Ring Road day 1: Ice Cave
- July 20, 2019
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This was our third day in Iceland and we’re finally starting the ring road drive. Day 1 was Golden Circle. Day 2 was Westman Island. We drove counter clockwise but most people prefer to drive the ring road clockwise. I honestly don’t think it makes a big difference which direction you drive. We took the 9:30 am ferry from Westman Island to Landeyjahofn. Once again, I’m so happy there’s a cafe on the ferry. The shrimp sandwich was delicious. I was constantly surprised at how good the food was in Iceland. Maybe because I had such low expectations. It was clean, fresh and simple.
By the time we got back to Landeyjahofn we had just under 2 hours before our ice cave tour with Troll Expeditions. We made a quick stop at Seljalandsfoss to take a few pictures. We didn’t actually go up to the fall or walk behind it. There are waterfalls every few miles in Iceland. Also, we’ve seen plenty of waterfalls in North East USA and Iceland has so much more to offer. Glaciers are melting at record speed and they’re probably not going to be around in a few years. Waterfalls will be around for some time. Also, the only glacier we saw was in Patagonia, Chile. So, we wanted to prioritize glaciers and ice caves on this trip. Makes sense, right?!
We drove to the Icelandic Lava Show in Vik, meeting point for the ice cave tour. While we waited for the tour guide, we had delicious red hot lava soup which was basically spicy beef chili in a bread bowl. The bread was black and the soup was red. It looked beautiful and tasted delicious. We drove about 40 mins, mostly off road to the volcanic ice cave. The drive starts out very nice and smooth, surrounded by beautiful purple wildflowers fields on both sides of the narrow path. The driver gave us information about geology, history, and culture. We saw a few dust storms forming.
Soon, the drive becomes very bumpy, almost like a roller coaster, and somewhat dangerous, especially for American and European tourists. We took a short break to stretch our legs and give our stomachs a chance to settle down. I was glad we only shared a soup. There’s black volcanic sand, green mountains and in the distance snow covered mountains. It has a very sci-fi feel and turns out, some recent Star Wars scene was filmed here. I’m not into Star Wars so I couldn’t tell you any more about it. After a quick 5 min break, we got back in the car and drove towards the ice cave.
We were given helmets with lights on them and crampons to put on our shoes. There’s a short hike from the car to the entrance of the Myrdalsjokull glacier ice cave. In Vik, the weather was overcast and cold but not bad. At the glacier, it was very windy, cold, and raining a lot. Or so I thought. Until I realized the “rain” was actually the ice melting and the wind. I had to take cover once in a while from the wind and the “rain”. The glacier was very slippery, obviously. That’s why we had crampons which helped but you still have to be careful.
When I first saw the glacier, it was hard to tell that’s what I was looking at. It was completely covered in black sand. It wasn’t until I started walking on slippery ground that I realized I really was walking on a glacier. Depending on the weather, you might want to leave your good DSLR camera in the car. I took mine but because of the wind and melting ice I didn’t really take it out of the bag. I just used my cell phone to take pictures.
As we walked through the cave, made a few stops. We touched the ice cave walls and just listened to the glacier. We exited on the other side of the cave and were surrounded by Myrdalsjokull glacier. We were inside the glacier! How cool is that. I couldn’t believe it. This really is the land of fire and ice.
Unlike the glacier in Patagonia, we couldn’t drink the water here. It was covered in black sand. EVERYTHING was covered in black sand. We hiked up to a higher point on the glacier to get a better view of the glacier and the view on the other side of the glacier. Top of the glacier was again windy.
Here’s the cool/scary/fun/interesting part. Myrdalsjokull glacier covers an active volcano, Katla. That’s why everything is covered in black sand. Historically, Katla erupts every 40-80 years and last eruption was in 1918 so it’s well over due. It could erupt any time and it’s covered by a glacier. Just 24 hours ago we were hiking land that’s only 46 years old (created in 1973) and today we’re hiking a glacier that is over 200,000 years old!
After about 10 mins we hiked back down from the top of the glacier and back the same way to the car. Our return trip was less bumpy. The tour was definitely fun and unique, however I wish we’d gotten more details about the history, geology and other things. The information given was mostly basic and I wanted more details. Troll Expedition Ice Cave tour was the cheapest I found online at $125/person. Average cost of this tour was around $160/person with other companies. We both felt like something was lacking. But then again, I did pick the cheapest option. Here are more pictures of the Katla Ice Cave tour.
We had lunch at Halldorskafi in Vik. It’s very close to Icelandic Lava Show. Gaurav finally had Icelandic lamb and I had shrimp pasta. Both dishes were flavorful. When Icelanders say smoked lamb, they really mean smoked. The shrimp pasta in white sauce was very light and freshly made with local herbs. The pasta was cooked perfect al dente.
After lunch we drove to another black sand covered glacier, Solheimajokull. The glacier is a short 15 minute hike from the parking lot. Once you are there, you can walk on the glacier. It’s crazy to think about how fast these glaciers are melting. Pictures from just 10 years ago to today are kind of depressing. I’m glad we’re making glaciers a priority over waterfalls on this trip.
Next we drove to Laufskalavarda, a cute man made site on the side of the road. It’s an area with thousands of small stone mounds. In Icelandic tradition you add a stone to one of the mounds to bring you good luck on the journey. The Public Road Administration moves a supply of stones to the site. People driving from Vik to Hofn can stop, stretch their legs and add a stone for good luck. Our next stop was Cafe Munkar in Kirkjubaejarklaustur for dinner. We had fish soup (trout) and arctic char. After yet another delicious meal, we needed a nap so we drove to our Airbnb in Kirkjubaejarklaustur.
The good thing about midnight sun is that it really never gets dark. We can take a short nap and go on a hike in the middle of the “night”. After some down time, we looked out the window around 11 pm and saw an amazing sunset. We walked out to watch the sky for a few minutes and stayed for hours. The sunset just kept getting prettier and prettier. It became more and more orange, different shapes started forming all over the sky. Not just at the horizon but also directly over our heads.
I’ve never seen the sky look so vibrant for so long. Sunset started to merge into early dawn and it just kept going until 3 am. We’d been active and sleep deprived for over 3 days now but watching that sky was totally worth it. I went to bed around 2 am and wish I had the energy to stay up even longer. When I called it a night, the sky was still glowing and vibrant but I just couldn’t physically stay awake. Here are more pictures from the day. Food pictures. And…more Icelandic food pictures.