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Published: October 17th 2013
The sun is becoming increasingly bashful as winter begins to take hold in the Arctic. Iceland's days are getting shorter at the alarming rate of eight minutes per day, and the shortest day of the year is fast approaching on 21 December, when there will be just four hours of daylight. At this time of year the sun begins to rise to a respectable level in the sky, and just as quickly decides it's time to duck back down under the horizon. This has led to an interesting dilemma when it comes to photography, as my shadow is always wanting to make an appearance, somewhat akin to an uninvited guest at a party. Normally the last thing I want to see in my photos is yours truly, but in Iceland my shadow has started to become a genuine problem child! This dilemma requires the strategic use of angles and camera position to be rid of my ubiquitous and bothersome shadow, but once that has been achieved budding photograghers can't go wrong in this wild and beautiful country.
The journal continues, dear reader, from where we left off at the conclusion of a magnificent tour of the south, with it's glorious
glaciers and glacier lagoons. I'm fortunate to be based in the superb Kex Hostel in this compact island country, from where I can head off on all manner of adventures during the day. Then I can come home to relax with the friendly guests and staff at the hostel. It takes a lot of the stress out of travelling, and makes for a relaxing and enjoyable experience. The first tour I booked was to Reykjanes peninsula in the southwest of the country, and not far out of Reykjavik. The bonus of doing this tour is that it incorporates the legendary Blue Lagoon situated close to Keflavik airport, so travellers get to kill two birds with one stone. The highlands landscape of the peninsula couldn't be more stark than in the south. It's also an extremely active area for volcanic activity, but so dry and uninhabitable the area is actually classified as a desert. No wildlife can survive in this terrain, there's no trees or vegetation, and the rugged hillsides are covered in black gravel or perhaps lava rocks from previous eruptions. Iceland is classified as having only 2% trees, 2% vegetation, and surprisingly 33% desert. In fact Iceland is home
to the only desert in Europe. The country really has it all, but the harshness of the climate, the volcanic activity, earthquakes due to the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates pulling apart, and finally the brutal North Atlantic ocean where the fishing industry plies their trade make life tough for Icelanders.
The Reykjanes tour features stunning coastline, where we got to climb the cliff tops and enjoy the stunning scenery on a perfect autumn day. We were surprised to see our guide taking photos at the crater lake, as he mentioned even when it's sunny there's often very strong winds in the region. We got to witness the crater lake as smooth as glass, in itself a rare occurrence. Geologists have informed the locals an eruption is due from the most active volcano in the region, with lava reaching the region's capital in twenty minutes. Our guide informed us lava flows at an alarming seventy kilometres per hour, and the residents go through multiple evacuation drills to ensure everyone will be out within the critical time period.
The drill also includes children, and it's sobering to consider the mortal threat these people live under on
a daily basis. However, Icelanders are rated amongst the happiest in the world, and they would not change a thing. At around 4:00pm we ended up at the surreal Blue Lagoon, one of the most famous tourist destinations in Iceland. We had two and a half hours at the geothermal spa to bathe in the regenerative waters, at a temperature between 37- to 39 degrees celsius. The water is full of the minerals silica and sulphur, and an obligatory mud mask should not be missed. Everything is very well organised, with a wrist band used to purchase a beer while in the bathing area, and mandatory showers before and after entering the water. It's all powered by the nearby power plant, and one of the best experiences a traveller can have. Our guide drove us back to respective hostels after enjoying the Blue Lagoon's recuperative powers, to conclude another great fun day.
The next day I booked the Golden Circle tour, another very popular day tour out of Reykjavik. We drove an hour and a half through spectacular volcanic terrain, and got a close up view of the volcano that sent Europe's air traffic into total chaos in 2010.
There has actually been a larger eruption in Iceland since then, but the heavier ash and volcanic rocks dropped back to earth on that occasion, instead of drifting over European skies. It seems there is never a dull moment in Iceland. Our first stop was the Strokkur geyser, which shoots water up to 30 metres into the air followed by an explosive release of steam. It's really unique, and unlike anything I've witnessed. The tour pushed on to the nearby Gullfoss waterfall, the most voluminous in Europe. We were blessed with perfect weather, and the mighty falls featured a gorgeous rainbow to complete the effect. Waterfalls are marvellous, and I can never seem to get enough of them. The tour concluded with a visit to the geological wonder of Pingvellir National Park, where we viewed the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which are pulling apart at the rate of two centimetres a year. The people of Iceland seem to be at the mercy of nature in a potentially violent and hostile environment, yet maintain a deep love of their beautiful island home.
The last few days I've been based in lovely Reykjavik, relaxing around the hostel with the
guests and going out at night to sample a bit of the nightlife. The city is so calm and peaceful, in fact Iceland does not have an army and crime is virtually non existent. Travellers could be forgiven for thinking they have arrived in some kind of tranquil paradise ... until the next volcano erupts! I can't recall such a fascinating and intriguing travel destination, basically all of you should be here now!
"Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting." Ralph Waldo Emerson
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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