On a whim, at a bar out with our friends, and only a few weeks ago, my friend Brian asked if I’d go to Iceland with him. He’d always wanted to go, and knew I was crazy enough to be spontaneous. We booked tickets two days later.
This trip marks the first time I’d ever really left the country. Discounting Canada, of course, and that one trip to the Caribbean a few years ago. I was really looking forward to seeing what it’d be like to travel internationally, as sort of a practice run for a big nomadic adventure I’ve been wanting to have for a long time. See what it’d be like to navigate somewhere I didn’t speak the language, and see how much of Iceland was as beautiful as the pictures I’d seen.
Our first day was spent in Reykjavik. We visited the church before anything was open, and then found a few hostels – which were booked, but we ended up getting a nice, normal little hotel. The clerk could tell we were exhausted, so she let us up early to nap. When we woke up five or six hours later, it was dark out, and we wandered around to find a cafe and try some Icelandic food. Smoked trout, sheep’s head jelly, mashed fish, and cubed fermented shark. I loved it. I left a tip without considering whether that was okay or not – apparently in Iceland it’s a little rude.
We wandered around some more that night, and found ourselves back at the church, after it was closed. There was a guy who was trying to get in to see it, same as we were, and after sneaking in & getting sternly scolded by a choir girl, we went back to his place for tea. It was an unexpected evening, making a random friend from Germany, and he showed us the fun things he’d seen so far in his time there.
On our way out of town, we happened to run across a little waterfall – a foss. We found this old ice-covered path that led us behind it, and it was absolutely incredible. And dangerously cold – that was the first & last time I didn’t wear gloves and something warm tied around my neck. We explored for a while, it being our first natural wonder here, and eventually left to keep going.
Brian had found an ad for a cabin that was available, so we drove out there. We met the guy who runs it, a farmer (we think), whose house happens to be right there, with his wife & his dog & his sheep. The place sat literally across the road from these vast, beautiful black-sand beaches. And the cabin – perfect only barely describes it. It was cozy & warm, with exactly everything we could need & no extra junk. Rustic, but with a table and silverware from Ikea. And the views from the window were… astounding, every single day.
“I promise you shit weather,” said the guy who owned the place when he handed us the keys. As we saw. We stuck to exploring what was within walking distance, and more than once we got caught in sub-zero, horizontal sleet & snow, wind punching us in the face & sides as we trudged through miles of black sand. We’d go out to explore, come back soaked to the bone and loving how soothing and warm that tiny wooden cabin was. And when it got dark, we’d cook food and read and pretend we weren’t concerned when the 40km/hour wind made the whole house shake.
There was an incident, too, that can’t go undocumented. In one of those walks, we had trekked all the way down the beach, as far as we could. We hit a calm little cove, fed by the tumultuous ocean waters, and we stopped to admire it. Brian wanted to get a video of the waves coming ashore, so he positioned his new GoPro down in the sand, and watched the wave calmly lap up. All of a sudden, the thing was sucked away, and there was nothing we could do. We searched for a couple hours, hoping it would wash ashore or be just on the edge of the sand, but no luck. We started heading back when the weather was getting worse, though it was too late. We hit the beginning of a huge storm – soaked from searching the waters, and with wind thrashing at our faces, we went probably two or three miles back, doing our best to cover our faces & put one foot in front of the other long enough to survive.
When the weather finally cleared, we decided it was time to go find some sights, so we got in the car and drove back west, and north, looking for Geysir & Gulfoss.
The geyser was interesting, but Gulfoss was downright magnificent. Ginormous and gushing, it felt almost as large as Niagra Falls. We shuffled our way down into it, though the path was covered in four or five inches of thick ice. If you look closely in the bottom left of that photo, you’ll see the waist-high rope railing we used to steady ourselves & pull ourselves back up.
And the next day, we went east, driving as far as we could. There were sandstorms, and giant patches of what looked like the end of the world. Then the landscape would suddenly change, to something that looked like an alien planet. And at the end of it all was this magnificent mountain, hiding an ancient glacier. We wanted nothing more than to drive up to it, but our gas tank was dangerously low, and we didn’t want to tempt fate and get stuck in the middle of it all with nothing.
And after a long day of a million things, we wanted to document our trip properly before the sun went down. We brought a chair into the field in front of the cabin.
Later that night, on our last night, we went out to sit under the stars. It was below freezing, but there were more stars than I’ve ever seen in my entire life. The constellations were in different places, and the Milky Way was as clear as anything.
We happened to glance over towards the horizon behind the mountains, and saw something shimmering. We walked over, and of all the chances, happened upon Aurora Borealis, our own show of the Northern Lights.
The next day, our last day, we drove out to the Blue Lagoon before our flight. It’s a big, geothermal-heated natural pool, where people have built a spa around it. And we bathed in the beautiful, steaming water, and drank, and were merry, and it was a fantastic start to the long trek back home, which was a fantastic end to our incredible, too-short adventure in Iceland.