My first country abroad by myself! I chose to escape to this country first because, not only have I only heard nothing but magical things about this strange and beautiful island, but because it was the cheapest one-way ticket I could find out of the States, which is actually the primary determiner for the destinations I choose! This is because I want to see it all (eventually) and am in no rush for who comes first! Plus, I've heard it's a great country to get your feet wet with the whole traveling solo abroad ordeal, because it's an incredibly safe country with friendly people, and just about everyone can understand English (a plus for us spoiled, lazy Americans). I stayed here for a little over two weeks starting at the end of May, 2018, and it was AMAZING! I stayed with my sweet and wonderful host, Helgi, who is also an artist and talented musician, and I was so fortunate to get to learn more about his country through him. I stayed in the little town of Selfoss, which is pretty centrally located in the southwest region of the island, and I spent my entire time here getting to know the southern half of the country.
Iceland is an incredibly mossy place! It's an extremely rainy region of the world and therefore provides a very moist, (but also cold) tundra environment that's perfect for this type of moss that thrives off the volcanic lava that coats the island. Helgi told me that Iceland used to be covered in forests many centuries ago, but as the Vikings and other settlers came to the island over time, they ended up cutting all the trees down at one point, not realizing that because of the harsh climate of Iceland, it actually takes decades for trees to grow back. It's one of the reasons the land seems rather barren, and now as you drive through the country, you will pass many tree farms with their many dainty little trees doing their best to grow big and strong again, one day.
One of the many reasons people often compare Iceland to some completely new and strange planet is because of the bizarre rock formations and coloring of the earth as a result of centuries of volcanic eruptions that have shaped the land over time.
First waterfall excursion.. Seljalandsfoss! Foss translates to waterfall in Icelandic, so you'll be hearing of a lot of "fosses" here since the land is covered with them. I was lucky to have met some cool new friends during my first few days here, and they had an extra seat in their car for some adventuring, and this waterfall was our first stop! It was so beautiful because you could also walk behind the waterfall, and my favorite part of course was all the moss that thrived from the ongoing mist of the waterfall! Though, I did wish I had brought a rain jacket with me..
Our next waterfall was Skógafoss! The moss around this one was especially vibrant, and we loved watching the little sheep families enjoy the tasty greenery as well. This waterfall was cool because you could also go up the many (and exhausting) stairs to see the top of the waterfall and the glacial run-off that fed it. It was stunning.
After some waterfall action, we took a little detour to the tiny town of Keldur to see some hobbit-like houses. It wasn't really a town, actually, just a tiny church that could fit about seven people, and these cool little mossy structures. These ones are no longer in use, of course, but they are very medieval and beautiful to look at. Every now and then you will see these little earth covered homes in the hills or up against cliffs while driving through the country, and they're always a treasure to spot.
Reynisfjara Beach, also known as the Black Sand Beach, was an amazing display of how lava can shape the earth into its own abstract work of art. These staircase-like cliffs, for example, were a result of lava flowing into the vertical cracks of the earth at one point in time, and over the years, the top portions would break off to give it this jagged appearance. SO COOL!
Thingvellir National Park
I don't know if you know this (because I didn't) but Iceland is situated right where the European and North American tectonic plates converge in the ocean. It was actually how the island was formed in the first place, after centuries of volcanic eruptions and lava thrusting up from the two plates battling it out over time. In fact, the island expands about two centimeters every year because of how active the fault line is. Thingvellir National Park is famous because you can see where the two plates meet. Above is a picture of some of the aftermath of some converging action happening over time, and below you can see some more lava formation and sculpting in the jagged cliffs.
The water everywhere is so clear and blue! I loved starting my hikes with an empty bottle, because you can always rely on running across some fresh glacial water to indulge in.
Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River
Yes, another result of being situated on a super active fault line is the wonderful occurrence of geothermal energy! This means environmentally and cost friendly geothermal heating for the inhabitants of Iceland, and more importantly, an excess of hot spring action! The only downside is the smell of sulfur the hot, geothermal water gives off, and you even have it when using the hot water in your home. But I guess you eventually get used to the smell of rotting eggs when taking a hot shower.. after a while.
The Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River was my first hot spring adventure, and one of my favorite hikes. Every little pool of water you crossed during the hike was boiling and steaming up into the brisk air, and it was so otherworldly and beautiful to see. Luckily, the actual river you get to bathe in at the end of a long hike was at a perfect temperature to relax in!
The Geysir park is a pretty famous tourist destination. The largest pool is actually titled Geysir and is what defined the actual term "geysir" that we still use today for all geysirs that exist in the world! It's like the mother of all geysirs. This one was fun because every several minutes, enough pressure builds up at the bottom of the pool, since it's actually a naturally occuring geothermal vent the comes up from deep into the earth, and the whole pool explodes high into the air once enough pressure builds up! I wasn't patient enough to stand around like everyone else with my phone held up for several minutes to snag a picture of it in mid-air, but it was really amazing to see in person.
Gullfoss is one of the largest and most popular waterfalls to see in all of Iceland. Make sure to bring a raincoat when you see it, because I of course didn't! Certainly worth the getting soaked part, though.
Kerið was one of the most visually and colorfully stunning locations we went to. It's actually a volcanic crater that filled up with water over time to become this beautiful, milky blue lake. Apparently Björk, who is from Iceland, played a concert on a raft in the middle of this lake one time!
Seltún Geothermal Area
Seltún Geothermal Area was another incredibly beautifully stunning park we went to. Helgi actually took me to this one, as it's one of his favorite places to go. And yes, the amount of sulfur steam in the air was overwhelming. I'll never get over that stench, but it was still worth it to witness.
Of course I had to take a break from the beautiful countryside and check out the capital of Reykjavík. I was actually a very eclectic, colorful city to explore with amazing street art, funky coffee shops, and a ton of touristy viking shops that were equally as entertaining
Well that's about it for now! I had a short and sweet, but oh so amazing two weeks spent in Iceland! A big thank you to all the kind and wonderful people I met along the way, and especially to my sweet host, Helgi. As a parting gift, he gave me what he called a "lava bomb," and it's a rock that is formed during a volcanic eruption. As a volcano is erupting, rocks will begin to fall into the lava center, and will shoot back out into the open and into the surrounding mud and dirt. So you have this rock in the center, with a coat of magma around it, and it is often preserved as a little ball or "bomb" in the mud. When you find them, they're usually in a little ball and you can crack the side of it to reveal the rock within the magma rock. So cool! Helgi even showed me his secret location where you can find these, because they're rather rare to discover.
The next time I come to this beautiful country, I can't wait to explore the northern half! It actually only takes about six hours to drive from one end of the coast to the other, so it's not as large of a country as you would think. It would also be amazing to come back at a time where you can actually see the northern lights. One day!
Thanks for reading! I'll also try to post art I make while in each place. >>>