The tour minibus drove up and down and around the northern fjords of Iceland, somewhere west of the fishing village of Akureyri, beyond lunar landscapes and into these pleasing patterned landscapes that felt like models for black and white images, but I bleached them cool and let them be. We looked at blacked volcano cinder cones on the horizon, but this little field was littered with sleepy sheep, and the snow came down twirling on the random gusts and stuck to our faces. An Iceland moment? Maybe. It could’ve been anywhere that snows, I s’spose, but I cherished it anyway.
One 3 kilometer hike in Northeast Iceland up,up,up. Check. Two major waterfalls: Hengifoss at the top, Litlanesfoss in the middle; you can see both in earlier blog posts here. And finally this sad, little throwaway waterfall at the bottom of the trail, and by the time I’d come back down it was raining like hell, stormy, big gusts throwing water sideways. Fact: Iceland is rife with throwaway waterfalls and drama queen weather that would be major hiking attractions back home. Get here to this geological baby of an island, folks.
Djúpivogur, the tiny fishing village and childhood home of our Ring Road tour guide Biggi. For this shot, he drove the fan up onto an overlook hill and we stared out at a quintessential Icelandic fishing village, pointing out the colorful buildings
the black one has bathrooms” and “there’s an antique shop where you can find stuff my grandma makes”. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to meet the local legend “Yan the Blacksmith” as his place was under construction, though we could see the sculptures outside his place. And we saw the row of rock bird egg sculptures on the harbor – top notch work. Must be interesting for Biggi to live in West Iceland and yet his work takes him repeatedly to the opposite side of the island to say hello to his Mom and family and friends he grew up with every few weeks Anyhow, jeez, lookit those insane clouds, will ya? Iceland, people. Get here.
Alliteration with -sh-. The irony wasn’t lost on us as we dined on the best lamb of my life in this tiny hotel in South Iceland, as we looked out the restaurant’s picture window at this spectacular sunrise the next morning. One of the sheep seemed to be saying, “‘Arold’s being eaten!” True, but he was delicious. There are more sheep than people in Iceland, so thinning the herds a bit isn’t the worst. Plus that sunrise!
We strapped on the crampons, swung the ice axes, ambled up Falljokull, the lava dirt outlet glacier of the mighty Vatnajökull glacier and looked deep into the valley of the mountain’s throat, its tiny meadow-like green patch that would make for difficult golf, the slopes in the far background that seemed almost Shangri-la, with a kind of mist that hung over them in the on an off sprinkle of rain. It was a contrast in earthtones, so I snapped it. Think I’m happy. “The glacier melts are always cycling forward and back,” said our UK glacier guide, “but in the past 5 years since I’ve been leading these hikes, they’re receding much much faster than any of us have ever seen before.” He paused, nimbly avoiding the hot stone topic of why. “It’s kind of sad, really.” You have to be here, in Iceland, in the Himalayas, in Tanzania–anywhere outside–and be surrounded on all sides by this kind of landscape to feel dread at the possibility that it might slip away in ours or our children’s lifetime.
We unloaded the minibus to 30-50 mph wind gust hammering rain sideways into our faces, and as we tromped a couple kilometers through a flat lava debris field, we could hear mighty Dettifoss of northeast Iceland, said by Icelanders to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. A waterfall that incidentally had a notable cameo in the opening of the movie Prometheus as the Engineer swallowed some bad alien juju that ate him from the inside out standing over Detti’s waters. The water was roaring beneath the gloomy canopy of clouds, and I took some super telephoto shots of people who made the trek down slippery rocks to get sheeted by the falls down on the cliff closest to them ; I chose to go the high-looking-down route. Wunnerful watery stuff, people. Get to Iceland.
Litlanesfoss is oft overlooked by tourists intent on hiking 3km up to the mighty Hengifoss at the top, but it shouldn’t really, what all with those mighty basalt columns framing the lower waterfall. Honestly, they kinda look like blue whale baleen to me, but I’ve been accused of having a hyperactive imagination. Anyhow, the weather poured random rain on us, so getting a snap of this l’il guy was an exercise in cover-wipe-shoot-wipe again.
“I’m number 3, Mom!” So says Hengifoss with not a little irony, lauding herself for being the 3rd highest waterfall in Iceland, located in the northeast interior. Do waterfalls have an identifiable gender? The parking lot was overloaded, and our guide Biggi said he was surprised there were this many tourists this far east. We had 60 minutes, so I hauled ass out of the minibus and sprinted up the trail, hauling up the 25 lb camera bag slung over my back, using my three legged tripod as a proxy hiking stick. Crossed somewhat treacherous algae strewn slippy rocks over a creek, slogged through mud, waited for an Argentinian tour group to clear the field of view, snapped a photo. Well….a helluva lotta photos, tbh. The view didn’t suck.
The Icelandic language is the closest Nordic language to the old Norse of the Viking, as the other Scandinavian countries have customized it to nigh unrecognizable. Fine. We elevate and climb to the top of the unpronounceable church Hallgrímskirkja, we look out on the houses of Reyjkavik, the capital city that holds two thirds of Iceland’s entire population. I pull out the kind of gigantic lens that makes everyone in the church tower raise their eyebrows, jab it through the narrow slot between stone columns, and I flatten the vivid colored houses that I can only assume the Icelanders paint to brighten spirits in lengthy winters with 4 hours of daylight. Mission accomplished.
Some two years after staggering through the Scotland wilds, the girl and I went northward to the land of volcanic fire and glacial calm. Thus begins the Iceland photo journey, and in Sept 2018, we–like many of the 2MM annual tourists visiting a country of roughly 300K folks–went to the Blue Lagoon. We paid the pretty penny to wade languidly around geothermal plant wastewater and cover our faces in a pleasant silica mud, and by God, we enjoyed the classy experience of it all. TIP: Go early near opening time, and you avoid the hordes that eventually swarm the place.