Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Iceland.

We arrived in Iceland late at night, threw our bags in the rental car and I attempted to drive along dark, snow-covered roads.
The maps we brought started out as crudely printed online screen grabs of the roads - road names we couldn't pronounce so we got lost often.
We spent a few beautiful days exploring the southern part of Iceland - it was romantic, scary, and utterly enchanting.

My partner had expressed interest in an Arctic expedition so on our wobbly plane ride over, I read an article on people preparing for the Antarctic in Iceland through trekking in similar weather conditions. It was easy to see why when 20 minutes out of Reykjavik, we were in nothing but crystal white snow surroundings. The road was covered in migrating snow being blown sideways, we were unable to see more than 2 metres in front of us. We took the car along the Golden Circle route to see the geysers and Thingvellir national park, Gullfoss & Kerid. I learnt early on to be careful where I pulled up on road sides as on one occasion I sank the car in the snow - after panicking and not being able to reverse or go forward, two 4x4's stopped driven by locals who helped us push our car out and onto the road again. I was so grateful.

That day we saw the beautiful geysers, sapphire-crystal deep blue waters and frozen circle lakes. As we drove we saw horses that ran between dead black trees covered in snow, their long thick black, brown and cream coats shook in the wind as they darted between each other. I wanted to photograph them, but I had already learned my lesson on stopping at road sides from the previous incident. Everywhere you went the strong smell of Sulphur followed, from the taps in the hotel to the geysers - the volcanic water had a smell that you couldn't escape. At one point we stopped to look at some horses and a little red roofed church. I fell waste deep into snow and after Philip had helped me out, his shoe blew off down the road and he had to run to get it.
After, the golden circle route we drove back to Reykjavik via a mountain road that took us head on into a blizzard. After an hour of driving very slowly, we had been unable to see anything but white. I had already lost control once and we passed 6 cars in a group that had gone off the side of the roads into ditches. Anxious, we finally arrived at our hostel in the centre of Reykjavik. We questioned whether or not we should be driving on the same route to see the rest of the lower half of Iceland in a few days. There were things I very much wanted to see, but I didn't want to drive in such risky conditions again. Our hostel, The Pisa guest house was beautiful, full of dark wood floors, high ceilings and wonderful furnishings. We were close to the lake, the museums, restaurants and the Lutheran church. By the evening the snow storm we had been caught in had also hit Reykjavik and we knew there would be no Northern Lights that evening, so we took the opportunity to have a drink and celebrate that we'd arrived at the hostel safely.

The next day was spent wandering the city, visiting Perlan, the Lutheran church, the lake and Mount Eyja. Philip wanted to see an exhibition at one of Reykjavik's art museums so I continued to explore the city by myself, photographing colourful houses made of corrugated iron and enjoying the sunshine and cold, fresh Icelandic air.
We had time to stop at the Kex hostel for a drink before driving to the blue lagoon, were we stayed until sunset. The blue lagoon was the most beautiful place - I sat in chalk blue water surrounded by volcano mountains and hot steam for hours. There were wooden containers of exfoliating mud pack to use, after applying some I painfully discovered that I had wind burn on my face. After returning back to the city and having dinner, we decided conditions were perfect for the Northern Lights so we drove to a lighthouse on the edge of Reykjavik, parked up and waited. I had been unsuccessful seeing the Northern Lights during my Scotland trip and had been so desperate to see them that I had been dreaming about it. After a while of sitting in the car staring at a sky full of stars I decided to do some night sky photography, it was during that time I saw a little white twinkle in the sky. I stared hard and wondered if it was my eye straining in the dark but slowly it became apparent that Aurora was happening right in front of me. I felt incredibly lucky and that night I fell asleep happy to have seen the strange green-coloured haze.

When we woke Reykjavik was covered in snow. We loaded up the car and set out, returning along the mountain path where we had been caught in the blizzard 2 days earlier. The sky was clear, it was minus 3 and the mountains were covered in snow. That day we stopped to play with inquisitive horses, saw both Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls and saw the beautiful black volcanic sands of the south coast.

As we drove further we saw beaches where the sea was still and grey, the sky the same colour so that you couldn't tell where the horizon was and snow flakes falling. It reminded me of the book 'The Road', with the dead yellow grass and grey haze of the sky, every photo that I had seen of Iceland seemed to have that same grey wash over it. Empty lonely roads covered in snow, the further we drove the more isolated it seemed - the fields and mountains of snow turned into black volcanic waste land with snow gently sat on top. I had never felt so far from anything in my life. It was eerie, beautiful and so very empty. We drove further until there was no sun, no sky, no landscape, no wildlife, no clouds, just thick grey ash air and black and white ground, sometimes nothing but white. It felt as though we were driving into nothingness and could just disappear. We arrived at our guest house during dusk, glad not to be driving in the dark we settled in for the night. 

On our last day in Iceland we drove further still until having taken us a total of ten hours, we reached the icebergs. We had come a long way to see them and they stood beautifully still in a giant lake with a river that joined the sea. The icebergs were deep blue with beautiful black lines across them, wild seals swam in-between and called to each other. I felt like I was at the end of the earth, I had travelled further than I thought to be here and it didn't disappoint me.
Our last stop was to see the Svartifoss Trail; Organ Pipe Waterfall in Skaftafell National Park. It was pouring with rain and our clothes become soaked through. We had wanted to walk the glacier nearby, but the high winds made it too dangerous and all walks had been called off. We started our long drive back to Reykjavik, happy but fascinated to see more of this wonderful country.