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ICELAND | Thursday, 23 June 2011 | Views [1064]

Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park

Ah it feels great to sleep in.  I was very energized all day today.  I headed down for the breakfast buffet in the hotel this morning and spent a good 40 minutes getting second and third servings along with orange juice and coffee.  Then I headed  to the city center to book something for Saturday (horseback-riding it is!) before heading to the Arctic Adventures office for my snorkeling tour Into the Blue.  I was standing outside before Valdi, my guide, found me saying he was looking for me and then went to grab the other 2 people who I had pegged as Americans.  Valdi was pretty amusing; he was trying to rile us up to get us excited.  Once we got to the van, the couple immediately introduced themselves to me (Sarah and Joshua) – the first tourists to be so outwardly friendly – so of course they turned out to be Canadian.  And this was their honeymoon trip because they just got married last Saturday.  They were spending a week in Iceland, so I didn't want to mention that I was here for 10 days... as a solo traveler (single honeymoon?), and that I had already spent a week in London before this, and that I have an additional 5 days after this.  But finally, FINALLY I've met someone on an international trip who's taking a shorter vacation than me.

We headed to Thingvellir National Park, which is an area I had walked through on Monday when I did the Golden Circle day tour and is the site of the oldest Parliament.  It is also the location of the rift between the Eurasian and North American continental plates, which are moving apart at a rate of 2 cm a year.  The water in between the 2 plates is where we went snorkeling; you can also dive there if you are certified.  It's a glacially-fed river, and very slow-moving so it takes about 8 years for the water to come down from the glacier to down below.  This also means that the water is at a consistent 0-4 degrees Celsius, i.e. very cold.  We had to suit up in these huge black down-filled teddy bear suits to keep us warm.  It felt like I was wearing a Michelin man costume.  What we wore underneath the teddy bear suit was up to us.  The Canadians didn't bring any change of clothing so they just wore what they had been wearing, Valdi stripped down to his boxers, and I wore my special polypropylene thermals I bought in New Zealand years ago.  Once we got that suit on, then we had to put on an additional dry suit over the teddy bear suit.  Since the water was so cold we had to both keep warm and make sure we didn't get wet.  They dry suit had built-in gumboots and was pretty difficult to put on since you have to make sure that the seals on the wrists and on the neck were straight and not folded at all so water couldn't leak in.  You have to put your head in last, and this process was called the “rebirth.”  The suit also had 2 sets of zippers that Valdi had to zip up on everyone since he had to make sure that we were all dry.  Then we also had to put on gloves, flippers, a neoprene hood and finally the goggles.  There were some other Icelanders in my group so it was cool to hear long conversations in Icelandic; it's a lot different from the other languages I've heard.

As you can guess, the water was very cold.  I only partially felt it in my hands but my face got very, very numb.  Near the end I was getting water in my breathing tube because I had taken it out but when I put it back in my mouth, it was so numb that I couldn't feel if it was set properly, so water got in there.  The good thing is that it's glacially-fed water, so if it gets into your eyes or you accidentally inhale some, it's not a problem.  Otherwise the views were fantastic.  The water was exceptionally clear despite the dramatically cloudy skies and it's a really interesting perspective to look at lava fields underwater.  Some crevasses went down very deep and I bet it looks great if you are going through it as a diver.  I brought my cheap waterproof video camera with me to record, and it was frustrating/semi-funny because of my gloves, which were so thick it was hard for me to both set the camera to the underwater mode and to press the record button.  I could not control my thumb's actions.  It was a tricky balance of both viewing the scenery below me, then trying to set the camera, and then looking up to see where the rest of my party was.  I was near the end of the line and we were supposed to just float down because the current actually moves, but everyone was getting so far ahead of me I had to constantly kick my flippers, which got very tiring.  My legs were cramping by the time we reached the end when I had to stand back up again on dry land.  It was cold but I was enjoying the view so much that I thought we were just taking a break, but that was the end of the trip! 

We took off some of our gear and then carried it back, but then we reached a place where we could do an optional jump from a cliff into this small pool.  Valdi had mentioned from the beginning that it was optional and had told us to be careful because the water was going to be cold and your suit was going to compress quickly and your lungs were going to take a hit.  So yes, I went for it this time.  Valdi gave us safety instructions and then jumped right in.  This Icelandic girl was preparing to do it and I could hear back-and-forth dialog in Icelandic between her on the cliff and Valdi down on the bank below, but then she stepped back, so I stepped up.  (Hells yeah).  I told this other Icelandic guy zip me up again.  I hesitated a bit because the rock that we were jumping from was slanted downwards towards the water and I didn't want to accidentally slip (that would not be good for my head) but then I stepped out, felt the slight freefall and then ice cold water, and then I swam up to the shore.

Then we headed back to the van and took off all our suits.  Poor Joshua, his drysuit had a leak in it and he was positively drenched in the icy water.  So much for that $2,000 suit.  Valdi said, “God damn, I've never seen that happen before.  It's really heavy.”  He had to strip out of his clothes and get in another drysuit to warm up.  That is some really bad luck to be the only member out of the 9 of us to have that problem.  I told him at least he would have an interesting story when people asked about his honeymoon.  I on the other hand was extremely dry.  To give you an idea how cold the water was, I pulled out my video camera to recharge since the battery had drained so much in the cold water, and the camera was still ice cold despite the snorkeling trip having ended over 6 hours ago.

Once we got ready to head back into town, Valdi started the van but couldn't get the gear out of park.  He said, “God damn it” twice (it's nice to know that Icelanders know the appropriate English cuss words).  Then he got on his phone to get help and although I only know a few Icelandic words, I bet he was saying some colorful Icelandic words.  I'm pretty sure he said a really bad one that sounded like, “Nyntsh!” near the end of of his efforts.  While he was on the phone getting help and getting under the car and messing with the wires, Sarah, Joshua and I went outside to take pictures.  The rest of us had a good time.  The sky was clearer now so there were some really good photo opportunities.  The park is gorgeous and there is something really peaceful about standing on top of a hill and looking around and not seeing any sort of human settlement in any direction.  It also feels very good just to stand outside here; the air feels very clean.  There were mosquitoes swarming around but I didn't get bitten at all in the 45 minutes or so I was climbing up around the rocks, so that's all right with me.

Finally Valdi was able to shift the car into gear and we were off!  It wouldn't be a real Iceland trip if something didn't break down somewhere.  We had originally planned to head back first to drop off the snorkeling gear but he said he didn't want to risk stopping the car so we just headed straight back to Reykjavik.  It was a nice friendly goodbye from everyone when I got out of the car.

Since I didn't have any lunch, once I got back to town around 8 I was positively starving so I went to grab some fish-and-chips for dinner.  I know, I know, I'm not in London anymore, but it is a waste not to grab some fish in Iceland, and the fish turned out pretty good – nice and fresh.  It was a big meal but I was still sort of hungry so I ducked in and out of a few bookstores/cafes before I finally decided to stop in this hole-in-the-wall convenience store to get a bar of Icelandic ice cream, which was also pretty good.

Tomorrow I need to meet the bus at 7 a.m. for my glacier trip so I have to get to bed pretty early tonight.  It's gonna be another long day tomorrow, but that's more due to the location of the national park, which is in South Iceland and 350 km away.  I've been here 6 days already and I'm gonna be sad once the Iceland portion of my trip ends!


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