Many times while in Iceland I had to remind myself that I was still on this planet. Having never been somewhere so far off of the grid before, I hadn’t been exposed to the raw nature that a country like Iceland contains, with it being more likely that one sees a chunk of ice or rock as opposed to a flower or tree – seriously, you really have to search hard for a single tree. The photo above was taken at the base of the Eyjafjallajoekull (good luck) glacier on the southeastern coast. But before I start getting into the specifics of the country, first let me tell you how I ended up in Iceland in the middle of the winter.
Having a desire to see the Northern Lights for the first time, I began researching destinations around the Arctic Circle in Norway and Sweden as a possible trip from where I currently live in Germany. Not only were the trips expensive, often requiring two to three flights, but also the cities in northern Norway and Lapland did not seem to have any attraction in the winter except for the lights. (Not to mention Sweden is extremely expensive, with Norway being even more so). Frustrated, I turned to my ever-faithful travel companion Google Maps and started searching for an exciting city in Norway/Sweden/Finland that I may have overlooked in my initial research. Scrolling west, I wondered if the northern tip of Scotland was at a high enough latitude, and then my eyes fell on Iceland. Beautiful nature, a lively capital city of Reykjavik that is high enough for the lights to be viewed from outside its city limits, and cheaper than its Scandinavian neighbors were all factors that led me to choosing Iceland as my destination. In order to save money on travel, I actually took a train from Hannover, Germany to Copenhagen (I had saved 2 days on my rail pass from my snowboarding trip in Austria), and then took a direct flight to Reykjavik, as it is much cheaper than paying for a connecting flight from Germany. Because I flew to Iceland in the winter in February, there were only a handful of locations that offered direct flights. I certainly have no regrets of visiting during the wintertime, and have been told that it is actually preferable if you are looking to escape the large crowds of tourists in the summer.
For this trip, I stayed with an Icelandic tour guide via Couchsurfing, and it was definitely the best decision I’ve ever made. In addition to free accommodation, Hugi (our host and guide), offered myself and four other couchsurfers a discounted, personal trip around the southeastern part of the country, as well as various other trips to places such as downtown Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon. Because of my experience with the people I met via couchsurfing and all of the amazing things I was able do in such a short period of time (5 days), this was my favorite single trip that I have ever taken. If you are traveling to Iceland and want to get a local’s introduction to the country, along with a million laughs and an overall great time, contact Hugi via his facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/icelandisniceland. Best decision I’ve ever made! Tip: you will need a car to tour Iceland and reach the remote, scenic locations as there are no trains, and regular buses only serve the areas in and around the major towns.
We started the trip by driving away from Reykjavik, out into seemingly the middle of nowhere. While completely barren of all life, there is a certain beauty in the emptiness and isolation of the landscape.
Parts of Iceland are completely covered in ice?? What is this madness…
One of our stops was the Eyjafjallajoekull glacier on the southeastern coast of the island. The photo above is the frozen “river” that is running off the glacier – the melting portion. Underneath the ice water constantly flows southward to the ocean as the glacier melts, and the glacier retreats around 120 meters a year (something around that number, I can’t exactly remember but it was definitely over 300 ft).
Here’s me pondering the plight of global warming, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels…or most likely I was thinking about how cold and wet I was. The weather on the glacier was absolutely brutal – wind strong enough to hold you up and push you over at times, and freezing rain that attacked any bit of bare skin you had showing. Raw, rugged nature.
At the base of the glacier again, slipping on some Icelandic wool gloves I borrowed from Hugi since mine were soaked through from an earlier climb behind a waterfall.
“Everyone pose in front of the glacier before it melts!” You can see streaks of the freezing rain aka ice pellets against the black pebbles.
Making our way back down the base of the glacier.
These rocks were at one point underneath the glacier, which explains their smooth appearance as they have undergone years and years of erosion.
One of my favorite photos with the sun trying to break through the clouds. I had never seen a landscape like this before.
Also, due to its location on the junction of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, Iceland has an abundance of mountains that seem to come out of no where. Notice the farm at the bottom for scale. The snowy mass on the right side of the photo is the volcano that erupted in 2010.
More mountains/cliffs that seem to spring up out of nowhere.
With the mountains and cliffs come waterfalls, and Iceland had no shortage of these.
Upon closer inspection, my friend and I realized that we could actually go behind the waterfall. However, due to the way down being entirely covered in ice, it was not exactly a leisurely stroll down the hill. More like a “oh no how the hell am I going to get back up this” kind of walk – which did prove to be extremely difficult and involved a few moments of panic that I would actually not make it back without swimming through the ice-cold water.
Another shot of the journey behind the waterfall.
Although I was met and muddy for the rest of the day after rolling down the hill of ice and moss, it was worth it for this view of the waterfall and landscape it looked out onto.
I love shots of a road winding through a beautiful landscape. This one is special because we are driving through the largest “forest” that I saw during my entire time in Iceland. Seriously, there are no trees.
Apparently an amazing swimming hole in the summer, this is a volcano crater filled with beautiful blue water that of course is frozen over in the winter.
You can see the green “forest” off in the distance below the mountain.
One of the larger waterfalls we saw that day – it seemed that about half of it was frozen.
A close-up of the waterfall.
Iceland also is a hotbed for geothermal activity (see what I did there?) with many geysers and hot springs located all over the country. Because of this, electricity and warm water is extremely cheap in the country as it is all powered by the geothermal power plants.
Driving through the countryside you are sure to pass the Icelandic horses which are a bit smaller than normal horses and seem to be more pony-sized. If I remember correctly, it is illegal to bring any other type of horse to Iceland in order to preserve the pureness of the Icelandic breed that has been developed.
They were extremely friendly, coming right up to the fence when we stopped by.
The wall of rock in the background is the exact location of where the North American and Eurasian plates collide.
Walking along the border of tectonic plates – epic rock wall formations.
A trip to Iceland is not complete without a visit to the Blue Lagoon. I was skeptical at first, thinking it to be a tourist trap, but it was completely worth the visit, and I’d go again. The water is naturally that color, extremely warm and comforting, especially on a cold winter day, and supposedly contains beneficial, healing bacteria for the skin that is not found anywhere else in the world. Sorry for the quality of the photo – I only brought my small waterproof camera for photos in the lagoon, thinking it wouldn’t be this beautiful – won’t be making that mistake again.
The bottom of the lagoon is covered in a silica-mud mixture that is said to also contain rejuvenating bacteria for the skin.
Be on the lookout for two more posts from Iceland, as this one only previews my experience! Next up will be the city of Reykjavik and the Northern Lights (yes I saw them)!