Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Many Wonders of Iceland (Might Have to Reuse This Title Over and Over and...)

If you don't know how this works yet, go away. You could still keep reading, but you'd think I'm in Iceland and be confused when you saw me walking over to Ike's for a good ol' sammich (that doesn't make sense to non-Bay Area readers... OH WELL!)... Let's begin!

Day 2

A bright and early morning for our first official day of activities. Something heinous like breakfast at 6:45 AM. Whatever the time was, it was early, and I got to breakfast five minutes before we were getting onto the bus. I made the very unwise choice of pancakes, which, in ze States, might not have been the worst idea in the world: light, fluffy, and easy to scarf 'em down. In Iceland, however, the similarity to peanut butter was remarkable. Actually, the viscosity of the glob that was forming in my mouth resembled the love child of peanut butter and fresh mud. Needless to say, it was a chore to swallow. So I only ate two of the five I picked up, making the environmentalist inside me die, since they probably didn't compost what I ignorantly wasted.

So our first lecture of the program was fascinating because it gave us a crash course in Iceland's history and how renewable energy fit in with it all. Just a couple of tidbits: some of Iceland's most powerful volcanoes lie under glaciers and most of the renewable energy produced is sold off to aluminum smelting factories in the country. Our second lecture was on economics, which was a tad bit basic, although the few touches into the energy sector economics were mildly interesting.

After some good ol' edumacation, we were fed! Yay for food! But this was no ordinary food. No siree, boy, ma'am, hombre, compadre, tu madre. The restaurant's gimmick was that it uses direct geothermal heating to make all of its food. So instead of converting the geothermal power to electricity to power, for example, a stove, they use the steam or water that flows straight from ze Earth for their heating purposes. It's pretty neat. It was also pretty darn tasty, depending on which soup you picked (Dani and Ross were not too pleased with their selections).

Once rejuvenated with the energy of the Earth (yes, we are technologically advanced hippies), we journeyed up some dwarf mountains (not the mountains where dwarves reside like the Mines of MORIA, but a little mountain) and found ourselves at a crossroads between a plain old cold river and a super toasty river. Having been warned that we'd stumble across such a marvelous site, we all quickly changed into our swimming attire. Some figured they should use towels to change and others came dressed for the occasion. Me? I did neither. I ran far off into the distance and stripped down nekkid to change into my swim stuff. A good experience. I'd say it's a humbling experience. Only I would say that. Hence "I'd say..."

The natural hot tub was absolutely blissful. It took me awhile to finally dip myself all the way in, but when I did, oooooooooooooo lordy. I believe one could say I was "walking on sunshine," though I don't see how jagged rocks and a few ankle twists really resemble "sunshine" at all... But that was all trumped by how perfect the temperature and scenery were. It's really hard to capture with words (because I'm not J.R.R. Tolkien) or pictures (because I'm not [insert famous photographer]) just how beautiful it was to look around at the rivers coming down into the little nook of the golden hills that we were in. Here are some good ones:

Eric looks like a wittle baby taking the best bath EVER. <3 PC: Paige McIlroy
Errbuddy having a merry ol' time. PC: Justin McKay
After drying off in the beautiful weather (I just stood out to dry without really using my towel), we hiked back down to the bus, went to Hotel Hlid, ate some grub, and worked a bit more on our capstone projects, essentially trying to narrow down what ideas we had already produced.

At some point in the evening, I believe Alex Beaudoin (commonly referred to as "male Alex" to distinguish him from, you guessed it, "female Alex" on the trip) and Justin heard about a "nearby" cave and wanted to check it out. People caught wind of this journey and bandwagoned, me included. Of course, we were heading out at around 9 pm or so, which didn't really matter because the sun never actually sets to complete darkness. The estimated time of arrival to the cave was given as an hour. Here's a chunk of the team, ready to rumble:

Male Alex and I had a similar idea (Alex in the orange jacket, me with the black jacket in the middle). PC: Sam Buckstein
After about an hour, the map was checked, and with a little assistance of the GPS we found that we had only trekked about one third of the way there. Below you'll find me, obviously NOT thinking the past hour had been the easiest thing in the world, but could still probably wrestle Hercules if asked to (2swole). At this point, everyone, except for Male Alex, Justin, Jordan, Eric, and I, turned back. Mumi, in the black jacket below, lead the homeward bound charge and Vedis, in the purple, lead the five of us to the cave.

Jacked. PC: Sam Buckstein
The trek there wasn't too bad. The terrain was real rough and there were multiple checks on the map and GPS because we were trailblazing, but it was ultimately SUPER worth it. On the way, we stumbled upon some really thick moss that was definitely meant to be slept on... so we did (all of the following photos are from Justin McKay):

Soon after those well needed naps, we stumbled upon the cave, and we're lucky that we didn't stumble INTO it. We could've very easily fallen into some of the holes that act as ceiling lights in the cave. After a bit of wondering, we found the cave entrance! And check out what we found as Male Alex continued to say, "Hey, let's just go a little bit farther!"

The ice cones in the background (would they be considered stalagmites... OF ICE?!) were hollowed out in the center. Super cool. Oh, and you can also see my spelunking light of choice: my solar-powered desk lamp.
Grabbed a chunk of ice that was already broken and stuck my desk lamp under it.
Regardless of how miserable the trip back was (props to Eric and Jordan for carrying back a huge piece of Styrofoam that they found), what with the new crack on my phone and the starvation and the mud on my jackets because I dragged them around out of shear disgust with how hot I was, the cave was one of the highlights of the trip. Not only that, it was one of the few times when we were in a very tiny group, which is hard to come by when you're on a program with 40+ other students. I'd definitely recommend a little bit of P90X in preparation for this if anyone's considering the trek from Hotel Hlid. :) Or a car... Great day. <3

Until tomorrow!

Quality Picture of the Day:
In place of a picture of naked me, here's a lady friend pushing me (teal shorts in the middle) further into the river when I hadn't quite acclimated to the heat. It was painful, and SUPER GOOD! PC: Paige McIlroy

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