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Published: January 29th 2012
This is a very hard blog to write. Firstly because I went to Iceland half a year ago and secondly because, as a country, it has some of the most intensely difficult place names to remember how to say let alone spell. Therefore, it shall be a summary rather than a detailed review!
Nathan and I had wanted to go to Iceland for years but somehow Africa and Asia got in the way. It just seemed so random - so unique - so bizarre... A mere three hours away by plane would be a geological freak show protruding out of a split in the earth between the North American and European continents, isolated by thousands of miles of sea. Volcanic yet frozen, desolate yet rowdy, historic but new. We had to see it.
Because of our relatively obsessive interest in this small island we decided to "do it properly". To see the real Iceland we would pass up all of the great value deals Iceland air advertise on the underground every day for weekend trips to Reykjavik and spend more money than we did to go to Africa for a month so that we could hire a car and
drive the circumference of the island seeing as much as possible in 2 weeks. We decided to go as close to mid summer as we could (early July) so as to take the full benefit of near 24 hour sunlight and also so all of the island was accessible (in the winter some of the main roads are closed).
As with any trip to Iceland, our first stop was Reykjavik. We had met an Icelandic girl in Malawi who was passionate that we should come and visit but when we were there she was unavailable so set us up with her friend (who was also in Malawi but was otherwise engaged while we were there) to show us about the city. We had a fantastic night out with her and her friends which, like the sun, never dipped as we partied until 7am before getting a horrifically expensive cab back to our tent in the city campsite. Iceland is not cheap and to have any hope of getting through it without spending ALL our money, we camped as much as possible - thankfully all cities and towns in Iceland have a camp site although the rumour that they are
free seemed to be pretty unfounded! All of the pictures you can see below of our new friends were taken between 2 and 7 am showing the bizarre aspect of partying through a completely bright night!
We also saw the city by day which was very attractive if a little dull. The views from the top of the space ship like central church were as spectacular as the building's design! We then rented a car with a Kiwi who responded to our advert on the campsite notice board to share a trip around the "Golden Triangle" - Iceland's most popular tourist sites. They are possibly most popular because of their convenience to Reykjavik but that doesn't mean they are not impressive. The Geysir - from which all other hot springs take their name, Pingvellir, the site of Iceland's original parliament and the point of separation between the North American and European geological plates and Gulfoss - Iceland's most popular waterfall. The pictures of these will speak for themselves. Sadly, our attempts to go out on the Sunday merely highlighted the weekend centred aspect of Icelandic culture - it seems the Icelandics go in hard on a Friday and saturday
Who we met previously in Malawi
and are very prim and proper the rest of the week! Reykjavik was about as lively as a monastery during lent. So on the monday we picked up our VW Polo which cost us about 10% of the value of the car and set off into the nether knowing we'd have to travel at least 1000 miles to get back to where we started were we to keep up my firm commitment to Livingtone's mantra "I'll go anywhere as long as it's forward".
It's hard to remember any order to what happened during those 1600 miles as it eventually turned out due to detours, sprints up and down random peninsulas and un-Livingstonian retreats due to fear of disappearing down a Canyon or through a Glacier! So I shall simply list some highlights:
1) Stumbling across our first glacier and deciding we'd ignore the warning signs and scale a tiny corner of it so we could say we did. Obviously with no ice boots or experience we didn't get very far but I got a chance to drink some water from an ice block that had come out of God's freezer after a few million years!
scary nameless canyon which we scaled before risking our ankles having a race back down it.
3) Waterfalls. Ones almost as impressive as the famous Gulfoss would just appear without warning on the side of the road. Ridiculously dramatic and without fanfare, it was also a pleasant surprise to see one. We scaled one that somehow escaped pictures at 10pm at night as it looked like we could reach the top of it pretty easily. We reached the bit where the waterfall started but then realised that was only about half way up the canyon that the road dissected so we had to retreat as a storm developed and we realised it wasn't above us, we were actually IN it!
4) Isolation. Once we got a couple of hundred miles from the capital, things changed. There were barely any cars on the roads and even less tourists. We spent one day driving into a place we called Mordor. It had a longer name but it's resemblance to something out of Lord of the Rings made it easier for us to refer to it as that. We stayed in a camp site which bizarrely, in the middle of an
arid desert, sprung up from a couple of rivers to provide a "shire" type atmosphere from which we watched an incredible sunset-sunrise as a backdrop to a beautiful view of a far away mountain in the desolet interior. This was a truly amazing place. We also experienced the isolation later in the trip when we drove to the end of a peninsular in the North West on a a dirt road hundreds of miles long just to see what was there. On the way up was beautiful cove after beautiful cove as the road twisted and turned along cliffside and beaches. The picture of our car was taken at a campsite in one of these coves, the night we decided it was too cold and too late to get the tent up so we slept in our chairs that we had been in for 10 hours driving!! It was surprisingly comfortable. When we got to the end of the world there was a surprisingly sophisticated coffee shop and possibly the most beautiful waitress I've ever seen to serve us. She became known as end-of-the-earth girl and the subject of much fascination in our following conversation during the 10 hours to
drive back down the peninsular (Livingstone would be turning in his grave)!
We also tried to reach the most northerly point somewhere in the north east leaving our hotel room at 10pm thinking we could see some midnight sun. This was a horrible mistake as we entered the twilight zone with strange scarecrows scattering the deserted landscape and barely a sole to be see but houses that looked like something out of a Stephen King novel. When we eventually found the most northerly point was at the end of a road that our car DEFINITELY wouldn't make it down and had a sinister looking lighthouse at the end of it... Needless to say, at 12am we were not going to walk down that path! None the less, the bizarreness of midnight sun chasing into the back of beyond was exhilarating if a little unnerving!
5) Djupavik - An enchanting and isolated abandoned factory which served as a backdrop for a famous Sigur Ros music video and performance. Nathan was obsessed with going to see this. I didn't really see the point but once we were there it quickly became clear why it was so impressive. Built in the
fishing boom of the 1930s this building provided a livelihood for hundreds of islanders and their families before being deserted as fish stocks suddenly disappeared leaving behind a beautiful snapshot of history. It was eery whilst remaining inspiring and sat beneath a stunning waterfall which had been incorporated into the workings of the factory as Iceland's reputation for using renewable energy began. Once again, the photos speak for themselves.
6) The Glacier Lake. Simply one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen. We nearly missed it as we bombed around the ring road. Boy was I glad we didn't. See pictures.
Overall, doing this trip in the car was definitely worth it. To experience the true feelings of isolation that Iceland can inspire and to see sites that, in most other countries, would be considered national treasures and complete tourist traps every few miles round the rugged coast without any company was quite special. I cannot believe the car was accepted back without complaints as we bundled through gravel and stone roads that were clearly not suitable for this city runabout. At one stage the car started making noises that resembled a witch being
burnt at the steak which was disturbing to say the least and it became the noise of which we would not speak! Thankfully it didn't make it in the airport as we handed it back or there may have been trouble! Oh, and we went to the world famous Blue Lagoon. It was alright, kinda like a big swimming pool.
Iceland is an incredible country. Doing it how we did it would not be for everyone. It was tiring, expensive, uncomfortable and at times frightening. But it was worth it to feel like a true explorer, not having a clue what you were to see next. I feel privileged to have seen parts of the country that most tourists don't even get close to and to have done this all through being able to drive through the night as the sun barely set and being in total control of when and were we lay down our tent. A truly special trip.
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