Below are the journals of two trips.  One I took in 2014 to Newfoundland and the second with my brother to Iceland in 2016.

Newfoundland: There and Back Again

Newfoundland … there and back again

By Mark Williams

 

June 30th, 2014

The Shuttle arrived at 6:15 am and the driver informed me we have two other passengers to pickup.  One down on Pearl Street in Hamilton, the other off Waterdown Road in Burlington.  The driver was quite the chatterbox, he started off by offering us all a tub of bubble gum and other assorted sweeties.  Everyone refused. A few miles later, I noticed the driver passed Waterdown Road, I mentioned that I thought he said he had a passenger there … "Doh!  My bad!" he exclaims and whips up to the next exit (Fairview Street) and doubles back. 

We eventually arrived at Pearson Int’l Airport and I was off to the Westjet area.  I waited about 30 minutes, then went through a "customs-like" check (even though I was flying within Canada) and was singled out to have a hand-swab, as well, my steel-toed hiking boots lit up the metal detector, so they made me take off my shoes.   "Do you have a laptop?", they asked.  (I kind of figured they knew I did, so I didn't see any point in saying NO.)  "Can you pull it out?", well there goes 4 days of Joe Boxers all over the place (as everything was compact and neatly put away), the laptop happened to be on the bottom 

Finally I step into that zone reserved for those ‘ready to fly’ and proceeded to Gate B37.  I still had a hour to kill so I ventured over to the i-Restaurant. Basically you sit down, fire-up the iPad, place your order while surfing the net. A few minutes later, a waiter came to the table with breakfast.  As I was sitting there, I heard an announcement that Flight 518 to Deer Lake was moved down to Gate 24.  Finished breakfast and headed down to the new gate.

As we began to board the plane, a Westjet 737, I asked the attendant at the gate if it was alright to take a picture of the plane, "Mark" he said, "Um, yes I replied", sort of puzzled, then he said to go ahead, no problem. After the shot I headed down the ramp not before noticing “Have a Great Flight Mark” was posted on the monitor over-head, a nice touch!

I boarded the plane and took my Seat 7C right next to an older couple going "back home", and married 57 years!  I didn't understand a word of newfie and just politely nodded and smiled.  We hit the sky at 9:45 am.  David Bowie's lyrics began to haunt me a little ... "For here am I … sitting in a tin can … far above the world...".  At one point, the fellow next to me gave me a tug on the shoulder and told his wife to take my seat so I could take some pictures out the window, as he noticed I had my camera on my lap.  I took some pictures outside the window, then it seemed to either cloud over or we got up above the clouds ... it was all just white and gray.

The thing about flying is, you start to think (at least I do) about things you don't want to be thinking about, like how did man come about to make planes and does he really know what he is doing?  What is the purpose of squishing people in a can like sardines to move them 800 mph, 35,000 feet in the air ... I finally arrived at Deer Lake Airport around 2pm (NL time) and it was raining!

I picked up my Enterprise rental-car without much ado, a Toyota Corolla and sat in the parking lot for 15 min. checking over the car and thanking God I made it alive … with a deep breath, I headed out to the highway for Corner Brook.  It wasn't hard really, the signs were clear and I was off on my adventure. I left the Shire so-to-speak.

When I arrived in Corner Brook, I realized I didn't have a working phone, NO SERVICE, but luckily, an old message was still on my phone with instructions ... but the instruction was a link, and the link didn't respond because I had no connection.  So what to do?  I pulled into Dominion (no, not mainly because of the meat) and did a little shopping, nothing major, just wanted to show up with a few staples and a miniature Orchid.  I asked the girl where the address was I needed to go to and she began in Newfie (by the way, I use the term Newfie with all due respect) ... but by golly, I had a hard time.  So she called another lady over and it got more confusing, because not only was my mind trying to decipher the accent but there was now two of them going on together and finally they both looked at me and said "Right ya are". 

When I got outside, miraculously, my phone got a signal and I was able to use Google Maps to find the address. I arrived at my destination ... the Hotel Lowden!  Ok, it was the home of Wendy and Steve Lowden - who graciously accepted me as their house guest for the duration of my stay, sight unseen.  To make a long story short, I mentioned I might be going to NFLD to a co-worker back in Ontario and next thing I know, she says her brother and sister-in-law live there and she would have Wendy (her sister-in-law) Facebook friend me and so she did and we connected that evening. 

I met Wendy at the door along with Lilly (the Golden Retriever) and Linc (the three-legged cat).  Wendy made me a cup-a-tea and we talked and talked.  I wasn't sure if we're just trying to get to know one another or confirm what we had already garnered about each other over the many weeks prior to my trip on Facebook ... but either way, it didn't take long and we were old friends.  Steve (Wendy's better half) came home from work and although I didn't know him over Facebook I felt very comfortable and we shared a wonderful Lasagna dinner.  Wendy showed me to my room and I settled in. Steve invited me along to Canadian Tire to buy a BBQ.  Not the jump into the BIG Adventure I was expecting the first day, but you know, it made me feel at home and set the pace for the beginning of my photo journey (hold everything in an open hand and accepting the kindness of strangers).  They say the people of NFLD are the friendliest people in the world, well Wendy and Steve moved there 6 months ago, and it's already rubbed off.

When I got home, I went into my room and sorted out a few things and was fast asleep about 8pm. DAY 1 ended ...

 

July 1st, 2014

I awoke at 4:30am...430am??? That's right, the sun really does rise in the east.  I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed raring to go!  The weather was gray and foggy.  I got up and out in no time, back on the highway and headed to Deer Lake, then onto the Trans Canada Highway, known going forward as TCH.   I stopped about 30 minutes into the trip to gas up (even though I just picked up the car yesterday), I thought perhaps today being Canada Day, everything might be closed and I had a 6 hour trip ahead.  The Esso gas station had a diner attached and I order breakfast and a road map.  I studied the road map while I ate and discovered Grand Falls Windsor and Gander (two bigger centers) were on route going EAST and they would surely have gas stations operating.

I was heading to Trinity on the East Coast, it was to be a two-day stop-over exploring the area, specifically looking for Icebergs and Whales.  Back on the road now and about an hour in,  I saw something move at the side of the road, an animal ... my first thought was Coyote.  I pulled off to the side and turned around, (while shutting off the radio, opening my window and firing up my camera), I came back to the same spot and to my delight and surprise, a Fox was standing there looking at me with a meal in his mouth.  He let me fire off a couple shots before he ditched into the shrubbery.  Back in the car and just another 20 minutes up the road, I spotted a female moose behind some bushes also at the side of the road, I pulled over, rolled down the passenger window and snapped a few, before she wandered out into a bog.  A fox and a moose and not even an hour out, it had all the makings for a great day :)

Back in the car, I was feeling great and found OZ-FM on the radio and cruised along listening to some cool folk rock.  The rest of the trip was pretty smooth, I passed through many small villages and through Grand Falls Windsor then Gander gassing up at one of the many Irving Gas Stations.  The TCH actually carves out a path through Terra Nova National Park which was just beautiful to drive through.  Great scenery at every turn.

I had to make a turn off at Highway 233, then join up with Highway 230, but it was clearly marked and I sailed straight through to Trinity East.  I found the Fisher's Loft, a B&B style lodging and checked in and dumped my bags into Room 31.  The Fisher's Loft is a collection of 5 or 6 older homes restored from the 1800's and painted bright colours.  There was a common dining house, reception area and the rest were various rooms overlooking Trinity Bay.  All-in-all a picturesque quaint setting and I thought how much I would enjoy this place, the peace and quiet of it all.

Since it was about 3pm, it was still early enough to get on the trail.  Just within walking distance of my room, the Skerwink Trail (named loosely on a kind of fish in the area), it was also named by Travel and Leisure Magazine as one of the top 35 walks in North America and Europe.  I could see why, with a medium to difficulty level, I found myself traversing 1000' cliffs, hair-pin turns and breath-taking vistas.  While I was battling with "heights" as I call it (I have a fear of them), I came to a LOOKOUT point.  All fears aside, what I saw made the hairs on my neck stand-up.  8-10 Humpback Whales were blowing their tops and gobbling Capelin by the tons, it was magical; my second day on the "Granite Planet", and I see a fox, a moose and now whales.  What a blessing!  A few other hikers began to show up and we all enjoyed watching and taking pictures and feeling insignificant yet in awe of these magnificent creatures.

 I stayed watching the whales for several hours, then headed back along the trail.  I was at the half-way point and I saw that the trail climbed up to even higher heights. I was exhausted, (up at 430am that morning, a 6 hour drive and all this fresh air and excitement), so I took the shorter inland path back.  I was glad I did because along the way, guess who was watching me? Another beautiful fox.

The day had indeed been special, a truly Happy Canada Day.  To top it off, besides being exhausted, I was hungry, breakfast was the last meal I ate and although I did drink a lot of water on my hike, I was thinking about the special dinner menu back at the lodge.  A kind friend told me to have a dinner on her when I was here and I was so touched, that when I had booked into the Fisher's Loft and saw they had a rather wonderful but expensive meal on the menu, I knew just where to throw down the gift.  And what a gift!  Thank you Sandy!

 And with that a good night!  See you tomorrow.

 

July 2nd, 2014

I slept in and didn't care, I had already told myself although I wanted to see a lot, it would not be at the expense of getting wired, worn or weary.  It was a heavenly sleep on a totally comfortable bed.  When I finally awoke, it was 830am. I took a shower then dawned some fresh apparel and headed down to the dining room for breakfast ... piping hot bacon and eggs with a great cup of coffee which I took on the porch. What a view of Trinity Bay! 

Today could have been called a 'day of detours'. I wanted to go to Bonavista in the north-east on the coast where I heard Icebergs, Whales and Puffins were about. I peeked at my Fodor's Travel Guide for NL and saw an off the beaten path notation and thought to follow that.  It was called Old Bonadventure ... hmm ... something in the name .  I packed the car and rolled out onto Highway 239, it was about 30 minutes directly south, however, that didn't seem to matter as I saw a sign "The Historical Town of Trinity"and turned left, it would just be a quick stop to have a look. I was glad I made the detour.  Trinity was quaint and laid out like I was walking through history, all the shops were colourful old buildings and close together.  It had a real historic feel to it and I heard they had a wicked Theatrical Company. I popped into the gift shop and asked the clerk if she had any "downhome" folk music from local musicians, "I have just the ting", she said and gave me a CD called Ode to Age by the Masterless Men.  I fired up the CD as I pulled out and back on to the highway, next stop Old Bonadventure!

 As I pulled back onto Hwy 239, I made a sharp left to a "Lighthouse"...why you ask?  I just listen to the first song on that new CD and they were singing "I see the light in the bay..." and I thought it would be good to have a Lighthouse picture to go with the music. The Lighthouse was just 10 minutes up the road, but it took me 4 hours to get to it ... here's why!

An Iceberg appeared out of nowhere coming into Trinity Bay.  It was moving at a pretty good pace till it grounded, stayed put for a few hours until the whole thing turned and twisted, broke free and came in a little further.  Finally, it broke down and when I decided to continue the journey, it looked amazing.

 I decided to have some lunch as it was about 4:00pm :). Time flies when you are having fun.  I was determined to get to Old Bonadventure, after all it was JUST up the road.  Finally I was near - I saw the sign "Old Bonadventure" this way, but wait, another sign too, "Random Passage Historical Sight" that way ... well, I am a sucker for historical sights ... I went that way.

I came upon a tea house and a lovely old church beside it.  I walked in and thought I'd have a coffee before I investigated this place.  A young lady reluctantly asked me what I would like then disappeared through a door from which an older women appeared letting me know they were soon closing and would I like “it” to go?  I obliged and asked what "random passage" was all about? She told me it was a tour and the last one had just started about 20 min. earlier but if I hurried I could take my grilled cheese sandwich and coffee and catch up to them.

I ran out and spotted the gal, she was half-waving at me and I returned the wave, "Are you the guide?", finally when I caught up to her. She said "Yes, and you are the only one on this tour”. “It will just be a shorter version of the original tour”, to which I was more than happy to go on.

The rest is history ... (wee joke) ... for you see, unbeknownst to me, Random Passage is a 1992 novel by Newfoundland author Bernice Morgan. It was published by Breakwater Books Ltd. of St. John's, NL. It was followed by a sequel, Waiting for Time, a historical novel about the inhabitants of Cape Random, a small outpost where survival was dependant on catching and selling fish in exchange for supplies. It is set in colonial Newfoundland, over the span of many years.  The tour guide was extremely passionate about her work and very knowledgeable.  She told me the CBC mini-series (of the same name) was filmed here, starring Colm Meany (of Star Trek fame).

Well finally I drove on and into Old Bonadventure and realized after looking around and seeing another small, simple fishing village, the Bon! adventure, was not arriving here, but getting here!

 

July 3rd, 2014

I awoke this morning at 8 am, packed and cleaned up the room.  I skipped breakfast, checked out of the Fisher's Loft and got back on the road.  Today I would try again to reach the other Bonavista at the top of Hwy 230 to the north.    This time I will stick to my guns ... straight up , no stopping! Just before Bonavista was Ellison (hang on, not really a detour), it was where the Puffins were reported to be.  I drove along a badly worn road for 3 miles or so and came into a very small and simple village on the coast.  I didn't really know where to go, not a soul around and there were no shops to speak off.  Finally I saw a lady painting her fence and I inquired after the Puffins.   "The Puffins?", "Go back to the church and turn left then right after Molly's Kitchen, follow the road right ‘round past the beach, and you'll see it", she said.

I did as she instructed and saw a sign that said "Puffins?  Almost there" and drove another 100 yards or so and found a small house with a mother and son standing in front.  I pulled up and they greeted me and gave me the low-down on the whereabouts of the Puffins. I followed a well-worn path behind their home and stared out to a vast craggy path towards the sea.  There was no one around, just myself and a strong Atlantic surf blowing in my face.

A path lead me high above the water, then down a slope and back up again to a rocky ledge.  I sat down so as not to risk losing my mind at the dizzying heights.  I saw many Seagulls and Terns flying about, but on closer inspection, a large rock formation across from the one I was perched on housed about 100 or so Puffins (the attendant did say this time of day, thousands may be out to sea feeding).  At this point I really didn't care, I saw my first Puffins in the wild.  I snapped a dozen or so fully zoomed out and they were passable pictures ...  but then something extraordinary happened ... while I was nestled in this rock crag and keeping perfectly still with camera to me eye ... one of the Puffins flew over to my cliff and landed 3 or 4 feet from me.  I couldn't believe it.  I took about 10 shots and put my camera aside to have a look, my movement startled him and he flew off.

 I didn't stay long after that, it wasn't like I left in a huff after shooting the Puff. I had a 6 hour drive back to Corner Brook and it was already close to 11 am.  I drove the now familiar Hwy 230 back to the TCH and decided to stop for lunch at the Two Whales Cafe, it was a vegetarian cafe.  I had their Zuccinni and Curry soup, a Greek Paninni and a decaf coffee.  Back in the car I headed WEST … for home. 

I arrived back in Corner Brook about 7 pm, popped into Dominion and picked up a few provisions (including steaks for Steve's NEW BBQ ... hint hint?).  Back at the house I sat awhile with Steve and Wendy talking about our days and a little nervous about the impending news of Hurricane Arthur bringing winds and rain to the Corner Brook area.  I have since learned it has been downgraded to a tropical storm and we may just end up getting rain.

I blogged for a little while, then hit the sack. I have to admit, all this fresh air and hiking makes one looking forward to bed with delight!  Goodnight.

 

July 4th, 2014

Happy 4th to all you American neighbors out there!  The rest TGIF!  I get to go to St. Anthony in the north today.  I awoke at 6 am as was Steve taking Lilly out for her morning walk.  I grabbed a bit of toast and peanut butter, packed my bag for the day and headed to Deer Lake to catch Route 430 ... ALL THE WAY TO ST. ANTHONY.  I was listening to OZ-FM and caught the announcer saying that she was going to take us through the morning rush hour, I chuckled (with as many people in all of NFLD as there are in Hamilton, ON). I couldn't help wonder what that might look like :)

I had a 5 hour trip ahead of me and I got to thinking ...

When you start a journey you don't quite know where you are going, not that you didn't plan a destination necessarily, but you never know what will change your course along the way.  Jesus desires to change your path, and the ramifications are life changing.  Take this trip, in the beginning as I was planning it, I felt called, no compelled to come to St. Anthony, but I wasn't sure why, it was a distant drive and in the far north of Newfoundland.  In as much as I call this a photo journey, I knew it would also be a "spiritual journey" because I fully expected God would change my path.  Why?  Well rather than just "site see", I wanted to see what God wanted me to see.  It's what I do in my photography, I believe as I wait on Him, He gives me the pictures and in turn, reflects a small part of His glory revealed through nature. 

If you don't consider the spiritual aspect of the journey, it can be like checking into the Holiday Inn, watching TV, swimming in the pool, getting a nice tan, well-fed and have loads of fun, but the journey will not have refined or polished you or changed you for the better.  When Frodo left the Shire with Sam, it was a somewhat light-hearted affair and exciting, they hadn't been this far from the Shire before, however, the deeper into the journey, circumstances changed, some good things, some bad and some down-right evil came across their path.  Each change along the way demanded a response. When Jesus calls, it also requires a response; but we have a free will to choose our own path and our own response. We can respond to God by listening, then asking "What would you have me do?", "Where would you have me go?", or you can go your own way.

Frodo and Sam-wise learned the deeper side of love, friendship, trust and yet not without disappointment, pain and even death - but both came through stronger and changed, ... in fact Frodo's journeys’ end would bring him to an eternal destination. Something to think about.

I was very tempted in my earlier part of the drive today as I had approached the outskirts of Gros Morne Nat'l Park to stop at the "lookout" to capture the magnificent vista, but I decided to wait.  Some scenes along the way however, I had to literally hold my breath, because I scarce could take it in.

The west coast is so much different than the east. If the people are fisherman in the east in quaint picturesque towns by the sea, these people by contrast are Vikings surrounded by rugged mountains and a rougher coastline.  I stopped at the L&E Restaurant in Flowers Cove for lunch and had some very delicious pan-fried Cod.  I was moved seeing all the ladies in the kitchen talking and laughing ... and cooking. 

I arrived in St. Anthony at 2 pm.  I scouted about town and headed to the very end of Main Street where the Lighthouse was.  It sat on a picturesque point with two bays connecting and a channel going out to sea.  There was an iceberg tower in the bay peaking it's head over top of the fog.  It was rainy, foggy and sunny all at the same time for most of the day.

I checked out a place to stay for the evening and found most places were already booked up, I managed to land a basic room at the Hotel North on the Main Street.  I also booked a boat cruise with Northland Discovery Tours in the morning at 9 am and looked forward to that.

It's about 6 pm and I am sitting here in my room listening to the pounding rain outside.  It is heavy and I smile as my rented car badly needed a wash. 

Earlier, just before I visited the Lighthouse, I went into the Grenfell Museum.  Dr. Wilfred Grenfell was a doctor and a missionary from England who 'happened' upon St. Anthony in the late 1800's and had a heart for the people inhabiting this area and parts of Labrador.  He found health and living conditions in dire need and as a doctor and a missionary set out to do as much as he could to help them physically and spiritually.  It turns out he was responsible for 5 hospitals in the northern area, two nursing stations and a host of other amenities to aid the people.  I liked one of his quotes, "When two courses are open, take the most venturesome".

I got back to the Hotel and went for dinner at Jungle Jim's (attached to the Hotel) and ordered Cod, as I sat contemplating my day and my tired eyes (I realized I have driven 13 hours in the last two days!).

A hour goes by and it became apparent there was trouble in the kitchen.  Several patrons were complaining bitterly. I excused myself and went across the road to Foodland and picked up two egg salad sandwiches and a spinach salad and ate it back in my room while watching Brazil defeat Colombia in soccer.  Goodnight.

 

July 5th, 2014

Good morning! The alarm 'buzzed' at 6:10 am.  I had packed up the night before so I was ready to take off for the day.  I was out the door in no time, checked out and hopped in the car.  As I sat there, I wondered where I was going, true I had to head back to Corner Brook today, but I had booked a tour on a boat to see icebergs and whales today at 9 am.  What am I going to do meanwhile?  I decided to go back to the Lighthouse that I visited when I first came into town.  It was foggy, but the ceiling was fairly good.  I walked around the Lighthouse and down among the rocks enjoying the solitude and peace. 

I went back to Jungle Jim's by the hotel for breakfast.  The same attendant from the night before was there and I asked her if she was there all night, she laughed and said in all the years working there, it was the worst evening shift they ever had.  Anyways, she assured me breakfast would not be the same, I was glad because I was the only one in the Jungle.

True to her word, breakfast arrived 5 min. later, a wonderful mixed veggie omelet.  I had a leisurely breakfast then headed on over to the Northland Discovery Tours building and waited till 9 am talking with a few of the passengers starting to assemble.  Soon the Captain and his crew appeared and began boarding everyone on the ship to some lively fiddle music.  There were about 20 of us and quite a mixed group. The excitement was unanimous and the anticipation united that we were in for a treat.  Although it began to 'spit' rain, it did not dampen our spirits ... and we weren’t out but a mile when we came across Minke and Humpback whales.

Then 'icebergs' were on everyone's mind as we could see them, some 40 ' tall scattered all over, some near shore, some in the bay and many just passing through moved by the deep sea currents.  We came across a few that moved-in fairly close.  The Captain pointed out many features about the icebergs, one in particular was fascinating to all of us as well as the crew, was the beautiful blue streaks in the ice.  This signified a pure water stream was trapped in the berg without oxygen. You can imagine everyone's excitement when something was spotted off the bow!  A fragment of that pure water source had broken away.  The Captain ordered his first mate to scoop it out of the water and so he did.  It was BEAUTIFUL, no air bubbles, perfectly clear!  Just like we found the 'Hope' diamond.  We passed it around and snapped pictures, everyone beaming proudly as if somehow the communal baby was just born, and we just wanted to show her off :)

We shoved off in search of more "bergy bits".  It didn't take us long and we found ourselves a giant of nature's phenomenon.  The Captain had a real sense of humour as he played a song on the loud speaker system as we approached ... the theme from Titanic!

Two hours later we pulled back into dock and I began my long 5 hour journey back to Corner Brook.  I stopped back in at the L&E Restaurant for lunch as Cod was still on my mind and then back on the road. Driving rain, dodging pot holes, watching for transports and moose ... it was exhausting, so by the time I got down to Gros Morne Nat'l Park, I decided to take a sneak peak at Western Brook Pond. 

I pulled into the parking lot and read the instructions at the gate, it was basically a 30 minute hike to the Visitor Center and the mouth of the "Brook". There you would purchase tickets to cross the "Pond" by boat and gawk at amazing scenery, fjords and the like ... but that would have to wait until another day, as I arrived they were just closing up.  The walk was lovely though, and I needed it after a long drive.  I booked the boat tour for Thursday morning as that was the only day on the weather report that didn't show rain. 

I met two girls from Charleston,SC walking back to the car, we were chit-chatting when a gust of wind blew my hat into the bog, then as I put my camera down to fetch it, the lens hood came loose and blew into the bog, thankfully one of the girls (who had a good grip) held me while I leaned over and retrieved my hat, the hood was not so lucky, it sits at the bottom of the bog. I could make another reference to Lord of the Rings, but I'll leave that for another day.  I got home about 7 pm, made some dinner, spoke with Wendy and Steve for a bit, then went to bed early.

 

July 6th, 2014

All I can really say - today is Sunday and "I rested", a much need reprieve from the long hours driving over the last few days.  I attended church this morning where Wendy was conducting a service (Wendy is a Minister for the United Church of Canada in Corner Brook) just a stone's throw from their home and the message was timely for this weary traveller ... "Entering God's Rest and Receiving His Yoke". 

After church we went to the Harbour Grounds restaurant for lunch and met a few more travellers as well as some local folk and had a nice time of fellowship.  I'd recommend the Red Beet soup :)

We came home and I promptly lie down for a wee afternoon nap. 

I awoke to the smell of BBQ'd steak, broccoli and baked potatoes, then finished off the evening with a lovely drive about town with Wendy, Steve and Lilly :)

We stopped at Captain Cooks lookout point and I snapped a picture while the sun made its last effort to peek through before the rain and cooler temperatures took over.

 

July 7th, 2014

Steve woke me up as he readied for work, and I lay back for a bit thinking of the crummy sleep I had.  I tossed and turned and it was like my mind was still driving and I couldn't shut it off.   I took a shower and packed for the day and headed back to the TCH, only this time going west. 

West was really south to some degree, but either way, I was going down the coast towards Port Aux Basques and in particular, a place called the Codroy Valley.  This area is known to have a lot of birds as the terrain is fertile, the temperatures warmer and on one side the sea, the other a mountain range.  Something I didn't see often in my travels thus far were farms, but there were plenty here.  This area actually reminded me a little of the farmlands of Ontario.  The hiking trails took me into bogs and marshes as well as thicker cedar forests. 

I stopped in to see a Wildlife Museum, this was a little like Killman's Zoo near Caledonia back home, but worse ... it was overgrown and unkempt.  I had mixed feelings, on one-hand I saw a lot of animals in the indoor exhibit close-up that I would not see otherwise , but they were all the handi-work of a good taxidermist.  Then I walked out to their outdoor display and saw ducks, a donkey and a black rabbit ... I didn't think the $8 was worth it, until I turned the path wiping the overgrowth away from my face and saw something in the bushes ... freaked me out.  It became apparent, there was a fence, obscured by vines and tall grasses, and sitting there behind a bush watching me, was a Lynx.

As I drove away, I so wanted to set him free!  Up the road a mile or so I came to the Wetlands Estuary, a bird sanctuary of sorts, a large tract of land preserved for water fowl and other assorted birds.

I decided after hiking the trails for a bit, I was going to have lunch.  The only place within miles, was the Silver Sands Restaurant, it was just basically someone's home converted into an eating establishment.  I opened the door and enter the place, it was a throw-back to the 50's, dim lighting, plastic table cloths with miniature picnic tables holding the condiments, but the pan-fried Cod made up for what the decor may have lacked.

I drove down to the Lighthouse after lunch at Cape Anguille but was disappointed that it was run-down, the pot-holes in the lane leading up to it was worse than a mind-field.  I drove around the area for an hour or so and then headed back to the TCH, it was getting on close to 4 pm and I knew I had a 2 hour ride back to Corner Brook.  There was some discussion yesterday that Wendy was going to pickup Lobster today for dinner so I didn't want to miss that! 

The trip home was uneventful, I kept my proverbial eye out for Moose and the other on the pot-holes and transports, whether it was the harsh winter or the chains used throughout the winter on many of the vehicles in NFLD, pot-holes were a menace coast-to-coast on many of the roads I traveled on.

Six o’clock on the nose and I was just turning into the driveway, Steve was on the porch to greet me and to let me know dinner was being served!  We enjoyed a great seafood feast of local fresh Newfoundland Lobster ... and what a treat!

After dinner Steve and I went to Coleman's (like Fortinos) and picked up a few snacks which we enjoyed before heading off to bed.  Tomorrow (Tuesday) we will be doing a little discovery of Corner Brook and nearby coves and harbours.  Then it looks like three full days at Gros Morne Nat'l Park.  Good night!

 

July 8th, 2014

I awoke about 730 am today to overcast, rain and fog.  I slept sound last night, but on the floor as my air mattress let out her last breath sometime in the night. 

Wendy and I were originally going to Lark Harbour today not too far away, but the weather deterred us as it was raining pretty hard.  So we thought to go up to Gros Morne Nat'l Park to the main Visitor Center and find out what activities and trails I could explore over the next three days.  Since I had Thursday booked for a boat ride on Western Pond, Wednesday and Friday needed to be filled.

We drove out onto the TCH to Deer Lake and hopped on the "Viking Trail" to Gros Morne.  It had cleared up a little, and the cloud ceiling had risen quite a bit making visibility and viewing much better.   We chatted along the way and in just about an hour and a half later pulled into the Visitor Center.  We were just in time to watch a 20 minute promotional video on Gros Morne and for the most part it was informative and interesting.

After talking with one of the attendants, it seemed my best course of action was to do the "Tablelands" tomorrow, "Western Pond" Thursday and explore “Woody Point” to the south on Friday.  Wendy and I checked out the Gift Shop and other exhibits, I bought Steve and Wendy a teapot then we headed down the road to Rocky Harbour

Hiking the paths around the Lighthouse grounds, we came upon two beautiful flora specimens made even more lovely after the rain that had fallen earlier. 

At the end of our walkabout, it was time for a late lunch at Java Jack's Restaurant.  The place was very quaint, and we were taken by the beautiful local artwork on the walls as well as the flower vases on each table, real stones drilled with a hole to put in your flowers and a flat bottom to sit upright, then polished.  And everything was for sell!  I selected the Moose stew and Wendy had the Pasta.  Both dishes were tasty and ample, no room for desert. 

Then it was back on the highway heading home and as we were heading into Corner Brook, the rain began to pummel, fast and furious!  It was the perfect night cap to compliment a lovely day!
 

July 9th, 2014

Woke up to the first real sunny day since I got here, not saying everyday has been bad, just a lot of mixed weather.  But today, warm and sunny.  This is good because it is the "Tablelands" today.  The Tablelands - is thought to originate when the earth's mantle was forced up from the depths during a plate collision several hundred million years ago. In 1987, the park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for both its geological history and its exceptional scenery.  The yellowish colour is mostly rust ... since this landscape is made up of primarily heavy metals, a large part including iron. 

We were guided along the boardwalk for a good 1.5 hrs by a very knowledgeable guide who really loved what she was doing.  She was funny, engaging, informative and a total geology nerd.  The terrain was not at all hospitable for flora or fauna because of its makeup, but where there is weakness, nature overcomes and finds ways to exploit those weaknesses ... many of the plants located in the Tablelands are tough lichens and carnivorous pitcher plants. 

As a side note - I saw a water falls in the distance coming down from the Tablelands, being fed by melting snow (yes! in July).  I cut across the desert of rocks to get near it and realized the temperature climbed to about 37c, the metals in the ground held the heat and at one point I thought I wasn't going to make it across, I drank from my water bottle and slowed the pace.  Finally I made it to the falls, I removed my shoes and socks and dipped my feet into the cold water and washed my face and neck ... brrrr, but beautiful.  Then I looked up at the towering mountain and realized I was a speck ... all at once I realized God loves even me and I cried out in a loud voice, "Abba, Father!"

After an exhilarating and exhausting day of hiking, it was off to Trout River for a great luncheon of pan-fried Cod at the best seafood place in town.  Afterwards I drove back through Woody Point, a picturesque town by the water and back onto Hwy 430 which takes me to the TCH ... then homeward bound!

When I arrived home, Wendy had a wonderful pasta with meat sauce dinner prepared and I was so thankful as I was hungry as a bear :)  Later I popped out to see Transformers 3D at the Corner Brook cinema.  I got home a little after 9 pm and hit the sack as I had to be at Western Brook Pond by 10 am for a boat cruise and it was a good 2 hour ride and a 40 minute walk-in to the boat dock.  Goodnight!

 

July 10th, 2014

The alarm rang at 5 am, the sun was just getting up and I had packed my camera gear the night before.  I was set for my day at Western Pond.  (By the way, Brooks are Rivers and Ponds are Lakes here in NL by comparison).   It was another beautiful sunny morning. 

I had just left Corner Brook heading to Deer Lake and in no time flat I saw a Moose crossing the highway in front of me. She hopped over the 3 foot medium in the road, ran up along side of it and crossed back over the medium behind me and straight up the hill, it all happened so fast. I experienced first-hand why they have so many warnings about accidents with Moose, I was beginning to think it really wasn't that bad not having seen a moose since my first day here.

Putting that little scare behind me, I came around a corner in the road and saw the sun just waking up.

My familiar run to Gros Morne Nat'l Park has become a lovely routine.  Corner Brook, Deer Lake, onto Hwy 430 then into Gros Morne. To get to Western Pond is about the furthest point along the route before you get to the end of the park. It takes a good 2 hours to drive to.  You arrive at the parking lot, then walk the 40 minute hike to the Visitor Station and Boat Dock.

Thinking my boat tour was a 9 am (apparently there was a miscommunication on my part and it was really 10 am), I had plenty of time, so when I arrived at 7:45 am with no one about I settled in one of the chairs on the deck overlooking the "pond" and had some quiet time. 

About 8 am five Asian hikers arrived, 2 men and 3 women. I observed them readying for their journey, they were going to take the water taxi across the Pond, then hike the 3-day trek to the top of Gros Morne mountain.   They meticulously adjusted their bags and prepared themselves for the journey.  I noticed they opened packages and put curly-q bracelets on, then opened other packages and stuck small yellow pins on their hats, "fly-dope, a bug repellent” was the reply to my inquiry.  I then showed them my remedy, "Citro-nella", a blend of natural oils that repels bugs efficiently, naturally and it smells nice.   That created quite a stir with them, and they snapped pictures of my bottle and asked me about the ingredients.   I told them it was an ancient Chinese family secret ... chuckles all-round.

Just about 9 am, the Bon Tours crew appeared to open up the joint, I confirmed my booking and passage aboard the Westbrook II and in no time our 10 am departure ... departed.

Finally, after pulling back into dock at the end of a magnificent outing I found my car and headed in search of more fantastical scenery in this great land known as the "ROCK".  As I left Western Brook Pond, I headed to the pretty town of Norris Point, the sign upon entering said 'a photographer's paradise', and I had to agree.  I stopped for lunch at the Fisherman's Landing and had  ... yeah ... you guessed it, (say it with me ... PAN-FRIED COD) ... it's just so darn good. After lunch I went to the lookout point and snapped a few pictures then headed back to Corner Brook. 

 

July 11th, 2014

Hey guess what faithful followers? Tomorrow I return to Ontario. Hmm, I have mixed emotions.  So many places left to explore. I have really enjoyed this photo journey.  Thank you for taking the time to follow the blog.  I hope you liked reading it as much as I liked creating it.

Today I awoke at 6 am. I decided to head for Lark Harbour.  I realized today that a Cove is like a small village and a Harbour is like a small town here in NL.  Anyways, my trip to Lark Harbour is about a 30 minute drive, not real far ... but you pass through many little villages and Blow Me Down Provincial Park.  I hiked through the BMDP Park for an hour or so, through a rough path filled with rocks resembling more of a stream bed then a path, but it worked.  I don't know if I mentioned it the other day, but this area just outside of Corner Brook is actually a continuation or another part of the Tablelands.  It isn't AS orangey looking  because here the weather, mainly the wind has blown a lot of silt at these mountains and caused over time more vegetation to grow.

The little white church above just looked like a great picture, it was tucked right beside the sea (as so many churches are in NFLD) on the way to Lark Harbour.  I even stopped and sat for a spell on the bench just behind it over-looking the graveyard and a perfectly charming view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. 

As I moved on down the road, I spotted a "day park" and decided to go into use the facilities (in more ways than one) ... I dawned some "fly-dope" and sat in the grass taking some pictures of a couple of birds in a nearby bush who seemed to be competing to impress me with their gorgeous singing.  One was a Yellow Warbler and the second a Fox Sparrow.

I finally got to Lark Harbour and found a place to eat called Marlaine's Place, a nice cafe by the water made even nicer by a hot bowl of Seafood Chowder. Mmm Good!  The sun was shining and I didn't want to waste a moment as I saw dark clouds looming over Corner Brook way, so I finished up my lunch and did a little beach combing.  I found 5 or 6 very cool looking stones to bring home.  As I walked along furder I came upon a "Muskoka" chair and sat awhile reflecting on my trip and how much I enjoyed it.  I thought about how perfect strangers invited me into their home and how we quickly became friends, I thought about the long drives and the beautiful scenery and how blessed I was to see what I saw in such a short time.  How the trip fell together and what I've learned about myself and another part of our glorious nation.

I'm in for the night, it is just past 7:30 pm as I write this and I'll soon be packing up for my flight tomorrow morning at 5:55 am (not sure why they didn't call it 6am) and going to bed early.  Thanks to those who supported me and followed the blog, hope you enjoyed it.  I plan to put together a little more comprehensive 'PowerPoint' presentation and a time and place to be announced to show it and talk about the adventure.  Goodbye for now and So-long Newfoundland!

 


Iceland: Realm of Ice and Fire

Iceland: Realm of Ice and Fire

Introduction - Why Iceland?

It's the middle of winter here in Canada and yet another snowstorm is on its way threatening to dump a foot of snow. Most Canadians wanting to escape winter here head south to the sunny climes of the Caribbean or Florida.

But here I am looking forward to flying north to Iceland . . . in the middle of their winter.

I can only say that I've been called to go. The desire to explore Iceland sparked in me a couple of years ago during a short stopover while traveling from my home in Scotland to the Toronto Storytelling Festival. It was the middle of February and as we descended out of the black sky into Keflavik, I was mesmerized by the billowing clouds swirling about us, shimmering neath a full silver moon. The effect was magical. It was like one of those old-fashioned daguerreotype photographs. I felt as if I was being transported back thousands of years to a mythical time.

Suddenly, the clouds broke and revealed a mass of white below us, edged by dark, inky waters. This was a stark landscape defined in black and white. Then, slicing through the ice and snow, a thin black ribbon appeared stretching off to the northern horizon. I thought it was a fissure in the ice before noticing a single pinpoint of light moving northward. It was a car traveling on the famous Hringvegur or "Ring Road" that circles the island. That journey allowed me only a couple of hours in the airport but I could feel in my soul that I would return to this island one day.

Then a few weeks ago, my brother Mark, an award-winning Nature photographer, called me and asked if I'd like to accompany him on a 10-day journey to Iceland. This journey was one of his "bucket list" adventures of which he was prepared to go alone but wondered if I, a storyteller, might like to come along. I didn't hesitate. Yes, I said.

It was not just the desire to return to this mystical place on the edge of the Arctic Circle but the opportunity to undertake such an adventure with my brother. Both in our 60s, I ventured to think that we might never get a chance like this again to travel together (something we've never done). Yes, it was going to be an expensive trip that we'd both struggle to afford but the opportunity to photograph Iceland's amazing landscapes of fire and ice, rock and water were too good to pass up. And as a storyteller, I was fascinated by the rich storytelling tradition in

Iceland where the sagas and tales are embedded in every feature of the landscape. 

How could you pass up a chance to travel in a country where more than half the population openly believe in the hudderfolk or "hidden people" -- trolls, elves, fairies and such? In fact, I've been told that before a road is built in

Iceland, environmental consultants check with locals to ensure that no hudderfolk are disturbed. Roads go around them.

Thanks to a storytelling colleague, Karen Gummo, who has relatives in Iceland, I've made a connection with one of Iceland's premier storytellers Ingi Hans. Ingi operates his Storytellers Lodge during the summer months and enchants visitors with his tales and charm. (I'm hoping to interview Ingi for my radio show "The Teller and the Tale" (www.thetellerandthetale.com) on Blues and Roots Radio.

And for Mark, the Icelandic landscape offers a stunning array of geological wonders: mountains, active volcanoes, geysers, spectacular waterfalls, and more, not to mention Viking settlements, whaling stations, fishing villages, seabirds and other flora and fauna. Check out Mark's website at www.mwimages.ca to see his catalogue of photos capturing the rich wildlife in and around the southern Ontario region. Mark's a keen photographer with a strong environmental conscience and his photos are poignant reminders of the importance of our green spaces for the ecological diversity they hold.

So, on March 28th, 2018 Mark and I fly off to Iceland and begin our 10-day journey. Our accommodations are booked (mostly with local hosts) and our 4X4 chariot awaits us (highly recommended as Iceland will still be in the grip of winter and roads can be treacherous at times). Despite our plans, we are aware that Nature will have the upper hand and we are prepared to be flexible. But our intention is to drive the 1400 kms around the entire Ring Road.

Upon our return, Mark and I plan to put together a presentation in which we will share our photographs and stories and offer it wherever folk are interested.

Michael Williams

Lords of the Ring

 

Reflections: An Adventure is Born

How do you know when you are going on an adventure?  Is it the moment you step out the door or is it something that happens along the way?  Could it simply be a spark of an idea or a long drawn-out series of thoughts?  As I recall, my first solo photographic adventure was a kind of verbal pronouncement,  a vocal declaration that an adventure was needed.  I visualized vast landscapes made up of raw elements;  sun, sky, mountains and sea.  

Newfoundland immediately came to mind.  In 2014 I set off on my first big adventure.   When I arrived, it wasn't long before I lost control,  this island they called “The Rock”, she cradled me in her hand and gently moved me from side to side like I was a Mexican jumping bean, when I returned home  10 days later,  something changed, nature had put her mark on me and I had to experience more.  That  is what an adventure does, it changes you ... sometimes forever.

In 2018 … the call came again, but unlike 2014 this was more like a silent spark, lit  from within and stoked by others.  The destination ... Iceland.  Like Newfoundland I was drawn to the idea of re-visiting the elements, but this was going to be different.  The elements here were alive, living and breathing, there would be no cradling this time.  Her visions would be mesmerizing, awe-inspiring and other-worldly to say-the-least but not without a warning;  "Tread carefully with respect and above all keep alert" and with that, another adventure is about to hatch. 

Mark Williams

Lords of the Ring


 

Day 1: Impressions

The flight was delayed one hour.  At 8pm we finally boarded and were greeted with a message from the Captain, "A minor electrical failure, nothing to worry about".  Assurances given, a smooth flight ensued as we crossed over the Atlantic.  We landed at 6:30am Icelandic time at the Keflavik Airport outside Reykjavik, the capital.

The four-hour time difference played havoc with our lack of sleep but the excitement pumped adrenaline into these two tired bodies to more than make up for the exhaustion.  Our AirB&B check-in was not until 3pm, so we had the better part of the day to explore. Picking up our brand new Dacia 4x4 Duster (equipped with snow tires) , we headed off to the capital.  After a brief drive around the city we stopped at Reykjavik Roasters and enjoyed a great cup of java.  Once primed, a long walk through the city took us to the beautiful not to mention gigantic Hallgrimskirkja Church.

Michael remained below while I venture to the viewing tower eight floors up (by elevator) to witness the most incredible views of Reykjavik. 

We moved on to another of Reykjavik's monumental wonders, the Harpa concert house.  This was as beautiful inside as was out and the glass maze appearance really dazzled the eyes.  Michael and I played "Where's Waldo" a few times with him above peering from various window panes as I tried to spot him from the ground.

And, last but not least the "Sun Voyager" ... one of the many sculptures depicting the Vikings and their influence on the history of Iceland.  You don't have to go too far in any direction to find their imprint, whether knick-knacks sold in gift-shops to grand creative sculptures or just the stark reminder in the scenery that cries out the memories of "Eric the Red" or "Leif Ericsson".

 

Day 2: Reykjavik to Grundarfjodur

Today, being Good Friday, Mark and I decided to stay in Reykjavik and go to the iconic Hallgrimskirkja Church for the service. Thinking the service was at 10:30am and that it would be packed with tourists, we got there about 9:30am. There were lots of tourists crawling all over taking photos of the impressive, vault like interior, but Mark and I managed to find time to meditate quietly in preparation for the service. We also discovered that the service didn't start until 11am so our wait was prolonged. As the hour approached, any tourists not intending to stay for the service were asked to leave. While some stayed, it seemed that most of the parishioners were local folk. The service was also in Icelandic which lent the affair a rather unique tone. We did manage to recognise a few names of familiar Biblical characters and the hymn melodies were easy to hum along with. As we filed out, we were greeted at the door by the minister who thanked us for coming and wished us a Happy Easter.

We then retired across the road to Café Loki (those of you who know me know I love my cafés). We got a couple of espressos and headed back to the car to begin our northward journey.

The greatest danger in driving across Iceland is the scenery. One is tempted every few minutes to gaze to the right or left in awe and forget the road. In fact, this happens more often than not to tourists and we were warned. So I kept my eyes on the road, while Mark snapped photos from the open window. We did stop at a few places where you could safely pull over and got out, stretched our legs and took more photos.

Our trip was not without some unexpected excitement. We suddenly found ourselves, for instance, plunging down into a tunnel under a fjord. We must have driven some two or three kilometres underground, which was quite an experience if you've not done it before. We'd obviously missed the sign which indicated that this was a toll tunnel, so we had a bit of surprise when we emerged into the daylight to discover that we had to pass a toll booth and pay the nice woman 1000kr (about $15CDN). Over went my credit card and then we were on our way.

Money aside, no price could be put on the scenery we encountered. The Mountains and the sea are priceless. Every turn offered another awe-inspiring gasp. "Mark, look over there!", "That's amazing!"

Suddenly around one bend we came upon another small fjord where large chunks of ice had been swept in from the sea and piled up near the shore. We saw cars pulled over ahead and managed to pull into a lay-by off the road. That was fortunate because we had our first encounter with the Icelandic police.

As we were walking toward the shore, two uniformed officers--one male, the other female--caught up to us. We turned and greeted them. They asked where we had parked our car. It was beside their police car. "That's ok," the young male officer smiled. It turned out they were there to have those drivers who had parked at the side of the road to move them or get ticketed. Mark and I offered to help and went down and warned those we met. The officers were also there to warn people to get off the ice as it was extremely dangerous. In fact, entire families were out on those huge chunks of ice, not knowing they were cavorting with possible death or injury.

On we went across rocky and in some places volcanic terrain. We saw ancient lava flows where hardened pumice-like rocks were twisted and melted into one another in shapes that could remind you of trolls and ogres. They were dressed in soft green moss, the only vegetation that seems to favour the rock.

Finally, we reached Grundarfjodur and although we initially had a little trouble finding our accommodation, a quick call remedied the situation. With new instructions we found the track that wound up the hill at the foot of the mountain above. Later we supped at the Laki Café (pizza), followed by a short drive to the famous Kirkjufell Mountain, where Mark photographed some oystercatchers and eider ducks. Home to relax in our comfy room and some well-deserved rest. Tomorrow we have another day to explore this wondrous peninsula. I'm particularly looking forward to seeing the extinct volcano Snæfellsjökull, which inspired Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I've promised my grandson a photo of his grandfather on this famous site, although I shall refrain from exploring its interior and leave that to his imagination.

 

Day 3: Around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Today was our first full day in Grundarfjodur off the Ring Road in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.  We awoke at 7am after a restless night waiting and watching for the Northern Lights.  We had a clear night with some very light overcast and it was cold, good conditions ... but nothing appeared.

Packed up the car and headed out on Hwy 54 to circumnavigate the Peninsula.  This would takes us to a number of beautiful spots filled with great beauty and interesting folklore.  Our first stop came quite abruptly as we no more than passed through town when around the bend was an amazing falls, Kirkjufellsfoss.  We caught the early morning light on the falls and there was an old walk-bridge across the top of it.   I thought this serene setting couldn't have been more perfect when my tripod fell and tumbled 20 meters into the river below.  Thankfully, I found my way down to the river bank and with a little rock hoping, I was able to retrieve it.

Onward we went and came to see Snaefellsjokull, the famous volcano that Jules Verne was inspired by in writing his novel "Journey to the Centre of the Earth".  The entire area was filled with moss covered lava boulders that had been strewn across the land in grotesque twisted shapes resembling Trolls that had been frozen in time.

Saxholl Crater was also nearby (part of the fall-out from Snaefellsjokull Volcano) and we ventured to climb the 109 meter walkway to the top.  This crater erupted 3-4000 years ago.  The view from the top was spectacular.

Then it was on to Malarrif, where we visited a rocket-shaped Lighthouse, overlooking a black sand beach with smooth sculptured rock formations and three or four islands just off the shore filled with Kittiwakes.  Once aware of our movements, the sky instantly became filled with these sea-birds and there were hundreds upon hundreds.

Many churches are found all over Iceland, but not always in the towns or cities as one might expect, many times a lovely lone church sat in the most picturesque of places.

All-in-all it was a great day, the weather held, the scenery was outstanding and as we arrived home (to the farm) I met with our Host Mr. Skjólsteinar, who kindly showed me around his barn.  Some 250 plus sheep in every age, size and colour ... yes, there were even 3 black sheep in the family.  I asked permission to walk back in the hills, high up the mountain side, where grazed a dozen or so Icelandic horses graced by a beautiful waterfalls that I had my eye on.  I wandered up slowly as it was steep and rested awhile looking across the valley at the Arctic Ocean,  the snow capped mountains behind and saw the sun clipping a peak ... what a beautiful way to end the day.
 

Day 4: Grundarfjörður to Akureyri

We knew we'd have a long drive ahead of us today but we couldn't start without a visit to one of Iceland's premier storytellers, Ingi Hans. I'd became aware of Ingi thanks to fellow storyteller Karen Gummo from Calgary. Karen has relatives in Iceland and she'd been to visit Ingi at his Storytellers Lodge in the past. I contacted Ingi and made arrangements to meet up and interview him for one of my upcoming Teller and the Tale radio shows.

Before we got to Ingi's place, we had to have a coffee and chat with our B&B host Raggna, who turns out to be a relative of Ingi's. After leaving Raggna's farm, we drove into the picturesque fishing village of Grundarfjodur and found Ingi's cottage. His home is spacious and welcoming where every object has a story to go with it. Ingi has a particular passion for toys from his childhood so we were treated to a special viewing of them in his study and storytelling space. He and his 9-yr old grandson Fridjon Ingi obviously had a very close relationship and Fridjon beamed as his Grandpa told us stories and showed off the theatre "playhouse" he built for the children. Fridjon showed us the puppets and various other characters and demonstrated how they moved them on stage.

Fridjon, incidentally, spoke excellent English, which he said he'd learned off the Internet.

Ingi then invited us to sit at the kitchen table and served us delicious espresso, while he regaled us with tales of his childhood growing up in Grundarfjodur. Then came a wonderful tale of Sterling the Cat, which enthralled us all. Later, Ingi pulled out a scrap book of childhood and family memories he'd prepared for his grandchildren and we learned about the village and Ingi's family, who originally came to the area in the late 19th century from Norway. (Some later left the area and emigrated to Manitoba in Canada).

By this time, the snow had begun falling quite heavily and reluctantly, Mark and I bid our farewells. We stopped only to fill up the car and headed up over the mountains in heavy snow and down the other side and toward the town of Borganes where we joined the Ring Road. Thank goodness we spent the extra money for a 4X4 with good snow tires.

Once on the Ring Road we turned northward for the long journey to Akureyri, about some 6hrs or so away. The first hour we travelled through rather dour weather and countryside before climbing the mountain into thick cloud and more snow. The road was, however, in fairly good shape and without much traffic. We observed that most of the traffic was coming in the opposite direction. It seemed that few tourists travel Iceland in a clockwise direction as we'd chosen and I advise this if you ever make the trip.

After a few hours, we emerged from the cloud and saw beautiful vistas before us -- wide sweeping valleys and blocks of snow-capped mountains surrounding us and gracing the distance. Having a modest interest in geology, I'm continuously in awe of the unimaginable dynamic forces of earth, fire, wind, water, and ice on this land. Everywhere you see evidence of volcanic activity with many a mountain looking down on an expansive field of twisted lava rock before it. Looking closely at these hardened molten forms of rock, you can easily see why Icelanders believe in trolls, elves and other 'hudderfolk' (little people).

Eventually, we found our way to our accommodation--Arnarnes Paradise, a rustic farm turned into art gallery and B&B, situated atop the hill overlooking the fjord below. Our host Olga and her husband welcomed us with smiles and hearty handshakes and showed us to our room. We're the only guests tonight so we have the place to ourselves. Once settled, Mark and I headed up the hill to the summit where we looked down the fjord toward the Arctic Ocean. There was an icy breeze but the views from the hill were worth every moment. Olga had told us that whales had been sighted in the fjord as have seals. The whales, she said ordinarily appear in May or June but have been coming earlier in recent years. We didn't see any but are hoping perhaps in the next day or so we might catch a glimpse of them either here or further north in the town of Husavik, a former whaling station and today a popular destination for whale watching tours.

Time to close. It's been an exciting day and more beckons tomorrow. But for now I look forward to a hot shower and comfy bed.

Michael

 

Day 5 - North to Husavik

The morning started with a continental breakfast of sorts, wonderful breads, jams, eggs, cucumber and a hot cup of Lemon and Ginger tea.  As we are the only two guests during this Easter weekend our Host, Eygló was all ready setup as we awoke.  We had some lovely conversation and learned that the Elves were very much present at Arnarnes Paradise and she works hard at keeping the energy levels positive and uplifting.  We certainly felt her kindness and encouragement as we prepared to head north on our journey to Husavik.

The snow had fallen overnight a few inches and so dusting off the car and checking road conditions were first on the agenda.  The good news ... the sun was shining.  Once out on the road, we headed through Akureyri, then off on Highway 85 straight north.  Yes, Iceland is about mountains, but weather changes the look of the landscape each hour.  Light reflects off the mountain peaks, stark white snow covers others and shadows bounce in-between.

We stopped at a number of "viewing locations" along the way, some overlooking vast valleys and others perilously close to the cliff's edge looking out to the Arctic Ocean, but the real treat was Godafoss, not the largest of Icelandic Falls, but spectacular none-the-less as you can view the massive top network of streams that pour down into three distinct falls filling a giant basin below.

Then with some anticipation and wonder, we could see Husavik in the distance as the road wound down through the mountain passes. Husavik was, (is?) a Whaling town ... they have since traded their lives (at least the old-timers) as whalers on the open frigid sea for taking passengers in fancy skips to view whales and porpoises.  We popped into one of the whale watching offices and checked out pricing (between $150-$200 Canadian) and other information including many sightings in the past few days of a Blue Whale!, Orcas and Minke whales.

It was nearing lunch time and we looked about for a nice place to eat.  Meals were always fun, we visit Bonus in each major town and load up on the healthiest stuff we can find to eat on the road or back at the BnB.  Food is noticeably expensive and Bonus resembles a small town "No Frills".  We reserved a few special occasions to try the local fare and this was one of them.  There was no question, the FISH meal.  A white fish called "Ling" came to the table with tiny potatoes, spring salad on a bed of rice with a wonderful sauce that never over-powered but brought out all the flavours.  A real treat!

The atmosphere in this town was the real McCoy ... a long row of homes each proudly displaying their heritage build date ... triggered the imagination, 1897, 1912, 1927, 1930 and the sounds and smells of the turn-of-the-century Whaling village sprung to life.  How hard yet rewarding it must of been when the men returned to town after a successful catch.

We decided to proceed even further North to a road that returned southwardly down to the most powerful falls in all of Europe, Dettifoss! only to find all the roads leading south were closed this time of year.  The entrance was only available off the Ring Road, which we could do tomorrow. The bonus in making this decision to go further north did bring us to where the two tectonic plates for North American and Europe meet and the "great divide" was quite obvious in the form of a large canyon with built-up walls on either side.  We decided at this point to head back to Akureyri,  just in case we got split up :)

On the way back we stopped at a lookout point to view a nasty looking storm blowing out in the Ocean ... we had already heard a cold North wind was blowing in, but this looked like snow ... we'll see.  While at this lookout, I saw many Sea Gulls flying off the cliffs and soaring back and forth.  I snapped a few in mid-flight and then hopped back into our rental and were off again.  The rest of the ride home was uneventful ... as we enjoyed classical music from one of Iceland's few radio stations and the sun as it warmed us through the window.

Arriving back at the BnB we made some hot dogs on bread, with garlic hummus and polish sausages.  As usual, after a meal we reminisce about the day and laugh at what might of been and prepare for a goodnight's sleep.

Mark

 

Day 6: Akureyri to Egilsstaðir

Woke up after a bit of a restless night, up and down looking outside to see if the Northern Lights were on show (they didn't). There were also a few shenanigans as Mark and I got up to some childish trickery leading to the giggles.

Continental breakfast served by our lovely host Eygló. What a wonderful woman she is -- so positive and passionate about what she does. Everything organic and fair trade. We enjoyed talking with her about her knowledge of the hudderfolk and the old ways. Eygló is a Reiki Master and teaches courses on healing. We were sad to leave but we had to be on our way. It had snowed during the night and we'd read warnings of road closures and snow throughout most of the day.

Indeed, much of our drive to Egilsstaðir was something of a white-knuckle ride through blizzard conditions. While many minor roads were closed, the Ring Road was open but dicey in places where drifting snow had gathered. This is where it paid to have our trusty 4X4 with good snow tires. Well worth the extra cost.

We were keen to get to Dettifoss, the largest waterfalls in Europe. We'd tried the day before from the north but were not aware that that road is closed in the winter time. So today, we'd try from the road in the south. But first, we wanted to treat ourselves at one of Iceland's hot baths in a natural lagoon where the water is heated from the geo-thermal activity underground. We drove around Lake Myvatn. Much of the lake we saw was frozen. In fact, we encountered a strange sight -- cars parked out on the ice several hundred yards from shore. I thought perhaps they were ice-fishing but couldn't see any evidence of that. Perhaps it was another strange Icelandic custom.

Further on, we noticed the Lake seemed to be anything but frozen as we travelled over old lava fields with their bizarre shapes of twisted rock. No wonder locals could be tempted to see in these grotesque shapes trolls and ogres. We stopped to take photos of the rocks and ducks in the lake before moving on as the snowstorm worsened. A little ways down the road, we came upon a strange sight -- a lake of bright turquoise, steaming water set against the white snow-covered ground. We'd reached the Myvatn Natural Baths, a sort of spa. Many visitors to Iceland take in the famous Blue Lagoon south of Reykjavik but I recommend the Myvatn Baths as they are not as crowded and a little bit cheaper. Mark and I arrived as the doors opened at noon. We paid 3000kr each (about $45CDN). The facility is clean and well-organised. We were given towels and a key to our locker. We changed, showered, and into the steam room, which is naturally heated from the steam underground. Then, a short walk in the brisk -5C temps and walk into the outdoor 'blue lagoon'. Ahhh......40C steaming water. And a snowstorm all around us. All of us bathers were giggling at the bizarre contrast between hot, soothing waters and icy, snowy weather around us. But it was lovely!! After an hour of getting suitably wrinkly and healthy (the alkaline waters are supposed to be good for your skin and general health), we left to avoid the arriving busloads of tourists.

Feeling refreshed, we headed off once again to find Dettifoss. The snow was a blizzard now. Down the road a ways, we found the turnoff. Dettifoss was north about 25km on a secondary road. We'd been told it would be closed but when we arrived we saw cars returning. We stopped the last one and the young man looked pretty disappointed. He told us we'd probably make it up the road in our 4X4 but the weather conditions were so bad that you couldn't see anything once you arrived. We hesitated and after some discussion, decided not to risk it. We turned around and drove off into the blizzard toward Egilsstaðir.

Sometimes the journey is more than the destination.

The roads were passable but in places, barely. And it didn't help that people seem to like driving fast even in icy conditions. We experienced a couple of whiteouts so the drive was a little white-knuckled at times. Then at one point we descended a mountain and came down into a sweeping plain that reminded both of us of what a desolate Arctic or Antarctica landscape might have looked like. Endless vistas of snow, rock, and snow-covered mountains in the misty distance. Then suddenly, Mark shouted, "Stop! Look! Caribou!!" I took a quick look into the rear view mirror to make sure no one was going to ram us from behind and pulled over as much as I could (Iceland's roads aren't the sort you can easily pull over on and police do not take kindly to anyone stopping on the road to photograph). However, on this occasion, without anyone else in sight, we risked it. While I watched for traffic, Mark took the photographs. Just as well too as Mark is an expert Nature photographer (while I'm an excellent driver). There must have been 150 reindeer (not caribou) grazing on the plain within a hundred yards or so of the road. Mark got some excellent photos.

The rest of the journey was relatively uneventful but both of us felt we'd been blessed with two experiences that more than made up for not being able to get to Dettifoss. About 4:30pm we finally pulled into Egilsstaðir, a rather non-descript town and probably the most modern looking we'd seen in a while. After fiddling with the GPS and digging out our AirB&B host's instructions, we found our way north on route 93. About 25km later we pulled up a track towards a farm on the gentle slope of a towering, snowy mountain. Off to the left was our bungalow, actually a series of about a half-dozen semi-detached cabins. Our home for the night is a mid-sized room with two single beds, a table and chairs, a small kitchenette with utensils and a hot-plate and fridge. And a bathroom with a welcoming walk-in shower. Our windows look out onto the mountain beyond the farm further up the hill.

The building is fairly new and seems to have been built to high-standard. It's a minimal design but functional, warm, and solid. One would imagine it would have to be to survive weather like we experienced today.

The snow is gently falling now and sleep beckons. Tomorrow is another day and another adventure.

Michael

 

DAY 7: White Knuckles and $100 Pizza

What a difference a day makes!  After a rather quiet night and a good night's sleep just outside Egilsstaðir, it was up through the mountains, around fjords with hair-raising turns, steep climbs and sharp drops into the North Atlantic.  My brother Michael did the driving and I highly commend his patience and tenacity working our way through all of this.  Then, albeit briefly, the sun would show herself at the most opportune moments lifting our spirits and giving us hope that we are going to get through this.  As we learned later, this stretch of highway was VERY close to be closed and was marked RED by all the road apps.

As a photographer, I was awe of the lighting.  Mountain tops lit up, glaciers aglow and the sea billowed with black, white and grey swirls of cloud.  We took the old Hwy 92 (which is the new Hwy 1) and headed south, it would eventually turn into the old Hwy 96 (another new Hwy 1) then finally meet up with Hwy 1 ... find that confusing? ... so did we and that led us to make a wrong turn and end up in Neskaupstadur.  It wasn't a bad thing as it turned out, because we saw some beautiful mountains surrounding the village and stopped and had a coffee in the town's only grill and gas station.

Finally we got back on track and continued our journey.  For several hours, it was through mixed weather and gorgeous vistas on every turn.  Stopping at lookout points, pulling over and stopping in some small villages spent even more hours.  Around one corner however, came a surprise ... the road ended with a hole in the mountain ... called a tunnel.  Thankfully it was two lanes and dry ... but it was 7km long and a little claustiphobic:), but there was a light at the end of the tunnel and we continued southward.

We spotted some more Reindeer, stopped at some cool cliffs overlooking the Ocean near Dijupivogur and finally pulled into Höfn.  Our check-in time wasn't until 6pm and it was only 4pm so we had a few hours to check out Höfn.  Michael parked the car at a sea-side lot and I walked up to the top of a hill over-looking the town.  Glaciers, Mountains and Oceans on display. 

Since it was nearly dinner time, we decided it was one of those meals we'd eat out and try the local fare.  Earlier we met Alex and Paul, two travelers from New York with their wives and they were on a similar trip to us.  We exchanged greetings, swapped some contact info and they recommended a few places to eat.  As it turns out, we went to the same place they did, a local Pizzeria, that specialized in gourmet pizza.  We took the hostess's suggestion of Lobster Pizza and were happy to discover that Höfn was a Lobster town and in fact the season JUST started.  The pizza was absolutely delicious, but we were shocked when the bill was presented to us for 7200 Krona. That was the best $100 pizza we ever had ... and the last :)

Off to our BnB, the host had left great instructions and we found the place and our room, it was in an older home, set on its own between the Ocean and the Mountains ... it really reminded me of Dorothy's farm in Kansas.  That was further cemented when my brother told me our area was "yellow" because of extreme wind warnings.  I hope I don't fall asleep and wake up in ...

 

Day 8: Höfn to Eyjafjalljokull - Ice and Fire

The Saudanes B&B was in an old farmhouse outside of the town of Höfn, where we'd had pizza for dinner, trimmed with pieces of fresh local lobster. Our room was comfy and warm. We met several of the guests including Jessica from Houston Texas who was travelling around the island in the same direction as we were. We shared scary stories of our driving through snowstorms in the north. Mark and I stayed up till midnight hoping we might see the Northern Lights but no luck. But Nature did provide us with roaring and howling winds all night, but not even gale force winds roaring down off the Vatnajokull Glacier could keep Mark and I from having a good sleep.

We woke at 6am, packed up and headed out for the volcanic and glacial area of Vatnajokull further along the south coast. Vatnajokull is the largest ice cap in Iceland and one of the largest in Europe.

What makes this one intriguing and potentially dangerous, is that there are several active volcanoes hidden underneath. There have been a number of eruptions during the past 20 years including Grimsvotn in 1996, which caused a Jökulhlaup or an outburst of glacial lake water that flooded the plains below, and washed away roads and bridges as well as destroying farms and arable land. We saw the evidence of this destruction in fields strewn with gravel and boulders and a washed out road and bridge.

It never ceases to amaze me to look upon the evidence of these amazing forces within our earth's crust, to see the lava fields, the rock-strewn fields, the black gravel sand deltas, and twisted rock formations, and thrusting columns and other outcrops of basalt and igneous rock. Then we get up close to the glaciers. These huge tongues of ice creep slowly, calving huge chunks of clear, white, and blue ice into the river below that carries them slowly to the Atlantic where they end their lives.

At Jokuskulsarlon Glacial Lake, we watched for over an hour hundreds of chunks of glacier (icebergs) slowly floating like dancers toward the sea. Among them, seals bobbed, curious at the onlookers. Later, we headed for the beach which is strewn with "ice sculptures", those same ice chunks sculpted by wave and wind. We watched one large "iceberg" make an attempt to get out to sea, only to watch it hurled back by the waves, probably to be broken up in smaller chunks and left ashore to be admired over by the dozens of tourists. More photos ensued.

We had to press on as the afternoon was waning. Still, the sun shone brightly, despite a cold wind.

We discovered a nearby cafe centre where we could also walk up a hill and get much closer to the glacier itself. We were nearly blown out to sea ourselves by the hurricane force winds hurtling down over the glacier. I don't think I've ever walked against an icy wind like that. But down in the glacial lake we actually saw folk in protective gear being taken by small boats out to one of the larger icebergs that had recently calved from the face of the glacier. Needless to stay we stayed only long enough to take a photo or two and let ourselves be blown back down to the cafe where we warmed up over a delicious bowl of mushroom soup and a mozzarella and basil pesto Panini.

Satisfied, we headed back for the car and on we went. We eventually reached the little town of Vik with its rather gothic-looking basalt stacks just off shore and a picturesque church on the hill overlooking the town. More photos. About 10 or 15km out of town, at Sólheimasandur, we saw a bunch of cars parked on the left and stopped to investigate. Signs indicated that nearby was the site of a US Navy plane that had ditched on the beach back in 1973, when it reportedly had run out of fuel. The crew survived but it was later learned that the pilot had mistakenly switched over to an empty fuel tank. So, today, it's a stripped hulk of a plane that draws hundreds of tourists. What many don't know, including my brother Mark, was that it's about an hour's walk to the beach from the parking lot -- and an hour back so you really need to want to see what's left of this plane.

Personally, I didn't so took advantage and got myself a couple hours of rest in the car.

Finally, Mark returned and we made our way down the road toward our night's accommodation at Drangshlid Guesthouse, another wonderful farm B&B nestled beneath the cliff that in part comprises the infamous volcano Eyjafjalljokull. Our host Timara welcomed us with a smile and showed us the renovated farmhouse and to our room upstairs, another simple yet cosy place to rest our heads. We're here for 2 days which will give us time to explore the area. Mark, a Nature photographer with a keen interest in birds has lots to keep him occupied, while I'm keen to see the new Volcano and Earthquake Exhibition Centre where I can learn more about the story of how Iceland was formed and is continuing to be shaped by the dynamic forces that lie within.

Mark will return tomorrow to bring you all the news from tomorrow's adventure. Until then, good night.

Michael

 

Day 9: The Day of the Jökull

We awoke to our second day at Mountain Queen Angelica BnB, I have to say right-off the bat, this place is the cat's meow.  A beautiful farmhouse 34 km west of the nearest town of Vik.  The hosts are Thorinn and Timera and they are hard working, kind and put a lot of work into making your stay a wonderful, homey experience.  My brother and I had a guest room in the house which meant we got to share the kitchen, living room and bathrooms.  A breakfast came with the stay and it too was superb.  I finally found out why they called it Mountain Angelica ... this is in reference to a perennial herb of the same name and native to subarctic regions of the Northern hemisphere.  It is used mostly in cooking similar to celery but also as a flavouring agent.  In the case of breakfast it was used in a wonderful chutney-like spread and was delicious.  With breakfast under our belts, we headed out east, back towards Vik, but only 5 miles or so to check out the black sandy beaches and a lighthouse.  We elected to view the black sandy beach from atop a mountain where the lighthouse was situated.

Back on the road again now heading west to the Lava and Volcano Exhibition.  We read about this from a brochure at the BnB and we were pretty excited as we were both wanting to understand more in depth just what was going on under this island of rock and ice.  On the way, as was the custom, getting distracted was "normal".  We saw a sign for Seljalandsfoss and turned in to see this very high water falls.  It certainly didn't disappoint and by the time we checked it out, busloads turned up and the place was packed.

Finally we reached our destination.  The small but expanding town of Hvolsvöllur hosted the Lava and Volcano Exhibition not to mention a really nice restaurant cafe.  The exhibition was very well done.  A large molten core was on display showing how they rise up through the mountain building pressure and waiting for a chance to escape.  One narrow walkway simulated what might be felt during an earthquake and it was a little un-nerving.  Well informed displays talked about the different kind of volcanoes as well as their various components.  The last exhibit was a 360 degree graphic display of the nearby topology showing several volcanoes ready to blow or have blown in recent years.  With a clever point-and-shoot technique using your hands to point to various spots on the display you could ignite an eruption.  When the 30 min exhibit was completed, you then walked into a 20 minute video/music presentation that showed you real footage of the 2010 and 2011 eruptions as well as some old photographs of an eruption back in the early 1900s.

As we left the building, Hekla was visible some many miles in the distance, so we couldn't help but take a Selfie with Hekla in the background :)  Hekla is one of Iceland's young, active volcanoes and is only a matter of time.

And last but not least for the day's activities, we stopped by a large herd of horses and I was able to feed a carrot to one - which was one of the quirkier things on my bucket list in Iceland.  

 

Day 10: Skogafoss to the Golden Circle to Reykjavik

Sadly, today is our next to last day. Our 10-day journey around Iceland is quickly coming to an end. But not before we take in the famous Golden Circle.

Mark and I woke up to a glorious sunny morning at our farm B&B near Skogafoss. Once again, we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast and conversation with our hosts Thorinn and Timara and a new couple from Boston who arrived last night.

We thanked our hosts and took a final photo of us together and wished them well. They hoped we might return to stay with them one day and both Mark and I gave a big thumbs up to that idea.

Now that we were well fed and carrying warm wishes, we made sure we had everything and headed off, only to realise about a half hour down the road that we'd left our food in their fridge. Oh well.

All part of our contribution.

That last part of our itinerancy included a visit to Iceland's famous Golden Circle. As the name suggests it is more or less a circular route (not to be confused with the Ring Road) south east of the capital city Reykjavik that many tourists opt to do when time does not permit a more extensive exploration of the country. It includes many of Iceland's famous sites such as Gullfoss, the Geyser, the Blue Lagoon and other landmarks.

But as Mark and I have discovered these sights attract many tourists and are quite hyped up with large parking lots of tour buses and other guided tours as well as large cafes and gift shops. At least winter keeps the numbers manageable but we've been told the summers are very busy. In fact, Iceland will attract nearly 3 million tourists this year alone, which is quite something given that there are only 300,000 people living in Iceland.

But like many places, sometimes the best sights are found off the beaten track. More than once, our curiosity to take some farm track or minor road has led to a beautiful discovery as we found out when along the way we turned off on a track that led us to Urridafoss. Arriving in the parking lot we discovered that there were only three other people there. This beautiful waterfalls is Iceland's most voluminous and was once considered for a hydro project which would have dammed the river.

Fortunately, the project was never realised and we were able to enjoy its natural beauty. And while we took lots of photos, you have to allow yourself some time to just stand and be awed by the power of Nature to create such a place.

We moved on making our way North to the first of two planned stops – Gullfoss and then Geyser – although once again, we found ourselves pulling over in the middle of nowhere when we saw a small herd of Icelandic horses standing by a fence looking as if they were expecting us. We still had a few carrots in our stores, which Mark fed to our new friends and they graced us with some horse play while we photographed them.

Eventually, we found Gullfoss, one of Iceland's most iconic waterfalls. It's not the biggest waterfalls in Iceland but still very impressive and its star power is reflected in the investment in a large cafe and gift shop and other amenities. There were many tour buses here and other local guides touting for business, taking people to nearby volcanoes and glaciers.

Again, we took lots of photos and perused the gift shop without spending anything. After an hour or so, we were back in the car and off to the next stop a few kilometres down the road – Geyser.

Geyser is, as the name suggests, the original geo-thermal phenomenon for which all geysers are named. Once spouting a hundred foot plume of boiling water and steam every 10 minutes or so, Geyser had gone rather quiet as of late so its eruptions are less frequent and not so predictable. However, Geyser has a neighbour – Strokker – who erupts approximately every 6-10 minutes shooting a plume of hot water and an impressive cloud of steam between 15-20 metres and occasionally reaching as high as 40 metres. The crowds wait patiently with cameras ready and ooh and ahh appropriately when Strokker rewards them. Poor Geyser meanwhile steams away with a few tourists standing hopefully nearby before giving up and moving on. There are several other pools of steaming water and the smell of sulphur hangs in the air.

Our next stop was Reykjavik. We arrived back in the neighbourhood of Kópavogur where we started out ten days ago and settled into our B&B for our last evening in Iceland. But our activities weren't over yet. For our final night, we'd accepted a generous invitation from two locals – Audur and Johannes. Audur (pronounced “Oh-thur”) is the cousin to my storytelling acquaintance from Calgary, Karen Gummo. Karen had put me in touch with Audur and her partner when she learned of my trip. Karen's ancestors are from Iceland and she often tells stories linked to the island and her ancestors' travels to western Canada.

Mark and I arrived for dinner at 6pm and met Audur and Johannes and their two children. Audur is an environmental consultant and Johannes is an artist and teaches at the Art College in Reykjavik. He's also holds a PhD in Philosophy so we knew that we'd be in for some interesting conversation.

But first dinner. Johannes had prepared a delicious leg of lamb accompanied by roasted potatoes, corn, peas, and mixed vegetables. And it was complemented by a tasty Icelandic beer. The conversation flowed and Mark and I learned much about Icelandic history, politics, and culture.

Coffee followed and more conversation and laughter. We also discovered that Audur and Johannes had lived in Calgary for three years and had also spent a year in Edinburgh, a place that had been my home for 25 years.

Not wanting to overstay our welcome, Mark and I thanked our hosts and bid our farewell, wishing them well and extending our own invitation to them should they ever venture our way in Ontario.

Our final tasks are to wash our rental car before returning it, having breakfast and picking up any last-minute gift, before heading back to the airport to check in and await our flight back to Toronto.

We've had an amazing 10 days in Iceland. Both Mark and I feel it surpassed our expectations. We had fantastic weather the entire time, cold but sunny – why even the blizzard we encountered in the mountains near Egilsstaðir has become part of our adventure and provided such a contrast, for example, when we were bathing in the hot springs at Lake Myvatn.

We've met some amazing people, had interesting and comfy accommodation, and experienced some of the most incredible scenery I've ever seen. Superlatives fall short in the land of cliché. You have to come and experience for yourself to know what I'm talking about. Both Mark and I would return here, without question. I would certainly want to stay longer and take in the Western Fjords in particular as well as explore more of the Easter Fjords. I also loved the north and would like to return to Husavik and go whale watching and get to the island of Grimsey.

We have so many highlights to savour and look forward to sharing our stories and photos with you in the near future.

More to follow.
 

Day 11 - Homeward Bound

I always find leaving a bit sad, especially when you enjoy the place you have been to and Iceland was no exception.

When I first wrote "An Adventure is Born" on the blog here, I mentioned the raw elements ... rock, wind, water, ice (and fire) and how I was drawn to them.  Much of that was based on seeing many of those elements from my trip to Newfoundland some years back, but in Iceland, the evidence of these were not just visual, they were felt.  They weren't just amazing views, they were part of everyday life in Iceland and without over thinking it, I have discovered Iceland is continuing to evolve and change - shaped by volcanic activity beneath, erosion from the sea around it and carved out by strong winds.

Sitting on the runway ready to head back to Toronto, my brother and I were successful in completing the 1400 kilometer Ring Road journey.  That was our goal.  Lords of the Ring (Road).  But, like any adventure, there is so much more; unexpected twists and turns, surprises around each corner, weather that changes quickly ... and we experienced all of that.  After-all, isn't that what makes the journey a great adventure.

Not only were we inspired and awed by the incredible mountain scenery, the majestic falls, the herds of reindeer, rich bird-life and wild horses ... there was a real human element as well.  My brother interviewed one of Iceland's premier storytellers Ingi Hans, we shared a meal with friends of friends who opened their home to two strangers and served us a Sunday supper with warm, engaging conversation.  There were the hosts we met and interacted with in the various BnBs who were kind, helpful and genuine.

Iceland experienced a crushing financial blow back in 2006 and life as they knew it was shook-up to say the least, but for a people that live with earthquakes and volcanoes erupting almost daily,  their tenacity and will to survive the obstacles is as strong as their Viking blood.  Tourism at least in this last decade had been the answer to help the country overcome some of the financial strain - but not without its challenges.  Two million visitors last year and a population of just three hundred thousand - opening their homes, creating and supporting an infrastructure to serve this throng.

The question even among Icelanders - where will it all end?  As resourceful a people Icelanders are, they are also a very private people, with strong ties to family and the land.  The conflict to share both is evident but for these two weary travelers, we say a heart-felt "Thank you!".  You have blessed us and we are so much richer for it.

 

In closing, I'll leave you with a quote I saw on the airport wall in Iceland that sums it up for me.

"On earth's part

all days start beautifully

patiently it revolves and revolves

with its trees

and oceans and lakes

deserts and volcanoes

the two of us and the rest if you

and all the animals"

Pétur Gunnarsson