Myvatn, Iceland

Image

 Myvatin, Iceland

“And if you follow, there may be a tomorrow. But if the offer is shun, you might as well be walkin’ on the sun” Smashmouth

Iceland straddles two tectonic plates –   the Eurasian plate and the North American plate. Lake Myvatn in Northern Iceland sits right on top of the rift between the plates.  This means lots of volcanic activity and interesting geological formations created over centuries of eruptions found near to the lake.(Dimmuborgir)

Lake Myvatn means lake of the midges which are small flies (another creative Icelandic name). There are many flies around  but the more mesmerizing the scenery became, the less I noticed the flies. (Skutustaoagigar)

One might find that this landscape is familiar if you have been to Rotorua, New Zealand (as I have) or watch Game Of Thrones (as I have not).  As you drive through this area, the lush greens and clear blues of Lake Mývatn are replaced with burnt oranges, earthy browns, and ashy beige.

The wet, rich landscape of the lake is replaced with a dry cracked earth, uninhabitable to most plant species -except lichen which must be the hardiest plant in Iceland.  

 As soon as I stepped off the bus I could smell the sulfur from the steam vents.  The strong smell  seeped into my skin, hair, and clothing. It is caused by the steam and the fumarole gas.

This gas gave me a headache and nausea after a few days in this area. I definitely tasted sulfur  in the water. They said that was normal.

With its intriguing and otherworldly landscape, a visit to Namafjall Hverir is something you must do in Myvatn. It  looks similar to Mars.

Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice vents letting off steam and bubbling gray mudpots on a green, orange, and gray speckled ground.

The volcanic vents are called  fumaroles; which belch sulphurous gases furiously into the air.

The sulphur deposits  were mined in Iceland in previous centuries to produce gunpowder. The strange yellow, orange color of this geothermal area stems from the sulphur.

The ground is very  hot and its important to always  stick to the paths in all of Iceland’s geothermal areas. Icelanders are brought up to fear the dangers in nature, but some tourists have not.  If you step on mud inside fenced off areas  your foot might sink straight into a hidden boiling hot-spring and get severely burned. It has happened.

This warm ground is also used to bake bread.

The famous geysir bread from Lake Myvatn is a rye bread made by burying wooden casks near a hot spring. This bread can  be purchased in several places in Myvatn.

The Mývatn Nature Baths are sometimes called the Blue Lagoon of the North.  These facilities pump water warmed by the geothermal activity into beautiful pools.   It is much more affordable than the Blue Lagoon, much less crowded and you don’t have to purchase tickets in advance. The geothermal water  is rich in minerals, silicates and geothermal microorganisms, which are believed to be beneficial for the skin.

Soaking in the pools is an excellent way to wind down after a day of visiting all the interesting sights in the Mývatn area.

I wanted to thank Argunnar Yi  from Smithsonian/Odyssey Travel. She is a warm, friendly, funny, intelligent , truly motivated guide.Touring Iceland with her was an amazing, artistic experience. She knows the best of everyone and everything in Iceland. She brings color everywhere she goes.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Advertisements

Traffic In Iceland

Image

Traffic In Iceland

“Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn’t block traffic.” Dan Rather

The Icelandic people say that the increase in tourism has changed the traffic situation in Iceland. Twenty years ago scarcely anyone living outside the city owned a car but now it is different. The roads are crowded.

The tourists make it more and more dangerous to drive. It seems to Icelanders that anyone can rent a car in Iceland. The tourist short stop in the road for a photo op is a particularly common accident.  

As an American from a busy city, the situation looks quite different.  I wasn’t driving but there were empty roads as far as the eye could see. It seemed like you could just sit back and enjoy the landscape. 

 Every now and then you will come to a point in the road where you realize, that the only reason why there are so few people in Iceland killed by car accidents is that there is so little traffic. Some of those roads look like they would be treacherous in winter. 

The trickiest part of driving seems to be the tunnels. When driving in, you feel like  you are entering a huge cave built into the rock. They can be as long as six miles. I am claustrophobic and I just had to put my faith in Rocky our driver and in the hope that it did not end somewhere in the middle of the mountain. One of them felt like it would never end.  It is quite possible that while you are in a tunnel, it suddenly narrows into one lane with periodic widening bays. Cars coming in the opposite direction pull over and wait for you. Apparently our direction had the right of way. Luckily we did not meet a truck.

I think  the biggest road problem in Iceland are the sheep. It is far more common to be cut in front of by a group of sheep than by other drivers.

There are actually way more sheep than drivers on Icelandic roads.

Drive safe,

JAZ

Glacier

Image

Glacier 

“Future generations are not going to ask us what political party were you in. They are going to ask what did you do about it, when you knew the glaciers were melting.” Martin Sheen

 This wasn’t supposed to be my first glacier experience.  In New Zealand, we drove for several hours  to Mount Cook. I was looking forward to taking a helicopter to the top of that glacier. I was ready. I had my crampons  which I lugged from Los Angeles. The next morning it was raining, windy, and very foggy. It was not the kind of rain that was going to clear up in an hour.  It was animals lining up in pairs rain. So we never made it to the glacier. 

Iceland lingers on the edge of the Arctic Circle so I figured that my chances of seeing a glacier up close were better this time.  We start walking down the path and  groups of kids are walking by in clampons.

There is definitely an air of excitement.

. There are many glacial walks and tours in Iceland on the different glaciers.We are at Sólheimajökull, a glacial tongue that is rugged and riddled with ice caves, ridges and sink holes.

Blue ice and black volcanic rock appeared like a painting of colors upon the glacier with a matching grey sky. 

It felt surreal. It was another can Iceland get more amazing moment.

I was enchanted by the barren beauty. It’s impressive due to the way it descends down from Mýrdalsjökull  (fourth largest ice cap in Iceland). Beneath its thick surface is one of the country’s most infamous volcanoes Katla.

Our geologist Scott Burns,  points out  the effects of climate change. People who don’t  believe in climate change say the ice melting is normal but the rate of change is speeding up since 1990 in a way that has not been seen before in history.

Sólheimajökull is shrinking rapidly. A glacier lagoon at its base reveals how quickly it is receding, the length of an Olympic swimming pool every year.

It seems like this is already an irreversible consequence of climate change, and it may be gone within decades.

The next day we go to the new Glaciers and Ice Cave Exhibition at the Perlan Museum, just outside the city centre of Reykjavik  Here you can walk through the city’s first and only ice cave—a detailed replica of the inside of a glacier. If you think ice is all fun and games, the exhibition’s other interactive, ultra-modern displays present you with the more serious side of glaciers: the dangers of the volcanoes hidden beneath the ice caps, the effects of climate change and more.

Iceland”s glaciers are receding at an alarming rate. They lost their first one Okjokull and they created a memorial plaque to the glacier with a warning on it.

The future looks bad right now. We have exhausted our planet’s resources and polluted it beyond its capacity to clean itself. When they tell our civilization’s story, I want it to be that we cared and we tried our best to save it.

 

Fly safe,

JAZ

Geothermic Activity in Iceland Means Hot Pools

Image

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” Nikola Tesla

Flying over Iceland, looked to me like I was  flying over the moon. Vast stretches of land are desolate and rocky due to some of the largest lava flows in history. It is as beautiful as it is bizarre.

We are traveling with geologist Scott Burns and he tells us that there is a lot more to a volcanic landscape than just a bleak lava flow. There is geothermic activity – something Iceland seems to have an unlimited supply of. They get all the heat and electricity they need from renewable sources like hydropower and geothermal power.

 We later make a tour of Hellisheioarvirkjun Power Plant, which is the largest geothermal power station in Iceland. There is an excellent Geothermal Energy exhibition at the power plant on how geothermal energy is harnessed there. https://www.geothermalexhibition.com

However when I hear ‘geothermal’, I don’t think ‘renewable energy’. Nope, the child in me screams ‘hot pools’ which is what I did as soon as I got to Iceland.

 The Blue Lagoon is one of the most visited sights in Iceland. While Iceland is a country brimming with natural hot springs (more later about that), the Blue Lagoon is not one of them.  The land is natural, as is the lava that shapes the pool, but the water is actually the result of runoff from the geothermal plant next door.The plant was built first, and it uses Iceland’s volcanic landscape to produce heat power. The runoff is filtered straight into the Blue Lagoon, which is what heats the water.That doesn’t mean it’s dangerous or toxic — far from it! It’s just not the natural phenomenon that many people believe it to be.

It is forty five minutes away from Reykjavik and closer to the airport so plan your visit accordingly. You have to shower naked for all hot springs in Iceland.  There are some private showers. They tell you to use  lots of leave in conditioner before  but if you put your hair in the water it will be destroyed for a week anyway. They have in water massages and scrubs with the natural minerals. Book the Blue Lagoon in advance because it fills up quickly. https://www.bluelagoon.com

I was looking for a non water massage after the long flight and I accidentally found myself at the Retreat Spa at the Blue Lagoon. It is expensive and unfortunately worth every penny. You experience the hot pools in a private luxurious way with a wonderful attentive staff, darkened rooms for scrubs and masks, fluffy bathrobes, private rooms for changing and showering and you can enter the public hot springs at any time. There were  people there like me who had found it accidentally and others who knew about it.  No photos are allowed. You can stay overnight or buy a day pass. If you have no budget, or can splurge, it is the way to go. https://www.bluelagoon.com/support/retreat-spa

Fly Safe,

JAZ

The Church And The Lava – Reykjahvio, Iceland

Image

The Church And The Lava – Reykjahvio, Iceland

“Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.” Will Durant

On August 27, 1729 the Krafla eruption caused a lava flow through the village of Reykjahlíð, destroying farms and buildings, but amazingly the wooden church was spared when the flow parted, missing the church by only meters.

It is believed that prayer saved the church. The church was rebuilt on its original foundation in 1876, then again in 1962.

The reality is that when disasters come, everyone is affected by it. Natural disasters do not separate the believers from the atheists.

I wrestle with God so unshakable faith is hard for me to understand. I’m also a little bit jealous of people who have that kind of faith.

The church is build on ground that is a bit higher up so that could have caused the lava to split and flow down. It has been rebuilt but the houses have not. The visual image is so compelling. My hotel is right near it and I walk around every day looking for answers.

Maybe it was the fact that the church connected this community. It was the place that brought them all together. Maybe it enabled them to move beyond their own stories and unite for the common good. Maybe that is what saved the church.  What will it take to enable us to move beyond our increasing political and cultural polarities to unite around a common purpose?

Fly safe,

JAZ

Waterfalls In Iceland

Image

Waterfalls In Iceland

“Nature is the art of god.” Dante Alighieri

There is no shortage of waterfalls  in Iceland.  They are literally everywhere and come in all shapes and sizes. The reasons for Iceland having so many great waterfalls, likely numbering in the thousands, are largely climate related. The country’s northern latitude means that it has lots of rain and snow, and it also has a number of glaciers. Combine these facts with the mountainous and volcanic landscape, and you have a country that is just epic for waterfalls. Here are a few that I’ve seen. 

Hraunfossar

This is a stunning series of small waterfalls flowing out of the lava. Together, they form an amazing outpouring, woven like delicate lace within the creases of the lava. It’s not big nor powerful but the effect of a group of mini waterfalls coming straight out of a lava field creates something unique.  It was formed by an eruption under the nearby glacier of Langjökull, the second largest ice-cap in Iceland.

 You will find another beautiful waterfall there called Barnafoss running through a narrow rocky gorge. The waterfalls are located in West Iceland, around 125 kilometers from Reykjavík.

Dettifoss

Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. It is also the largest in Europe in terms of volume.

The waterfall is so powerful that it makes the surrounding rocks vibrate, and the vibration can be felt by hand. It is 100 meters wide and has a drop of 45 meters into the canyon below.

Dettifoss is located in Vatnajökull National Park in Northeast Iceland, around 554 km from Reykjavík. It’s source is Iceland’s largest glacier Vatnajokull.

Godafoss

Like many things in Iceland, Goðafoss of course has a legend. As the story goes, in the year one thousand,  a local chieftain decided that Icelanders should adopt Christianity. He threw all of his statues of Pagan gods into the waterfall and the waterfall was appropriately named Goðafoss, which translates to the “waterfall of the gods”. It is more famous for its beauty than its power. The source is the Skjálfandafljót River (don’t ask me to pronounce this or many other Icelandic words) from a glacier. Godafoss is in the far north of Iceland.

Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss is one of the crown jewels of Iceland waterfalls and tourists flock to this waterfall located in the south of the country. It is part of the Seljalands River that has its origin in the volcano under the glacier Eyjafjallajökull  (still can’t pronounce this one and they say it a lot). What makes this waterfall unique is that you can walk behind it. It’s supposed to be a remarkable experience. I opted to stay dry that day. 

Gullfoss

This is one of the most popular attractions in Iceland and is accessible on the Golden Circle route.  This two tier waterfall cascades down 32 meters into a gorge in the Hvítá River and you can stand close enough to feel the cool water spray on your face. It was  formed by a series of enormous glacial floods around the end of the last ice age. Gullfoss is located around 115 kilometers from Reykjavík. In addition to being a beautiful waterfall, Gullfoss has a strong history. In the early 20th century, many foreign investors wanted to harness the waterfall to produce electricity. Investors were planning to build a hydroelectric power plant, which would have totally destroyed the waterfall. Sigríður Tómasdóttir (an investor’s daughter) was very strongly against the project. She threatened to throw herself into the waterfall in protest.The project didn’t materialize, thanks to Sigríður and her lawyer (who became the first president of Iceland), Gullfoss was protected for the people of Iceland to enjoy.

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

The Hidden People (Huldefolk) Of Iceland

Image

The Hidden People (Huldefolk) Of Iceland

“All writers have this vague hope that the elves will come in the night and finish any stories.” Neil Gaiman

 Iceland is a country that believes in elves and the hidden people. The stories are part of a shared history and cultural memory.  (Snæfellsjökull)

“The first story finds Adam and Eve at home in their beautiful garden. One day, God comes to visit and asks to meet all the couple’s children. However, Eve had only finished bathing a few of her children, and was embarrassed to show her Creator the dirty ones. So she introduced the clean children and hid the others.

“Are there any children I haven’t met yet?” God asked. Eve said no.

Of course, being omniscient, God knew that he was being tricked and declared, “Those who you hide from me shall also be hidden from men.”

And so, the hidden children became invisible, taking to the hills and moors and rocks. It is from these children that the Hidden People are descended, while humankind is descended from the children whom Eve showed to God.” (Djupalonssandur)

 Hidden People can only be seen by human eyes if they want to be. Humans and hidden people started as relative contemporaries. In the common view today, they live in turf houses, ride horses, and wear nineteenth-century national dress. (Glaumbaer Turf House Museum)

They are beautiful and have more comfortable lives, but they have never gotten cell phones, cars and internet. They represent the rural world with its connection to nature. There are many stories of people who have seen them.(Dimmuborgir)

In 2013, a group protested a road that was scheduled to cut through the homes of a huldufólk community located in a lava field. It’s generally believed that elves and huldufólk make their homes inside large rocks found mainly on beaches and lava fields.(Snæfellsjökull)

The construction was halted while the government worked to find an amicable solution.

 Outside of Reykjavik, my taxi driver Stefan takes me to his old neighborhood where they coexisted with an elf neighborhood.(Hafnarfjordur)

His grandfather had an elf seer come and see if there were elves on his property before he built his house. She signed a paper saying that she had seen them and he built the house around the rocks.(Hafnarfjordur)

Undisturbed lava rocks dot the yards of many of the houses. I wasn’t looking for the elves but more for a reason people believed in them. (Hafnarfjordur)

 Iceland is a country controlled by nature, – earthquakes, volcanoes and moving glaciers.They have significance for the people who live near them. I think the elves help them coexist with and protect the harsh landscape.(Dimmuborgir)

When rocks and volcanic action form twisted and scary shapes, it is better to imagine an elf community living  in them.  (Dimmuborgir)

Icelanders love and protect their environment.  The landscape is so powerful that you know you are insignificant and that the world has things in it that you can’t understand.(Vesturdalur)

It is easy to believe in magic when you are young and Iceland is a magical place.(Dimmuborgir)

I know that I spoke more softly, walked more carefully and experienced more deeply the areas where I was told there were elves. I guess the elves are doing their job. (Dimmuborgir)

Fly safe,

JAZ