Sunday, July 5, 2009

Reykjavik, volcanoes, and Vikings

From Vikings to volcanoes, our time in Reykjavik was well-spent exploring our natural surroundings and immersing ourselves in the history of Iceland. While soaking our bodies in the Blue Lagoon upon arrival to the country, we experienced the relaxing hot water firsthand, a demonstration of how useful geothermal energy can be if it is tapped correctly. As we applied the white silica mud to our faces, we learned that similar materials may exist on faraway planets, such as Mars!

Riding on the backs of horses through 1 million year old lava flows inspired an appreciation for the beautiful Icelandic countryside, awash with brilliant blue and purple wildflowers. As the gentle beasts trotted and galloped proudly, manes in the wind, we held on tight and attempted to shoot a few photos.

In the spirit of exploration, some of us tackled a 3000 ft. mountain, Mt. Esja, which graded from gently sloped, lush landscape to difficult scrambling over barren boulders. When we topped out on a misty and windy summit within the clouds, we were overjoyed at having reached the top but also realized that our journey was only halfway over. On the descent, beautiful sunrays inspired us as they streamed through the clouds, lighting up the waters of the harbor, before casting their twilight glows on the city of Reykjavik. We could not have asked for a more perfect ending to an amazing mountain experience, which really brought our group together.

Our time in the city restaurants was spent trying new delicacies, such as rotten shark, dried haddock (fish), whale, reindeer, and horse, as well as the famous pylsa (hot dogs) and multi-colored ice creams varying in flavor from lime to banana. While most foods got rave reviews, the rotten shark was hard for some to swallow. But, as the students put it, it was about the experience of doing something new and exciting!

Downtown, at the Red Rock cinema, we met a volcano filmmaker and learned about all sorts of eruptions through Iceland’s recent history. A 1996 eruption from beneath Vatnajokull icecap (the third largest icecap in the world, after Greenland and Antarctica), whose ensuing glacial floodwaters moved boulders the size of cars and took out the Ring Road bridge (Iceland’s main road around the country) in a matter of days, effectively creating a sandy wasteland for miles and miles, all the way from the southern end of the icecap to the coastal shoreline!

Our Viking experience began at the Saga Museum, inside the Perlan, which is surrounded by four huge water tanks that hold most of the hot water for Reykjavik, joined by a space-age glass dome. The history of Iceland’s Viking days was revealed in life-like (and sometimes gruesome) figures depicting some aspect of history. The students were even able to try on the heavy chainmail suits, helmets, and swords used by the Vikings. To end our experience in Reykjavik, we enjoyed our time at the Viking village, complete with live entertainment from minstrels, fantastic entrees (fish, lamb, ribs, mussels), and an atmosphere that truly felt like we had stepped back into Viking time.

We now head into the wilderness of Icelandic glaciers and volcanoes.

Onwards and upwards!
Uly and Joseph