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glaciers, Iceland, Jokulsarlon, Ring Road, Skaftafell, Svartifoss, Vik, WOW Airlines

Eastern Iceland: Jokulsarlon, Skaftafell & Svartifoss


Breakfast at Kálfafellsstadur

Despite a late night, we are up super early and get ready and packed up for the day. We head upstairs and Thora has prepared a full homemade breakfast, complete with waffles and homemade jams! We enjoy what is becoming our only sit down meal of the day, thank Thora for her hospitality and head out for Jokulsarlon.



At 8:30, there is already light on the horizon, and it looks like the day will dawn clear. Unfortunately, my camera is not working, but Bill has lent me his spare camera body which is compatible with my lenses. (I can’t imagine how depressing the rest of the trip would be without a camera, and I’m so thankful to be able to continue to shoot!)



As we drive west along the ring road back to the lagoon, the sun is rising to our left and the moon is setting to our right. It is the last few days of the “super moon” and we watch as a huge giant white ball drops behind the fjords. We park up at the lagoon but immediately walk over to the black sand beach, where chunks of icebergs are being lashed by water in the wave break. Sunrise is continuing behind, making the ice glow various shades of gold, violet, pink and blue.



Sunrise at Jokulsarlon

We spend well over two hours shooting stills and video here – we just can’t get enough of this natural, unique beauty!

We head back over to the lagoon and grab a hot chocolate at the little cafe and then inquire about a boat ride for later in the afternoon. Our plan is to head to Skaftafell National park to photograph Svartifoss and then head back to Jokulsarlon for a boat tour and sunset. Unfortunately, we find out that boats aren’t operating today due to too much ice debris in the lagoon.



We make our way to Skaftafell National Park. which is about a 45-minute drive. Skaftafell, or rather Vatnajökull National Park is home to the Vatnajökull Glacier, but we have come to photograph Svartifoss, a waterfall that sits 1.8km into the park. We begin the hike up and arrive around 2:00. The waterfall is surrounded by basalt rock columns that give me the feeling we’re peering into the center of the earth. Surrounding rocks and shrubbery are covered in a layer of white, frozen mist.

We spend about 1 1/2 hours shooting here, playing with long exposure and neutral density, and we don’t realize how much time has passed. We need to hurry if we want to make it back to Jokulsarlon for sunset. On the hike back down, the light is perfect though, and I want to stop and savor it and take more pictures. Behind us Vatnajökull glacier is brilliant white against an intense blue afternoon sky. To our right are fjords in the distance and bare birch trees, and below us the land is flat and white, and little rivulets lead out to the ocean ahead.


Jokulsarlon – just after sunset

By 3:45, we are back in the car and heading to Jokulsarlon, but we know we’ve missed the best of the light. We kick ourselves for not leaving earlier, and from the car, we watch as the sun sets to our right. At the lagoon, it’s still a pretty picture, and we decide to head on to Vik with the goal of getting there in time to have a relaxing evening, and maybe even dinner!


Foss á Siðu

We begin the two-hour drive, making one stop at Foss á Siðu to photograph the falls at night. Tonight is the clearest we’ve seen the skies since arriving, and we’re able to catch a few shooting stars.  Temps are dropping, so we head back to the car and continue on to Vik, arriving at Carina Guesthouse around 8pm.


Dinner at Suður-Vík

We get checked in and decide as we haven’t had a proper dinner since arriving in Iceland, we should treat ourselves. We head over to Suður-Vík Restaurant for a traditional dinner of Arctic Char and Rib Eye, accompanied with a cauliflower soup and homemade bread. After standing out in the cold all day, the food is warming us through, but making us sleepy!  We pay up and head back to the guesthouse, and as we leave the restaurant, we get a view of another almost supermoon rising above Vik’s church on the hilltop in the distance.

Chile, glaciers, Patagonia, South America, The W Trek, Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine, Day 2: Paine Grande-Italiano-Britanico-Italiano-Frances 19.5km


Paine Grande campsite at dawn

We wake to clear skies and vicious winds in Paine Grande. There’s no need for an alarm, as it would be quite difficult to sleep late. I stuff my clothes into my sleeping bag and do a little journaling while I let them warm up. I then give myself a little pep talk before getting dressed. My Paine Grande Morning Chat


Paine Grande bathed in early morning light

I call out to Simon in the tent next to me, and we head over to the kitchen to make breakfast. It’s 7am and a worker is just unlocking the door. As there’s nobody about yet, the large common area is cold. We find a picnic table and boil some water for oatmeal. I throw in some trail mix to spice it up a little and use the leftover water for coffee.


Paine Grande

After breakfast, we head back to breakdown our tents, but the morning’s sunrise insists I stop to go and take pictures. The sun is casting hues of orange, pink and purple over Paine Grande and Torres behind.

The wind is whipping, which makes it difficult to break down my tent, and even more difficult to convince myself to shed all layers down to just trekking pants and a long sleeve, but I know we will warm up once we get moving.

We leave the campsite at 8am, and the sun is strong and promises us a clear day. As we leave Paine Grance campsite, a park ranger sitting in an administration hut calls out to us, “Buenos dias.”

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Lago Pehoe, as seen leaving Paine Grande campsite


The views leaving Paine Grande

We begin a climb and Lake Pehoe is literally glowing in the morning light. As we turn away from the lake, Paine Grande is now sitting majestically in front of us. To our left is a waterfall feeding a small stream, where a couple of hikers have stopped to fill their water bottles. To the right of the path, large hares scatter at the sound of our footsteps. It’s one of those ‘pinch me’ moments, where the beauty is slightly overwhelming and I have to remind myself that I am actually here.

The wind is kicking up a force now, as we climb slightly higher and leave Lake Pehoe behind us. We are now walking parallel to a dark blue lake on our right, and the wind is so fierce, it’s actually creating whitecaps on the lake’s surface.


Whitecaps on the lake, due to such strong winds

As we enter another fire devastated area, the bare trees creak above us as they sway in the wind. It’s nearly impossible to set up my tripod and take pictures, and when I attempt a video, I have to hold the tripod to stop it from blowing over.


Frances Glacier

Soon, we enter a forested area and have a bit of shelter from the wind. We are walking next to a wide river when up on our right, we come to a suspension bridge. As we cross, we are afforded the most spectacular views so far today. A massive mountain covered in ice, snow and glaciers is feeding the river we just crossed. From the bridge, the rapids rush by just a few feet below.

We have reached Italiano campsite and happily shed our packs. We are now at the base of Frances Valley, which is a separate day hike that will take about 5 hours roundtrip (including time at the top for pictures and a rest). We pack a little day bag with some snacks, refill our water bottles in the stream, and set out for the hike.


Compacted snow and ice breaking away from Frances glacier

After about 5 minutes hiking under tree cover, we are now in the open air walking parallel to the riverbed. Every ten minutes or so, we hear claps of thunder as pieces of compacted ice break away from the glaciers and fall away from the mountain, creating a cloud of white dust behind them.


Lago Pehoe from Mirador Frances

1 ½ hours up a rugged trail, we reach the Mirador Frances. The panoramic views include the Frances glacier to our left, Los Cuernos to our right and Lago Pehoe behind us. Ahead of us is another 1 ½ hour hike to Britanico lookout, and Simon and I hike on, enjoying spectacular views the entire way.


Frances Valley

Most of the next hour is spent in forest, but suddenly, we enter an area of open, rocky trail, and we’re facing Los Cuernos head on. After another 20 minutes of trekking and a 200-meter climb up, we perch ourselves on a huge boulder and look down into the valley, taking in the views.


Frances Valley as seen from Britanico

It would be easy to sit here for hours, but we’re conscious of the sun slowly getting closer to the mountain peaks, so we have a snack and begin the return journey back to Italiano.

Firing up the stove for dinner.

Our packs are waiting for us, and we sling them back on for another 2 kilometers – the final, relatively flat 30 minute walk to Frances Campsite. It’s after 7pm when we arrive, and we pay for our camping and seek out two free pallet platforms for the night.

I’m exhausted, it’s quickly cooling off and hunger is setting in. After a quick lesson in setting up a tent on a wooden platform (rocks in each corner of the tent), Simon and I head down to the bathrooms, which is a cruel 300 meter hike downhill. We top up our wine supply at a little shop and head back to camp to prepare pasta with a sachet of crema de pollo. Simon digs into his pack and pulls out what were frozen mushrooms and we enjoy a feast. Despite being such a basic meal, in our eyes and after all our exertion, it tastes like restaurant quality. We scrape the pan clean, share some dark chocolate for dessert and retire to our tents for a dry and windless night of sleep. My End of Day Recap


Alaska, Glacier Bay National Park, glaciers, Holland America, Johns Hopkins Inlet, Marjorie Glacier, Tarr Inlet, Zaandam

Day 5 & 6: At Sea on The Zaandam & Cruising Glacier Bay

We are at sea for the next two days, so for day one, I decide to acquaint myself with the cruise ship. As an avid adventurer, most of my past travels have taken me to off-the-beaten-path kind of places where there are mountains to climb, hidden beaches to discover and historical ruins to explore. In the past, I’ve associated cruises with feelings of restlessness and claustrophobia, and despite hearing a number of good things about them, it’s taken me 34 years to find myself on one. However, when the Travelzoo deal for this Alaskan Land & Sea Package was delivered to my inbox back in February, I knew the deal was too good to pass up and it would be an ideal way to take in a lot of this vast state.


Deck 3 on The Zaandam.

We board the Zandaam after our Kenai Fjords Tour and attend the mandatory ‘muster drill,’ where we locate our life boat and answer role call. We then head to dinner in the Lodi, a buffet style restaurant on the 8th floor.


The Rotterdam Dining Room.

After breakfast this morning, I decide to walk the entire ship, starting on deck 3, of which the outside circumference is a walking track. Deck 4 is home to The Rotterdam, a fine-dining restaurant. On deck 5 is Explorations Café, the library, a casino, wine bar, and duty free shops.  Up on Deck 8 is the spa, fitness center, pool, hot tub and a bar and cafe. While finding the Crows Nest (another bar on deck 9), and the outside viewing area, the rain sets in and stays with us for the rest of the afternoon. I realize there is plenty to take in on a cruise ship, but after three action packed days, I opt for chilling out. With no wifi connection while at sea, it’s amazing what I find time to do – I pick up my book I’ve been trying to finish for a couple of months, edit some photographs from the first part of the trip and write post cards home.


Day 6 is also spent at sea, but today’s cruising is much more scenic than yesterday’s. At breakfast, we watch Glacier Bay Park Rangers approach in a small boat and board the Zaandam by ladder. At 10:30,they give a short presentation on Glacier Bay, mainly focusing on the wildlife in the area. They also give us an overview of what we will potentially see during our day.

map_of_glacier-bay-national-parkGlacier Bay covers over 3 million acres and we will spend scarcely a day exploring here. About 80% of visitors to this National Park arrive by cruise ship. Others travel in by sea plane or smaller boats to kayak and explore. I feel like this is the epitome of ‘untouched land.’

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                          Tarr Inlet, Glacier Bay.

The day is overcast, but I don’t feel so bad when I find out that in a month, this area might experience a total of four sunny days. We’re still afforded awesome views of Reid Glacier, Marjorie Glacier, and Tarr Inlet. Here, we stay idle for about 45 minutes, and we can hear the thunderous claps of glaciers calving around us. However, with limited visibility, we can’t actually see the movement today. We spot the occasional sea otter, and later in the day we approach Johns Hopkins Inlet.

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                  Johns Hopkins Inlet.

I’m feeling a little frigid from short stints of standing outside on deck to photograph glaciers, so I head inside to the library and take a seat in front of floor to ceiling windows and watch as we pass one glacier after the next. I learn there are around 600 named glaciers in Alaska, but there are thousands of others that are unnamed. We seem to continually pass more impressive glaciers and it’s no good trying to sit still. I end up back outside with the camera, trying to capture just how majestic this area is. I am back and forth from either side of the ship to the library for the rest of the daylight hours.

We head for dinner at the Rotterdam and dine on seared tuna carpaccio and rock fish. We sit with a couple from New York City, Maude and Carl. Carl is a professional photographer who has just returned from photographing bears in Kodiak. The other couple are Crystal and her husband. I sit next to Crystal and find out she has walked portions of the Camino, and returns each year for a couple weeks at a time to work as a hospitelaro, or volunteer. We share Camino stories and make plans for the day in Haines, hoping for better weather on land tomorrow.


glaciers, Hofn, Iceland, Jokulsarlon, Seyoisfjordur

Jokulsarlon and the Glacial Lagoon

After our late night last night chasing the elusive northern lights, we are slow to get moving, but we are in no rush today. Our only plans are to explore Jokulsarlon and the glacial lagoon and then continue driving northeast into the land of fjords.

We head down to the lagoon and sign up for a 30-minute boat tour. We have an hour to kill, so we venture over to the black sand beach and see the pieces of ice that have broken off the larger icebergs and washed up on the beach. In the distance waves crash, washing more pieces of ice ashore. It’s a sight I’ve only ever seen on the Discovery Channel.

I realize that the use of the words, “awesome,” “amazing” and “gorgeous” are no longer doing these sights justice, and I’m starting to feel like a broken record. Carolyn suggests a thesaurus. We are just speechless from the stark beauty of this sight.

We leave the beach and head over to the shop where we are meeting up for the boat trip. The young lady greets us and tells us we’re very lucky, as it’s only the two of us, so instead of taking the amphibious boat, we get to go out in an inflatable motorboat. But first we must get kitted up. She leads us to a small trailer behind the shop and selects two of the sexiest outfits I’ve ever seen. We climb into these arctic suits and look better suited for a space mission than a glacial boat tour.

Willy, pronounced Villy, is our guide and he leads us out to the boat. We climb in and venture out into the lagoon. The boat lurches forward, and we can hear the crackle of ice breaking around us as we make our way toward the glacier. Jokulsarlon, (the name of the glacier), also called “the king,” sits majestically before us.
On the way, we dodge icebergs and watch seals lazing in the sun on small pieces of ice. The icebergs that have recently flipped over, glow a soft blue. The ones that have already absorbed enough sunlight have lost their blue hue. This is a beautiful sight. As we make our way, Willy informs us that the glacier is receding 100 meters every year. It makes me wonder how many years into the future this sight will be here for others to enjoy.
We loop around a huge iceberg and Willy explains that we can see only 15% of it, the remaining 85% is underwater. It’s difficult to comprehend the sheer size of these things. I imagine scuba diving in the lagoon and what a sight that would be. Willy explains that it is indeed possible with the right equipment. (This is for another trip!)
As we circle back to shore, we stop and Willy cracks a huge piece of ice off the side of a berg, and we are able to taste it. He tells us this ice is approximately 1,000 years old!! The trip ends too quickly and I tell Carolyn that this is by far one of the most amazing things I have ever seen or done.
We thank Willy and reluctantly give back our arctic suits and head to the small shop for a hot chocolate. It would be easy to stay here for hours and just savor the sight, but it’s already early afternoon and we have a drive ahead of us. We make a pit stop in Hofn, pronounced Hup, grab some lunch and gas up and then begin cruising through the eastern part of the country, which is known as fjordland. We have the road to ourselves, which is a good thing, as at times we are taking hairpin turns. We are nestled between the fjords on our left and the ocean on our right. Needless to say, it’s a beautiful drive.

We then begin the ascent into the highlands, literally up over a fjord. At this point in time, it is starting to get a bit dark and cloudy, and just as we hit an unpaved road, the sleet begins. We hope our little compact can handle the conditions.

The conditions worsen – it is now snowing, and the wind is so strong it’s challenging our small silver compact. We decide instead of trying to make it to Myvatn tonight that we should stay in Seyoisfjordur. We return to paved roads, but now they are slick with ice and snow. It is mid-October and I can only imagine how bad conditions would be in the dead of winter. When we finally begin the descent from Eskifjordur to Seyoisfjordur, we both let out a little sigh of relief.
After driving in circles for a bit, we find a little hostel in Seyoisfjordur. It’s called Farfuglaheimilio. The building used to function as a home for women who worked in the herring industry. No one is home but the door is open and a note directs us to pick any vacant room we want. There is an interesting vibe here. Animal skins adorn the walls, and a note in the bathroom instructs us to keep the toilet lids down, to “prevent the unnecessary escape of chi.” I think we’re surrounded by hippies!
We dump our bags and head to the local cafe, Skaftafell. This seems to be the life of this little fishing village. I momentarily feel like we’ve been transported back to a hip cafe in Reykjavik, yet we are as far from the capital as we can get. Still, Arcade Fire plays blares from the speakers, and the lovely host offers us a bottle of his favorite Chilean wine. Fresh pizzas are coming out of the kitchen, and the special of the night is a steaming lamb stew.
We cozy up here for the evening, recounting the events from the day, feeling the warmth from the good food and embracing the Icelandic hospitality of this charming little fjord town.