Road to unearthly destinations : An encounter with Iceland
Around 1:30 am at night, my brother and I picked up our car and were on our way from airport to the city. The left hand right side drive, the vastness of the place, the eerie quietness of the night, the row houses; everything was different. The thought of driving in a foreign country was still scary for us; not the bad scary type, but the adventurous scary type. We didn’t know what was waiting for us at each turn. We didn’t know the roads, didn’t know the route, and neither were we fully aware of the traffic conditions and rules. We had literally thrown ourselves out of our comfort zone to a place which was miles away from our home, and where people speak a language we never heard before. Somehow this should have scared us and alarms should have rung in our mind the moment we planned this trip. But I guess it was something we were looking forward to when we set course for Iceland from India.
The next morning was a quiet one. While having my breakfast, I interacted with fellow travelers from Vietnam staying at the same place and learned that they are also embarking on a road trip to the southern side of Iceland. It seems we had more of our kind visiting this country, the ones who love to take such risk knowingly. Soon, it was time for us to leave and explore the city of Reykjavik and nearby area. We spent a day in Reykjavik visiting main city area. It had restaurants, pubs, shops, all lined up next to each other and a crowd ready to party.
We had ten days with us and decided to cover Iceland as much as we could. And we couldn’t have asked for a better start as the next morning, our host took us through the history of Iceland, the religious practice that was followed and how it changed, why the famous spots were named so, the chaos when Iceland changed its driving style, and many more stories. If it wasn’t for our trip, we wouldn’t have left his house and his stories which transported us into a world, the present of which we had just started exploring.
Reykjavik was a great start to our trip. We were greeted by a culture and landscape which is completely different from ours and a language which we still couldn’t understand. But there was no fear of unknown and the excitement of something new at every turn which kept our spirits high.
We were out on the road and embarked to our next destination, a small place in western fjords besides Dynjandi Waterfalls called Laugabol Farms.
With no traffic, which was a surprise for us, and the ever changing landscape, it was a not easy to keep our eyes on the road all the time. We took many pit-stops in between at the designated areas to explore the place as going off-road in Iceland is not allowed. Driving in fjords was both a challenge and fun. With clear water on one side and mountain on other, it was a new experience but that increased the time we took to reach our destination for the day. The best part about driving there was when we were on top of the mountain and we could see the creeks of Atlantic Ocean and its vastness. However, we had to be careful while driving on the fjords because of sharp turns.
We took around seven hours to reach the foot of the Dynjandi Waterfalls. There was a camp site at the base of it where people started setting up their tents for the night. The waterfall had a good height and was facing the calm waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Laugabol Farms is a private bungalow in the middle of nowhere with its own hot tub, stable on one side, and open farm on other with stallions strolling around. With mountain on the front side and the creek of the Antarctic Ocean on the back side, the entire setting felt as though part of a fiction. This place was surely going to be more than a footnote in my memory. We had our dinner with the host along with a German couple, two French girls, and a Chinese couple who were all staying there.
We came out at night to test our luck with northern lights. The sky was clear which a great sign was. We were greeted with the first sight of northern lights just when we thought to leave. For the rest of the night, the sky was filled with particles colliding with earth’s magnetic field to create a green tail of light i.e. Aurora Borealis a.k.a. northern lights.
Next morning, it was time to continue on our trip and we soon were on road again for our next destination, Akureyri. We took a stop at the town of Isafjordur located near the creek at one of the fjords. Its dramatic landscape provided a perfect setting for a peaceful and delicious lunch. If not for our already planned trip, we would have stayed here a night or two. During our journey Iceland greeted us with bright sun, drizzle, thick fog, all on same day. It was as if we were at a place beyond earth. The drive was longer than we expected and we reached our next home around 1 am. We were on road for around 10 hours and soon retired for the day.
Akureyri was a pit stop for us and the charm of exploring Iceland was insatiable and couldn't keep us away from the wheels for long. We had our breakfast at the outskirts of the city near a river under the perfect surrounding of mountains. Our next destination was Eskifjörður but we had many places to go as the road ahead was filled with adventure and some exciting places to discover.
The first stop on our way was the Godafoss Waterfall or what is otherwise locally known as the waterfall of the gods. Though not at a very good height, but it forms a semicircle arch giving it a magnificent look. This place is closely connected to a major historic event when the entire Iceland decided to adopt Christianity as against existing paganism. Our brief encounter with Iceland's history at our host's palace in Reykjavik made the waterfall more special for us.
Since the time we landed, we were mostly on the road but driving in Iceland wasn't a tiring affair. The natural setting amidst which we drove was inspiring us to continue and explore this unique land filled with varied natural phenomenon and stopping was not an option we considered once during our time in Iceland.
We soon reached yet another natural wonder of Iceland, a geothermal area called Myvatn. One could spend an entire day here as it holds a mix of something called "sulfur hot spring", molten mud pots, sulfur vents, a lava field, and so much more. For miles there was no vegetation, no trees, grasses, or shrubs. There was nothing but barren volcanic rock. We walked our way to the foot of lava fields of Leirhnjukur. There was an easy trail to the top of the mountain with proper steps and support. However, our happy faces were left dumbstruck as the view above was something we had never witnessed. It was as we were standing at the gates of hell. The entire surface was emitting hot steam as if waiting to explode.
Every day at Iceland brought something new to discover and explore and today was not different. We looked for a new adventure at every turn on our trip. We soon reached Eskifjörður around 9 pm and took some rest for the day.
Eskifjörður is a seaside village in the eastern fjords. Take a walk around the town and you’ll come across some of the historical building and piers. One can also rent a boat and sail around the fjords.
The next morning was a quiet one. We were greeted with drizzle and a bit of cold which we hadn’t encountered so far. Our next destination was a town at the south of Iceland called Vík. The weather was cooler at this part because of nearby glaciers. We came across some varied beaches this part of Iceland. While one was filled with black pebbles all across, another one was the famous black sand beach near a heightened cliff with a lighthouse which gives a panoramic view of the mammoth Atlantic Ocean and the varied landscape of Iceland.
While these surely added lot of color to our journey, the highlight of the day was a large glacier lagoon called Jökulsárlón. It is bordering the Vatnajökull National Park and has still blue water with icebergs floating and at times breaking in the lagoon. The lagoon flows through a short waterway into the Atlantic Ocean. There was a bit of peace and calmness watching icebergs float and then break apart as if their time had come, and slowly merge into the ocean forever. We couldn’t wait longer as we were short of time and had to reach our next home before dark.
We started a bit late next morning and had breakfast at the Black Beach Restaurant near Vik. It was raining constantly and driving was a bit of a challenge but lesser traffic made it manageable. We decided to go off-road for a drive to the Landmannalaugar, a place in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve in the Highlands of Iceland. The road is bumpy and full of gravel. Therefore, one must have a proper 4x4 vehicle to ride as other smaller vehicles are prohibited. The entire place is famous for hiking which usually takes from few hours to few days depending on the trail one chooses. The multi-coloured mountains, magnificent waterfall, and many more hidden gems greet those who go deep in the reserve. All this really makes this place a true jewel of Icelandic landscape.
It was a tiring day driving in those roads and in constant raining condition but we had to reach our next destination on time. We were spending our next two days at Selfoss.
Selfoss is the largest town in south Iceland; still comparatively it is a peaceful and quiet town with varied options for some good restaurants to try. Our entire day was already planned as we had booked a visit to the Langjökull Ice Cave. We had to drive all the way to the Klaki Base Camp. The drive to the base camp was nothing short of an adventure with rough roads and windy weather turning colder the closer we reached to the base camp. When we reached the base camp, we were in for a big surprise. We were just at the foot of the glacier and the wind was at its best. A big SUV was like a matchbox in front of the power of the wind and was shaking continuously. We had to take our gears from the camp to be ready to go to the ice cave. We were then transported into a special purpose vehicle to driven on the glacier.
We soon reached the mouth of ice tunnel. The wind was blowing fast and the temperature was around 0 degree. The tunnel had lights installed at various places. It was an experience like never before as we explored the nooks and crannies of the tunnel with our guide filling us on information about the tunnel. The highlight of the tunnel was an ice made chapel where people can get married. After wandering around the tunnel for a while, it was time to go back.
Next morning was our last day in Iceland. We were heading back to Reykjavik and our last stop was Iceland’s one of the biggest waterfall, Skógafoss. The force of the waterfall was quite heavy and it made people standing at the foot of it look like dummies. There is a camp site near the waterfall as well. On our way to waterfall, we picked up a Russian Couple who were hiking the entire of Iceland on foot which sounded daring and inspiring both at the same time, a perfect way to explore this beautiful and amazing landscape.
It was time to bid farewell to this amazing and beautiful country. We stayed people who treated us like their own; we explored the country like nomads wandering from one destination to another. Each day brought a new adventure to take, new places to discover, new people to meet. Iceland wasn’t just another travel destination, but an inspiration for both of us to keep exploring the unknown, keep traveling to places we have never been, and create a life that we witnessed over last 8- 10 days; a life rich with quality, well-being, and full of adventure.
This was the first of our travel adventure to a Nordic country but certainly not the last one. There is so much more waiting to be explored. With this and many great memories of our trip, we saw the last of Iceland as boarded our flight for Mumbai.
Until next time...for a new adventure :)