It was the end of June. Our 6 month visa time in the UK had come to an end, and Covid had severely restricted our travel options. Hurricane season was just beginning in the Atlantic, so of course it was the wrong time to leave Europe for good. In addition, we still needed to return to France at the end of summer for Boreal to do some work on Bravo. Calls to the UK's Border Force confirmed that there was no definite process to extend our time in the UK until then. Our only option was to leave, and then return to the UK to wait for the time to head to France. (We could not arrive in France too early, as it is a Schengen country. UK is non-Schengen, and we needed to conserve our 90 days of Schengen time for the autumn, when we will be heading south to the Canary Islands (Schengen).
So.....where to go? And how to get there? The UK has a rating system in place for all countries of the world. People entering from "Green light" countries can enter the UK without quarantine. Iceland was the only European "Green Light" country. So Iceland, which we'd always wanted to visit anyway, became the destination. As far as how to go? While we could sail from Scotland, it is about a 1 week voyage, typically requiring a wait for a good weather window. And since it would require a return trip, it would be the same on the other side. Add to this the fact that there was no guarantee that we'd be allowed back into the UK on arrival, due to the fact that we'd just spent our previous 6 month visa time there, we decided that it made more sense to leave the boat safe and secure in a marina in Scotland and fly to Iceland. Still risky that we'd be denied re-entry to the UK (it is up to the discretion of the immigration officer!!!). Scary!
So, nearing the end of June, off we went. Even though we are fully Pfizer vaccinated, travel was still a real hassle. We required a PCR test 2 days before flying out of Heathrow, so had to find a lab in Glasgow. Then another at the airport on arrival in Reykjavik. And similarly 2 tests for the return.
But was it ever worth it!!! Arriving in Iceland was like a step back to pre-pandemic times.....no masks were required anywhere! With every arriving visitor getting tested, there simply is no evidence of Covid in the country. So everyone is free to travel without masks or social distancing requirements. Just like the old days!
And Iceland was beautiful! Amazing hiking and photography opportunities at every turn. We hired a 4 wheel drive truck w/ camper, so we were free to travel anywhere, without needing hotel reservations. The only way we know how to travel... (camping is restricted to campgrounds, but no reservations were required at any). Unfortunately the interior 4 wheel drive roads were mostly still closed due to a late snow year, but we had plenty to see around the perimeter.
So here's a photo story of our trip around the country. Basically driving a loop in a counter-clockwise direction starting in Reykjavik, we took any opportunity to deviate from the normal route and explore the less traveled peninsulas and fjords along Iceland's coast.
Within an hour's drive from Reykjavik, the Geldingadalsgos volcano on the Reykjanes peninsula has been erupting since March of this year. Visitors from around the world have been making the pilgrimage to the site to watch the bubbling and at times, exploding cauldron of molten lava spew out into the landscape. Trails are opened and closed without warning as the lava flows dictate safe areas for observing. On the day that we went, "trail C" was the hike of the day. The view was perhaps not as up close and personal as the explosive eruptions of the volcano on Tanna Island in Vanuatu, but extremely impressive nonetheless...
|Hopefully this guy took out the maximum insurance on his rental car!|
After the volcano hike we were off!
A quick note about photography in Iceland.....
As we all know, photography, especially landscape photography, is all about capturing light. And the light in the early morning and late evening is usually the best. One issue we found with the timing of our trip to near the arctic circle in June/July, is that due to the long days (sunset after midnight, sunrise just 2-3 hours later!!!), it was difficult to get optimum lighting for the landscapes. But like everything else, the long days are a tradeoff, as it sure beats the winters of near total darkness, albeit with northern light opportunities.
Another note about shooting in Iceland....bring LOTS of SD cards! The opportunities are everywhere, and we came home with a couple of thousand shots to wade through. Editing will be a long term project! So apologies for how many images have been included in this post....it's just that kind of place!
Bird life in Iceland is incredible!!!
Over 330 different species have been seen in the country, and 85 use Iceland as a nesting ground and rookery. We saw kittiwakes, arctic terns, fulmars, shags, gannets, skuas and various other gulls, phalaropes, sandpipers, oyster catchers, plovers, snipes, whimbrels, godwits, whooper swans, mallards, eider ducks, scoters, scaups, tufted ducks, teals, and many others. Often they were so unafraid that you could practically walk right up to them! For others, binoculars and long camera lenses were essential.
|Most of these puffin shots were taken on the top of the hill behind the small fishing harbor|
Interesting thing about their fishing abilities....apparently the little piggies swim through the schools of fish, and can spear the fish on spines on the roof of their beaks while they grab another. That's how they get so many. Usually we counted around 10, but the recorded record is 62 in one mouthful!!!
They live in burrows, up to 1 meter deep, to which they return each April to raise their young. When they return to the burrows with the fish for the baby pufflings (really, that's what they're called!!!), the kittiwakes are waiting for them to land, so they can steal the fish. It's great to watch the awkward chases as the puffin scurries for it's lair, with the gull in hot pursuit!!! Usually they rolled into the hole with fish intact!
In places, the glaciers ran right to the water, calving into lagoons and creating beautiful icebergs before eventually being washed out to the ocean.
Þjóðveldisbærinn Stöng, the oldest excavated settlement in Iceland, buried by ash fall from the eruption of Mt. Hekla in 1104 AD. They've reconstructed one of the medieval viking farmhouses to protect the excavation. Amazing to look out over the ash covered valley, and imagine life in the thriving community before the eruption wiped it all out
And another hike.....
This time we were camped down in a beautiful valley. We asked the campground host, an avid hiker, to recommend a good one. She pointed up valley, to a classic glacial cirque surrounded by peaks. Looked great!
We asked her how to find the trail. She said we should just start walking, making our way along a stream, up to the valley above.
We said, "Oh, you just bushwhack without a trail?"
She laughed and said, "well, you could call it that but there are no bushes, this is Iceland!!!"
And sure enough, due to the high latitude, you can pretty much walk where you please. We made our way up the creek, and eventually found ourselves in the classic mountain landscape. And never saw another person all day!!! Beautiful!!
Other than birds, Iceland has few native animals. The only endemic mammal is the arctic fox, which we never saw. Sheep, horses, and reindeer have all been introduced over the centuries. The first two are everywhere, while we only saw a few small herds of reindeer during our trip. Most of them go up to graze in the high country during the summer.
|The rigs for driving on the glaciers are impressive. This one, for the search-and-rescue team up at Landmannalangar was typical, sporting 44-inch tires!|
|Happily food shopping in Iceland has improved over the years!!! Saw these relics on the shelf in one out-of-the-way grocery store!!! We gave it a "Nah, don't think so"!!!|
|When you live on an island, you get good at improvising!|
|Came upon this "Environmental art piece", a solar and wind powered vending machine in the middle of nowhere!|
We'll wrap it up on that note...many more stories and photos will have to wait. As you can tell, we loved our short trip to Iceland, and very much hope to return, perhaps in winter to see the northern lights.
When we returned, we got the nicest Border Force officer at the random immigration window in Heathrow. We showed him our passports, quaking in our shoes that he could deny us entry, so soon after using up our previous 6 months. But he just gave us a big smile, we heard the happy sound of the stamp as he then handed us our passports, and said "Welcome to the UK, enjoy your stay"!!! YEE-HAH!!!
We returned to Bravo, safe and happily waiting for us at the terrific Ardfern Yacht Center near Oban. We've been taking it slow for a bit, as Cindi reinjured an old shoulder injury, while on one of our hikes. It seems to be slowly improving, so we're meandering south in Scotland, now on Islay. (Can you say "W-H-I-S-K-Y???)
The plan is to head down the west coast of Ireland next, as we need to be back in France on September 1 for a few weeks of boat work by the Boreal team, before heading to Spain/Portugal, the Canary Islands, and Cape Verde to await the new year, when we'll look for a weather window to cross the Atlantic. To where? Who knows.....it all depends on Covid at this point....what's open, what's closed!.....stay tuned.