Monday, March 31, 2014

Spelunking in Iceland! and some recovery beers...

By: Janine

I am always on the hunt for great deals on vacation packages, so when Travelzoo advertised an Icelandair package that had the best prices I had seen to date, it was obvious we had to jump on the opportunity. The package included roundtrip airfare on Icelandair from Newark airport to Reykjavik, a choice of hotels to stay at for 3 nights in the city center (we chose hotel CenterKlopp) which also included free breakfast, a Northern Lights boat tour the first night, and a visit to the Blue Lagoon complete with a comfort package experience (included towel, robe, an algae or volcanic face mask, and 1 free drink at the bar in the Lagoon.) We scored all this for only $732 per person! 

Hotel Center Klopp Iceland
Our hotel Centerhotel Klopp. Great location in the city center
I texted a few friends about the deal and we ended up being a group of 7 for the trip. Last Thursday, vacation time had finally arrived and we boarded our 5 hour overnight flight to Reykjavik. We had decided before arriving that we wanted to do a short spelunking excursion with Arctic Adventures that Friday afternoon of our arrival. The tour was very pricey at $142 per person, but we paid the premium because the caves were only a short 30 minute drive outside the city center, and the whole excursion only took 3 hours. This was important because we were all running on only a few hours sleep from our overnight flight and didn’t want to be sitting in a bus all day.

What is spelunking you ask? At first, I thought this was just a fancy word for walking inside a cave. Boy was I wrong! It is actually crawling, sliding, rolling, or getting through the cave any way possible, due to small openings and jagged rocks everywhere. The tour came complete with helmets and headlamps for safety as well. 

Tip: If you decide on this winter excursion, be sure to wear good hiking or snow boots and dress warm and in layers (we wore thermals and ski clothes), as the jagged rocks do a number on your shoes and clothes and your clothes get a little wet and dirty from the ice.

 We knew we were in for a very physical activity when we saw the very tiny yet steep opening to the cave. We had to lay on our backs and slide into the cave as if on a sliding board, and the guide was waiting inside to stop us from crashing into the rocks below. I might have screamed a little as I was sliding the 10 feet or so down...

Spelunking Iceland
This was the opening to the cave. It really is this small in real life too...
Once Inside, we started following the guide as he showed us different rock and lava formations, some of which had frozen over and had made these amazing icicle formations. At a few different times throughout the tour, the cave narrowed and we had to crawl combat style on our elbows and knees through the caves. This was difficult because the rocks were sharp and digging into our knees; kneepads sounded like the best invention ever at that moment and I was bummed we hadn’t thought of it. It also didn’t help that we were all holding our cameras in one hand while trying to crawl, making it harder on ourselves. After our second crawl, I stood up too soon and cracked my head against the jagged rock on the cave ceiling. I thanked the universe for the helmet, as I didn’t feel a thing and without it I’m 100% sure we would have started off the trip in the hospital.

ice cave formations iceland
Ice formations in the cave

We reached a really dark spot inside the cave and the guide had us turn off our headlamps and sit in silence for a few moments. He then told us a few Icelandic folklore stories about zombies, which wasreally eerie to listen to in complete darkness. In earlier times in Iceland, the good people of the country didn’t know much about hypothermia. During their long and cold winters, people would suffer from hypothermia and go into a coma of sorts. Family members had thought they died and kept them in their farms while they were preparing for a burial. Since it was warmer inside the farms, the people would slowly warm up and regain consciousness, but since their family members had believed they were dead, they thought their awakening loved ones were now the undead, aka zombies, and proceeded to kill them by bludgeoning them to death with hammers and other blunt objects. Eventually medical knowledge progressed and this ceased to happen a few years later...
caving iceland
Your looking at lava covering in ice. This was all over the ceiling and floor, making it very slippery
caving iceland
Inside the cave
We took a lot of pictures even though this was a very fast paced excursion. At one point myself, Brian, and a friend of ours got a little behind while taking pictures. The group had moved on and were no where in sight. We came to a fork in the cave, and were lost. Unsure of which way to go, we called out to the group and heard nothing. After about a minute of indecision, we thought we saw a faint light in the narrow opening and went that way. We found the group! Relieved, we were careful to keep up the rest of the trip, as getting lost in a freezing cave on the first day of our trip would not have been cool...

caving iceland
The view on the walk back to the van wasn't all that bad either!
We exited the cave through a different opening than we entered into, and boarded the van to head back to the hotel. We had so much fun on the excursion, but were exhausted from our lack of sleep. What better way to wind down but to take a brewery tour in Reykjavik immediately after caving?

The tour was called Taste the Saga . The cost was $45 per person for a 2 hour tour, and included pickup and dropoff from our hotel to the brewery by Iceland excursions. This was unlike any brewery tour I have ever been on as it started out with us all sitting around a table in a room with a full bottle of Gull beer to drink each. After the gull, we were given cans of Boli and Polar Bear beers to share, which equated to almost a full can per person. While drinking our beers, we were told the history of alcohol and their prohibition in Iceland by a very animated lady, who was very entertaining. Our last drink was pitchers of beer to share (after the previous drinks, I don’t think anyone noticed what kind of beer it was) that were mixed with Brennivin, a type of Icelandic Schnapps also known as “Black Death,” and vodka.

brennivin aka black death
What the Icelander's call "Black Death" pictured from our before tour shot

Gull beer iceland
Beer 1 of the tour

boli beer iceland
Beer 2...

polar bear beer iceland
Beer 3

I guess they figured everyone was drunk at this point... Non alcoholic drink...

Now that everyone was good and drunkish, we were led to the actual tour part of the brewery tour. We were given hair nets, but didn’t actually get anywhere near where the beer was made. Instead, we looked down at the machines and the hops, yeast, barley, water, etc from a balcony whilst the guide explained the process. It became clear that the tour was more about drinking and entertainment than the actual brewery, but we were all ok with this. They gave us one last beer that had just been brewed fresh, and it tasted amazing. We went back to our seats for one last non alcoholic drink of malt extract and orange soda before it was time to board the buses and go back to the hotel.

If you have time on your trip, I definitely recommend Taste the Saga as beer is expensive in Iceland and they really give you your moneys worth at the tour. 

Coming soon... days 2 and 3 in Iceland - the Golden Circle and Ice Climbing on a Glacier

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