Thursday, August 27, 2015

travelogue: iceland, we go (part I)

Are there words that even measure up to this level of alien beauty?

I really feel like I don't have much to offer; that I should just frisbee out the 1.2 million photos we took and paste them on here, leave you to it. Pull the blankets over my head and daydream about how we spent 8 days and 7 nights ogling ponies, waterfalls, lupins, moss, the most delicate birds..

How we whispered about the hidden people, and I half believed that maybe I would get to see a wisp of one, that they would know I was a firm believer and supporter in my teens.

How we shivered every night, cocooned in our sleeping bags, and I thought maybe I would wake up and have turned into a human popsicle.

How we were like the erratically changing landscapes: elated, tired, awestruck, hungry, smitten, angry. I will tell you one thing-- don't expect to come here and remain flat-lined or placid. When you've got all four elements of fire, water, air, earth in close proximity to one another, in one country, the molecules within you shift like tectonic plates.

Or maybe it was just that way for us.

(A babble: Like all great vacations, how do you really reply to the question "How was your trip?!" with any semblance of truth that encapsulates what it was to you for those days, how it changed you, or confirmed things about you, without a halting, searching description that doesn't honour how beautifully hard/light it was, so you panic or give up before even trying and just say "It was great!")

(This is probably why I write. Speaking is so hard sometimes. Maybe I should just wear a sticker that says: I don't know what to tell you! Check the blog!)

Before we went, I searched hard for other travelogues and got many with stunning photos, a few scribbles here and there... but it was the ones with a bit of an itinerary, some guidance about how they did it, that soothed me. This is a very big land. You could go for an adventure for a month here, and not have scratched the surface.

So despite my instinct to throw photos at you and run away daunted, I will search around for words both practical and nonsensical, and share them with you in case you are saving a journey in your back pocket to the land of ice and fire.

Let's begin at the beginning.


Quick Facts/ FAQ's 

We went from: July 22nd- July 30th

Season: Iceland's summer. Highs of 15 by the afternoon, lows of 5.

Route: Reykjavik to SE Iceland, as far as Jökulsárlón. Loved it. 

Accommodations: Camping! We brought our own tent, mats, sleeping bags, cookware. We priced it out, and bringing our stuff and renting a car (and then paying the hotel by the airport to store the gear for the rest of the four week euromoon) was more affordable for us than renting a camper van, or tent gear.

Car rental: Route 1 (Would recommend). We got a Yaris, as we didn't have any plans to go into the highlands (where you will need a more aggressive vehicle) and the roads were clear and summery.

Clothing: Layers. Waterproof shoes for off the beaten path adventures. I was glad for my fleece, Arcteryx shell and light puffy, toque, gloves.

Food: We ate out a couple times, then realized we would become poor very quickly if this continued, and cooked on our camp stove or in the cook huts the rest of the trip. Liquor is very expensive in Iceland, so B got a bottle of whiskey at the duty-free when we landed at the airport.

How many days I showered: 5/8


Day 1: Reykjavik 

I don't know that there is a cure for jet lag after you have dragged your body through spacetime in a flying tin can, but going to the Blue Lagoon was as close to relief as we were going to get. Lots of blogs and forums will tell you to skip it, it's expensive, it's crowded, it isn't worth it.
For us, it was one step closer to putting ourselves back together after being up for 24 hours straight. We spent three hours there, napping in shallow pools, lathering silica mud on our faces, nipping into the hobbit cave sauna, the dry heat sauna, the super hot sauna.

It was like a robin-egg blue Disneyland for adults.

That night, we camped at the Reykjavik campsite right in town, which we'd highly recommend. It is 1700 ISK per person (about $17 CDN), has hot showers, a really great cooking facility, Wifi and outlets for your gadgets, a great recycling mandate and system and a free section where we scored on gas for our stove, a little cooler and cutting board/bowls.
No reservations needed, as the field can house like 400 tents.

Now about 32 hours awake, we put on our bravest faces and ventured out for a bowl of noodles and a walk around Reykjavik proper to acclimate ourselves to this timezone. I felt like I was going to die.

The Yukon has prepared us for lands where the sun never properly sets, so as a kind of dusty twilight settled over us back at camp, we just shut our eyes and let our bodies go to sleep.


Day 2: Reykjavik to Selfloss

Downtown Reykjavik can be easily explored in a day, which is nice when you are constantly being plagued by a case of the Do-It-Alls. (Trademark B. Green)

(It is hard to escape from this phenomenon but as a general rule, know that you'll probably feel it, acknowledge that it's normal, and then do your best to step away from the urgent voice inside you that feels it must turn over every metaphorical vacation stone.)

We saw the view of the city atop the bell tower, Hallgrímskirkja-- which is an amazing piece of architecture, by the way. You know how when you've seen a few cathedrals in Europe, they all start blurring into the same... well this guy (and the cathedral in Prague, swoon) stand out in my memory as something to squint at. 

As for food:

We tried Bill Clinton approved, "world famous" hotdogs that were excellent, an oat milk latte (mmmm) at Reykjavik Roasters, vanilla skyr (like a really, really thick yoghurt) on our granola, and B sniffed at a baggie of fermented shark meat and then almost vom'd. 

In the late, late afternoon, we headed east on the Ring Road (Route 1) and began our journey to Selfoss to camp for the night. We took a slight detour to the sleepy fishing village of Eyarbakki to have their infamous lobster bisque and pasta for dinner. 

(I want to tell you that it was delicious-- I mean, it was -- but it was the kind of richness that you honestly can't consume after four bites. And by richness I mean both a) fat content and b) that pasta in remote Iceland apparently costs $35 CDN. And by 'you can't consume more than four bites', I mean we ate pretty much the whole thing, with beer, and then used gravity to roll us down the hill to our car.)

Day 3: Selfloss to Vik

A short word on camping.

If you do end up wanting to camp during your visit to Iceland, and you're used to camping in BC, know that it is different in Europe. In Canada, we pretty much take our vast spaciousness for granted; We know that each site will have a picnic table, a fire pit, a mostly level tent area, surrounding trees and bushes for privacy.

Over in Europe, more limited space basically means that there will be a modest field of grass, and you roll up in your car and claim whichever patch you can. If we're truth telling here, I'll whisper in your internet ear that this made us a bit grumpy sometimes, because you couldn't really escape people day or night. There were throngs of folks visiting from all corners of the globe, and we'd hear their Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin late into the night, tents pitched a foot or two away.

We I was too chicken shit to try wild camping (and there weren't a ton of viable options along our route), but it is possible.

 On our first real day outside of Reykjavik, we started chasing waterfalls. Selandjafoss is the majestic beauty pictured above, and is the one where you can walk behind. You'll get soaked, mind you, but that's why you bring a hat to hide frizzy hair and waterproof shoes, too! I don't know how the people I saw in wedge heels and open toed sandals did it.

I was so damp, and cold, and so happy to be so.

The fields were full of wildflowers, a long haired man played lap guitar at the base of the waterfall, and it was just a very Eckhart Tolle experience. Eyes opened so wide, cheeks hurt from beaming.

And then!

Then you peek next door to the hidden waterfall that isn't so populated, not the star attraction, but spine tingly in every way. It is concealed on both sides by a steep cliff, so it doesn't look like much from the outside. You have to shimmy through a corridor, get your feet wet a bit and pop out into this cavern.

This is Gljufrabui, or the "Cave Dweller".

After that, you see ponies galloping down the highway.

Then you drive to one more waterfall, your husband sleeps through it in the parking lot, you climb up a hill and feel very much alive.

And then you die from happiness, and forget all about being grumpy earlier that morning.

The end.


( My butt has fallen asleep while writing this epic tale -- aha! Iceland is known for its epic sagas; or, super long adventure stories, so this is kind of fitting. Are we there yet?)

Part II coming soon... in the mean time, watch the little film on Iceland I made.

Thanks for reading thus far, companions.


  1. Yes! "every metaphorical vacation stone". Love this post!

  2. don't go chasin' waterfalls, listen to the rivers and the lakes that you used to....

  3. so cooooo! thanks for writing pal. video was so sweet too.