Akureyri/Myvatn/Egilsstaðir/Jökulsárlón/Vik/Dyrhólaey/Skogafoss, Iceland. [August-September 2018]
冰岛环路 – 黛提瀑布 – 杰古沙龙冰河湖 – 米湖 – 蒂霍拉伊 – 阿克雷里 – 史克卡瀑布
Places where you visit twice are special – besides having that je ne sais quoi that brought you back in the first place, these destinations offer a curious scientific study where you can compare the Today against the Last Time, a control variable, and hopefully learn something new about the country, travel in itself, and the traveler in himself.
And perhaps nowhere is the contrast universally acknowledged to be so great than Iceland. Compared with the wintry Christmas visit last time, at the genesis of this blog, in December 2014, our second visit in August and September 2018 brings us further northeast, into the locations not yet adulterated by the exponentially growing number of tourists that have deprived the South of its charming desolateness I so fondly associated with Iceland last time around.
Krisuvikurberg, Akureyri, Godafoss, and Myvatn
Straight off the 2-hour flight from Glasgow I hop into my absolutely massive Toyota Land Cruiser and set off for a solo adventure before Cindy’s flight lands the next morning. The winding roads through Grindavik took me to many a desolate place, including the Krisuvikurberg Cliffs which took 15 minutes of bumpy off-road driving that would have wrecked the Nissan Micra we relied on almost 4 years ago. Admittedly, all this work was part of a grand scheme of finding puffins – which supposedly live along the jagged peaks by the southern shore – but no luck, all that awaits me is a herd of sheep grazing atop the slanted volcanic slopes, inspecting me with their mistrusting eyes as I inched closer.
The next morning I scoop Cindy up from the airport and were off on the first 7 hours of our 1,500km journey, speeding away from Reykjavik and the crowded South towards Akureyri, capital of the north. A few stops along the way for breakfast at Borgarnes and gas later we arrived in the breezy city for a nice rooftop lunch to re-fuel, before speeding on to Godafoss, or Waterfall of the Gods (so-named when Iceland converted to Christianity centuries ago, and threw their old pagan idols into the water here).
Exhausted, we pulled up to our first proper hotel – Fosshotel Myvatn – and checked in to the James Bond villain lair-like compound atop a hill and overlooking beautiful Lake Myvatn. A sunset visit to Myvatn Nature Baths (grungier and trendier than Blue Lagoon) and two gas station hot dogs later, the day was complete.
Dettifoss, Oxi Pass, and Eastern Iceland
Bright and early we speed out of Myvatn towards Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. There is a 40-minute one-way unpaved drive towards this majestic landmark, which the Land Cruiser handled quite well – but on the way back I saw some petite hatchbacks huffing and puffing their way in, so maybe I could’ve saved some money at Hertz…
The walk down the path towards the falls was increasingly windy as shears blasted into our faces. Here, we encounter the first of many rainbows that would accompany us for the rest of our journey: the singularly most complete and unmarred Double Rainbow telegraphed into the misty air within the cliffs carved out by the raging water – what a sight to behold. Gingerly we traverse the boulders and inch closer to the water, taking in her unreserved power with equal doses of awe and trepidation. This is where Mother Nature is at her most unfiltered self.
Once we made our way back onto the Ring Road and drove further East, there was a fork in the road where drivers can choose to continue down the official Route 1 – which is better-paved and more gradual, but much longer – or try their luck with Oxi Pass, a reputedly hair-raising drive down into the eastern fjords amid intimidating gradients and narrow passes. Is it any mystery which we chose? Turns out, Oxi Pass is one of the most scenic and downright enchanting parts of the Icelandic drive when the weather is fair, offering incredible panoramic views into glacier-carved canyons as we plunged further East. Risks are just something to keep the undetermined away from discovering something greater, I presume.
Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon, Diamond Beach, and Fjallsarlon
Hours of winding through the fjord landscape in the Southeast and a pit stop at Hofn to refill our gas guzzler later, we arrive at the big ice cube of Iceland – Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon.
Without a doubt this was the most dazzlingly beautiful sight on the trip. To the south of Ring Road, crystalline shards scatter across black sand on Diamond Beach – our stay at nearby Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon, one of the closest to the area, allowed us to visit the beach early in the morning ahead of the tour bus crowds. Across the asphalt, Jokulsarlon stood like a frozen song in an out-of-this-world chilling vibe, imparting all kinds of melancholy like listening to Adele. Everything was impossibly blue – the kind of blue you can only paint with the alchemy of morning light and cold and remoteness and permanent clouds hanging above the water and the refraction through the little mist particles surrounding us. What if, when we come back in ten or twenty or forty years, these ancient icebergs cease to exist, as layer after layer melt away year after year? The thought sends a chill down my spine.
On the way back to Fosshotel, we took a quick detour into Fjallsarlon – a lesser-known but equally-impressive lagoon 10 minutes away. Here the phenomenon of icebergs breaking from the mountain into the water below is playing out in live action: icicles slowly crumble into the tranquil lake, and small pieces that tetris-ed their way towards the lagoon’s outlet peacefully meander out into the ocean in full acceptance of their fate. “The dude abides”, they whisper as they drift towards their molten doom.
Dyrholaey and Southern Iceland
It is here, in the south and in the last leg of the trip, that we encounter the most drastic contrasts, given how much time we spent here last time. The little Christmas workshop-like chapel atop a hill at Vik now stands strikingly against the green hills behind it: when juxtaposed, you can make out every little contour of the mountain, even the telephone pole and the tip-top of the pine tree in front of it. I forgot the name of the street from which this was taken – but let’s just call it Memory Lane for now.
At Dyrholaey, which was snow-blanketed nothingness last time, the path has opened to drive to the top where we, along with at least 20 other people so it’s not really our fault, trespassed onto the big boulder cliff. The aim was to find the flocks of puffins that supposedly nest here in the summer before flying back into the ocean come fall. But we were too late: locals reveal that the hot summer drove the birds out one week before our arrival. Nonetheless, we spot one singular lonely puffin left – identified by its blazing fast flying speed in comparison with the less-nimble seagulls around it – practicing its flight in preparation for a late launch. 100 wasted photos later I dig out one that barely reveals the characteristic orange beak – puffin sighting, check!
The other attractions, such as Fjadrargljufur moss canyon and Eldraun lava field, are covered beneath sheets of verdant green – are we really in Iceland? This land is a chameleon, completely changing out of its wintry snow coat into something so new but so vaguely familiar.
Before sunset, we took the grueling hour-long walk from the designated parking lot towards the infamous DC9-14 plane wreck on the black sand beach. Being the genius I am, the DSLR ran out of battery just as I press down on the shutter; crappy iPhone photos will have to do. At the very least, a final double rainbow magically appears out of the sky behind the grey carcass, rewarding us for the pain that now radiates within our boots.
The next day, after another beautiful stay at the modern Umi Hotel, we make one last pilgrimage to a 2014 visit: Skogafoss. But this time, winter serenity was replaced by a cacophonous frenzy of tour buses and bright-colored windbreakers as visitors climb over each other to get a “clean” selfie with the waterfall. Suddenly the bone-chilling cold of our last visit didn’t seem so bad: there was no jacket you can wear to keep the tourists out.
So yes, it’s all different: the seasons, the (pleasant) new discoveries in the north, the (offputting) new crowds in the south…but who are we to complain? After all, “you are not stuck in traffic…you ARE traffic”. Magical places are meant to be hidden…discovered…explored…commercialized…and euthanized by their own success.
But the phantasmal images this Land has forever imprinted into my DSLR – and the infinitely more excellent colors it has irreversibly etched into my brain – are not open to the public. They are mine to love, cherish, reminisce, and savor – forever pristine, forever unforgettable.
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” -Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists…it is real…it is possible…it’s yours.” -Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged