Friday, March 7, 2014

Iceland Day 9 ~ Pushing through snowy blizzard back to Reykjavic

TRAVELLOGUE: Of 17 knot wind and snow, a white out KKJ waterfall, a magnificent Hraunfossar waterfall, and back to Reykjavic!

This was really the last day and last night in Iceland.  It definitely seemed far to me, at that point in time, to travel all the way that 322km from Hellissandur back to Reykjavic and to fly back early the next morning.

But 9 days were one heck of a long time to be travelling away from home, though it sure didn't feel long to me then.  I could feel a sense of the trip ending.  Sadly.  But all good things must end, even though it was all white and snowy for the last few days.

Early in the morning, we bid bye bye to Hotel Hellissandur and travelled north-east along Route 54.  On this day, our bus took us around the northern side of the Snaefellsnes peninsula, on the other side of the mountain range, before crossing the ranges and back down to the southern side and from there back to Reykjavik.

Adrian brought us to the fishing port at the tip of the peninsula, a sleepy port that was just waking up as we walked along its street, cold breeze hitting our olfactory senses with a pungent smell of the sea and its haul, an odour that one would usually associate with a busy wharf with workers unloading nets after nets of fresh catch from the sea.  Yeah, that was the precise atmosphere on that morning here at the port.

A panoramic shot of the fishing port by Serene.

From Hellisandur to Reykjavic...

I just couldn't praise enough of my Garmin Oregon GPS.  Except the rare occasions of signal issue, it was able to capture our GPS route for the vast majority of our trip.  And here, it excelled in doing its job, so that when we return to Singapore, we could still point out where we stopped for what sight and what memorable moments.  Here, in its full glory, our GPS track of Day 9...

The KKJ Kirkjufellsfoss Waterfall ~ a lovely sheet of total white out.
We all were herded blur blur from the fishing wharf to the middle of nowhere.  Truly, the middle of nowhere.  Because by this time the whole place was snowed out.  Everywhere we turned, it was white.  I would have loved to pen my description of the snow.  However, being a tropical-dweller, I had insufficient vocabulary.  Thus, suddenly when the bus stopped, we looked out into... a white nothingness.
Not exactly, the signboard 'KKJ fall' was probably the only thing clearly visible.

It took me a long while to comprehend this sign.  But in the end I could only interpret it the Singapore way...
Yan Yan, Hannah, Yilin and Norman were the hardcore shooters.  Even with the scene like this, they somehow managed to struggle down and stand in the freezing cold and shoot something out of nothing.  I could find nothing to shoot.  The only something that I had, was these good people as my foreground subjects.

Moments later, we were all back in the bus.  Adrian walked up the front entrance panting...
"Erm.. we are supposed to shoot that beautiful three waterfalls with the Kirkjufell mountain in the background.  But with the weather like this, we can't get anything.  I don't suggest walking to the bridge because it's slippery."
Porgrimur, the driver added: "Walk there?! It's hazardous!"  Hmm... first time I heard such strongly worded remark from the old man.
Adrian: "The two brave members who are still down there want to trek to the waterfall to shoot.. and.. I am going to follow them to make sure that they are ok.."
And off he disappeared into the snow.  Not long after, he appeared again, this time beaming.
"Heng ah!!! They decided not to walk there.  We're back!"
Hahaha.. this Adrian was really the funniest tour leader ever.

The bridge of seagulls after seagulls...
I remembered we drove to a bridge across a water body, most likely a river or something like that, and thr driver stopped the bus.  Preening out of the window, we saw many many seagulls flying on the surface of the water and swooping in for the catch in the water.  The boys and girls were so excited about the scene and we couldn't stop shooting.  But I had nothing to show for it.  My shots were all messed up.

Hazardous condition to drive.. and up a sloping windy, snowy pass some more...!

We could only see the yellow stick-markers protruding out on the edge of the road as the bus slowly eased along, and hardly anything else.  The driver was driving really slowly.  I looked at my GPS and realised that he was doing a very slow speed of about 50km/hr.  He pointed out to the road curving upwards to the right.  This was the pass that we were going through to, to punch through from the northern aspect of the range back down to the southern side.  Alex Kaan was remarking that the crosswind was blowing at 17 m/s, which made it 60km/hr.  If we were to be cycling out here now, we would not only not be moving forward, but would be moving backwards and side-way!

The shop with the Icicle... and the 100 ISK per use toilet.

Alex Kaan doing a portraiture of the signboard.

Very soon after the pass, we arrived at this little 'technical break'.  It was a small little restaurant as shown in the map above.  The interesting thing was, this toilet break required one to pay 100 ISK per use (S$1.16).  I thought, compared with Singapore where one paid 20 cents per use, the toilet paper here must be powdery soft.  Anyway, I would remember this place as the 'Shop-with-the-icicles' because we took a shot of the icicles and some snow on my gloved hand.

Here was Eddy Chung's shot of me shooting the icicles.
Photo: Courtesy of Eddy Chung.

The shop with the Puffin Cap...
Here at the road junction between the route to Hraunfossar and to Reykjavik was a restaurant cum petrol station cum supermarket. We were here previously en route to the west, and on this day we came back to this shop again.   Later as we returned from Hraunfossar, we would come back to this shop once more.  What made this shop so memorable was that it sold Puffin caps, all shapes and sizes.
Our Puffin acting cute.

Hraunfossar Waterfall!

They had said that a tour of Iceland would be a tour of waterfalls.  Certainly we saw so many waterfalls from the front, the side, the back... with full rainbows, without rainbows, with slippery icy path or with rocky pavements, through clear sky or in misty snow... that most of us couldn't tell one waterfall from another.
We were supposed to make our way to a waterfall called Barnasfoss waterfall.  But slippery and wet conditions got it truncated by our Great (Tour) Leader Adrian.  So we ended up only going to Hraunfossar.. which was JUST before Barnasfoss.
Here was a point and shoot panorma shot by Serene.

Serene was saying to me... "I saw Carol just walking smilingly across the water-fall and I took a shot of her." Here was that shot...

We walked past this wooden platform and the hardcore ones were already set up and shooting..

Suffering silently in the freezing cold, my frozen fingers managed to do some LE. But they really weren't anything to shout about.  I took a close look at them and found that Serene's point and shoot did overall, a better job than mine, the only difference being mine has slightly silkier water fall.

Eddy was in front of us.  And he called out to us:
"Careful! This part is very slippery.  It's all frozen ice."
And we walked round it.  The scenery was spectacular.  It was almost like viewing many many waterfalls at once from afar.  Out of a sudden, I didn't feel like shooting. I just wanted to take one shot and let it be.  The colour cast from the ND filters, the many marks and spots on the GND filters had really degraded the quality of the pictures.  And I really felt discouraged by these.  I just walked gingerly on the slippery ice, with Serene holding my right arm to steady me.  Such a wonderful moment.  Just walked and enjoyed the cold freezing wind and the view.
I felt Serene's shot did the delightful sight more justice than my LE.

Here were Serene's shots.

And while we were standing on the middle bridge, we looked ahead and saw our Reds again in the distance, their reds contrasting sharply with the whites of the surrounding.  Again, another shot by Serene.

And here was my shot.   An LE.  But I think I had enough of LE.  This was probably my last LE of the trip.

Deildartunguhver Thermal Spring
Arriving at Deildartunguhver, we could sense that the capital city was near.  It was more like a perfunctory view, an obligatory visit.  But Kai Sing really spiced up the scene with his action.

Adrian was trying his bestest to get everybody together for a group photo and hurried the group up the bus.

Haha.. yeah, we needed to arrive at Reykjavik in time to buy dinner for the night.  Kentucky Fried Chicken it was going to be.
"There is another KFC further out from Reykjavik," said Porgrimur. "We don't need to go into Reykjavic to buy KFC."
That was a good idea.  And our map above showed exactly where we stopped before we entered Reykjavic proper, to buy our KFC.

Kentucky Fried Chicken!!

And we couldn't wait to have our fingers lickin' that evening.

A visibly much more relieved Adrian stood breathing easy at KFC, waiting for his turn to order.. But...

Aiyja-fjalla-jokull!!!  We didn't realise that in Iceland, their KFCs go by a number queuing system!  And after joining the queue and finding out that he needed to get a ticket, Adrian grudgingly obliged.

S$400 for KFC for 17 persons... and we all walked out carrying big and small packets of finger lickin' juicy chickens, true to SgTrekker traditions!

Bidding Farewell to Porigrimur Isaksen, our driver...
Sob... it had to come to this.  These nine eventful days we went through with this tall, steady Icelandic man.  Adrian represented all of us to shake his huge hand and say good bye to him.  Tears welling in our Tour leader's eyes as he passed the lanky man his well-deserved envelope...

Welcome Apartments, Reykjavik... again!
And this time round, Serene and I were so lucky to be allocated the only room with access to the back courtyard! All to ourselves! Man, I went crazy... fresh new snow, untouched, un-stepped-on..

Dar, take a picture of me ~ called Serene.
I took a step backwards and took a shot of the back of the building at the courtyard.

Adrian and Derek preparing our dinner for the night...
Adrian & Derek preparing dinner...

I peeped through the opened window and spied our two good men getting the whole group's KFC dinner arranged.  We had three pieces of chicken allocated per person, another 3 pieces of the drumlets, and endless coleslaw.

"Wah lau!" complained Adrian. "This coleslaw is so RAW! Really cannot make it.  No standard.  I am NOT going to eat it."

And Adrian was right.  The coleslaw was a little hard, and a little too raw.  But I still wallopped a full container of it.  I must have been really hungry.  On this evening, as the day drew almost to an end, and the night began to set in, this group of tired and hungry travellers congregate in the huge apartment room of Adrian and Derek to have our first KFC meal of Iceland.

These three roommates enjoyed their KFC.  I think the most hungry one must have been the little one in the middle.

Lai Peng certainly knew how to enjoy her KFC.

"Ok, after dinner, who wants to go and shoot the church again in the night, and then after that go to shoot the monument by the seaside?" asked Adrian.  
All nodded their heads.  Of course lah... this was the last night already.  Gotta go and shoot whatever we could.

So finally on this night, I managed to properly set up my camera for Hallgrimkirkja Lutheran Church... in the freezing cold wind.  Thankfully the sky was clear on this night.

"DAR, it's very very cold!" cried Serene.
"Yes, I know.. I just gotta finish off these last few shots," said I. "Give me a little more time."

"Ok, I am going to shine the torchlight onto the front of the church.." readied Alex Kaan. "You all get ready ok?  Ok? One.. two.. three!"
And with his powerful torch, we did a Long Exposure on the church again.  From this angle.

"Ok, we're done here," announced Adrian. "Teck Siang and Yilin are waiting for us at the Sun Voyager Monument at the seaside.  Let's start walking towards them.. We are hoping (really fat hope) to see if we could catch some Aurora with that monument as foreground."
So we started walking.  But when one walked with photographers, the walk was also bo-bar-kay one.  Because one would always get distracted by some subjects and had to stop right in his track to shoot.  Like what we did here.  It wasn't enough just shooting the church, we had to shoot the buildings and the houses too.  But here, I followed Adrian.  He was the one who stopped to shoot.  He was instructing Hannah to find a good angle to shoot here.

Tripodded shot.
And yet another...

The boys and girls were ahead of us, leaving only Serene, myself, Adrian and Hannah walking slowly behind.  I suddenly saw a small lane and I slipped inside while waiting for Adrian and Hannah.  And Serene took a shot of me getting my tripodded camera ready...

And I took a shot of the scene like this.

An old Mercedes in an Icelandic city...
We finally managed to catch up with the front guys.  And they were all plonked in the middle of the 'Orchard Road',  Laugavegur Road, some shooting the car light trails.

Adrian started showing Hannah how to shoot the car lights as trails.. And I decided hey I'd better try that too.  The night was still young and my watch said 9:21pm.  But in Icelandic time, it was way past bedtime liao... and all the adults and children were tucked in their beds.  The only people who were still roaming Reykjavic at this time were a bunch of photo-crazy Singaporeans...

And here was my shot...

And Serene took the chance to shoot the famous Puffin shop in Reykjavic..

The late-night tattoo artist...
We were almost arriving at the seaside.  Then suddenly someone spotted a lit shop on the right side of the road... through the glass plane we could see a tattoo artist hard at work.. and we all just stood mesmerized by this moment.

The Sun Voyager Monument

We gingerly grossed the snow-covered divider of the main road and came to the seaside.  What aurora?  There wasn't going to be any aurora that night.  Everyone ended up shooting the Viking-themed monument.

But after a while, there wasn't much left to shoot.  And I ended the night with this last shot on the camera-  The Reykjavik Seaside by Night.

Well, the lack of an aurora on this night didn't disappoint us.  We all had our share of aurora already.  Compared with the group of poor Hong Kongers who we met in Gerdi, who spent five nights without catching a glimpse of the aurora, we were considered fortunate.
This Sun Voyager Monument was a good ending to a fantastic voyage for this group of photographers.  We were contented.
And the contentment took us back to our apartments that night, and eased us into our sweet dreams.

Iceland Day 10 ~ Journey back home... Oslo - Helsinki to one of the most amazing Norwegian dinner.