Update from yesterday – as expected, we did not venture to the pool last night. Sleep was much more important. Most of the group got a good night’s sleep, because they closed their windows and the blackout curtains in their room. The (male) adults chose to keep the window open for the breeze, and left the blackout curtain open a bit also. We learned two things this way – first, that people come and go from the gravel parking lot outside our room at all hours of the night, and second, that we are now in the Land of the Midnight Sun. We are far enough north that the sun does not set this time of year.
We met for breakfast at 8 AM today, so that we were ready for our 8:45 departure. Well, the adults and a couple of the scouts were there at 8. The rest trickled in from around 8:15 until 8:44 and 59 seconds. Everybody at least has some of the vegetables, fruit, toast, and yogurt for breakfast. This healthy eating stuff might just catch on.
Our planned tour for today is The Golden Circle, which includes a number of geographically and/or historically significant sites just outside Reykjavik. First up was Thingvellir, which is the site where the Icelandic assembly (parliament) met for about 800 years, until the late 1800s. It’s also where the Great Rift Valley starts, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are very, very, very slowly being pulled apart. So at this location we’re basically walking on some filled in dirt over top of the Earth’s mantle. The name of this place doesn’t really start with Th, it starts with an Icelandic character that has never been on any keyboard I’ve used. Something like a P with a ponytail. They let us Americans call it Thingvellir. It was also a film site for Game of Thrones – the entrance to the Eyrie was filmed here, for those familiar with the series.
Thingvellir was very interesting and educational. It was also very cold, rainy, and windy. The wind has surprised us. We’re on an island in the middle of the North Atlantic. Who would have expected wind? The scouts were also enthralled by the helicopter hovering nearby. Our guide (Asdis again) suggested that possibly a celebrity was diving in a nearby lake. The truth was simpler – the helicopter was bringing in equipment to build a stage to celebrate Iceland’s century of independence. It made for a nice diversion, although it’s possible the helicopter was blowing the rain down harder on us. At least it felt that way. Michael, of course, chose this day to wear shorts, and insisted all day (through chattering teeth) that he wasn’t cold.
Our next stop was a change in our original agenda. We were scheduled to visit a cathedral, because that’s what you do when you go to Europe – castles and cathedrals. Asdis suggested that we switch this out for a visit to a boiling hot spring and some Icelandic horses. We didn’t even bother to ask the scouts if they approved of the switch, we knew the answer already. The hot spring was next to a lake that, not surprisingly, was rather warm. The scouts had the chance to dig down a little in the sand by the lake, to see how warm it gets in less than half an inch. There was a small pool of bubbling water nearby also, and Asdis felt compelled to remind the scouts not to put their hands in the boiling water. She clearly has experience with this age group. The entire area smelled distinctly of sulphur. Ainsley must have never had experience with rotten eggs, because she was mystified by the smell.
Next up was the Gullfoss waterfall. This is the second largest waterfall in Iceland, and was quite impressive, with water cascading over several levels. We walked all the way to the rocky outcrop just above the waterfall. At this point, it was hard to tell what was rain and what was spray. Either way, we stayed wet. We took a photo of the group at the top of the falls. Ed and Marie, don’t worry, Jackson is still with us, he was just fascinated by the waterfall and missed the photo. If you check out the video on Facebook, you can see when he realizes what we’re doing. The walk back up (and up and up) to the upper parking lot reminded some of their Philmont days. I was fortunate to not need medical attention by the time I reached the parking lot.
We stopped by to see the Icelandic horses next. These are smaller than the horses we are used to seeing, and they stand right next to the fence, making them easy to pet. The reason they stand there was then obvious – a stand selling “horse candy” was right next to the gate. Asdis bought some so that everyone could take a turn feeding the horses. Joey, still having some money in his pocket, got more to feed them. Getting horsehair on their hands just before lunch was not anticipated by the crew.
Next we went over to Geysir. Yes, this is the regular waterspout that gave its name to these geological features, like Old Faithful in Yellowstone. The original geyser here is now dormant, but another one has “sprouted”. It goes off every 6 to 10 minutes, but you have to be there (up the hill I wasn’t climbing) to see it. It’s only about 5 feet tall. Nick took a video, so I can still say I saw Geysir. There was some confusion over the pronunciation of the name. Most thought it was pronounced Guy-sir. Some thought it was Gee-sir, but they may have been referring to the older gentleman they met on the trek up the hill.
During this exploration, we found the first violation of our buddy system. Alistair was wandering around on his own, although not at all disturbed by this. We took the opportunity to remind the scouts that the penalty for violating the buddy system is to spend the day with the adults. We feel that this threat will be enough to prevent a recurrence.
We had lunch at the hotel at Geysir. This was a quite good buffet lunch, including both hot and cold food lines, plus a soup line that was initially hidden from Mr. Chiodo. It also featured Geysirbread, which is bread made by cooking it for 24 hours in the underground hot water pools. It was quite good, slightly sweet and very dense. And not at all smelling of sulfur.
Along the way today, we learned about some of Iceland’s efforts to combat erosion, which is common on an island that’s basically 150+ volcanoes. One of their more successful endeavors is importing Alaskan lupine plants, which are quite beautiful purple flowering plants. See the Facebook page for a picture of these growing by the side of the road. They also spread very quickly and overwhelm native plants, creating a new nuisance for Iceland. It’s like the bamboo at home, only pretty.
Next up was another waterfall, called Faxi, which is horse’s mane in Icelandic. The falls kind of look like a horse’s mane, if you squint really hard. We had a great view of the waterfall from a deck just below the parking lot, so naturally the crew had to walk all the way down to the falls, since they hadn’t gotten wet enough yet today. We did learn that Iceland attempted to count their waterfalls once, and stopped after they reached over 20,000.
Our final stop of the day was Hveragerdi, a village formed around available geothermal pools early last century. (This is another case of Americanized spelling. The d in this name is really another unfindable Icelandic letter.) This village features a number of greenhouses for growing produce. It also features a small mall, including a bakery, library, supermarket, and an exhibit on the earthquake in the area in 2008. The most frightening aspect of the earthquake was the security video from the liquor store. It was a terrible tragedy to see all of those wonderful bottles of liquor come crashing down on the floor. At the bakery, Caroline bought a couple of the local specialty cinnamon rolls, and shared them with the scouts and adults. She’s our new favorite member of the crew, by the way. Joey went to the supermarket, and bought several cans of beans (I’m not making this up), and then ate one can in the bus before we headed back out. His roommates at the hostel are now negotiating with the other scouts for a change in sleeping arrangements.
When we returned to the hostel (and available Wi-fi), we learned that the Jamborette has (finally) sent out the emails requesting parents to update medical information for their scouts. Please check the primary email address that you provided for your scout for this email, and complete this promptly. We are aware (thanks to Mr. Chiodo’s cursing) that this is a lot of information you’ve already provided on the medical form, but they are looking for this information electronically before we arrive with the forms. Like we told Mr. Chiodo, just do what they asked.
Let me explain before I tell you about dinner tonight. We were told by several people to get this while in Iceland, as it’s simply better than what is available in the US, due to the use of cheese from Iceland. That is what led to us ordering six pizzas from Dominos tonight. We had cheese, pepperoni, and pepperoni/bacon/green pepper. It was bacon instead of sausage, which they don’t offer here. We are inclined to agree that this is much better pizza than we get at home. The offer also came with breadsticks and Nutella sticks, which went fast. Mark and Shane had to fight back feelings of shame from their treasonous behavior, but there are no Papa John’s franchises in Iceland. Maybe they can convince Ray to branch out internationally. Sophia and Jackson took it upon themselves to clean up the dishes after pizza, which allowed the adults to focus on what’s really important – writing this blog.
With dinner behind us, it was time to head out for the geothermal pool next door. There will be no doubt where we’re from – both Joey and Jordan have American flag swim trunks. The water was a toasty 38 degrees – Celsius. This was also a new experience in the European style of bathing for the scouts. That’s all we’re saying on this matter – ask your scout when they return. On our way back to the hostel, Joey found a hot dog stand and, still having a few Icelandic krona left, had to get a hot dog. This was despite the leaders pointing out that we had almost 2 full pizzas left over from dinner.
Tomorrow’s plan is a tour of the southern shore of Scotland, again with Asdis as our guide and Sola as our driver. We are continuing to update our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/blairathollmaryland/ with photos from our trip. Feel free to share with your friends – Miss Shannon is very excited to see us “going viral”.