Day 10

I had my last breakfast with my friends in Iceland today, and we boarded the bus for the city tour. I got off at the first stop, said my goodbyes to everyone and waited for my dad to pick me up in the rental car. My family arrived in Iceland yesterday and they had already gone horseback riding and immersed in the Blue Lagoon, which made me slightly jealous. It was really nice to be back with the family again and share all my Icelandic adventures.

We decided to go on a helicopter tour of the glacier, which was absolutely AMAZING! We could see the continental rift between the North American and Eurasian continents from the helicopter, and all the mountains and glaciers and hidden waterfalls. Below are some pictures and videos from the amazing experience.

Since the Gulfoss Falls and geysirs in the Golden Circle are big attractions in Iceland, I went again with my family to visit them. This time, the places weren’t as crowded because it was very chilly! After a while, it started to drizzle so we took some pictures and headed back to the hotel. We had to pack our suitcases and leave very early the next day for Amsterdam!

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Thanks for reading my blog! After Iceland, I traveled with my family to Amsterdam, Madrid, Segovia, Toledo, Lisbon, and London. My sister, Kareena, has created a blog of our travels to these places so I will post her link here when she has finished it ☺

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Day 9

Today consisted of our exam followed by our capstone project presentations. The exam covered the classes we had from the first two days of the program as well as other material that had been emailed to us prior to the program. After the exam, we had a break to work on perfecting our capstone projects before presenting. My group was unfortunately presenting last, but we had more time to practice and observe others’ presentations.

In general, everyone’s projects went well and we all received good feedback from the university professors. The professors liked my group’s presentation and told us that we need to perform a cost-benefit analysis to see if it was worth it to update the flash plant. In my head, I thought the update would definitely be worth it because it would produce zero CO2 emissions.  However, the entire project would cost millions, so an analysis would be needed if a company in the US were to update their plant.

After our capstone projects, the rest of the day was really relaxing. We headed to a beach right outside Reyjkavik University for swimming then went back to the first guesthouse we were at to socialize. I couldn’t believe it was my last day here with everyone! It was amazing how close we got in just 10 days. We stayed up until 4am relaxing and talking about the adventures we had and decided that in a few years, we would all have a reunion in New Zealand.

Day 8

Helga said that we were going glacier hiking today, so I was a bit nervous because my body was still sore from the hike two days ago. However, she assured everyone that it was much easier than our previous hike and would only take an hour. The day started off with a scrumptious vegetarian breakfast prepared for me at the new hostel, followed by a site visit of the new hostel that is getting built for the Green Program. The architect was planning on installing a rock climbing wall, a bar, a swimming pool, and several other amenities. Everyone was slightly jealous of the future Green Program students that would be able to stay here!

After the visit, we visited another tall waterfall and climbed a long flight of stairs to the top of a hill near the waterfall. We settled there to have a simple lunch of sandwiches and juice. We could see sheep below us, and I was really tempted to “baaa” at them to get their attention but I resisted. It was a little chilly on the top of the hill, so I lay down on the grass in hopes that the wind wouldn’t hit me so hard.

Soon, we boarded the bus to go glacier hiking! Before going on the glacier, we attached crampons onto our hiking boots so we wouldn’t slide off the glacier. These crampons have sharp, jagged edges that dig into the glacier so we don’t slip. After attaching the crampons, we embarked on the glacier hike. Helga was right, the hike wasn’t hard at all! Going up the glacier was easier because we didn’t have to worry about our balance, but on our way down, we had to bend our legs slightly. Below are some pictures and videos of the hike.

Our final destination before heading to the hostel was the biofuel class, where we learned about how biofuels are produced from crops and animal waste. Replacing fossil fuels with locally produced biofuels would immensely reduce CO2 emissions.

We headed back to the hostel for a quick dinner, and then my capstone group worked furiously through the night to finish our presentation.  Our business model for upgrading flash geothermal plants to binary-flash geothermal plants was almost done, so the five of us just needed to delegate slides and practice what we would say. I was really nervous about presenting at the university the next morning, so I wrote a lot of notes about what I was going to say. I decided to sleep and wake up early to practice my lines more.

Day 7

Today involved much less physical activity than other days, which we were all grateful for. I felt pretty sore from hiking the day before, but I could still walk around without much pain. After breakfast, we went super jeeping, which was a lot of fun. The driver played some awesome Icelandic reggae that you should definitely check out on Spotify – it is quite catchy. While super jeeping, we made some stops along the way. At one of the stops, we went through a little cave to find a hidden waterfall. (picture below) It is really amazing how many hidden waterfalls Iceland has!

For lunch, we sat on the grass and had hot dogs and fruit. Of course, there were vegan hot dogs for me and my vegan friend to enjoy, and they were actually really good. After lunch, we visited the black sandy beach where the super jeep drivers raced on the sand dunes and around the beach. We spent around an hour at the beach and then went to our new guesthouse. When everyone had a good shower and got accustomed to their rooms, we headed for dinner then worked on our capstone projects. After working on our project for a while, a couple of my friends and I went to visit the sheep. We named one of them Lars, and he would always come to us and let us pet him. Most of the other sheep ran away from us, sadly. We took a lot of pictures with Lars and other sheep that decided to hang out with us. Below are some pictures/selfies with the sheep.

After spending quality time with the sheep, we headed back to the guesthouse and watched some television until we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore.

Day 6

All we really did today was hike. A long, difficult, but beautiful 13 mile hike. We woke up early, had some breakfast in the hut, packed our lunch, and started our journey at around 10am. It was a tough but magnificent 9 hour journey that consisted of hiking through trails up and down different mountains. Essentially, we were mountain hopping.

I don’t mean to be dramatic, but today was the most physically challenging day I’ve had in my entire life. After today, I honestly felt like I could do anything I put my mind to, and I still do.

At the beginning of the hike, I felt extremely motivated. I could feel my lower body really working, but I still felt like I could continue this for a long time. However, after a while, the trail became quite uneven, with rocks and snow getting in the way of the path. I found myself grabbing onto plants on the side to keep my balance as I hiked. The memory of the caving experience started to haunt me again. “Why can’t the path just be even!”  I repeated to myself countless times throughout the hike. I had a lot of bruises on my hands from the hike, probably from holding on to different plants as I hiked up. I definitely destroyed some plants along the way, so they got back at me for sure.

I felt exhausted and would sometimes stop for a few seconds to catch my breath. My group was amazingly supportive, though. They would cheer me on to keep going, saying how well I’m doing so far. Everyone was cheering everyone on. It felt so great to be a part of such a caring and supportive group! Everyone was essentially peer-pressured to keep going, which was awesome.

We stopped somewhere along a mountain to have our lunch and enjoy the view. I didn’t realize how far up we came until I looked down.

Thoughts I had while eating lunch:

This is the best sandwich I’ve had in my entire life.

This view though…

Did I really make it this far all by myself?

How much have we hiked so far?

How much hiking is left?

I’m not going to be able to move tomorrow.

I wish my phone had battery so I could take pictures/snapchats of these views!

I feel cold sitting here, not moving..I hope we get back to hiking soon. 

The view was really something. And I knew it would be 10 times more beautiful once we reached the highest mountain around here. After the lunch stop, we continued on our hike. Everyone seemed more energized and ready to take on the mountains.

After a while, we took another rest stop. Then, Helga pointed towards the final mountain we were about to embark on before we turned back. She said it was the most challenging mountain to hike on, but totally doable. Most of us took up the challenge and went up the mountain, including me. I am definitely glad I did, but boy was it tough!

On the way up the mountain, I felt like I was actually rock climbing. The mountain would be so steep sometimes that I had to use my arms to grab on to another rock and push myself up. It really required your whole body strength to move up the mountain. “Is this even safe?” I thought. I couldn’t look down because it was just too scary. We were SO high up. Everyone motivated each other to keep going, and after what seemed like forever, we finally reached the top. The view at the top was worth all the sweat and tears. It was such an amazing view, but what made it stand out from anything else I’ve ever seen is that I reached here all by myself, without the help of a car or helicopter or any other form of transportation, just my own two feet. We stayed at the top of the mountain for a long time, taking pictures and looking at all the snow-covered mountains and area below us. We had come a really long way, and I felt so proud. I had never understood why people hiked long distances until today. The sense of accomplishment followed by the breathtaking views made it all worth it.

Soon, I realized we still had to come down…and I panicked hard.

I thought it was hard enough to hike up, but it was harder mentally to make yourself come down. Again, it was all about the strategy -where I would place my next foot, and how I would bend my legs to keep my balance. The path was just so rocky and it was hard to tell which rocks were sturdy enough to step on. When we were coming down, I had several mini heart attacks because I thought I would lose my balance and just slip off the mountain. I did slip, many times, but I’m still alive. When I felt I couldn’t make the next step without losing my balance, I simply sat and slid down the painfully steep slopes. Yup, I actually slid down. Therefore, the back of my pants were completely messed up from the sliding. Erla held my hand several times when I thought I’d fall, so I really wouldn’t have made it down that mountain without her. Erla, you are an angel.

After getting down that challenging mountain, the hike up and down other mountains was so much easier. The path was rocky still, but it was nowhere near as steep as the mountain we just got off of. About 4 hours later, we got back on regular land and headed for our camping site. It was such a relief to be back on normal ground again. Everyone rejoiced and gave each other high-fives. What a long, challenging journey it had been. We headed back to our tents to change and then had dinner. After dinner, there was a campfire. However, I was way too exhausted for any more activity. I wasn’t sleepy, but all I wanted to do was lie down in my sleeping bag, so I brushed my teeth, washed my face and went in my tent to relax. Eventually, I managed to fall asleep.

Day 5

After breakfast, we headed to the Raufarholshellir Lava Tube Cave for the caving tour. We all wore headlamps before entering the cave because it was pitch black. I’m not going to lie, I felt pretty scared throughout this experience. Before we entered the cave, my friend told me she was extremely nervous but I told her we would be just fine. I was so wrong. To sum it up- caving was a dark, scary obstacle course. There were a lot of big rocks and icy snow piles we had to climb over to reach the end of the cave. I was also falling behind the rest of the group, but the group leaders stayed behind me to accompany me and catch me when I fell on a rock or icicle. I think the combination of the cave’s dark obstacle course and everyone getting ahead of me just overwhelmed me. Even though there was no competition to reach the end of the cave, I felt like the biggest loser for being the last one.

Once we reached the end of the cave, the leaders told everyone to turn their headlamps off. Darkness. Pure darkness. My eyes were so wide open, looking around to see if I could find even the slightest hint of light. Nope, nothing. My friend took my hand and I felt her hand trembling furiously. She actually meant it when she said she’d have a panic attack. It was a little comforting to know I wasn’t the only one scared here. The leaders were telling the group some scary story about the cave but we ignored it, we were scared enough! After the story, we put our headlamps back on and started heading back out of the cave. I was determined to get out of the cave as fast as I could, so I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed from falling behind. Unfortunately, I was still the slowest. It took me a good 20 minutes to get out of that cave. Thankfully, my group leaders were awesome and offered a hand whenever I looked like I was thinking too much about where I’d place my hands and feet next. To me, caving was all about the strategy.

Eventually, I got out of that dark place and a rush of emotions came over me. When Helga asked me how the caving experience was, I told her that it was stressful while holding back tears. Once I got in the bus and finally sat down, I looked towards the window and just let out my tears of stress and relief. I was really hoping no one would notice me, but the other group leader, Erla, came to my seat to comfort me and tell me how proud she was of me. Oh goodness, I felt like such a crybaby. The crying definitely made me feel better, though.

We were on our way to a restaurant called Friðheimar, which is essentially a greenhouse that cultivates four different types of tomatoes. These fresh tomatoes are used for 99% of the items on the menu, including the cocktails! If you ever visit Iceland, you absolutely have to visit this restaurant. It has the best tomato soup ever. There were different types of bread too, and they were all delicious. I was one happy girl after dining here. Good food makes everything okay.  

After we finished eating, we headed to the Golden Circle which has the famous geysers called Geysir and Strokkur. The Geysir stopped erupting after an earthquake shut it down, but Strokkur continues to erupt approximately every 10 minutes, with 100 feet of hot water exploding into the air. This boiling hot water smells like rotten eggs but it is an amazing sight. Below is a video I took of Strokkur exploding.

Our next stop was at Gulfoss Falls, a must-see waterfall in Iceland. Since it is a huge tourist attraction, it was packed with people. My friends and I took a lot of selfies and jumping pictures in front of the huge waterfall. It reminded me a lot of the Niagara Falls. Unfortunately, my phone died while I took pictures here so I couldn’t take any photos for another two days.

After seeing the magnificent waterfall, we changed buses and headed to our camping site far, far away from the rest of Iceland. It was literally in the middle of nowhere. The path to the camping site was anything but smooth. The bus drove over large rocky paths and through streams to get to the final destination. It now made sense why we switched buses. We were going on a mini roller coaster ride.

Around 3 hours later, we finally reached the quaint little camping site among mountains and greenery. Groups of 3 or 4 people would sleep in each tent, so we split into groups and set up our tents. After the tents were set up, we went into this little hut to have dinner and play games. My leaders premade some vegetarian pasta for me and another vegetarian in our group for the camping trip, which I really really appreciated. After dinner, some of my friends and I played charades while others played cards and drank beer that they brought along. I thought we would all go to bed after this to rest up before hiking the next day, but someone decided we should all go on a mini hike up this mountain near our camp site. At first, I thought I would just head to my tent and call it a day. However, 90% of the group agreed to hike up the mountain, so I went along as well since I didn’t want to miss out on the experience and the bonding. The hike was not long, but since it was so uphill, I felt tired quickly. However, it was good preparation for the 9 hour hike we were about to do the next day. The view from the top of this hike was breathtaking, but I also had mini heart attacks whenever I saw someone stand so close to the edge of the mountain that if they took another step further, they would fall off.

We spent around an hour at the top of that mountain just talking and taking in the view. We could see the small hiking trails on the other mountains surrounding us, and the people below us looked like little ants walking around. Our group mentor was telling us about the hike we were about to embark on the next day, and it sounded exciting as well as extremely tough. Soon, we all headed down the mountain and back to our tents for some well-deserved sleep.

Day 4

I set my alarm last night for 6am to go for a run with some of my roommates, but I had zero motivation to run. When I know how little I have slept the night before, it really affects my mood in the morning. Last night, I slept a mere 4 hours. I went back to sleep after the alarm went off. We are always moving around doing different activities anyway, so why should I bother working out so early in the morning? I heard my roommates getting up and shuffling around the room, getting ready for the run. I felt guilty because we had all slept roughly the same amount, so if they can still run this early then so can I! I finally got up and scrambled through my suitcase for workout clothes. Once we were all ready, we did some quick stretches and went running on the scenic road outside the guesthouse. The weather was nicely cool and the sheep were politely greeting us with their baaa’s and meh’s. The greenery and the mountains added a nice touch as well. All in all, I was glad I went for this run because it definitely gave me that extra boost of energy to get through the rest of the day.

After a nice shower and a carb-filled breakfast, we headed to the geothermal plant exhibition. I really enjoyed this exhibition because it was very interactive and informational, with lots of buttons to press. I learned about how most of Iceland’s electricity is generated using hydropower and observed how much energy it takes for the power stations to start working. Check out the video below of me trying to produce enough energy (but failing).

After we toured the exhibition, we went down a long flight of stairs and through an excavated tunnel around 30m below ground to discover open working water for a hydro- electric power station (shown below). We also checked out the control room and generator for the power station.

The next activity was snorkeling at the Þingvellir National Park, which was one of my favorite things I did on this trip. We all wore a thermal underneath and then a full jumpsuit on top to protect our body from the near- freezing 32 degree fahreinheit water. I felt pretty ridiculous wearing so much clothing, but it was definitely necessary for the water we were about to immerse ourselves in. Below is a picture of my group that went first in the water.

What made the snorkeling experience even cooler was the fact that we were literally swimming between the North American and Eurasian plates. Below is a picture of me with the rocks on the north American side to the left and the rocks on the Eurasian side to the right. The water was extremely clear, and the entire experience was so peaceful. In the beginning, my face felt really cold from the water, but after a while it became numb and the pain went away. The aquatic plants and rocks just looked so beautiful underwater, and the water itself tasted amazing. I was a bit wary of tasting the water, but the snorkeling instructor insisted it was the purest water we would ever taste and he was so right!

After the amazing snorkeling experience, we headed to a beautiful waterfall that was in the park and took several pictures. After the other group had finished snorkeling, we headed back to the guesthouse to relax and continue working on our capstone projects. We were leaving the guesthouse tomorrow to go camping for the next two nights, so we had to pack a backpack for that as well.