Crystal Clear

Day 11!  Our last day on the Ring Road.  Our sole goal for the day was to make it from Stöðvarfjörður over to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in time for our ice cave tour – our splurge for the trip since these are only available up through mid-March.  Since we were still several hours away, we woke up bright and early with the sunrise to head out in our trusty little car (seriously, shout out to this tiny thing for getting us around Iceland despite snow, wind, and unpaved roads).

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I was hoping that the sun would slowly be following us and hitting each fjord we had to drive around so we could have a basically endless sunrise, but I definitely overestimated how fast the sun could move.  Still, we managed to see some cool sights in our rush, like this group of deer (sorry for the poor quality – didn’t have room in my luggage to bring a proper telephoto lens).  Ben’s goal was to see a different animal every day, so this satisfied him.

We decided to do a little more splurging for the day (food in Iceland is so expensive) when we arrived in Höfn just in time for lunch.  If East Iceland is known for anything besides picturesque ocean-side villages, it’s the food.  This area produces a lot of locally-sourced Icelandic dishes (Icelandic lamb, fish, etc.).  Höfn in particular is a seaside town known for its langoustine (a species of small lobster), so we all grabbed langoustine sandwiches for about $18 each at a fast-food diner called Hafnarbuðin.  After days of surviving on hot dogs and ham sandwiches, having something fresh with produce in it was divine.

We made it to the glacier lagoon with enough time to explore a little before going on the tour.  At the lagoon, you can see the glacier far off in the distance. Along the beach itself, large chunks of ice that have broken off and traveled down the river are sprawled across the water and over the land.  Apparently these chunks can look a little like large diamonds if they are sitting in the right light.

The tour that we chose to do was the Crystal Cave tour with Glacier Trips (most of the tour groups offer essentially the same tours, so I’m not sure how big of a difference the company you choose makes).  After the long, bumpy ride in the van to the mouth of the cave, we put on our crampons and helmets and walked inside with our local guides.

The crystal cave sits at the mouth of the glacier, formed from years of pressure being put on the ice as it moves down the slope towards the outlet of the glacier.  Inside the cave, the ice glows a clear blue and stepping inside feels like you’ve entered into a mythical alternate universe.  Our guide told us that on the ground, too, was actually a different crystallized form of ice than normal snow.  Up close, it looks like billions of individual little glass microbeads.

Sadly, because it is such a popular tourist spot and you can’t go without a guide, it can be rather difficult to get some place to yourself.  When we saw this little corner of the cave being abandoned by another group, we quickly jumped on it to snap some pictures and explore around.  We climbed up a little hole we found at the end until it reached the outside again, and then slid back down into the cave on our butts.  The best slides are the ones that go down a tunnel into a crystal ice cave!

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After our little adventure, we relocated back to our group just as our tour guide began talking about the cave and some myths associated with it.  According to him, the water of the ice caves is supposed to be like the Icelandic version of the fountain of youth – drink some and you’ll stay young forever.  Being the ripe old age of 22, we’re not getting any younger over here, so obviously we had to try some.  Like all the other water in Iceland, it still tastes better than any water you can get in California, so even if it doesn’t work, it’s a good way to hydrate yourself.

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Since we still had time to kill before our tour group had to go back, our guides brought us to a more secluded cave, the black ice cave.  They split our group in two so that half the group could wander around on the glacier while the other half explored the cave.

Our half got to go glacier walking first, so we put our crampons and helmets back on and headed out onto the glacier.  Because the glaciers are hard ice, walking on them can be pretty difficult, and with everything covered in snow, you never know what you might step on.  Ben ended up taking one wrong step and falling into a hole that went up to his ribs.  Thankfully, he was fine, so I ended up just laughing at him.  I suggest being nicer and more worried about your friends, though. Oops.

With that, we were headed back into the cave.  The guides gave us only one strong light to guide the way, so a lot of stumbling over rocks and trying to navigate in complete darkness ensued.

When we did happen to get light in different areas of the cave, though, the ice formations were magnificent.  And of course we all couldn’t help getting a mouthful of the water that was just streaming off of a cluster of melting icicles.  Forever young, right?

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When we were done, we ran back off to the warmth of the van for another bumpy 40-minute ride back to the lagoon.  We grabbed a kleinur, a.k.a. an Icelandic donut, to share (this was the only picture of it I got because we were too hungry…sorry, Ben, for posting this) and then we were on our way back to Reykjavik!

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It was already late in the afternoon and starting to get dark, so we didn’t get to see many sights on our way back.  We did make a pitstop by the Eldhraun lava fields (if you plan on visiting, this spans a large portion of the land between Kalfafell and Vík).  The cooled lava from Lakagígar, one of the largest lava flows in recent times, has become overgrown with moss over the last couple hundred years.  Sadly, a storm was blowing in and it was too windy for us to stay out more than a couple minutes.  We also tried to visit the black sand beaches by Vík, but Li almost got blown away by the wind when he walked outside for a minute and we were scared our car door was going to get ripped off, so we quickly left.  Maybe next time, Iceland.

We finished off our last day on the road by buying seasoned lamb from the grocery store (no pictures – we all just wanted to eat, sorry).  We’re dumb, though, and forgot how important oil was so we ended up just boiling the lamb, which still wasn’t bad.  If you’re looking to save money, buying Icelandic foods you want to try from the grocery store and cooking them at an AirBnB is a pretty cost-effective option!  Especially since most AirBnBs in Iceland seem to offer some sort of kitchen or at least a hotplate for cooking.  Successfully completing the Rind Road in 3 days with no major accidents or incidents?  Checked off the bucket list!

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