Kleifarvatn and Graenavatn lakes, Seltun, Eldborg volcanic caldera, Gerðuberg Basalt Columns, Tradir Guesthouse.

5:30am: Land in Keflavik!–Our 6 day July road trip in Iceland started with our flight from Vancouver landing half hour early, so by 6:30 a.m., we’d picked up our rental car from Avis and were already on the road. Located inside the airport, the Avis rental counter is very handy compared to the majority of car rental agencies, which are located at a nearby building block that requires a shuttle to reach. (Avis is kind of pricey, though, unless you have collected “points” with them).

Fields of lupins 'round the outskirts of Reykjavik
Fields & fields of wild lupines around the outskirts of Reykjavik

6:40am: Kleifarvatn, Seltun, and Graenavatn!–In the drizzle, wind, and heavy mist, we headed in the direction of Reykjavik on route 41 & turned off near Hafnarfjordur, onto route 42, a winding, picturesque drive through a moonscape of lava fields, with the rounded peak of Helgafell purportedly in the background (we couldn’t see it for the heavy mist).Kleifarvatn Kleifarvatn is an impressive lake in a volcanic fissure, bordered by black-cinder sand shores. The lake was silent and eerie, and in the heavy drizzle, impossible to do justice to in a photograph. Next we continued down route 42 to Seltun, a geothermal field bubbling and hissing with sulfuric volcanic vents. SeltunSeltun is drenched in the “Icelandic” smell of rocks dissolving in super-heated sulfuric acid, reminiscent of old boiled eggs.  Just south of Seltun is Graenavatn, a beautiful green lake that fills an old explosion crater.  We reached it by 7:50am and breakfasted on trail mix from home.

Graenavatn
David, poised to fly over Graenavatn

From Graenavatn, we retraced our way up route 42, back to 41, skirted outside Reykjavik, then headed north along route 1 to Borgarnes, about 1 hour 45 minutes’ drive away.

En-route to Borgarnes
Roadside waterfall, Route 1, on the way to Borgarnes

10:00am  Borgarnes!–Despite the cold drizzle, we walked about the quiet little town, first to Skallagrimsgardur, the burial mound of the father and son of saga hero Egill Skallagrimsson.

Burial mound
Skallagrimsgardur

We met only one person on our drizzle-soaked rambles, a local strolling a section of the scenic promontory adjacent to Borgarfjordur.

 

11:00am-Settlement Centre!–Shivering and wet, we ducked into the warmth of the Settlement Centre and spent a mesmerizing hour weaving our way through the audio-narrated museum. We were both stunned and captivated by the outrageous stories surrounding Egill Skallagrimsson and his often violent life.

In the fascinating Settlement Centre
In the fascinating Settlement Centre

12:00noon–We were very hungry by now, and not just a little dazed with jet lag, so paid the exorbitant fee to eat at the Settlement Centre in the quaint cafe upstairs, where we fell on the salad buffet like a pair of starving rabbits. Then we stocked up on groceries for the week at Bonus, a grocery store at the edge of the fjord bridge coming into town, and headed northwest up route 54 to the Eldborg volcanic caldera.

Walking to Eldborg
Walking towards Eldborg (note the winter clothing, despite the fact that it’s July)

2:30pm–Eldborg volcanic caldera! Approximately 40 minutes from Borgarnes, we turned off Road 54 to the farm Snorrastaðir (GPS Points N64° 47′ 46.523″ W22° 19′ 20.593″) to view the Eldborg crater.  The walk to the crater meanders along a lovely stream, awfully muddy when we visited, in very pretty farmland.

Snorrastaðir
Snorrastaðir

The trail actually leads away from Eldborg for quite a distance, skirting the farmer’s land and wending through scrub, bush, and lava field, before actually leading to the crater.  Unless you’re a very brisk walker, it is not a quick side-trip to Eldborg–about a 45 minutes’ walk there, and 45 minutes back. We only strolled along the stream to stretch our legs, as jet-lag was really setting in. Several days later, we rented a little plane and we flew over Eldborg.

Aerial of Eldborg
Aerial of Eldborg

3:45pm–Gerðuberg Basalt Columns!–About 10 minutes away from Eldborg on the western edge of the Snaefellsnes peninsula, along route 54 and then a short 1km detour along a dirt road, were the impressive basalt columns of Gerduberg, rising up from the ground like a dwarfish fortress.  The wind here just about knocked us over.  We spent over an hour photographing the striking steeples and turrets and meandering along the base of the rocks.

Gerðuberg
Gerduberg

5:30pm–We bought gas at the next station, right at the start of the Snaefellsnes peninsula, and drove to Tradir Guesthouse, 356 Snaefellsbaer.  In an immaculate, cozy cabin right by the sea, we cooked dinner, wandered the secluded, quiet seashore, and deemed Day One a fantastic start to our Icelandic adventure.

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Private cabin with kitchen, Tradir Guesthouse

Tips:

Road signs are small and subtle in Iceland; having an approximate ETA at a destination is helpful for knowing when to keep an eye-out for the next humble little sign.

Picking up supplies in Borgarnes is essential if you’re self-catering on your road trip on the Snaefellsnes peninsula, as there are no grocery stores.

Booking guesthouses/hostels at least 5 months in advance is necessary; Iceland is very popular.

 

Six day July road trip in Iceland

Rain, fog, high winds, and teeth-clattering temperatures that required toques & down jackets beneath our rain gear: this wasn’t the Iceland I remembered from previous trips.  This was my third summer-time visit, and my hubby’s first, and we both had a challenging time reconciling the weather with photos of pristine glaciers under a blue sky.  The cloud ceiling was so low and the gusting drizzle so fierce, the country could have been flat as a pancake, for all we could see of it. Regardless of the weather, there were a myriad of spectacular sights: impressive craters, stunning waterfalls, lunar lava fields, weird rock formations, and multi-hued earth that bubbled with volcanic heat. On the fifth day of our trip, the weather did clear, gracing us with wonderful sunshine. Our itinerary for the 6 sight-packed days (and blog posts for each activity):

Day One: Kleifarvatn and Graenavatn lakes, Seltun (geothermal field), Eldborg volcanic caldera, and the Gerðuberg Basalt Columns.

Day Two: the Snaefellsnes peninsula–Bjarnarfoss waterfall, Djúpalónssandur Black Sand Beach, Vatnshellir Cave Tour, Saxholar Crater, Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss, and Erpsstadir dairy farm.

Day Three: the Vatnsnes peninsula– Ánastaðarstapi & Hvitserkur rock formations, Illugstadir, Borgarvirki Viking fortress, Kolugljufur waterfall, Glaumbaer Turf house & historic farm, and Akureyri.

Day Four: Godafoss waterfall, Skutustadagigar craters, Dimmuborgir lava field, Grjótagjá cave, Myvatn Nature Baths, Detifoss waterfall, and flight from Akureyri to Reykjavik.

Day Five: Reykjavik airport, airplane rental, & self-guided flight to Stykkishólmur and back; Tjornin Lake in Reykjavik.

Day Six: Geysir, Gullfoss, Kerið (lake in a crater), and then Keflavik airport to return home.

There are about 335,000 people in Iceland, though that swells to an astonishing million or more each summer due to visiting tourists. And there’s a good reason why so many visit: the country is truly spectacular. There’s a plethora of information available on the Internet about where to go and what to see, but I’ve provided precise driving times in my blog to help when you’re planning what to see, but are wondering how long it will take at each stop and how long that gravel road really does take to drive.  Plus, of course, Day Five has the unique details about renting a plane and flying yourself in Iceland (pilot license required, of course!)Tjorn Lake with Hallgrimskirkja

Bicycle renting & trail riding, Saint John, New Brunswick

On a recent trip to Saint John, New Brunswick, we made Uptown Saint John our base and rented hybrid bicycles for $50/day from Consolvo Bikes for day trips.We only had a few short days in Saint John, so we packed in as much as we could. 

After wandering around the quaint uptown section of Saint John, we drove for just under an hour northeast along route 111, which offered picturesque views along the way, especially of the Sea Caves at St. Martins, with the striking red beach and rock.

Our destination was the Fundy Trail Parkway, a beautiful, low-traffic park road (paved) that offers a plethora of stunning vistas and plenty of short, scenic walks.   A full day is really needed if you want to make the most of your visit, though we packed in a lot with a half day visit.

For a $10/person entrance fee, we received a detailed map at the Parkway entrance. The scale of the map is misleading, (points of interest are closer to each other than the map might leave you to believe) and many of the scenic stops can be missed if you’re in a car and zip by the discreet signposts.

If you want to cycle the paved road (which you share with the occasional car), consider leaving your vehicle at the entrance, cycling the 10kms to the Interpretive Centre to enjoy the views and short walk/stops along the way, and then have one of your party hitch a ride back to your car to save you from another challenging cycle trip, this time in reverse.

Fuller Falls
Fuller Falls

There are several long hills with memorable inclines & declines on the Parkway (it is a rugged, winding coastline), and when you build in the time for photos of the Bay of Fundy, lunch, cycling those challenging inclines, and walking stops (such as at Fuller Falls, the Big Salmon River Suspension Bridge, or the very pretty Sea Captain’s Burial ground), the day goes very quickly.

Big Salmon River Suspension Bridge
Big Salmon River Suspension Bridge

Even though it is advertised on the Parkway website that there is cycling off-road on the walking trails, from what we saw and experienced, you’d have to be one bloody amazing athlete to pull that off. 

There are places along the paved, serene roadside where you can easily and briefly “off-road” it, but if you try to stay solely on those trails, they ultimately lead to root-gnarled, steep, rock-strewn narrow hiking paths (some with cable stairs, like at Fuller Falls) that even in my most wild, youthful days I wouldn’t have wanted to tackle as a full-day experience. TIPS: bring water and snacks, there are no stores in the Parkway, though there are cafes at the St. Martins Red Rock Sea Caves.

We also visited Irving Nature Park, with our bicycles, a very scenic spot just 10 minutes from downtown Saint John.  There is no cost to enter the park, but on weekends the place is very popular.

The road is gravel and therefore dusty in the dry summer if you are sharing it with a stream of visiting vehicles. We cycled the 6km gravel loop late in the afternoon, so traffic was, thankfully, scarce.  The park was peaceful, and silent save for the skitter of squirrels and the chirp of birds.

 There are trails you can mountain-bike, with varying degrees of challenge.  Most of them are pretty level and close enough to the main gravel road so that if you want a break from bumping over roots and dodging between trees, you can readily cut back to the road. 

A cycle path for the hardy
We “off-roaded” along several of the easier trails.

The picturesque coves en-route, the iconic boardwalk at the start of the loop, and the views of the Fundy make it all very worthwhile.  There is also the very scenic Sand Cove beach before the entrance to the gravel loop, with a fantastic sandy stretch offering splendid views of Manawagonish Island.Sand CoveWalking out to Sand Cove

 

Three days in Lima, Peru in May

x02_02On a recent 3-day trip to Lima, Peru, not only did we have the pleasure of meeting with members of the Peruvian aviation community & flying a rented plane over Lima’s nearby barren peaks and beautiful coastline, but we also visited some of the city’s spectacular sights.  Our itinerary for the 3 whirlwind days (and blog posts for each activity):

Day One: Huaca Pucllana, Mercados Artesanal, and a self-guided cycle tour with rented bikes in Miraflores, along El Malecon, the cliff-top promenade overlooking the Oceano Pacifico.

 

Day Two: Lib Mandi Aerodromo, Playa San Bartolo, Cruz de Hueso ultra-light airstrip

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Day Three: Urban Adventures cycle tour of Morro Solar, Chorrillos, and Barranco; and a self-guided tour of the Basilica Cathedral of Lima, the historic district of Lima, and the Olive Grove Forest (Bosque El Olivar).

There are 10 million people in Lima, and the traffic is horrific.  Taxis are cheap and Uber is cheaper.  It’s a city of contrasts: sky-rises and shanty towns, manicured parks and barren hillsides, ancient ruins and upper-class manors, haute cuisine and greasy cafes. Modern meets ancientDuring the Peruvian winter (June to September), clouds frequently clot the sky along with garúa, a thick mist which is the only source of ground moisture in this subtropical desert region. Despite all the clouds, rain occurs only a few times in a century in Lima, making this the driest city on the planet.  Three days was, for us, ample time to enjoy Lima’s bustling main streets, historic plazas & architecture, and bohemian districts of artists and musicians.