September 14 (Misty, sunny with clouds)
Woke up today to blue skies! No need to panic about accommodations tonight since we were already traveling in it. That’s right, the Land Cruiser doubled as our hotel tonight (why pay for a hotel when I had planned on being out all night for Aurora Borealis?). We headed east towards Jokulsarlon and we made pit stops at Fjadragljufur, Lomagnupur, and Svartifoss along the way.
The first stop was the Fjadragljufur Canyon (63.771345,-18.171785 on the GPS). The sun was fully out and the surroundings were unreal. The 10 minute hike from the parking lot to the edge of the canyon was quite scenic (similar to the rolling hills showcased as the default Windows XP background). We were going to hike further into the canyon but my stomach was feeling so sick (from the mystery breakfast fish spread) that we had to go back to the SUV in search of a bathroom (and to re-fuel). We stopped at the closest gas station where we fueled up for the first time, and I don’t think I’ve ever paid so much for a tank of diesel ($170).
Between Fjadragljufur and Lomagnupur the weather turned misty once again. For the past 4 days we made numerous stops along the highway because the view was just so spectacular. We also benefited from being able to pull over at will on the side of the ring road (main highway circumventing Iceland) because traffic was so light. We spotted a random mini-waterfall on the side of the road… it looked pretty so we hopped over the low barbed wire fence (which mangled my jeans because I was being careless) for a chance to see this waterfall up close. Soon after we arrived at Lomagnupur: a giant intimidating rock formation/mountain (not particularly interesting but still majestic just like everything else in Iceland) and the setting of a famous Icelandic saga (folk tale).
The next destination was Svartifoss and from my research it was a 40 minute hike up-hill. I had prepared for this waterfall well (this was my first photography oriented trip). The gum-boots and the tripod alone took up more than half of my suitcase which was beyond ridiculous. The hike itself was uneventful and not difficult.. but this simple hike became somewhat taxing with a giant tripod, water boots, and a backpack full of camera gear on my back. More than half way up the hill we spotted a tour bus ascending up the hill across the valley… then we noticed… we wasted 30 minutes hiking when we could’ve used that bus path! To this date I still don’t know whether those Japanese tourists were doing their usual polite smile, or maybe they thought I was crazy/hilarious because they all smiled upon seeing me: a sweaty China-man carrying gumboots up a mountain. Once we reached Svartifoss I jumped into my gumboots and jumped into the middle of the “river” for some photos from a different perspective. [Tip #3 – Do not buy a new camera for a photography trip without giving it a test run first… most of the images were unusable because apparently my camera was snapping photos at ISO 3200!!!]
A short drive from Svartifoss was the first highlight of this Iceland adventure: Jokulsarlon. The weather started to clear up once again… and truth be told I felt Iceland’s magic the moment I saw those giant icebergs tightly packed together in the lagoon. We went into the little gift shop for some waffles/soup for supper, and asked for directions to the closest campsite (which turned out to be 10 km away). [Tip #4 – Even though there are no chance in hell anyone could pronounce anything in Icelandic, like other Scandinavians most Icelanders could speak PERFECT English]. We were advised to simply park around Jokulsarlon (there were no laws forbidding it) and enjoy the view. We spent the next 30 minutes scouting for a suitable location shielded away from the wind. There are many unpaved roads around Iceland that can only be accessed by a decent SUV (like the Land Cruiser). [Tip #5 – Try not to cheap out on your ride in Iceland since you most likely already spent major $$$ to Iceland… the only way to get the most out of it is to be able to reach some isolated areas. Do not hire a Suzuki Jimny]. We scouted out many miles around Jokulsarlon including the adjacent Fjallsarlon which was much more isolated but just as beautiful.
We opened our first bottle of red wine that night and we ended up getting hammered (serious giggles ensued). Temperature was bearable (+3 degrees Celcius… nothing serious) and I am sure that bottle of red wine helped a little bit as well. We had full internet access (3G) from my phone adjacent to an isolated glacier lake to help the night pass. We probably fell asleep around 11PM, and the next thing I remember was my alarm going off around 1:30AM (as per various photography blogs the best time to catch Aurora Borealis was between 12-3 AM). I wiped the condensation away off the windows and I saw absolutely nothing but stars (a great sight in my opinion but it wasn’t northern light). I climbed onto the roof of the SUV and took a few long-exposure photos… guess what I captured??? A faint green glow around the clouds!!!!! Even though it was invisible to my eyes my camera recorded some aurora activities!