Super Jeep Adventure

Trip Start Jan 22, 2009
Trip End Jan 26, 2009

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Today we woke up bright and early at 7:00 am.  After getting ready, we met downstairs to enjoy a hearty breakfast for the big day of touring the South Coast.  As we were waiting in the lobby, in walks the tiniest little Icelandic woman whose name we couldn't pronounce, but she told us to call her Reckna.  Reckna took us outside where we first saw the Super Jeep.  Not sure if the pictures do it justice, but for comparison's sake, imagine a Honda Civic with a CRV lift kit.  Take that same scale and apply it to a Pathfinder with monster tires.  The car was huge and now that I think about it, I never watched to see how Reckna was able to get in.  I had to lift Amy up every time we entered the Jeep.

As we exited Reykjavik, Reckna pointed out a few landmarks.  There was a trash can that marked the center of the city (just down the street from our hotel), the hot dog stand that Bill Clinton ate at (don't worry, we will come back to this later), and the house that Reagan and Gorbachev met that marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War. Once out of the city we took a portion of the Ring Road to the South Coast.  We saw the geothermal power plant, the ski slopes (which was first thought to be the sun rising, but these were just lights so that you can ski while the sun was down), a dairy farm town, and a town that had many greenhouses.  The dairy town produces most of Reykjavik's milk, cheese, and skyr.  Skyr comes in what looks like a yogurt container.  It tastes very much like yogurt as well, but we later found out that it was some sort of cheese concoction (high in protein, low in fat, and comes in many flavors that we would expect yogurt to come in).  The greenhouses in Iceland produce almost all the vegetables that are consumed within the country.  It is amazing what they can grow in that climate.  Most of the fruits are imported though.  However, there is one farmer who grows bananas and exported 5 of them so that he can say that Iceland is the only European country to export bananas.  

Other interesting facts about the country that we learned (if you are not interested, skip past the bullets):

- Icelandic horses are the size of ponies (they are just the tiniest little buggers), but are still very strong and can easily carry the weight of man.  Also, to prevent diseases, no other horses are allowed to be imported into Iceland.  Icelandic horses are allowed to be sold to other countries, but once they leave, they are not allowed to come back.  Reckna told us that the Lord of the Rings trilogy was going to be filmed in Iceland, but they wanted to use bigger horses and were not allowed to bring any into the country.  

- Crime in Iceland is almost non-existent.  We passed a very small house that was once a woman's prison.  However, since there were only 5 women prisoners, the small house was too big, and the women were shipped out.  There are only 100 male prisoners in the entire country (Iceland has 350,000 people).  Most of the criminals were drug dealers.  But since it is such a small, tight knit country, they were ratted out.  

We entered one more small town before our tour really started.  We stopped at a gas station here to use the WC and pick up some sandwiches for a 'picnic'.  The sandwich names were quite interesting.  There was a beef taco sandwich and a pepperoni pizza sandwich.  Amy and I shared a grilled chicken sandwich, and also picked up some snacks.  I noticed that they had one of my favorite flavors of pringles that you don't find in the States, paprika flavored.  They taste similar to bbq flavored, but not as sweet.  Iceland is now the 15th country I have enjoyed pringles in. We also met Reckna's son at the rest stop.  He is 18 and has a super jeep of his own that he is taking 3 of his friends on the trip.

We continued down Ring Road until we came to Seljalandsfoss (a waterfall) on the left side.  We turned down the street, but kept going past the waterfall.  At this point, the road was no longer paved but was made up of lava rocks, and Reckna said in the winter, there is no maintenance on this road.  We continued further down the road until we came to a river.  I just assumed this was the end as we had come to a stop.  But that was only momentarily as Reckna changed gears and through the river we went.  The road got worse, and we passed many more rivers until we finally arrived at a glacier called Eyjafjallajokull.  This is certainly a site to see.  There was a river in front of it flowing with glacier water.  The glacier is melting more every year thanks to global warming.  Around the glacier were black volcanic rocks as well.  We hiked around, took a few pictures, and hopped back in the Jeep.

Further down the "road" (have to put that in quotes as we are pretty much making our own road at this point,) we stopped for lunch.  There was a huge rock on one side and Iceland's smallest police station on the other.  Behind us, across a huge field was a lodge where hikers stay in the summer as they follow a 40 hour hiking path.  The area we are in is known as Thorsmork.  Reckna tells us the lodge is actually very nice in the winter as well since no one stays there and you have great views of the northern lights.  Problem is that there could be a heavy winter storm that will leave you stuck for a few days.  

Following lunch, Reckna asked us if we wanted to go for a hike.  We could follow part of a 40 hour hike (that is popular in the summer) by cutting through the mountains from the lodge in front of us, to another one on the other side.  She was going to drive around and pick us up on the other side.  It was only a 30 minute hike, so we figured how bad could it be (foreshadowing).  Well we were told that her son's friends would go with us, and they knew the way.  So we grabbed our stuff and headed out.  About 5 minutes into the hike, it started to rain.  Being cold is one thing, but cold, wet, and hiking is not a good combination when you have Amy in the group (at least Harrow decided not to come on the trip).  The path we were following soon disappeared as well since it was covered in snow.  Often times the boys would argue in Icelandic for a few minutes when we came to a fork in the road before saying in broken English "Come this way."  Then, as we came to a few more forks in the road, they were asking our opinion on which way to go.  Not a good sign.  The hike ended up taking about an hour and we were fairly soaked, but it was great scenery (I can only imagine what it is like in the summer) and lots of fun (for some of us).  At the end we felt like Bear Grylls at the end of an episode of Man vs. Wild when we saw the Jeeps in the distance.  

We hauled ourselves back up into the Super Jeep and got back on the road to stop to check out a cave that has been carved out by a glacier (also known as a canyon).  But first we had to cross a river (on foot) to get to the canyon area.  Ken went first and made it about half way across before having to come back with wet feet.  I went next and made it across with only one soaked foot.  Amy and Jon followed with no problems, and then Ken made it.  This is an area that not many tourists get to see.  I feel like we had a lot of these experiences since Reckna cared more about her son and his friends' entertainment than ours, but we got to see a lot of local spots we otherwise wouldn't have.  On the way back I misstepped and got the other foot soaked.  On the way home we stopped at the Seljalandsfoss waterfall to take some pictures.  There is a walking path behind the waterfall, but we opted not to go as we didn't want to get more wet.  On the way home, we switched seats a bit to give Jon the front seat.  He slept the whole ride there, so luckily for Reckna, she was able to give the reverse tour for him, while Ken, Amy, and I slept on the way home.

Reckna brought us back to our hotel and we could hear loud drums beating.  There was a demonstration going on in front of the Parliament Building, which just happened to be right down the street from us.  Apparently the people are not happy with the government officials after the collapse of the economy that caused a 40% unemployment rate.  I wanted to check it out, but the opportunity to take a quick nap before the evening won.  So we all went our own ways to refresh for a few hours.

We met back up to find some dinner.  Ken and I read about a place on the harbor that is known for their lobster soup.  The restaurant is called the Sea Barron (Sægreifinn) (the website is one of the best I have ever seen) and happens to look like a shack (we almost didn't go in as it was empty).  There is no menu, as you walk in there is a refrigerated area on the left that has different fish kabobs that they grill for you, and of course there is the lobster soup.  We start with 4 lobster soups and 4 Viking Lights.  When they say light beer, they mean it at 2.25% alcohol.  The lobster soup came with a huge basket of bread.  The lobsters in Iceland are smaller than we are used to with Maine lobsters, but have much more flavor, and the soup was fantastic.  As we were eating, the restaurant, which had 3 long picnic tables, started filling up quickly.  I noticed they had whale kabobs, so I decided to order one for the table.  The whale looked and had the consistency of steak, but tasted like it had been brined in sea water for a few years (makes sense).  It was actually very good (although Amy did not like it).  The woman behind the counter decided to bring by some freebies of local cuisine.  There was a trio of putrified shark, sheep's head, and sheep's "balls".  I wouldn't say any of them were good, but the shark was the best.  It tasted similar to a small block of cheese (with a rancid smell).  I tried the sheep's head as well, which tasted like a gelatin.  It was tough to keep down.  After a lot of peer pressure, I finally tried the sheep's testicles.  Again not a fan, but Amy certainly loved it. I say that because when Amy went to the ladies' room we told some of the other tourists there to try the sheep's balls because it was Amy's favorite. She heard us from the restroom, and came tearing out to set the record straight.  It was a running joke the rest of the night.

It was getting a little late, close to 10pm at this point.  Still too early for the locals to go out, but we figured we wanted to get a head start on exploring the nightlife in Reykjavik.  The Icelandic people certainly know how to party hard, even when the economy is down and there is only sunlight for 5 hours a day.  We weren't able to witness it yesterday as we went to bed too early, but Saturdays are supposed to be the big party nights.  Bars typically start to get crowded around midnight and last till 4, 5, even 6 in the morning.  After wandering around for a while to find a local joint, we ended up back near our hotel at a sports bar.  On the tele was the Barcelona v Numancia Empanadas.  Ken thought he saw the word Emapanadas somewhere on the screen, so we decided that was their team name.  This was your typical grungy sports bar and was not suited for everyone in the party, so we decided to move to attached bar next door that had live music playing.  We sat down at a table and lucked out by finding one of the best cover bands in all of Reykjavik.  You name a rock song and this band could play it.  They had a terrific 3 consecutive song set of Born to Be Wild, Times Like These (by the foo fighters), and a remake of Baby Hit Me One More Time.  We captured a video that can be found above, just click 'show all photos and videos'. We also decided to enjoy another round of Brennivin while listening to the band.  Just as delicious as I "remembered" from the night before.

We left after an hour and a half to try to find another bar.  As we walked down the street we decided to go into a club. We couldn't see a name of the place but decided to take a chance.  The music and women were certainly hot in this place.  There was Flo Rider as we first walked in, but as we stayed longer, the music got more recent.  Once the song Single Ladies by Beyonce came on, we had to run on the dance floor to show off our moves.  We stayed for a while, but decided to leave when I saw Jon being followed by a strange looking, drunk Icelandic fellow.  We went looking for an Ice Bar (which was close to our hotel), but unfortunately it was closed.  So of course we decided to head back to the English Pub.  The place was packed tonight and there was another band playing.  This band was 2 guys playing acoustic guitar, and they were fantastic as well.  We found our Norwegian friends hanging out in the same spot they were at yesterday (I wonder if they ever left).  After talking to them for a while, we decided to move closer to the door where there was more room and it was a little cooler.  We had great conversations with a group of Icelandic girls and another group of British girls.  It's funny how everyone we spoke to all weekend long thought that Barrack Obama is going to save their country as well as ours in the next few months.  Apparently they are as delusional as we are.  One of the Icelandic chicas tried to convince me she was from Austin, Texas and at that point I decided it was time to go.  It was also 3:30 in the morning.

Before heading home though, we had to try out the famous hot dog stand that Bill Clinton went to.   It is called Bæjarins Bestu and all they sell is hot dogs.  But it kind of reminds me of In-N-Out Burger as the menu is small, but there is an extensive secret menu.  We saw one guy with 3 dogs on one bun.  The hot dogs were very good, had quite a snap to it as if they were fried.  I like my hot dogs plain (I know weird).  Jon and Amy tried it with the "special sauce."  Jon and I decided that one wasn't enough, and at this point I started to smell a strong odor from onions.  Not sure how I missed that before, so I got fried onions on the second round.  The onions were crushed up and heavily layered on the dog.  Let's just say I am happy there is not one of these stands closer to where I live.  We headed home and decided to call it a night.
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