Day 3 began with uninspiring weather over the flat white fields outside our guesthouse window. We had to hustle out of there to get on the road so we'd be on time for our ice caving tour on Vatnajökull, a 30 minute drive from our accommodations. Hustle we did, and on time we were.
We climbed into the souped-up 15 passenger van, complete with giant snow tires, with the other 12 people in our group, all of whom were equipped with full size tripods and thousands of dollars worth of camera gear. Oops, did I fuck up? What do they know that I don't? My mission on this trip has been to travel light and make the most of the gear that I have, but seeing everyone else with their pro-level equipment had me feeling self-conscious.
After a wild 25-minute ride through the open snow plains and up and down the craggy rocks of the Vatnajökull glacier we stopped at a small hole in the ground, around which a few other tourists and vans had congregated. We each received a helmet and disembarked from the van and into the hole. It was crowded. Several other tour groups, of 12-15 people each, were also inside or around the cave, making it feel more like the post office in December than a serene natural wonder.
Upon stepping inside, everyone from our group (apart from me) lined up next to each other, deployed their tripods, and began snapping wildly with their DSLRs. They all seemed to be taking the same exact photo from the same exact angle, a photo that is likely quite easy to find with a google image search. Watching all these people, who had presumably spent lots of money on gear and on the tour, all do the same exact thing was really inspiring... in that it inspired me to look elsewhere and challenge myself to, at the very least, take a different picture than everyone else. Whether or not I was successful, I think it was an eye-opening experience that reminded me to try and think outside the box.
The cave itself was very beautiful and interesting, but the crowds did a lot to distract from that, unfortunately. After our tour, we got back into the van and went back to the cafe at Jokulsarlon where we had started. Having skipped breakfast, we were starving, so we downed some seafood soup at the cramped cafe (with some bread and smjor of course) then spent a bit of time around the lagoon.
It was fairly overcast and drizzly, but still that lagoon is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in nature, even if it is teeming with tourists. We were fortunate to see quite a few seals in the lagoon as well as some sea birds (species unknown.)
Now it was mid-day and time to get back on the road after gracefully changing out of our snow pants in the parking lot. Our next stop was Höfn for a real meal and a mid-way break before the next overnight stop, Egilsstadir.
Kaffi Hornid seemed to be one of only a handful of places in town, and maybe the only thing open at that hour on a weekday. Every other tourist had stopped in as well, so we had to wait about 15 minutes for a table before finally sitting down and getting our hands on some admittedly touristy reindeer burgers with tempura langoustine, a small crawfish/lobster hybrid for which the town is renowned.
Then things got interesting. The sun set on the next leg of our drive, and, being idiots, we trusted google maps to guide us safely and quickly to our final destination. That was very stupid. Iceland, while a hot tourist destination, is still fairly undeveloped outside of Reykjavik. The landscape is harsh and roads in winter are subject to the effects of intense weather and often not passable. Like, at all. And sometimes you aren't warned of that until you've driven for over an hour in a goddamn Opel Corsa in conditions that would make Stephen King piss his pants.
We amazingly did not careen off a cliff or bottom out on the "roads" that were hardly roads on a good day, unlit, and nearly invisible under inches of snow and ice. I'm so traumatized I can't even go into further detail, but by some miracle of God (or Satan, love ya dark lord) after a very long, stressful time driving we made it back to safe main roads with our lives intact and the car somehow undamaged.
We got to Egilsstadir well later than planned, around 10/11pm, checked into our lovely guest house, and hit the sack.
Day 3, you were a weird one.