Category Archives: geology

Spelunking Playa Del Carmen

Location: Cozumel, Mexico

Today was our second and last day in Cozumel. We booked an excursion that would take us to a nearby limestone cave on the mainland. We had to wake up pretty early this morning to take the tour, like earlier-than-the-oceanview-cafe-is-open early. Not because our excursion was particularly long, but because the Chichen Itza tour needed to leave really early, and they wanted all of the mainland tours to take and return on the same ferry.

So we left the sip at 7:00 and took the ferry across the channel to Playa del Carmen. Last year the voyage was pretty rough and lots of people got sea sick. We were extra prepared this time and wore seabands, took bonine beforehand and sat in the back of the boat. It wasn’t needed because the waters were pretty calm.

Next we met the pier guide and boarded a van to take us to “Rio Secreto” (or Secret River) site. From there we got into our swimwear (we had an option for wet suits), showered, put on life vests, hard-hats with lights, and equipped a walking stick. Then we took a short hike through the jungle to get to the cave. They claimed that we were entering the Mayan underworld, so a Mayan priest said a prayer and shook incense before us prior to going down the chasm.

This one cave is one of the largest in world, coming in about 27 miles long. There is another cave nearby which is nearly as large, if the two were discovered to be connected, then it would be the largest in the world.

We spent about 2 hours in the cave network. The only lights were from our hard-hats lights, guides flashlight, and the flash of the photographer’s camera. It could get very dark in there. We traveled about half a mile during that time and went between 20-60 feet deep. We had to navigate and climb over and between stalactites and stalagmites. And for prolonged periods we had to wade through waist-deep water. The water was comfortably cool/warm, about 75F. The path through our section of the cave, nicknamed “Happy” was generally clear. Our trek through the lava tube in Iceland was more challenging. At times our guide stopped to briefly talk about the formation of the chamber and some of the geology of the cave. Rachel occasionally added to the conversation with her geology background. During this time the group photographer would sneakily preposition himself to get pictures of us going through the cave.

You might be wondering at this point ‘Where are Rachel’s photographs?’ Well there aren’t any. We weren’t allowed to bring our cameras on this tour. We did have an option to buy photos of our tour at the end, but they weren’t the most flattering. Plus, when Ryan heard the price he asked “US Dollars or Pesos?!”. …So this post will be a little devoid of original photos. But you can see a few examples on the company’s website.

Toward the end of our journey through the cave we had to forgo hiking and actually swim through the underground river to progress through network. We were very adept at the swim, especially compared with the rest of the group.

Eventually our journey through the underground river came to an end and we made our way back to the surface. We dropped off our gear at the station then went to food-hut for lunch. An authentic Mexican buffet lunch was provided. We heeded the warming about the very hot and spicy sauces and had a mild lunch. Others in the group ignored those warnings to their own dismay.

Following lunch we were driven back to Playa del Carmen. We had about two hours here of free time before we could catch the water taxi back to Cozumel. We couldn’t leave any earlier, and we had to wait for the Chichen Itza tour to return so that all of the mainland tours could arrive at the ship at the same time.

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We spent some of this time at the beach. And even took a short break for ice cream before taking the water taxi back to the ship.

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Tonight’s entertainment was David Guidice, who performed a Billy Joel tribute on piano. Always fun.

Tonight was also lobster night. We each had two lobster tails.

Tomorrow is a day at sea and our last full day of the cruise. We don’t plan to be very active, just more of the usual. If we don’t post tomorrow, we’ll post the following day.

Free purell squirts: 3

Total steps: 10,090

Total distanced caved: ~ half a mile underground, but a quarter mile through the jungle

 

Fluke’ing up Juneau

Location: Juneau, Alaska

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Today we made port in Juneau, the capitol of Alaska. Since we are uninterested in Alaskan politics we did the usual tourist things: whale watching and visiting Mendenhall Glacier. We booked an excursion which allowed us to do both.

The first thing we did on the excursion was to go up the coast a little bit, board a boat and go searching for whales. During this season, humpbacks were the most plentiful. We spent about 2 hours on a jet boat looking at about 7-8 different humpbacks. We saw lots of stellar sea lions as well, but the tour was mostly focused on the humpbacks.

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We weren’t allowed to approach within 100 yards of a whale. But they are allowed to approach us. And one large whale came right at our boat! He swam under and joined another whale feeding near a salmon hatchery.

We're gonna need a bigger boat!
We’re gonna need a bigger boat!

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There were 2-3 whales in the area trying to corral the fish up against the rocks to make feeding easier. At the end of our tour, they even began bubble netting, but we couldn’t get any good pictures.

The second part of the excursion took us to Mendenhall Glacier. This is one of the more famous and accessible glaciers in the inner passage. But it is retreating quickly. It may not be around in 30-40 years. Not too long ago, the glacier extended past Nugget Falls (see below), today it’s more than a mile behind. We’ve seen a rapidly retreating glacier before in Iceland.

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We only had an hour here. To make the most of our time, we took different trails to get pictures. Rachel went down the Photo Point Trail because: Rachel.

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Ryan went out on the longer Nugget Falls Trails to get closer pictures of the glacier.

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A view of Mendenhall Glacier from a third of the way up Nugget Falls.

On our way back to the ship we passed by a creek with many bald and golden eagles. Yet again, we weren’t able to get any good pictures.

In the evening we saw a comedy juggling act of Wilde and James. We saw them last December on the Freedom of the Seas. It was the same enjoyable shtick as before. See our previous review here.

Tomorrow we make port in Skagway, Alaska. We won’t spend much time here though, because we will be going on a full day excursion up the White Pass and into the Yukon Territory.

Today’s Weather: High 64, Low 46, Mostly Cloudy

Sunrise: 4:05am Sunset: 9:47pm

Total Steps: 11,203 (Rachel)

 

Hubbard Glacier

Location: Hubbard Glacier, Alaska

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Today was the first of two “at sea” days of the cruise, and effectively the first “day off” we have had since our trip began. The highlight today was a scenic cruise of the Hubbard Glacier. This glacier is one of the largest in Alaska, and one of the few glaciers in the world that is actually growing, due in part to the local geography and that fact that many smaller glaciers and icefields feed into it.

We arrived into Disenchantment Bay in the middle of the day, and then spent about an hour navigating the fjord, avoiding the small pieces of ice in the waters. Eventually we arrived within a mile of the front of the Glacier. The Radiance spent about 2-3 hours here slowly spinning to allow everyone a chance to look at the glacier.

Approaching the Hubbard Glacier
Approaching the Hubbard Glacier

The weather was perfect today to observe the glacier: sunny, lower 60s and no wind. The ships “naturalist” lamented that this was the best weather he’d seen in 10 years of coming here.

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We got to see and hear lots of calving during our time at the glacier. Which was really cool, because we hadn’t seen that during our time at the Endeavour Glacier.

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Today was also the first formal night of the cruise. We got dressed up and took this photo.

You can't tell, but Ryan is not wearing shoes in this photo
You can’t tell, but Ryan is not wearing shoes in this photo

After dinner we attended a comedy show.

Tomorrow we make port in Juneau, Alaska, where we’ll watch whales and visit the Mendenhall Glacier.

Today’s Weather: High 71, Low 41, Sunny

Total Steps: 7,053

Sunrise: 4:14am, Sunset 10:18pm (and we got to see it too)

 

The Orca Super Pod at Kenai Fjord

Location: Seward, Alaska

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Today we drove from Anchorage down to Seward. It was a relatively quick and scenic drive compared with our drives of the previous two days, aided by the sunny skies. We saw a lot of bald eagles during our drive, but we didn’t stop to get any picture because we had a tight schedule to keep to go on a cruise tour of the Kenai Fjords.

We should mention that the weather was perfect today. Upper sixties, mostly sunny, very calm seas, and little wind. What a contrast from yesterday!

We boarded the Callisto Voyager around 11 and made our way out of the Resurrection Bay. As we waited for the ship to leave, we got to watch a sea otter playing around by the docks. He even escorted the ship through part of the harbor.

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Our first stop on the cruise was to look at a puffins on Hive and Rugged Islands. This was our first time seeing puffins in the wild. We were in Iceland during the wrong season to see them last year.

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Next we ventured out into the Gulf of Alaska to attempt some whale watching. It’s usually hit or miss with whale watching in this part of Alaska during this time of year. But apparently we timed it perfectly. Not only did we spot a pod of orcas coming in, we spotted several pods of orcas arriving from a far. This was the first day of orca mating season, and both local and transient pods were joining together in the Kenai Fjords to engage in reproductive activities. Some of which we actually witnessed. By the end of the day, the dozens upon dozens of orcas began swimming together as a super pod. This kind of congregation is seen only 2-3 days a year!

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We took a break from watching the orcas, and made way towards Chat Island where a colony of sea lions spend the day sunning themselves.

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The ship then proceeded to the Holgate Glacier. We spent over 20 minutes here observing the glacier. The crew even took a few small icebergs out the arm (water) so that we could feel the glacial ice and pose with pictures of it.

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Holding glacial ice

We didn’t actually get that close to the glacier, so our sense of scale was off. We would see the glacier calve, then hear the loud crack 2.5 seconds later. It wasn’t until we left the glacier and saw another similar sized ship approach later that we could get a great sense for how huge it truly is!

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Notice the ship near the base of the glacier.

Along with the glacier, there were numerous other scenic vistas and wild animals.

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Mountain goats
Mountain goats

Including our first good bald eagle picture

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On our way back to Seward we encountered a lone humpback whale tail slapping the water in the distance. We’re not sure if he was trying to attract the attention of other whales, or the tour boats. It certainly got our attention!

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When we got close, he stopped slapping his tail, and started doing pectoral slaps.

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By this point another two tour boats arrived. He kept up with the pectoral slaps for a while and then switched over to breeching! Amazing!

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After leaving the humpback whale, we encountered another large pod of orcas. This time, there was also a group of sea lions nearby. They were not happy to see the orcas (since orcas sometimes eat them), and were very vocal about it.

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Angry sea lions 'barking' at the orcas.

Angry sea lions ‘barking’ at the orcas.

We were told that on most days, the tour would be lucky to see any whales. Today we had the problem of seeing so many, so close, on opposite sides of the ship, that we had trouble keeping up with the photo taking opportunities.

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It was a fantastic tour!

On the drive back to Anchorage, we stopped to see the portage glacier.

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Tomorrow we visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center on our way back down to Seward. We’ll also visit the Alaska Sealife Center in town. Lastly, we kickoff the second half of our Alaska trip by boarding the Radiance of the Seas for a one week cruise.

Today’s Weather: High 69, Low 47, Mostly Sunny

Sunrise: 4:46am, Sunset: 11:09pm

Total sea mammals observed: Humpback whale, orca, sea otter, sea lion

Total puffins species observed: 2, horned and tufted

Total watercraft: 1

Total bald eagles observed: dozens

Total orcas: too numerous to count

Total steps: 5,117

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Top of the World

Location: Barrow, Alaska

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It should not surprise our regular readers that we (read: Ryan) like to go to geographical extremes on our trips. Today was the day or our trip that reached a new distance goal. Our destination today was well above the Arctic Circle: Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost part of the United States.

Currently Barrow is experiencing 24 hr daylight. This served to really mess with our internal clocks and calendars. But it’s also a great deterrent for vampires.

Just like previous days, we woke up pretty early to catch a flight. We got to the airport, then took a plane north toward Prudhoe Bay. We hoped to be able to get some good pictures during the flight, but because of the clouds (and the fact that we were on the starboard side of the plane) we were unable to see Denali. We arrived at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska without incident. We had a short stop where some passengers deplaned and a few more got on board. We didn’t even have to change seats. After another 35 min flight we arrived at Barrow.

We arranged a tour with the Top of the World hotel. They picked us up at the airport, and then took us to the hotel to see local Inupiat dancers. After the show, we went for a tour of town.

We got to see many of the highlights of the town, the whale bone arches and any other whale bone artifacts, ice cellar (where whale meat is stored), the smurf turf high school football field (as seen on ESPN), and the northernmost bridge in the world.

Whale bone arch
Whale bone arch
Blue astroturf football field.
Blue astroturf football field.

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We even got to see the Barrow palm trees, made up of driftwood and baleen.

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The tour took us to northernmost point of the US road system. We got out here to touch the Arctic Ocean. With this stop we have now visited all five of the worlds oceans (North and South Atlantic, North and South Pacific, Indian, Southern, and Arctic). From here we could also see Point Barrow, the northernmost point in the US, a few miles off in the distance. Because of the constant threat of polar bears, and presently unfavorable terrain, we weren’t able to actually make it to the point. We made it as far as 71.357353 N, 156.538716 W,  close enough though.

Point Barrow
Point Barrow
Touching the Arctic Ocean
Touching the Arctic Ocean
Touching the Arctic Ocean
Touching the Arctic Ocean

Afterwards we went to see some whaling boats. The locals have a tightly regulated indigenous whaling culture. The whaling techniques are essentially unchanged for thousands of years, including the use of seal skin paddle driven longboats, and hand thrown harpoons.

Whaling boat
Whaling boat

All along the tour we were on the lookout for wildlife. We didn’t see any polar bears, but we did see some seals out on the ice. We were too far to get pictures good enough to post here. Near the end of hte tour we ventured out into the Tundra to look for snowy owls. The original name for the area, Utqiaġvik, actually translates to “place to hunt snow owls”. We found one, and Rachel got some pictures.

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We were also taken to the grocery store, just to show how expensive food is priced. $10+ for a gallon of milk, $18 for orange juice, $8 for a bag of chips. Everything has to be flown in, and foods with expiration dates can be very expensive.

The tour concluded with a stop at the Inupiat Heritage Center, where we learned more about the local culture, whaling, and Inupiat art. The Heritage Center is affiliated with the park service, and we got our National Parks passport book stamped.

Lastly we took a flight back to Anchorage. This time we were on a direct flight. Again we were on the wrong side of the plane (port) to see any mountains.

Tomorrow we visit Talkeetna and drive up to Denali.

Today’s weather: High 41, Low 29, Overcast

Sunrise: NA (3:00am May 10), Sunset: NA (1:52am August 2)

Total flights: 3

Total Oceans seen: 2 (Pacific, Arctic)

Northernmost point: 71.357353 N

Total Steps: 10,629

The Top Of The World
The Top Of The World

Anchorage

Location: Seattle -> Anchorage

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Today we woke up at 3:30 AM to make our way to Alaska. We got to the airport, found a Starbucks in the terminal, got breakfast, then boarded the plane.  We slept the first half of the flight. But we were treated to some great airborne shots of the Chugach Mountains on our way into Anchorage. Lots of cool views of glaciers, outwash plains, and other glacial features.

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We checked into the hotel after landing and picking up our rental car. We spent about an hour settling in before we went out to explore some local Anchorage parks. Our first stop took us to the Glen Alps trail head. We took a short hike to the top of a hill and we treated to a great panoramic view of the area.

Anchorage
Anchorage
The other side of the view.
The other side of the view.

Next we went to the Kincaid sand dunes just south of the airport. Instead of parking adjacent to the sand dunes, we elected to park a little farther away and take a nature hike en route. We didn’t get to see any wildlife. After a 20 min walk we made it to the sand dune. It’s essentially a giant pile of sand and silt that gets blown in from the nearby tidal plain. It may eventually overtake the entire park. But in the meantime, it makes for a recreational area and motorcross track.

The sand dunes seen through the trees.
The sand dunes seen through the trees.
If you look closely, you can see Ryan in the upper right corner of the photo.
If you look closely, you can see Ryan in the upper right corner of the photo.
Here is a closer look.
Here is a closer look.

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The trail.
The trail.

Our last tourism stop of the day took us to Captain Cook Monument at Resolution Park, because: Ryan.

Captain Cook Monument
Captain Cook Monument

We spent the rest of the day back at the hotel, enjoying the hot tub and relaxing after a full couple of days. Tomorrow we make a day trip to Barrow, Alaska where we’ll visit the northernmost point of the US and visit the Arctic Ocean.

Today’s weather: High 55, Low 46, occasional scattered clouds

Sunrise: 4:53am – Sunset: 11:00pm

Total parks: 3

Total flights: 1

Cape Agulhas

Location: Cape Agulhas

We were in our usual vacation mode today, by waking up early to go on a tour. Wayne was our guide again and today he was taking on a tour to see Cape Agulhas. The lesser known Cape Agulhas is the true southernmost point of Africa and the location delineating the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. It is out of the way and not very scenic so it is less known compared to the southwestern most tip of Africa: The Cape of Good Hope. There also isn’t much demand to visit, Wayne told us that he typically only gives that tour about 3 times a year.

We started out of the city and made our way west. We got to see Cape Town’s rush hour traffic with cars moving very slowly in the opposite direction. Along the way we saw some of the townships and reservations where many of the Cape Town workers reside. Wayne carefully explained the various commutes and the history of the communities.

Along the way we stopped for tea/coffee at a padstal, or South African farmers stall, in Napier. We also had our first taste of rusks, which are something akin to biscotti, but its much better at absorbing tea and coffee.

After a short drive we arrived at the Cape Agulhas lighthouse. There was a small lighthouse museum inside which talked about the history and design of the lighthouse, and overviews of other famous SA lighthouses. The Agulhas lighthouse was designed to look like the Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt.  After browsing the museum, we made our way up the steep and narrow stairs to the top of the lighthouse. We took a few photos of the cape from the top.

Ryan climbing up the ladder to the top of the lighthouse.
Ryan climbing up the ladder to the top of the lighthouse.

Next we went to the actual Cape Agulhas itself. It should go without saying that this is the southernmost point of our trip. Agulhas is Portuguese for ‘needles’. You might think it came from the sharp rocks that are found all along it’s coast, but its really because the sailors compass needles pointed true north-south without deviation from this cape. Wayne parked at a nearby parking lot and then we walked along a boardwalk to get to the monument demarcating the cape and the locations of the two oceans.

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Making sure we were both on both sides!
Making sure we were both on both sides!

In all of our research for this trip, we never saw photos of the oceans behind the monument, nor the obvious picture of someone standing in two oceans at the same time. Well there’s a good reason for that.

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Ryan carefully climbed about the jagged rocks, identified and got to the point on the coast between the two oceans. Here’s a picture looking out from the coastline. The water gets very deep very fast at this point.

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And here’s the obligatory beach vacation photo showing feet:

Proof that Ryan is in two oceans at the same time.
Proof that Ryan is in two oceans at the same time.

On the way back to Cape Town, we drove through Gansbaii, the great white shark town we will be visiting tomorrow.

Later, we had lunch in Hermanus, which is well known for whale watching. We both had sushi at Lemon Butta. The restaurant over looked the bay so we got to see a Southern Right Whale off in the distance. After lunch we went walked along the bay to continue watching the whale and get some better pictures then we could from the restaurant.

The view from lunch
The view from lunch
A whale sighting!
A whale sighting!

We had an uneventful but scenic drive back to Town.

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Wayne the dropped us off at the Victoria and Alfred Water Front. During the day, people come here for scenic cruises, high end shopping and dining. We walked around for a little bit before having dinner at Primi-Piatti inside the mall. Wayne recommended it, and we’re glad he did because the food was excellent, with generous serving sizes, and a low cost.

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The waterfront.

We came back to the hotel to fall asleep early, because we have to wake up at 3:30 AM tomorrow to go cage diving to see great white sharks (well Ryan is anyway… Rachel is staying on the boat)!

Total steps: 9,882

Total cetaceans observed: 1 (southern right)

 

 

Northern highLights

We’ve been back home for over a month now and we finally finished editing the photos and making movies of our adventure north. Life got very busy when we got back, so photo editing got pushed on the back burner.

Since this was not one of our longer trips, we’re going to deviate from a top five list and just show the highlights of our trip using photos, some that we were unable to upload during the trip.

Our Northern Highlights

1) Aurora Borealis

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Ryan enjoying the Northern Lights
Ryan enjoying the Northern Lights

2) Glacier Hike

Getting ready to hike on a glacier.
Getting ready to hike on a glacier.

3) Waterfalls

Gulfross Waterfall
Gulfross Waterfall
Skogafoss waterfall
Seljalandsfoss waterfall

4) Silfra

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silfra

5) Partial Eclipse

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6) Icelandic Countryside

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This is exactly how the Icelandic countryside looked!

 

HBO studios in Iceland. Yay Game of Thrones!
HBO studios in Iceland. Yay Game of Thrones!

Distances and Travel

  • By water: 0.2 mi (snorkeling only, no watercraft)
  • By air: 5880 mi on two planes
  • By car: ~1150 km
  • Total steps via fitbit: 52,958 (high: 14,893)
  • Total walking: 21.7 mi
  • Total Hotels: 1
  • Total distance: ~6617 mi

For reference the circumference of the Earth is 24,901 mi

Geography

  • Total Countries: 1 (Iceland)
  • Total Continental Plates: 2 (North American and Eurasian)
  • Total Hemispheres: 1 (NW)
  • Total Oceans: 1 (North Atlantic)
  • Total Timezones: 2 (EDT, UTC)
  • Highest Elevation: 1872 feet (Solheimajökull Glacier)
  • Lowest Elevation: Sea level
  • Farthest Point North: Gullfoss Falls (64°19´34″N)
  • Farthest Point East:  Reynisfjara (19° 2’29.98″W)

[Space] Weather

  • High Temperature: 45° F
  • Low Temperature: 25° F
  • Highest Kp during the trip: 4.3
  • Highest Kp when we were actually able to see the aurora: 2.7
  • Aurora colors observed: 5 (green, red, purple, blue, pink)
  • Total Eclipses: 0
  • Partial Eclipses: 1

Photography

  • Total Pictures: 1,586
  • Total Videos: 9
  • Total Selfies: 21
  • Total souvenir pictures bought: 0

This wraps up our trip to Iceland. Join us again June when we go on an Eastern Caribbean Cruise aboard the world’s largest cruise ship, The Oasis of the Seas.

 

Beneath the Surface in Iceland

Location: Reykjavik, Iceland

Today was extreme geology fun day. Our tour today first took us to Leiðarendi cave in a lava field south of town. We donned caving helmets and strapped on LED helmet lights and made our way across the lava field to the cave entrance. The entrance itself was a small hidden hole in the ground. A fresh rope double staked into the ground provided the only support down the steep icy path to the depths within the cave.

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The hardest part of the cave was in the first 20 meters or so. It was still cold toward the front and the icy deposits were all over the cave floor. In the summer this would not be a issue, but today it was a very slippery and scraping against the tough walls was a guarantee. Travel deeper into cave was not much easier, ice was replaced with uneven rock piles and stacked boulders which all required careful maneuvering to pass. But the effort was well worth it, we got to see many aspects of this lava tube including a variety of colors, stalactites and stalagmites, and sparkling bacterial colonies. Toward the back of the cave, there were even remains of a 800+ year old lamb. Archaeologists date it back to one of the earliest settlers on the island. It appeared that this goat was trying to escape a volcanic eruption which occurred at the time.

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stalagmite

 

Getting out of the cave was nearly as much fun, but strangely easier than we dreaded.

Our next stop took us north of Reykjavik and back to þingvellir park. We were going below the surface again today, but not underground. Instead we were going snorkeling in the silfra fissure. Slifra is one of the rifts between the North American and Eurasian plates. It is connected to the lake and it therefore flooded. The source of water from the lake is from a nearby glacier. But to reach the lake the water must first spend 20-30 years being filter through lava rock. The results is crystal clear water. Visibility is over 160 m!

Yes it is still essentially winter in Iceland, yes it was snowing, and yes it was really cold. But the water was only 2 C, not freezing. But yeah, still really cold. So to help, over our normal clothes we wore these teddy-bear suits, essentially a down full body suit. It was very comfortable! So comfortable and warm in fact, that the dive instructor later told us the he frequently has to stop people from stealing them. On top of the warm body suit we had to wear a tight dry suit, which kept the water from leaking through. A rubber choke collar completes the set. A lot of air naturally got trapped inside and provides ample buoyancy while snorkling. We were also given special padded thick latex gloves and head gear to make us marginally less frozen in those areas. It took about an hour for everyone to get their gear on properly.

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We had a 5 minute walk to the Silfra Fissure which feeds into the lake, crossing a street. It´s pretty comical to see people in snorkel and scuba gear crossing the road in Iceland. After reaching the lake, we donned our masks, snorkel, and flippers and walked into the water.

We are ready!
We are ready!

It was still cold. Especially in the unprotected area of our lower face.

But the view was magnificent! Perfectly clear water. We could see the two continental plates within arms reach on either side. Crustal rock, pulled apart from by plate tectonics littered the lake bed. We had a gentle swim through Silfra, aided in part by the glacial water current which feeds the lake. It was a scenic, awe inspiring, and cold 20 minutes before we made it to the lake proper. The fissure was at times over 25 m deep. We could easily see the bottom. Toward the end of the fissure we could see an island on the lake over 160 m away. The water was so clear that is appeared to be only a very short distance away.

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At some point during the snorkel it started snowing.

Instead of venturing further into the lake, we were directed to a nearby lagoon. Our guide called it the true blue lagoon. A gentle jab at the popular tourist trap near the airport. We spent some time exploring this shallow blue area before getting out to go back to the hotel. It was a cold, snowy walk back from the lake to the van to get changed. It took about 20 min for everyone to strip off the swim gear.

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An amusing scuba crossing sign.
An amusing scuba crossing sign.

The ride back to the hotel was uneventful. But we did have a short stop to sample dried cod, and Icelandic staple.

Speaking of which, we had dinner again tonight at the hotel restaurant, Satt. We came back to have the baby-back ribs because, they were some of the best ribs we ever had!

After dinner we went out to watch the northern lights.This time we went with a different company, Gateway to Iceland, which used a van instead of a large bus. Tonight we ventured to a dark corner in the southwest section of the country, not far from the international airport. There weren´t many clouds in the sky, and it was pretty dark. Our guide pulled over in a nice secluded spots in farm country. We quickly got off the bus and set up our first camera. We pointed it at a patch of sky slightly brighter than the rest. We learned a lot from our experience on Saturday. Meanwhile the driver started to gather the other passengers around. He explained that it can take a while to find the lights even on the best of nights, and that paitence is a necessaity. He began to explain that sometimes cameras can see the lights before humans when…

Rachel´s first photo returned. We spotted the aurora within a minute. Ryan shouted, “we found the lights. it´s over there” and pointed in the direction of the aurora. And that´s pretty much how the rest of the night went. We spotted the aurora and helped out a few others with their camera work.

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There was one really good aurora tonight. We saw it do its dance in the sky, and at times could see both the greens and reds with the naked eye. The camera however spotted other colors, such as blue, purple, and pink.  Unfortunately the best photos were taken using a camera with the SD card, so we can´t upload those photos today. We hope to show those pictures and others later this week after we return home and can properly process them.

During the tour, the driver moved the van twice more to get a better view in the sky. A great improvement over last night.

Tomorrow, we sadly have to fly home. We plan to be Icelandic and lounge around in a hot tub in the morning, then fly home in the afternoon.

Total steps: 12,593

Total continental plates steped upon: 2 (North American and Eurasian)

Total northern light colors seen: 5 (green, red, pink, purple, blue)

kp=2.7

p.s. The hotel (Icelandair Natura) helped us secure a refund for the Northern Lights tour from the previous night.

Waterfalls, Glaciers, and Volcanoes! Oh my!

Location: Southwest Coast of Iceland

Today was another early day for us. We woke up with just enough time to grab a quick breakfast before setting out on tour of the Southwestern Iceland Coast. It took us over 90 min to get to our first stop of the day, the Skogafoss waterfall. It was a very tall waterfall and there were stairs nearby to take us to a viewing platform near the top. We both went quickly to the base of the falls for the obligatory pictures. Rachel stayed at the bottom to do the artistic photos, whereas Ryan ran up 460 stairs to get pictures from the the viewing platform at the top. On the way back down he also took a side mudpath to a jutting cliff to get more pictures at mid-height.

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Our next stop was today´s main event, a hike up the Solheimajökull glacier. In the parking lot we got fitted up for strap on metal spikes for our boots. Then we carried the spikes and ice-adze about a mile away to the base of the glacier. About 14 years ago, the glacier was at the base of the parking lot. Clearly its receded since then!

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We then put the spikes on our boots and after a quick training in glacial walking made our way up the glacier. The guides walked us up the mountain on a curvy path, trying to avoid the crevasses and moulins that would cause us to have a really bad day. Every so often they would stop the group for time to take pictures and allow everyone to catch their breath.

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After about an hour we reached the top. It was quite the sight to see. While up there they taught us more about glacier formation and colors. It was a review for us, but the other tourists found it interesting. Also at the top they had us use our adzes to try to dig the deepest hole in a minute. Ryan took 3rd place. It took another 45 min to make it down the glacier and out to the parking lot.

Our next stop, and southernmost point of the trip, took us to Reynisfjara . This is a black sand beach constantly pounded by large waves. The big highlight of course was the geology. Rachel exclaimed “columnar jointing!” when she saw the hexagonal formations that made up a great hill beside the beach. Even more strangely was that many of the columns were at different angles to one another. Plus the waves began to eat away a small cave into the hill. Very cool stuff.

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On a side note, if we were here in the summer months, it is also this hill and beach that we would have been able to see puffins. Oh well, maybe next time.

Our next stop took us to the foothills of the infamous Eyjafjatlajökull volcano and glacier. We stopped for a quick photo here. We didn´t have enough time to visit the museum nearby.

The volcano that Ryan can pronounce.
The volcano that Ryan can prnounce.

The last stop on this tour was to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall . What made this waterfall most special was that it fell before the mouth of a giant cave. We took the wet, icy, muddy, and steep path around the waterfall to view it from all angles. We got soaked from the spray and muddied our clothes in the process. But we had no injuries. We tried to get some good pictures as shown here.

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After that we returned to the hotel, changed, and got dinner.

At night we took a tour with Reykjavik Excursions to see the northern lights. It was a complete bust. Readers should avoid this tour (and the company) at all costs. The company bused us and 500 others INTO A SNOWSTORM! They dropped us off a restaurant (on the take) which didn´t have the capacity for that many people. To make matters worse, our bus left after dropping us off to get more poor saps. We had no chance of seeing the aurora. Unlike last night, they made no attempt to actually find the northern lights. It didn´t stop snowing until we left the area and returned to Reykjavik.

Tomorrow we go cave exploring in þinvellir and snorkeling in the silfra fissure between continental plates. And we´ll try to see the northern lights again with a company that isn´t running a scam.

 

Total steps: 14,893

Total major waterfalls: 2, and many many smaller ones

Total glaciers walked upon: 1

Total volcanoes seen: 3