Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Iceland Day 7 ~ Snow snow snow and back to Reykjavic!

Travellogue: An Icelandic White Wonderland ride to the Reynisfjara (Vik) Beach to see the Rocks and a snowy ride back to Reykjavik.

Gerdi Guesthouse in snow.

A winter wonderland welcomed us in the morning.
9am at the one-door SgTrekker Cookhouse was the standard procedure.  Just that on this day, the whole Gerdi Guesthouse had turned into Ice-land.

"Wow! Look at the whole place!" exclaimed Serene. "It's all snow and all white!"

Yes, she couldn't be blamed for such an outburst of emotion.  For although she wasn't new to snow, for a tropical dweller, it was always fascinating to behold a snowy landscape.  The short walk to our SgTrekker Cookhouse became a snowy adventure.
The Guesthouse, the snowy plain and the sea.

What a beautiful sight it was.  We walked slowly on the smooth white surfaces, leaving our fresh footprints in the virgin snow.  The weather forecast was truly accurate, for it predicted rain and snow from the day before, and it really did.  I was just glad that there wasn't any major clouds obstructing our aurora the night before as it was the most spectacular one out of our three nights of aurora.

On this morning, it was totally quiet out on this snowy piece of land.  We stepped out, and there was hardly any wind.  The trees stood still, the sea kept calm, and it was just us slowly walking to the back.  I was sure some of the good people were already somewhere further out depleting their cameras of shutter counts.  But for me, the point and shoot was all I had and it was good enough to capture the mood of the moment.

"Ok, Dar. Let's just walk to the Cookhouse for breakfast," I said.

And to the official SgTrekker Cookhouse we came.  We could smell the aroma of nice, warm breakfast being prepared,  and as we approached the door, the clang of the utensils rang out, and the all but too familiar "Wah lau eh! Haha.. How do I know if this meat ball is beef or pork or lamb?!" of our Tour leader shot out from the half-ajar door.
Apparently he was trying to figure out what the Icelandic words on the packaging meant.  Not bad.  This Tour leader was really multi-talented.   You let him stay here long enough, he would start growing blond hair and start spouting Eyjafjallajokull every day.

The poor, cold, and lonely single-door SgTrekker cookhouse where no other guest dared step-foot into, and where
Adrian slogged morning & evening preparing our meals, just so to make us contented and happy.
Maybe it was Acrux's first encounter with Icelandic snow.
Click on this for original size.

We walked in and were happy to detect a whiff of the SgTrekker brand sausage & meat ball/chicken spaghetti.  I ordered an Up-size with extra and plonked my butts on the seat next to the window.  And who should I see, doing balancing act on the slope outside the window, than our good Acrux, at his usual mischief again.

"Ok I asked the counter staff already," happily announced Carol as she walked in with the packet. "He said the meat ball was not beef, but pork."

So the stage was set.  Pork meat ball spaghetti for those who loved Icelandic pork meat ball, and chicken spaghetti for those we desired the Icelandic fowl.  And for those who preferred to load themselves with Icelandic fibres, cereals with Icelandic fresh milk were in store.  To top off the meal, we were all treated to juicy Icelandic sausages.

Yan Yan (early early went shooting liao, her), Carol (our now-Icelandish-specialist) and Kai Sing having their SgTrekker-brand Icelandic spaghetti.
At the back, Teck Siang (also early early went shooting liao), Caren, Yilin and Acrux were probably discussing what to shoot after breakfast.
Smile and eat while you could, Maria. For there was still many more tasks ahead.

As for the Executive Chef Adrian himself, he was fjust kjinða gljáð that everybody enjoyed their breakfast.  And his job was almost done.  Well, two-thirds done.  There was always this SgTrekker saying: "My job is done once we finished our land tour in our destination country."  Of course, we all knew this was never the truth.  In fact, Adrian's job was never done UNTIL we all landed safely back home.   And from the way recent developments went, his job apparently would NEVER be done, even weeks and weeks AFTER we landed home safely.  That would be another story altogether.

It was going to be our last couple of hours at Gerdi.  On this day we were going to return all the way back to Reykjavik along the south coast of Iceland.  It was a relaxing day, it seemed.  There was not going to be any tough climb or hazardous descent.

Saying a good bye to the lonely official SgTrekker Cookhouse as we made our way to check out from Gerdi.
Up to mischief again...!
Yes, the luggage were all loaded, and our room keys returned to the counter.  And the counter staff started to be a little irked by us for not closing the main door of the Guesthouse as the wind blew in and depleted the lobby of its warmth.  Some of us took the opportunity to be a little naughty...

I should have known.. this girl was always ready for a fight..

... with none other than Acrux! Both equally mischievous!
... and this Acrux is really something.  Fancy using the iPhone to take this shot
of Serene jumping.. and to capture that very moment her feet lifted off.
Not easy, Acrux..

Saying a last good bye to Jokulsarlon, our favourite lake for the past three days... 
... for me, a love-hate relationship...

Again, we ended up at Jokulsarlon for a last bye bye.
The boys and girls were all over the place in a blink of an eye.  But for Serene and I, having nothing to shoot, I decided to keep a record of the little knoll named after a brave photographer who decided to break his camera on its slope.

Bukit Lim Wee How looked simply serene and non-threatening.  A very different feel from its previous menacing appearance of rocks and gradients...
And with my only good hand, I took a parting shot of Bukit LWH beside Jokulsarlon with my point and shoot.

400km from Jokulsarlon to Reykjavik...

On this Day 7, we drove 400km from Jokulsarlon to Reykjavic.
The whole day saw episodic flurries of snow upon this troupe of photographers on our westward journey.  By now both Serene and I were totally at a lost what we were supposed to be seeing according to our itinerary, through no fault of Adrian, but more due to my own ignorance and the weather wreaking havoc on our route plans.
Everything was snowy white.
But up till this very moment, it had still been a totally enjoyable trip.  Our driver Porgrimur was very experienced and driving a huge bus in these kind of snowing conditions required plenty of attention and skills.  He wasn't travelling fast and I noticed he was looking carefully at the yellow sticks on the edge of the roads denoting the boundaries.  That was how the drivers followed the actual road even in heavy snow storms.

Very soon after leaving Gerdi, our bus passed the Hofskirkja Turf church, which we passed a couple of days ago.  But what a difference a night of snow made!  Right at this moment, the Hof church appeared totally different.  It was such a splendid sight that we all hurried down the bus to take some more new shots of it in its new coat of dress.

Serene's interpretation of the Hof church in snow.

... and Serene herself was so captivated that she simply wanted to have a shot of her taken lying on the snow.  The atmosphere was totally one of ease, for not only had we accomplished one of our main agenda, which was shooting the Aurora, and a darn good one it was, we'd also seen more than we bargained for ~ seals in Jokulsarlon Glacier lake, the ice beach, the glacier ice caves, plenty of waterfalls, had a little more insight into Icelandic lives in the past, and we'd even managed to capture Icelandic horses at close quarters.... Did I say Icelandic horses?!

Well, yes.. a few mornings back we'd had the chance to shoot some Icelandic horses, albeit at a distance.  And the driver Porgrimur had been talking and talking about these horses, telling us for some obscure reasons, once these beautiful creatures were exported to other countries, they were never allowed to be imported back again.  Some Veterinarian law, or something like that.  So those horses that we saw standing quietly on the plains, were kept more as pets than for any form of work.

Horses (Again)!!!

On this day, we were all staring intensively at the whole sheet of white outside our bus's windscreen and worrying about our safety, being driven in snow, with cross wind hitting our bus at the side, and the whole road covered with ice.  Our earlier reluctance in buckling ourselves up while seated had dissipated as we realised that driving in snow and ice with cross winds hitting the bus at several tens of km/h was not exactly the safest way to travel.  And the buckles automatically went clicking in by now, once we were all seated.  What a stark contrast to the first couple of days!

The time was around 11:45am.  As our eyes peered to sieve out the snow flakes, a sudden dash of brown flew by our right.
"Horses!" cried the group. "Can stop!? Take pictures of the horses!"
A bored driver.
The bus glided to a stop.  And as the door opened, a gust of wind and snow hit our faces.  But for the Icelandic horses, we braved the elements and ran down.  Porgrimur must have been scratching his greying head why on earth were these boys and girls so crazy over some brown-furred mamals with long manes and stubby legs.  For a 61 year old commander of a bus, who had seen it all, this was probably one of his most boring expedition.  Time and again, he got instructed to pull up one side of the road, only to wait hours to have some shutter-fetishes satisfied.
A beautiful specimen of the Icelandic horse, by Serene.
So as the whole group descended upon those poor innocent creatures, that cool man just stood watch over us, with a stick between his lips.  Carefree lives, these Icelanders...

The members rushed in and must have frightened the hell outta those horses initially.  But Icelandic horses were never born of faint hearts.  They stood still and watched us with amusement.  Acrux tried feeding them with some lettuce, and then someone suggested feeding them with apples, and in my memory, non worked particularly well.

But we simply bo-chap.  We just wriggled our ways in between arms and armpits and lenses long and short and tried to grab at whatever angle we could get.  And as I stood a few steps removed from the main body struggling at the fence, I couldn't help but marvel at the enthusiasm of this bunch of good people.  Especially when Acrux acted as if he got bitten by the horses.. Hahaha!

Acrux all action action only lah!!!
The horses must have been utterly amused by this time.

Carol must have gotten sick of shooting horses, and she started shooting don't know what...
What was Carol shooting at? Possibly this scene here, mystically misty and devoid of anything.  It was really interesting for within a matter of a few days, this scene changed from how it looked when we were on our way out, till now on our way back.


Vikurskali Stop again...

Yes.  The memorable stop once again, as we made our way back towards where we came a few days ago.  Here on this zoomed in Google Earth map was the exact spot of Vikurskali Stop.

Eddy & Michelle siam-ing the snow quickly...

And for some strange reason, the feng shui of this southern edge of the island seemed to favour snow storm.  For arriving at this stop for another technical cum lunch break at 1:30pm, we found an intensification of the snow from above.  It was undeniably cold, and we hastened our steps into the warmth of the enclosure.

Inside someone found the huge map of Iceland mounted on the wall of the restaurant.  And we started examining it, and trying to locate where we were.
Eddy and Kai Sing reminisce Vatnajokull glacier.  But where we were, we were just next to Eyjafjallajokull now...

"Dar, remember this stop?" I reminded Serene. "After we have eaten, you grab your 70-200mm and go behind and try to capture the Reynisdrangar Rock formation.  That was the one that I really really wanted to see."
So she guai guai went.  And took a shot of this Rock Formation.  This time round, I think she did a better job.

The Reynisdrangar Rock Formation at Vikurskali by Serene Gan.
Turning back towards the other direction, she saw a cluster of houses.  "Wow, these houses are nice!" said she.  And her shutter did them justice.

Serene and her Ang Moh houses.

Reynisfjara (Vik) Beach
[Here, we were on the point and shoot camera, both Serene and I, and we took turn on the 70-200mm]

Very soon after Vikurskali Stop, we came to the Reynisfjara Beach (Also commonly known as Vik Beach).  Take a look at the Google Earth map a few pictures above.  That little vertical red line downwards was our walk from the bus to the Reynisfjara Beach and our exploration of this wonderful landscape.  It was supposed to be a whole expanse of black sandy shore overlooking the Reynisdrangar Rock Formations on the left (eastward) and the Dyrholaey Cape on the right (westward).  But on this day, many parts of the black sandy beach were covered with snow.  So it was a white black beach today, with black lava rocks strewn all over it.

Reynisfjara Beach through Serene's eyes. [Point & Shoot]
Frankly I didn't know what to expect.  Somehow it had been like that for this whole trip.  It must have been due to my laziness in not studying the notes, partly from my difficulty in pronouncing and grasping the Icelandic words, and possibly partly from the fact that I wanted it to be a TOTALLY relaxed trip.  For a photographer, this was the worst mistake he could make, for he would never ever be fully prepared for what he was to see.  And equipment-wise, there would also bound to be some deficiencies.  So I walked along the snowy white beach and saw Serene taking a shot of the Reynisdrangar rocks!

Serene going at the Reynisdrangar rocks with her 70-200mm. [Point & Shoot]

Iceland never seemed to be short of wind and waters.  With these two elements, her Feng-shui must have been really in harmony.  Here at 2:40pm on this day, the waves of the North Atlantic ocean came lapping the shores of Reynisfjara.  The waves kept coming, sometimes big, sometimes bigger.
Adrian nagged again:
"Guys, please don't go all the way to the edge of the water.  The waves are huge.  And they can really pull you away once they capture you.  And.. well, Norway is only about 4 days away by sea once you are in the water.. Haha.."

Waves showing us what Nature was made of... Reynisfjara Beach.
Serene couldn't get enough of the birds over the waves...

And everyone was on his/her long lenses.  Compressing the human subject against the raging wave really showed the force of Nature, like the way we did it to Eddy here.

Eddy showing Nature what he is made of.. at Reynisfjara Beach.

We looked to the left at the cliff dropping off to the Ocean, and saw our group relaxing and chit chatting there... Lai Peng, Alex, Norman, Derek, Michelle, Carol and Kai Sing...

To our left... the cliff.

We gaze right ahead of us, and caught sight of Yan Yan fighting with the North-bound gushes of wind, while the Reynisdrangar rocks quietly eyed her from afar...

The Brave Swallow Swallow in between the rocks.. [Point & Shoot]

We peered into the distance on our right, to find Carren and Yilin venturing closer to the Dyrholaey Cape.  Far far away the Light House was standing atop another cape further westward.  Oh, that Light House... man, we were supposed to have it as our foreground subject.  But somehow the weather and the delays sort of deprived us of the Icelandic Light House.

Carren and Yilin looking for the Light House?
Serene was really cute.  When I let her go free with her 70-200mm, she would wander around and see the world with her eyes, and visualise things that I didn't usually see with mine.  Here was one good exampled - a beautifully-matched Ang Moh girl.

Serene's Ang Moh girl in all-white
"Dar, nah.. let you use the 70-200mm," called out Serene.
"But my finger is broken!" I protested.

"Aiyah.. I know you see beh gian lah.. Just use it lah!" 
And that young lady happily scooted off with the point and shoot camera in her hand.  A heaved a sigh and lifted the heavy lens and camera and let my left forearm support it.  And I took a shot of her looking at the preview screen of her point and shoot.

Serene, the black beach, the snow, and the Point and shoot.
... and after she was satisfied with her preview, she would roam further and start shooting on that tiny little sensor again.  This woman was a most wonderful specimen of the human species, forever so spontaneous, so free-spirited, and so full of cutie-kitty-pie nonsense so much so that oft I couldn't really understand what she saw, and what she was talking about, until much later.

Killing the Reynisdrangar rocks with her All-Powerful Point & shoot camera.

The Ang Mohs were most interesting.  To them, the sea, the waves, the sand, the wind... everything was part of Nature and should be enjoyed and was to be played with.  I could imagine myself shouting my lungs out to my children or even perhaps Serene, if I were to find them playing thus.  But no, not the courageous Icelanders. They grew up with the elements, and it was here where they were most in their elements.

Ang Moh child and adults, taunting the waves.
"Shoot finish landscape liao.. Now shoot what ah?" I thought to myself.  'Ok lah.  Let's look for our own people to shoot lah... Hey hey hey.. Hannah, Michelle, Serene... come let me take some shots of you all. Very tok gong one ah!"
Well, I guess it was always like this.  I was never a landscape shooter.  And I was never a portrait shooter.  At best I could only call myself a record photographer, happily recording the 'Kodak moment', and in the term used to describe the famous Leica photographer Henri Cartier Bresson, the 'Decisive Moment', which I could only hope to aspire to, but never to achieve.

The FOREVER elusive Hannah Barbara

The FOREVER gentle Michelle

And when you put them three all together... they become all Cutie-pie XMM's.

The XMM's at Reynisfjara.
While we were busy shooting the XMM, the Red was found shooting the Reds and Ms Korean and Adrian who were in turn trying to destroy the Dyrholaey by launching their rockets from this angle.

This Alex Kaan was forever the perfectionist.
"Alamak! Highlights blown! Cannot cannot cannot.  I very yim-jim one.  Cannot blow the highlights one.  One more shot!"
Therefore, his shots always swee swee.  From no hightlights become got hightlights.  Cannot beat him lah, this Portrait master.

 And Lai Peng?  Lai Peng also don't play play.  She carried that little camera with her, and that little cute tripod,  which I remembered her saying something like the ball-head was going to fall apart soon... something to that effect..  But when she opened fire, she delivered very very lethal blows.

This Reynisfjara was so captivating, again we spent simply too much time exploring it.  Even from one single angle we could be shooting it to death, with slight variations in the nuances.  "I sometimes couldn't understand these photographer..."- I was sure this was constantly in the mind of our good driver Mr Porgrimur Isaksen, or Thor for short.

A short of us on the Point and Shoot by our kind Michelle

And a last look at the rusty signboard depicting the Reynis-combinations before we turned our backs and said bye bye to them.

Reykjavik.. Again!!!
Yes yes.. it was 7pm.  And we finally got dropped off along Skulagata Road, one of the main roads just opposite that Viking ship monument called 'Sun Voyager' at the seaside.
"We are staying in a different hotel from the one we stayed in on the first day.  This hotel is up a small street which the bus cannot go up.  You got to walk up the slope," said Adrian.  "The good thing is this hotel is within walking distance of Laugavegur Road, the central shopping area, like our Orchard Rd area."
Ok lah.  No problem at all.  Just about a few tens of metres up the slope we pulled our luggage, and finally we arrived at the Welcome Apartments, located just along Vatnstigur street, that small little upslope street.

7pm.  Finally at Welcome Apartments, Vatnstigur Street, Reykjavik.
"Ok, let's meet at the staircase up the entrance here at 8pm.  We will walk to the 'Orchard Road' area at Laugavegur and look for dinner." instructed Adrian.
And we did...

The Icelandic apartments lobbies were all small small one.  Enough space to squeeze all of us in...

  To find ourselves again in Snow Snow and more Snow...

"Wow.. so nice, this angle!" I said.  And took a shot of Serene & Kai Sing.
"Wei, how come you all are still inside your room?" Acrux and Kai Sing disturbed the girls. "Wah, your room like that one ah? Underground one ah?  Can climb inside one leh!"
The hotel-room-breakers trying to climb in...
Eddy Chung very good!  He took a fantastic shot of us here.
Just outside the hotel.
Winter wonderland. Photo: Eddy Chung.

And so we went Gai-Gai-ing in Rekjavik in the snow, walking up the slope.  Here was a Google Earth map of our exact GPS track as we alighted from the Bus at the main road, walked up to Welcome Apartments and went gallivanting around..

Can even see where Serene, Kai Sing and I got lost!!!

Yan Yan trekking up Vatnstigur Street

So we walked in the newly laid snow up that slope.  It was eerily quiet.  Somehow I found it unbelievable.  Here were were, in the capital city of Iceland, at only about 8pm in the evening walking up towards what was supposed to be her 'Orchard Road' Laugavegur road.  And we hardly saw any pedestrians.

Just a little further up, we came to the Hverfisgata Road.

"Not this one.  The one AFTER this one.  That's the one that we are going to," said Adrian.

One more street to go...

And we conrinued walking.  The snow was light.  And strangely the human traffic was even lighter.  Occasionally the few Ang Moh young men, some couples, several Asian tourists, some British tourists.. and that was about all.  I simply could not imagine that this was THE Orchard Road of Reykjavic.  A population of 300,000 that stayed at home after 5pm.  I wasn't sure... but I was certainly more used to a city with a little more life, more rhythm, more vibes.

It was nice and cold, pretty conducive to just simply walking, and a little bit of  window-shopping.  While I continued marvelling at how quiet Laugavegur was.
"What shall we eat?" asked Adrian. "There are some restaurants down here.  But don't know whether still opened or not."
So we just wandered aimlessly, but eyes constantly peeled for something that resembled a restaurant.

Quiet quiet and quiet...

Until the guys found this Thai Restaurant at the further end of Laugavegur.  Fancy that! Coming all the way to Iceland to find a Thai Restaurant.  Ok lah, let's feast!
Nice to have a Thai Restaurant in Reykjavic.
I must say it was a wonderful dinner as Adrian simply let go and ordered dishes after dishes for the tables to share.  And on our way back to the apartments, we stopped frequently to take snap shots of the place.  For example, having this shot below to describe our trip so far...  Nothing short of...

"Let's walk left up this road towards the Church further up," someone suggested.
And the whole group went wandering further in.  Well, it was nice seeing the church in the dark, in the snow.  But time was running short, and we really needed to be back in the apartments.

"So how ah? Is this the last day in Iceland today?" someone asked.

Well, it definitely felt like it was the last day.  Especially since we had all returned to Reykjavik with a tone of finality in the air.  But heck no...

"No, tomorrow we will be travelling up to West Iceland for one more night," said Adrian.
Forever full of surprises, this SgTrekker.  Just when we thought this was the end, he sprung the surprise.  So!  The trip wasn't over yet!  Another day out of the city!  My heart jumped with joy for I didn't want the trip to end so quickly.  With that elation, we walked back.  The snow got a little heavier.  And the boys and girls were kinda in a hurry.  So they went ahead, leaving Serene, Kai Sing and I still taking iPhone shots and Point and Shoot shots of the place.

I just felt that the snow, the houses, the mood was so northern Europish.  And I kept shooting.

Another Ang Moh house.

Then we saw Kai Sing squatting further down the street holding his iPhone.  He was waiting for the moment Serene and I walked over to take a shot of us. 

Kai Sing hard at work, even with his iPhone.
"Ok, don't move," called out Kai Sing. "Ok now pose."
And we guai guai posed.  And he took a shot of us here..

Serene, I and the bicycle. Photo: Ng Kai Sing.

Lost in Reykjavic!!!

By the time we looked around.  Everyone had gone ahead.  We could see nobody.  Ok lah, let's just walked down.  We couldn't be far wrong. And we walked and we turned right.  Why on earth did we turn right I didn't know.  But we just did.  And as three of us walked we found the place tam-pok-bo-ho-sei... we were lost!
"Ok, Kai Sing, let me take a look at my Garmin Oregon.  I'm sure it was recording our track as we walked. All we need to do is look at where we started off from the hotel, and we should be able to make it back." I was pretty confident.
"Ok, you just lead.  I will follow," Kai Sing was also quite confident in me.
Lost in Reykjavik.  Photo: Ng Kai Sing.
But, wah lau eh!  We continued walking and walking and somehow I had a feeling that we were walking further and further away.  We stopped in the middle of the pavement and I studied the Garmin map really hard.  Shucks, the battery on the Garmin was running low.  We die die had to make our way back.  And soon.  After a while, I sorted out the bearing and made a U-turn, and back up to Hversfigata Road, and Laugavegur Road, and we found our landmarks, and we made our way back.
Back in the apartments, Adrian was worried sick.
"Where did you all go?" he asked. 'I tried calling you all but no answer."
"Sorry sorry, we were lost," I replied. "And we went window shopping at one of the Erotica shops down the road."
 What I knew for sure was, the night didn't end up on an erotic note.  We just slept and prepared ourselves for another long trip the next day.

Day 7 ~ Journey to the Snowy & Windy West!