The north of Iceland is a moody, stormy show of Mother Nature’s irritable side. We clambered out of the tour mini-bus greeted with a sheet of rain that smashed our faces, sprinted past the church and into Glaumbær farm historic turf house, which although dank and musty inside, was surprisingly warm, cozy,and insulated …or maybe it was just the contrast of the weather outside. Two dozen turistas and unsmall me shuffling down hallways meant for one individual at most was an exercise in mild claustrophobia, but the preserved history inside the rooms was so tangible–the pottery, the looms, the skates, the cookware, the beds, the wooden ladders and beams, all shockingly roomy for a fully enclosed warren; a time machine visit to what it might have been like for 3 or 4 families to live in such a place dating from the settlement of Iceland in 870 to the mid-20th century. We stepped outside chattering about it…faceful of rain in the teeth again. Some things are constant here.
Goðafoss, waterfall of the Gods. Typically don’t include tourists in my shots but there was no shaking these dudes they stood in front of everyone taking pics, oblivious, but hey, it’s their trip, too. Moreover, I’m not inclined to try and Photoshop out their turista bright colors against such a craggy outpost.
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.
Námafjall geothermal area, Northeast Iceland, vents steaming out of every crease in the land, indigo and blue bubbling mud ponds and bathes. That pile of rocks in the forefront–there were many–was hissing like a snake and the gusts were so hard, the steam blew out sideways and not up. An overwhelming stench of sulfur. Just over that steaming red Martian looking hill lies the Mývatn Nature Baths….an unevenly heated 1 acre pool that the locals hit up cheerfully and have since the time of the Vikings, knowing the entire place could go up any time this angry earth feels like it, but hey…hot spring plus cool pool plunge equals “less inflammation,” so say the locals.
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.
Deceptive, I was, tagging this picture with things like “waterfall” when, in fact, it’s clearly L’il House On the Prairie. But my point–and I do have one–is that sometimes when you’re visiting Iceland focused on waterfalls, you should turn around a bit a look behind you. The waterfall in this case was Seljalandsfoss in southern Iceland, the infamous falling water you can walk behind. I waited my turn in a long muddy line of tourists dressed in bright unnatural hues and and getting soaked. When I walked behind the falls, I looked out and saw this lonely farmhouse, looking like an obscured 19th century oil painting beyond the moving water. And I saw the odd, tall grass. And in the very far distance I saw glaciers and knew I wasn’t in Kansas.