There are so many places now where authenticity has all but dissolved and souvenir stalls set up. On most occasions, thrifters will appear in front of you bearing umbrellas before the rain has even come. You realise how many pointless gadgets they will attempt to sell you and begin to wonder where the hell their boss gets this stuff from. They share the ability, collectively, to turn a beautiful part of the world into a slightly less beautiful part of the world with a ton of persistent and negotiable salesmen. But, alas, there exists a place; outside the realms of selfie-sticks and fridge magnets, of flight paths by all popular airlines and outside normal daylight hours. Welcome to Iceland.
So there you are flying into Reykjavik still unable pronounce it correctly and sounding like you’ve just been injected with tranquilliser. Outside the plane window, the mountains rest calmly beneath blankets of snow, separated by oceans of deep blue and glaciers of transparent white. The wheels touch down and the sun has only just begun to set; the clock only just ticking past midnight. Meanwhile, you start to notice that majority of the other tourists on your plane will bunk up in Reykjavik. There, they will spend their few day stopover within the comforts of a well-insulated, four star hotel where they can catch several tour buses with their own personalised driver and tour guide to chaperon them through some of Iceland’s more-accessible tourist spots. Whilst good for the Icelandic economy it’s hard to really appreciate Iceland’s true beauty from behind the heads of sixty other tourists, fifteen photographers, four tripods and three luxury coaches. My recommendation? Hire a van, borrow a map with the intention of not giving it back, avoid tourist groups of fifteen or more and get off the beaten track.
Now, before you puff out your chest with new found confidence at the notion of camping, rv-ing or more simply, sleeping-in-your-car for an extended period of time, it’s best understood that Iceland is small, like 300,000 people small. There are more letters in the Icelandic alphabet than persons per capita in a country run by human law. In other words, you can hire yourself a car, a van, a motorhome, a bike and tent combination for, ideally, a discounted price or even just a decent pair of sneakers, and travel around the entirety of Iceland sleeping wherever it is you desire (provided you don’t come across a sign saying, ‘No Camping Here’).
Upon our arrival into Iceland, we had only a solid three days so we opted for an old DHL van fitted out with a bunk bed, fridge, kitchen, heater and complimentary guitar on the basis that we have to give it back when finished. It was peak summer and temperatures were soaring to a cosy eleven degrees throughout the day. We took the fastest route out of Reykjavik and stumbled upon the single highway that circles the entire country. Outside the sounds and lights of Reykjavik city, we were almost the only ones on the road. The surrounding landscape was breathtaking; misty fields of luscious green, streams and waterfalls of all shapes and sizes and an endless highway stretching continuously into the distance of snow covered mountains and glaciers. We continued to drive along the isolated highway stretching parallel to the south coast. We came across a small, geo-thermal pool tucked away neatly into the mountainside in a narrow valley known as Seljavallalaug. The water was warm and the air crisp. As the clouds rolled over the mountain peaks above, the tranquility sat in too; and, my goodness was it glorious. I imagined this was the atmosphere Iceland-born Asgier gathered inspiration to write his melancholic album of soft, wintery sounds that gently dance through your earphones anytime you sit and listen.
Waking up alongside the rolling hills of rural Iceland the following morning knowing full well the sun has been awake since 3:00am is something special – having the freedom to eat, drink and sleep wherever you please with the realisation that there will be no neighbourhood hero trying to kick you out at an ungodly hour for trespassing. We continued driving east, heading to the glacial lagoon best known as Jokulsarlon. Nestled a mere four hours drive east from Reykjavik, Jokulsarlon sits at the foot of the subglacial volcano Esjufjol. You’re not the only person who couldn’t pronounce three words in that sentence, don’t worry. The highway there takes you alongside parcels of snow covered hills and glacial escalators leading up to the clouds. If the road en route to Jokulsarlon was anything to go by, the glacial lagoon itself was to be pretty spectacular. And, with more degree of surprise than anticipated, the lagoon was more than incredible. Monstrous shelves of ice rested peacefully scattered across the massive lagoon, some catching the tide out to the ocean in hopes of riding the small, ocean waves. We parked the van beside, pulled out the last few Polar beers and sat there till midnight, simply taking it all in.
The next morning, we awoke early and drove west back toward Reykjavik and Thingvellir National Park. There, amidst the national park lies Silfra, the fissure between the North American and Eurasian continents and most definitely the clearest water you’ve ever come across; making it one of the top dive sites in the world. The Silfra water is as pristine as water can get, meaning anytime you fancy popping off your dive mask, you can gulp a large mouthful of icy cold Icelandic water and bask in its pure freshness. We arrived at Silfra late in the afternoon and rushed over to a small group of ambitious divers suiting up for the completely transparent, three degree waters. We were keen, we wanted in. I walked directly into the thick of it, and, feeling more nervous than a glasses-wearing kid asking his female crush to the high school prom, I walked a complete circle in an attempt to look like I was there for a reason, then headed back to the safety of the van unsuccessfully enquiring about joining the tour. Instead, we sat alongside the lake, watching the divers over ten metres below blow each individual bubble in complete envy; agreeing ‘we’ll do it next time we’re in Iceland.’
What Iceland lacks in size and population, it makes up for in natural and man-made beauty. Its endless roads that lead through countless waterfalls and streams, its snow engulfed landscapes in the heart of summer, its raw delectability and tranquility, and its ability to leave you always wanting more is what makes this part of the world so youthfully enticing. And, whilst we may have only scratched less than the surface of this country, I’d be more than willing to fly the twenty-eight-or-so hours there from Australia just to enjoy its landscape once again.