Ever since I was a teenager I loved photography. I loved taking pictures and developing them. I used to take my camera with me wherever I went. I also used to read a lot about photography . At the start of every month I used to gather up all the small coins laying around the house and go to a kiosk and buy a brand new issue of magazine about photography. I had so many of them! I always flipped through the pages to see photos taken by famous photographers. If something caught my eye I would study photos thoroughly and read all about them.
I especially loved nature photography.
In one of the issues there was an article about photographer who took surreal-looking pictures of Iceland’s nature at night, illuminating it with spotlights. It was at that time I decided that a I will have to visit this strange place at least once in my lifetime and maybe even take some pictures of its landscapes.
A lot of years passed since then and I forgot all about that dream. I was focused on finishing my bachelor and finding a job. Just before finishing my thesis I had to take a break from my studies and rethink my way of living. I wasn’t happy with how things were going. Right at that time I discovered a joy of backpacking – and rediscovered my love for photography. My friend moved to Iceland not long after that and I felt like an opportunity of crossing one of the things in my bucket list presented itself. There was only one issue – Iceland is on the more expensive side of traveling destinations while students all around the world are not known for their wealth and riches. But if there is a problem there must be solution.
Some sacrifices had to be made in order to pay travel expenses. I sold my Magic the Gathering card collection (anyone who has this kind of hobby knows too well how difficult and hearth-breaking it was) and most of my board games and bought tickets to Keflavik. I was off to the mysterious place called Iceland.
Day 1: Landing in Iceland
I landed in Iceland on 30th of August, late at night. Couldn’t see much at the time, but what struck me first was the color and shape of the ground near the airport. It was rough and edgy, black with little spots of green and brown. The sight was outlandish to me.
My friend picked me up from the airport in a rented car. She had a map full of red and black dots as well as other markings. She looked at me as she laid down the plan: „2500km in 6 and a half days. “.
Since it was dark and you couldn‘t see much we decided to find a spot to camp over the night.
Day 2: Reykjanes Geopark and Golden circle
On the second day we decided to check out Reykjanes UNESCO Geopark. Park itself was magnificent: the raging ocean, the waves relentlessly beating stony black shore, fishing boats stranded in a middle of lava fields, a bridge connecting North American and Eurasian plates and, of course, this distinctive smell of rotten eggs – of the sulphur fields. All I could think while exploring this stunning landscape was that this place was truly foreign to me.
Later that day we visited Kerid Crater – a volcanic crater lake. The most impressive thing about it was the combination of colours. Crater itself was red with glimpses of grey here and there. Light green moss could be seen everywhere. Water was crystal clear, as blue as the sky. What a sight to behold! Later I found out that colour scheme changes drastically as the seasons go by.
This marked the start of our journey through the Golden Circle – sort of a must-see route for tourists.
Day 3: The Hot Spring episode
We spend the night in a cozy little campsite near Geysir geyser and continued our journey the next day.
Not much to say about Golden Circle – the pictures speak for themselves: beautiful scenery, stunning waterfalls, breathtaking mountains.
Towards the end of our trip through the Golden circle we stopped to shower and relax at a hot spring spa (“Secret Lagoon”), located in the little town of Flúðir. This was my first time bathing in hot springs. Once you get used to the smell of sulphur, it’s everything you’ve ever dreamed, especially after two days of constant driving and sleeping in a car. The place was really nice, clean and tidy – and on the cheap end, too (only 15000 isk). The rest of the day was spent mostly driving, with only a couple of stops here and there.
When the sun started to set and it was getting dark, we spotted a strange crevasse. The information board told the story of a troll who had lived there long ago. Naturally, we decided to check it out and say hello to the inhabitants. Sadly, we only found some napping seagulls.
Day 4: Westfjords
I had trouble sleeping for the first time in a while. Strong gusts of wind kept rocking our car during night and the sounds of thunder and rain were our constant companions. We woke up early with a long way ahead of us. Destination – Westfjords. A cup of coffee, some buckwheat with pesto for breakfast, and we were on our way.
We only stopped a couple of times on the way to Westfjords as it was raining for the most of the day. Our goal was to reach Rauðasandur beach (Red Sands beach) and Dynjandi waterfall before sunset. The way there was amazing. We were riding across foggy mountains scarred with streams and waterfalls. Fog would sometimes clear out for a brief moment to reveal breath-taking landscapes.
Our first stop was Dynjandi waterfall. Can’t tell what was more magnificent, the waterfall or the bay its waters rushed to.
Bjargtangar lighthouse was the next stop. our car had to climb steep slopes in order to reach it and time was not on our side, since dusk was fast approaching. The whole way there was strange, uneasy. Fog and clouds clung to the ground and our car while the sun was setting rapidly.
We found a lot of old ships that had been dragged ashore, and even a wreck of an US Navy plane – a remnant of past just gathering rust in the middle of nowhere.
The remains of an old fishing village near the sea shore showed no visible human presence.
We decided to head back and it got really dark, really fast. Because of the road conditions and the fog we decided to find a place to spend the night. Initially, we wanted to camp at a campsite near Rauðasandur beach, but it was too dark and too risky to drive there. Our car ran into some problems, too.
We were running out of options, so we decided to camp at an abandoned work site. all these heavy duty construction vehicles ever so slightly visible through the endless wall of fog, abandoned and slowly giving in to the passage of time and the elements. This reminded me of every Stephen King book I had ever read.
Day 5: Back to Reykjavik
After visiting Rauðasandur beach, we started heading back to Reykjavik. It was still raining and super foggy. We picked up our first hitchhiker on our way to Seljalandsfoss. He was a really friendly guy, it’s a shame our ways parted soon after, since he was heading in a different direction right after Seljalandsfoss.
After that, we went to the secret hot springs for a soak and some relaxation after a long way on a road and no shower for three days. It was just what we needed that evening.
Day 6: Egilsstaðir
Had to wake up really early – again as we had long road ahead of us – again.
Our first stop was Reynisfjara beach. The weather was perfect – rain, strong winds and more fog, Though it added some mystique to it: huge black cliffs with small spots of green moss, black sand as far as the eye can see (not all the far honestly because of the fog) and waves breaking on the shore and slowly ebbing away. Got to say, this was one of the most impressive beaches I had ever seen. My pants were soaked after about 10 minutes outside and all I could think of was how to dry off as fast as possible. We headed to our next destination with windshield heaters blasting at full force.
Next up was Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. It was still pouring when we got there, but it was still something! The raw energy of the waterfall and river it formed mesmerized me. Didn’t spent too much time there either due to the weather.
After I changed my soaking wet pants, we went for a hike in Skaftafell National Park to check out the glaciers. We weren’t even halfway to through when we met this sweet couple on their way back. They told us that they weren’t able to see the glaciers due to – you guessed it – FOG! They wished us better luck and said they hoped it would clear up for us. And it did! It wasn’t raining anymore either! The view from the mountaintop was both breathtaking and troubling at the same time: mighty glaciers slowly melting away, forming seemingly endless river hiding its mouth somewhere down the horizon. The hike itself was really nice and the view from the mountaintop was magnificent. We took a different route down and it was worth it. Really a must see when traveling in Iceland. We drank some coffee at the park’s cafe and continued our adventure.
There was a beach on the other side of the road near the lagoon. This one was different. Huge pieces of ice were scattered all across the coast. I just had to check that out! My friend decided to stay in the car this time. Before I could take off I was warned: Icelandic waves are not something to be messed with. Each year they take lives of tourists who approach them carelessly. “What a way to go” I thought to myself, and a shiver ran down my spine. This was our last stop for the day.
The road to Egilsstaðir was long but there weren’t many cars on the road. We drove until sunset, and the weather kept getting worse and worse. Soft and soothing rain turned to buckets of water just pouring on our car. Even the A1 road betrayed us at this point. It turned from nice, flat and paved to a gravel road full of holes. The worst thing was that we had to drive like this up a steep mountain, completely surrounded by fog, with only our headlights illuminating the way. What a nerve-racking experience that was! But, to my surprise, the driver stayed focused and kept her cool (my friend was driving at that time).
Just as we were descending a rescue vehicle passed us by in a rush. Someone, somewhere was in trouble. What a relief it was to be safe and sound, out of the fog and down from the mountain.
And I caught a glimpse of it, one of the reasons I came to Iceland for, in the corner of my eye! It was! It was something I always dreamed of seeing one day: aurora borealis! Words cannot describe how magnificent it was. It was everything I’ve ever imagined it to be and more! We pulled the car over and watched as it danced in the night sky. From what I heard later, it was a really strong one, too. Too bad clouds had cleared up only for a brief moment for us to enjoy it.
After that we finally reached Egilsstaðir and its campsite. We were beat.
Day 7: Can’t get tired of those! And a forest
After a really long and good night’s sleep we continued our journey. This was the last day we were traveling together and the last day we had a car.
Our first stop was Seydisfjordur. It’s a cozy little town surrounded by mountains. People who choose to travel to Iceland by ferry end up here. Not much else can be said about it.
The lack of forests was what struck me the most while traveling. Most trees here were only chest high. However, that part of Iceland is known for having the largest forest in whole Iceland. It was nothing compared to the ones we have at home, but a welcome and impressive sight nonetheless. And we chose a perfect time to see it, too: Autumn was just setting in and the leaves were already starting to change colour.
Our next stop really took me by surprise. We were driving for a while and finally reached a small cozy looking cabin atop of a mountain. It was the Faugarfell hot springs! We quickly changed our clothes and dipped right in! The water was nice and warm, and the view was fantastic. You could see a waterfall running down a huge cliff on one side , and snowy mountain tops on the other.
Dettifoss was the last stop of the day – it’s said to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. And it is truly a sight to behold.
We didn’t spend much time there, since it was getting dark really fast and we still had a long way to go.
On the way home my friend asked me if I was up for one last adventure. I was hesitant at first, but was promptly convinced. We took a detour from the main road and drove on gravel road for a while. It got completely dark by the time we reached the place. We got out of the car and slowly but surely headed to the only way we could see. We climbed atop of a small cliff and there it was – Dettifoss illuminated by moonlight and roaring with all its might . We were on the other side of it.
It was time to head to Reykjahlíð.
I spent couple of days hitchhiking around lake Mývatn.
There I visited Dimmuborgir, the famous lava formations.
I also climbed atop of a Hverfjall crater and explored the sulfur fields.
I also spent some time wandering around the town of Reykjahlíð.
I met a lot of really friendly and helpful people, locals and tourists alike, while hitchhiking. Everyone was super nice, relaxed, willing to chat and eager to share their stories.
It was a really pleasant experience. I was traveling alone for the first time in a while and it felt refreshing. I had a lot of time to think about my life and all the things that led to this journey. I was happy. I was in love.
Day 10-11: Reykjavik
I didn’t even notice it, but it was time to say goodbye to Reykjahlíð and Mývatn. I packed my things and left for Reykjavik.
My first impression of Reykjavik was that it is grey and boring. It was nothing compared to the nature I had previously seen. I was disappointed.
The first thing I wanted to do here was to eat, and not just anything – I wanted junk food. KFC to be precise. So me being me, I walked 5.4 km with my huge backpack for some KFC. It was delicious and I had no regrets. I bought some beer on the way back to the hotel, left my stuff there and went out to do some exploring.
Apparently Reykjavik wasn’t so grey after all. I found a lot of really beautiful street art all around the city. I
tried to meet some locals via Couchsurfing, but I had no luck there. Such a shame.
After some more walking I decided to head back home. Drank my beer and went to bed.
The only local who I really talked to was the guy working in the guesthouse I was staying at. He was super friendly and helpful. Again, really nice guy. Guesthouse (Igdlo Guesthouse) was really good, too. Rooms and bathrooms were clean and tidy, and the place is really close to the city center and the bus station!
The next day I still had plenty of time before my flight so I decided to explore the city a little more.
I visited the local cemetery. It looked like some sort of park at first, with a lot of old and tall trees (probably the tallest I’ve seen in Iceland).
There was also a really nice church nearby.
Since I still had some time to kill, I visited the Penis museum. It was… interesting to say the least. I had never seen an exhibition like this. I guess it was worth a visit.
Another place I visited was a board game shop called “Nexus”. The store itself was amazing, with a huge selection of various geeky goodies. The staff were super friendly too.
After that I headed to the bus station and to my plane. I was going back home.
Last part: How I fell in love
After my trip is over, I feel like Iceland was everything I hoped for and dreamed about during my teenage years. It was all that and more. Much, much more.
During my last few days in Iceland I really didn’t feel like leaving. I was in love. For a moment I considered staying there, finding a job, doing whatever it takes to enjoy this strange and outlandish place a little longer. I talked myself out of it eventually. Not until I figure out what made me feel this way.
Even now, while I’m sitting here, writing this post I feel like I’m missing something. I keep asking myself was it the stunning and otherworldly nature, people I met along the way or people I traveled with that made me feel the way I do. Maybe it was that sense of endlessness or freedom. Maybe the adventure itself.
I still have this bittersweet sense of longing the time I’ve spent there and can’t quite put my finger on what exactly I’m longing for.
Here you can find a map from this trip with all the locations on the map: Iceland travel map
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