July 2nd, 2021
Day 7: Seeing New Things and Old Things on the Way to Vik
This morning, I definitely woke up super lethargic and fatigued. Mostly because of the late night last night but probably due to all the late nights and lack of sleep finally taking a little toll on me. Anyhow, I woke up, less refreshed than I had hoped, and joined my family for a simple breakfast spread in the communal dining area just outside of our guest cabin.
After breakfast, the late-nighters quickly washed up before packing the car. Goodbye nice, simple cabin with very little amenities. We left the cabin and drove off to visit our first stop of the day: the nearby Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. As expected, when we arrived, the parking lot was full of cars and tour buses and people were already on their way exploring the area and taking boat tours into the lagoon. We walked along the lagoon and took in the views with our eyes and with our cameras. It was great to finally introduce Cynthia and my parents to this really cool and unique lagoon. When we finished up, we drove over to Diamond Beach/Breiðamerkursandur to take a look over there as well.
The first thing I noticed when we arrived at Diamond Beach/Breiðamerkursandur was how there were a lot less ice chunks lining the shore and in the shallow waters of the beach this visit compared to the last time I stopped by. I wonder if that was a result of global warming or just the fact that this visit, I came during the summer and not the winter. Anyhow, we walked along Breiðamerkursandur and looked at all the ice chunks on the beach and took photos. Minh was also nice enough to grab the camera from me and take some informal engagement photos of me and Cynthia on the black sand. We didn’t need any crazy, cool photos given how impromptu this was so we just took some photos while walking up and down the beach before we headed back to the car.
Our next stop after Diamond Beach and Breiðamerkursandur was Skaftafell in Vatnajokull National Park, a park that I hadn’t yet visited on my previous trips to Iceland due to time and weather condition constraints. But before making it there, we tried to make a stop at Múlagljúfur Canyon, a cool, lesser known canyon in south Iceland, but ended up aborting because of how difficult it was to get to the canyon and how involved the hike through the canyon would be once we got there. So we continued on to Skaftafell.
Because of how beautifully sunny and warm the weather was today, the park was crowded with local and international tourists alike. The goal of our short visit to Skaftafell was to hike to and finally see Svartifoss, a small but beautiful waterfall that cascades over basalt columns, sort of like Aldeyjarfoss but more different than similar. Since it was looking pretty warm out, I decided to change into a T-shirt and shorts and thank goodness I did that! Because the hike was way longer and way steeper than any of us had imagined. And conditions were way hotter than anticipated. As a result, the hike was way warmer and way more sweat-inducing than we had expected. And I definitely felt the heat, the exhaustion, and the pain of hiking up an incline with a bum heel and a heavy camera bag (because I forgot to empty out the non-essentials).. And for my mom, her bum knee made it much harder to hike up to see Svartifoss.
But we all (except mom) eventually made it to the end of the 1-1.5 mile climb. My dad didn’t actually hike all the way to the waterfall and, instead, just viewed the waterfall from afar. As for me, Cynthia, and Minh, we hiked down to the waterfall from where we left my dad and spent some time there viewing and photographing the waterfall. Because I wanted to try to capture some decent photos of Svartifoss, I took a little longer and was the last one to start the hike back. I eventually caught up with the family at the Visitor Center, where we took a short break to cool off before we headed back out on the road.
Before making our way to our evening’s lodging in Vik, we made one last detour to see Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. This detour required a much shorter drive than the one we would have made out to Múlagljúfur Canyon but it still involved some F road driving to get there. Luckily, it was short and before we knew it, we were strolling down to the canyon on a short, sort-of-paved path. The canyon was pretty cool to look at from the observation decks (that were built there for safety) but its beauty was really difficult to capture on camera. Because of that, as well as the midges that were flying around us in full force, we only stayed there briefly before hiking back to the car and driving off to Vik.
Once in Vik, the plan was to meet up with Ben and Maggie, great friends of ours who were flying in from Denver for their honeymoon. Because they had arrived earlier than originally expected, we mutually decided to grab dinner together and to move up our planned hangout instead of waiting until later in the evening. As a result, I dropped off most of my family at the restaurant so that they could find a table for the group as I took my dad to check into our accommodations at the Black Beach Suites, located a bit past Vik, so that he could watch a Euro 2020 soccer game he really wanted to watch.
After I had checked into our much-snazzier-than-expected suite (much more spacious with many more amenities/cooking space than expected) and dropped my dad off to watch soccer, I drove back to Vik to meet up with Ben, Maggie, and the family for dinner. Our first restaurant option, however, had closed by the time everyone had arrived so we had to pivot and find a new place to eat. Luckily, Strondin Pub was located right around the corner and had plenty of space to accommodate everyone. So that’s where we went. Cynthia and I ordered fish and chips and double cheeseburger, and both were scrumptious! We had a fantastic dinner while catching up with Ben and Maggie. It’s always so nice to eat good food as well as see good friends while traveling abroad!
To end the day, the youngsters in our group decided to visit an attraction with Ben and Maggie so that we could say we explored and briefly traveled together. After dropping off my mom at home, we drove out with Ben and Maggie to see Skógafoss, one of the beautiful and highly visited waterfalls in South Iceland. We arrived at the waterfall as the typically afternoon skies became evening skies (in appearance, as it was actually late evening by the time we got there) and most crowds had left. We walked around the waterfall and took some group photos before climbing up the steep staircase to the top of Skógafoss, where we took in the beautiful sunset blanketing the surrounding areas. What a beautiful evening to see Skógafoss with good friends!
Once we had completed our visit at Skógafoss, we drove back and, after chatting for a bit longer, dropped Maggie and Ben off at their yurt ground. So nice to briefly catch up with them in Iceland! We headed back home as it was getting late but not before making a roadside stop to hang out with and pet some Icelandic horses who were hanging out behind some fencing located right off the road. Cynthia and Minh had a grand time petting and talking with the horses as the sun set overhead. Because the sun was quickly setting by the time we had arrived at the horses, we didn’t stay too long and soon enough, drove home and washed up for bed. Tomorrow, Cynthia and I have to wake up early for our impromptu Icelandic horse adventure on the black sand beaches of Vik (more to say about that on tomorrow’s post) before continuing on through a heavily-packed last-Saturday itinerary!
5 Things I Learned/Observed Today:
1. Just in case you didn’t know, the hike to Svartifoss is not as easy as a little stroll on a level, flat sidewalk. In actuality, it’s a 1-1.5 mile hike straight up a canyon or mountain with very few parts that are flat to catch your breath. So if you’re hiking to the waterfall, especially on a hot day, definitely expect some sweating and a little bit of a workout depending on how fit or healthy you are, how hot it is or what you’re wearing, and how much you’re carrying uphill with you.
2. According to some info placards near Svartifoss, there is a natural reason why columnar jointed basalt forms in hexagonal columns. Supposedly, when lava or magma cools, the process of contraction causes the new rock to split into six-sided columns. These columns always form at right-angles to the cooling surface, where heat loss is the greatest. The reason why these columns are hexagonal is because the fracture pattern with 120 degree corners is most efficient for stress release. Nature, so natural at engineering.
3. Supposedly, Justin Bieber did some really stupid stuff (by being disrespectful to Iceland’s beautiful nature) in some music video of his that he was essentially banned from Iceland. Good riddance.
4. Lupines are purple wildflowers that thrive and grow in colder, harsher climates like on mountains and in Iceland. Of all the places in Iceland we drove through, south Iceland definitely had the most impressive lupine fields. You literally drive through a sea of lupines when driving through south Iceland. Everywhere you look, you see lupines blanketing the field all the way to the foot of the mountains and glaciers. So gorgeous!
5. The town of Vik in south Iceland has changed a ton since the first time I visited back in 2013. Not only is it much more developed with more housing options, like hostels and suites (like the Black Beach Suites), but there are also a lot more grocery stores, gas stations, and restaurants, especially ones that are open until later in the evening. A much better stop for tourists now that tourism has changed the landscape in Vik compared to what it was 8-10 years ago. Again, amazing how tourism drives change!