Newfoundland Like Understand – A quick guide to 10 days on the rock.

Growing up, the most I knew about Newfoundland is that you pronounce it like understand, and that it runs a quirky half hour ahead of the rest of Canada on Newfoundland Standard Time. As an adult, Newfoundland has been on my radar for a few years, since I was living in New Brunswick going to nursing school. The unique landscape (there are 3 distinctly different geological zones), the friendly people with awesome accents, the tradition of fiddle music, jigs and reels, that are sure to get even the stodgiest of old feet a tappin’, and the fantastic wildlife – think puffins right up close, heaps of whales just off shore and right around your boat, seals, and many other birds – is more than enough of a draw. Mix in a wealth of history that includes Vikings and towns with whimsical sounding names like Gaff Topsail, Happy Adventure, Goobies, Little’s Hearts Ease, and Come by Chance to name a few, and you have the recipe for a fantastic adventure.

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Gorgeous Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne National Park

Where: St. John’s, Avalon Peninsula, Trinity, Elliston/Bonavista, Twillingate, Terra Nova National Park, Gros Morne National Park, Burlington with ma mama!

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Beach at St Vincent’s
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Cape Spear

When: August 1st-11th, 2017

How: rental car. There is basically no other way to see things in a timely fashion as public transport is limited and hitchhiking, sketchy. If you want to maximize your time even more, you can fly within the province. Although it is not a big province, the roads are atrocious (see note below), and if you want to do Labrador too, your options are fly or ferry across.

Budget: Apart from the rental car which will run you around $900 minimum for a 10 day excursion, it is quite affordable. There are very nicely run hostels which will keep you well under $50 a night and if fish and chips is your jam, then supper will run around $10. Many places offer breakfast included. When we went, all the National Parks and monuments were free, so that made things cheaper, but even so, most attractions are not terribly costly.

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Windswept coastline of Gros Morne

Best sights

1. The puffins in Elliston – there is a huge colony here and if you are very patient and still, they will come right up and investigate you.
Elliston also bills itself as “the root cellar capital of the world” and has a touching sealers memorial. Nearby Bonavista has a terrific ice cream shop, Sweet Rock, a number of tasty restaurants, and Cape Bonavista is a beautiful viewpoint for whale watching, puffin watching, and sunset watching.

Heads up – there are 2 roads that lead to Elliston, both the #238. The one from Bonavista is quite decent, the other, off the 230 …. awful! It’s more roundabout to go through Bonavista, but the better road is worth it.

 

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Puffins up close and personal

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2. Gros Morne National Park– this will go down as one of my absolute favourite places I have ever visited because of the natural beauty and the variety of scenery. I strongly suggest taking the boat trip on Western Brook Pond; book in advance, dress warmly, and enjoy the entertainment!At least two nights are recommended here. Parks Canada provides several excellent and free guided walks.

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There are lots of gorgeous hikes to do in Gros Morne

3. Terra Nova National Park – a beautiful park with coastal and inland elements. Lovely lookouts, lakes to swim in (although they seem to call them ponds in Newfoundland), hikes, and animal sightings. I was pleasantly surprised by this little gem. One to two nights here is good.

 

4. Trinity and the Skerwink Trail
An adorable village with a few great coffee shops in the area, ice cream, entertainment, and a beautiful and not too difficult coastal hike – what’s not to like?! One night and 2 days is enough here.

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Rising Tide Theatre
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Looking out over Trinity
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Skerwink Trail

5. Avalon Peninsula – a hidden wonder, so close to St Johns. The roads are awful, but there are some really wonderful sights and tiny shops. Highlights: Cape St Mary’s Ecological Reserve, Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve (a UNESCO site), whale watching in Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (we used Gatherall’s tour company and were satisfied), and the beach at St. Vincent’s where whales come up extremely close to shore due to the drop-off beach.
Two nights in the area recommended to deal with the roads as well as the variability of the animals.

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Gannet colony at Cape St. Mary’s

Best Accommodations

Truth be told, I loved nearly ALL the places we stayed. Great breakfasts, very clean, extremely welcoming, unique, and well-situated could describe all of them. I often use a mix of booking.com, Airbnb, Couchsurfing, and researching the internet and booking directly with the accommodation. In recent trips, I’ve heard some sketchy things about booking’s practices and I don’t like that they siphon off 30% so I prefer to book directly where possible. Newfoundland is actually one of the few remaining places where a number of places are not on commercial accommodation websites such as booking and many B&B’s can be found through a google search. There are so many cute B&B’s, hospitable and enjoyable hostels and Airbnb’s, and lovely inns that it seems silly to stay anywhere big or commercial.
Without further ado, here is the list, in no particular order:

  1. A saltbox house Airbnb – the owner of this particular house has now retired, but I would recommend staying in a “saltbox” in one of the small villages if possible. These creaky old queens often painted in bright colours invoke the ghosts of fishermen past and make you yearn for a simple and cozy life.
  2. Lilac Inn B&B – Glovertown – proximal to Terra Nova National Park and the delicious restaurant at the Inn at Happy Adventure.
    The proprietors of this charming B&B, a 1919 Victorian build formerly owned by a sea captain, are Keith, a Brit transplanted to Canada, and the elusive Eileen, who we heard about but never did actually see. Not to worry, Keith could charm the socks onto and back off of a donkey and kept us all well-entertained over breakfast, which was very tasty. The rooms are wonderfully decorated, clean, and very comfortable. Rooms (3 in total), run $110-128 Cdn per night, which I can assure you was worth it. Keith also went out of his way to secure us a dinner reservation at the nearby Inn at Happy Adventure (see below).
  3. HI Skerwink Hostel – Trinity
    WOW. Now THIS is how a hostel should be done! HI hostels are often well-done but this one is one of the best I have ever stayed at in my >10 years of hostelling in over 30 countries. Clean, great common area, tasty breakfast, well-appointed kitchen, passionate and helpful staff, and they have recycling and a garden! It is located just up the street from the beautiful Skerwink Trail. You can also camp here for $15/night.
  4. Hi Tides Hostel – Twillingate
    Also a WOW hostel. Tastefully decorated, clean, small, with yummy, make and serve yourself berry pancakes available for breakfast, located right on the shore in beautiful Twillingate. Proprietors Joelle and Mandy are friendly locals who are also big on promoting and participating in the local arts scene.I should also say that Twillingate was an enjoyable visit although it poured the first day we were there, which completely nixed any outdoor activities. However, we got our toes tapping at one of the local pubs with musician Mike Sixonate, I took a yoga class with the wonderful Nina, and we visited a couple local museums which were quaint but interesting. This is also the jumping off point for Fogo and Change Islands, which have some beautiful scenery as well as one of my favourite artists, Adam Young. (I should also note that I was very impressed with all the amazing artists of all types that Newfoundland has! See more HERE).
  5. Ome – Burlington
    If you want a beautiful, quiet, taste of small-town Newfoundland, the gorgeous ‘glamping’ tents of Ome are exactly what you’re looking for. The brainchild of comedian Shaun Majumder, a Burlington native, it was created to enrich the local economy. The little touches are beautifully quaint and you will feel nothing but welcomed here. You can borrow kayaks, go for hikes, and generally relax and soak in nature. We had the most stunning sunset, one of the best I’ve ever seen, PLUS a rainbow at the SAME TIME here!!I’d recommend bringing your own snacks because there is not a whole lot on offer in the nearby vicinity and chances are you might not want to leave the comfort and charm of your little tent!20170808_141149IMG_20170809_223212_941
  6. Sugar Hill Inn – Norris Point (Gros Morne National Park)
    Fantastically helpful staff and clean, well-appointed rooms. A good breakfast was included. Honestly, I often shy away from eating at the on-site restaurant (I think I feel that they don’t try as hard or something?!), but I am quite glad we ate here. Though on the pricier side of things, our meals were very tasty, and we felt very spoiled by the attentive staff. Best of all though? Complimentary, self-serve laundry!!

Recommended eats

St John’s has a remarkably delectable and varied culinary scene. We were pleasantly surprised by all that was on offer. Of course, there are local delights, heavily featuring fresh seafood, such as cod tongue, which we left for the more adventurous traveller, but there are also a number of other taste sensations.

1. The Inn at Happy Adventure – located near Terra Nova National Park and featuring a beautiful view out over the cove, this restaurant specializes in delicious, locally caught seafood. YUM!

2. India Gate – Duckworth St, St. John’s
Quite tasty Indian food, although a bit pricey. Very friendly staff.

3. Mohamed Ali’s – St John’s
I quite enjoyed their falafel. This place was started by two Palestinian refugee brother-in-laws. Reasonably priced.

4. Sweet Rock Ice Cream – locations in Trinity and Bonavista.
It’s ice cream. Do I really need to say more?

Consider Avoiding

  1. Auk Island Winery in Twillingate. It saddens me to say this, because I love wine and want to give kudos and support to endeavours that bolster the local economy but this felt commercial, impersonal, and almost tacky. There was a nominal tasting fee, which was not waived with purchase of a bottle as the majority of wineries do, and maybe I’m ruined by BC wines, but none of the wines really stood out to me. They have an extensive list of all berry-based wines, and I wonder if maybe they ought to just concentrate on really perfecting a smaller selection. Twillingate is well worth a visit, but I would recommend skipping the winery.
  2. Rising Tide Theatre – not an avoid so much as a pick your show carefully. This is an institution in Trinity, open since the 1970’s and the theatre is adorable. In the show that we saw, the actors were quite good, but the story, which was basically a life story of a famous NL musician called Harry Hibbs, seemed to drag and a couple theatregoers left during admission. At almost $30 a ticket, I have to say, I expected more.

My biggest caution to you: THE ROADS!! The potholes are legen-wait for it-dary. Indeed, a 2012 CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) poll found that 5/10 of the worst roads in Canada are located in Newfoundland. Even the TCH (Trans-Canada Hwy, aka Hwy 1) has potholes. Potholes! In a highway! That cause you to have to brake suddenly so as not to ruin your rental car! Ugh. Nevermind the other main roads (ie the main road around the Avalon Peninsula), and just forget about the smaller roads. Go slow. Be alert. Don’t drive at night, if possible (this also helps you to avoid moose, which cause an inordinate number of accidents every year). And even if it just looks like a wee, small one, I guarantee you, it’s not! It will grow exponentially in the split second it takes you to approach it, and it will be at least 2 feet deep to boot. If there was ever a vacation to splurge out on a fancy sports car…. this is not it! Go for the SUV, it is best on these roads. Consider yourself sufficiently warned. 😉

Also, though you may be going in summer months, pack a hat, pack gloves, pack a warm coat, and some warm layers. Although we had days in shorts and t-shirts, the weather is changeable and always cools off at night.

Finally, the Newfie souvenirs are among some of the nicest I’ve come across. Beautiful art work, warm woolly socks and gloves, pottery, and much more are among some of what’s on offer. Budget to bring a few things back for sure.

Any questions? Send me a message or comment below!

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Zion National Park

Zion indeed! The scale and beauty of this place is insanely lovely and incredible. We visited in April and had just had 2 days to explore; this is what we did:

-Angel’s Landing (WOW)
-Overlook (also wow)
-Emerald Pools
-Checkerboard

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Beautiful Zion colours
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Canyon Overlook
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Hiking buddies
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Angel’s Landing climb

 

 

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The view North from the Angel’s Landing trail

Angel’s Landing was definitely the highlight. It is best started earlier in the day because it can be quite hot and sweaty which to me, detracts from the beauty of the hike.  The last little bit of it is a bit freaky – there are huge drop-offs on either side of the trail and it can be quite windy. When we were up there, a sudden hailstorm came up and boy was it terrifying! I attached myself to another couple leaving the top ASAP while Linda and Austin lingered in the rain. Much braver than I am!

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Look at that skinny trail!
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This way up…phew!
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Views from Angel’s Landing trail
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Emerald Pools trail
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Emerald Pools
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Emerald Pools trail

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Checkerboard

To know:
-Some parts of Zion are not accessible to car traffic – there is a shuttle that runs regularly up the valley to drop off and pick up at the various trailheads.
-The Subway requires a permit – I believe it is done by lottery – and it is a strenuous hike. The Narrows is a different hike, and does not require a permit and is a day hike.
-There are plenty of accommodations around the park and there is camping within the park – reserve well in advance during busy summer months.

Next time:
The Narrows and the Subway.

Havasupai Hike

A dream come true!

With the advent of Instagram, so many more amazing places have come to the forefront of my travel world. Havasupai Falls is one of the most photogenic and magical looking places to flash across my screen recently and I knew I had to visit.

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Shiny, clean faces, setting out for our big hike in! The hike follows the trail you can kind of see snaking down the canyon to the right.

Getting There:

Unfortunately, it is SUPER hard to get a reservation to visit Havasupai. Prior to this year, the only way to get a reservation was by telephone. They opened an online reservation system this year, however, after just a short while, it was put on hold due to overwhelming requests. In February, I called the four different numbers I could find listed for the reservation office, the camping office, and so on probably twenty to thirty times and it rang endlessly or cut out until finally someone answered and I was told no reservations available for April and no waiting list.

The conundrum: go now with a tour company at a higher cost (individually, it would have cost us less than $200) or wait until next year and call like crazy when the reservation line opened up in January. We decided to take the chance we had and go for a tour group. We selected BG Wild, a company started last year by a fellow by the name of Mike Bennett who had been taking groups of friends down to the canyon for many years and decided to make a business out of it.

We couldn’t have been happier with our decision. The group was professional to deal with, the price was fair, the food was plentiful and delicious, and our guide was super fun and helpful (although I did tell him to turn the sass down by 50% at one point :P). Not having to pack in our food or fight to get a reservation was worth the extra money for sure. We also had an awesome massage therapist, Casey, who came along with the group, offering 15mins free and then booking longer massages at cost, and she also taught us morning yoga right in front of the falls (heaven!). Side note: you have to bring your own mat, but honestly, the sand and dirt in front of the falls is soft enough that as long as you only want to do standing poses, you don’t need a mat.

You can fly into either Las Vegas or Phoenix, both are around a 3.5hr drive from the Hualapai Hilltop hike departure point. From there, it’s a 10 mile hike downhill into the oasis of Havasupai. You can also take a helicopter ($85 one way including one bag on your lap, tourists only start going on a first come first serve basis after the locals have been flown in/out as needed), or you pay $75 to have your bag flown in while you hike. Personally, we enjoyed the challenge and reward of knowing we hiked ourselves and our stuff in on our own.

Packing List:

The lighter the better! Here is what I took for 4 days:
-1x MEC quick dry shorts
-1x Inner Fire black leggings for evening/sleeping and I hiked back in them on the last day
-2x Acuarela Swimwear bikinis (amazing one-of-a-kind, handmade bikinis!)
-2x sport tanks with built in bras (Lululemon and Popflex)
-2x long-sleeve base layers for wearing over top in evenings/at night (MEC and Lululemon)
-1x lightweight Lululemon jacket for evening
-3x socks
-3x quick dry undies from Naja
ballcap
-1x flipflops and 1x sneakers (hiking boots really not necessary unless you need the ankle support)

-1x Enlightened Equipment down sleeping quilt
-1x sleeping mat with built in pillow (was not happy with this!)
-1x 2-person tent
-1x quick dry towel

-comb, mini-toothpaste sachets, toothbrush/floss, sunscreen, mini-deodorant, face and body lotion, mascara (yep, splurge), headlamp, waterbottle, camera, and mini-cam. I was able to use my camera case on day-hikes to carry lipchap, sunscreen, etc.

My friend Linda packed down a hammock and slept in that for a couple of the nights and said it was pretty good. Definitely a way to save weight. She also packed down the dehydrated soap sheets to use for hair washing, which was awesome. I was super pleased with my choices in packing apart from the sleeping mat which was both heavier than it could have been and not very comfortable.
Once you’re down there camping, you can swim daily to keep clean, and everything is a little dusty and dirty, but you’re camping, and so is everyone else, so it doesn’t matter. Being light on weight when you are hiking the 10 miles UPHILL to get out, even if that meant being a little smelly, was worth it.

The Itinerary:

If you can spend at least 2 full days down at the falls, that is ideal. Weekdays are obviously less crowded than weekends. Leaving Hilltop by 8 or 9am would be best, as you avoid the heat of the day (the hike took us about 3.5 or 4 hours from hilltop to tent site with a stop to check in and a stop for a fry bread with cinnamon sugar…yum), and you also get to spend more time at the falls that day after you set up camp.

Our second day down there, we hiked down to Mooney Falls (at the end of the campground) and Beaver Falls, 6 miles roundtrip, including quite a scramble down the side of the canyon to get to the base of Mooney Falls (well worth it). If you continue down the trail from Beaver Falls, you will reach the Colorado River, which runs through the Grand Canyon. I think it’s a further 5 miles from Beaver Falls though! The hike down to Beaver Falls feels like you are in Jurassic Park. There is lush, verdant forest and bush with a river running through the middle, and red rock canyon cliffs on either side. It is SO pretty!

The second day down there, we checked out an abandoned mine filled with quartz that’s just behind Havasu, and then most of the group hiked up to Hidden Falls and 50-Foot Falls, then attended a sweat lodge and smudge ceremony, put on by one of the amazing Supai village residents. My legs were SO sore from hiking in flip flops the day before, so I opted to mostly rest by Havasu, enjoy the view, and have another delicious fry bread.

That night, I believe our campsite was the only one that had an amazing song and dance performance put on by a few of the residents of Supai. It was really wonderful.

The next morning, those leaving on the helicopter woke up somewhere around 4 or 5am to hike up to the Supai village to get in line for the helicopter. The rest of us departed two by two between the hours of about 6 and 8AM. The hike out was HARD; our packs felt heavier, we were sad to be leaving, and the ‘slight’ downhill we had on the way in felt like a much steeper incline on the way out. Plus, you end with the 1 mile switchbacks straight back up the Canyon wall. But it felt so amazing to know we did it! And boy did we carb load when we got back to Vegas! 😉

Thanks again to BG Wild, Daniel our guide, Josh, who did set-up, and the amazing group of hikers we got to know!

The Pictures:

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Hanging out at Beaver Falls. Some brave folks went jumping off it!
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There she is! The famous Havasu Falls
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The hike in. We are still quite clean. Recommendation: no tank top for the long hike! My pack rubbed my shoulders raw.
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Nearly to the campground, walking along the river.
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The scramble down the side of the canyon to get to the base of Mooney Falls
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Lush and lovely! Just after Mooney Falls
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Shoutout to Acuarela Swimwear for my sweet elephant suit! This is the hike from Mooney Falls to Beaver Falls – you cross the river a fair few times.
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The beautiful valley through which the river and the falls run.

Iceland in 10 Days

Iceland – September 2016

A hopefully useful guide in narrative and list format to help you plan a trip to the ever-popular Iceland! It may be a small place, but it is SO beautiful and diverse. It is definitely on my list of places to return to!

The time of year:  good and bad. September is too early for some things like some of the glacier cave walks (I think the one in Snaefellsjokull was open), dog sledding, and really good consistent Aurora (that being said though, about 2 days after we left, they turned off the street lights in Reykjavik because the Aurora was so good that night….), and it does seem to rain quite a bit in late summer/fall.

However, there are fewer tourists, especially as you get off the beaten track, all the roads are still open, and it’s not yet so cold and snowy that you need to bundle up.

Car Rental Company: Blue Car Rentals (bluecarrental.is). We found them professional, friendly, and helpful (although the bathroom at their office could use a good clean!). I think their price is pretty comparable to any other rental company and they are a locally owned and operated company. They often seem to have a ‘rent for 7 nights, get the 8th free’, kind of a deal on.

Driving in Iceland is SUPER easy.
-Lefthand drive (right side of the road like N. America)
-Max speed limit is 90km/hr on the highway
-One main highway looping around the whole island.
-Gas stations – occasionally few and far between as you get further off the ring road, but mostly plentiful.

Between three people, we rented a small, four-door Kia, which was not allowed to go on the ‘F-roads’ (mountain roads) but was quite well suited for the paved and gravel roads we travelled on. For a 10 day trip that circuited the entire island, this was not a problem really to be limited as to the roads we could take, but for anyone staying longer or wanting to do any kind of off- or mountain-roading, such as going to Landmannalaugar, an SUV/4WD capable vehicle would be mandatory. We saw tons of people in the mini camper vans, as well, there is heaps of free camping to be had, so I think next time I would choose to rent an SUV and camp (possibly cheaper) or rent a camper van (these run about $200/day, so not necessarily cheaper at all).

Highlights: Skaftafell National Park, Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, Myvatn Nature Baths, the West Fjords, watching the Northern Lights from a hot tub, the town of Seydisfjordur.

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Blue Lagoon first thing in the morning

 

Most Memorable Moment: Riding Icelandic Horses with Lukka and Laki of Langhus Farms (icelandichorse.is) in the late afternoon sun on a beach, with sheep all around….even on the beach, eating seaweed! Heaven.

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Riding on a beach in the northern coast region near Akureyri

Must Try: Blue Lagoon including all the different masques, Skyr Yogurt. We did not do it, because it is about $200 Canadian, but on the list for next time is the glacier ice cave experience on Snaefellsness Peninsula.

Cool (literally!) and expensive but once in a lifetime experience: Snorkelling between the tectonic plates at Silfra Fissure in Thingvellir National Park. It’s a cool 4 degrees celcius and the drysuit you get is not for the very claustrophobic, but the water is extremely clear and it’s an otherworldly experience. I would recommend if you are a diver to dive over snorkelling as I think you get a better experience and way more interesting photos!

 Most Unique: The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Holmavik, West Fjords. Ever heard of Necropants? Neither had I…..

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The beautiful southern coastline at Reynisfjara near Vik.
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Blue Lagooning

Trip Structure
We fit A LOT into 10 days, but there was quite a lot of driving. Here’s the basic breakdown.

Day 1: We flew over on a red-eye Icelandair flight from Edmonton to Reykjavik and went directly for a soak in the Blue Lagoon, which was perfect. From there we drove to Reykjavik, dropped our stuff and our car and walked around the city centre, which is very walkable, including the famous Hallgrimskirkja, and the architecturally beautiful conference centre. There is lots of shopping to be had, but I would recommend looking around first to see what kind of prices you can get. Surprisingly, museum gift shops often have the best prices in Iceland.

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Hallgrimskirkja in the late afternoon light

Day 2: An early morning drive to Thingvellir National Park where we snorkelled in Silfra Fissure with dive.is (GREAT crew, very knowledgeable and safe). From there we carried on to Laugarvatn for lunch at Lindin (http://www.laugarvatn.is/), where we had a really tasty chowder and bun. There is also a hot spring at Fontana there, but it is quite pricey.

Next up was Geysir and Gullfoss. Geysir was interesting, but if you have been to Yellowstone NP, you may, as I was, be less than impressed in comparison. Gullfoss is beautiful, but it was POURING rain by this point, so we did not stay long.

Accommodation: Super cute cabin in Hella, at Cafe Arhus Hella, right on Hwy 1 heading East. Well worth it.

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Getting soaked at Gullfoss

Day 3:
T
ally-ho along Hwy 1 to the famous falls at Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. There is an amazing fish and chips food truck at Skogafoss. I don’t know if it’s always there but it’s on your right just after you turn left and cross the cattle guard heading into Skogafoss.
Dyrholaey and Reynisfjara, an area of beautiful black sand beach and rock formations near Vik came next. This was one of my favourite stops for sure. This was a LONG drive from Hella to Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon (about 30mins past Skaftafell). Not like, Canadian long, but like, long in the sense that there is a lot to see and do along the way so it’s a pretty packed day.

FYI: the Solheimsandur ‘plane crash site on the beach’ site along the south coast here is featured in many travellers’ photos and blogs/guidebooks. However, due to the farmer who owns the land between the road and the beach placing restrictions on access (due to annoying tourists -__- ), it is no longer easily accessible by car to the public. It’s a flat, boring 4km walk in…and back…. to see some ruined metal on the beach. Granted it’s rather striking looking, but we couldn’t be bothered to waste take the time away from way cooler things. We saw lots of cars parked just off the ring road, so clearly some people still think it’s a worthwhile expedition.

Accommodation: Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon. Brand new, eco-friendly, delish buffet breakfast!

Day 4:
The girls went on a glacier hike at Skaftafell NP, but as I’d been before, I opted to do some hiking around Skaftafell NP instead. I was rewarded with a beautiful vista at Svartifoss, a waterfall surrounded by basalt columns. DEFINITELY recommend. It takes approx 1 hour if you move your butt, but maybe 2 hours at a more leisurely pace. It is well-marked and easy to find, good walking shoes are recommended, and it is free.

Our next stop was the incredible glacier lagoon region, where huge hunks of glacier are breaking off into gorgeous lagoons and slowly making their way into the sea, where they often end up washed up onto the nearby black sand beach. WOW.

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Svartifoss

We ended the day with the long but incredibly beautiful drive along the undulous, fjorded coastline up to Seydisfjordur. Here, you can catch the ferry to the Faroes (sadly did not have time for), and enjoy the ridiculously picturesque village and the hiking and waterfalls it has to offer.

Accommodation: Nord Marina Guesthouse. Serviceable but smelled of cat litter box…

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Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Day 5:

Onwards! To Dettifoss, another spectacular waterfall, that often has a rainbow in the mist above it. Recommendation: unless you have a 4WD vehicle, and even then, take the 862 to reach Dettifoss, rather than the far bumpier 864. It will save you lots of time and bumps!
Next to Krafla power station and volanic area. You can walk around the volcanic area, which is really interesting, and see the geothermal power station which looks like it’s on Mars.

After a couple long driving days, we next headed to the Myvatn Nature Baths, a welcome place to soak and replenish, overlooking the gorgeous Lake Myvatn and surrounding countryside. The fee is much less than the Blue Lagoon, although I would say the temperature is much more variable throughout and overall a little less warm.

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Jumps at Krafla Volcano

We took a really excellent supper at the Cowshed, just down the road from the nature baths, and had a quick peek at the nearby cave where some Game of Thrones was filmed. Apparently you used to be able to swim in it, but a volcanic eruption resulting in the shift of plates rendered it too hot for human use now.

Accommodation x 2 nights: Guesthouse Storu-Laugar. Great hot tub, nice buffet breakfast, warm and clean rooms, and Icelandic ponies to socialize with!

Day 6:

We were meant to go whale watching but the weather was atrocious and it was cancelled. 😦
Instead, we meandered around Husavik and visited Asbyrgi Canyon, which was a really beautiful little nature preserve.

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Asbyrgi Canyon

Day 7:
We explored Akureyri after a quick stop at Godafoss and at a traditional turf house dwelling site. It was quite interesting and we marveled at how small people were back then. We were all ducking under doorways, and feeling like giants.

NOTE! In Akureyri, be careful of parking. We got a ticket, even though we had done nothing wrong EXCEPT we didn’t know to set the clock in our car’s front window to the time we had arrived! 😦 Sad face. So be sure if your car has that little clock with moveable hands, to set it to your arrival time. If you don’t have a clock…I don’t know what you would do!

Akureyri is the second biggest city in Iceland and has an interesting church, cute shops, a few delicious cafes, and a yummy ice cream shop called Brynja. Other than that, I don’t think there would be much reason to go there for more than a half day.

Horseback Riding!! We drove north up the peninsula from Akureyri and after several one way tunnels (ah, yes, I forgot to mention there are not only one lane bridges but also one lane tunnels!), we arrived to the picturesque Langhus Farms. Immediately we were welcomed in for tea and cookies and getting to know each other before our ride. Both Lukka and Laki, warm and welcoming people, went to horse university, which is basically my dream, and really do have a wonderful way with their horses. The ride was lovely, the tolt is a truly unique and very comfortable gait, and I definitely wished we could stay there much longer.

We tried to go to an amazing oceanside hotspring at Hofsos after riding, but unfortunately, it was closing for cleaning and then opening again….in an hour! 😦 Will certainly have to try again another time! For future reference it is called Hofsos Sundlaug, and you can’t miss it on the main drag. It has adult only hours at night, for amazing Northern Lights viewing under the stars in the hot tub!

Accommodation: Over a bumpy gravel road and in the middle of what feels like nowhere, lies a wonderful guesthouse, Keldudalur. Situated on a working farm, and featuring two friendly Icelandic Sheepdogs and a hot tub, we enjoyed a super Northern Lights show. There was also a washing machine which was very welcome!

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Sunset near Hofsos

Day 8: A relaxation day exploring the area between our guesthouse from the night before and the one for tonight, Giljaland. Just enjoying the scenery and seeing what we could find! We very much enjoyed our host and stay at Giljaland, down at the end of a valley. A man with a great sense of humour and perfect poker face, he recommended things to do in the West Fjords, and we bought Loppi sweaters that his mother in law had knitted. He also made a mean breakfast, including pancakes!

Day 9: West Fjords exploration day, including the Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft, and a trip over to one of the most stunning and off the beaten track waterfalls, Djandifoss. The West Fjords are beautiful and deserve at least 3 days in their own right, since they are so remote, with extremely windy and often unpaved roads, some of which are only passable in summer. Yet another location to return to on the next trip!

Accommodation: Stora-Vatsnhorn, a tiny wee holiday cottage, which was just perfect for us!

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Dynjandifoss

Day 10: Snaefellsness Peninsula. Just go there. No further direction required! 😉
Watch for Dritvik, Djúpalónssandur beach, the coastal walk between Hellnar and Arnarstapi, the zipline at the lighthouse, the mountain you climb in silence to get your wish, and the ever famous . We had only one day there, but I would recommend two.

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Rainbow on Snaefellsnes
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One of the waterfalls cascading off Dynjandifoss
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The coastal walk between Arnstapi and Hellnar

Accommodation: Fossatun Pods – delightful small pod houses. Although we found the reception man to be very unfriendly, the hot tub closes at 10 (what?!), and the pod houses could use a few design tweaks, overall it was a cute and enjoyable stay. There is a kitchen house for those wishing to do self-serve.

Day 11: Made our way from Fossatun to the airport via a beautiful scenic coastal drive, and a delicious coffee at Reykjavik Roasters, where, I came to find out later, we were served by a member of the new group Krakk and Spaghetti (https://soundcloud.com/krakkogspaghetti). He’s pretty unique, with an awesome fringe and tiny wire framed glasses and was wearing a sweet cat sweater. An awesome end to an awesome trip, either way.

The Knickers Flag

We were picked up early and headed for the Chilean/Bolivian border – there was no time for coffee, although it seemed very much like a hurry up and wait situation! We had ordered from a street vendor by Chilean customs but they seemed to be a one pot operation making the coffee production rather slow. This lead to our driver corralling us back to the bus, before our coffee was ready, sharing sips quickly with the kindly Joost and Janne who had successfully received their coffees but were not allowed to take them on the bus! The vendor of course was quite mad at bus driver, a dramatic shouting match showcasing the expressiveness the South Americans are known for!

We drove up past two volcanoes on our way to the Bolivian border. They are incredibly beautiful and next trip, I hope to be able to climb one of them. The border area….brrrr! Windy and cool! DEFINITELY wish I had packed a few more warm layers! We discovered there were banos all around, when we requested a washroom and the guides just gestured all around them. Grab a piece of tissue and help yourself! >.<

There are fees at the Bolivian border and the national park office, which are typically not covered by the tour providers, so keep some Bolivian money set aside for this.

Our guide, Nelson, was excellent. He did not speak a word of English, really, but since the only other male in our group, also named Nelson, was a native Spanish speaker, he was able to translate the important parts for us. We packed into a Toyota 4×4 that Nelson took great care in keeping neat and clean, our luggage strapped up on top and us 6 all sandwiched in cosily. Our group consisted of: me and Ellen, a pair of sisters from Ireland, Niamh and Emer, Nelson from Chile, and his friend Sandra, from Germany.

Nelson (our driver) had some excellent music on deck, mainly Bolivian folk-y type music in general, interspersed with a select few 80’s hits. Perfectly surreal to groove to with the surreal scenery around us. We started at Laguna Blanca and Laguna Verde, surrounded by volcanoes.  Here, we got our first taste of flamingos. WOW! They are absolutely beautiful birds.

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We continued through the moonscape-like desert to the so-called ‘Dali Rocks’. The Irish girls had the brilliant idea of doing running panoramic shots. We would start at one spot while the picture taker slowly panoramed around. As soon as we were out of the shot, we’d run around behind and pose on the other side of the shot just at the camera hit that spot. Doubled! This was super tiring in the decreased oxygen environment but fun. Shortly after this, I discovered that my fingernails looked like the red, white, and blue ice cream cones probably due to the lack of oxygenation. Yikes!

The natural hot springs were the next stop on our tour (also at an additional cost to get in). Ellen and I didn’t go in because of the cold (not wanting to get wet), and the small and crowded nature of the pools, and instead walked around looking at flamingos instead. We were able to get quite close, so surreal! Apparently the hot springs were very nice tho.

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We next took a brief visit to the Geysers, which were not as good as Yellowstone. This was also the highest point in journey (4500m), making it both very cold and tiring. I felt overall pretty good, but just slow. Others in the group were really feeling the altitude.

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We had a tasty lunch at the refugio where we were staying for the night once we got there and were then able to take a rest.  I got a headache, really my only symptom of being at altitude, apart from being stuffed up, especially when lying down. I took an ibuprofen and that seemed to fix me right up, along with a snack and some water. I was feeling quite lucky to have such mild symptoms at altitude, unlike some of the others who were very headachey, weak, and nauseous.

After a brief rest, we set off for Laguna Colorado. It. Was. Amazing. There were SO many flamingos in the waters, eating, sleeping, flying. Plus…there were llamas! Laguna Colorado, means the coloured/red lagoon and indeed, the colours = wow. We were feeling pretty good and took lots of fun photos, pretending to be flamingos, and otherwise goofing off.

Back at the refugio, we tried some coca tea, reputed to aid in altitude acclimatization. I was feeling just fine at altitude, thank goodness! We rested, chatted and then took supper, which was a pretty decent soup and spaghetti. I rallied the group for a birthday song and birthday snickers to Ellen.  She made a brief speech, we all cheers-ed her and wished less altitude sickness upon her! ha!

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The refugio eating quarters
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Our beds at the refugio

Our evening was topped off by the stars. Wow. Stupendous! So clear without any interference from city lights, we could see satellites and shooting stars.

I planned out my clothing for the next day, layering being very important. It was not too cold in the sunshine without the wind blowing, but with wind and any decrease in sun, it was quite cold. With all this planning, one of the Germans called me very German! I was touched. Haha! I wanted to do some laundry as my undies situation was starting to reach critical, but after much discussion decided that they may not dry quickly enough and a ‘knickers flag’ clothesline streaming off the car the next morning to dry, may not be appreciated by Nelson y Nelson!

An amazing first day in Bolivia!