Iceland is mostly green and Greenland is mostly ice. Okay, that common mixup is out of the way.
It is also something 23 locals now have firsthand knowledge of after visiting Iceland for a week in early July.
Fairfield Community High School science teacher Scott McElravy led the voyage, with 18 FCHS students and four other adults in tow, as part of a WorldStrides educational tour of the north Atlantic island. Including travel days, the entire trip took six days, including four nights in Iceland, or at least a facsimile of night. Iceland has 22-23 hours of daylight in the summer.
Students on the trip included: Benton Hickox, Karigan Harvey, Shannon Campbell, Lindsey Carter, Amber Clark, Drew Barbee, Jacob Britt, Jacob Barnfield, Sebastian Williams, Brenna Freeman, Tegan Ruhl, Meghan Grieve, Sophia Wolfe, Jaylynn Tucker, Kaelor McWilliams, Austin Dunn, Xavier Tullis and Jalysse Kinney.
Adults on the trip included McElravy, Melvin Clark, Jean Banks, Tamela Freeman and Brian “Weez” Turner.
McElravy and both Clarks had been on the same trip two years ago, while the rest of the faction was experiencing Iceland for the first time.
The group departed FCHS on July 2 and took a bus to Chicago, where they took a nonstop flight to Iceland from O’Hare airport, eventually. They had a two-hour taxi on the terminal thanks to a storm, turning the six-hour flight into eight hours on the plane. Thanks to a five-hour time zone difference, they arrived in Iceland on the morning of July 3. Iceland’s international airport, Keflavik, was originally built as a US military base during World War II.
There, they were picked up by bus once again, meeting their bus driver, August, for the week, as well as their tour guide, Soffia Sigurdardottir.
The first stop was the Viking World Exhibition, which included a replica Viking ship that was actually used to sail from Iceland to New York in 2010. From there, they traveled to a lighthouse for bird watching and then headed into Reykjavik for a city orientation. That included a drive-by of the Hofdi house, the site where President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met to end the cold war.
They also visited the Hallgrimskirkja Church, a large Lutheran church in the middle of the city. At 74.5 meters, it is one of the largest buildings in Iceland and contains a 49-foot tall pipe organ and a statue of Leif Erickson in front of it.
They were next taken to the Reykjavik Settlement Museum, where they could explore a 10th century settlement unearthed beneath the city museum.
Wrapping up day one, they then explored Burfellsgja in Hiedmork, a park that featured the splitting of the two tectonic plates—the North American Plate and the Eurasian plate. They spent the first night in Reykjavik.
On their second full day in Iceland, the Fairfield group left the major city and toured what is known as the Golden Circle, some of the most popular tourist attractions along a 300-kilometer loop on the south side of the island.
They toured the Pingvellir National Park, the first of three national parks in Iceland. The park is also set on the tectonic divide, with part of the park in North America and part in Eurasia. It features a crystal-clear lake great for scuba diving that also has a tectonic riff in the bottom of the Pingvallavatn Lake, Iceland’s largest natural lake. It is fed by the melting glaciers and has a few waterfalls coming out of the cliffs. The pool at the bottom of one waterfall the group walked to was the site of witch drownings in the 17th century.
The park also was the host site of the original Icelandic parliament, a gathering of the Island chieftains in the 10th century. It is the oldest, still ongoing representative parliament in the world.
The scenic park was used in Game of Thrones for the Eyrie scenes, as well as the journeys of Arya Stark and Sandor Glegane through the “riverlands”.
Don’t Go Chasin’…
They also walked around the Gullfoss Waterfall, which tumbles down two drops totaling 250 feet. It pours 4,944 cubic feet of water down it every second.
From the park, they ventured to the Great Geysir, now inactive, but nearby Strokkur, a sizeable geyser, and several other smaller ones. The bubbling hot pots reach a sweltering 140 degrees and shoot from the ground. The Great Geysir was the earliest documented geyser in European literature and shot 60-130 feet into the air before going inactive.
The group then visited a farm to learn about how an island built on lava rock can sustain agriculture. They toured a tomato farm that uses the natural hot springs to grow tomatoes all year long in a climate that rarely gets over 70 degrees.
The same farm also included Icelandic horses, a rare breed. The onsite trainers showed off the horses’ five gaits, a trait exclusive to the Icelandic horse. Most horses only have three.
The Fairfield group finished off the day be walking around the Kerid Crater Lake, a 3,000-year-old volcanic crater.
They finished off the second day checking into a hotel in Ork, east of Reykjavik, that featured a naturally-heated swimming pool using the hot spring water.
Back At It
The third day in Iceland was the most physically intensive, starting with a trip to a volcano informational center, where the students were able to use interactive displays to learn how the island was formed by the lava hot spots, then go out on an observation deck and look at the volcanoes off in the distance.
They visited the Skogafoss Waterfall, another of Iceland’s many large waterfalls. The stairs to the top of the hill it falls off of total more than 430.
The group then had a picnic day at the Reynisfjara Beach, a black beach where the ocean has worn down black lava rock. There, they were able to see basalt columns and cave-filled cliffs, while having sandwiches on the beach and look for puffins flying off of the cliffs overhead.
Stopped, Collaborated, Listened
From the beach to a giant ice cube, the group next donned helmets, ice picks and shoe claws to climb up the Solheimajokull Glacier, the southwestern end of the Myrdalsjokull icecap. They were able to see how much the glacier has receded in the last 10 years due to global warming, with signs designating where the ice used to be on the walk up. The total walk up and down the icecap took nearly 2 ½ hours.
A Different View
After the glacier, they visited another waterfall, getting a different view as they were able to walk behind the waterfall and look out from under the cliff at the Seljalandsfoff Waterfall to wrap up the tour for the day and head back to the hotel.
Breakfast on day four had a twist. It was cooked in the ground. Just a few blocks from the hotel was the Hverageroi Geothermal Park, where the students boiled eggs in the hot springs, using the naturally-occurring boiling water. They also had rye bed that cooked overnight in a plastic bucket in the springs.
Just outside of Reykjavik, they visited a power plant that harnesses the power of that hot water from the Hengill, an active volcanic ridge on the southwest part of the island.
After the power plant, the group toured the National Museum of Iceland, where they went fact-hunting mission as part of a scavenger hunt.
The final day in Iceland included the most popular stop for most tourist in Iceland, the Blue Lagoon. The spa is a bright blue geothermal pool in the middle of a black lava field. It is high in silica and other minerals, giving it a sheen unlike any other water. The group was able to wade in the waters, enjoy a massaging waterfall and gets silica mud face masks as they relaxed before heading to the airport to return home.
Leaving Iceland at 8 p.m. Iceland time, the group arrived in Chicago at 9 p.m. thanks to the time zone difference, then took a long, silent bus ride back to Fairfield, arriving in the middle of the night.