Buckle up, dear Reader, I’m rehashing four days of adventure along Iceland’s south coast in two whirlwind blogs. Nothing I write will do this region justice – there are visual delights as far as the eye can see – but hopefully this will be just enough to entice you to book a trip. Let’s get started…..
I Get “Meta”
Our first southern excursion is a snowmobile tour of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Our group suits up at Arcanum’s base camp, awkwardly fumbling with balaclavas and huge helmets. There’s something exciting about donning gear… I feel prepared for the adventure ahead! Excitedly, we pile into the van that will take us to our snowmobiles further up on the glacier.
Bear, our guide, is a tall blonde somewhere in his late 20s (but then, it seems nearly all of the Icelanders are tall, blonde, and young). He drives the van like he stole it, bounding over the rocky, unpaved road and jostling us around so much that my helmet occasionally knocks into Billy’s. A few moments later, we are mounted on our snowmobiles. Billy is driving and I’m seated directly behind him. We listen carefully to Bear’s instructions, paying particular attention to the whiteout safety procedure.
Whiteout? I nervously pat myself down, noting the empty pockets of my snowsuit. But I didn’t bring snacks! Not even a Lara Bar! Yes, this is was my concern, dear Reader. As if a gluten-free energy bar was going to save me from Snowmaggedon. My balaclava slips down over my left eye and I tuck it up into my helmet before we take off.
We speed over the glacier single file. It’s overcast today so what would be a stunning view of the landscape below is instead a haze of white… a haze of white and the black balaclava hanging over my left eye again. Ugh. Thank goodness I didn’t offer to drive! My repeated attempts to tuck it up under my helmet prove unsuccessful. My hand mobility is limited by my bulky glove and, naturally, the need to hold on! That’s the inevitability of gear though isn’t it, dear Reader? What’s designed to keep you safe ultimately limits you, restricting your freedom of movement. In that sense gear is a lot like our attachments, I muse, still fiddling beneath my eye visor with one hand as we whizz through the other-worldly terrain.
Yes… aren’t we often all too willing to sacrifice what is possible for what is comfortable? That would be a great theme for a yoga class. I consider how this concept might translate to asanas as I risk removing my glove to adjust my balaclava once and for all – this time with my bare hand. And then we hit a bump. A big bump. A bump that results in me both knocking a contact out of my eye and scratching my own forehead. Pretty sure I’m bleeding a little. Lovely.
Just to recap: I’m half blind, bleeding slightly, and without snacks. Gah!
Let Me Count The Ways….
Bear has everyone park their snowmobiles and gather at a particularly scenic point. He gets on his knees and begins moving the snow around until I realize he’s making a map… of the glacier itself it seems. Fun! Billy and I drop to our knees as well to huddle around the map and hear what Bear has to say.
“Does anyone know the name of the glacier we’re on?” Bear asks the group.
But the majority of our group is wandering, posing for photos, and probably altogether unaware of where they are. Rude! There are only a handful of us poised over the snow map.
“Mýrdalsjökull” I mutter, breaking the silence. I feel sorry for our tour guide.
“Yes! Very good. Good pronunciation too!” Bear exclaims, seemingly used to being ignored. “And does anyone know when the last notable volcanic eruption was?” he asks, testing our knowledge further still.
I pause, indulging in an old habit, not wanting to reveal that I might know more than the person next to me. The small group around the map is silent.
Billy smiles and declares with confidence, “She knows.”
I love him so much in this moment, dear Reader. And not because I need to answer Bear’s question. This seemingly insignificant gesture, this small nod to me – to what I know – makes Billy different from any of his predecessors. It proves my husband is proud of me and not intimidated by me. It reminds me why he’s a keeper, why I’m in Iceland celebrating a wedding anniversary with him and no one else.
I sit up a little taller. “There was an eruption in 2010 at… I’m going to butcher this… Eye-a-fyalla-yokull.”
I sound like I’m choking but Bear is excited: correct again! We’re all happy – Billy because he has a smart wife, me because I have a confident husband, and Bear… well, Bear is just happy to have people pay attention to him!
We Ask ALL The Questions
We continue to explore the glacier, stopping close to a section of crevasses (at least as close as one dares to get). I watch Billy peer far below him, admiring the crevasses and their dark, gaping holes that plunge 50 meters or more into the earth. He looks like an astronaut exploring another planet.
So, one key factoid I failed to mention is that the Mýrdalsjökull glacier – the one we’re currently standing on – is an icecap covering one of Iceland’s largest volcanoes, Katla. Katla has shown signs of unrest lately and I ask Bear what the evacuation plan entails. (I can be a real killjoy like that, dear Reader). Much to my surprise the plan is simple: they’ll close the roads to the areas where the damage is expected to be the worst and see what happens.
“That’s it?” I ask.
“That’s it,” Bear says. Huh.
Bear proves to be a good sport as Billy and I interrogate him about everything from Iceland’s high cost of living to the rising tide of tourism (I am especially interested in this topic after reading so many articles about tourists behaving badly). But to my surprise, Bear expresses appreciation for the work opportunities created by so many visitors.
After sipping some fresh-as-it-gets glacier water from the stream nearby, we begin to talk about climate change. Bear notes the many ways in which climate change is evident in his country and, perhaps sensing my shame, generously notes that he believes most Americans understand the reality of climate change too. Well, that makes one of us, I think. But then, I have far less faith in my fellow Americans these days.
And Waterfalls, Of Course
After pausing for lunch, Billy and I stop at the three – that’s right, three – headlining waterfalls along the southern stretch of Route 1. And they’re only about 25 minutes from each other! First up is Skógafoss, one of Iceland’s biggest falls. Tucked just off of the main road amidst idyllic green cliffs and turf houses, Skógafoss is a classically-shaped rectangular fall. Tour buses pause a few moments in the parking lot, just long enough for their passengers to take a photo from afar and scramble back onto the bus. Not nearly enough time to enjoy this charming spot!
From there we make our way to Seljalandsfoss, a rare beauty. The cliff face here juts out, making it possible to walk behind the waterfall’s cascade. It’s pretty magical. And wet. Definitely wet.
Just a few minutes walk from Seljalandsfoss is Gljúfrabúi, a lesser-known but no less beautiful fall. Gljúfrabúi is often called the “hidden waterfall” because it is enclosed by the walls of the canyon into which it falls. Sneaking a peek at this fall requires getting your feet wet but it’s totally worth it.
Okay. One last installment coming to a newsfeed near you! Then I promise I’ll shut the heck up about Iceland already.
(But omg, you should totally go!)