When most people think of exotic locations, they think of islands hidden deep in the South Pacific, not somewhere where the sun doesn’t exist during the winter and never disappears in the summer. Iceland is a rugged and unforgivable island, created in a place where the earth is literally tearing itself apart. The wind never stops howling across the landscape and ten percent of the country is forever covered in a blanket of ice. “Exotic” doesn’t typically include eating foods like rotten shark fin or boiled sheep head.
Nothing seems more enticing than all of the things mentioned above, except maybe the food. That’s why traveling to Iceland had been at the top my list of destinations for quite a while. It may not be the typical vacation destination but that’s exactly why I wanted to travel there. What the island has to offer is a unique opportunity to experience a culture a little different from my own, to witness some of the most spectacular natural views the world has to offer and immerse myself in the natural conflict of what has become known as “The Land of Fire and Ice.”
As the plane descended into Keflavík Airport, I watched Eyjafjallajökull on the horizon spewing ash into the sky. The land below was barren and scabrous, covered in black volcanic rocks from ancient eruptions. For a moment it felt as though the plane was about to touch down on another planet.
For the next week of my life, this was home.
The bus ride into Reykjavík confirmed what I’d seen from the sky. Everywhere I looked the landscape seemed devoid of life. Like the flower that pushes its way through a crack in the sidewalk, tiny villages of brightly colored homes sprouted out of the black earth surrounding them. As the bus approached Reykjavík, the small communities began to condense until it was impossible to distinguish one town from the next.
After a bus transfer at the main station, I arrived at my hostel in downtown Reykjavík. On the counter was a pile of propaganda promoting tours to visit Eyjafjallajökull. I could accomplish my goal of witnessing a volcanic eruption so I scheduled a tour for that night and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering about the streets of Reykjavík, waiting until it was time to see the volcano.
The rest of the week I went on tours and different excursions around the southwestern peninsula of Iceland. I went whale watching in Faxaflói Bay where I saw Minke Whales surface and dive down into the cold North Atlantic waters. Bottlenose dolphins played in the distance. I took the Golden Circle Tour and saw Þingvellir, Gullfoss, Geysir and Strokkur. I visited the famed Blue Lagoon, relaxing in the chalky blue water and ate reindeer at the Lava Restaurant.
My trip to Iceland was fantastic and I wouldn’t change a single moment. By the time the week was over I was ready to go home but sad to be leaving. It’s obvious I need far more time in Iceland than just a week. I’d like to take at least two weeks so I can road trip around the Ring Road and see the rest of the country.
It’s an amazing place and I can’t wait to go back. (Update: And I did go back, briefly, on my way back from London last Fall. I plan to visit again.)