It’s worth noting that I woke up around 6:30 Saturday morning to use the bathroom. As I was exiting the hostel room, one of our dorm mates was coming in from his Friday night out. Reykjavik nightlife really is that intense. I’d experience this first hand soon enough.
I figured I felt fine during my bathroom break, so didn’t pay too much attention to whether or not my alarm was properly set. It was one of those-I-have-an-hour-left-to-sleep-and-it’s-the-best-feeling-ever-moments, that quickly turned into a Home-Alone-we-slept-in-moment when I woke up and turned to see my phone saying it was 8:15. Our tour pickup time was 8:00. Katelyn was still comatose. Luckily, I was already wearing my sweats, and had packed my backpack the night before, so I jumped up, put my shoes on, told my sister to get dressed now, and booked it to the Arctic Adventures office, which is just two blocks from Reykjavik Backpackers on the Laugevegur.
Arctic Adventures is an adventure tour company which we used to book all of our Icelandic excursions. We booked them all in advance, but it seemed like a lot of people were doing so the day before without too many problems. They do everything from day trips, to guided bus tours, to multi-day camping trips, to plane excursions to Greenland. If (sorry, when) I’m ever back in Iceland, I’ll be using them again.
Luckily, when I got to their office, our guide wasn’t ready yet (we found out later that one of our two guides also admitted to being out in Reykjavik till well past 2:30). By the time he did arrive, my sister had found the time to get dressed and procure us some life saving vitamin water. The two of us climbed into a large 4X4 pickup truck and started our drive into the interior. I wish I could say we bonded with our driver, who told us tales of Icelandic adventure. Instead, we both passed out for the first hour of our ride. The bus/car/truck rides on these tours are a lifesaver for those who want to experience both Reykjavik’s insane nightlife as well as the Icelandic countryside’s outdoor adventures.
The tour we signed up for was called Icelandic Elements, and consisted of snowmobiling on a glacier that morning, and white water rafting down the River Hvita in the afternoon. Lunch and dinner were included.
The Laungjokull glacier (Iceland’s 2nd biggest) is located an hour and a half from Reykjavik in Iceland’s interior. Two thirds of Iceland’s population resides in and around Reykjavik; the interior is desolate. It’s highly inhabitable, most roads aren’t paved, and in the winter they are closed altogether. Our guide even let us know that every year several people do die when they venture in without any guide or safety precautions.
En route to the glacier (which translates to long glacier) we stopped to use the restrooms and wait for some more tourgoers at Gullfoss (translation: Gold Falls…I learned this on the beer tour Friday night). Gullfoss is part of the “Golden Circle,” three of the more popular tourist destinations, located within reasonable distance of Reykjavik. The other two are Pingvellier National park, which we were set to visit on Monday, and Geyser (from which all geysers are named), which we unfortunately did not make it to. Gullfoss was impressive, and as we walked down to take some photos we were introduced to some strain of Icelandic fly that made the mosquitoes here in the US look like child’s play.
Our guide informed us that from here on out it was about a half hour drive before we’d transition to the “inland” unpaved roads. Here, we’d get our snowmobile helmets and change into snowsuits, before driving off road to get to the glacier. The weather, he indicated, had been warm recently, so we’d have to drive further than usual, as of course hot weather causes parts of the glacier to melt and recede.
I didn’t nap once we got off the main road. For one napping wasn’t an option; describing these roads as rugged is an understatement. At one point I’m pretty sure the jeep was sideways. Inland Iceland is crazy to look at. It’s rocky, with little vegetation and no trees to speak of with large snowcappped mountains abruptly rising up here and there.
Snowmobiling the Langjökull Glacier might be up there as one of my top life experiences. I don’t even know that words (or even my pictures) could completely do it any justice. The glacier is enormous, visible for miles and appears to literally sit on top of a mountain range. The weather was perfect. It was sunny and despite being on snow, it was warm (possibly because of the ridiculous orange jumpsuits they required us to wear).
Our guide first navigated us through a rocky patch (the glacier he explained had receeded with the warm weather, in the winter they didn’t have to bother with that part) before the snow completely took over and seemed to rise up in a never ending fashion. Everytime I thought we were at the top, the glacier just kept going. After about twenty minutes we stopped for some pictures. I truly felt like we were on top of the world (while the inner nerd in me rejoiced that I was in the land of Jon Snow and the wildlings).
We finished snowmobiling and our guide let us know that we’d need to book it in order to make it to white water rafting. He also let us know that had we not had that tour booked, he would have let us snowmobile for longer. We also learned that Arctic Adventures offers an overnight snowmobile camping trip. It takes four hours to cross the glacier. You then camp overnight before heading back.
Our rafting excursion took place on the Hvita River, which actually originates from the glacier, which gives it it’s distinctive milky blue hue. After another nap in our 4X4, we arrived at the Arctic Rafting Drumbo base camp, where we were provided with a deli platter lunch (I’m always a sucker for a good deli platter) and waited for all the rafting participants to arrive.
The guides instructed us on what gear we’d be given: a wetsuit, jacket, life vest and helmet and then we were all (yes, all) herded into a tiny dressing room to change. Once we got geared up, we got onto a school bus for the short drive to the river. The guides split us into groups of 12 per raft and gave us additional instructions before we set off.
I still don’t think I’ve ever been legitimately white water rafting and was initially delighted when we first got out into the current and saw a number of large waves approaching. I was less delighted seconds later when the first of those waves hit the boat head on (I was sitting in the front) and smashed me directly in the face. It felt like I got slapped and despite the wet suits, the water was freezing. We got soaked by plenty more waves but none were as aggressive as that first one. A good portion of the river, while swift, was calm and a lot of the time we simply paddled, or listened to our guide tell us stories and facts about the river.
About halfway through, all the rafts in our party pulled into a small eddy in a canyon we were passing through, so that anyone who wished had the opportunity to jump off of a river side cliff. I’m terrible at estimating heights, but would hazard a guess that it was maybe 40 feet up (they told us the height, but I’m still a dumb American who doesn’t comprehend anything in metric). After giving us the safety precautions, one of our guides took the plunge and then asked who wanted to go next. I quickly raised my hand, closed my eyes and followed, figuring that with anxiety already building standing near the edge of the cliff, I should get it over with quick before I had a chance to wuss out. It wasn’t as bad as I thought, but again, the river was cold. I visibly shivered the rest of our journey.
Towards the end of the trip when were in calm-ish water the guide got us all the participate in a variety of dumb activities; standing up and paddling, trustfalls, and standing on the boats wall forming a human ring, all with the endgame of having people fall overboard. Katelyn and I were the only Americans in our boat which was pretty interesting. There were people from Norway, Sweden, Germany, and Slovenia so it was interesting to see how everyone was able to communicate.
There was a Norwegian couple who sat near us that we got a chance to sit and talk to over a beer and some Icelandic lamb barbecue once we got back. They were from the very north of the country and also lived in the 24 hours of light/24 hours of darkness area. They said their drinking schedule in the summer was much like Reykjavik, where people didn’t go out till after midnight, but stayed out till the early morning, and said that they didn’t notice the darkness that much in the winter because they worked more then. It sort of made sense. There’s days in February I feel as if I go to work when it’s dark and leave at the same time. They did concede that it made them sleep a lot more.
We once again had an hour’s drive to Reykjavik, so it was time for yet another nap. I woke up as the bus was pulling onto the Laugevegur. Even thought we’d already had dinner, we went out for some more food, to a small basement café a few blocks from the hostel. This is where I think the perpetual daylight played tricks on us. Even though we’d eaten after rafting, the way the light was falling made it seem like dinner time, which is why we had our second meal, plus we had a long night ahead of us. We returned to the hostel and grabbed a drink at the Bunk Bar as happy hour was still in session, and were heading upstairs to shower when we ran into one of our dormates we’d befriended the night before, who invited us up to pregame with him in the 4th floor kitchen.
That night we truly did it Icelandic style, drinking and talking to well past midnight. Again, the daylight didn’t make the urge to go out seem urgent at all and it was nearly 1:00 by the time we left the hostel and went to The Faktory (it’s Icelandic, not an eye-roll inducing hipster misspelling..at least I think), which was exactly what I pictured when I think of a cheesey European club: strobe lights, ear deafening music, and brightly colored furniture.
After a stint at The Faktory, we went to the Celtic Cross, an Irish pub right next door that’s more my steam, which had a pretty good guitarist in it’s basement. The whole “time flies when you’re having fun” adage proved true as before I knew it 5:00 was upon us. We left the bar and the streets were still crowded with other revelers who were still drinking from a variety of solo cups and headed downtown to where a group of food trucks were corralled. After scarfing down a few quesadillas and socializing a bit, we stumbled back to our hostel around 6:30, and got to bed 22.5 hours after we’d woken up that morning.