Iceland: Ice Cave + Geothermal Pool
We excitedly awoke to the arrival of our rumbling 4 wheel drive "super jeep". It was our ride to the ice caves where only the strongest of vehicles survive. This thing was a beast, nothing like I've ever seen. It was a specially modified half Ford King Ranch pickup truck. The bed of the truck had been removed only to weld into the back half of a Ford Excursion. It fit 10 passengers, had a supercharged Diesel engine, self inflating 48 inch tires ($6000 USD per tire), specially modified fog lights and high beams, not one, not 2, but a 3 gearbox transmission, GPS, wind speed calculator, and lifted so high off the ground that it seemed like it was specially built for Andre the Giant (Princess Bride). Needless to say it tackled everything thrown at it. While my initial thoughts were that this thing was overkill, it quickly became apparent the off-roading we were doing was no joke. The slushy potholes and ruts were the size of small hot tubs and just as deep. The first few that we encountered were so deep that the driver would get out of his seat and peer down to make sure they were passable. It was awesome!
We first arrived at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. Our first glimpse as we passed over the bridge of the lagoon were the recently detached icebergs that had broken away from their glacier parent. These slowly make their way down to the sea, beaching themselves on the black volcanic sand. As we walked the darkened beaches, we encountered hundreds of different size "diamonds" shimmering on the beach. As the surf pounded on these icebergs, some as big as buses, you could hear the crackling and popping. Once as big as giants, these icebergs slowly give themselves up to the relentless waves which reduce their size bit by bit til they fit in your hand, or martini glass.
Wishing we could stay longer, we pressed on to the main event, the ice cave. As we neared, we faintly made out the entrance. It's icy roof was blanketed in fluffy white snow. A small section of the icy roof was made visible by the flickering light pouring through its natural prisms. As we stepped inside words really do fail to explain. The shape of the roof was smooth, multifaceted with aqua blues emanating from within them. This color actually intensified the farther you traveled inward, luring you deeper and deeper. As the walls closed in at the deeper parts, a surprising sense of security warmed you despite the frigid temperatures. If only I had brought a sleeping bag I could have stayed there for days photographing and exploring my new favorite home.
Our drive back was long and left us longing for bed. Except that our bed was our camper-van that we haven't slept in yet. We got things arranged enough to be relatively comfortable. However, at 5:30am we awoke to water dripping inside our van. Condensation had built up so much that it was virtually raining. Not just a few drops, but enough to soak our clothes and sleeping bags. To make matters worse, it had snowed so much that night that our car was almost completely buried. Our car had snow up to the door line making our escape through the window look like a episode of Dukes of Hazard. It was work, but it was beautiful and definitely an experience.
Since the city was snowed in and every road out of Reykjavik was closed, we made the best of the weather by walking to the nearest hot spring pools. We would have driven but our 4-Banger, 2 wheel drive camper tin-can was just plain inadequate on the snowy roads. However, the pools were amazing! The water pumped in is directly from the thermal activity underground giving it its natural silky-smooth characteristic. While we got over the boiled egg smell of the water quicker than you might think, the pre-ritual hot tub shower was something else entirely.
Before we could enter the baths, we had to scrub and clean certain "areas" that are diagrammed on a poster. Increasing the awkwardness, this had to be done sans bathing suit. And they weren't kidding around. If you think you could escape being naked while you showered and just ignore the rules, an enforcement technician, whom sat in a booth overlooking the showers, made sure we scrubbed these "areas". If you had a bathing suit on, a very embarrassing announcement was made over a loud speaker. Needless to say I don't think this sort of thing would fly in the States. It was, however, comforting to know that everyone was about as clean as they could be before we all swam in the same waters.
Needless to say, after we had soaked in geothermal pools and ate a satisfying meal, we slept very well. Even if it was in a camper van in 18 degree weather.