Jack on a Map – Touring Iceland’s gorgeous South Coast with his old man. The second installment of our father-son adventure.
Like most Canadians, I don’t remember my first snowfall. For us Canucks, the memory just blends with the faded memories of baby food and sleeping sixteen hours a day. But Jack, California kid extraordinaire, woke up after our first night in Reykjavik and yanked aside the hotel blinds. Gasp! A layer of freezing white goodness concealed all of the green lawn in the courtyard below. “Dad…Let’s go outside! I’m going to beat you at a snowball fight so bad!” Jack boasted.
Outside the hotel, Jack tilted his head to the skies and opened his mouth wide. He giggled as snowflake clusters parachuted down and melted on his tongue. Then came the snowballs. So many snowballs! My little winter assassin pelted me relentlessly and with great glee until I resorted to dad responsibilities. “OK, Jack Attack. Breakfast time, then the big tour!” I said and corralled him inside to feast on watermelon and bacon.
Rósie, our always helpful receptionist at the Skuggi Hotel, recommended the Sterna Travel Company – specifically their “Beautiful South Coast” tour. I escaped another snowball barrage from Jack as we walked to the tour’s meeting point and jumped on the Sterna mini-bus. The bubbly fellow behind the wheel nodded to Jack, “Hello, young man, what is your name?”
“Well Jack, my name is Völundur Mímisson,” the driver blurted with speed and precision. Jack’s mouth gaped open as he tried to process the Icelandic name. I don’t think he’d ever heard something so foreign. “But for short, please call me Walle.”
“Like Wall-E…the movie!” Jack grinned and divulged, “My favorite part is when Wall-E climbs up the garbage chute and when the—”
Real life Walle chuckled but I cut Jack short, “C’mon Jack, we’re holding up traffic.”
Walle Be Good
The tour bus charged ahead through flurries of blowing snow outside the city and past miles of jagged lava fields. Walle piqued everyone’s interest with fun Icelandic facts delivered with timely dry humor. Smart Scandinavian standup (or more aptly “sit down”) comedy behind the wheel!
We cleared the blizzardy conditions but due to the poor visibility that morning, we had to delay the biggest highlights until later. We hopped on and off the bus at several “lower profile” sites along the way:
Our first “big ticket” stop was the Skógarfoss waterfall, which is fed by two glaciers. The gravel parking lot was stuffed with an assortment of cars, mini-buses and full-fledged luxury coaches. I’d been told of Iceland’s booming tourist industry, and Skógarfoss cemented this fact. Droves of people wandered around the mist at base of the thundering falls. “Good luck getting close right now,” I thought.
“Jack buddy, want to go for a climb to the top and wait for some people to leave?” I asked.
“That’s a lot of steps!” Jack gasped. We marched up the 200 feet, and on every step, Jack’s winter boots clunked like Clydesdale’s hooves. Lo and behold, after our bit of exercise to the top and back down, the crowd had thinned.
Poor Jack winced instead flashing his normal smile as I took his picture. He had been skipping some rocks minutes before and I didn’t know his fingers were frozen. Tsk, tsk, tsk, Dad Fail!
With only one of the four major stops (Skógarfoss) accomplished midway through the day the second big attraction was the black sand beach of Reynisfjara.
Jack was wowed and prompted me to send a video to his kindergarten class.
Next up, Jack got to put his “rock snowman” building skills back to work at the glacier’s edge.
The young fella passed on a message to his classmates and was particularly interested in the rockslide warning signs. Being a stout rule follower (possibly the Canadian side of him?), Jack believed we’d get arrested if he migrated past them.
Behind the Curtain – Seljalandsfoss waterfall
Jack dozed off just as we arrived at the next stop and he is a hard kid to wake up from a slumber. As I guided him out of the mini-bus, Jack gave a tortured look that screamed, “You woke me up for this? Another waterfall?” We’d been on the tour nearly nine hours, so I get why the young buck was over the seventh waterfall of the day. But! This one is different, the best of them all.
“Jack, just one more I promise. We gotta see this one, we can walk behind it!”
“Ohhhh kayyyy,” Jack moaned but soon snapped out of his funk. It was impossible not to be invigorated by the waterfall’s mist that mixed with the light snow dancing in the air.
As we negotiated the muddy slope, it was soon good times and all smiles from Jack once we were behind the waterfall.
And of course, Jack couldn’t leave mighty Seljalandsfoss without updating his class.
“Now, I know I told you this was the last sight of the day,” Walle addressed us over the mini-bus speaker and politely added, “but if you can bear with me I’d like to make one more stop.”
“Ughhh!” Jack grunted, earning the laughter of the entire bus – they understood the six-year old’s frustration. But Dad knew he just needed a nudge.
“One more, Walle, let’s do it!” I yelled from the back. Our trusty tour guide hadn’t let us down yet.
Weary Jack lagged behind the group, all of them headed to a massive vertical crack in the cliff. I psyched Jack up one last time and challenged him to a race – that Dad Trick works every time!
Our gaggle of now-waterfall experts heard the distinct sound of crashing water coming from the crack. A stream about six inches deep funneled out and all comers hugged the cliff face and scurried across random protruding rocks. I had had my doubts that Jack would be interested.
Challenge accepted! Jack Full-O-Beans danced from stone to stone in his winter boots midstream (no aid of the cliff wall). The cautious tourists giggled as Jack blew by all of them with Peter Pan-like balance and dexterity.
“Dad!” Jack’s voice echoed in the cavern, “It’s just another waterfall. But way cooler!”
Jack’s boots plopped fully in the water most of the way out of the secret passage. It’s a good thing his mom told me to pack several pairs of dry socks (and pants and shirts and snacks and…). Momma Bear’s preparedness for the win!
Get Out There!
Mr. Völundur Mímisson’s magical tour of Southern Iceland ended as he dropped us off back in snowy Reykjavik. I would highly recommend Sterna Travel (see link below) if you’re ever planning a tour in Iceland and if it’s possible, ask for Walle (that’s Wall-E for the kids)! Everyone raved about his combination of humor and insight. For Jack and me, Walle was the most memorable part of the tour. Keeping a six-year old’s attention for almost eleven hours is no small feat!
The tour cost me about $135 USD but kids (nine and under) are no charge, so a free ride for Jack Attack! Please reach out to me if you have any questions on Iceland – more Jack on a Map coming soon!