Sunday, September 07, 2014

Time Warp United States - NYC - November 29, 2014

Time Warp is coming to New York City, every time I wanted to go to Germany for this bit time show my work has taken me down to Brazil.  Is it possible I will have to experience in NYC in their first North American tours in November?

Santiago, Chile - September 2014

I just returned from another business trip to Brazil and Chile. This was my first time in Santiago and I really liked the city.  I was told I was lucky because usually due to the smog in the Winter you are not really able to see the Andes.  I also had the chance to me up with a friend I met in Cambodia last year.

No worries, I still have to finish my Icelandic review, two parts missing and until them I leave you with some pictures from Santiago.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Iceland - ísland (June 2014) - Part 5

June 19, 2014

Vík is such a photogenic town, and if you are traveling eastward you have to go by this impressive valley before arriving to Vík,   The night before I stopped by to have dinner and I wish I had taken pictures because the weather was great.

I left the guesthouse early, and driving my little car thru the valley I just mentioned, I was following a car, there was another behind me and the wind was really strong.  Out of nowhere an object flew out of the mid size truck that was driving in the opposite direction.  The object hit the front of my car making an incredible loud noise. I was only able to safely stop when I arrived to Vík, and this is when I finally saw the damaged in my little Yaris.  Yankov didn’t look happy at all, specially since the bumper would have to be eventually replaced thanks to the newest fashion statement in my car: a bumper crack .

The weather was crappy as well, and the amazing pictures I was hoping to take while in town would have to wait until I returned later on the day.  Today my destination was the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, where pretty much the Vatnajökull Glacier is melting in the ocean.

There were other things I wanted to do today, but the lagoon was the first stop.  Obviously I was trying to shrug off the incident with my car, gratefully I have a happy and optimistic personality, so here I was driving down road 1 trying to find something positive about what had just happened. 

The Lupine fields are impressive, and you will see them not longer after leaving Vík.  Fun fact: the Alaskan lupine was actually introduced in Iceland in 1945 as a mean to fertilize the soil and stop erosion. This purple invasive flower found the perfect place and conditions to flourish in the island.  It does look pretty and I saw it everywhere I went.

Along the way you will be busy admiring and enjoying the landscape, and you will stop many times.  I wished I had time to explore the area around Kirkjubæjarklaustur, this cute village with tons of hidden jewels.  The waterfall behind the village is so beautiful and too bad I missed the exit to see it up and close.

Remember how I felt when I saw the Sholheimajökull glacier?  Apparently I had seen anything yet because by the time I saw the Vatnajökull Glacier I literally had to stop the car. I think that’s the mother of all glaciers - then again I haven’t seen the ones in Canada.  It is impressive, massive, beautiful and breathtaking.  I should note I was not the only one stopping to admire this beast, safely of course.

Kept on driving and when I was in the middle of the lava desert of Skeiðarársandur I stopped the car in the side of the road, turned on the hazard lights and took some pictures of the glacier.  I had a schedule so I continue my journey, and I hadn’t driven 2 minutes after my last pit stop when a police car coming in the opposite direction turned on his lights and signaled to stop.

I knew I shouldn’t had stopped to take a picture, but I know I took all the precautions. The uniformed viking introduced himself and informed I was speeding, driving at 108km/h on a 90km/h area.  I guess the fascination of the glacier, me trying to forget about my earlier incident, and perhaps after my stop I tried to return to my cruising speed without realizing I had gone over the speed limit.

The officer invited me to the back seat of his cruiser, where a camera was going to record our conversation, it was very cozy and I definitely recommend the experience. The ticket was around USD 300.00 but if I paid immediately I would received a 25% discount.  Painful and costly let me tell you, but remember how I’m always trying to find a positive spin to everything that happens to me?  Well then, I informed the viking officer I wanted to report an earlier incident in the Vík area.  Initially the officer thought it was a dent on the car, but when he saw the crack in my Yankov the incident became serious and he wrote a report, took pictures and informed me I could get a copy of the report in any police station in the country. I wished I had shown my crack earlier, no pun intended, probably it would had saved me a speeding ticket.

The show must go on, and along the way some of the landscape looked like the surface of the moon.  I stopped in one of the rest areas and to my surprise behind the rocks I found the lagoon with icebergs.  It really doesn’t matter where you in Iceland, there is always something that will surprise you, just walk a bit to find it.  Drove another 5 minutes and made to the base of the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon.  Lots of cars and buses parked, and I didn’t drive this long just to watch the icebergs from the shore right?  There are different companies and I think they all charge more or less the same price. Meet some interesting characters and after the boat tour I decided to have my well deserved lunch.

You should go to the beach as well, there you will find those icebergs that were rejected by the ocean melting away in the sand.  Very peculiar view, and pay attention to those freaking South African birds, because they will keep trying to assassin you. 

Ingólfshöfði was the suggested next stop, the bird cliff in a private nature reserve, but this was a 3 hours tour, I love birds but I had other plans in my head, so I keep driving to the Skaftafell National Park.  Keep in mind now I was driving westwards towards Vík.

First thing I did was to stop at the Visitor Centre and informed myself about the hiking trails, and let me tell you they have all type of trails, you could spend days here, and they also have an excellent campground.  The beautiful Svartifos waterfall is located in this park and it was the first place I went. Beautiful basalt columns constantly washed by the river, stunning. Keep walking and you will reach the place where you have the magnificence panoramic view of the valley, the view of the lava fields, don’t forget to visit Sel, the old farms with grass roof.

I didn't find the hiking to be too difficult, and I spent more time in this park than I had initially planed. Specially since I decide to walk towards the base of the glacier. I probably spent over 3 hours in this park, and worth it.

Back to the road I went, extra careful with my speed and hoping to remember to exit in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, because that waterfall was vibrant. Unfortunately it didn’t go as planned and I missed the exit.  There were other attractions that I could had stopped along the way, but I was tired and just wanted to return to Vík, I had a picture date with the city.

When I finally made it to Vík, guess what?  Yes, it was raining and foggy, once again I wouldn’t have the opportunity to get the pictures I wanted.  I went for a walk in the famous black sandy beach, and even with the rain that place is magical, the colours the ocean, the freaking birds.  To end my visit to the town I went back to the same restaurant from the night before, near the supermarket, and had an amazing fish, recommendation from a fellow traveller I was meeting everywhere I went.

I thought about trying to hike to the C-47 Dakota airplane shell located not far away from the guesthouse I was staying.  The wreckage has been there since 1973 when it crash landed on Sólheimasandur’s black sandy beach - everyone survived.  I know is just a plane, but I thought it could be an amazing phone opportunity, specially since had stopped raining. I also thought about returning to Vík because of the nicer weather but instead decided to visit my bed for a good night of rest.

******* Part 6 and 7 coming soon

Friday, July 11, 2014

Iceland - ísland (June 2014) - Part 4

June 18, 2014: “What is expensive?” This was the main question asked after I returned to Montreal. I also got the “how cold is it?”  Expensive is definitely relative to where you are from and how big is your budget right?

Gas costs around CDN 2.50/liter compared Montreal's CDN 1.50/liter is a bit on the expensive side, but then some Europeans will claim to be “normal” pricing.  If I wanted to have a regular meal (fish/steak/lamb) with no drinks included the price was between CDN 25.00 to CDN 30.00. Burger, fries and soft drink was around CDN 20.00, finally if you wanted to pick up a sandwich from a super market that would probably cost you around CDN 10.00 - beer was around CDN 10.00 - that give you an idea of what I call expensive.  This was my vacation dammit and I was there to enjoy it so after day 2 I did not care anymore about prices, alright just a little bit.

You will hear a lot about the Golden Circle Tour in Iceland, pretty much is a “circle” that includes the attractions of Reykjavik plus Geysir, Gullfoss and Þingvellir National Park. This meant I had already started my visit to the circle the day before, and I was staying not far away from the Geysir area.  When I arrived at my hotel it was raining like there is no tomorrow, but in the morning everything was much better, I could actually see what was around me.

Today my final destination was going to be a bed near Vík, the southernmost village in Iceland. Road 365 lead me to the road 37 where my first stop of the day was waiting for me. Geysir is the father of the geysers, unfortunately it decided to become dormant many years ago. Strokkur is the performer of the family, and the smell of sulfur (rotten eggs) is eminent as soon as you step into the area.  While driving to Geysir some kamikaze lambs decided to through themselves in front of my Yaris but I was able to avoid the carnage of the lambs.  Then I looked to the left and I saw Lassie (a herding dog) running in front of at least 30 Icelandic horses, really? Lassie was working them man, the horses were following the dog like they knew honey was waiting for them at the end of the road. 

Confession of the day, I was happy I stop to see this natural wonder, but in reality I was not wowed by the experience.  It was cute and it was nice to see where all the geysers got their name from but I did not spend too much time in this area.

10 km further the golden waterfall was waiting for me, the famous Gullfoss.  I had seen pictures of this triangle of water love before, but there is nothing like seen it in person. There are 2 levels to visit this place, the wet one and the safe dry upper level.  You must walk in both because it is fascinating, specially when you see mothers pushing their new borns carriage to the wet level.

Gullfoss almost disappeared once upon the time, similar to what you see when the river vanishes into the earth.  What almost became a hydropower plant today is one of the most famous and visited waterfall in Iceland.  There are so many angles to photograph this natural beauty, I’m just glad I got to experience this place.

Drove south on road 30 until getting to the precious road 1, at this point I was looking for Urriðafoss, a waterfall located in the river Þjórsá in southwest Iceland. This waterfall will eventually disappear when the planned powerhouse is built. Not very impressive but good place to stretch my legs again.  Along the way I picked up this German kindergarden teacher, she was going to this earthy festival somewhere along my route, I was happy to help a fellow tourist.

Seljalandsfoss was my next destination along road 1, and what an incredible waterfall this is, there are other waterfalls in the same area, but this is the one you want to see. Get ready to get wet, and when I got there a photo shoot was under way, there were several cute models getting wet and all. Some Russian teenager tourists were also trying to prove their toughness I guess, because they decided to climb to the top of the waterfall.  I just loved this place, I got wet, I smiled, I screamed while getting wet, it was a dream come true guys, what else can I say eh?

Around 30 minutes drive from this location you will find the ferry that takes you to the Westman (Vestmannaeyjar) Islands, but I will talk about this place later on.  Back on road 1 towards east I went, until I saw one of the highest waterfalls in Iceland, Skógafoss.  By now you probably figured out “foss” means waterfall right?  

Lot of people camping in this area, and according to the legend some Viking buried a treasure in a cave behind the waterfall, I decided not to pursue the legend and climbed the steps that lead you to the top of the mountain instead.  There are around 25 different waterfalls if you decide to hike the area, and I think the most difficult part is getting to the top.  Just breathtaking view of the valley from the cliffs, which used to be the coastline many many moons ago.  Do not forget to bring your jacket because it could get windy at the top, and you don’t want to get windburned right?

After satisfying myself with this magnificence hike I was ready to keep going.  I had already decided my next stop was going to be the Cape Dyrhólaey and then the city of Vík. Driving I was again on road 1 when I saw it, I know we have them in Canada but I have never actually seen one. No too long after leaving Skógafoss you will see from the road the glacier called Sholheimajökull. I felt like mermaids were singing and calling me to drive there.  I had read it was a gravel road and rough, my original plan was to bypass this attraction but the first thing I did when I saw the entrance to road 221 was to turn and drive to the glacier.  There were some other cars driving the opposite direction, and you have to pay attention to the big 4x4 because some of them don’t slow down and there is always the dangerous your car will get hit by little stones.

My first glacier and I was not disappointed, I just sat there and looked at that enormous amount of ice that has been moving for thousand of years.  I overheard the instructors of a hiking group that they shouldn’t walk in some areas because it was summer already and they could plunge to their deaths in hidden holes.  Glaciers in Iceland have some dark layers and this is due to the volcanic ashes that follow each eruption.

Back to the main road I went until I existed on road 218 towards Dyrhólaey peninsula.  Depending when you visit puffins might meet you there because the cliffs are one of their nesting areas.  Fascinating place, they call it the door hole and you want to see it in different angles because you have the cliffs, then the black lava columns of the Reynisdrangar come out of the sea, the black sand beaches and towards inland you get to the see another glacier.  It is an overload of natural beauty.  I must admit, this was a long day and I was getting tired, so drove back to the main road and exited on road 215 to get my other angle of the area.  Walked on the black sand beach mixed with some type of pebbles and actually stayed there for a while.  Finally drove to the guesthouse I was staying that night, Eystri Sólheimar, cute place where I actually spent 2 nights.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Iceland - ísland (June 2014) - Part 3

June 17, 2014: Happy Independence Day Iceland, and I should had bought my travel food the night before.  Once again it was 8:30am when I left the town of Stykkishólmur towards the Borgarfjörður region, which meant to take road 58 back to 54 and South on 56 across the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

I was wondering about road 56 because it is pretty much in the middle of the mountains, unfortunately for me, it was super sunny when I started the day, but by the time I reached road 56 it was raining and foggy.  I did not feel like stoping to see the lava fields, but I did stop for the second time at the restaurant where the road 56 and 54 intersects.  National holiday and the place only opens at 10:00am, but a nice gentleman saw me and I was able to buy some chocolate bars, the ones I pretended were power bars because health.

Followed the road 54 until I returned to city of Borgarnes, and then back on Road 1 because the first schedule visit of the day were the Glanni waterfall, not very well known but I wanted to see it.  Minding my own business I was when I realized there were 5 motorcyclists following me. They clearly look like members of a gang. I told myself this was like the Mad Max movie. Hoping I had a similar kind of car, I press the red button hoping for some type of weapon. Instead My Yaris gave me the hazard lights, and after a couple of clicks I accepted my fate, I was destined to be gang raped by a gang of Viking thugs. I looked around to see if I had something to make things easier in the car, and I remembered there was something in my bag, I slowed down the car ready for the Vikings when the unexpected happened: they just drove by...the nerve, not even a goodbye, just drove away, all the psychological preparedness of the last 23.5 seconds were gone like the wind. 

Back to reality, around the Bifröst area you will find not only the Glanni waterfall but also Laxfoss, and somehow I missed the entrance to get to Glanni. I ended up driving on a back road instead of the main one, which was fine because it gave me the chance to see a bit more of the region.  During my trip countless times I would stop somewhere not realizing there was something special right around the corner.  I also must admit I had a kamikaze GPS in my hands, because at this point this diabolic machine kept trying to send me to the no no roads.  I probably drove for 20 minutes on a no no road until I had to turned around to look for road 518 on my way to Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfall.

Guys, Hraunfossar is a magnificence peace of natural art, to see water tumbling from the middle of those trees into the river down below is mesmerizing and you must stop, admire for a couple of minutes and just taken in the natural beauty of that moment.  For a moment I thought I had to drive to see Barnafoss, but pretty much is just a couple of steps away from Hraunfossar, a 2 in 1 deal.  There were so many photographers in this place, and we are talking hard core professionals here, or at least their fancy cameras made me believe National Geographic was having a field trip in the area.

After so many wows I had to leave because there was another stop in my schedule, the famous Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, a world heritage site, and it is freaking awesome place.  There was an issue, in my map it seemed I could actually drive on road 550 and then take 52 to get to my destination.  My kamikaze GPS was telling me to follow that route, until I finally asked one of the locals (yes, there were some at this place) and they told me the 550 was actually a F550, in other words a highland road and my Yaris was not up to the challenge.

Drove back on 518 then on road 50, along the way it was rainy like crazy and i stopped at this restaurant in the middle of nowhere and had the most amazing lamb soup I have ever tried in my life. Finally I ended up turning left into road 52, and this is where I thought twice about my decision.  The sign showed road 52 turning in the last kilometers into road F550, and I was not supposed to drive on those roads, but my map was telling me I could take road 52.  I did take it and eventually it becomes a gravel road, and the more I drove the more amazing the scenery became and the more I thought I probably would have to turn around.  Eventually when it really became harder to drive I found an Icelandic lady snoozing in her car and asked her if I could keep driving on this road, she say yes because the 52 would take me all the way to my destination. My Yaris was good enough and I just kept going until I got to where the tectonic place is ripping Iceland apart, where Europe is divorcing the Americas.

It was rainy, foggy and just miserable when I got to Þingvellir National Park, but I had a smile in my face, because I still couldn't believe there was such an incredibly beautiful country in this planet.  As soon as I parked my car I met this South African couple and I asked them what should I see first, because I noticed there were 2 main points of interest from the parking lot.  They told me to do everything and this is what I did.  First I walked towards the right, where this wood path took me to this waterfall, just beautiful and this is where I really wished  it was sunny right at that moment, because this Þingvellir valley must look amazing with the blue sky and the sun shining all over the place.  I also brought my scuba diving card just in case I wanted to dive at the Silfra lake, which people claim to be just crystal clear - I did not dive.  After I had explored the right hand side, I went to the left and walked thru those rifts, the place were the first Parliament was established in 930.

Once I finished my visit I drove to my hotel located on road 365 in the Laugarvatn area, which was cool because it would take me closer to my first next destination of the following day, the Geysir.

**** Part 4 coming up *****