Friday, May 28, 2010

Iceland Adventure: Day 2

Oh wow, I thought I had published this about three weeks ago. That goes to show how much fun I've been having in London! Well, enjoy. I'll write more soon. This entry is for Tuesday, May 4th.

Today I woke up at 4am starving. Dawn is very early in Iceland - I don't really know when the sun rises, but I sleep next to the window in my hostel. I sleep in a room with 9 other people (10 total), mostly men. I met an American chap who happens to be LDS - pretty neat coincidence. But there's no breakfast until 7am. So I laid in bed and read the New York Times until I got up and washed my face at 6 am.

Breakfast was muesli and toast downstairs. The lobby was also a cafe where people hang out - it's pretty cool. I had no plans when I woke up, so I spoke with the attendant and he hooked me up with a Golden Circle tour starting at 8 am for 8000 isk (about $60). When the tour arrived it was just a nine passenger van with three other passengers and the tour guide - pretty cool!

First stop was Iceland's newest geothermal power plant - the Hellisheidi power plant outside of Reykjavik. This powerplant is built right on the volcanic zone centered over the mid-Atlantic ridge. It taps high-pressure steam from 2 km below the surface and generates 213 MW. Hot water separated pre-energy production is sent through pipes to Reykjavik for space heating and domestic hot water use. This means that none of the buildings have chimneys on them because they heat everything with geothermal water! 97% of the city is heated this way. Also there are almost no water heaters because hot tap water comes from low-temperature geothermal wells.

Reykjavik has so much excess geothermal energy that they've begun to heat their roads, parking lots, soccer fields, and even a golf course! Not to mention greenhouses out the wazoo and five public outdoor heated swimming pools in the city. That is SO COOL. Iceland uses 99% renewable energy for electricity production (mostly hydroelectric with the remainder geothermal). This country is awesome, too bad geothermal and hydroelectric energy aren't as readily available in the rest of the world. :(

Next stop was an extinct volcanic crater filled with beautiful blue/green water. The country is covered with treacherous lava fields that came from volcanoes like this within the last 1500 years.

We stopped by a "small" waterfall that anywhere else would be the pride and joy of the country. Here, there are so many gorgeous waterfalls that this one is practically ignored. I didn't even catch the name.
It turns out that the only Icelandic word to become entrenched in world vocabulary is 'geyser,' which is taken from the original geyser, Geysir (GAY-seer). [location] For awhile "they" thought this was the only such object of its kind in the world. It wasn't until geyers were discovered in America that they realized that half-a-dozen or so exist in the world.

Within the last fifty years earthquakes have mostly deactivated Geysir, but the nearby geyer Strokkur erupts every five minutes or so. It's really neat because you can stand quite close as it erupts.

Watch the video I took of a double eruption - way cool.

Geysir is located in a hotsprings area with a bunch of adjacent hot pools and boiling pots. Enjoy the pictures - the fluorescent blue one actually took my breath away! The one with the cave was tricky to take a picture of because of the steam, but I mostly succeeded.

Next we visited the Gulfoss waterfall [location] - neither the largest volume nor the highest waterfall in Iceland, but probably the most famous. It has three levels facing different directions, the last gushing down into a very narrow canyon - far to narrow for a waterfall this big! That just goes to show how geologically young the country is. Iceland = waterfall heaven.
Gulfoss falls. Note the people on the edge of the cliff for scale.
Last stop on the golden circle tour was Þingvellir National Park (pronounced THING-vuh-leer NA-shun-uhl Park). It is a Unesco world heritage site and the location of the first European parliament in 930 AD. Vikings would gather here yearly to work out government things and drown witches and such (see picture at right). Þingvellir is located in the rift valley of the mid-Atlantic ridge. This rift valley is formed as the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates diverge by about 2 cm a year. Huge chasms open in the earth and fill with glacial water forming some of the most beautiful fresh-water diving destinations in the world (top 5, apparently). The edge of the North American plate can be seen behind the ancient parliament location in the picture below. You can also see a beautiful little waterfall placed by the vikings so they could have a waterfall in the vicinity of their meeting place. That's my kind of logic!

After the tour I talked to folks in the hostel for a couple of hours, then took a nap which ended up being all night. A good day.

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