Flying Iceland Air
Day one actually begins the day before, flying Iceland Air for four hours, direct from Halifax to Keflavik, but the four hour flight time is a bit of a deception.
The flight over puts us in a time zone three hours ahead. We arrive early at the aiport to depart, fresh and ready for our trip. We experience the full joy of modern air travel - all the regular discomfort of a modern economy class flight bookended by customs on one end an an unfamiliar airport at the other. The airport itself is filled to the brim with people in a similar situation to our own, unfamiliar with their surroundings and exhibiting the full spectrum of urgency from full stop in the middle of an aisle wondering where to go or even if to go at all, to people in just a regular hurry, to people who are late and about to miss some crucial time to arrive or depart somewhere, possibly a place even they don't know.
We wade through the miasma and find the arrivals section of the airport, where our rental agency has someone waiting with our name on a board.
We rented a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a pop-up tent and camping essentials from a company that wasn't extensively reviewed online.
While we only found a few reports of people using them, most seemed positive, and the only negative review we found seemed likely a reflection of the renter rather than of the company itself.
We were picked up directly at the airport without having to wait, and were transported to their nearby office, where a car with the essentials was waiting:
- A Dacia Duster 4x4, with a manual transmission and diesel engine
- a pop up tent big enough to accommodate two regular sized adults
- a camping stove, single burner, with a butane canister
- pairs of Ikea forks, knives, spoons, plates, cups
- two blankets and pillows
- a 150 watt inverter with the standard Icelandic plug and a USB port
- a cigarette plug powered Internet Router, providing us with wifi from the car anywhere it could receive a cell phone signal
We took pictures all around the car, noting the various scratches and dents that previous renters had inflicted on the duster, just to make sure we didn't get blamed for them, then signed papers and headed off into the dark and rain.
Reykjavik on a Sunday Morning
Rental business squared away, we set off for Reykjavik and arrived early in the morning, before anything save the 10-11 was open.
We wandered about town a bit wondering about a few of the less obvious road signs, and I eventually drove just outside of town to a horse racing track, just far enough from the airport that I could fly the drone safely.
Eventually we head back into the city center, and pick a spot near the handknitting association, where Maggie intended to buy a Lopapeysa, a traditional Icelandic wool sweater.
After twenty or so minutes of trying on the various sweaters and poking at all the yarns and patterns, she decides on a sweater she likes as a combination birthday present/souvenier/survival clothing for the trip.
We take a stroll past the church up the street, then back down the street towards a little coffee shop, where we get our first coffee of the morning, already seven hours into the day.
I can't be sure as I didn't go in myself, but it seemed like there were more tourists milling about visiting the outside of the place than there were attending service inside.
Heading down to Reykjavik Roasters, we fudge a bit on our new one-coffee-a-day rule, and get a single menu item consisting of a pairing of espresso and cappuccino - with the day just beginning, and having been awake since the evening before, I would need the caffeine to make it round the Golden Circle route we planned to tackle.
We pet the local cat as he waits for the fish and chips place next door to open, then grab groceries at the Bonus, then head out for the Golden Circle.
Around the Golden Circle
We head counter-clockwise towards Selfoss, with the intention of visiting Geysir, the Gulfoss falls, and then camping at Þingvellir national park, the idea being if there was any shortcoming in the gear we'd been provided with, we could on day 2 go back into Reykjavik and rectify the situation.
As we make our way around we stop at the Kerid crater to have a look around - there's a path allowing you to walk around the crater, and down to the bottom if you chose. It was surrounded completely by tourists - even this late in the season at this small site, the place was packed right out to the parking lot with tourists. Among the larger and more accessible sites, this would be a common theme.
We get our first glimpse of the icelandic horses just after leaving the crater area. We arrive behind another car taking pictures, and just ahead of a another group. These horses probably get their picture taken hundreds of times a day, just hanging out by the side of the road.
Our first offical stop is the Geysir geothermal area, full of bubbling geysirs which are all named after the offical one Geysir located here.
Everything smells of sulfer, but there is a fantastic trail up to the tops of some nearby hills allowing an overview of the whole region, which we took the twenty or so minutes to hike up.
Returning to the bottom of the hill, we sat and watched tourists for a bit as they crammed together up close next the regularly erupting Strokkur geysir. It goes off every five to ten minutes regularly, and everyone screams and cheers depending on how much of an eruption they were expecting and how close they got.
Next we arrived at the waterfall Gulfoss. Like the other sites, hundreds of tourists lined the walls from end to end of the site. There was even a small mound of rocks near the parking lot with a line of people perpetually waiting to take a picture in the opposite direction of the falls.
The falls themselves were spectacular, a constant torrent of water sending up a spray of mist that coated everything downwind, and today the viewing platforms for the falls were downwind. This made it difficult to get a good picture of any kind, because the moment you took your camera out water would condense on the lens. Still, everyone was giving it the college try.
I had brought a few things to try and take a longer picture with a variable ND filter, but the combination of people jostling for position and the constant fogging of the lens made me think better of it, and just enjoy the view in person for the few moments there.
After the falls, we head toward Thingvellir National Park to camp. on the way, we stop at the continental divide, where the entire country is splitting in two to the tune of two centimeters per year.
After finding the information center closed, we head back down to the entrance of the park, where there is a campground with nobody seemingly in charge. After speaking with a few of the fellow campers, we set up shop in an empty space, attempt boiling some water and crawl up into our popup tent.