Ìsland A week in the land of ice and fire
The cityscape is dominated by the imposing pillars of Hallgrímskirkja
For all its remoteness and difference of culture, for someone coming from the Pacific Northwest, there was a reassuring sense of familiarity in the air: the rainy weather that doesn't seem to bother people who will walk outside without umbrellas, comfortable in the knowledge that a little rain never killed anyone; the fashion sense straight out of an adventure clothing catalog, everything made of quick drying fabrics and wools that will keep you warm even when wet; the coffee of course, which is not surprising given that Iceland is amongst the top coffee consumers per capita in the world; and the love for the outdoors. All those things will be instantly recognizable to anyone from Seattle, who would, like Icelanders, also know that living in a place with bad weather, is no excuse for bad food. Though I'll admit, I could live the rest of my life without Hákarl (rotten shark)...
2. Into the wild
As Reykjavík faded into the horizon on my rearview mirror, the land around me became just a sparse panorama of grasslands and farms, the famous Icelandic horses being the most common animal that I would encounter around the roads. Further away from the city the vast emptiness of the land became apparent. The pavement stayed with me for a while, but soon enough even that ended as I moved closer to the highlands, the vast uninhabitable expanse of ash and rock that dominates the central area of Iceland. Before reaching that gauntlet, there were still two stops where civilized comforts could be found, two of this country's most famous sights, first off, Geysir, the original, the one that all other geysers are named after.
Water boiling and roiling until it heaves up to release all that energy
After walking through the mists of the Gullfoss, I came back up the staircase to stare into the horizon. I could see the fields of green recede into the rocky, craggy domains of the ancient mountains and glaciers of the highlands, and, to my right, a warning to beware the road I was about to travel; the twisted metal of a wreckage. Probably left by someone that didn't pay enough attention to the unpaved road and found out just what price the land might exact for your distraction.
Endless rock and dust, broken only by the occasional oasis of green
Landscapes so alien and so unlike anything you've seen before
The twin towers of Akureyrarkirkja, stand guard over the peace and quiet of the town
Less than 18,000 people call this town "home", and the whole city still feels very much like a tiny fishing outpost, with traditional looking buildings adorning its main street and a tiny public marina providing shelter for a couple of sailing boats right next to the town's cultural center where a statue of a fishing boy stands forever guarding the pier and the children that constantly play on it. As I left this place, the road rose sharply as it rode the skirt of the mountains on the other side of the bay, providing a last glimpse of the full town, its docks dwarfed by a cruise ship making a stop in one of the few shelters on the northern sea. From here I would now travel east, following the ring road all the way around the rest of the island until it takes me back to Reykjavík. But first, I had to meet with the glaciers again, this time at the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon 500km further down the road.
A fishing boy forever guarding the pier and the children that play on it
4. The ring and the ice
Hringvegur, the ring road, 1,332 km of pavement that go all the way around the island, in the process showing a little bit of everything the country has to offer. sometimes, just over a hill you can see an ancient lava field, stone bubbles still frozen in a rolling turmoil of volcanic fury, give way to soft sloping hills of green that just a few kilometers later turn into a barren field of sand and rock where prismatic patches of blue and green show the places where gasses are exchanged from deep below the earth, leaving exposed residue deposits of sulphur and calcium. Many streams cut through the land here providing welcome resting spots with cool fresh water and beautiful waterfalls so numerous that it's hard to remember them individually. Many of them even have hiking trails where one could spend weeks and still not see half of all the vistas that abound just around the highway. And there's also the fjords, with mighty storms constantly stirring up the waters off the coast, the dangerous looking clouds providing a perfectly cinematic background to the steep cliffs where the waves break into the coastline, forever eroding the land that the volcanoes keep creating.
Mighty storms, constantly stirring up the waters off the coast
The stormy weather picked up during the night which, with the remoteness of this area and its closeness to the glaciers, made this one the coldest night I've had the whole trip. The payoff the next morning was worth it though. The heavy winds had cleared up the sky and I finally got to see some blue skies. Although they seemed pale in comparison to the deep blue of the icebergs floating out to sea. As I hiked further out, away from the road, I found a few camps dotting the sides of the young lake. A lake so young it has only existed for about 60 years. There are still plenty of people alive in the country that remember a time where this gem of a place did not exist, until the warming earth caused the glacier to retreat inland, leaving behind the beautiful corpse of the river of ice. The crevices and cracks that cover the glacier are easily visible here, and I wish I had more time to walk out all the way to the wall of ice that beckons just beyond the next hill, but my time in Iceland had come to an end. I had a plane ticket out of the country and needed to drive the last 200km back to Reykjavík before the day ends. The plane hadn’t even made it halfway through its trip, before I had to break out pen and paper to start planning my next visit to Iceland.
The beautiful corpse of the river of ice