As one might expect from an island nation, water is the stuff of which nature and landscape is formed, but in Iceland it tends toward the extreme and dramatic. Massive glaciers blanket the mountain ranges of the inland center. Geothermal mudpots bubble and steaming geysers reach to the sky. Icebergs float in frigid lakes surrounded by snow-topped peaks. Naturally heated sundlags—hot springs and swimming pools—are gathering places of warmth. Hot water comes out of the faucets, environmentally designed to take advantage of the intense temperatures of Iceland’s underground natural resources.
“A waterfall every day,” my late sister-in-law, who visited Iceland a few years before me, quoted their tour guide. My son (and traveling partner) remembers asking someone once what an impressive waterfall’s name was, and he responded “Oh that? It’s not big enough to have a name.”
There were no warning signs or ropes barring the way at places that would likely be cordoned off in other countries. We could approach geysers spewing scalding spumes and other potentially dangerous sites without any restrictions. We interpreted the lack of barriers as a cultural statement, a national philosophy; the Icelanders trusted humans to use common sense in their actions.
In contrast to the heat of geothermal activity was the chill of ageless glaciers. Adam took a helicopter ride to join a high-altitude glacier trek.
We took a boat out on Glacier Lagoon, a small speck floating between natural white sculptures…
… and hiked over lava flows and soaked in serene hot springs.
Paying homage to some of the places we stayed on our journey and National Parks we visited—how many of them can you pronounce? Towns: Kirkjubæjarklaustur, Seyðisfjörður, Skútustaðir, Brekkulækur. National Parks: Vatnajökull, Snaefellsjökull, and þingvellir. (J sounds like Y; Jökull means glacier or ice cap.)
We cut across an inland road to avoid driving around the northeastern coastal route, which would have taken too long for us to keep to our two-week schedule; locals told us the road should be passable. The snow grew deeper and deeper as we climbed uphill and, with the ceaseless wind, near white-out conditions engulfed us. The road we had planned to turn on to head to the northern coast was closed, snowed out. We continued on; it was our only choice. The rental car was a small one with low clearance; we hadn’t thought we would need a four-wheel drive. Soon, there was a scraping noise coming from the bottom of the car. We pulled over and Adam squeezed underneath to find a plastic flap hanging down. He was able to hitch it back up, but this operation needed to be repeated several times until the downhill half of the route brought us to a small town. Armed with duct tape, my resourceful companion patched the flap and quiet returned to our drive. When we returned the rental car, we held our breath—they never checked under the car for damage so we didn’t incur any extra charges.
And a few more quiet places…
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