Entry 4: June 27, 2011
In Þingvellir National Park the black and blue tour with Icelandic Excursions started with caving through a 9,000 year old lava tube, Gjábakkahellir, which had caved in. Our tour guide said there are people who strive to find new caves, and there are approximately 150 caves they have found in Iceland and there are many more to find. We also got a brief history lesson on how the Icelanders used to think of hypothermia as a person coming back to life as a ghost. So someone who was suffering from hypothermia would be placed in the outhouse with another person with a club to beat them if they woke up. We also sat in the middle of the cave in the dark to help our eyes adjust to the darkness. The guides said it usually takes a person 15 to 20 minutes to adjust to the darkness. I was really afraid we would run into bats, but luckily our guides said no bats exist in Iceland. We had a really good time climbing out the rabbit hole through the mud and ice.
Also at Þingvellir we went snorkeling. I had a really good time getting on my teddy bear suit, basically a large ski bib, and then into my dry suit, a big plastic suit with boots. Once we were suited up we had to walk to our jump off point and then we submerged into the water. At first the water was cold on my face, but I was able to get over that. And although, I had a lot of water in my gloves, and I was freezing, I still had a great time looking down into the Mid-Atlantic Ridge as if it was a different world. I was in disbelief I was on a divergent boundary, the Eurasian plate and American plates are splitting, looking at the newest area in Iceland. Then we got out of the water and jumped off a cliff into the deep pool of ice cold water and popped back up to the surface. I was so happy we got to see different parts of Þingvellir, the black and the blue.
Entry 3: June 22, 2011
On Monday we made our way to the island of Heimaey. The ferry, Herjolfur, carries cars and people and reminded me of the ferry’s you take to get across the Outer Banks. We got acquainted in our guest house and were on our way to the volcano show. The movie went through the volcanic eruption of Eldfell in 1973. Most of the homes in the area that year were burned down and the island had several feet of ash to clean up. The people of Heimaey were concerned the fishing port would be closed down because the lava kept spilling into the sea. However, the firemen installed pumps to pour seawater on the lava before it closed up the harbor. We saw posts outside most buildings that marked how high the ash came up to. Some buildings marked the ash at 140 cm (4.5 ft) to 170 cm (5.6 ft). I can only imagine what it must have been like to see your entire house burned to the ground. Then we went to meet the senior priest at Landakirkja. The church has a long history on Heimaey that includes pirates and the volcanic eruption in 1973. It was said the priests had a mass in hopes of making the volcano stop. When the priest was disappointed the volcano was still erupting the churchgoers said “What else might have happened had we not done mass? It could have gotten worse.” The church uses the hymns of Hallgrimur Petursson whose job it was to revive the Christian spirit in the captives of the Muslim pirates when they returned to Iceland. Across from the church is the graveyard which was still visible after the eruption. On one of the headstones we saw Kyratan Olafsson, who was one of our characters in Laxdaela Saga. Afterwards we topped off the day with pizza and went for a long walk on Eldfell, the volcano that erupted in 1973. It was amazing to see the size of the crater.
On Tuesday we went to the bakery for breakfast anticipating meeting the youth pastor of the church we visited the day before. When we heard he wasn’t available for late afternoon we decided to go search for puffins. We had learned that the puffins have been having a bad breading season for the past 7 years, give or take, due to the rising temperature that has been forcing the fish north and as a result either starving the puffins or forcing them to follow the puffins. However, we found plenty along the coastline. Then the group split up, some walking farther and others enjoying the scenery in the present spot. I decided to keep walking and finally we ended up at the end of the island. Looking out over the water it seemed like civilization had stopped. That was when I decided I was really going to miss Iceland.
Then we had lunch and ended up back on the ferry towards the mainland. After we got back to the bus we headed for our next adventure. We went and climbed on Myrdalsjökull…actually I just stepped on it a little because I was terrified of slipping on ice. Although Myrdalsjökull was covered with ash from last year’s eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, we still loved how beautiful the glacier was. But it was very alarming to see the melting happening under the glacier and on the glacier. We arrived at a homestead, Skojar before it closed and got to see priceless antiques kept by one of the men who lived on the property. After his death Skojar was made into a museum in 1949. Inside each of the little turf houses was something different, including a house to make butter and skyr, a house for the children to sleep in, a room for the parents, and a tool shed. We got to see the church on the property and the little elf houses. It was all very interesting and I enjoyed it. Next we headed to the beautiful waterfall Skojafoss, and took tons of pictures. Legend says a Viking hid his treasure in a cave behind the waterfall, and when a boy, years later, tried to grab the treasure he could only get a ring. Then we went to Seljalandsfoss and walked behind it! We climbed the stairs and some muddy rocks and were able to watch the gallons of water pour down in front of us. It was so magnificent! And finally the program treated us to dinner at a cafe we stumbled upon run by a woman, her husband, her son, and their cook from Chile. The hosts were more than happy to serve us whatever they had left and it was probably one of the best meals I have ever had. Then to top it off the hostess sang old jazz songs to us, and we walked around the pottery store attached to the dining room. The people and the food topped off my day and we were on the way back to Skalholt.
Entry 2: June 12, 2011
The 871 +/-2 Museum in downtown Reykjavik was so interactive and interesting. I liked that a lot of the history from class was reinforced and I was able to get a 3-D image of the farmhouse. The animations expressed the society of fishermen and farmers very well. The name of the museum is derived from the settlement date obtained through tephrocronology, a technology that counts the layers of volcanic ash. The technology is able to correlate with ice core samples from Greenland that confirm the date. We learned about different tools, mostly made of iron, that the archaeologist found while excavating the site. Then we went about exploring Reykjavik. Some of us went to the flea market and met a very nice woman selling sweaters. I got an Icelandic sweater that was machine made, but I didn‘t mind. The detailing is beautiful and it was suprisingly cheap compared to others I looked at. Then we headed to the church, Halgrimmskirkja, which is so tall it looks like it could reach Heaven. We, Katie, Hannah, and I, went on the roof and took pictures from every direction and met sisters from Canada who had been backpacking for 6 months. I wish I had the courage to do that. We took pictures with Leif Erickson’s statue and were headed for the gift shops.
On Wednesday we went to Laugarvatnshellar, a cave in Laugarvatn, that has been the host to two young families. Indriði Guðmundsson and Guðrún Kolbeinsdóttir lived in the cave in 1910 for 11 months. And Jón Þorvarðarson and Vigdís Helgadóttir who lived in the cave from 1918 to 1921because of the housing effects of World War I. The first couple that inhabited the cave lived in the cave and had a small restaurant where Guðrún would sell pancakes on the main road. The second couple Jón Þorvarðarson and Vigdís Helgadóttir had 3 children, 2 of which were born in the cave. As we walked into the cave the size was small but cozy. The cave is also home to a myth of the hidden people. It was said Vigdís was nervous about leaving her baby in the cave when she went to wash clothes. But she had a dream one night that a hidden person told her to not be afraid to wash her clothes in the brook and to leave the baby, for a hidden person would watch over him for her while she was away. It was noted the baby was fine and Vigdís was free to wash her clothes.
Entry 1: June 1, 2011
On Monday we went to Gullfoss, which means golden waterfall. Wow that was amazing! As soon as we got there we saw a rainbow. My director said the Irish believe they have the land at the end of the rainbow, but the Irish have never seen Iceland like this. We walked up the gravel path and were able to look directly down at the falls. My suite-mate Hannah let me know that the waterfall was caused by a divergent boundary and the plates splitting apart like the mid-Atlantic ridge. Learning that a waterfall could come out of plates splitting was the coolest thing! Thanks Hannah! We climbed to the gift shop where I got a spoon for my collection at home and a patch for my brother’s Boy Scout uniform that has the Icelandic crest. I hope that when I get home he can iron on the patch and wear it proudly to his next meeting.
On Wednesday we had a great class filled with discussion on the Norse Myths. After lunch all of went in Sleipnir, our awesome van named after a horse in the Norse myths, to Sellfoss. Sellfoss is about half an hour from where we are staying and is quite a large town for Iceland. The town consists of everything to our version of Wal-Mart to small boutiques. Our favorite place was across the bridge to a small, but very popular, hot dog stand. We were told the name in Icelandic for hot dog, but forgot it as we got up to the stand. So we did the best we could and thankfully the women working understood English. The hot dog was a different experience because it was sweet and not salty like in America. I asked for ketchup and mustard and was very surprised by the color and taste, as the hot dog was very pleasing and tasty. To top off our night we got to experience a solar eclipse. Our director poked a hole through the back of a notebook pad and we turned our backs against the sun. As we projected the small hole onto a notebook we saw how the sun was partly covered on bottom. Because I had only read about eclipses I was so excited! I couldn't image better directors to have for this trip because they are just as excited as the students and always engaged. Overall we have had a great experience thanks to all the amazing food, culture, and the wonderful people taking care of us.