Saturday, April 14, 2018

How much does it cost to go to Iceland?

I've seen this question asked many times, and obviously the answer differs wildly depending on where you are coming from, what you want to do in Iceland, how long you're there for, what sorts of accommodations or tours you select, and what you plan on eating. 

However, I thought it might be useful to provide a real-life costs breakdown of what we spent on our 2 week trip around the full Ring Road in a campervan (we went March 28 - April 10), so that others who are planning a similar campervan-style trip can get an idea of what you would be spending. 

We debated for a long time on doing the campervan versus a regular car and booking accommodations along the way.  We eventually decided on the campervan because we were concerned the very unpredictable winter weather in Iceland and frequent road closures would cause us to miss our booked accommodations.  We also wanted more freedom to explore, especially know the weather could very well keep us from many of the things on our itinerary, so we wanted the luxury of being as free as possible to counteract that, should it happen.

Campervan life is not for everyone, but it worked for us at this time in our lives.  Always consider how much winter driving experience you have before driving in Iceland, regardless of the vehicle.  White-outs, icy roads, blowing snow, and gail-force winds are common.  You can check the road conditions on road.is and safetravel.is, which are both updated very frequently, and plan your day accordingly.  We would check every hour, or even more frequently!  The weather in Iceland changes every five minutes.

Anyway, back to costs.  All amounts below are in Canadian Dollars.

Campervan: $2855 for 13 days.  (Includes gravel insurance + 5 fuel canisters for cooking)
We chose to go with the company CampEasy.  Our main deciding factor was that they have many great resources on their website for winter camping, which showed us that they really equip their vehicles properly for winter camping in Iceland.  They also had very good reviews on their heating system, which they've equipped with extra batteries so that it can run all night.  We were NEVER cold - in fact, some mornings we would wake up hot!  We booked their "Easy Auto" as it was the cheapest vehicle that had automatic, but were pleasantly surprised when they upgraded us to the Easy Clever, which has 4x4.  It drove beautifully through anything Iceland's winter threw at us (which was quite a lot at times!)


Camping Fees: $188 per person, for 12 nights in campgrounds
Freedom camping is illegal in Iceland, so you must find a campground to stay in for the night, and register your vehicle and pay the associated fees.  Campgrounds typically give you access to indoor bathrooms, showers (sometimes for an extra fee and sometimes free), indoor cooking facilities in case you're tired of cooking in the campervan and/or want to save your fuel.  An extra perk of these campground facilities is that campers who are at the end of their trip leave spare food in the "free food" shelves - a great way to stock up on pasta, rice, salt, pepper, coffee, tea, sugar, cooking oil, and sometimes more exciting things like cookies or soup or oatmeal.  Some of the camping facilities also have laundry machines which you can access for an extra fee - a great way to make sure you pack light!

Gas: $701 for 2000 kilometres of driving
Gas stations in Iceland can be few and far between, so we always kept the gas tank full as much as possible.  The heating system burns a little bit of fuel during the night, so that accounts for some of the gas usage as well.  We also had an N1 discount fuel card which helped saved a bit of money.

Flights: $551 per round-trip flight from Toronto-Reykjavik with WOW Air.  
This includes the baggage fees to add on a carry-on as well as a checked bag for each leg of our trip.  Even though most airlines don't charge you these fees for bags, the total cost still ended up being less than with any other airline we could find.  Of course this cost will vary wildly for the time of year you go as well as where you are travelling from.

Bragdavellir Cottages
Accommodations: $410 for 3 nights in different places
We booked a private room in a hostel for our first and last night in Reykjavik, as well as splurged on one night in the beautiful Bragdavellir Cottages in the middle of our trip to have a little break from the campervan.  Obviously this cost would vary considerably as well, depending on your preferences.  One of the nights in Rekyjavik had a free breakfast included which was great and saved on costs.  We preferred to have a private room but if you wanted to do it even more cheaply you could always book in a 4-bed or 8-bed hostel dorm room.
Myvatn Nature Baths

Activities: $394 per person, for 6 activities
Much of Iceland's beauty is free!  However, if you want to have some guided experiences or access to particular places, they come at a cost.  We spent $5.40 to see Kerid crater, $10.72 to access Vestrahorn mountain, $56.30 for Myvatn Nature Baths, $49.83 for the tour of the Vatnshellir Lava Tube, $11.94 entrance fee to Hofsos swimming pool, and $260 for a guided glacier hike and ice cave experience.  If you aren't renting a car or campervan, there are plenty of tour companies that offer bus tours to many of the major attractions, especially in the Golden Circle.  There are even "Northern Lights" tour companies that will take you out at night and search for the aurora with you.  We didn't do any of these so we don't know the costs, but worth looking into if you aren't comfortable driving in Iceland's winters.

Groceries: $183 for 2 people over 2 weeks
We were actually surprised by how little we managed to spend on groceries in such an expensive country as Iceland.  In a land where everything is imported and a red bell pepper can cost you $8, it takes a lot of planning and creativity to eat cheaply and healthily while living in a campervan!  We made sure to bring instant soup, oatmeal, granola bars, granola, mac & cheese, pepperoni sticks, beef jerky, flavoured tuna, hot chocolate, coffee, and trail mix from home.  These items stretched us a LONG way and complemented many of our meals, while saving us a ton of money.  What we ended up buying at the grocery store was mostly perishables - the famous Skyr, eggs, bacon, a couple of vegetables, hamburgers, cooked chicken, hummus, cheese, milk, bread, and fruit (yes, the campervan even comes with a little fridge!)  One of the meals I'm most proud of is turning a simple mac and cheese into a "campervan gourmet" meal with sauteed carrots, diced pepperoni sticks, spicy chili oil someone had left in a "free food" shelf, and roasted garlic, with some cucumber slices and hummus on the side.

Eating out: $146 between two people for three bakery visits, one nice dinner in Reykjavik, and hot dogs & ice cream in Rekyjavik
Fish & Chips in Reykjavik
Campervan meals
We spent a lot of money in bakeries because they are amazing in Iceland and worth every penny.  The fish and chips meal we had our first night in Reykjavik, as well as the famous hot dogs and ice cream in Reykjavik were also worth it.  I definitely recommend splurging on a nice meal at least once when you are campervan living - life isn't just about the scenery!
Miscellaneous costs: $95
Included in these costs are two SIM cards for our phones, fees to access some of the public toilets, and shower/laundry fees.

Souvenirs: Variable! 
Everything, and I mean everything, in Iceland is incredibly expensive, so we limited the souvenirs we bought.  One notable mention was our purchases from JFS Handcrafts.  We felt very good about supporting the local community by buying from this wonderful artist who collects fallen reindeer antlers and beautiful stones up in the mountains on his hikes, and then crafts them into different pieces of art.  One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to his awesome little shop and stone garden.

If I did the math right, two people travelling together in a campervan and splitting costs would spend about $3328 CAD per person if they did the same kind of trip we did.  These are of course very rough estimates as everyone has a different situation and preferences!  Hope it was helpful to anyone currently planning their Iceland trip.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The real magic of Iceland: Day 13

I was woken at 5am by the wind rattling our van from side to side.  Heart pounding, I checked road.is and safetravel.is for any wind or weather warnings, but even the websites were asleep, little question marks where the information on road conditions usually is.  Jen slept through it all, while I lay awake for at least an hour, hearing the howling winds outside, sensing the rocking of the van from side to side, and feeling utterly alone and fragile in this big, vast country.  Somehow, eventually, I fell back to sleep.

***

When we woke in the morning, the sun was shining, the air was warm, and the winds were gone.  We made ourselves one last breakfast and then cleaned up and organized the campervan in preparation for our return to Reykjavik.

The only target we had for today was a hidden hot spring.  We drove on a dirt and gravel road for a few minutes. There was an open space to park in, and then we headed down a little trail, wondering where the "hot pot" was.  We could see some stones in the distance; that must be it.
The path to the hidden hot spring

The path to get to the hot spring led us to a creek crossing, that had some stones strategically placed to assist with the crossing.  We made it across without too much trouble, and as we approached we saw the small circle of stones surrounding a hole in the ground, and two young girls bathing in it.  They told us we could feel the water, and when we dipped our hands in, it was hot!

After heading back to the campervan to wait for the girls to be done, we changed into our bathing suits and then headed down the path again.  We took our outer clothes off until we were just in our bathing suits.  The air was cool against our bare skin, and we wasted no time in hopping into the little pool.

The heat was incredible on our tired, cold, wind-worn bodies.  We soaked and relaxed in this snug little pool that's only big enough for two.  We were completely alone for the first little while.  We looked out at the mountains in the distance and the fields of moss, lichen, and shrubs that surrounded us.  The hot water, naturally heated from an underground spring, soothed away all the leftover emotional and physical scars left by the ice, the snow, the cold, bitter winds, and left us feeling utterly relaxed.
Hidden hot spring in the mountains

It was hard to pull ourselves away from this special place; our last immersion in Iceland's elements, but eventually we managed.

As we drove back to Reykjavik via the longer, scenic mountain pass, rather than the route that goes through the Toll tunnel, I still felt the warmth and heat in all of my muscles.  The soothing feeling stayed with me.

The road we took was almost completely empty of other people the entire way, and the solitude on these windy mountain roads gave me time to let my experiences of Iceland sink into me.  Everything about Iceland's nature was a physical experience for me - not just beautiful sights for the eyes, as is often the case when traveling.
The scenic route back to Reykjavik

From the snowstorm that blinded us while driving through the fjords, to the freezing mist from waterfalls drenching us, to the wind that threatened to knock us over as we hiked, to the swirling snow that we trudged through, to the slippery ice that made us hold on tightly to handrails or put our crampons on, to the strong smell of sulfur in the geothermal areas, to the utter darkness of the lava tube, to the deafening sounds of crashing waterfalls or waves against the shore, to the startling-to-the-eye black sand beaches or shining blue glaciers, everything we experienced was not only a beautiful experience, but a visceral one. 

In a very real way, our bodies became part of the landscape as we moved through it.  The elements are to be respected here; weather rules above all.  The locals know this, and the advice we got from everywhere was constant - always check the weather, always check the roads, and be prepared to change your plans.  Or better yet, have no plans at all.

To be at the complete mercy of the landscape and elements around you is a humbling learning experience.  This is part of the real beauty and magic of Iceland, that I think some of those buses full of tourists snapping selfies and moving on, miss.  You cannot truly know Iceland without giving yourself to Iceland, without letting go of any preconceived notion of what you want to see or do, just let it happen to you, and have the tools and skills to overcome whatever the weather throws at you.

If you do this, then you will fall deeply in love with this strange land of contrasts.  Ice and fire.  Snow and water.  Wind and stillness.  Mountains, and barren landscapes.  Exhaustion and deep relaxation.  Even, grief and joy.

Thank you, Iceland.  We will return.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Snaefellsness Peninsula: Day 12

Today, Iceland was a sensory experience.  Every part of my body felt it, in every way possible.
We climbed a small crater in blustering winds, sometimes so strong I would loose my footing on the staircase leading up the side of the crater.

Staircase on the crater






We drove to one of the westernmost tips of the peninsula, and looked for sea birds atop black basalt cliffs, as the raging sea crashed blue and white below us.  To get there we drove through a lava field, dirt road barely etched out amidst the ancient magma.  The van bumped and rumbled through the potholes until we felt it in every part of our bodies, but the views from those basalt cliffs was worth it.
Fulmars

Sleeping Fulmars

We saw a yellow sand beach, startling to the eyes after all these weeks of black sand.  It seemed out of place, as if we'd been transported to another place, far from Iceland.  I blinked, making sure it was really yellow.  We walked along the small patch of beach, marveling at the beauty of the band on the beach where the black sand and the yellow sand met.  We had been in search of puffins, after a report that one was seen yesterday in this area.  No luck on the puffins, but it didn't matter.

Then, a lava tube.  Deep underground we went with a tour guide, via a spiral staircase.  Helmets strapped on and flashlight at the ready, I tentatively stepped forward and explored the cave, taking care with the uneven ground.  It was cool in the cave, but not windy like it had been outside.  The eerie shapes of ancient melted and hardened lava surrounded us.  Our guide told stories of old trolls that used to live down here and hold assemblies; I could believe it.

Further into the tube we went, crouching down at one point to get from one tunnel to another.  Nothing lives in these lava caves except for tiny bacteria on the ceilings, sparkling like stars when we shone our flashlights upwards.  Then, he had us all turn our flashlights off.
Staircase into the lava tube

Inside the lava tube

We all stood still and quiet as we were plunged into pitch blackness.  I closed my eyes.  I opened them.  It was the same.  Nothingness.  I held on to Jen, irrationally feeling as if I was going to loose my balance simply because I couldn't see anything.  Everyone in the group was utterly silent, as we all stood motionless, listening to the sounds of glacial water dripping from the roof of of lava cave.  It was disorienting, but also strangely comforting and meditative.  There was nothing to see, and no way to see it.  For someone who is used to seeing, it forced my other senses to temporarily become more acute.  I could hear the delicate music of the individual drops of water falling on the cave floor; I could feel my body in space, almost as if I were disconnected from the ground.  It was a strange feeling.

Back in the light of day (and the intense wind that wouldn't let up), we headed to Djúpalónssandur.  This is easily one of my favourite places in Iceland.  The moss-covered lava fields, the basalt and lava cliffs, the crashing of the sea on the sandy black beach full of round black pebbles - it was all like something out of a dream.  I was drawn to one particular opening in a rock that reminded me of the rock opening in Dummiborgir, the land of trolls and a few elves; I felt as if this was another Elven portal.  Through it, I could see a shining blue pool framed by the greens and reds of the mosses on the orange and brown tinged lava rocks.



I went slowly down the trail to the beach, where I could see the pool from the other side.  I spent a lot of time here, looking out at the impassable blue pool and the feathery lichens and mosses that coated the rocky formations.  Everywhere seemed to house the magic of elves, and I again felt as if I were in another time or place.  Even the black pebbles, some perfectly round and smooth, almost tingled when I touched them, as if they held powerful magic.

I did eventually manage to tear myself away, though it was hard.  The mysterious, rugged beauty of this place seemed to pull me further and further in (or inwards), and I had trouble leaving.  It will be a place I return to, for sure.
Londrangar

The Lóndrangar basalt cliffs were our next visit.  We could see the cliffs from afar, but wanted to take the hike to see them up close.  I led the way, carefully following a barely-marked trail through a rocky lava field covered in snow.  The wind was relentless; we didn't have the energy to speak, or look around, just walk forward, one step in front of the other.  After what seemed like ages, we finally reach the sides of the cliffs.  These towering, impressive rock formations, standing in the wild sea, as we stood beside each other with not a single soul around, seemed to make it really hit home how isolated and raw Iceland's beauty really is.

I stood on the edge of the cliff we had been hiking on, staring out at the white surf crashing against the ancient solidified lava, and I spread my arms out and just let the wind thrust itself against me.  I felt like a kite, simultaneously blown back against my own will, but also suspended, as if I could take flight at any moment.  It was a wild feeling, and I let all my senses just dissolve and feel it.  There's no room for anxiety or sadness or confusion when one is living perfectly in the moment.  And in that moment, there was only wind and surf, moving through me.
One of Iceland's oldest wooden churches

A few last stops were made before we headed to our campsite for night.  Arnstapi, the picturesque arch in the sea, as well as a walk further down the trail where there was a similar one that could be walked on.  We took turns walking carefully across the stone bridge (it's much wider than the photos make it look, and not as terrifying as you would initially think).  Standing there with the wind blowing all around me, hundreds of fulmars flying in all directions, and the crashing of the waves in a cove right in front of me, was exhilarating.  I don't usually go for these sorts of experiences, but when I'm with Jen I'm always along for the ride.  This time, as most times, it was definitely worth it.

 ***

Last night, we drove around the small town we were camping in, looking for a place to watch for the aurora borealis.  The lights of the town were obscuring the sky, so Jen took the campervan on the road in the dark, as we searched for a good spot.  Our first choice was a romantic, if a little frightening in the dark, spot very close to the shore.  Unfortunately there were still a few lights on the horizon that were affecting our ability to focus properly on the night sky, so we decided to drive the 25 minutes down the road to the viewpoint for Kirkjufell.

As soon as we got out of the van, we could see a faint tinge of green lighting up the sky behind and above the mountain.  Excitedly, we stood watch as the sky changed; mostly faint green and white/grey, but the intensity and patched would constantly change and move around.  It was magical.  So much more different than our first aurora experience, but just as incredible.  We stood watch in the dark, staring at this incredible mountain, the thousands of stars, and the softly changing lights.



This is life.  Nothing but this moment.  This is Iceland's lesson for me.

I hope I'm learning it.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

West Iceland: Day 11

I feel as if we could drive around this country forever.  The mountains and fjords are familiar features of the landscape at this point; they seem normal, as if there could never be a landscape without mountains.  I try not to think of the big city waiting back home for me in just a few days.

We are traveling west towards Snæfellsnes Peninsula, making a couple of stops along the way.  It seems strange that we are getting closer to Reykjavik again; even though we know we've been driving in a circle around the country and only have a couple of days left, it feels as if we have just started the trip; that we could go forever.  Every time we stop in a gas station or campsite facility, there is always a large map of Iceland somewhere, prominently displayed.  I'm always drawn to it, running my finger along the Ring Road, tracing all the various turn-offs and detours that we did.  I'm amazed that we've come this far in such a short time; it really didn't feel like it would be a reality when we first started out.  The weather, so unpredictable and quick-changing in Iceland, has definitely been on our side.  We've narrowly missed gail force winds, road closures, and massive snowstorms by less than 24 hours.

Cairns
Iceland, especially the north and Snæfellsnes, is dotted by cairns up high on the mountainsides.  These mysterious, man-made structures of unknown date, keep us company as we drive the often lonely and barren landscapes.  A small sign that at some point in time, there were other humans here.  Somehow, it makes it feel a little less lonely or isolated.  Ghosts of the past.

Our first stop today brought us intimately close to one of these ghosts.  Eriksstadir, the location of an old Viking home from the 10th century.  The ruins were discovered in the late 90's, and since then a reconstruction of what the home must have looked like has been created nearby.  We climbed the small path to explore the ruins.  The stone foundation of the house is all that was left, as the rest of the home would have been constructed out of turf.  The stones were overgrown with grass, but the shape of the foundation and the entrance-way were still clearly discernible, as was the paved path leading up to the home. 
The ancient stone foundation, grass-covered


We were the only ones there, and the stillness of the valley lent itself to historical imaginings.  I could almost see the ancient Vikings, walking around these hills, collecting water from the nearby streams, coming out of the doorway to their home... 

A reconstruction of what the house
at Eriksstadir would have looked like











Remainds of the monastery
After that, we headed to the town of Stykkisholmur, stopping on the way to climb to the top of the little mountain Helgafel.  Though small in size, this mountain was once venerated as holy by early Icelanders who worshiped the god Thor.  In the 10th century, a prominent Thor worshiper converted to Christianity and built a monastery at the top of the mountain; it's ruins can still be seen there today.

According to local folklore, if you walk up the entire mountain without looking backwards, without
View from the top of Helgafel
speaking to anyone, and make 3 wishes while facing east, then they will be granted.  We thus made the silent climb up the 73m Helgafel, taking in only the scenery in front of us and ensuring not to look behind, while thinking of our three wishes.  (I can't tell you what they are, or they won't come true).

At the top, we were able to speak again and look around.  I think I'm running out of words to describe the scenery in Iceland.  The 360 degree view of the mountains around us was breathtaking.

Being immersed in this kind of beauty every day does something to the spirit.  The crisp mountain air; the infinite rows of mountains, snow-capped or otherwise; the waterfall around every corner; the valleys and hills in muted shades of greens, reds, browns, and yellows - these things have imprinted themselves upon me so thoroughly that the landscape is starting to look familiar. 



The way the wind moves; the way the clouds come in quickly and leave just as quickly; it's all becoming a part of the way we move through the land.

View from the lighthouse hill in Stykkisholmur
Chocolate-lemon-custard pastry














We enjoyed some more kleina and another pastry in town, bringing them on our walk with us to the top of a hill with a lighthouse.  The views of all the little islands scattered around this part of the peninsula were worth the short hike.

The drive towards the western tip of the peninsula was full of almost every type of landscape we've seen in Iceland so far - mountains, fjords, black sand beaches, beautiful coastal views, shining blue lakes, volcanic lava fields... one thing after the other goes by our windows, and we periodically pull over into marked spots to more fully enjoy the views.



Lava field











Our final stop for the evening was the very popular Kirkjufell mountain.  The landscape had suddenly changed to snow-covered, and the trail to the falls near the mountain looked icy, so I put on my crampons and we set off.  The mountain is as picturesque and beautiful in person as it in the photos - even in winter.  I thoroughly enjoyed my easy walk up and down the slippery trails around the falls while everyone who was crampon-less skidded and slipped beside me.  It does pay to be prepared for every condition while in Iceland!
Kirkjufellsfoss

I spent a long time sitting on a rock and staring at the mountain, with the sound of the waterfall beside me.  I tried to memorize the moment - the stripes of white snow alternating with the black rocks on the side of Kirkjufell; the consistent pounding and splashing of the icy falls; the brilliant ice-blue of the icicles that hung on the rock wall behind the water; the purple-and-white mountains in the distance over a lake reflecting the blue of the sky, and the cold wind against my cheeks.  I felt truly lucky to be here, after coming all this way to this foreign, almost mythical place.

There is so much fragile beauty here, and my heart breaks when I see tourists trampling the delicate moss and lichen when they steer off the trails for selfies, not realizing these things take decades to grow back.  Iceland's remote landscape and nature seems unprepared for the influx of uninformed tourists that have started to come in recent years; this is evidenced by the recent closures of very popular places like Reykjadalur Hot Springs and the walking paths at Fjaðrárgljúfur cayon, due to large scale damage from tourists going off the marked paths.  I hope this gives the land time to heal.

There's always a catch-22 in traveling - the very beauty and remoteness we seek to experience becomes suddenly threatened by our desire to experience it.  We have tried very hard to be responsible travelers while on this trip.  I feel almost as if I've become over-protective about Iceland's beauty the way I would about a person I care about.  I want to embrace it, protect it against all the things that threaten it.  It's a strange feeling, not one I've really had about a country before.  

I think I've just fallen madly in love with this place. 
Kirkjufell

Friday, April 6, 2018

North Iceland: Day 10

The North of Iceland in winter is utterly remote and beautiful.  There are so many places to explore in the fjords, but we always check road.is and the weather before making any solid plans for the day.  Flexibility is key when traveling in Iceland, even in April, as it's still winter here.  Thankfully, the websites all showed mostly clear roads and just a little bit of icy or slippery roads here and there, but no incoming weather, so we were good to go anywhere.

Since we had gone to bed so late the night before due to all the aurora excitement, we had a very late start to the morning.  Nevertheless, we were on the road by noon, with the sun shining.  The day started off a little chilly (-5 C), but warmed back up to +2 by early afternoon.  The good weather and roads always increases our sense of freedom and adventure, so we wandered leisurely along the roads, stopping at any marked viewpoint or information sign that looked interesting.

Part of our route took us through a large valley where the early first settlers of this land had their homes and structures, so there are a lot of ruins along the way (not to mention the mysterious cairns dotting much of the landscape in certain places).  Not all of the signs are in English (or rather, in ENOUGH English), so we are sometimes left to decipher Icelandic, google things, or simply guess at what we're looking at.  One such place was "Olafslundur", a fenced in woodland with some picnic tables and a simple sign.  What is the meaning of this little place?  Google didn't shed much light.
Thingeyrar Church

We drove up a dirt and gravel road from there, towards Þingeyrarkirkja (Thingeyrar Church).  This old stone church is one of Iceland's very few stone churches. Legislative assembles were held in this special location from 930 - 1264.  The current building was consecrated in 1877, but several buildings have stood in this location since the late 1100's.  It was a very beautiful church, even though we could not go inside.  We took some time to admire the beautiful stone work, and to look in the windows at some of the artifacts.  There is a graveyard behind the church so we tried to be respectful of that and quietly walk around.  The views from up here were beautiful.  What a quiet, peaceful place.

Víðimýrarkirkja

Another church we saw today was Víðimýrarkirkja, one of the 6 remaining preserved "turf" churches in Iceland.  This was the second one we had seen.  It was very cute and colourful, though we couldn't get too close as there was a sign saying it was closed.  We stood back on the road and took a few photos, admiring the church in its serene, out-of-the way location, and then continued our drive.
Borgarvirki Fortress/extinct volcano

Whenever I travel, I always use the geocaching website to look for geocaches placed nearby.  They are often great sources of hidden, local knowledge of cool places to go, and it has been especially useful in Iceland.  Opening up my App, I saw a location not too far from our route that sounded very interesting - an ancient volcano plug that was used as a military fortress by the Vikings.  We drove up and down a windy, steep, very pot-hole-filled road in order to get there.  The volcano plug (the remnants of solidified magma from an extinct volcano, after the surrounding volcano has been eroded away) was fascinating to see.  Those very familiar basalt columns like the ones we saw in the south formed the perimeter of the plug.  Where part of it had collapsed, the Vikings had built up a stone wall in its place.
Inside the fortress, looking out over the stone wall section

We were able to step inside and walk carefully over the large pieces of rock to look at an old stone structure they had built inside as well, and then climb up to the top of the whole thing to see the view down below.  360 degrees of pure beauty.  I kept slowly turning and looking all around me.  Breathing it all in.  What a special, unique place.  How many places in the world can you get so intimate with ruins like this?  I truly hope its out-of-the-way location at the end of a difficult road keeps most of the disrespectful tourists away.  One could easily step back in time here, imagining what it must have been like to be up here, watching for enemies, building the stone walls...
Stone structure inside the fortress

I manage to pull myself away from this fascinating little piece of history and we head back down to the campervan.  Our next stop is Hvítserkur.  This stone structure is a "sea stack", caused by erosion of the surrounding softer rock over time.  Formations like this happen in many places all over the world, and the practice of finding shapes in them and giving them names is not unusual.  This one is said to look like a petrified troll.  (It reminded me of the "Sea Lion" sea stack at Sleep Giant Provincial Park back home.)
Hvertsikur










Starfish and other interesting
finds on the beach near Hvetsikur




We walked the short trail to view it from above, and then of course Jen wanted to climb down the cliff on the steep trail (you know, the one with multiple signs saying "danger" and have pictures of people falling off cliffs).  We VERY carefully made our way down the trail, taking care to stick to the well-trodden path and crouching down when necessary in order to make a more stable descent on the rocky path.  Finally we reached the bottom of the beautiful black sand beach (does Iceland even have any other kind?).  We enjoyed a nice walk around the beach, looking at the sea stack (it has very neat views of the mountains through the two arches).  The debris found along the shore was fascinating - such interesting colours of all the sea creatures.  Reminded me a little of the multi-coloured sea things we found while shelling on the beach at Sanibel, Florida.  I resisted the urge to take any of them home, except for a few very strange spherical, hollow shells.

After making the climb back up (so much easier than going down!) we stood and just admired the sea stack from above again.  As we were about to turn around and leave, I spotted a black dot out in the ocean.  "Seals!" I said excitedly.  10 - 15 of them, to be exact.  We stayed for at least ten minutes longer, watching them bounce around in the water, dive under, and splash around.  I didn't have my zoom lens with me so the photos aren't much more than little black dots, but it was so much fun to watch them.
Can you see the seals?

These are my favourite moments while traveling - the little, unexpected, special things you get to see if you're still enough to let the experiences happen to you.  I think I forget to be still sometimes in every day life.  I'm sure we all do. Traveling gives me the freedom to slow down and savour all these little moments, and then try and cultivate that mindfulness when I'm back home.

***

Our last adventure for the day was locating AdBlue.  A few days ago, our campervan started giving us a warning signal every time we started it.  It said "AdBlue - no start in 1000km".  Alarmed by the car telling us there would be NO START at some point, we called CampEasy.  They explained that this was nothing to be concerned about, and that AdBlue is a diesel exhaust fluid that diesel vehicles need in order to breakdown the soot and unused fuel.  He said we had 1000km before the van wouldn't start and probably wouldn't reach that in our remaining days, but that if we wanted to be safe, we could buy some at a gas station and fill it up ourselves, and they'd reimburse us.

As you drive, the "countdown" from 1000 starts, and it was a little disconcerting to have the car periodically tell us "No start in 750km!  No start in 600km!"  We decided we needed to buy some AdBlue right away, just in case.  Our first stop was at a tiny gas station that had an automated pump, but the gas station itself was closed.  Peering in, it seemed to largely sell unique handicrafts and nothing gas-station-like anyway.  We looked on the map and determined there might be a gas station ten minutes away in another small town, so we headed there.

The young man at the counter told us that he was all out of AdBlue, but the grocery store might have some if we hurried - they closed in 10 minutes.  So we drove down to near the harbour where the grocery store was.  Once inside, we asked one of the cashiers if she had any.  Her English was limited, and she was confused by the Google Image we were showing her, so she called someone else to help.  The woman who came told us "They have it in the other store.  Follow me," and led us without explanation through a back doorway for staff-only (what is it about Icelanders leading us into the unknown with little explanation?) and we re-emerged in a hardware shop.  We looked around for a bit, and then showed our picture to the person who was working there.  He said they didn't have any either - "You need other store.  Go outside and drive to the back, go around the corner."

In confusion, we headed outside and decided to just walk around to the back, rather than manouevre the campervan.  We found ourselves in an industrial parking lot, with a small snowplow and other machinery moving around.  I saw something that looked like it might be a store, but couldn't tell.  As I tried to get closer, one of the men driving the machinery gesture at us and repeatedly pointed over at a restaurant that was adjacent.  Did he think we were crazy lost tourists looking for the restaurant in an industrial parking lot?

We ignored him, waiting for a safe time to pass, and then dashed across to the shop.  I looked in the windows and it did indeed look like a car hardware shop, so I went in and asked if they had AdBlue.  The first person I asked seemed confused (a younger kid), but when he asked an older guy he said "Yes, A. D. Blue.  I have here in back." and disappeared into a back room.  While we are waiting, the guy who had gestured at us outside enters the store.  He stops in front of us, stares, and says "Hi.  Can I help you?"  I say we're fine, someone else is helping us.  He seems very confused and I'm pretty sure he still thinks we are lost.  Finally, the other person comes out of the back room with the jug of AdBlue.  I grin - "Yes, that's what we need!  perfect!  Thank you!"  The machinery-driver is still looking at us like we've lost it, but we pay no attention because we are so happy to have finally tracked down the mysterious "AdBlue" despite being in the middle of nowhere.

Our purchase made, we head to our campsite for the night.  We drive through about an hour of absolute nothingness, and then pull into a small town where the campsite seems to share the same small space as an elementary school and a frisbee golf course.

The sky is cloudy tonight.  I don't think the aurora will show itself.  Perhaps it's just as well, as we need a good night's rest.

Iceland's beautiful scenery, mountain roads, and unpredictability are fast making their way into my heart.  Can't wait to see what tomorrow holds.
So many horses in the North.  They're so beautiful.