Day 6 (Ice Ice Baby)

I’m not sad to say that today was not nearly as interesting as yesterday. We didn’t break down, we didn’t have to be rescued, there were no near-death experiences. So if you want to stop reading now, I don’t blame you. It’s hard to beat yesterday’s adventures (or lack there of). But, if you do continue to stick with me, you’ll get to learn some interesting facts about Iceland. And who doesn’t love a good educational breakdown of a foreign country?! I mean really, what’s better than learning facts about a European nation that you’ll literally never have any use for ever again, in your entire life??

Anyway, let’s jump in.

Today we woke up pretty exhausted after yesterday’s excitement. We had to be checked out of our tiny cabin by 11, so that gave us some motivation to get our butts into gear. We took the drone out for another spin, packed up our car, and said a long woeful goodbye to our main man, Hans. We drove about an hour east to Vatnajokull National Park.

Our first stop in the park was Diamond Beach. This is the destination I was most looking forward to visiting. Diamond beach is a black sand beach that is famous for the incredible chunks of glacier that wash ashore every day. These gigantic pieces of ice break off of the nearby glacier, Breiðamerkurjökull, roll downstream, are polished along the way, and then are pushed onto shore by the waves. The pieces range from the size of a deck of cards to the size of a minivan. And depending on how long they have been floating in the stream, they either wash ashore crystal clear, see through, and diamond like; or they wash ashore turquoise blue and dusty white. It is an incredible site. The contrast between the black sand and the giant chunks of ice are just breathtaking.

As magical as it might look, this is one of Iceland’s deadliest sights to visit. Mostly because of stupid Americans doing stupid things they shouldn’t be doing…but still, deadly. Once again, because of sciencey things I don’t quite comprehend, every so often the beach experiences a “rogue wave.” For minutes, and sometimes even hours, there are consistent gentle waves lapping the shore in almost a rhythmic pattern. But then, with no warning, every so often a giant wave will come out of nowhere and go yards further up the beach then the regular ones and will be much taller in height. Unsuspecting tourists, will get close to the shore to take pictures with these incredible icebergs floating by, only to be hit by a rogue wave and get dragged out to sea.

I even read on one of Iceland’s government sites that, on average, 6-8 people get hit by these “sneaker waves” a week. The undercurrent in the ice-cold water is extremely powerful, and there have been quite a few casualties. So naturally, every time Emma got within a football field’s length of the shore, I hurried her and baby squish back to the safety of the parking lot. You can never be too sure.

Another popular way in which Americans make a fool out of themselves on this island, is by actually wading out into the sea and climbing on top of the big icebergs. Again, I’m usually all about getting that #InstaShot, but walking through waist deep freezing water to stand on top of a glacier chunk, soaking wet…no thanks, I’ll pass. What these wanna-be Instagram models don’t understand is that most icebergs in this lagoon are actually smaller on the bottom than they are on top …(can’t relate). When the icebergs float into the ocean water, the salt and current start chipping away at the pieces that are submerged in the water. So when Justin from California hops on top of the iceberg, the weight of his enormous biceps end up tipping the ‘berg and actually cause it to flip. When it flips 4 things can potentially happen:

1. The iceberg hits you hard, while it’s flipping…and you die instantly

2. You fall into the water, drown…and die instantly

3. You get trapped underneath the iceberg…and die instantly

4. You somehow manage to avoid scenarios 1 through 3, make it back to shore, your mother finds out what you’ve done and unleashes her wrath…and you die instantly.

So yeah…pretty to look at, but you’ve got to always be on high alert and on your best behavior. I saw plenty of tourists attempting to stand on these half-beached icebergs and the mommy inside of me just couldn’t let it go. I told one mom, who was yelling at her kid to climb higher on the ice, that the iceberg he was standing on could flip at any minute. And after taking five more pictures, she hurried him off. Then I saw a group of men, around my age, actually encouraging their friend to wade out into the water to climb on top of one that was floating by at a leisurely pace. So of course I headed over there to warn them. But as soon as I approached the group, I was immediately hit with some friendly sexual harassment…so I decided to just keep the warnings to myself. I’m just saying…natural selection always knows best.

After we took adequate photos and video of the beach, we grabbed our lunch from the car and sat on the black sand to eat and relax for a bit. It was fun watching the giant pieces of ice float by and the sun reflecting off of the “diamonds” that had washed ashore. After lunch, I pulled out my drone to get footage of the area. I had been warned earlier that we were visiting Iceland during nesting season, and to watch out for the birds getting territorial with the drones. I thought the person who was telling me this was joking…I was very wrong. As soon as I launched the drone, two seagulls started heading right for it. Apparently, they are notorious for carrying them off, or crashing them. I luckily dodged them, but for the rest of the flight time I had Emerson watching for angry birds while I watched my controller screen.

After the beach, we headed across the street to the lagoon where all the ice was coming from, Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon. I had booked us a glacier kayaking tour, and it ended up being one of the best parts of the trip. The lagoon was stunningly blue. Just like the floating ice on Diamond Beach, the water for the lagoon comes directly from the Vatnajokull Glacier. So it is turquoise, crystal clear, and super clean. It has enormous icebergs scattered throughout, that again, range from the size of a steering wheel to the size of a basketball court.

Our guide, Erla, was quick to tell us the rules about kayaking on the lagoon. There was really only two. One, stay with the group, don’t wander. And two, we were not allowed to get within double the height of the iceberg. Unlike the icebergs at Diamond Beach, the icebergs here are about 10% out of water and 90% under. So, if they were to flip (which they do weekly) and we were too close, we would basically be goners. The scary part is she said they flip with absolutely no warning. The ice doesn’t crack first or make any type of noise, they just start flipping. She said it is incredible to watch, and I’m sad we didn’t get to experience it, but also a little grateful. With the amount of bad luck we’ve been having on this trip, I don’t think being near a flipping glacier would be the best thing.

Even though we didn’t get to witness “the flip” we did get to see a seal sunbathing on a chunk of ice. Erla said that this is only the second time the entire summer that she’s seen a seal out of water like that. She said it was a rare treat.

Erla took us all through the lagoon, telling us facts about the ice, and the glaciers, and the volcanos surrounding the area. The one volcano that we were able to spot from the lagoon was apparently active at the moment. It has routinely erupted about every 40 years, since the 1300s, and at the moment hadn’t erupted for 46 years. So they’re basically expecting it to go off any day now. We asked her what happens when it does erupt, and she told us that the scientists monitoring it will be able to tell hours before it happens, and that they will send out a text alert to everyone. So basically, they’re like “Hey, volcano is about to go off—best of luck.” ……sounds fun.

After we finished kayaking, we had a long walk back up to the truck where we got all our supplies from. So on the way back we interrogated our guide (a native Icelander) about Iceland and some questions we had gathered along our travels. So enjoy some interesting facts, provided to you by Erla:

Q: How do the people that live HOURS away from civilization have babies?

A: When the baby starts to come, they hop on a plane to Reykjavik.

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Q: A hospital plane?

A: No, usually a neighbor’s plane.

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Q: We heard there’s not a huge gap between the rich and poor here; that 98% of your country identify as middle class…is this true?

A: Yes. Some people make more, like the doctors, but most people make about the same. We all get income taxed at a flat 39 percent.

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Q: Where does that money go, because you don’t have a military?

A: Maintaining roads, education, health care.

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Q: So do you guys just not have homeless people here?

A: No, we have Jón and Ólafur. They both like to hang around the city.

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Q: So why does every one here know English so well?

A: We only have one Icelandic channel on the TV (the local news) and the rest of the channels are American. We watch those channels growing up and also learn the language in school…along with a third language in high school.

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Erla also had some questions for us. She could not believe that we have so many homeless people, and that we have to pay 50k + to get a college degree. Apparently they only pay a $700 registration fee every year for their higher education. She’s getting her masters degree in Geological Sciences- with a focus on glacier activity.

After our day surrounded by ice, we were ready to get in the warm car and head home. We had a four hour drive back, but stopped at a nice restaurant along the way. We are back at our main house on the lake and are definitely ready for bed! Tomorrow we head to the famous Blue Lagoon for some pampering before our flight home.

Until tomorrow!

-E