The Best and Worst of Iceland

Hey Y’all,

It’s been a couple of weeks since I have been home, and I owe my loyal followers a summary of my trip to Iceland. I am still trying to wrap my mind around all that I saw; so to ensure that I don’t ramble too much, here is an extensive list of my activities.

Day One: Iceland or Bust

The car ride to O’Hare was pretty fun, but the people mover was intense because it was hurry hurry hurry and hope you don’t miss it. Then on the escalator ride up to check my luggage, I fell. It’s been three weeks and the cut on my shin is finally almost healed, but the cut to my ego from embarrassment may last forever. I landed on my back and flailed around like a tortoise for a few moments. It wasn’t a highlight of my life. I’m gonna blame it on the MS, but it’s just as likely to be because I’m a klutz who was in a hurry to keep up with everyone. Thinking back now, it was definitely the MS. I should have found and elevator. Darn pride, always making me do stupid things and feeling dumb because of it.

The flight itself was pretty cool, I had my own little screen to pass the time watching movies. The flight attendants should win an award for dealing with my butchering of Eyjafjallajokull.

The group of 15 passed through customs and found the car rental service and picked up my amazing camper van. This rolling geoscience station featured seating for 5, sleeping for 4, a kitchenette, and most importantly; WiFi. Money for the RV was provided by Dr. Melissa Sara Smith of Ferris State University, The International Association for Geosciences Diversity, and Dr. Christopher Atchison from The University of Cincinnati in honor of Doctor Warren Huff, also of The University of Cincinnati.

The group was able to spend an hour touring a museum of oddities in Keykjavik, then we gassed up the convoy and made our way to the first campgrounds.

We were all jet-lagged and ready to set up our tents and other camping equipment, but first: dinner. My first meal in Iceland was a cup of un-dehydrated chili that was surprisingly tasty.

Image: Reykjamörk Hveragerði Campsite: Stephanie, Me, Erin, Shelby, and JP blowing off some steam.

Day Two: Chasin’ Waterfalls

Up and at ’em, it’s time to go take a look at some geology!! Off to Öxarárfoss, near Thingvellir to brave the wind and the rain to get a close up look at this gorgeous waterfall.

Image: boradwalk to Öxarárfoss.
But first, wet steps!!

It’s around a kilometer hike from the parking lot to the water fall, some of it up wet steps that were cut out of the local rock. Fortunately Iceland does their best to make things as accessible as possible, so most of the hike was on boardwalk. This also kept tourists off the moss, which takes decades to grow. The ascent for me was slow and steady, with two classmates staying back to ensure that I made it up.

Image: Öxarárfoss
Image: With my chaperone and friend Tom Howe, and Mechadino (who unfortunately stayed hidden in the van for the rest of the trip).

To put it bluntly, wow. I didn’t want to leave, it was so beautiful and powerful. I think I could sit on one of those boulders and watch the water for hours.

Day Three: I learn about being disabled in Iceland.

On the disability front: I’m sore, I’m tired, and I couldn’t be happier. Iceland is ridiculously further along in accessibility than America is. Each destination for us has had a scenic but challenging hike and a way to drive to another spot to be able to get out of the RV and be right at the site.

For instance at the world famous Gullfoss:

Image: Even with my hiking poles, the rope rail, and classmates’ assistance, this is not my hike.
Image: On the other side of the visitor’s center there was a road to a parking lot that afforded me this view.

So I was able to hear the roar, feel the spray, and see the rainbow in the mist of the waterfall. Classmate Shelby was able to spy the back lot and get me down there to take this picture.

Next we drove across town to Geysir to watch the geothermal expulsion of gas and water. This area smelled amazing! Just like rotten eggs. Lots of sulfur in the ground water, and when it is heated up by the geothermal energy it smells terrible. More importantly, look at that nice brick-paved path way for me to walk on!

Image: A little bit of tea tree oil in my mask did wonders!

The gift shop at Geysir contained the vesicular basalt earrings that I used to propose to my girlfriend when I got home. I know that rings are more traditional, but I wanted to bring her home some jewelry from Iceland and wanted to propose to her with it.

Day Three: Volcanic Bombs, Disc Golf, and Hot Springs.

After a good night’s rest in the RV (which I believe is the only way to see Iceland), we headed to Fludir to climb Midfell. This small mountain was beyond my ability to climb safely, so I stayed behind to talk geology with some locals.

Image: The locals
Image: Getting up close and personal with the locals at the base of midfell.

When I walked back across the street to our parking area I sat down on a boulder to look at some of the glacial striations on the different rocks in a wall when I looked down and found this bread crust volcanic bomb.

Image: bread crust volcanic bomb.

Needless to say, all of my classmates were quite jealous about my sample. I decided that this would be the only sample I would collect for the entire trip, hopefully to keep some collecting karma on my side. Upon further inspection we find olivine and quartz crystals in both the crust and in the vesicles.

Then my day only got better!! I found a grocery store that sold a pretty sweet set of discs right across from a course. Yep, that’s right. I played disc golf in Iceland. Due to time restraints I was only able to walk a couple of holes, but what fun!! I can’t wait to get back out on the courses here in Big Rapids this summer.

Image: Time for some disc golf!
Image: Me (Jon) and Eevee after a game of disc golf.

Thanks to Eevee for going out on the course with me, and Stephanie for being an amazing photographer!

The last stop of the day was at the Secret Lagoon near Fludir, I did not take any photos. Just know this; when you go to Iceland, skip the Blue Lagoon and hit the Secret Lagoon instead. Lower cost, cleaner showers, and less crowded.

Day Four: My time to shine!

I have been practicing my pronunciation of Ejyafjallajokull since we decided to go to Iceland in November, and I think I should almost have it down by 2024. In order to be a member of the trip students were expected to research two or three stops to become the field expert on that area.

I took the group to three different stops, two waterfalls and the oldest human settlement in Iceland.

Our first waterfall is translated to Canyon Dweller, and lived up to its name. With the freezing rain falling, I sent the group ahead with my hiking poles so that I was safe and sound at base-camp.

Image: Look at what they found inside! (Canyon Dweller)

Image: Couple getting wedding photos done. In case I wasn’t already sure I was going to ask Melissa to marry me when I got home…

Next we go to the area known for ‘Selling the Land of Waterfalls’, or Seljalandfoss. This waterfall is fed by glacial runoff from Eyjafjallajokull, and is the only waterfall that can be walked behind. Again, because of the rain/snow mix and winds, I was unable to go behind the waterfall, but it was still awesome to see.

Image: Me (Jon) in front of Seljalandfoss
from the side
Image:  Up close to Eyjafjallajokull

It was kind of a letdown to not be able to explore the sites that I had spent months learning about, but safety first. Luckily through the power of the internet and cell phones, I was able to get pictures, Snapchats, and Facetimes from any place that I could not traverse safely. One place I could go was the gift shop, where I bought a shirt that gives the pronunciation of Eyjafjallajokull.


Finally, we go to the Rutshellir Caves, home of the oldest human settlement on Iceland which was founded around 1100 ad. It is now a sheep ranch, and is not open to the public.

Image: Rutshellir Caves, The oldest human settlement in Iceland.

Our last stop for the day was this Skogafoss, which had an impressive staircase for me to wait at the bottom at. Fortunately there was plenty of friendly locals to keep me company.

Image: Skogafoss, Look at all those stairs! (in the right corner)
Image: Making friends.

Day Five: Icebergs, dead ahead!

For those of you familiar with the spoon theory knows what I mean when I say that I spent all of my spoons yesterday being excited to teach and hike around by the waterfalls. Those that are unaware, it means that I’m down for the count today and trying to rest up as much as possible.

I had to do the black sand beaches though!!! Slow and steady, with hiking poles in hand, I hobbled over to a cave formed out of deformed columnar basalt.

Image: black sand beaches
Image: Cave formed out of deformed columnar basalt
Image: Me (Jon) in the cave.


Then we went to the Glacier Lagoon found at the base of Vatnajokull on the southeastern edge of the island. This was a parking lot viewing situation, but there was room to get out and look around.

Image: Glacier Lagoon

Day Six: Sitting around the Blue Whale.

After a solid night’s rest in an Air BnB provided by WMU Staff Geologist Tom Howe I was able to spend the day hanging out in the warm WiFi Blue Whale, writing postcards to home and snacking on dried fruit. Not much to report for today, simply that I decided to stay back and prepare for the journey home.

Day Seven: I love you, but I need some time away.

We woke up to 45mph winds blowing the tents around. Luckily they each had one anchor tied to Blue Whale, or it would have been a tragedy.

We ate our Pop-Tarts, dried fruit, and drank our coffee for breakfast. We had to hurry up to wait at the airport for 5 hours before our 6 hour flight home before our three hour drive back to Kalamazoo. I’m breaking out in a sweat just thinking about going through that again.

The flight home was pretty smooth, and I was once again reminded of the kindness of the Icelandic people. Halfway through the flight my blood sugar crashed, and I couldn’t stomach the thought of any more dried fruits. I asked the flight attendant for a package of Pringles, holding out my last 500 krona bill. She informed me that they only take credit, my face falling when I informed her that I didn’t have any. She took the krona, handed me the change and the Pringles. She went in the back and swiped her own credit card. HOW KIND IS THAT?!? I will keep that 100 krona coin as long as I live, and a reminder of the time I successfully went to Iceland for a week and came home with memories beyond explanation. Oh, and a museum quality volcanic bomb for my new office.

Thank you all for reading along on my voyage, I appreciate your views. Please feel free to subscribe as I believe I am traveling to Ohio later this summer.

This is Jon Andrews, signing off for Broncos Abroad in Iceland. Bye Y’all.

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