ICELAND – On April 10, Tusker Travels, Inc. left for an adventure-packed trip to Iceland with 32 Somers High School students and five chaperones. The goal of Tuskers Travels is to enhance education through travel, helping students to develop global perspectives. Its directors have previously led educational travel experiences through the Somers Journeys program with the Somers Central School District.
Tusker Travels is a nonprofit corporation formed by Somers High School teachers Christine Lepkowski, William Maelia, Christine Brooks, Angela Holder and Anna Timone (this author).
We departed on April 10, and flew into Reykjavík, where we were met by Andy, our tour director from Education First (EF) Educational Tours. We toured this capital city, visiting the National Museum and the stunning Hallgrímur Church. A popular Icelandic activity is visiting geothermal pools and spas, and that’s exactly how we spent our first afternoon. At Árbaejarlaug, we were able to enjoy geothermal pools, hot tubs, waterslides and even cold baths for those who dared.
The next day, we went to Thingvellir National Park, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. Here, we took a geology hike past Lake Thingvallavatn and through a tectonic fissure zone. We visited the Gullfoss waterfall, a spectacular waterfall in the Golden Circle in South Iceland. We were lucky enough to see a gorgeous rainbow over the water as it fell. We visited the Strokkur Geyser, which erupts every 10 minutes or so. The eruptions reached over 50 feet above our heads, but we had not anticipated the strange (rotten eggs) smell that accompanied them.
We went to a farm that afternoon in Selfoss, where we were able to see Icelandic horses. They are small horses with a kind temperament, and we not only pet them but also got to see their two special gaits. Typically, horses walk, trot and canter/gallop, but Icelandic horses have two additional gaits, one of which involves only one hoof touching the ground at any point in time.
This farm, Fridheimar, also had a greenhouse, heated by geothermal water. Their specialty is tomatoes and we were able to see how their process works. Green energy and pure water made for some amazing samples.
For two evenings, we stayed in the Hellisholar Cottages in Fljotschlid. Flat fields, blue skies and mountain ridges in the distance, we were really in the Icelandic countryside. We headed to the Sólheimajökull Glacier, where we met our guides and suited up for our glacier hike. Each hiker had a harness, an ice pick, a helmet and crampons (metal spikes that we attached to the bottom of our boots). The glacier was stunning and we got quite the workout. There were markers indicating where the glacier had been in certain years, so we visually learned about glacial erosion.
After a visit to the village of Vik, we went to Reynisfjara, or the Black Sand Beach, with sharp cliffs, basalt sea stacks and a puffin population that was hiding from the ice storm we saw there. From there, we visited the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which was interesting because we could walk behind it into a cave. Those who chose to brave the waterfall walk got soaked, but it was worth it to hear and see the power of the thunderous water rushing down right in front of us.
Later, after visiting a geothermal energy plant, we headed back to Reykjavik, where most of the group tried the famous Icelandic hot dogs. They are unique because they contain pork, beef and lamb, and they are served with a special mustard the color of tree bark. We had some free time to explore the capital city, during which teacher William Maelia purchased some fermented shark for the group to try. Most of us were good sports and some even took a second piece, but it is definitely an acquired taste.
After a seafood dinner on the water, we headed back to the hotel to pack. Once darkness was approaching, our bus pulled up so we could take a special excursion arranged by teacher Christine Lepkowski to chase the Northern Lights. After a couple of hours, we were losing hope when a student asked, “What’s that?” For the next hour we shared a magical experience, watching the white, teal and green streaks paint the sky before our very eyes.
On our last day, we headed to the world famous geothermal spa, the Blue Lagoon, where we bathed in geothermal water rich in silica, algae and minerals. We went to the silica bar in the lagoon and applied silica mud masks to our faces, which left our skin feeling soft and nourished and left us feeling relaxed and ready for our trip home. On the way to the Blue Lagoon, we pulled over to visit a troll that had been turned to stone. Did you know that Iceland is full of trolls and elves and water-dwellers? We loved the stories about Iceland’s hidden people.
This trip was educationally rich and truly unique, and we have more adventures planned for the future. Tusker Travels, Inc. has two trips planned for 2018, and you can get more information about enrolling from any of our directors: Mrs. Lepkowski, Mr. Maelia, Mrs. Brooks, Mrs. Holder and myself. We will be doing a 10-day trip to Paris, the Loire and the Riviera over spring break 2018, and will be traveling to Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii for 16 days at the beginning of summer break. We have rolling enrollment for both 2018 trips, until the spots are filled. Visit tuskertravels.org for more details.
All photos were contributed by Tusker Travels students and teachers.