Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

Waking up at 5am had never been so easy, it was the day of the gorilla trek!

After breakfast we all hopped into 5 vans and headed off at 6:30am.  Got to the gorilla meeting point where there was probably over 100 other tourists waiting. While we waited for our permits to be sorted there was a dance performance and tea and coffee.

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Once the permits were sorted we were broken up into our groups for the day which was who was in our van in the morning, my group was Megan, Eli, Elisa, Pascie and Celine.  Our guide was called Roger and he had worked in the park for 7 years.  He told us that we would be going to see the Kuryma Family. Named after the previous silverback, Kuryma had since died and the new silverback was Vuba. I think he said there was 13 in this family and there was a new baby called Ndezeye and his mother was Pasaka.

We drove 30 minutes to our starting point in Volcanoes National Park where the gorillas are.  Volcanoes National Park is exactly what it sounds like – bulk volcanoes!

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Walking up the fields, Volcano in background!

I had mentally prepared myself for a tough day of hiking (not physically prepared because let’s be honest it’s me we’re talking about here) The tour trip notes and previous accounts of people doing the trek I had read talked about potentially hiking up to 6 hours up the side of the volcano through thick jungle. Going through rivers and mud and we were told to bring gloves because you might need to drag yourself up and it’s best to have protection for your hands. So really I was expecting a hard day but to be rewarded at the end with the gorillas.

It. Was. Easy.

The toughest part of the walk was the first 30 minutes up the steep slope of the volcano through farms and properties. And by tough I mean I had to stop a couple of times to catch my breath (note to self: do more exercise). We got to the edge of the park and were met by a tracker.  The trackers wake up first thing in the morning and go find the gorillas, they spend all day with the gorillas until they go to sleep so that they know where to start looking the next day. We walked along the stone wall that fenced the park to an entry point a bit further down.

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Rainforest

From there we continued to climb up the volcano but it was not as steep, we were walking along a path so there was no pushing through thick jungle. The mud I was worried about? It’s dry season! No rain = no mud. We walked through a couple of places where you could tell would be rough to try to squelch your way through during rainy season.

We had hired 2 porters as well, so I didn’t even have to carry my bag! Only thing I carried was my stupid walking stick which I decided was a great idea to have because it had a cool gorilla on top.

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My gorilla walking stick – note to self: do not hire walking stick because it looks cool

 

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“Trekking” up through rainforest

After only an hour and a half of trekking *cough walking* we met the other trackers.  We had to leave our bags behind at this point and were only allowed to carry our cameras.

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Roger on the left and our 4 trackers.

We followed the trackers but the family had moved so we had to stay put while the trackers went and found them again.  A short while later we were guided to the family, we went through the thick forest and suddenly we had 4 gorillas in front of us!! The mother, baby, a younger female and a 7 year old male! I was sooooooo excited, I was mentally jumping around like crazy!

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GORILLAS!

 

We walked up a bit closer to them and were only 1-2 metres from then. A few minutes after we had been there the 7 year old male suddenly ran at me and grabbed my bum!!!!! He then grabbed hold of my leg and sort of pulled at me for a second then let go. I was a mixture of holy crap a gorilla just ran at me is this dangerous? And also OMG A GORILLA JUST GRABBED ME, BEST DAY EVER!! The others in my group said I had gone completely white (whiter than normal I suppose) and I was shaking for a good 10 minutes afterwards.

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This lad grabbed my butt!

Just as I got over my gorilla interaction the same gorilla jumped down from higher ground and wrapped its arms around Eli and Megan, full wrestling move going on! Our guide said it was nothing to worry about and that they like to play. Ok! Still don’t want to play with a gorilla who weighs more than me and could snap me in two! As much as I loved it I’m still wary of him being a wild animal!

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Baby Ndezeye 

We spent the next hour watching the gorillas, in total we saw 8 gorillas. The first 4, another 2 a bit further up the hill and we walked a bit through the forest and saw the big silverback and another male! They were both sleeping, I couldn’t quite see the size of them because they were lying down. I wasn’t too bothered because the thought of a silverback jumping around like the younger male had been earlier gave me the horrors!

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Mother Pasaka

We spent most of the time with the original 4 we saw which was fantastic. The baby was so playful, running all around, it came right up to us on a number of occasions. It was amazing how human like they are as well! I loved every moment of it!!

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Roger told us our time was up, and we very reluctantly left the family behind. We went back and grabbed our bags and headed back down the volcano, moved a lot faster going down the hill!

When we got to the edge of the forest we continued down a different path through the farms, had kids running from all directions to wave at us as we walked down and then we had a group of 6 of them start doing a song and dance as we went by which was pretty cool!

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Kids running out to say hi!

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Little dance performance on the way down

Hopped in our van and went to the shops so we could get our certificates and do some souvenir shopping if we wanted. Met up with the others and caught up on their experiences from the morning. No one else had any butt grabbing going on!

Got back in the van and went back to town, such an amazing experience and I’d come back again in a heartbeat!

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BEST. DAY. EVER.

Fun Facts

Volcanoes National Park spreads across Rwanda, Uganda and Congo. There are eight volcanoes in the park.

Volcanoes National Park is the only place in the world where you can see mountain gorillas and the golden monkey (bonus picture below of golden monkey)

Due to conservation Mountain Gorilla numbers are going up – our guide said that not many more families would be able to live in the area because there would be too many.

At one point we were only 2km from the border with Congo

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Golden Monkey – we did a short walk the day after the Gorillas and spent an hour pushing through bamboo forest chasing these guys around. Amazing!

Rwanda – My 40th Country!

After Kenya and Uganda we crossed the border into Rwanda.  Crossing the border was an interesting experience as Rwanda has banned plastic bags since 2008.  Our guide told us earlier in the trip that we either needed to throw out all our plastic bags or conceal them for the duration of our stay in Rwanda.  If one plastic bag was found then the whole truck and all our luggage would be searched.

After getting out of Uganda and stamped into Rwanda we all had to pull our hand luggage off the truck to be searched. Once it was searched a plain clothes policeman came on the truck and walked up and down the aisles looking at our seats and the shelves. Afterwards he asked for our lockers to be opened one by one so he could check the luggage. After 6 lockers were opened he decided all was okay and he left the truck – phew!

We continued on our way and I noticed the change immediately from Uganda to Rwanda. The streets were CLEAN! Hardly any litter anywhere! So far throughout Kenya and Uganda it has been constant rubbish all over the streets. This is in part because as well as the plastic bag ban the president has also made the last Monday of each month a Clean Up Day. Everyone is expected to go out to the streets and pick up litter, quite incredible really!

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Note the lack of litter!

 

Shortly after passing the border we got to the Genocide Museum, we only had an hour at the museum which was hardly enough time!

The genocide was a horrible part of the Rwandan history and the museum gave a fantastic overview of what had happened.  Unfortunately due to the lack of time I had to skip some parts, but I’ve already decided that I am coming back to Rwanda so when I do I’ll be sure to come back to the museum.

The roots of the genocide began when the Germans colonised Rwanda. When they arrived they created a class system between the local people despite them having previously lived in harmony.  The three groups that were separated were the Tutsis, Hutus and Twas.  The Tutsis made up the elite 10% of the population (measured by if you owned more than 10 cows), the Hutus were the majority of the population (owned less than 10 cows) and the remaining Twas were only 1-2% of the population (not much was said about the Twas so I don’t know much else about them).

As time went on it wasn’t just the wealth that separated the Tutsis and the Hutus it was things like what jobs they could have and even physical appearance such as the shape of their nose.  The Tutsis ended up being in a powerful position while the Hutus were oppressed.  As time went on the Hutu Power Movement started to emerge, and part of that was the fight against their oppression.  Plans began to be formed to take “revenge” on the Tutsis which essentially was the foundations of the genocide.  The President was out of the country when things were reaching their peak and he announced he was flying back to Rwanda with the President of Benin to defuse the situation.

On April 6, 1994 the plane carrying the president was shot down, an hour later the genocide had started.  Hutu’s were given the instruction to kill all Tutsis, whether they were family, friend or neighbour.  They were told to do it in a way that would cause the most pain so majority of the deaths were caused by machetes, hammers and blunt objects.

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Mass graves

There were a few videos throughout the museum that gave survivors testimonies of what they experienced.  A lot of them had seen their families murdered in front of them by people they had known their whole life. There was one boy who had watched his godfather who was a Hutu kill his brother and sister.  By the time the genocide was over, 100 days later, an estimated 1 million people had been killed.

There was a section that spoke about the lack of international and UN intervention, despite constant cries for help.  There were promises of aid that were never followed through.  In the end it was the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), led by the current president Paul Kagame, who came in and stopped the genocide. At this stage I had run out of time and had to race out of the exhibit so I’ll need to do some reading on the topic.

I was able to have a quick look at some other parts of the exhibit, there was a room that had details about child victims, a room with hundreds of photographs of victims, a room filled with bones and clothes of the dead, as well as that there was another area that had information on other genocides in the world (Holocaust etc).  I had a quick look outside at the wall of names, still under construction and the mass graves.

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We had been told we had to be back on the truck at 11:15am so I rushed the last part of the museum.  I was trying to find the group and headed towards the café where my guide, driver and cook were sitting. They were finishing a meal and I asked how much time we had and they said 15 minutes.  Asked at the counter how long guacamole would take to make and they said 5 minutes, yes!

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Guacamole heaven!

Ordered a fresh pineapple juice and guacamole and called home on the WiFi.  The guacamole came out, sooooo delicious! I smashed it down, checked the time and had 2 minutes to get back to the truck. Legged it to the truck and saw our driver waiting for me to get on, when I got on the truck I noticed that people seemed a bit angry, I decided it probably wasn’t the best time to mention the amazing guacamole I had just ate.

I found out later that there had been confusion with the time to be back on the truck.  Some people had got back exactly at an hour and were upset that they didn’t get more time at the museum, others showed up 30 minutes later who had lost track of time, apparently people were yelling at each other and a lot of people got upset.

Then you had me running to get back on time (well apparently half an hour late oops), full stomach, loving the guacamole life, happy to speak to the family! I have no idea what happened with the time situation and I wasn’t going to let it upset me! Spent the next 2 hours driving to Kigali sticking my head out the window waving at kids on the side of the road and taking pictures of the scenery!

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Out the window – excuse the quality!

We pulled into town at about 3pm, across the road from our accommodation was a stadium which our guide said was a political rally and it would be safe to check out but just keep a distance.  Eli, Megan and I walked over to the stadium, as we got closer we noticed there was a choir and singing and dancing. Not what I would expect of a political rally?

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At the stadium

We were approached by a guy who works for the bike tour company that Intrepid uses, he told us it wasn’t a political rally but a Sunday church session! Him and another guy kept telling us to come join in, we kept declining and said we didn’t want to interrupt. Three others from our group showed up and we decided to go sit down for a while. The guide cleared a spot on the benches right near the front and for the next two hours we joined in! Such an amazing experience!! Apparently every so often a group of churches get together for a big Sunday service as a part of rebuilding and moving forward from the Genocide.  We saw three different choir groups, one from the city we were in, one from Congo and another I can’t remember where from.

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The music was amazing, the crowd was singing the whole time and getting up and dancing every now and then.  We ended up with about 20 kids sitting all around us, and when I pulled out my phone to take photos of the choir I ended up spending the next 30 minutes taking selfies with the kids who were fascinated by the screen! I had kids stroking my hair, two girls bickering over who would sit next to me, and a little cutie next to Megan that wanted to wear her sunglasses.

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After an hour of being there a woman came up to tell her story, the guide gave a very brief summary which was essentially that she had been a prostitute and an alcoholic, and after years of problems she had been reborn and found God, all I understood throughout her speech was the odd Hallelujah from the crowd.

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Spot the tourists! Photo cred: Megan

We left at about 5pm with our ears ringing! One of those amazing spontaneous experiences you can have overseas.  It was a nice way to end the day after the genocide museum, the rest of the night I was on such a high.

Great way to spend the evening before the Gorilla Trek!

 

National Parks in Kenya and Uganda

Across Kenya and Uganda we visited three National Parks, below is a brief overview and some pictures!

Lake Nakuru National Park

First stop leaving Nairobi was Lake Nakuru National Park, we did a game drive into the park and set up camp in the pouring rain (great first night to learn how to put up tents). The following morning we packed up our tents and did a game drive on the way out of the park. This was my first game drive so every animal we saw I was super excited about including the more common animals (zebra, water buffalo, warthogs, impala etc)! I wonder if that will still be the case by the time I get to Cape Town in two months (probably).

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Baboon that was watching us eat at our lunch stop. Fun fact baboons aren’t scared of white people, our driver and cook had to keep chasing them away because traditionally rangers have dark skin so they are only scared of them!

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Zebra! Lots and lots of zebra! I still love them!

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Water buffalo – 1 of the big 5!

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Baby buffalo!

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Impala

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Water buck

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Flamingo’s flying off

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Rhino! We saw six rhino in total

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Giraffe!

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Also saw a baby rhino!

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Scenery along the way

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Apparently this tree releases a poison ten minutes after they start eating it, so they move on before the poison effects them.

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Animals everywhere!

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Mates

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Big yawn

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Black faced vervet

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Rhino

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Mum and baby

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Lots of babies!

 

Kalinzu Forest National Park

We camped overnight at Kalinzu Forest and the following morning we did a 5.5km into the forest to spot Chimpanzees! After an hour and a half we still hadn’t had any success, our guide contacted one of the other groups and they were with a Chimp so we raced through the forest to find the other group.  We were lucky to see a male Chimp and about 30 minutes later we saw a mother and baby!

Taking photos of them was easier said than done because they were way up in the canopy in the shade with the bright sky behind them. I got a couple of semi decent photos which you can see below!

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Saw a big snail! Hand for size!

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The male monkey – best photo I got was his butt!

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Mother with baby, you can see the hand of the baby sticking out

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and another one!

Queen Elizabeth National Park

We spent two nights in Queen Elizabeth National Park, first afternoon we did a small game drive on the way to camp saw lots of hippos in the water!  Following morning we went for a longer game drive and that afternoon we did a river cruise where we were able to see lots of animals up close.  The following day as we were leaving the campsite we were incredibly lucky to see a leopard! It was sitting about 3-4m from the truck just on the side of the road and posing nicely! We spent about 20 minutes taking photos of it but we had to move on quickly because it seemed to be getting a bit agitated from someone using flash on their camera – stupid (I don’t want a leopard to eat me thanks). We left the park on a high! Our guide told us that she had not seen a leopard in this park in 5 years!

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Hammerkop stealing fisherman’s catch

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Water buck

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Maribou stalk flying along – the stork is one of the ugly 5!

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Lots of hippo in the water!

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Ankole cow – they are unique to Uganda

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Spotty goat near one of the villages!

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Mama elephant, only couple metres from our truck checking us out

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Male and female lion, we saw them mating. I actually got a video which I will try upload.

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Lion in the foreground with a gazelle watching on! All of the nearby gazelles were on high alert!

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Water buffalo after a mud bath!

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Baby elephant!

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Pied kingfisher – there were hundreds of them flying around when we did the river cruise

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Nile crocodile, duck and water buffalo!

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Nile crocodile!

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Again we saw lots of hippos, including a dead hippo – what a stench!

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Elephant lads hanging by the water!

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Male elephants

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Monitor

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Baby hippo! We saw two!

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Warthog with babies, we saw a lot of little pumbas along the river!

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THE LEOPARD!!!

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Crouching down and watching us! (RUN AWAY)

We saw all these animals and more in the first week of my holiday! Only 8 more weeks of watching these beautiful animals every other day! I get excited when I see a cow or a cat on the side of the road so I’m sure you can imagine my level of happiness every day when I see these unique animals!

Iceland Part 3/3 – Whales and Waterfalls

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Day 7 – Husavik to Reydarfjordur

Out the door by 8am as we had a 9am booking for whale watching! When we went to pick up our tickets the man at the counter said that the water was rough and we would get a refund if we didn’t want to go. I shrugged my shoulders and was like nah it will be fine, he paused for quite a long time, eventually shrugged and then gave us our tickets… weird.

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North Sailing

We walked to the dock and got on the ship, which was an old wooden ship that had been renovated.  When we got on the boat they gave us these huge thick body suits and a rain jacket, could barely move! We were standing at the front of the boat as we started to take off. Just as I was thinking we should move near the back we got a massive spray of water all over us. We raced to the back of the boat as we took off, the waves were MASSIVE! We were told to hang on, I saw people almost get thrown overboard so many times, our group of 25-30 I saw 7 people throw up but I reckon at least half would have thrown up. I was okay… I didn’t feel 100% but I wasn’t quite at that throw up stage. Sian felt a bit dusty but she was okay when she sat up and looked out the back. There was a woman who for the whole trip sat there groaning non-stop, sometimes she would scream and sometimes cry loudly. It was intense, and now I understand the long pause by the ticket officer!

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Overlooking the bay

As we got closer to land the waves calmed down a bit, and when we saw the first humpback whale I completely forgot about feeling sick! We watched the whale for 10 minutes before heading off to find more. Sea got a bit rough and a woman up wind from us started vomiting, aaaand Sian was lucky enough to get the spray. Well that did Sian in. Sian was hanging over the side throwing up, I was trying to hide behind a panel to avoid vomit being sprayed on me and I ended up next to the woman wailing. What a trip hah! We arrived at more whales, in total we saw 4 up close and 2 in the distance.  On the way back we got cinnamon buns and hot chocolate – not everyone was keen on eating (I wonder why)!

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Whale!

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Got chatting to our guide, she was Spanish and had been working for this company for a couple of months. She had previously worked in the amazon studying mammals, really interesting lady. I asked her if they ever cancelled tours because of weather and she said that the next trip of the day was cancelled because of the weather and she was surprised ours went ahead but everyone had been keen to go despite the weather! The trip had been fantastic despite the bulk vomit session!

Once back on land we had a cup of tea before heading off to Reydarfjordur.  We backtracked for a bit before getting on to route 1. We didn’t have any stops along the way except to get some groceries. Arrived in Reydarfjordor at 5:30pm, really beautiful town surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

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Skyped mum for her birthday and then an early night (midnight).

Day 8 – Reydarfjordur to Hofn

Headed off just after 8, drove through another 6km long tunnel through a mountain.

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View from our guesthouse! You can see near the bottom the tunnel we went through.

The sun had come out again finally! Drove steadily, couple photo stops, the scenery is non-stop amazing, never bored by the scenery on this trip, don’t know where to look half the time (I guess I should watch the road if I’m driving).

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Icelandic Horses

Our lunch stop was a secret side road I had read about, drove up the top and had a fantastic view over the Vatnajokull Glacier and we could see the highest point in Iceland Hvannadalshnjukur (2110m).

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View from our lunch spot, down the bottom you can see the town Hofn where we spent that night.

Continued on our way, driving towards the glacier, after an hour or so we came around a bend and suddenly had a fantastic view of Jokulsarlon lagoon, incredible! We got there just before 2pm and went to the meeting point for the Zodiac boat tour we had booked. Got suited up again in the same outfits from the whale watching tour (minus the raincoat), so glad the sun came out as it was quite warm which was great considering we were about to get on a boat and explore around icebergs!

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Jokusarlon Lagoon

The lagoon is only 80 years old and is expanding rapidly, however the icebergs are about 1000 years old. Each year 100m of ice breaks off the glacier and into the lagoon. The area is also the scene of quite a few movies including a James Bond movie which our guide told us was the shittest movie made.

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We had 8 people in our boat, right at the start we heard a massive crack. Turned around and we saw part of the iceberg break off! Pretty lucky as its quite rare to see that, we zoomed over to have a look but it was all over very quickly. We zipped all around the icebergs, bright blue ice is an iceberg that has been submerged under water and is not yet exposed to the sun.  Icebergs flip as different parts melt or break off so they stay balanced, when they flip they only stay blue for a few hours before the sun bleaches them.  The black icebergs were coloured from the ash from the volcanos and the white were “clean” and had been exposed to the sun. We headed towards the glacier and after a solid 5 minutes we finally got there.  Despite the hot sun my face was frozen by the time we got there.  We couldn’t tell by just looking at it but it was 80m high!

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That wall is 80m high!

We headed back to the shore, we hit a few bits of ice on the way. First one we hit I was like oh no titanic! But apparently our boat wasn’t affected and we kept on going and not sinking and I didn’t have to float on a broken door and let the love of my life float to the bottom of the sea.

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Ice on the black sand

 

We got back and went for a wander along the shore, there was a baby seal that had a guard standing near it because of course tourists need to go touch it – idiots.

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Baby seal!

We hopped in the car and drove to the beach a bit further down which was amazing, black sand with ice washed up on the shore. The photos we took looked monochrome!

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We drove to Hofn, our guesthouse didn’t have good kitchen facilities, so decided to eat out. Poked our head in a couple of restaurants but were too expensive (shock), settled on a bistro and I had delicious lamb chops and potatoes, not cheap but worth the food.

Strolled back to the hotel and went to bed just after midnight!

Day 9 – Hofn to Vik

Woke up to shocking weather outside (should be used to the crap weather by now), left at 8am and headed towards Skaftafell in Vatnajokill National Park.  We stopped at Jokusarlon Lagoon on the way for a couple of pictures.

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Lagoon

The rain fortunately stopped when we arrived at the National Park and we did the hour round trip walk to the waterfall Svartifoss. Worth the walk, beautiful waterfall surrounded by black basalt columns, loved it!

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Svartifoss

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Got back from our walk and drove 15 minutes to the next stop, Nupsstadur. Crazy strong winds when we got there, we didn’t stay long as it was just part of a bridge that had washed away in a storm. We were in the middle of huge sand plains and we could see the sand hitting the cars – a common car insurance claim is damage from sand blasting.

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Nupsstadur

Drove on to Kirkjugolf, we ate lunch in the car before we got out as it was raining. When Kirkjugolf was first discovered they thought it was a church floor because of the hexagon pattern. Turns out it was the same hexagon basalt column formation, we weren’t there long because of the rain.

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On the way to the next stop we missed the turn and ended up at the lava fields. Amazing! Huge national park which is also moss covered lava formations, it went on forever! We had a quick look but decided to go back to our planned stop and then come back and explore.

Drove to Fjadrarfljufur – 100m deep canyon that goes for 2km which has a river flowing through it. It was amazing, so beautiful. We were able to walk down to the river in the canyon and also walk along the top of it. It was lightly raining the whole time but wasn’t too bad. Spent about half an hour there then hopped back in the car.

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Fjadrarfljufur

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The rain was pouring down when we turned back into the lava fields, we explored around on a dirt track, got stuck trying to get back on the main road and had to backtrack.

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Lava fields

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Road through the fields

Once we were back on the main road we headed to our hostel, the rain was intense so we were keen to get inside! Cooked up dinner, made snacks for the next day and went to bed at 11!

Day 10 – Vik to Reykjavik

Today was going to be the biggest day of sightseeing so we were out the door by 8am! Drove 10 minutes down the road to Reynisfjara, black beach at Vik. It hadn’t started raining yet but there was a heavy fog so we couldn’t see the rock formations out in the sea, but we did see a huge cave filled with the same basalt columns and we saw lots of puffins high up on the cliffs.

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Drove a further 20 minutes down the road to the carpark for the abandoned DC plane on Solheimasandar. We spent about 10 minutes sitting in the car deciding if we really wanted to walk for 40 minutes there in the rain, finally decided to suck it up and we headed off. The rain fortunately stopped briefly for the walk and we made it in just over 30 minutes, very boring walk completely flat land, black gravel and grey fog all around!

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Walking to the plane

It was worth it when we walked over a crest and saw the plane!  In 1973 the plane ran out of fuel and crashed on the black beach, everyone survived. For some reason they left the plane there.

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Plane in the distance… bit eery

Fortunately the rain held off for the walk but we decided to head back after 15 minutes because we knew it wouldn’t be long before the rain started.

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Abandoned plane

On the way back we had a few people stopping us and asking us how long it took to walk there, honestly not surprising the road just looked never ending because of the fog. A few faces fell when we told them it was 30-40 minutes one way.

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Got back to the car and drove 10 minutes to Skogafoss, 60m high waterfall. So many tourists, it is one of the day trips from Reykjavik so really not surprising! We were able to walk up the side of it – 428 stairs to the top, was a bit tough after sitting on our butts in the car for past week!

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Skogafoss

Next was Seljalandsfoss about 25 minutes away, waterfall was also 60m high and you could walk behind it. We got soaked. In between the rain and the spray from waterfall it was intense. Was worth the walk around though.

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Seljalandsfoos

We drove an hour on from there to get to Kerid Crater, beautiful colours! For the first time we had to pay an entrance to a natural attraction. The crater is 6500 years old, oval in shape, 270m long, 170m wide and 55m deep. We did a walk around the top which was good, the water in the crater was a beautiful blue colour, around the outside was red dirt and there was lots of greenery!  After the walk around the outside we were able to walk down to the water edge as well.

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Chilling at the crater

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Next was the geyser field about 30 minutes away, huge area with lots of hot springs, again signs saying do not touch – duh. We watched the big geyser blow, it goes every few minutes and goes up to 20m high. We were short on time so we headed off shortly after.

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Drove 5 minutes up the road to Gulfoss, we had a quick look then jumped back in car.

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Gulfoss

Final stop was Thingvellier National Park, this is where you can see where the Europe and North American tectonic plates meet.  We stopped and were able to walk in between the two, it was amazing seeing them, like a massive crack in the earth!

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Between the plates!

Jumped back in the car as we had to get the car back to Reykjavik by 7pm. It was a 40 minute drive and we stopped just before we got there to clean the car and fill it up. All the servos have vacuums so we vacuumed the car, wiped it down with baby wipes (worked well for the inside, baby wipes on outside of car not best idea), filled up and dropped the car off!

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On the way back to Reykjavik, low hanging cloud!

We were worried we were going to get charged for another tyre seeing as ours was the wrong size but they didn’t say anything, hooray!

In total we had done 3019km!! amazing!

We got dropped at our hostel, we dropped our GPS off and we went to the bar, despite the ridiculous prices we enjoyed a meal and our beer, 10 days after an epic road trip!

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Bonus pic of Bonus supermarket!

 

Iceland Road Trip Part 2/3 – Seals and Sorcery

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Day 3 – Raudsdalur to Flatey

Woke up and decided we would try and get our tyre fixed before calling the car rental company. Our streak of good weather was over and overnight the rain had started.

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Once we were all packed up we drove a few km down the road to the next farm, pulled in and were directed to one of the sheds. Backyard garage but it was massive, after a quick look they told us they couldn’t fix it and we would need a new tyre and they also did not have a tyre in our size – great.

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The man there was trying to call a shop in Isafjordur to see if they had one but he couldn’t get through. We decided to head back to the hostel to make a plan.  We gave the car rental place a call, at first she said we should get the ferry back to Stykkisholmur (no thank you) but then she said there were 4 places in Isafjordur that we should be able to change tyre at and she would email me the details. We jumped in the car because we had a long drive now, mostly gravel roads and we could not drive too fast.

Stopped at a petrol station to fill up and check tyre pressure, it wasn’t an automatic air hose it was manual. I went inside to ask the girl for a gauge to check the pressure, she pulled out a few and said I don’t know what to do with them but I’ve seen people use these? I said I did and thank you! (Thanks for teaching me basic car skills Dad).

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On the road again!

Once we were all ready we headed off on a shocking gravel road, we drove 44km in an hour and a half. We stopped for about 45 minutes at Dynjandi waterfall, amazing! So huge, total waterfall height is 100m! We walked all the way to the top, halfway up my camera battery died and I didn’t have the spare on me. Oh well!

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Section of the falls

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Last pic before the camera died

We still had a long way to go to Isafjordur and the tyre shops closed at 5pm, so we jumped in the car and had lunch on the road.

Beautiful scenery the whole way, just before Isafjordur we drove through another huge tunnel. This one was 6km through the mountains and one lane. We had right of way so every time a car came towards us they would use one of the many alcoves to pull in so we could pass. We arrived in Isafjordur at 4:30pm (took two hours to travel 85km).

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Drove to the first garage on the list, couldn’t of found a less helpful mechanic. Slowly dragged his butt off the chair, looked at the tyre and then said he didn’t have our size – wonderful. Went to the next on the list, again no tyre our size.  We rushed to the next two as it was almost 5pm and again had no luck with the damn replacement tyre! We called our car rental office and she told us to go to the hostel and she would call and find one nearby for the next day, I told her our plans so that we hopefully wouldn’t have to back track.

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Isafjordur!

We were pretty buggered at this stage so we drove back through the tunnel to the hostel about 20 minutess away.  Cooked up dinner and had an early night (and by early I mean midnight).

 

Day 4 – Flatey to Holmavik

Woke up to an email from the car rental office, she had found a garage with our tyre size in Budardalur – an hour south of Holmavik. It was going to be a big day so we had brekky, got packed up and were off.

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Morning scenery

First stop was the Arctic Fox Centre in Sudavik.  It was really informative, lots of information about their diet, different types of foxes, where they live, their history in Iceland, hunting, effects of tourism on them. At the end we went out the back to look at the two foxes they had there.  They had been orphaned 3 years earlier when a hunter killed their mother. It was nice to see them up close seeing as our chances of seeing them in the wild were slim.

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ARCTIC FOX FUN FACTS

  • The Arctic fox is iceland’s only native land mammal
  • There are 20 different names for Arctic Fox in Icelandic
  • Arctic foxes have over 20,000 hairs per cm2 in their winter coats (humans 150!)
  • Arctic foxes do not shiver until -70⁰c
  • Arctic foxes are found in 3 colour morphs, White, Blue and Beige
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Orphaned Foxes

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Orphaned Foxes

We finished up and set off, about an hour later we pulled over as there were lots of seals all over the rocks. Only stayed a little while because we had to get to the garage before it closed.  Back on the road and headed off, we drove out of the Westfjords region, past our turn off to Holmavik and continued on to Budardalur. Amazing the difference in scenery once we headed a bit south, a lot more agriculture saw countless horses, cows, sheep etc.  We arrived at Bildudalur, a tiny town that had one street less than 1km long, I wasn’t overly optimistic by the time we turned into the garage.

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Reflections

We waited for the mechanic to finish fixing a tractor tyre, had a look at our tyre, said we needed a new one (yes we know) aaaand then said he didn’t have one in our size.  He paused after saying this, long enough for me to die inside and dread tomorrow where we would still be on the hunt for a damn tyre. But then! He said he had one a size smaller that he could put on the rear and move the rear tyre to the front. I asked if that was alright to do that and he said yes of course I will not fuck you up. Alright then thanks lad!

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Took him less than 10 minutes to switch the tyres and put the new one on, it then took him over 10 minutes to attach the spare tyre back under the car. I couldn’t understand but I think there was a lot of swearing in Icelandic.

He gave us a ticket to take into the desk to pay.  Given it is expensive to do anything in Iceland I had mentally prepared myself for at least $500 for the tyre. Handed over the ticket… 3744ISK. Checked the exchange rate on my phone… $46. FORTY. SIX. DOLLARS. I almost cried with happiness, what is Iceland??  It costs more to get a damn meal than to replace a tyre! I practically skipped out of the garage! We jumped back in the car and headed off.  I was so happy, I got to drive the speed limit again, the sun even came out for the first time since we had had the flat tyre. It was like we had been in some dark dreary world and now we had our tyre it was sunshine and rainbows! Drove back the same route to Holmavik, the sunshine lasted all the way to Holmavik and then the clouds rolled back in again.

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Scenery on the way to hostel

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Sun was coming and going!

We checked in to our dorms and they were double bed bunks, with flat screens! Five star hostel wow. Cooked up a delicious green curry for dinner and went for a walk after dinner. Once again asleep after midnight!

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Around town

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Day 5 – Holmavik to Akureyri

First stop of the day was the Icelandic Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery, absolutely fascinating! All about the history of witches in Iceland and the continuing practice of it today.  Lots of grimoires with different spells, things like how to get wealthy, be healthy etc.  but also a bit more unusual were things like how to make your cat get pregnant without mating?  There were also necropants on display… disgusting. Essentially a witch would make a pact with a man that after he died he could dig him up, skin him from waist down, and then wear the skin like pants.  You would then put a coin in the scrotum and the idea was that while there was a coin in the scrotum you would have never-ending money! But you had to be careful because if you died wearing the necropants then your body would rot… nice!  History of witches in Iceland is different to other countries in that majority of the witches were men, of the 21 that were burnt only one was female.

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Spent over an hour there before heading off, we drove steadily, stopped for lunch and some horse pictures. At one stage the mist was so thick we could barely see 5m ahead of us! Finally got to route 1 and said goodbye to the Westfjords.

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Didn’t stop much as we had a 3:30pm booking for a beer spa! We got in a bit late but it wasn’t a problem. Black building (kind of unusual in Iceland) with snow capped mountains all around and sitting next to the lake, beautiful! We got changed into our robes – fancy, and were shown to our private beer spa room.  The tub is freshly filled just for us, literally filled with beer. We had 25 minutes in there, and there was a beer tap next to us which was drink as much as you want. Getting in it was a bit slimy to begin with but after a while it was really quite nice and our skin felt very soft.

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Once our time was up we got shown upstairs to the “quiet” room, there were already a bunch of couples there, we got shown to our seats. The lady started wrapping Sian like a cocoon, and I just lost it I could not stop laughing. It was the most ridiculous thing, we were in a beer spa but were being treated like we were in some 5-star luxury beauty spa. The lady said as she was leaving that we didn’t have to stay for the full 25 minutes if we didn’t want to – haha ok. Anyway the room slowly cleared – probably because Sian and I kept giggling… we finished our 25 minutes then went downstairs to get dressed.  That was a great experience!

We drove about 30 minutes to get to Akureyri – the self proclaimed capital of the north and our stay for the night.  We were too tired to cook dinner so we got something from the bar – I had a salmon with mash and a green sauce, amazing!

After dinner we went for a walk around the town, the best part about midnight sun is being able to go for late night walks. Went back to the room and were bed by 11 (earliest night so far!)

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Day 6 – Akureyri to Husavik

We had a full day of sightseeing today and were out the door at 9am. First stop was Godafoss, gotta say it is quite obvious that we are now back on the tourist route! So many people everywhere! It was raining a bit so we didn’t stay out too long, did a bit of a walk and took a few photos then back in the car.

Next stop was Skutustadir – a bunch of craters that had been made from lava hitting the water causing explosions which had then made super craters. Really beautiful!

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We headed towards Dimmuborgir, stopping along the way for lunch.  Dimmuborgir is a large field with unusually shaped lava and caves, all black formations but surrounded by greenery.  We did one of the shorter walks only about 20 minutes, which was probably enough.

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Next up was Namafjall, the closer we got the stronger the sulphur smell!  Namafjall was a bunch of hot springs, all bubbling and steaming. Signs everywhere saying do not touch (something tells me in the past a real intelligent person decided to touch the bubbling water). We did a quick walk around because it was raining, despite the rain it was quite warm because of the hot springs.

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We drove through Krafla to get to Viti. Krafla is a geothermal power station, pipes everywhere including a tunnel shaped section so cars can drive through. Viti was a crater with a hot spring in the middle (again signs saying do not touch because 100 degrees!) beautiful milky blue colour.

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We were pretty tired at this stage so were keen for our last stop – Myvatn Nature Baths.

Arrived at 3pm to the baths, it was our alternative to going to the Blue Lagoon and it did not disappoint. We got changed into our swimmers, raced outside into the cold and got in the pool. Different pools ranging from 36 to 41 degrees. We had bought beer bracelets which meant we just stuck our hand in the air and they would come get our beer for us – Bueno! We spent almost 2 hours there tried out each of the pools – took some photos that did not look like the travel bloggers we have seen.

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Expectation Vs Reality

Back on the road, stopped at a small grocer for some dinner ingredients. We continued on, took a wrong turn down a random dirt road and interrupted a wedding photoshoot, oops! Finally arrived at our hostel, another farm yay! Had leftover curry, made some corn fritters for lunch the next day. Had a walk around to look at the horses and cows then went to bed!

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Iceland Road Trip Part 1/3 – Puffins and Popped Tyres

Day 1 – Reykjavik to Nedri Holl

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First day of our road trip! We hired a GPS from the camping store around the corner of our hostel, and were then picked up at our hostel at 9:30am by Lagoon Car Rental.  They drove us to their office, we were shown our car for the next 10 days, a Renault Clio. We checked over the car for chips, scratches etc, there were only a couple, we made note of them on the contract, car had only done 360km – brand new! We signed the papers and then we were off!

I started the driving and for the first part of the day I was chanting to myself keep right keep right keep right. My little chant worked because good news everybody I kept right!  We had decided that we were going to cook majority of our meals to save money so we stopped at one of the budget grocery stores, Bonus (their logo is a bright pink pig).

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We had attempted to make a shopping list prior but we weren’t sure what to expect in the store. We ended up walking out with lots of canned foods (tomatoes, chickpeas, corn, peas, carrots etc), rice, some random spice we hoped was Moroccan, eggs, cheese, ham – mostly generic things that we would experiment with the meals later AND 5 avocados for $3!!! The only cheap thing in Iceland apparently. Went next door to the bakery to get some fresh bread and we finally headed off just after 12!

Keep right, keep right, keep right!

About 20 minutes into driving the tyre pressure light came on the car, we decided to be safe and check it out. Went to the petrol station and the pressure was all over the place, front right was 42, front left was 16, both rear tyres were 30. We fixed it up and then headed off again!

Driving in Iceland is pretty easy, drive on the right side (keep right keep right keep right), speed limits are generally 90km/h on sealed roads, 80km/h on gravel roads, and in towns it varied between 30-50km/h. Most roads are single lane and there are lots of round-a-bouts (prior to the trip I had read about people complaining about the round-a-bouts and all I could think was my whole life living in Canberra has led to this moment, BRING ON THE ROUND-A-BOUTS!)

It’s hard to adequately describe the scenery along the way. Every turn and bend there was more amazing scenery, kept wanting to stop for pictures (pictures unfortunately don’t do it justice). Sian and I spent most of the day (and honestly the whole trip) saying WOW! Where are we? Is this the moon? What is this? Wow! Ooh!

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We drove through a 6km long tunnel that went 165m under water! First stop was Eldborg Crater for lunch, we couldn’t easily walk up to the crater so instead we had our sandwiches next to the river.  Sian stepped in poo, hehehe and then shortly afterwards bit into one of the apples we bought and was lucky to find some maggots yay! I on the other hand had a delicious ham and cheese sandwich, no maggots and no new decoration for my shoes – winning!

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Our ride and Eldborg Crater in the background and our lunch stop for the day!

Other stops for the day were Raudfelder Canyon, Pufubjarg, Londrangar, Malarrif, Dritvik, Grimsby Shipwreck (pictures below with descriptions)

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We had driven right to the end of Snaefellsness Peninsula and were pretty wrecked so we headed back towards our Airbnb for the night, we stopped at a seal colony on the way. We were there for about an hour watching the seals bobbing up and down in the water, every time it looked like they were close to coming to shore some idiot tourist decided that running towards them was the smart thing to do. Eventually everyone left but Sian and I and as we were leaving we luckily saw one sitting out on the rocks, got a few snaps and then decided to come back in the morning.

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Our Airbnb was a couple of km up the road and wow.. what an Airbnb! Farm next to the sea, we pulled up and were greeted by a very excitable dog, walked inside and had 2 gorgeous cats come greet us. Then our host asked if we wanted to see the puppies, YES WE WANT TO SEE THE PUPPIES! There were seven 4 week old puppies!!!! So cute!! After we cooked dinner we went to have a wander around the farm.

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Our AirBnb – Nedri Holl Farm

 

Got chatting with our host, her and her husband were still working. I asked if they worked long hours just in summer because of the daylight and she said no they work those hours all year round, even in middle of winter with no daylight and when the snow is 2-3 feet deep.  They had bought the farm a few years earlier and were in the process of fixing it up which would set them back $1.5 million AUD. It was a dairy farm so bulk cows.  She said that in Iceland there is a government set price for selling milk, so even small farms like hers were able to make a decent wage against the larger companies. They had just finished milking the cows so our host showed us around to the shed where they were feeding, she said the bulls were friendliest. Spent about 20 minutes patting the bulls and just being in animal heaven. There were also 4 lambs that had been abandoned by their mothers but were so friendly! Our night was basically an animal lovers paradise! We reluctantly left the animals behind to go to bed because it was past midnight!

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Day 2 – Nedri Holl to Raudsdalur

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We had an early start today, went straight to the seals just after 7am.  As we walked closer we were super excited to see about 15-20 of them all sitting out on the rocks!  We were the only ones there so we quietly watched them for about 20 minutes.  We had a ferry to catch at 9am on the other side of the peninsula, so we hopped in the car and zoom zoomed to Stykkisholmur.

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I drove the car onto the ferry while Sian walked on, the cars were packed in like sardines! The man who worked there was directing me to inch closer and closer to the other cars which seemed a lot harder when driving a right hand drive car, but on reflection it actually wasn’t that bad at all!

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Went upstairs for the 3 hour ferry crossing to the Westfjords with a brief stop at Flatey Island. You can stay there if you want but the island is tiny, no cars allowed, and I think you could walk it in 30 minutes. Much better things to do with our time! As we approached the other side the drivers were told to get in their cars and get ready so we could disembark quickly.  Well apparently that is easier said than done!

I was the second last car on the ferry so I had the pleasure of watching everyone getting off and just being idiots in general. Three times someone was too busy taking photos from the front to realise that they were meant to be driving their car off and as a result no one could move because of them.  The workers were screaming at them to get in their car and move it! Twice there were cars that decided that yes it was their turn to drive off despite the fact they had a car in front of them, suddenly realising their mistake they would slam on brakes – derp!

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Finally I got to drive my car off, went up around the corner and picked up some random off the street (lets call the random Sian).  We decided to do a big loop around the area anti-clockwise and end our day at Latrabarg Cliffs before driving back to our hostel which was near the ferry dock.

Westfjords is a lot less travelled than other parts of Iceland, part of this reason being it is less accessible and many of the roads are closed for most of the year because of snow.  Majority of the roads are gravel with the exception of a couple of the main routes, but even the main roads have gravel sections!

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We shortly drove onto our first gravel road, we took it reasonably slow as it was quite bumpy. Amazing scenery again! We went past couple of waterfalls and as we got higher drove past lots of snow.  We descended down the mountains windy roads and ended up stopping next to a river for lunch. Ham and cheese sandwich wins again! We continued on after lunch, drove through Patreksfjordur and stopped at a shipwreck on a beach (oldest steel ship in Iceland, built 1912).

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We had to turn off the main route to head towards Latrabarg, we had about an hour of weaving up and down very bumpy gravel roads, potholes everywhere, very steep, sheer drops to the side at some stages.  Arrived at Latrabarg cliffs just after 4:30pm. What’s so special about Latrabarg you ask, why did we have to drive all the way there. PUFFINS! THAT’S WHY! We got out of the car walked to the cliff and straight away we saw them! They are the cutest little fake bird ever. I say fake bird because they just don’t seem real, similar to a penguin but they fly and they just look awkward when they fly, but they are just so tiny and cute and not bothered by humans at all! Signs everywhere saying that if you want to get close to the edge you need to lie on your stomach to distribute weight as the cliff has been known to break away, the cliffs are the highest in Iceland and well.. I know I wouldn’t want to go crashing into the ocean!  We spent the next 2 hours walking up and down the cliffs checking out all the puffins, got as close as a metre to them, such a great afternoon! There were a couple of other birds there as well but I couldn’t tell you what they were because my attention was focused on the puffins!

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It was just after 7pm when we decided to head off as we had an 1.5 hour drive to the hostel. Reluctantly left the puffins behind and headed off. About 30 minutes in to the drive back we heard a bang (NOOOO), pulled over and yep popped tyre (NOOOO). Now I do know how to change a tyre, it was something dad taught me before I got my license. My issue is that I’m not the strongest person in the world and I know that I’m not strong enough to unscrew the nuts and get the tyre off.  Sian and I decided to wave a car down to help us… and honestly I wish he had just kept driving.

We asked if he knew how to change a tyre and he sort of umm’d and ahh’d said he’d never done it before but he could probably help. I thought he just didn’t want to help but no, he really had no flipping idea!

We weren’t overly confident with his response so when another car slowed down to check if we were ok we quickly asked the couple if they could help us, the wife said yep, they pulled over, and ah what a dream! He knew exactly what he was doing! Sian helped the man who knew what he was doing (lets call him Dreamy McDream Dream, because at that moment he was our saviour), I got stuck with old mate who had no idea what was going on. The spare tyre was secured under the car and could be detached through the boot. Dreamy quickly got to work on that and passed the tool kit to Dummy, he couldn’t figure out how to get the damn jack out of the casing! I kept trying to explain how to do it but I think he had stuck in his head that we were helpless girls and he was here to save the day. Finally he listened to me and we got it out and he was like oh wow right ok that’s how it’s done then. He wouldn’t let me put it together so I ended up kind of ordering him how to do it, couldn’t figure out how to start jacking up the car and I explained how to do it, but he wouldn’t hand it to me and he could not understand. In between all this Dreamy has the tyre ready and was waiting for Dummy to do the easiest job ever! Dreamy ended up just taking it off him and doing it himself, at this stage I was pretty keen for Dummy to leave and I think he wanted to leave but felt awkward doing so. So instead he decided it was time for a chat, I didn’t want to be rude but also Dreamy was there working his butt off and Dummy didn’t seem phased at all. Even the conversation was dumb.

Dummy: So where in Britain are you from?

Me: I’m from Australia

Dummy: Oh wow so where in Australia? Sydney?

Me: No from Canberra

*silence*

Dummy: Canb… whats that?

Me: That’s the capital of Australia

Dummy: No.. it’s something else, what about New South Wales?

Me: Nope that’s a state and Canbera is the capital of Australia.

Dummy: and Victoria? That’s the capital then?

Me: No Victoria is a state as well, Canberra is the capital and it is in the Australian Capital Territory.

Dummy: I travelled Australia for about 3 months, I went to Ayers Rock and Uluru and Melbourne. But don’t know Cambba.

Me: Ok

Dummy: Sooo Camb? What is it again?

Me: Canberra

I mean come on! I know that most people around the world haven’t heard of Canberra but you have travelled to Australia for 3 months surely you should know this!

He eventually decided it was time to leave and he headed off, but not before sneaking back to throw the rag in our boot that he used to wipe his hands. Thanks mate.

Meanwhile Dreamy was doing a fabulous job, car was all set to go, we thanked him, he told us that now we knew how to change a tyre we could do it in future, I decided I shouldn’t tell him I know how to I’m just weak and if it happens again in the future I’ll probably flag someone else down to use their muscles.

We very slowed headed off, going about 40km/h on the gravel road and when we hit sealed road got a bit wild and got up to 60km/h. Sian called the hostel ahead to say we wouldn’t be there til 9pm. We asked about the tyre and they said the farm next door had a garage and could help us.

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When we got in we were pretty wrecked, so we had dinner and went to bed almost straight away.

Part 2 to come!