To my family......I'm so sorry I signed us up for a snorkeling adventure in winter in Iceland! I hope someday you'll find it in your hearts to forgive me.
When we left our room around 10am, it was sunny, almost no wind, and in the mid 30s already.
We packed our car wearing just our under layers for snorkeling and sweatshirts. Looked and felt like a beautiful day. We even played fetch with Felix.....he's such a sweetie. He's the friendly pup who lives at The Garage. Things seemed very optimistic.
As we drove, the sun turned to haze and eventually to clouds. Our pretty day was no more. Before we knew it, it was snowing and in some areas, almost a white-out. Who in their right mind would go snorkeling on a day like this???? Oh, did I say that it's about 25 degrees now?
On day 2, in Gulfoss, I saw a shirt that said Lost in Iceland on the front and Is Anybody Out There on the back. I knew I should have gotten it. We had already been lost several times and nothing has changed. Here we were lost again. Roads aren't labeled, no signal for Google, and our GPS has never heard of Silfra and many other places we try to search for. I think everyone who comes to Iceland knows about Silfra.
On top of that it's snowing and extremely windy so drifts are starting to cover the road. Up ahead we see 4 white Dusters (very common car here) pulled over at a roadside map so we stopped to see if they knew where we were. Definitely Not. They were All Lost too. They think we're joking when we say we're on our way to snorkel.
After studying the map for a few minutes, we decided that we missed our turn so we headed back. Sure enough our road was not labeled. We just took a chance and turned right.
Oh Joy, we found it! Can you hear the excitement in my voice? We had to park in an area about 1/4 mile away from where we wanted to be and walk up hill with 30 mph winds. We were already frozen when we arrived at the vans. There are no changing facilities, so we all took off our outer layers and put on the insulated suit and dry suit in the open vehicles. It was so cold.
We all got suited up, and believe me it was NO easy task, and were getting our briefing. By now, we had been standing outside in a dry suit for about 30 to 40 minutes. My whole body was so cold and my feet, hands and face were in so much pain from the extreme wind. I tried to focus on the excitement of the adventure and magnificent sights I knew we were going to see, but Fear of Cold kept creeping in.
Listening to our guide tell us how our face and lips will go numb within about 30 seconds and that our gloves will immediately fill with water, 35 degree water, made me feel sick. I knew I couldn't do it. I felt terrible because I was the one who booked this tour. I read the reviews and no one talked about the extreme temperatures and wild winds.
These 2 were really going to do it!
The look on my face must have clued our guide in because she came and asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this, so I said NO, and then I felt relief. Instant relief. I'm not cut out for cold weather or cold water. I like to swim in at least 84 degree water. Anything less than that and I get a chill. When I booked this, I really thought I could do it. I read that Iceland's average daytime high temp was 38 to 40. I knew it would be cold, but I was not expecting frigid.
They have a short walk to the water, which I did with them. It was so cold, I could hardly wait to go sit in the cold open van, but at least I would be out of the water and the wind. I stayed and watched them get into the frigid water and was completely satisfied with my No Go decision.
The looks on their faces was just painful, but in they went without hesitation. I'm such a wimp!
The water doesn't look like much from above, but once you're in it, a whole new world is exposed.
I was happy I pre-bought the photo package. I knew we would have bulky dry suits and gloves on and wasn't sure if we'd be able to hold a camera and actually take a picture with it.
Good choice. Our guide got some great pictures.
Both Al and Abby said it was amazing.
This is the only place in the world where you can snorkel between 2 continents, North America and Eurasia.
It is also the clearest, purest water in the world.
If you drank only this water, you would need to supplement with minerals, because this water doesn't have anything. They actually encourage visitors to drink any water that leaks into your snorkel.
Lots of blues and greens, rocks, but no sea life of any kind, visible to the naked eye.
It takes about 1000 years for this water to get here all the way from the glacier. WOW!
The green plants are algae.
This is a popular destination because you can swim, snorkel, dive.....between the 2 tectonic plates.
They are separating at 2 centimeters per year.
I would like to do this tour in summer and as a dive tour.
There were 6 in our group, well 5 without me, 3 from Germany. Everyone recovered in a partially heated van at the meeting point in Thingvellir NP. We warmed up with hot chocolate and a cookie. Well, I had my hot chocolate early while I sat on the wheel well hump waiting for everyone's return and contemplating my crazy decision to book this tour. They had a tiny heater running in the back corner of this empty van, so I gathered Al and Abby's warm clothes (well they were quite cold when I gathered them but their intent is to warm the body) and boots from the other van and rotated them in front of the heater. They were thoroughly cooked by the time they returned - 45 minutes later.
After the long and windy walk back to our car, we headed west on Rt 36 toward the Ring Road to travel north to explore Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Almost immediately we were in a complete white out. I'm from the midwest and my husband is from the northeast and we have never experienced winter conditions like this. EVER!
I'm just looking at the photo I took and it shows a lot more than our eyes could see. I guess it's kind of like the Northern Lights. They appear more brilliant in photos than to the naked eye. We could literally see just about 20 to 30 feet in front of us. Sometimes not even that far. A few times we had to come to a complete stop to wait for the wind to die down and our eyes to readjust. It was just CRAZY!
Thank goodness for the yellow markers along side the road. We could not see anything out either side of the car so we had no idea what was near or even where we were. We could tell by our compass that we were heading west. Most of the road signs were coated with wind-blown snow although we could occasionally read one and when I say read I really mean we could make out some letters, like E y j a f j a l l a j ö k u l l
It was a stressful exhausting hour drive. We finally made it to Route 1, the Ring Road. YAY! It was short lived. We had a few brief minutes of sunshine then more snow squalls off and on for the next few hours as we drove to Grundarfjörður, but nothing like our Route 36 near death experience!
We drove through the longest tunnel EVER! No snow in there!
The Hvalfjörður Tunnel is a road tunnel under the Hvalfjörður fjord along Route 1 in the west. It is 5,770 meters long (more than 3.5 miles) and reaches a depth of 165 meters (more than 550 feet) below sea level. Opened in July 1998, it shortens the distance from Reykjavík to the western and northern parts of the island by 45 kilometers or almost 30 miles. Bonus! It is now toll free!
We learned at the car rental that there is a tunnel in the northeast that you have to prepay 3 hours in advance in order to drive through.
We drove through a small town and saw this.
We needed gas again. Uh-Oh. The trick that worked last time, after many tries, did not work today. The gas station actually had a store with a Quizno's so we went in to ask the attendant, who was a kid, if he could help. He was friendly but had no idea how to open the gas tank. He tried everything we had tried and then looked it up for us, but with no resolution. As he and Al were standing outside the car deciding what else to try, the gas door popped open!
And just like that, we had a full tank and were on our way. This time, we left the gas door open a litle. From Thingvellir National Park, Grundarfjörður is supposed to be about a 2.5 hour drive, but the white-out conditions, blowing snow, stops for roadside photos, extended stop for gas fill-up......made this journey closer to 5 hours!
We saw a lot of this.
Now this looks completely different. Better take another picture.
Now the snow is blowing. Better click again. I'm so glad film is cheap.
We were keeping our eyes open for any sign of wildlife. Iceland has Arctic fox, mice, rats, rabbits, minks, reindeer and an occasional polar bear. Since the bears usually arrive in the Westfjords region from Greenland, we thought we should keep our eyes open for any possibilities. Their Icelandic name is ísbjörn meaning ice bear.
This is sort of what we had in mind, but this is what we saw.
They're almost the same, right?
After a long and twisting drive through snow and sleet, up mountains and into valleys, we finally made it to Grundarfjörður! Well, I think we're in the neighborhood.
WOW! It looks magnificent!
I think I have this one on my real camera also. We tried to just get a few car pics so that we could hopefully make it to Kirkjufell Mountain (just over 1500 feet high) in time for sunset. It's gonna be close.
I think that's Kirkjufell off in the distance. It looked different than how I imagined it.
Now we've arrived with time to spare.
Sing It.....This is What We Came For!
We found a couple spots to shoot just in time for sunset! It is sooooo COLD!!!
This one is my favorite.
Someone is certainly excited to see sunset at Kirkjufell. My phone really flattens out this huge mountain.
Time to wrap it up. We're freezing!
After we finished shooting the sunset, we headed back to Grundarfjörður in search of dinner.
There were 2 restaurants in town and we found this pizza joint first. He had actually just closed but offered to make a pizza to go for us. Great! He only had ingredients for pizza, no other food, due to businesses being shut down for Coronavirus. He was only allowed to be open for 2 hours per day. We were glad to find him and thankful for his generosity. While we waited for our pizza, he tried to help us pronounce some of the names correctly. It's Challenging!
We took our warm pizza and went in search of our guest-house. We passed it on the way into town, so it was an easy find.
We got safely to our sleepover for the night, Kirkjufell Guest-house, and then enjoyed our pizza and view.
This place is pretty nice and very clean but definitely the strangest place we've stayed. First of all, you cannot wear your shoes inside. You must leave them at the front door in the lobby which meant putting them on every time you went outside.
On a positive note, the shower actually had a floor, but was super tiny, like a cruise ship shower. We only got 3 small bath towels and 1 hand towel, no wash clothes.
This is the smallest sink I've ever used! It is literally 4 inches deep! When I washed my face, I flooded the floor. Bummer, no extra towel to mop up the water.
The other weird thing was the bathroom door. You needed a key just to close the door and you could not close the door without locking the door. You definitely couldn't be in a hurry so I had to plan out my bathroom trips early to avoid having a 'situation'.
I really didn't notice this until the next morning, but it appears that they'd added a second story on top of the other building and built a bridge for guests to access their room. Hmmmmm
Bonus Point though......we were allowed to eat our pizza in the community kitchen rather than in our small room. Good thing because we only had a tiny desk table just big enough for my laptop. It was tall with a regular chair so I felt like a child sitting there looking at my computer.
Oh well, back to the important stuff.......I kept going out about every 15 minutes to check on the Northern Lights. This was our view around 9ish. No sign of Aurora Borealis yet.
Kirkjufell Mountain and the village of Grundarfjörður shortly after sunset. I was surprised at how much light we still had.
We met a few of our neighbors. Everyone is Asian except for us, well Al and me. We are all anticipating the light show tonight. At least 4 of us have our tripods out. Now the waiting begins. Will the auroras show?
Can you believe all the stars in the sky???? I shot a few of these and could see the green hue with both my naked eye and through the camera. I wasn't all that thrilled with what I shot, so I didn't even bother to look at the pictures, until now, 11 days later!
We were so tired after the stressful white-out drive and snorkeling, for some, that we were really pushing to make it to 11pm. I had told quite a few people months ago that March 19th was supposed to be the best night for Northern Lights due to the equinox and the tilt of the poles or something like that, so I tried to find stuff to do so I could stay up until midnight or later.
By about 11, most of the green hue in the sky was gone. I guess that's it for Northern Lights tonight. Looks like the prediction was wrong or maybe it will be tomorrow night. By 12:15, I felt like I could no longer hold my eyes open.
Good Night Iceland!
Mistakes Were Made
I'm not a fan of mistakes, unless they turn out to be happy accidents......We just (at the time of writing not the actual time in Iceland) watched the Disney movie......Timmy Failure.....Mistakes Were Made......cute but kind of a strange movie but very fitting seeing it has a polar bear.
My 4 Star TripAdvisor Review of Kirkjufell Guest-house:
Nice Place; Great View
Overall, this guesthouse was a nice place to stay for a night. It's just outside of town and has a great view of the town and mountain, especially at sunset.
It was very clean and quiet. We didn't hear a noise all night. Our room was small but fine for one night. We were close to the kitchen so we ate pizza in the common area. We stayed one night, on March 19th, when COVID19 had many restaurants restricted and we could only get takeout.
This was also a great night for Northern Lights. One negative..... this guesthouse doesn't allow shoes indoors. You must leave them in the entry at the front of the building, which means boots on / boots off every time you want to go outside to check the sky. I found that annoying. The reasoning is because the tile was new. Tile is very durable and holds up well so I'm not really sure why shoes are not allowed in a business.
Our bathroom was extremely small, comparable to a cruise ship. We had 2 adults and our teenage daughter for this stay. We had 3 bath towels, 1 hand towel, and no wash cloths. The sink is so small that when I washed my face, I flooded the floor and since there were no extra towels, I had to go to the kitchen and get paper towels to dry the floor.
The bathroom door requires a key just to close the door. That was quite annoying. It took a little playing with it to get it to lock and the door doesn't stay closed without it being locked. Plan your bathroom visits ahead of time so you don't have a 'situation'. haha
These 2 things (no shoes, small, annoying bathroom) would have knocked this rating to 3 stars instead of 4, but because the morning manager was so kind and helpful, I put the rating at a 4. Plus, we did get a good night's rest.
Good Night Day 7
WOW! That really looks like a long haul!......because it was.