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Tanzania, Safari Adventure

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Tanzania, Africa Day 0.5

Arusha

After a long travel day, we were finally in Tanzania. Seeing someone holding our name card at the arrival gate was a welcome sight. Normally tourists have to clear immigration and customs before meeting a guide. However in this situation we were greeted before clearing the checkpoints. The gentleman introduced himself and asked if we had tourist VISAs, which we didn’t. He walked us over to the paperwork area and showed us how to fill it out. We handed him the completed paperwork and the US$50 fee. He then proceeded to the counter and got us our VISAs. He ushered us to the customs counter and we were cleared. We picked up our bags and were escorted to the parking lot where we were introduced to our tour guide Lucas. By far this was the smoothest VISA process during the trip, if not all our adventures.

Lucas welcomed us to Tanzania and we did the usual introductions. Lucas explained that the arrival and clearance process is something that Leopard Tours and the Tanzanian Tourism Commission arrange to make sure tourist arrival is smooth, it certain worked.

It was getting late in the day, so we hit the road to Arusha for a “layover” night. Upon arrival the lodge manager gave us a tasty beverage and the standard welcome briefing. Then a burly woman who handled our bags like they were filled with helium showed us to our room.

We settled in, took a shower and then headed to the restaurant for a buffet dinner. We were the last table to be seated, so the food left at the buffet was a little underwhelming. However, we were very happy to have a cold beer a quick bite and then we were off to bed. We were heading to Tarangire National Park in the morning and the anticipation was palpable.

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Tanzania, Africa Day 1

Tarangire

We arose early and had a quick breakfast. After our coffee fix kicked in we had a quick meeting and expectation check in with our account manager from Leopard Tours. With everything in order, we loaded our bags and jumped in the Landcruiser with Lucas.

Tarangire National Park is a 3hr drive from Arusha. It is the 6th largest national park in Tanzania and famous for its Elephants and Baobab Trees. The park is approximately 2850 km2 and a mix of granite ridges, river valley, swamps and of course Baobab and Sausage trees.

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Aside from countless Elephants we also saw: Lions, Zebra, Wildebeest, Impala, Dik Dik, Elands, Mongoose, Baboons and Vervet Monkeys, plus countless bird species. The landscape is archetypal Africa. The bulbous Baobab trees made us feel like we’d been dropped into a documentary. It felt like any minute David Attenborough might start narrate our tour. Some of the key moments that stood out included:

Watching a herd of Elephants having a great time munching down on Sausage Tree fruit. The fruit has a watery, seedy pulp similar to cucumber. The crunching and slurping sounds punctuated with occasional toots of happiness from the younger members of the herd immersed us in their group as if we were part of a Pachyderm family.

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After a picnic lunch we pulled up to the river and watched a herd of Zebra and Elephants come to drink. They were all alert to danger down stream. We had seen a pride of lions lounging by the river earlier in the day. It was evident that they were still there as their scent was being carried in the wind. The herd of elephants started the walk down stream. Lucas hit the gas and headed down to the lion pride. If there was going to be a face off, we were not going to miss it. We sat patiently waiting for the encounter. As the Elephants came over the ridge the Lion pride stirred. Lions know better than to mess with a herd of elephants. One step and its, squish, flat cat! We were fascinated to see how, upon seeing the pride of lions the herd immediately re-orientated ensuring the smaller, younger members were positioned in the middle of the group. Presenting a grey fleshy wall of protection. The matriarch trumpeted a warning and the herd headed straight for the pride. Receptive to the less than subtle message, the pride quickly got up and b-lined to a nearby ridge approximately 400ft from the river. The Elephants stopped again and drank from the river. After having their fill, the herd strolled away towards a grassy hill. Before the herd left the river completely, one of the mature elephants decided to send a final message to the pride who had started to head back towards the river. With a bold loud trumpet the elephant charged toward the pride. The pride scattered like a pack of alley cats. The bold elephant triumphantly sauntered back to the rest of the herd. It was time for an afternoon snack, Elephants eat for 16-18 hours a day, so there it little time to waste.

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We finished our game drive and headed to Burudika Manyara Lodge. Burudika is built on the wildlife corridor that joins Tarangire to Lake Manyara. The government has restricted development to ensure the animals can move freely. The only other structures are sporadic Maasai huts. These are temporary dwellings the nomadic groups build as they move around the landscape in search of fresh pasture.

By that time we were well accustomed to unsealed dirt roads. As we turned off the paved road to Burudika we prepared ourselves for another “Maasai massage”. Once again Lucas expertly navigated the bumpy road. About half way to the lodge we came across a herd of goats blocking the way. Some young Maasai kids looked at us in eager anticipation. Lucas turned to us and said, “They did that on purpose, they want us to stop and give them treats”. Their plan did not work out; we did not have any treats. But even if we did, we didn’t want to encourage that kind of behavior. They are responsible for their animals, begging from tourist distracts them from that role. It might seem strange to westerners, but it is vital to their culture that they learn how important their livestock is and how to properly care for them.

As we approached Burudika, the friendly staff were outside ready to greet us. The view of the Bandas against the lake backdrop was stunning. The lack of other buildings in the surrounding area made the lodge feel remote yet welcoming. The accommodations were comfortable; a full review can be read in the accommodation review section. The most impressive part of Burudika is the mess hall (restaurant), which is built around a huge Boabab tree.

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We settled in and had a simple buffet dinner, before an early night.

 

Tanzania, Africa Day 2

Lake Manyara

We left the lodge after a buffet breakfast and drove through the small village (Mto Wa Mbu) our guide Lucas had grown up in. The village made him a little sentimental. He recanted stories from his childhood and his daily walk to school. There is a nice clean little shopping strip with various store fronts, restaurants and bars. But it was obvious that this town took pride in their cleanliness.

Just before we got to the gates of Lake Manyara, we approached a section of trees covered in white, as if a winter snowstorm had passed through. The odor said otherwise. Looking up to the top branches we could see a large flock of Yellow Billed Storks. Their scat had covered the surrounding area and Lucas joked, “Do you like our Christmas trees?”

Lake Manyara is shallow lake, on the Natron-Manyara-Balangida branch of the East African Rift Valley. Ernst Hemmingway called it “The loveliest lake in Africa.” The park is small by comparison to the other parks we had visited, only 329km2. Lake Manyara National Park is best known for their “Tree Lions”. Like you have assumed, they are Lions that climb trees, a very rare activity for lions. We really hoped we would get a chance to see them in person.

When we arrival at the park gates, Lucas went to process our paperwork. Lucas explained there is a lengthy training (apprentice) program to become a safari guide. Part of the training requires beginner guides to tour people around the visitor centers at parks. It helps them cut their teeth at customer engagement and work on their English/language skills. A “guide in training” toured us through the former office complex and visitor center, which had been ravaged by floods years earlier. He did a good job, but needed to work on his English. Who are we to judge, it was much better than our Swahili.

As soon as we entered the park we were welcomed by a large troop of Baboons. There were also velvet monkeys and blue monkeys everywhere. The park is a great habitat for monkeys, it has a continuous water supply and bevy of fruit laden trees. Many photos were taken especially of the cute baby baboons. Next we headed towards the swamp and bird gathering area.

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As we drove into the swamp, bird flocks surrounded us. Pelicans, Yellow billed storks, Egyptian geese to name a few. A group of Hippos wallowed in the muddy waters grunting, asserting their hierarchy. You can always smell Hippos before you see them. The act of marking their territory with their faeces makes for a pungent aroma. In the distance we could make out pink Flamingos. Lucas informed us that we would get a closer look at the hot spring further into the park.

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We passed more Baboon troops and several Elephant herds, until we left the swamp and came to a small creek. The only way to cross was via a rickety bridge. As we crossed the bridge Lucas spotted a lioness hunting on the opposite bank. He stopped the Landcruiser, which made us a little uncomfortable. The wooden bridge creaked under the weight of the vehicle, he turned to us and said, “Her children must be close”. We safely crossed the bridge and headed down a thin dirt road, until we came to a section canopied by overhanging trees. Lucas slowed the Landcruiser and said with an excited but controlled tone “Look, Tree lions!” Sure enough, above us two juvenile lions were recumbent on an intertwining mat of branches, snoozing while mother hunted for their next meal.

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After many photos we continued through the park towards the hot spring. As we rounded the turn we saw the full scale of the lake. It was awe inspiring to see in the sun glistening on the lake. Baboons searched the waters edge eating shellfish and algae. Lucas pulled up to a small parking spot and directed us down to where one of the hot spring seeps to the surface. We snapped a couple photos and headed down to the boardwalk. The boardwalk was a little wobbly, it is obvious the alkaline water plays havoc with the wooden boards. We snapped some photos with the 360 Camera and watched the Flamingos filtering the nutrients from the water.

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We sat down for picnic lunch over looking the boardwalk. Then we continued through the park, stopping by the Tree Lions one last time on our way out of the park.

On our way back to the lodge we stopped by the village. We tried our skills at souvenir bartering. Sherriden was much better at it than Anthony.

Dinner was a buffet featuring a nice selection of meats and vegetables. The big surprise was the birthday cake the lodge baked for Anthony. Little did we know Lucas and the lodge management had colluded to make sure he did not miss out on a birthday celebration. They turned out all the lights and the entire staff came out singing happy birthday. It was a lovely touch and certainly made a great birthday even better. A couple slices of cake and a few Serengeti Lagers and we were ready for bed. We had a big drive ahead of us in the morning. We were heading to the world famous Serengeti, to fulfill a life long dream.

 

Tanzania, Africa Day 3

Serengeti

It had been an active night. Nearby sounds of Hyena and an unidentifiable snarl in the wind, had us thinking some ferocious friends were using our balcony during the night. It was a great morning for the complimentary security escort to the restaurant.

We set off after breakfast, we had a long drive ahead of us. Our journey would take us around Ngorongoro Crater and over a vast dry plain on the edge of the Serengeti. A vast sea of grass, as far as they eye could see. In the wet season the plains are home to the wildebeest we had seen in the Maasai Mara. Now it was almost a lunar landscape. As if a desert, the only sign of life was the occasional Ostrich or Grant’s Giselle. The road was rough. Lucas again showed his driving prowess navigating the challenging road conditions. You’d be forgiven for thinking we had landed on the set of the next Mad Max movie. Horizon to horizon, nothing but dirt and dried tufts of grass, punctuated by safari and freight trucks kicking up dust in billowing clouds. We could only imagine the difference the wet season brings. When the long grass covers the plains, Wildebeest and elephants return, give birth and the circle of life continues.

We made a quick stop at the “Rocky Hill” a tourist stop and the main gates to the park. We walked up a rocky hill to see the view while Lucas processed our paperwork. Our aim was to reach our camp in the middle of the Serengeti National Park, by lunchtime; of course Lucas would achieve that goal.

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After passing through the gates, the landscape began to change. The dry barren land made way for plains of knee-high grass. Swaying in the wind it gave the appearance of waves on a golden ocean. Occasional Giselle and Impala heads bobbing, as if, fish or dolphins diving through the waves. But where were sharks of this golden ocean? We knew would see the big cats soon enough.

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After 6 hours on the road we reached Mbugani Safari Camp in the heart of the Serengeti. We settled into our lovely tent and sat down for a private open air lunch in the middle of the camp grounds. Lunch was a delicious serving of spaghetti bolognese, salad and a chocolate pyramid cake. It satiated our lion size appetites. We watched a large male Baboon come up from the river and circle us hoping to grab some scraps. The wait staff cleaned up quickly and the baboon gave up returning to the river.

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But there was no time to rest, we had a huge park to explore. We jumped back into the Landcruiser and headed out for an afternoon game drive. Many safari vehicles had gathered around a couple of key water holes, all within a short drive of each other. In the dry season water holes are only sure bet for finding predator and prey alike. We had been very lucky at other camps, but Lucas promised us many “bonus” sighting. Can anyone ever say they have seen too many African animals in the wild!

Our afternoon featured two Leopards with kills in their trees, Hyena, Buffalo, Giselle, Wildebeests, Warthog, Hippo and around 40 Lions. Not to shabby for one afternoon.

The highlights were the Leopards, both situations demonstrated the unique symbiotic relationship predators have with other carrion species. The first Leopard was not an obvious find; we were watching a Hyena pace under a tree. We wondered, why the Hyena was behaving so bizarrely. Upon further inspection we noticed it was patiently waiting for the Leopard to accidentally drop its lunch from branches above it. The second was similar; as a leopard rested from a tasty Impala calf lunch, a white backed vulture eagerly waited 5 branches above him. Patience pays off when you are waiting for the scraps.

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After a fruitful game drive, we headed back to camp for a few cold Serengeti Beers and chatting around the camp fire. Dinner was a nice buffet dinner of nile perch and slow cooked beef cutlets. We headed to bed early, because we would be rising early in the morning for more adventure.

 

Tanzania, Africa Day 4

Serengeti

We awoke in eager anticipation. Our guide had promised us a Rhino, the last animal on our big 5 list. Poaching has decimated Black Rhinoceros numbers and their elusive nature makes them some of the hardest members of the big 5 to find. Our guide Lucas was undaunted by the challenge and his energy stirred a fire in us too.

After a hearty breakfast of omelettes and pancakes we hit the dusty road. A short drive and the expansive Serengeti sky unveiled a dawn welcome. The amber glow beckoned the savannah’s residents to rise and start their morning activities. Giraffe strode through the grass in search of prickly acacia breakfasts. The hippo’s plodded back into their water holes to nap after their nightly grazing on the shoreline grass. It was a cool morning, but we were sure that would not last. Even in the dry (winter) season the sun quickly heats the plains. The animals use the morning to feed and do their more physical activities, before finding a shady tree to shelter from the heat.

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Our first stop was on a rock formation called Ngong Rock also known as The Massai Painted Rock Site. We walked on top of the rock and got some great photos. A short drive from Ngong was a cave with ancient Maasai painting in it. We erred on the side of caution and did not enter the cave. Lions are known to frequent the rocks and without the Maasai’s fabled ability to communicate with wild animals, we thought better safe than sorry. A Rock Hyrax (a small rodent like relative of the elephant) scuttled around the rocks looking for food.

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The morning was frustrating for all. The animals were scares and you could sense the displeasure amongst guides and tourist alike. We travelled over 250km during the day and were lucky to see a group of Lions protecting their buffalo carcass from a group of hungry hyenas. We witnessed a lioness’s failed attempt at a Giselle hunt and a Cheetah’s successful Giselle hunt. But no Rhino…

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Our own lunch was a much easier hunt. We stopped at the Central Serengeti visitor center and had lunch with friendly Hyrax, dwarf mongoose and many birds scurrying around our feet. The visitor center has an interesting “walk though” experience with information on the area. It also gives visitor the opportunity to meander through the boulders, which are similar to the other rock formations scattered across the savannah. Normally tourists are advised to avoid these boulders, because they are a favorite haunts for lion prides, having a safe place to do it, was great.

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After some more game watching we headed back to camp to wash the dust off and have a nice dinner of Beef, Pork and vegetables. We finished our night with a beer by the camp fire, where the Camp Manager Mary recanted tales of animal encounters in the camp. We headed to bed, secretly hoping we would not be adding to her story book.

 

Tanzania, Africa Day 5

Leaving the Serengeti.

Our wake up call arrived at 6am. Massai style coffee again and fuel for the trip back to Ngorongoro. We settled our bar tab and said our goodbyes to the camp staff. They made us promise to return one day, hopefully we can fulfill that in the future.

 

Lucas fired up the Landcruiser and we left the camp for the last time. The radio was a buzz with early morning animal sightings. They lead us to a pregnant lioness we had seen the day earlier. She causally strolled from the waterhole across the plain. Giselle’s did their best to keep their distance. It was obvious they were not her focus.

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The radio crackled and excited Swahili blasted out. Lucas suggested we put on our seatbelts and he pushed the pedal to the floor. There was urgency in his eyes, whatever had been broadcast was big, but he was not letting on. Across the dirt roads we traversed like a rally team desperate for the win. Anthony did his best to keep his breakfast settled as we bounced and fish tailed through the dirt. We recognized the scenery from the day earlier. It was where we’d been searching for Rhino. Could it be possible? Was our dream becoming a reality?

 

Ahead of us we saw a large group of cars with people peering out to the right of us. Lucas turned to us finally and said, “Rhino have been sighted here.” Unsettled stomachs immediately rectified as the adrenaline kicked in. Cameras at the ready, we searched the bush. High grass made it hard to see anything. There was much murmuring and referencing of a herd of elephants. Excited confusion filled our Landcruiser. Where was the Rhino!!! Then through the lens of his point and shoot camera Anthony saw the prize. “There! Between those trees left of the Elephants RHINO!” he exclaimed. With extra digital zoom on the cameras we captured the moment we had been waiting for. A black rhino in its natural habitat, we were exploding with joy. With only 40 individual Rhino in the entire Serengeti Park our chances had been slim, but Lucas had come through with his promise.

Black Rhinoceros are critically endangered and brutally poached for their horn. Which is used in traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine to “cure” many ailments. The asking price for horn is now more expensive than the price of gold. The real irony being that the Chinese and Vietnamese who use it could save their money and chewing their own finger or toe nails. The horn is made of keratin, the exact same material that makes our nails and hair. It has zero medicinal qualities and at best brings about a placebo effect for users. Once again human ignorance is causing a loss that can never be replaced.

 

As the Rhino disappeared into the long grass, we hit the road again. We were now running a little late, but it was well worth it. We were 10min down the road, when the radio crackled again. Lucas turned the Landcruiser around and we backtracked to the river crossing from 5min earlier. We followed a small track down to the waters edge and Lucas said “There you go, another “Bonus” Leopard.” Snap, snap went the cameras again and we headed back towards the park exit. It would be a struggle to make our scheduled 10:30am exit from the park, but we would try.

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Just before we hit the main gate, we came upon a pair of Cheetah, sitting on a hill, surveying their territory. We stopped quickly for photos and to say goodbye to the Serengeti’s big cats. The morning had featured Lion, Leopard and Cheetah, all the big cats where covered, we were ecstatic.

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We were finally on our way across the dirt track towards Ngorongoro and our last Tanzania destination Acacia Lodge.

Before we completed our journey to the lodge as had scheduled a stop at a Maasai village. It was a chance to learn about their culture. Plus the visitation fee helps to supplement their income from their Goat and Cattle herds. The tribe came out and performed a welcome dance. Our Gear 360 camera fascinated them, they were unsure what to make of it.

They invited us into their village and they performed another dance. Then they invited Anthony to take part in a Maasai jumping contest. Not a great idea for a guy with no ACL from a recent skiing accident, but who was he to refuse. As noble as his efforts were, there is little chance he will ever close a deal on a second (Maasai) wife. Not only was his jumping below par, he does not own enough cattle to cover the dowry.

The village guide then toured us through their junior school. Where their young children are educated on the basics of English and math, before they graduate to boarding school in nearby villages. The last part of tour took us into one of their huts. They explained the construction from tree branches, mud and cow dung. It was eye opening to see how they live, how happy they are with what they have. If you told most westerners that they should construct and live in a mud house made from cow poop, they would think you are mad. The pride the Maasai had in their life is admirable.

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We completed the tour, said our goodbyes and headed up the crater for a picnic lunch on the rim. Lucas did not have lunch, because he had given all of his to the Maasai kids. We offered him ours, but he said he was holding out for some African polenta in the village near our last stop. We finished lunch and headed to the Acacia Lodge to check in.

The Acacia lodge is beautiful and very luxurious. A huge difference to the Maasai Village we had just visited. As we pulled up to the reception area the staff were dancing and singing a welcome song for us. Once again the staff were incredibly warm and welcoming. Our private butler Godfrey was great fun. He worked out very quickly we had a good sense of humor. He really enjoyed joking around with us over the next couple of days. A full review can be read in our Hotel review section.

 

Tanzania, Africa Day 6

Ngorongoro Crater

 

The Acacia Lodge breakfast buffet was fantastic, a great way to kick start our day. They had the best croissants we tasted in East Africa. They had a chef cooking eggs to order. Always a bonus at any buffet, but this guy really knew how to cook eggs. They were perfect!

The smartest food thing they do at the Acacia Lodge is their Picnic packing buffet. It allowed guests to create their own lunch packs to take on Safari. The lunch packs had been fantastic at all the camps and lodges. But we often found it was too much food, or we were given items that we were not keen on. With the buffet we could pack a lighter lunch and avoid wasting food or over eating. We had our pick and Godfrey escorted us to Lucas who was waiting for us.

Lucas was not staying at the lodge as he had at the other places. It was a shame, because we enjoyed our meals and conversations with him. The night before he had told us “don’t be late, I charge $20 per minute for waiting.” We knew Lucas was joking, but Anthony promised him we would be early and therefore he could pay us. Sure enough we were two minutes early and Anthony quipped “that’s 40 bucks Lucas.” They both laughed and exchanged compliments on their freshly shaven heads. It felt less like customer and guide relationship and more like friends on an adventure. All formality was gone and we could not have been happier about the situation.

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We were excited the day had arrived. We were about to fulfill a dream and visit Ngorongoro Crater. Ngorongoro was given its name by the Maasai pastoralist who were inspired by the sound a cowbell makes (Ngoro Ngoro).

Fossil evidence shows that the crater has been home to hominids (human and human like species) for over 3 million years. The Maasai drove all other tribal groups out of the crater in the 1800’s. They still live and farm their cattle and goats in parts of the park. In the 1940’s the Ngorongoro was combined with the Serengeti National Park. However it causing negative effects on the Maasai tribes. So a new conversancy was enacted in1959 and the Ngorongoro Conversation Area Ordinance was made law. In 1979 the crater and park was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ngorongoro is the only conservation area in Tanzania that is classified as multi use. Which means it allows for cohabitation of wildlife and humans. Maasai groups are permitted to live at a subsistence level, without any formal cultivation.

The crater is the world’s largest inactive, intact, unfilled volcanic caldera. It is 260 km2 in area and 610m deep from rim to crater floor. It is estimated the volcano would have towered 4500-5800m high before its eruption and collapse. That height would have made it as tall or taller than Kilimanjaro the highest peak in Africa. In 2013 the crater was voted one of the 7 natural wonders in Africa. As we pulled up to the edge of the rim and the entire crater came into view, it was easy to see why, our hearts too were filled with wonder.

The crater is blessed with a wide variety of habitats in a very small space. On the edges daily condensation from mist and fog creates wet jungle forests. Dry savannahs host year round Wildebeest and Zebra. There is a marsh and fresh water lake with Hippo and many birds. A salt lake with Flamingos and a forested area that is popular with elephants and the resident rhinoceros. The only animals missing are giraffe and crocodiles. Who do not brave the descent from the rim.

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All the resident animals live in the crater year round. With such diverse habitat the crater caters to all their needs. It makes for some well fed healthy wildebeest and therefore lions.

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We did several rounds of the crater various habitats. Seeing Lions, Zebra, Wildebeest, Hyenas, Elephants, Hippo, Jackals, many Ostrich and countless birds. One of the big highlights was when the call came in that a Rhino had been sighted. We rush to the area where many vehicles had gathered. We put our zoom lens to work. It was hard to find in the distance, but we were eventually successful and seeing it running around in the distant long grass. We tried various locations to get better a shot. After around 30min watching and filming the Rhino, we headed back to the forested area. We heard shortly after the Rhino completely disappeared. They have a tendency to just lie down in the long grass, completely disappearing for view.

The second highlight came in the forest. We were eagle eyeing for more rhinoceros, when we came across a small cat crossing the road ahead of us. Anthony exclaimed in a quiet but excited voice “wwwwhat’s that!” He knew what it was, a Caracal. But he could not believe his eyes, seeing an animal he had only dreamed of seeing. Prior to arriving in Africa, Anthony had accepted the reality that we might not get to see African Wild Dogs, Caracals and that Rhinoceros was a very slim chance. Now we had seen two Rhino and a Caracal. He had never been that excited. His heart was beating a million miles and hour and he was only able to say “wow!” for the next 20 minutes. Unfortunately, the Wild Dog eluded us on this trip. But everyone needs good reasons to return, so maybe next time.

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Satisfied with our Ngorongoro experience we all agreed to depart and head back to Karutu and Acacia Lodge.

It was our last night before our return to Nairobi. We arrived for dinner and were escorted to a private table separate from the other guests. What was going on we thought. Then it dawned on us. Upon arrival, Godfrey had asked us if we were honeymooning. We joked “maybe 8 years ago.” It seems they misunderstood the sarcasm and thought it was our anniversary. We happily played along; after all they had gone to a lot of effort. The dinner was another great buffet, we ate our fill, enjoyed some wine and then headed back to the room to pack and get some rest.

 

 

Tanzania, Africa Day 7

Departure

We enjoyed a mini sleep in and relaxed buffet breakfast. The lodge staff delivered our luggage to reception for our check out and Lucas was there ready for us. As we drove away the lodge staff sang a goodbye song, another beautiful touch. Acacia Lodge was a great way to finish to our trip to Tanzania. We were still very tired, but we were clean (dust free) and felt refreshed.

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Lucas hit the road and we made our way back to Arusha. Our final tourist destination was Arusha Coffee Lodge. But before we stopped at a place Lucas promised would “make Anthony cry.” What was it? Would Anthony have to go through a Maasai coming of age ritual (a pain he hoped to avoid). Surely his below average jumping from day earlier, disqualified him from their warrior rituals. We are happy to say, no tears were shed as we pulled into the African Galleria. The large sign saying “Tanzanite” revealed what Lucas was suggesting. “Your wife is lovely, you should buy her something nice” Lucas said as we pulled into the parking spot. Who was Anthony to argue, after all, Lucas had been right about everything else that week.

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Tanzanite is a blue and violet gemstone made of Ziosite. It was discovered in 1967 in the Mererani Hills near Arusha and Kilimanjaro. It is only found in Tanzania and is graded / valued like most other gemstones. We picked up a nice set of earing and some other souvenirs for friends and family back home. We could have spent a fortune in the African Galleria. The jewelry, artwork and carvings were stunning.

 

Our wallets lightened, we were on the road to Arusha. It was an almost silent ride to the Coffee Lodge. We reflected on our experiences, the people we had met and the places we had seen. It had been a life-changing trip.

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As we arrived at the Coffee Lodge Lucas informed us we would change vehicles and drivers so he could stay in Arusha to service his truck and return it to the tour company. He also wanted to get home to his family, which we could not fault. We said our heartfelt goodbyes and extended our gratitude. We had experienced so much with Lucas and he had shared so much about his life. We are so grateful for everything he did and heart he put into our tour. He truly made our trip memorable and very impactful. We cannot imagine experiencing it with another guide.

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We finished our lunch and headed off to Kilimanjaro airport for our connection flight to Nairobi. It had been a trip of a lifetime. Even though we were physically and mentally exhausted, we were still sad to know it was ending. It is hard to say, we will definitely be back. It’s a big world with many exciting places to see. But there was something very special about Tanzania, so we wont say never!

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  • 11

Iceland Part 2

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Iceland Part 2 (Waterfalls & Mythology)

ICELAND DAY 4

Waking up early because “sleeping in” is for the weak and lazy… Hit the road and see more of Iceland… A slightly bumpy road, but the views were to die for. Our journey would take us down to the south. Past some famous waterfalls to one of the most visited black sand beaches. The map was as follows:

Full Route

ION Luxury Adventure Hotel to Skogafoss

Iceland Part 2

First stop was Skógafoss, a 2hr drive from Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel through Selfoss. The scenery on the drive was breathtaking and we enjoy some Icelandic music provided by our driver DJ (AV). But nothing made our jaw drop like the view of Skógafoss as we drove into the carpark (parking lot).  

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Skógafoss was formed when coastline receded leaving the former coastline cliffs standing as a clear divide between the Icelandic highlands and lowlands.  The Skógá river provides enough water to make Skógafoss one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland. It’s 82ft (25m) width and huge 200ft (60m) drop produces double rainbows.  It did not disappoint, we loved the opportunity to snap some photos at the foot of the falls. AV chanting viral internet favourite catchphrase “Double rainbow all across the sky, what does it mean?” It meant another reason Iceland was like no other place on earth.

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The movie buffs recognise the location from Marvel Studios film Thor: The Dark World. It also featured in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The site is stunning, it’s obvious why cinematographers love shooting it but is must be a challenge to deal with electrics and the constant mist from the falls.

For the energetic and/or adventurous, there is a cliff-side hike that takes you to the top of the falls. Be ready for stairs, there are many but it is very well worth the effort.  Nothing gives the full grandeur of its scale like the view from the top. During the summer hiking season, it is also possible to head down the eastern side towards the Fimmvörðuháls pass which winds through the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull. Continuing further will have you passing through Þórsmörk then on to the famous Laugavegur to Landmannalaugar. We think the Friend’s will have to return to try the summer hike in the future.

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There is an Icelandic legend that says the original Viking inhabitants buried a great treasure behind the falls. Locals allegedly found the treasure chest centuries later, But as they grabbed the ringed handle the chest disappeared in front of their eyes. The ring was donated to a local church and is now housed in a local museum. Knowing the Icelandic love of mythology, it is a little hard to give much credence to the story.  That didn’t stop the boys from wanting to search for it. Luckily Moosh and Sherri’s votes count for double, so FT and AV were ushered back to the car before they getting too wet!

 

Back into the car, we were off to Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach a 30min drive from Skógafoss.

Skogafoss to Reynisfjara

Iceland Part 2

Reynisfjara and the Black Sand Beach, in is in Reynishverfisvegur which is near the village of Vík í Mýrdal. The site is an icon amongst icons in Iceland. The original Viking legend tells a tale of two Trolls caught by the morning light attempting to drag a three-masted ship to shore. Frozen to stone, by the rising sun they turned into the needles of rock that can be seen off the coastline.

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The Black Sand Beach is a black pebble beach. The wind was blowing hard reminding us that the arctic circle is at the whim of the elements. There have been many emergency situations and even fatalities from people caught in the strong and unpredictable wind and waves along the coast. We stayed away from the water and we suggest other visitor do the same.

The Basalt stacks are a great photo opportunity and there was no chance we could withhold our excitement clambering to climb on them for more photos. The Basalt is smooth and almost soft to touch (ironic for volcanic rock). The punishing wind and rain has polished the rock, not to mention tourist like us.

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There is a nice little cafe that takes advantage of the many tourists. The coffee and tea tasted ok, but the weather was rather cold, so anything to warmed us was beneficial.

We were on the road again and towards another waterfall. Seljalandsfoss, a 45min drive from Reynishverfisvegur. The roads are very good along this stretch so it was a very easy drive. We had planned to stop at the famous abandoned airplane that is a short walk from the main road. But time was getting short and we wanted to make the most of the last two stops. Part of travelling is setting plans, but also knowing when to change them for the betterment of the overall experience. Make the most of the time you have, but don’t get caught up in regret of missing something. There will always be things you can’t get done, cherish the things you do.

Reynisfjara to Seljalandsfoss

Iceland Part 2

Seljalandsfoss is another famous Icelandic waterfall. Situated along route 1 it is very popular with day-trippers from Reykjavík. The waterfall has a 60ft (18M) drop, but what makes it truly unique is being able to walk behind easily. Be prepared to get muddy shoes and a cold spray, but it is well worth the trek.

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Fed by Seljalands-river it’s water originates from the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull. Truly a case of beauty from Icelandic fire and ice.

Amazing Race fans will recognise it from season 6. We were not in a race, however, so we took our time and got some great photos and a once in a lifetime experience.

The final leg had us heading back 2hr through Selfoss and Grindavik to our final location the Blue Lagoon.

Seljalandsfoss to BL

Iceland Part 2

The drive through the southern coastal landscape is otherworldly. The Basalt boulders take on a rusted orange hue in the afternoon sun. The lichen and moss almost appears greener compared to inland. After a long day of driving it has hard to keep the wheel straight and not get lost in the surrounding. We needed a soak in the Blue Lagoon, to revitalise our minds, body, and souls. But first, we had to skirt the edge of Grindavik.

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Grindavik is a small but modern fishing village situated the on the Reykjanes peninsula. One of the 3 early Viking settlements on the peninsula the site was originally called Járngerðarstaðarhverfi. Járngerðarstaðarhverfi was established by the sons of Molda-Gnúpur Hrólfsson who along with Þórir Haustmyrkur Vígbjóðsson was instrumental in colonising the Reykjanes peninsula.

 

The Blue Lagoon is the premier tourist attraction in Grindavik and the best known geothermal health spa in Iceland.

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We booked ourselves into the Blue Lagoon Silica Hotel which is a just ten-minute walk from the Blue Lagoon. The hotel offers its own private bathing lagoon which is only available for hotel guests. Open every day from 09:00 to 22:00 dodging the tourists and locals make the room price worth it.  The hotel has won several design awards and it was obvious from the moment you arrive. Built in harmony with the surrounding landscape, it offers an oasis of calm, relaxation, and healing. The hotel has 35 bright and spacious double/twin rooms. All rooms offer private facilities and a veranda, with breathtaking views of the surrounding lava fields. To say it felt luxurious would be an understatement, it felt both stylish and high class, but incredibly relaxing at the same time.  A quick freshen up and we jumped into our bathing suits for a soak in the Silica baths.

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The Blue Lagoon is a man-made lagoon. It’s geothermally heated waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur. It is claimed they have therapeutic properties helping those suffering from skin diseases like psoriasis.

The water temperature averages 37–39 °C (99–102 °F) and is fed from the geothermal power plant called Svartsengi. The water is renewed every two days keeping it clean and fresh. The plant uses superheated water vented from the ground near a lava flow that runs turbines generating electricity for the local community. After passing through the turbines, the steam and hot water pass through a heat exchanger which heats the municipal water system. The water is then fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal use.

The mineral content is obtained from the underground geological layers. Which are pushed up to the surface by the hot water during the power generating process (at about 1.2 Mpa (170 psi) pressure and 240 °C (464 °F) temperature. Because of the high concentration of minerals the water cannot be recycled.  Therefore the only option is to deposit it in the nearby landscape. The milky blue shade of the water is primarily caused by the silicate minerals. The water slowly re-enters the ground after being pumped and stored on the surface. Leaving the silicate deposits impermeable to the volcanic rock. The milky blue deposits can be seen across the nearby the lava fields and the plant needs to continuously dig new ponds. Something the owners of The Blue Lagoon have taken advantage of, with their many expansions. The Blue Lagoon also operates a research and development facility to help find cures for other skin ailments using the mineral-rich water. Of course they have found a really good way to make money by bottling the mud for home use.

The experience was amazing, soaking, floating and sipping on some Icelandic lager made the Silica Hotel the right choice. There are something that are worth paying more for. This was certainly one of them.

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After an amazing dining experience at the ION Luxury Adventure Hotel, we were unsure if Iceland could top it. We booked a table at Lava at the Blue Lagoon. A restaurant that is headed up by Iceland’s first celebrity chef Ingi Þórarinn Friðriksso.  We scraped off the mud, put on our fancy clothes and walked across the lava fields to the main Blue Lagoon building that houses Lava.

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Head chef Ingi Þórarinn Friðriksson leads a team that prides themselves on having an international perspective, regularly seeking inspiration by spending time at Michelin star restaurants in New York, London and Paris. The food certainly lived up to those lofty aspirations. Check out the review on our Foodie page.

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ICELAND DAY 5

A restful night sleep in the Silica Hotel we arose to a nice buffet breakfast with a selection of fresh fruit and of course Skyr. We took one last soak and were ready for our last half a day sightseeing before jetting off to London.

Blue Logoon to Reykjanesbær

Iceland Part 2

Not wanting to stray too far from the airport we decided to stay in Reykjanes and check out some of the tourist attractions nearby. We headed up to Reykjanesbær a 20min drive from The Blue Lagoon and only 6min from Keflavik International Airport.

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Reykjanesbær is the 5th largest municipality in Iceland. It has a quaint little main street and is probably best known for being home the Viking World Museum. It was our first stop for the day. We enjoyed learning about Viking culture and history.

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Viking World hosts a permanent display of the Íslendingur, the replica of the Gokstad Viking ship. Built in the late 1990’s using traditional methods. It was sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. Commemorating the millennial anniversary of Leif Ericsson’s voyage there and then to New York.

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The curators have suspended the ship from the ceiling and allow people to walk on the deck. This gives you a really tangible understanding of the workmanship, skill, and bravery required to construct and sail a ship in such an inhospitable geography.  There is a selection of other Viking artifacts and information regarding the culture and challenges faced by the nordic colonialists.

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They have a space set aside for temporary exhibitions. When we visited it was housing an audio tour explaining the ancient nordic religious myths and stories.  Colourful UV light enhanced 2D dioramas complements the audio. The artwork combined with the fanciful mythology has an almost comic book feel. It is clear to see why Marvel embraced Thor as a comic book character.

 

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The staff were very friendly and even allowed us to put on some wool pelts and cheesy Viking helmets for a couple of fun photo ops.

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It was time for lunch and our last chance for some quintessential Icelandic flavours. Unfortunately, a lot of the main street restaurants were shut. We were departing on a Sunday which seems to be a sleepy day for the village of Reykjanesbær. We managed to find Rain Bar Restaurant and Caffe.

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It’s decor was dated compared to many of the other places we had visited and it was pretty obvious is wasn’t going to be a culinary highlight. The view was really nice and it gave AV the chance to order Whale Steak with Pepper Sauce.

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Nordic countries are renowned for being happy to devour sea mammals. AV was aware of this and he had been looking for it since arriving.  Most Non-Nordic or Japanese might be a little disgusted by the idea of Whale Steak. But as the Four Friends One World food daredevil, AV had to oblige. The things he does for our readers.

Whale Steak is an interesting dish. In this case, it was Grey Whal. As mentioned, we doubt this was the finest version of the dish, but interesting nonetheless. The meat was slightly gamey with a mild minerally aftertaste and unique umami. On the whole, not an unpleasant dish like some people had forewarned. AV said after finishing the dish “I look forward to trying again another day, at a restaurant that might do it with a little more class”. But remember this is the same person who said he wanted more Hákarl (Rotten Shark) so perhaps take his advice with a grain of salt worthy of a whale steak!

 

We piled back in the car and headed to the airport via a refill at a nearby gas station (petrol station). Iceland uses a card-based payment system. You purchase the card inside the store or at the end of the pump stand. Then insert the card at the pump to redeem it for fuel. This takes a little planning so that you do not overfill your card with more than your tank can take.  We didn’t do a great job with this and left Icelandic Krona on our card.

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We dropped the car off and boarded the shuttle bus to the terminal.

The Keflavik International Airport is a nice airport, they have great amenities and of course they sell all the quintessential Icelandic items we had grown love.  We picked up some candy and a bottle of Black Death.  I am sure we would have stocked up on more if we had been returning directly home from Iceland.

As we boarded the plane it became clear that we were leaving a little piece of ourselves in Iceland. We had seen so much, but there was still so much left to see and do. It’s a big world and we want to see and share more of it. It is hard to commit time and money to revisiting places. We like to tick them off the list and move onto the next. However, it is very hard to say we won’t be back to Iceland. We predict the Vade’s will take advantage of the many stop-over deals Icelandair is offering on routes to Europe.

 

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Iceland Part 1

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Iceland Part 1 (Land of Fire and Ice)

Since the time of Papar and Leif Erikson Iceland has seen its share of visitors. In the tradition of the Norse adventurers, Four Friends embarked on their own saga. Our sights set on the small island nation, that saddles the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean. In true Four Friends style, the trip was a short 5 nights and 4 days.

Starting out in Reykjavík the self-drive journey would encompass some of the most popular locations in southeastern Iceland.

 

ICELAND DAY 0.5

Arriving late on a Wednesday night, we headed straight to the Budget car rental counter.  Despite some technical issues with the payment system the team at Budget had us on the road as quickly as possible. With a self-tour planned, we took advantage of the GPS and 3G LTE WiFi package. For a very reasonable daily charge, the WiFi helped greatly keeping us on the right routes with useful information along the way. The car fully loaded we drove the short 45 minutes to our first hotel in Reykjavik the Grand Hótel Reykjavík. Visit our Accommodation Review page for more information about the hotel.

ICELAND DAY 1

Rising early we set out to view the sites of Reykjavík. The first leg of our walking tour was as follows:

 

Walking along the foreshore we caught a glimpse of the arctic landscape that we would soon be immersed in. The grey arctic waters are framed by large basalt boulders sitting on black volcanic sands. A brisk chill in the air was very effective in waking us up and encouraging us to take a blood pumping pace in the hope of warming our cold extremities.

 

There are quite a few must-see sites in Reykjavik, the first we would encounter was the famous Solfar – Sun Voyager. Erected in 1990 a sculpture by the Icelandic artist Jón Gunnar Árnason speaks to the Icelandic spirit of adventure, the search for undiscovered territory combined with the dream of hope, freedom and progress. It is a beautiful flowing structure, resembling a Viking longboat. Constructed from stainless steel and standing on a round granite base. It juxtaposes beautifully against the basalt boulders and rolling arctic waves. Not only providing a great spot for photos but getting us inspired for the adventure ahead.

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Continuing our walk around the foreshore we headed towards the Harpa (Concert Hall). Opened in 2011 and designed by the Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects with artistic direction from Icelandic/Danish artist Olafur Eliasson. The building is a stunning construction of steel framework covered in geometric glass panels. The building plays with the viewer’s eye as if the glass panels are dancing in the Arctic sun. There were many great photo opportunities and was well worth the walk. We wish we had more time to investigate the building. It would be great to see the inside and attend a music or theatre performance.

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It was time for breakfast so we strolled through Arnarhóll Hill park past the statue of Ingolf Arnarson.  Normally we research our foodie travels heavily.  However this morning we decided to throw caution to the wind and walk up Hverfisgata to pick any place that sparked our interest. We stumbled upon Tiu Dropar Cafe. We ordered the Lủxus Brunch which featured: Eggs, bacon, potatoes, tomatoes, skyr with muesli, orange, toast & waffle. The Standard Brunch which had:  Egg, bacon, potatoes, tomatoes, orange, American pancakes & toast and the Smoked salmon, egg & horseradish Bagel. The food was simple but very tasty.  We highly recommend the local Skyr (yogurt). Skyr is a dairy culture that has the consistency of strained yogurt. It is light and mild in flavour and is a regular part of Icelandic food culture. Icelanders often mix it with breakfast cereals or porridge, fruit smoothie and even combine it with fish for a savoury dinner dish. It is low in fat and high in protein and would be a happy addition to our morning routines if it were available outside of Iceland.  
tiu-droparTiu Dropar Seating

With full bellies and energy renewed we continued our walk. No visit to Reykjavik is complete without a visit to Hallgrímskirkja church. Designed in 1937 by Guðjón Samúelsson, who took inspiration from the basalt lava towers prevalent around Iceland’s coast. The tower was constructed and completed in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The remaining wings were constructed in the 1970’s and nave consecrated in the mid-1980’s. For a small admission fee of ISK 900, we headed up a small elevator to the top of the tower. Looking out over Reykjavik we got a great vista of a quaint fishing village that turned into a city. Sure it lacked the same gravitas the other towering centres of commerce in mainland Europe. But Reykjavik, none the less, holds a reputation as the capital that leads Iceland’s unique cultural, social and political landscape. Looking out over Reykjavik it was hard to imagine that the small city, of just over 120,000 people, is so well known globally. It continues to be a major drawcard for international tourists. Is it the volcanoes, the Viking, the recent economic woes or even Bjork? What makes this small fishing village so damn intriguing?

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Descending the elevator it was time to stroll down the shopping district. Perhaps we could work up an appetite worthy of the famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hotdog stand. After all, it had been well over 1 hour since we had eaten.

 

Iceland is renowned for hand knitted woolen products and arctic circle appropriate winter and adventure clothing labels like 66o North. Iceland is also a great source for other handcrafted and artisan fair. We walked past metalworks, jewelers, woodworkers and ceramics manufacturers.  But of course, a visit to any city with Four Friends would not be complete without stopping by a record store.  We found 12 Tónar, which is housed in a small and very Icelandic building. 12 Tónar is not only a record store but also a record label. Since 2003 they have released over 70 albums in a variety of genres. Their albums have been licensed as far and wide as Japan, Korea, and the USA.

 

That was more than enough window shopping and record digging. It was time to find the dogs! Straddled by construction sites the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur was still very busy. We lined up for their world famous hot dogs. With simple branding and a modest stand. It is hard to believe that since it opened in 1937 the harbourside establishment has been visited by a wide variety of celebrities and world leaders. From Anthony Bourdain to Bill Clinton and James Hetfield. There are many toppings options, but in our opinion, the only way to go is “the works”.  A combination of ketchup, mustard, fried onions, raw onion and remolaði a mayonnaise based sauce with a sweet relish flavour. The remolaði, in particular, was a sensation, so popular it can be purchased at the international airport before you leave.

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Time for some more walking. We headed on the second leg of our walking tour as follows:

 

We strolled back through the tourist area and past many artisan studios. Heading up towards the Cathedral of Christ the King or Domkirkja Krists Konungs. It was built in 1864 to house the many Catholic priests who had travelled to Iceland since the Reformation. Its traditional design is in stark contrast to the modern and imposing Hallgrímskirkja church. The irony was not lost on us, that two of the historical sites we visited were religious. Especially given that in a recent poll 0% of respondents aged under 25 said they believe in a god and a huge 93.9% stated they support the big bang theory over creationist ideology. We wondered what Iceland’s top ten position in the world’s most irreligious countries would mean for the future of these monuments.  

 

We strolled through some more suburban-style streets, which gave us a nice look at “day to day” Icelanders. Heading down a small hill towards the Tjörnin, we saw the small but prominent lake situated next to the Reykjavik City Hall. The lake is popular with locals and tourist alike. It takes its name from the Norse word tjörn meaning “the lake” or “the pond”. It has become known to locals as stærsta brauðsúpa í heimi which translates to “the world’s largest bread soup.” This fun colloquial nickname has come from the local’s love of feeding the many ducks and geese that take advantage of their generosity.

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With weary legs, we made our way back up towards the main entertainment district. We were in need of a drink and knew exactly where we wanted to go.

 

Few movies have established cult status to the extent that the 1998 Coen Brothers, Big Lebowski has. This is no more evident than the Lebowski Bar. Situated in the middle of Laugavegur. Lebowski Bar is everything an homage to The Big Lebowski should be. The walls are ordained with movie and, of course, bowling themed memorabilia. Including a full-size bowling lane running from the entrance all the way to the end of the front bar. No Lebowski-themed bar would be complete without a rug. The idea of keeping a floor rug clean in a bar is indeed scary. But the owners of Lebowski Bar have smartly used rugs to line the front of the main bar and yes it really does tie the room together.  There is a good selection of local Icelandic beers, while the food menu features mostly American style items. Of course, any chance to reference the movie in the menu has been taken. The bar does not really embody the culture of Iceland but is a must for fans of the movie or any Americans craving a burger.

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A few pints and deep fried snacks in our bellies, it was time to walk back to the hotel via a supermarket. Bónus Supermarket is one of, if not the, largest chains in Iceland. It stocks the usual household groceries and home products.  Knowing we had a long drive ahead of us we stocked up on road worthy foods and water. Loaded with groceries we walked back to the hotel.

bonus_logo

Reykjavik is a very walkable city. Many of the tourist, shopping and entertainment areas are very centralised. Some small rolling hills can require a little more effort, but on the whole, public transit and a car are avoidable within the central district.

 

We took advantage of a quick rest and recoup break at our hotel before we prepared ourselves for a traditional Viking meal.

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Fjörugarðurinn the Viking restaurant and hotel is situated south of Reykjavik on Strandgata, in Hafnarfjörður. Open for lunch and dinner every day, they hold on to a Viking inspired way of life and cuisine. Attempting to invoke the feel of a Viking longhouse and keep a functional restaurant is a challenge. But we think they have done a good job, be it a little touristy. We sampled the: Fish soup “a la maison”, Lobster soup with grilled lobster Tails and Viking Starter platter with shark, dried haddock, herring, rye bread, assorted whey pickled food (Thorri food) and taste of Black death (Brennivin).

No trip to Iceland would be complete without tasting Brennivin. It is an unsweetened clear schnapps with a distinct flavour of caraway and herbal notes. It is a very popular Icelandic liquor, often drunk as part of a celebration accompanied with the nordic salute Skál. Or as part of the mid-winter feast of Þorrablót.

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Another flavour that must be tried, but many shy away from is Hákarl. One of the national dishes of Iceland it is an acquired taste, to say the least. Consisting of Greenland Shark or the meat of other large arctic shark breeds, it is cured in a very particular fermentation process. Due to the high levels of urea and trimethylamine oxide present in the shark’s flesh, the curing process is required to make it edible and nontoxic. The preparation involves burying a gutted shark in a gravelly sand lined pit and covering it with stones. It is allowed to ferment for 6 to 12 weeks depending on the climate and season. The stones slowly push all the fluids out of the meat and the toxins slowly decay. Once the fermentation is complete the shark is removed, cut into slabs and hung to dry for several months. The meat is then cut into small cubes for consumption by brave Vikings.  Our Four Friends chief food daredevil Anthony took on the challenge with excitement and vigour.  He found the meat to be slightly fishy and very chewy, sort of like a fishy chicken tendon. But in no way as offensive as he had been lead to believe. To the extent that he stated, he would happily eat another chunk if offered. Take that review with a grain of salt, however, we have seen him eat things that would have most people running in the opposite direction.

Our main courses featured braised lamb shanks and some nice local fish dishes. We finished the meal with Skyr, blueberries and sorbs and a nice slice of apple pie with ice cream and whipped cream. Although it would not be the most impressive culinary experience on our trip, it none the less succeeded in achieving the Viking feel and left us very full and satisfied.  

 

The drive back to the hotel had us all ready for bed and the adventure that would come on the following day.

ICELAND DAY 3

We rose early and headed to the hotel buffet. The selection was very standard for a hotel of its style. With the notable offerings of the tasty Skyr and fresh fruit and some tasty blood sausage bites for the meat inclined.

We had a big drive ahead of us. We aimed to hit all the Golden Circle sites in one day and finish at our next hotel in the heart of southeastern Iceland. With our coordinates programmed into the GPS and the WiFi pinging google sites for more tourist info, we headed to our first stop Kerið.

The tour was as follows:

Kerið is a volcanic crater lake in the Grimsnes area, a 50min drive from Reykjavik. It is a shallow lake no more than 14 metres deep (depending on rainfall). The steep walls are lined with a mixture of red and black scoria and covered in moss and lichen which take advantage of the minerals contained in the rock. The small entry fee of ISK 400 was well worth the investment. We climbed to the top of the Caldera and all the way down to the edge of the lake. Resulting in some great photo opportunities.

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Next, we headed off to Geysir. 45min from Kerið, Geysir is a thermal geological site featuring some of Iceland’s most famous Geysers.  The name Geyser itself is taken from the Icelandic term geysa “to gush.” A hot spring spouting was quite a sight to see. Although The Great Geysir infrequently erupts its little brother Strokkur which is 50 metres south of it erupts every 5-15 minutes. Many photos and videos online, featuring the eruptions at Geysir, are mislabeled as Geysir. We will not make that mistake.  It was absolutely Strokkur that we saw and it was an experience none the less. The Geysir site is very well set up for tourists and bus tours. It is obvious that the resurrection of the Icelandic economy post the 2008 meltdown is very invested in the tourism industry.

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We piled back in the car and headed to the next site.  After a short 15min drive, we arrived in Gullfoss. The Golden Waterfall, or by its Icelandic name Gullfoss, is one of the largest and most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. Water plummets 32 meters down two steps into a canyon with walls towering 70 metres. We were very lucky to have some winter ice and snow frosting adding to the rugged aesthetic. Although a little wet underfoot, it was well worth the hike to all the lookouts and photo opportunities. Aside from the obvious awe inspired by the power of nature, Gullfoss has another story to tell.  In 1907 an English investor attempted to buy the falls from a local farmer. His offer was rejected, but a lease agreement was set up. However, when the farmer’ s daughter Sigriður Tómasdóttir heard of the plans to dam the site she was horrified. Using her personal savings she hired a Reykjavik lawyer to challenge the rental contract. Through many years of legal struggles and political wrangling the site was kept in its natural state. It was not totally safe until 1940 when the adopted son of Sigriður acquired the falls from his grandfather and sold it to the Icelandic government who protected it and finally designated it as a nature reserve in 1979. Sigriður Tómasdóttir’s work to preserve the falls brought the Icelandic people’s attention to the environmental movement and she is often referred to as Iceland’s first environmentalist.

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With one more stop before our next hotel, we headed towards Þingvellir but not before an impromptu stop to see and pet some of the local Icelandic Horses.

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The Icelandic Horse is a breed unique to Iceland. They are a small, at time pony-sized, horse. They have a long history of use in sheep herding work and are very popular internationally with them exported worldwide.  The Icelandic government has legislated that no other horse breed can be imported into Iceland. They are a very cute horse with large majestic manes, flowing tails, and often striking blue eyes. Most are bred for the international export market, but quite a few are used as draft animals for farming and some even bred for the meat market.

 

Þingvellir, or Thingvellir as it is anglicised, is just over a 1-hour drive from Gullfoss. Þingvellir has had a place in Icelandic culture since AD 874 when it became the first permanent Norwegian settlement.  As the various settlements spread all over the south of Iceland, the social and political trials and tribulations grew with them.  In AD 930 it was chosen to host The Alþingi (assembly) because of its proximity to various settlements. Making Þingvellir the supreme legislative and judicial authority in Iceland until 1271. Þingvellir is also notable for its geological nature as a rift valley. It’s striking visual forms are created by the divergent North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The Basalt pillars are awe inspiring and an obvious choice for many film locations over the years. Þingvellir has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site on cultural criteria. But it is expected to also qualify on geographical criteria in the very near future.

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A short 30-minute drive to our next hotel had us skirting the Þingvallavatn lake. We looked forward to a chance to rest in a geothermal spa. We arrived at ION Luxury Adventure Hotel, checked in and headed straight to their outdoor spa bath.  A full review can be read on the accommodation page on this site. Most notable was the Silfra Restaurant and Northern Lights Bar. The cocktails in the Bar were outstanding and the view was stunning. The Silfra degustation tasting menu was world class and featured some of the best fish and pork belly the Friends have ever eaten. Well worth the 5-star price.

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We highly recommend a self-drive option for the golden circle.  Seeing people being rushed on and off buses, made our relaxed journey and self-guidance via GPS and WiFi seem like a winning formula.

READ PART 2

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