Spring Break Students Travel to the Land of Fire and Ice

We’re going to Iceland. April Fools

A little bad weather won’t stop them! Despite having to be rerouted to Scotland, the Brewster students and staff made it to Iceland, where they could explore the unique landscape with a mind towards science.

On the afternoon of April 1st, Easter Sunday (and April Fools’ Day), 38 juniors and seniors loaded onto a single large school bus here at BHS. In that bus were also six chaperones, 44 suitcases, 44 carry-on bags, and countless backpacks, cameras, etc… It did not matter how uncomfortable we were, we were going to Iceland!

Iceland, the land of giant trolls who wander the glaciers, volcanoes, and river valleys at night and occasionally get caught up in the excitement, forgetting that if they catch a glimpse of the morning sunlight, they will turn to stone.

Iceland, that top billing place on your bucket list, right up there with Machu Picchu and the Great Wall.

Iceland, that land with 24 hours of light in the summer and 24 hours of dark in the winter.

All of this motivated these 38 adventurous students to “give up” their spring break and join me, Mrs. McCarthy, Dr. Kozlenko, Mrs. Horler, Mrs. Welch, and Mr. Kerrigan on an amazing expedition.

Five hours into the flight on a brand new Boeing 757 wide body with fancy new computers in the seat-back, the pilot came onto the PA and announced that we cannot land the plane: too many Trolls on the runway. Actually, it was snowing faster than they could clear the runway. We were going elsewhere to land: Glasgow, Scotland. I stood up from my seat and announced: “April Fools… We’re actually going to Scotland!”

A few minutes later, the pilot again came over the PA to announce that we were actually going to Edinburgh, Scotland. Awesome, I thought, the home of Harry Potter… the kids will love this and will get another stamp in their passports.

Once we got a handle on the change in plans, we jumped on a bus from the airport and headed to “Olde Towne” – Edinburgh. We decided to split up and to visit the places that intrigued us most. I chose an ancient castle where a statue of William Wallace guarded the gate and where the Crown Jewels of Scotland are kept, along with the Stone of Destiny. Imagine, standing in front of the coronation jewels first worn by Mary Queen of Scots, in 1543! I saw the stone upon which every King and Queen of all of Great Britain have since sat upon during their coronations. Humm… maybe the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Sorcerer’s Stone?

After a good night’s rest, we were back on the plane to Keflavik Airport outside Reykjavik. It was a sunny day and the forecast for the week was better than had been seen for years in early April.
Landing in Iceland is kind of like landing on the moon: no trees, no shrubs, no grass…just rocks and mountains and lots of snow from the day before. Keflavik, about 40 minutes from the largest city in Iceland, Reykjavik, is built on a relatively recent lava flow that is only a few thousand years old. After meeting our guides for the week (Jess from Evolve Tours, Thurster our local guide, and Palli the bus driver), we boarded the bus, aka our home for the next week.

Travel Log:
On our first day in Iceland (Day 3 for the trip), we made a number of stops along the “Golden Circle.”

Stop 1Thingvellir. This is a most popular stop where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge splits the entire island of Iceland and afforded us the opportunity to walk with one foot on the North American tectonic plate and one on the European plate. This unique landscape was chosen by ancient Vikings as the site for the very first National Parliament – the model from which modern governments are modeled. From here, we stopped for lunch at Geysir (Icelandic spelling of geyser). This locale has magma located just below the ground and water boils up in violent eruptions every 9 minutes. Had we stood in the wrong spot, we would have been drenched with stinky rotten-egg smelling water. The gift shop next to the geyser was our first taste of Icelandic goods. We found everything to be named Icelandic something. There was Icelandic chocolate, Icelandic water, Icelandic food in general, Icelandic hats, Icelandic mittens, Icelandic sweaters, you get the idea… Our principal was in “Knit Sweater Heaven,” and we had not even shopped in Reykjavik yet.

Next stop: Gullfoss. The viewing platform gave us a peek at an amazing waterfall that plunged into the abyss of a rift valley. Unfortunately, the ice was too thick to allow us any closer. Unlike in the US where every place has a rail or fence to guard its visitors from danger, Icelandic sites remain just as nature intended them, so a good dose of common sense goes a long way.

Our last stop for the day was a trek into the dark labyrinth of a lava tube where we were asked to take a minute and turn off our lights and just listen to the sounds of the earth around us. Fantastic. In the cave the most unusual formations of stalagmites of ice surrounded us. We ended our day in the town of Selfoss on the southern coast. We enjoyed walking around the corner from the hotel to the local ice cream shop, where they sold, you guessed it, Icelandic Ice Cream. That night we rallied the troops at 11:30 pm to go outside to see if we could spot the northern lights. No avail, just cold ears.

The next day, we loaded up the bus and did it all over again. The days went on like this, so let me hit the highlights.

Day 4 was all about waterfalls. Big ones, high ones, skinny ones, wide ones, ones that were hidden and waterfalls one could actually walk behind (but we didn’t). The best of them all was Skogafoss, where many of us climbed the 527 steps to the viewing platform. We were rewarded with an amazing double rainbow that day. On this same day, we also visited a black sand beach where the sea walls were made of columns of basalt rock that looked like stacks of stone posts leaning against the shore. As a total geology geek, this was a slice of Heaven for me. This was also the day we were introduced to Dr. Koz’s new toy, the Skydio Drone. It took an amazing video of us exploring from the sky above us – this is definitely on my Christmas list! (See the link to this video in the online version of Bear Facts). That night we were treated to our first and only Northern Lights show. What an experience to see the sky dancing in eerie green swirls and interesting fleeting patterns

Day 5: Glaciers. We had some real treats on this day. We started by visiting a glacier pool and iceberg field in one of the outlet glacier arms of Vatnajokull, the largest glacier in Iceland. The melt water and icebergs were formed by snow that fell almost 1000 years ago. It was like standing in a giant refrigerator. Just around the corner from there was the neatest thing: Diamond Beach, where the icebergs wash ashore with the tide and litter the beach with diamond-like icy gems. We rounded out this day with a three-hour trek on the glacier, itself. Outfitted with crampons and ice axes, we climbed the moraines onto the ice field, around and through crevasses and even into the mouth of an ice cave. A memorable trek. The day ended with a brisk, near vertical hike up the face of a mountain behind our hotel to see the sunset – which was breathtaking. As with every other site we visited, we were all entertained by Kove doing back-flips for the camera. It took every effort to keep him from flipping over the edge: never a dull moment.

Day 6 was kicked off with a classic Icelandic breakfast of cold cuts, bread, tomatoes, cheese, and the ever-present cucumber. (Turns out, cucumber is the only crop they do not import, as they apparently are very easy to grow in greenhouses.) We had to do some driving on this day as were on the far southeast corner of the island and needed to make our way back toward Reykjavik. Our first activity was the much-anticipated SUPER JEEP adventure trek into Thorsmork, the Land of the Gods. We all envisioned a rugged ride through the outback in monster truck Jeeps. Wrong. The company provided us with their newest vehicles: luxurious, reclining leather-seated, USB-equipped, Mercedes Benz monster truck Sprinter Vans. These things were amazing! We went through rivers and over rough rock terrain in more comfort than you had driving to school today. It was actually a bit of a letdown for the purists who wanted to “rough it.” Again, we saw sights that words cannot describe; places scarred by violent geologic events and sights of renewal of life in its wake. We hiked to a mountain peak that had the steepest sledding run imaginable. No need for sleds, our bums would do just fine. Eddie Kaufman made the best showing on the slope, ripped down at breakneck speed, and ground to a halt like a superhero, walking away like no big deal while the rest of watched from a little cave on the mountainside. It was sad to leave this wonderland, but Reykjavik was calling us.

We drove into Reykjavik along the harbor and captured a great group photo at the Sun Voyager: a giant sculpture of a Viking ship. We were off for a few hours of shopping and wandering the town. From there, we were off to dinner at the Salt House, a quaint log cabin setting where we gorged on great food and then we were off to the Blue Lagoon. What a great way to end the adventure: with a soak in the thermal hot pool named for its amazing turquoise blue water. We could have stayed there all night.

As we walked back to the bus, a snow squall came through and painted each of us with fluffy white, cotton ball-like snowflakes, signaling that it was time to go home.

As Chris Skorewicz said to me in the airport, “This was the adventure of a lifetime.” It was, Chris. Thank you to all who joined us. It was…