Natural and Cultural Wonders


July 2: Still in Northern Iceland. Our travel guide suggested a stop at Gooafoss, the waterfall of the Gods. We hadn’t really intended to stop. We’ve seen a lot of waterfalls along the way and I have come to realize I like the small, narrow ones that cascade down rocky cliffs to the big ones. 011

However, Gooafoss can be easily seen from Highway 1 so it’s hard to miss. It’s horseshoe shape reminded me of Niagara Falls, just not so big. But the thing about Iceland as you can get up close to all these natural wonders. Guess they think if you chose to do so, you also assume your own risk. What a novel idea!  004

Our route took us off I, through the towns of Siglufjorour with its Herring Era Museum-we didn’t stop and Akureyri and eventually on to 76 where we encountered three tunnels. The longest was 8 km but the most tense was one that was one lane with pull offs for the car heading north-that was us. 009

Much of this country is farm land set among impressive mountain ranges, meaning we drove mountain roads with no guard rails.  I don’t know what is raised other than sheep, an abundance of Icelandic horses and even cows. Fields do yield hay and maybe wheat, but the growing season is so short we’ve not seen signs of anything else. By the time we reached Hofsos we were very hungry.

012Hofsos is a picturesque town on the water. Fishing seems to be the norm along here but there is also a thermal pool with a great view over the Arctic ocean. We didn’t go in, but on this Sunday, the pool definitely had more cars than any church. Religion doesn’t seem to have a big effect on people here. 010

Our final stop today was unexpected. We came across a vintage auto museum and Ed had a great time exploring. This upscale Opel was imported in Iceland by the German embassy and used by a German spy in WWII. After the war, it was discovered hidden in a stack of hay. They even had three Type 1 VW Beetles and I left our car with Stewball’s photo with their guest book. 017022

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We  are now at Hofsstadir Guesthouse  which has the reputation of an excellent restaurant. We look forward to that.

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Fjords and Fishing Villages


June 30, July 1: We are in picturesque Husavik, the “Whale Watching capital of Europe”.019

Everyday we learn more about Iceland. The population of Iceland goes like this. First are the sheep, second are horses and a distant third are people, tourists outnumbering Icelanders by a huge margin. I have nothing  to back this up but we have dodged free-range sheep and no people. 009

We drove through the densely forested area of Iceland. It took 15 minutes. That’s an exaggeration, 10 tops. So here is an Icelandic joke.

What do you do if you are lost in an Iceland forest?

Answer: Stand up.

If you have visited Iceland, you’ll get this, if you haven’t you need to know Iceland with all its vastness has almost no trees. No one has been able to give me a definite answer why. Perhaps the regular volcanic eruptions and ash, maybe the glaciers, maybe the long, dark winters, maybe Vikings or Trolls.

Next, we were under the impression (I’m sure I read this somewhere) that Highway 1 is asphalt all the way around Iceland. Well, it’s not. I turned the driving over to Ed and we had several hours of gravel-make that muddy- road. We also detoured onto 87 to get to Husavik on a shorter route which turned out to be a slower route because of the road conditions. But we learned something else. All the gas stations we have encountered have free self-serve car wash. It’s needed now in summer and I am sure this is worse in the winter. We have already washed the mud off our car twice! Not so worried about the car, but every time we get in or out, we get mud on ourselves.

So Husavik. It was primarily a fishing town, but now, the main economic support seems to be a perfect tourist destination for whale watching. It was windy, cold,  and misty but I decided to go. Ed, being the smarter, stayed in the hotel. This was the restored wooden boat I went on. 007

I was  hoping to see Puffins since our trip went to Puffin Island. The Puffin part was a disappointment. We saw hundreds of Puffins in the air and in the distance on the island but we were never close enough to get photos. I may end this trip with no Puffin photos. Whales on the other hand performed beautifully, my photos were not good because I was so excited to see them, that I was too late with my camera. You’ll have to trust me. I saw a lot of whale and got wet and cold from waves breaking over the bow of the boat. Define fun. 010

The day ended with dinner at the charming, water front Gamli Baukur restaurant made of driftwood. I can only say the atmosphere was better than the food. 005

Tomorrow across the top and on to Skagafjorour.

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Icebergs and Glaciers


June 29. We left our hosts from the Glacier View Guesthouse and drove through what can only be described as a lunar landscape. These are lava fields actually made of smooth, moss-covered rocks and nothing else. Miles of it. It reminded us of the desolate landscape of the Australian Outback but with snow-covered mountains as a backdrop. Nothing grows here.007

We drove the Golden Circle, the Ring Road, or Highway 1 to the Icelanders. The highway is good, smooth asphalt, one lane each way. But maybe the best thing is NO billboards to obstruct the landscape. There are only three things missing- shoulders, guard rails and two-lane bridges. Oh, and toilets at the parking areas. There doesn’t seem to be any particular pattern regarding  who gets to cross a bridge first, but drivers are polite and flash their headlights to let you know they are crossing. 008

The stop I wanted to make today was at the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon at the southern edge of the Vatnajokull glacier. It was impressive. I have never seen huge chunks of glaciers floating in a lake. I watched one big chunk calve off and float away from the mother hunk. Kind of like a child leaving the nest.014

 

 

 

Now you would think one couldn’t get lost following the only road that rings the entire country. Well, we did, in a town of Hofn, only 2,000. Our GPS froze and we realized how dependent we were on it. Circled the town harbor twice. 018

Yes, I know I have maps on my I-phone, but I never think about that. Nordic Visitor provided us with a hot-spot. Finally I put in our hotel (by the way, the most charming one so far and complete with a washer and dryer.) in Djupivogur, a fishing town of 460 people on a colorful bay. This is the view from our apartment balcony.  Already wish we had more time here.002

 

 

 

 

On the road to northern Iceland and Husavik tomorrow. 017

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Waterfalls, Volcanic Beaches and More


June 28: I told Ed I wanted to make three stops on our route today and we made five! Leaving Hella, we first stopped at Keldur to see the sod houses left (and restored) from centuries ago. Most likely from the 11th century. Looks like something out of a fairy tale. 007 (2)

Seems we arrived before opening, but a closed-and not locked- gate never stopped me. I made a brief tour against the background of  sheep baaing and cows lmooing. A short way down the road, I photographed this sod roofed barn with its own sheep. 015

 

 

Second stop. Seljalandsfioss waterfall.  I didn’t have rain gear and didn’t want to spend the rest of the day in the car dripping wet so I didn’t walk the trail behind the falls.

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Third stop, Skogafoss waterfall. One of the highest in Iceland. Doesn’t compare to Victoria or Niagara Falls, but pretty impressive anyway.  017

 

 

 

 

 

019Fourth stop, the Solheimajokull glacier. I intended to walk out on it, but it turned out to be quite a hike. Take note: if you travel Iceland, I highly recommend hiking boots. I don’t have them and many even short walks are on  loose gravel. The tiny specks in this photo are people walking on the glacier so you see how far I still had to go.

Fourth stop was lunch (very disappointing) at the Black Beach restaurant near Dyrholaey. However, the black volcanic beach and strange basalt columns made up for the “tourist” food. 024

 

 

 

 

We arrived early at the Glacier View Guesthouse in sunshine and the warmest day we’ve had. Our host and hostess are very accommodating. Our only disappointment is the late dining hour, but our hostess Elin, brought us homemade lamb soup, fresh bread and wine to hold us until 8:00. Now to stay awake.

I Couldn’t resist this photo of her freshly washed sheets blowing in the wind with the Myfdalsjokull glacier as the backdrop. 039

Our distance wasn’t far but we made the day longer with interesting stops.

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The Golden Circle-Day 1


June 27. We picked up our car this morning and began our adventure. We only drove the Golden Circle, aka, Route 1 for a short time before driving a longer, more picturesque route before joining Route 1 again to finish the day.

First impressions: No trees. the landscape is green with low ground cover, but the only trees we’ve seen have been planted. Is this the weather? or the rocky terrain? Don’t know, must ask someone.

horses-Iceland

horses-Iceland

Lots of horses. Icelandic horses. They look hardy and sturdy. I am guessing but I don’t think many breeds would survive this climate. We are here in summer and it is only 10 C with wind. I can’t imagine winter. We have learned that any horse that leaves Iceland cannot return. They do not want cross-breeding or disease. Horses are valued here.

Our first stop was the Pingvellir National park then on to the geothermal area and the Strokkur geyser. For those who have seen “Old Faithful” the only thing outstanding about this geyser is it erupts every 15 minutes.IMG_3124

This leads me to another interesting tidbit about Iceland. Over 90% of homes and businesses are heated with geothermal energy.  Hot springs are everywhere-even the horses know where to find them- and there are 150 to 200 active volcanos in Iceland. The last major eruption (some of you may remember) was in 2014 when the ash from Baroarlunga stopped air traffic to Europe because of the dense ash in the air the threat to airplane engines inhaling the particles.

We are in a lovely, unique hotel tonight. Again, clean, simple Scandinavian furniture IMG_3133and saunas. Dinner was good. You need top like fish and lamb to eat well here.

Some one is still dealing with jet-leg.

Travel tip: Bring your own toiletries. Soap, shampoo and lotion. We have not found them in our hotel rooms.

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Welcome to Reykjavik


My first impressions of Iceland come from the trip from the airport to Reykjavik through jet-lagged eyes. Mostly this was rocky, rather barren land with the ocean in the distance. A 40 minute drive to our modern hotel which is reminiscent of hotels in northern Germany with its small, clean no-frills room.  Good fresh food, in the dining room.

A bit of history. Iceland was discovered by a Nordic Viking by the name of Arnarson in 871. Don’t think he found much here, but he established Reykjavik which means something like “Smoky Bay” based on the a false impression that turned out to be  steam rising from the hot springs.

145 Second bit of more modern history was the Hofdi House. This was  particularly interesting to us since our current writing is a novel set in 1952 Germany, in the early years of the Cold War. This  house was built in 1909 and was the meeting place between Reagan and Gorbachev in 1986 and marked the end of the Cold War.

We walked much of the city center. Had to photograph the iconic HallgrimskirkjaFullSizeRender (34) church which dominates this city. Not the most picturesque church I’ve seen, but impressive in its size and location.

Reykjavik is now a progressive, cosmopolitan city known for social tolerance, art and a little bit of everything in between. I couldn’t help but be impressed with the street art which includes many buildings.141

IMG_3108Much more to do and see here, but tomorrow we pick up our car and begin our drive around the Ring Road-Highway 1.

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Next Up-Iceland


iceland mapJune 24 we leave for Iceland via Minnesota. I know, that’s another story, but it does permit an overnight visit to my sister in White Bear Lake.

For those who follow our car rallies, this is not a rally. Those will wait until fall when we first go to Italy for Odyssey Italia and then on to Africa for the African Safari Challenge.

Iceland is described as an underpopulated island marooned near the top of the globe. Active volcanos rumble and glaciers grind. Waterfalls and geysers are so frequent, I’ve been told you finally stop photographing them.  Ed and I hired a car through Nordic Visitor. We pick up our car in Reykjavik and drive counter-clockwise on route 1 around the country on what is known (at least to tourists) as the Golden Circle. Nordic Visitor booked our hotels and provides complete guide information and maps with highlights to see each day. We have no agenda other than to be at the booked hotel each night.

South Iceland is the most visited region, with plenty of waterfalls, glacier, geysers, mountains, geothermal lakes, and black sand beaches. We have a day in vibrant, colorful Reykjavik to learn to pronounce the name and perhaps get over a bit of jet lag. DSC_1040

Everyone remarks on the incredible landscape but we’ve heard the people and culture are just as impressive. This is not the time of year to see the aurora borealis, but maybe. We will be north of the Arctic circle. It is the time of year to need black-out curtains for the almost 24 hours of daylight.

Personally, I plan to see whales when we stop in Husavik and hopefully Puffins DSC_1182along the way. These photos are by permission of Lilla Howle, daughter who went last July and inspired our trip.

I will blog as we go and add my own photos and impressions of this very unique country.

Janet

 

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Right or Wrong, Blow your Horn


Day 23. Dec. 5: Cusco, Peru.

Once again, it has been days since a blog post. We are now in Peru and have two days off. Why? Because most of the participants are going to Machu Picchu. We will not go. Lots of reasons, but now we are glad this didn’t work for us because we both have some effects of altitude sickness. Ed more than me. Fatigue, shortness of breath mainly, but it’s not a good feeling. It is difficult even to walk far in this lovely town, the center of Inca culture. I did walk to the main square, Plaza de Armas, and photographed la Catedral and other churches that sourround it. img_2589

Our hotel Monasterio, has it’s own history. It was built in 1595 as a monastery and has retained its distinction and charm.img_2574

 

 

Back a bit in rally time. We crossed the border on Dec. 1. A four hour process that took valuable time in what should have been a relatively short driving day. Nothing compared to our crossing from China to Kazakhstan, in 2011, that was 10 hours.

Peru is not like either Argentina or Chile. Here are my first impressions.

  1. The food is better.
  2. The drivers are worse. Rude and aggressive. There are no lanes in most towns, few posted street signs and the only way to get through an intersection is to push on in. Not our style of driving which sets off a lot of horn honking. Traffic jams are the norm. fullsizerender-25
  3. Peru is more exotic than either Argentina or Chile. It is like stepping back in time.
  4. Traditional dress is the norm for older women complete with Peruvian hats. The contrast between the young with cell phones and jeans and the old is startling. fullsizerender-29
  5. All these countries have a great deal of poverty. I don’t know if Peru is really worse, it seems so, but that may be the route we are driving. The people who live in the desert of Chile are certainly poor and hardy. Houses are adobe brick or tar paper.
  6. Peru has some of the most spectacular scenery with lush farmland and mountains too.
  7. Peru has high altitudes, not just border crossings. Cusco is at 10,000 feet.

I must go back to our favorite stop so far. It was in Atacama, Chile, in the Atacama desert. Our hotel img_2478was beautiful, surrounded by the desert and volcanos. It reminded us of the wonderful safari lodges in Africa, minus the elephants, zebras and giraffes. We did see lots of llamas and alpacas though.

 

 

A little about the rally. The discussion at dinner is mostly about car problems from an axel breaking, overheating in the high altitudes, suspension failure, tire replacements, broken shackle bolts, headlights and cracks in windshields. Many, including us, have experienced vapor lock in the high heat and altitude. So far we have mostly been sympathetic listeners. Hope it stays this way.

img_2522One fascinating stop was an abandoned Saltpetre village in Humberstone, Chile. Very eerie, and reminded us of the abandoned mining towns in the US west.

 

 

Before we leave here Wednesday, we will take in an opera show and dinner at our hotel. Then we head to Nazca, Peru and will take a flight over the Nazca lines which were created by the Nazca culture between 400 and 650 AD for reasons still debated. Then just one more day and we will finish in Lima.

 


							
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Over the Top


Nov. 29. Day 17. It’s been days since I’ve posted. Thanksgiving has come and gone while we crossed  borders We have crossed the border to Chile, back to Argentina and back again to Chile. img_2349Our days have been long and many of them hot. By the time we get into our hotel, there has been no time for anything except a shower, dinner and bed. However we have a day off and I hope to give you a flavor of our last days.

On day 16, we had a long hard drive, over 550 km  from Salta, Argentina, crossing the fullsizerender-21Andes and the border at Paso Jama. This is the most northerly border between Argentina and Chile and reaches a height of 15,000 feet. The road still rises after that to 15,764 feet (according to my Garmin). Yes, this is a part of  our ascent. We had concerns about ourselves and Stewball. We crossed here with a few other cars, but the rally route crossed at a lower altitude on a road that is partly gravel, our route was a longer and higher, but with better road conditions. Fuel was a problem, but fortunately we did locate a fuel station along the way.  (Some of the rally cars did not make it and had to be towed to a station at the end of the day.)img_2460-2

Bottom line, Stewball did experience some vapor lock but never let us down. We did take some puffs of oxygen we had brought along and experienced a few symptoms of altitude sickness, namely, headaches and muscle weakness when we were out of the car at the border and had to exert ourselves walking into the border control. By the time we got to our hotel we had entered the desert, passed the famous salt flats and fullsizerender-19descended to 9,700 feet. We were ready to collapse and give Stewball a much needed rest. This is the highest point on the rally and while we will be at 10,00 feet in Cusco, we are confident we will make that without difficulty.

img_2468Our hotel, Tierra Atacama is the best so far on the rally. We are in the Atacama Desert with volcanos in the distance. The views are spectacular as they were on most of the drive here. Nights get quite cold and days are hot. img_2471This morning I had the opportunity to walk into the dusty town of San Pedro de Atacama with Marian, a rally friends from Australia to buy a few things. This is a popular tourist destination for serious hikers, photographers and adventure img_2475tourists. Tonight the hotel will put on a Chilean barbecue with lamb and live music. I’m looking forward to that. A great end to a wonderful break.

Tomorrow we are  on the road again traveling along the coastline of Chile almost to the border of Peru.

 

 

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Crossing to Chile


Days 8-10, Nov. 20-22

The internet  here will not support photos so I’ll add them later.

On our rest day in Bariloche during which most everyone worked on their cars in the morning. The parking lot looked like a picnic grounds until you realized all the colorful bags were car parts. Fellow participant, Brant Parson, a air-cooled Vdub guy, agreed to change Stewball’s oil and adjust his valves. Jobs that would have taken Ed all day. We can’t thank Brant enough!

Our next day including crossing the border to Chile. Trump hasn’t been here so there is no wall, just beautiful mountains in the background. The Chilean border guards had been on strike the border closed much of each day so we were glad to hear all would be well for our crossing. It went smoothly, if not slowly because Chile is VERY invested in making sure nothing comes in that might corrupt their fruit and vegetable crops. That being said, after passing through immigrations and customs, every car had to unload everything in it and put it though a scanner. This was a very time-consuming process and perhaps since we were nearly at the end of the line, or perhaps because we are old, we only were required to take out one suitcase at the discretion of the guard. (BTW, everyone was warm and friendly on both sides of the border.) The suitcase contained our spare parts so was passed through quickly.

We have figured out how to avoid the rough, fast gravel regularities and had planned to do so on day 9 into Concepcion. Then we had a second reason to do so. Friends, John and Marian had a serious car problem with their MG. The Universal joint was problematic. We offered to follow behind them along the Pan-American highway straight in so John could get to work on his car and have it on the road the next day. Turns out our GPS took us a different way than theirs did, so much of the time we really weren’t behind them!

Now, some things I have learned about Chile after two days of driving.

  1. The Chilean pesos is equal to $674.00. Very hard to work out the exchange rate.
  2. Chileans are less demonstrative than Argentinians. They do smile at our car but no whistles or shouts.
  3. Chile has great red wine. (Probably white as well, but no experience here.)
  4. Route 5 is the Pan-American highway and equal to any US interstate but with frequent tolls of 3,000 pesos.
  5. Farming is modern but we did see carts drawn with oxen and a farmer with two mules pulling a wooden plow.

We have now traveled from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific and in two countries. After this day off at the sea, we cross the Andes back to Argentina. We will climb to nearly 10,000 feet. Sort of a test for cars and participants before we do the really high one at 15,000. More on that after it is done.

Janet, Ed and Stewball.

 

 

 

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