✓ Goal #8) Travel to Iceland

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.)

✓ Goal #83) Witness a Volcanic Eruption

My first glimpse of Eyjafjallajökull came just as my airplane began its descent into Keflavík airport in Iceland.

In the distance I could see the dark plume of ash rising into the blue sky. Even from afar, it was an awesome spectacle to behold. The hundred or so miles between us did little to diminish the majesty of witnessing a volcanic eruption for the very first time.

I decided that before anything else during my stay in Iceland, I’d pay a visit to Eyjafjallajökull.

The tour guide picked me up from my hostel around 8:30 that night and we began our two hour drive from Reykjavík to the volcano. Though I hadn’t slept in nearly 30 hours, the excitement of seeing the eruption up close kept me wide awake.

When we finally reached the foot of the volcano, we were unable to see much of anything because clouds had begun to form around the summit. I was literally standing on the volcano and I couldn’t see anything. I could hear some soft rumbling coming from above but other than the thick layer of fresh volcanic ash I was standing in, there were no signs of a volcano was erupting only a short distance away.

The guide decided to try another spot.

We drove along a bumpy dirt road around the other side of the mountain and as we approached, the sky began to change from white clouds to a thick, dark mass in the sky. It was Eyjafjallajökull. We parked the truck and began to hike to the summit of a nearby hill where we could watch the eruption. When we reached the top, the ash plume had swallowed the valley below and swirls of light and dark mixed at the peak of the volcano.

It was nearly midnight and the sun had finally dipped below the horizon. The slowly dimming sky was darkened even more by the eruption and as we watched the ash being pumped into the atmosphere, a streak of orange lightning flashed through the dark plume … then again.

The guide had one more surprise for me; a trip directly into the cloud of ash that was choking the valley below.

The ash fell like rain from the sky and the deeper into the cloud we drove, the darker it became. Eventually we reached the point where it was no longer possible to see the road in front of us and the world around us became pitch black. We were in the middle of Eyjafjallajökull’s rage. This was the same ash cloud that was driving local farmers from their land and the same ash that had stopped all European air travel.

A destructive force of our planet yet, in this moment, strangely peaceful and quiet.

Click Here to see photos from my visit to Eyjafjallajökull.