgeous. Stopped at the 11/11 store and picked up breakfast goodies. We’re out the door at 8:00 tomorrow!
Friday; July 15, 2005 Vacation – Day 17 Reykjavik – Dog Sledding Day
We got up early as planned and tried to get on the road at 8:00, but it was more like 8:30. Hey, better than usual. We ran into Arni on our way out, and I confirmed the route we were planning to take to Jaki. He agreed we should take the ring road and go through the tunnel, travel to Borganes and then head to Husafell. He was very concerned since we still don’t have a very good map. (Okay, it’s a piece of crap.) Arni is great – at least someone will notice if we go missing! On the way out of town we stopped at a gas station, but they were out of maps. Bummer! We braved our way sans decent map. Yippee! The “check exhaust” light is gone.
It was a pretty drive. Unfortunately it was gray and rainy out. Can’t be perfect every day…
The tunnel was really cool. It shaved an hour off our drive and cost 1,000 ISK each way. The tunnel went through the mountain and maybe even under the ocean? It went deep down and was long.
We got to the Borganes area and headed to Husafell. Darn! We got stuck on a bunch of gravel roads. One section was under construction with the trucks shifting rocks around. I was cussing up a storm – it was scary to drive on. I thought we might scrape the gas tank and muffler off as we bottomed out going through it. Yeah – the gravel roads got less bumpy, and we could see the glacier off in the distance.
We turned off on 550 in search of Jaki, but we never even saw a sign for the town. We continued on and finally saw a sign for dog sledding. Yippee! We made it to the Langjökull glacier – the 2nd largest ice cap in Iceland. We turned off and found the meeting site – a couple of old buildings. It was 11:00 a.m., and we were an hour early. Cool. It was rainy and very windy up here on the glacier. We went inside the building to get warm and stay dry. James from England greeted us, and we sat around snacking and chatting. He is supposed to work here until September. They may have to shut down in August if the glacier continues melting too fast. He gets 3 days off every two weeks and has to hitchhike to and from Reykjavik to enjoy it. He hasn’t been working here very long. The dogs respond to commands in Danish, so James has to fake like he’s speaking Danish to them. Funny.
We paid our entrance fee (7200 ISK or $111). We waited for other sledders to arrive. They have 3 sledges and 29 dogs. There are 9 dogs per sledge (and two in training). We got suited up in giant snowsuits that zip over your clothing. We looked like giant puffy Pillsbury Dough boys. They also provided boots that go over your own shoes as well as gloves. (That way your own gloves won’t smell like dog.)
Yeah! Blue sky started peaking out, and the rain stopped. What a difference an hour can make! The other sledders arrived around 12:30, and we got loaded into a giant truck. It was open aired and had benches on the back. We cruised to the top of the glacier. They have had to move the dog sledding site several times as the glacier melts.
We got off the truck and were directed to our sledge and met our guide, Christian from Denmark. He was great and really informative. The dogs were so big and muscular. Their faces had kind of squinty eyes and were very friendly. Most of the dogs were blonde colored.
The sledge holds four people, so Nina and Renee got on and got situated. I plopped down on the sledge between Renee’s legs, and the dogs started to take off. Oops! Christian yelled at them and got them to stop. Darlene got on gently and Christian put on his skiis. Then we took off. Slowly at first. He held onto a rope attached to the sledge and would call out commands in Danish to the dogs. Christian tossed another rope under the front of the sledge to act as a break when we were going too fast. Rasta was the lead dog and would glance back for reassurance from Christian to make sure he was doing okay. One of his ears was scarred – probably from a little altercation with his buddies.
It was fun riding. I held onto Nina’s boot to stay on and tried to take action photos. Fabulous! After 25 minutes we stopped at the turnaround point and got off and spent 15 minutes taking photos and petting the dogs. They just love attention. They would roll over and want you to scratch and try to give you kisses. So sweet. We had one girl dog (Franka) in our group, and the rest are males. This keeps the boys in line – all are trying to impress her. The dogs kind of talk to each other as they are running – nip and bark to make each other run properly. Christian shared all sorts of info on the dogs and their personalities.
On the way back Christian took an action photo of us – riding on the sledge. One of the dogs was named Rudolph. He had a reddish nose and was cross-eyed, but so cute. The really dark Greenlandic dog looked kind of scary, but he was a sweetie. Simpson ran next to Franka and was very protective. Christian said the dogs crave being pet; he can’t pet them too much or they won’t respect him. When the dogs get too old to run, they sometimes are used for breeding. Otherwise they have to get put down, because they don’t adjust well as house pets. They work best at -20oC. The hot weather isn’t good for them – they get too tired. Poor babies. We finished up our ride and came back on the big red truck – with great views of the glacier and the valley.
We changed out of our gear and got back on the road. We headed back the way we came. We stopped at a view spot where we had seen a bus on the way in (about 6 km past Husafell). I’m so glad we did! Here were two amazing waterfalls – Hraunfossar and Barnafoss. Hraunfossar were kind of gentle cascades that flow through a long lava rock ledge and empty into the river. It was so picturesque, and the water a great blue-ish color. We were surrounded by massive lave fields. Barnafoss were a little further upstream and also gorgeous. We walked around the area and went over the footbridge. Great!
We continued on the journey at 5:30 p.m. Hey, we haven’t had lunch yet! We hogged down some snacks and made our way to Borgarnes to have dinner. We went to the Filipino restaurant – Matstofan – and enjoyed hearty portions. I had a fried rice dish that was pretty good. We made it back to Reykjavik at 9:00, and there were a ton of young people (18-20 years old) camped out on our sidewalk. It turns out that the Harry Potter book goes on sale tonight at midnight, and they all can’t wait to get their copy. Many of them are dressed rather odd. Guess they are getting in the spirit of Harry Potter.
We had a message from Steve Leong from our cruise checking if we wanted to go out for drinks tonight. We walked down to his B&B, the Ugly Duckling, and left a note for him in the bar to meet us. We’re hoping to go to the ice bar. That’ll be fun.
— later —
Steve called us and came to our place at 11:20 p.m. We all sat around and talked until 1:00 a.m. He is a wealth of knowledge on all things GAP. He got pretty friendly with Bruce Poontip (the owner) on our Antarctica trip and was pumping the rest of the employees for info. Our expedition leader, Kim, had made three previous attempts to get into Scoresbysund with no luck. Yeah we made it! I hope they were able to get there with the next cruise so the dogs could go home to Ittoqqortoormiit. Steve says it looks like GAP may be buying another expedition ship to do voyages in the Pacific. That’ll be interesting to see what progresses. Brad (of Brad and Margaret) did a renovation on GAP’s offices in Toronto. They’ve already outgrown the space in just one year. Good for them.
We headed off for the Ice Bar at 1:00 a.m. The streets were alive with people everywhere – going to the bars and partying on the streets. Lots of glass was broken on our street. The Ice Bar is in a neat yellow building. Unfortunately, it was closed, and we couldn’t see what the hours are. Oh well…I had planned to bail on the group and go back to our apartment after our Ice Bar expedition, but now we had to find a new bar. Steve had a list of possibilities. I tried to get out of going by saying it was too smoky, but they decided to go to the Sircus bar with an outdoor patio. We waited and waited on line and it was sprinkling outside. The bar was really rock-n-roll noisy with 20-somethings trying to get in and lots of smoke. I made my excuses and left them on their own. I’m a party pooper. Got to bed at 2:00 a.m.
Saturday; July 16, 2005 Vacation – Day 18 On the runway – Reykjavik
It’s over. We’re getting ready to fly home. Darlene and I didn’t manage to get an upgrade this time, but I’m in a pretty good row with plenty of leg room.
The girls got back from bar hopping around 4:30 a.m. I didn’t hear a thing. They had some tales of weird music being played and everyone “gettin’ down” to Dolly Parton in “9 to 5”. They had a good time.
We got our things packed up and cleaned up the apartment. We had a ton of garbage to dispose of. The day was the greyest and rainiest so far. Had my toast for breakfast and tried some skyr. Three bites – didn’t do it for me. It kind of left a chalky after taste. Of course I don’t eat yogurt, so that may be the problem.
We can’t fit all of us and our luggage in the rental car, so Renee called to get a reservation on the FlyBus to the airport. They told her she should have had our hotel fax a reservation last night. She pleaded, and they complied saying they would pick her up at Room With a View at 12:30. Cool. I can’t believe how much luggage she brought – two large rolling duffels, a large rolling backpack with another backpack inside, and a waist camera bag.
We went and settled our bill with Arni. Ouch. My share was $378 for the 5 nights. This was such a great place to stay. I loved our apartment. The balcony was fabulous, especially on those few sunny mornings and evening sunsets. The windows are thick and block out all that annoying noise from the street. The living room was large with a very comfortable leather couch and chair and dining room area. The furniture looks like it came from Scandinavian Designs or Ikea. Renee called the kitchen home and used the counter as her “nightstand”. Arni didn’t think the apartment was big enough for us, but it felt palatial after our small cabins on the Explorer.
Arni said we could leave the luggage in the room until noon, but we decided to put it all in the car so we wouldn’t have to rush back. The luggage all fit great, but there wasn’t any room for a driver or passengers.
We headed back to the Ice Bar. It has to be open for lunch. Nope. They now have a sign outside that says they are open for a fish buffet at 6:00 p.m. What a waste of a great place to try out. They supposedly have a bar consisting of ice. You drink out of ice glasses and they provide parkas for the deep freeze. It would have been cool. Oh well…next time.
We waited with Renee for the FlyBus. They never showed up. Nina went upstairs and asked Arni to call them. They lost the reservation. Boneheads. Arni offered to take Renee in his car to the bus station. What a great guy! Thank goodness for Arni.
Steve came walking up the street, so we all went for lunch at Sandholt (our favorite bakery). I had a ham and cheese croissant, chocolate cake, and coke light. (I ordered a diet coke. They said they didn’t have diet coke, but had coke light.) Steve told us that GAP partners with the TV show Survivor. We were supposed to have some “Survivors” on our Antarctica trip, but it was at the same time as the “All Stars” edition of the show so they couldn’t go. There also were supposed to be some members on this trip. Bummer – that would have been cool!
We had to feed the meter again all morning and got out of there around 1:45 p.m. We stopped and filled up at the gas station and made it to the airport in Keflavik to drop off the rental car. We had to drag our suitcases through the parking lot to the terminal – not too far – through the rain. I sent Nina and Darlene on line for check-in while I turned in the keys at the Avis counter. I asked for a receipt and discovered they overcharged me 8441 ISK for an extra day. I protested saying the rental was prepaid for 5 days. He disagreed, but called down to the Reykjavik office and then apologized for the mistake. He isn’t able to credit my account today, but their accounting department will take care of it. (I got his name and number just in case.)
Got checked in and didn’t get an upgrade this time. Bummer. The Digeplayer has the same 8 movies, so I’ll save myself $15. I have gassed up my iPod, so I’m all set.
All in all the trip was fantastic. Our time in Iceland was great. There is so much natural beauty, and much of it is so unusual. I’d love to come back again (when the dollar is strong – ha ha). The waterfalls, lava fields, mountains, fjords, horses, geysers – all incredible. Dog sledding was such a treat. We saved $600 by driving ourselves there. A rental car is the way to go when visiting Iceland. I would hate to be at the mercy of a bus schedule/tour group. When you see something interesting – you stop – and stay as long as you want.
It was so weird having light basically 24 hours a day. It got a bit darker in Iceland than it did on the ship. Fortunately on the ship our porthole was closed 9 of the 11 nights so sleeping was not a problem.
Our Arctic cruise was wonderful. I would recommend it to all. We didn’t see the wildlife like we did in Antarctica (and according to Steve’s GAP friends, we only saw about 15% of the penguins we would have seen if we traveled in February instead of March). Greenland was great. It was so nice to be able to walk on it, view the wildflowers and the amazing surroundings. Being trapped in sea ice was an experience. We wondered if we’d EVER make it out of there. How amazing to look off in the distance and see nothing but ice EVERYWHERE. How the heck will we get out of here?!
The expedition staff made the trip. The waiters and other staff on the ship were so helpful. The Explorer was a great ship – better than the Orlova in most ways. The lounge, lecture hall and dining area were better. However, our triple room was much smaller (but yeah – only two of us in it). The Orlova had a nice large back deck that was perfect for a bbq. We couldn’t have done that on the Explorer. Having Frank (from The Time Photography) on the ship was a big plus. Having a professional photographer capture your vacation is the way to go. I’m not sure that anyone at home would be willing to sit through our 45 minute slideshow, but we all loved it.
Here are just a few memorable moments of the vacation:
Making it to Scoresbysund and sharing the trip with 3 Inuits and their 2 Greenlandic dogs
Amazing sunset in Greenland
Polar bear swimming
3 polar bears on the ice – eating their kill
Being assaulted by an iceberg
Unbelievable miniscule wildflowers on Greenland and the thick cushy carpet of undergrowth/mosses as you walked
Being trapped in sea ice
The “hidden” waterfall near Seljalandfoss
Dog sledding on Langjökull
Other worldly lava landscape
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.
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