Whatipu Caves

You’d think working an entry level job for City Council would ensure the standard 9-5, no over time, off on public holidays kinda life. Not this one!

Rangitoto Island

Guys. I have to tell you about how much I love this cafe. It’s my new home. There’s a “take a book, leave a book” shelf, couches, solid wifi, a decent selection of teas, a giant window I can sit in with my laptop, and a random little vintage pac-man arcade game in the corner. I’m obsessed. This is where I spend every morning.

South Coast Drive

I hardly need my 8am alarm to wake me up, because buddy across from me has been snoring louder than I ever thought humanly possible. All night. I had fallen asleep before Sev got in, but when I went to bed there was definitely a blanket there for him. When I wake up I see snores McGee is wearing a blanket and Sev is not. Thief!!! These blankets are 1100ISK ($11), you think this shit is a game, bro? I don’t do anything about it because he’s sleeping and I’m not a savage, but I’m not stoked. I’m trying to give Sev a good first hostel experience and this guy isn’t helping. 
Ma and Pa come to pick us up at our hostel for 9am for our South coast adventure!! I don’t usually do much research before a trip, but considering our limited time in Iceland I sought some advice from the Internet. I find a great blog with a super informative map for us to follow along the coast as a self-drive trip as opposed to booking a tour. We’re not really tour people, though I know they have their place in some cases. We decide to drive it ourselves because we already have the car, and this way we can stay as long as we like at each point of interest; the flexibility is nice. 

Our rental comes with a wifi router so it’s easy for us to access to the map as we go without having to plan too much in advance.

Our first stop is to a set of waterfalls about an hour into our drive. Only two are officially named and listed on the map (Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi) but there are some smaller falls between the two giants as well. Seljalandsfoss is visible from the road, where we can also see a lot of parked tour busses, so we drive a little further down to Gljúfrabúi and start from there; this one is somewhat hidden. If it weren’t for the map and/or other people walking around in this area I might not have ever known it existed. Almost like a cave, it’s accessible through a large crack in the rock wall where we step carefully through the shallow stream, doing our best to keep our feet dry. The amount of water tumbling down over the cliff above us is incredible, and once inside it’s impossible to avoid getting absolutely drenched by proximity. I wasted my time when I straightened my hair this morning. I’m really not sure what I was thinking. 

After this we dry off a little on our way over to Seljalandsfoss, an even bigger waterfall that you can walk behind. So much for drying off. They’re both super epic, and while there are a ton of tourists here it’s not overly invasive as it would be basically anywhere else in the world. There’s also minimal signage, rope ways, etc., which I’m always a fan of. 

Next stop: hot spring! This should be pretty cool. Iceland is known for its geothermal swimming pools, most notably the Blue Lagoon. People come from all over the world to experience it’s spa-like health affects, and it’s now become very commercial. This spring however is much harder to get to and as a result, is much more low key. After a 10 minute drive inland, away from the main road, we walk 15 minutes into the valley before reaching the springs. There are only a handful of other people, some of whom are leaving. By the time I’m in my bathing suit and ready to get in the water, we are the only people around. I can’t imagine the last time anyone has been able to say that at the blue lagoon. This pool doesn’t have all of the same minerals that cause the lagoon to have its opaque blue water, but it’s a natural hot spring all the same. It definitely contains sulphur, which I’m not sure has any health benefits; all I know is that it’s smelly. 

We don’t stay here too long because we’ve got a whole road of other things to see ahead of us! Our next stop is to skogafoss waterfall (this is redundant because foss means waterfall in Icelandic. Like saying Koh Tao island, when Koh means island). This is the biggest waterfall yet, holy moly. A staircase has been built up the side of the falls, so we make the trek to the top for a different view. If I’d have just run the 10k yesterday I wouldn’t have been able to do this, it’s a deceivingly long walk up. 
We also stop for some fish n chips from a solo food truck parked nearby. We meet a Canadian guy from Quebec who is biking around the whole island. I’ve noticed hitch hiking and bicycling are extremely popular here. 

After Skogafoss we move on to a black sand beach. I’ve never been to one before! Obviously this is not the kind of beach where we can set up an umbrella and catch a tan, but it’s beautiful all the same. Maybe even more so. The weather has been extremely kind to us all day, but now some clouds have started to cover the sky and the beach itself looks a little foggy. Not so foggy that we can’t see the dramatic rock formations standing just 50 meters out from the shore. I don’t know where one can sign up to do this, but a man is paragliding above the beach among all the birds at the top of the peak above us. This is one of those places where photos can never do it justice. 

Our last stop is to the town of Vik. I’m not really sure what there is here but after driving around a little bit we decide to head back to Reykjavik for dinner. We do make a quick stop at an IceWear Store where I finally find a hand knit Icelandic sweater. Obviously the sweaters are everywhere but most are machine made and I wanted a slightly unique one. I am now content. 

We drive back to the city which is just bursting with celebration after Iceland has won a Euro Cup game. We have dinner near my parents hotel then Sev and I head downtown for a couple beers. We visit the Lebowski Bar which is packed full of drunk humans having a good time, but it is late, I am tired, and I am very sober. We walk home in daylight even though it’s 1am. I don’t think I could ever get used to this. 

I just want to give a mad shoutout to my girl IHeartReykjavik for an epic South Coast blog post. My day wouldn’t have been half as awesome without your guidance. 

Jellyfish Revenge

Our boat to Manila leaves tonight at 6pm. We have been forewarned that we’ll need to be at the pier for 4pm, but we still wanted to do something fun with our last day here so we’ve booked a tour. Three of the girls who came with us on our little catamaran adventure have booked an island hopping tour featuring a shipwreck site, which is what I was most looking forward to in Coron.

We wake up early enough to get some yummy banana pancakes at the Sea Dive restaurant before heading out on the tour. The local market is near to our resort, and as a very horrible result, the soundtrack to our breakfast is the high, panicked squealing of pigs being turned into bacon. I have seen (and heard) FAR too many dead pigs in the last month.

We rent some snorkel gear and walk over to the travel agency. They load us into a tricycle which drives down to the pier where the 5 of us jump onto a small batanga and meet our crew for the day. We’ve got two tour guides and two boat men, who all seem lovely. It takes them a while to get the engine started on the boat, but when they finally do we start off in the direction of the shipwreck! I am so excited!
We drive out to a large cove and start moving towards a small beach. I was under the impression that we were going to the shipwreck first. Noooo! It cannot elude me again! We drop the anchor 100 feet from the shore, and the tour guide announces that we’ve arrived; the ship is below us. WOW so pumped. I won’t pretend I’m not a little weirded out that a ship was sunken so close to shore, but a shipwreck is a shipwreck in my books! I strap on my snorkel gear and jump in. There are fish absolutely everywhere, surrounding our batanga as well as living in the algae covered frame of the old fishing boat below. I swim around looking at all the different fish, and trying to get a good look at the ship. The water is quite clear, but the visibility gets worse as the water gets deeper so the shipwreck itself is sort of difficult to see. I spend more time snorkeling around the coral near the batanga than I do inspecting the shipwreck. I find a family of clown fish living in their sea anemone home, which is kind of cool!

When we’ve all had enough of the shipwreck site we move onto a small beach a 5 minute boat ride away. I wade through the water and climb up onto a rock just off to the side of the beach to sit and look at the pretty view ahead. I like a good beach, but I’ve seen a lot of them by now and the rock looks more appealing. I have music playing on my phone so I don’t hear her right away, but when I turn around I see Sarah in the water with our guide, who is holding a small clear jellyfish in his palm. I ask why he’s holding the jellyfish, and find out that it stung her. Ouch! It’s not deadly, but it is slightly poisonous. Luckily our guides have come prepared with vinegar, and have instructed Sarah to rub sand over top of her sting to remove the poison. The guides have removed the stingers from the jellyfish and left its body on the shore. Sarah wants to take a picture of it, and because I have a waterproof case, asks to use my camera to do it. I’m all the way out here on my rock, and quite comfortable, so I tell her to come grab the camera from me. Our guides are walking in the shallow areas of the beach looking for more jellyfish, but deem the area safe. She wades out to come get my phone, and on her way back gets stung by another jellyfish. I am the worst friend ever. This one has wrapped itself around her ankle and left a couple stings behind. Double ouch! The guides have taken this jellyfish and remove its stingers as well, and laid it on the sand beside its partner in crime. One of our guides comes out to get me from my rock and walks ahead of me through the shallow water to make sure it’s safe. I make it back to the main beach unharmed.

Our guides have rinsed off the jellyfish heads and brought them over for us to touch. As a fun fact, they mention that in some places here in the Philippines, jellyfish are served as food. I am slightly shocked by that. Jellyfish have no meat. What IS a jellyfish anyway? I sarcastically note that it would be the best revenge ever for Sarah to eat her attacker. The guides love this, and are surprised by our enthusiasm towards it so they offer to “make” it for us. It’s pretty simple, just sliced up jellyfish in some vinegar. No cooking involved. Revenge is a dish best served cold, as they say. How many opportunities like this will I have again? We agree to eat it.

They bring it over in what looks like a glass ashtray, all sliced up and sitting in a pool of vinegar, as promised. Sarah is brave and takes the first bite as we all gather around to watch her reaction. She doesn’t hate it, but doesn’t dive in to devour the whole bowl either. I can’t blame her. I am next to take a bite, and am eager to try it. I’m willing to try just about anything once, how bad can this be?

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I pick out a relatively large piece and take a bite. The texture is similar to jello, but more dense. It’s been drowning in vinegar for the past few minutes so the only real flavour I can taste is that. It’s not the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten, but certainly not the worst. At least I know it’s fresh! Caught straight out of the ocean in front of my eyes and served to us moments later. This is luxury. The Austrian girls both try a piece as well, and Sylvia makes an attempt to eat it, but can’t bring herself to do it at the last minute. The guides love that we are trying it, but don’t eat any themselves. Suspicious…

After all the excitement with the jellyfish, there isn’t much left for us to do on this beach. Especially now that we know we don’t want to swim. We leave early to head to our next stop where we’ll be having lunch.
The guides do a quick sweep of the water and see no jellyfish. There’s also a small child playing in the water further down the shore, so we assume it’s safe. We sit down at a shaded picnic table where the guides bring us plates of interesting looking food. No one has lost their appetite after the jellyfish. I usually look forward to these boat meals, because everyone I’ve ever had has been delicious, but this one is a little disappointing. The pork they serve us is all fat. Literally, all fat. I can’t really chew it without feeling sick so I try the unicorn fish. Yes, two whole unicorn fish, faces and all, are placed in front of us. I’ve gotten used to seeing fish served with everything still intact, but I can’t say I’ve grown to find it appealing. The fish itself tastes good, but I do have to watch out for the bones. As a side dish, we’ve been served fresh seaweed, which isn’t exactly to my taste either. I eat some rice and call it a meal.

We do some snorkeling in a blue lagoon, then visit a lake called Barracuda lake as our last stop on the tour. The guides tell me that there is an 80% chance I’ll see a Barracuda. This seems HIGHLY unlikely and strange because I’m quite sure that barracudas not only live in salt water, but are dangerous to humans. I can’t imagine this small fresh water lake allowed hundreds of tourists to float around in it all day with a bunch of deadly vicious fish swimming around below. Call me crazy. This IS Asia though, so it’s possible. If so, I am excited to see one.

When we arrive I realize that we’ve been here before… on our boat with Kareem. I wasn’t on the lookout for barracudas last time, so now I’ve got something new to do here. Yet again, there is a very large group of Asian tourists floating around by the edges in their fluorescent orange life jackets. No barracudas seem to have attacked them. I snorkel out to the other side of the lake, keeping my eyes open for any signs of movement below the surface. I don’t know if they live in little caves, nooks, or just swim around freely, so I keep my eyes peeled for every possibility. I swim out to the deepest area of the lake that I can until the bottom is too far away to see. I give up and come back. All in all, I see one small crayfish. Wait, two small crayfish.

We each take turns climbing up a very lumpy rock and jumping off the top into the clear lake water. Our guide even does a backflip off the rock. What’s a tour without a little cliff diving?

Our boat drives us back to the pier where we take a tricycle and race back to Sea Dive to grab our stuff in time to make it back to the pier for 4. 4:00 seems like an extreme time to have to arrive for a 6:00 departure, but we don’t want to chance it.
We make it to the pier by 3:55, and end up sitting and waiting until 6:00. The two Austrian girls we met are also taking the ferry tonight, and when they arrive we take turns running out to get snacks, but the rest of the time is spent sitting around watching the clock. Painful.

Matters are made worse after we finally board the boat, and hear an announcement that there will be a delay. Until 9:30pm. 3 and a half more hours of waiting?! Shoot me right now. Please. I am not a patient human being as it is, but put me on a small boat with nothing but rows of iron bunk beds and I will go crazy. The only upside is that the boat isn’t full, so Sarah and I are able to move our bags from our bunks on the lower level, where we are surrounded by babies and coughing old men, to the second floor where our Austrian friends are, and to where there are only a few other passengers who all seem healthy.

We play some card games and chat until the boat finally starts moving at 9:30. It’s a painfully long wait, but what can you do? I only paid 1,000 pesos ($25) for this boat ride, so I guess I’m getting my money’s worth by sitting on it longer than I had anticipated. We stay up late (late by my new Filipino standards) but I fall asleep easily to the sound of the waves against the boat as I clutch my belongings tight to my body.