It was year 2013, back when everything was simpler. Transformers were still a relevant topic, Taylor Swift was still a country singer, and Young was still enjoying his solitude. ahhh what good’ol days those were! Young also had great ambitions after his epic 2012 Nepal trip, and blatantly refused to go places too commonplace for spring break. Cancun? Miami?! I was not 65 yet! However, my parents insisted to tag along, and that made the choosing much harder. However, a Chinese tour agency started their brand new program to Iceland, and that fit my needs perfectly. A tour to somewhere nobody had been to but with great comfort, coming with a nice price tag! I quickly convinced my parents (only took 3 weeks!) and called the company. Of course, like everything I have been on, we 3 were the only people who signed up, and the tour required at least 8 people to operate. Well, that was it. A friendless bastard like me will never get 5 friends in my lifetime, cumulatively, in all parallel universes, so this was just like all my dreams, crushed and stomped into dust, tossed aside like garbage and forgotten by everyone…
Except I always try my best. I started asking around, and quickly, Sally, someone who was in the same group as me for our USA east coast school trip, agreed to also bring her family around! Great, now we just needed 1 more person! After painstaking postings on social network, we(actually just Sally) eventually found a friend Li who was willing to join on this crazy tour to a country barely anyone had been to. Tadaa~! 8 people! Since now the group was guaranteed to operate, suddenly a huge flock of people congregated and filled the rest of the spots… But alas, we were under way!
Iceland, and its capital, Reykjavik
March 16th, we flew from Seattle to Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, on an Icelandair B777. On our way across the beautiful Greenland, since it was at night, the many bands of aurora borealis were right there in front of us, reachable just by sticking out our hands…
We landed early in the morning, and the local guide picked us up for a breakfast buffet in our hotel. The hotel was a subordinate of Icelandair, and was right beside the domestic airport. Do not be fooled, the international airport Keflavik is a solid 2 hour from city center. I was surprised to see the buffet content: it had more protein than an egg laid by a chicken raised solely on a protein shake diet designed by Guy Fieri. There was ham, about 5 kinds of them, sausages, cheese, eggs, more ham, and even more processed meat. The only vegetables were fresh sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, and bananas were the only fruits.Why you ask? Because it is the cheapest option. How can it be so cheap since they live in the frozen hellhole on Earth you ask? Well, they grew all these vegetables they need in greenhouses powered by geothermal heat, making Iceland the largest banana exporter in Europe. After filling myself with more fat than the fat I already got,(trust me that is a lot) we began our exploration of the city. Iceland is an island country about the size of Portugal, with a measly population of 300000, basically the population of my block back in China. Over half of this small population live within the metropolitan area of Reykjavik on the southwest corner of the island. Rest half populate the island as sparsely as my father’s hair populate his scalp.
Reykjavik highway rushhour
Anyways, let’s get into the scenery. The national church was a fantastic piece of art. It was inspired by the hexagonal colomns formed by volcanic eruptions in many famous geological formations on the island. Additionally, the shape also coincides with the massive windpipe sitting inside the church, but I personally prefer to intepret it as a close imitation of a slice of pizza.
The national church of Iceland
Other famous sites included the Pearl restaurant and observatory, and the famous white house in which the first SALT deal was signed. SALT is the strategic arms deal that limited the amount of nuclear warhead USA and USSR could possess, which virtually helped averting a world nuclear disaster. The wind by the sea was ridiculous, so strong that a person standing could easily be blown away. The weather in March was not hospitable at all, with temperature hovering around 5 degrees during the day, and wind blowing faster than my 100 meter dashing speed towards fried chicken. The sun was up for about 13 hours around that time, and the night was as cold as my sister’s heart.
the gap between Eurasia and American plates, widening at 2mm a year
The entire country of Iceland is an oddball. There are no naturally occuring forest, which means before humans started planting, there was not one single tree in Iceland. The entire country is powered by geothermal power, with almost 0 reliance on fossil fuels for their power supply. Almost everyone speaks English, which makes me wonder why would they bother learning Icelandic since its grammar was almost as hard as me finding a girlfriend. Their ponies are tiny; their sheep get frozen in the winter and can still live when snow thaws; their cuisine involves strange materials like whale, horse and puffins. There are just way too many bizarre and unbelievable things about this country in the edge of the world, so I guess you will have to read the article in whole to have a grasp of it.
The Golden Circuit
This circuit is possibly the most famous route for tourists in Iceland. We did it in 3 days, and we fully had the opportunity to enjoy all of them. When we saw Skogarfoss for the first time on the side of the road, we were stunned, and cried for the driver to stop. It was straight out a bewitching Icelandic beauty, as the sun shone on the mist/spray, it formed a stunning half rainbow. We even climbed to the top, having a mesmerizing view of the valley beneath as well as the ice stuck on top of the waterfall.
Skogarfoss from atop
And then there is this waterfall, Seljalandfoss. It is another gem and highlight. The flow was much less in terms of volume, but it was just as stunning. The cliff that it falls off is used by thousands of birds as a nesting cliff. Their racous, desperate screeching looking for a mate (which is really kinda like me except I do it on the inside), coupled with thunderous crashing of the water made communication impossible (and unnecessary). The beauty of it, however, was the aspect that silenced us all. I had never seen anything like that before, and I am pretty sure I will never see anything like that ever.
What is really intriguing is that the water vapor that was dispensed into the air by the crashing force re-crystalized upon contact with anything, so on the ground there were just mammatus-shaped ice formations everywhere, and in the picture above the surroundings were all covered by a thick frost. I enjoyed sliding on this kind of natural skating ring particularly.
a chocolate vanilla ice cream formation
And to complete the trifecta, there was the biggest one of them all: Gullfoss, the Golden Waterfall. It was just straight out proposterous. It was ENORMOUS, about the same size as Niagra falls, but with two layers of falls, and lots and lots of ice. Niagra falls is awesome, just like a great plate of assorted sashimi, but when you put it on top of massive amounts of ice, just like the sashimi, it looks much better.
Gullfoss, the epitome of Icelandic awesomeness
Of course we did not miss the famous Blue Lagoon. Sorry to disappoint, but the lagoon is actually man-made, but man-made does not mean it is awful, look at all the hamburgers! They are all man-made, but can you deny their beauty? You obviously cannot. The lagoon resembles a giant hot spring in a rock field, but it is hugged by a modern hotel charging brain-damaging prices. The hot water mainly comes from the geothermal power plant sitting in the back, and the rich mineral in the rockbed makes the entire lagoon murky, like a giant bowl of ramen full of delicious pork bone broth, like the tsukumen I had during my WeekendInTokyo trip. The minerals are said to have cured many skin problems, yet I am more concerned about its nutritional value. For the folks who do not know how geothermal powerplants work, it goes as follows: the turbines that generate power are pushed by hot steams after water going deep underground being heated by hot rocks. The re-condensed water is still very hot, which needs to be cooled down before re-injected underground, which presents a problem because the heat pollution can insta-kill any organism in the river system like reality crushing my dreams. Why not make a hot spring out of this? Well, fuck, these people actually did it, and now it is one of the most touristy things in Iceland. Oh also, it is barely blue, mostly grey actually.
We had a great time there though, as the temperature was freezing, we could dip inside the hot springs, and once we emerge, the hair would freeze and you could peel off the ice from your head. The experience was unique.
Of course we did not miss the majestic geysers in the area. An area so geologically active, the Icelandic fault was responsible for almost all tourist attractions for the country, but these geysers are just the jewels on the crown. They come in groups, and all of them look silent and unattractive, like little ponds that were particularly warm. But do not blink, as in any second it can go SHOOOO! and erupt boiling water into the sky.
here it comes!
and since the warmer the water is, the faster it cools down. The steam quickly turned into ice pallets and drifted away with the wind. Neat, right?
woohoo~! look how high it is!
Back to talking about food, during our leisure time, we also visited a relatively touristy high end restaurant focused on traditional food, also known as ABSOLUTE MOTHAFUCKIN CRAZINESS. We had a choice of horse, rabbit, whale and other less exotic things, so of course we chose the fucked up ones. The whale and the horse were just unorthodox, with bizarre textures and unfamiliar tastes, with details in my Strange Food Quest list. However, compared to what is about to come next, they become as normal as me devouring a party platter sushi made for 12 for lunch. Out of curiosity, I ordered the notorious Kæstur hákarl, which is basically pickled Greenland shark, and trust me when I say “pickled” is more than an understatement, so for more details hit up my Strange Food Quest list. With a hefty price tag of 1000 Icelandic Kroner, it came as two tiny cubes of about the size of a 4-pit lego piece, which is still a bit larger than my life accomplishments so far. They were served in a sealed jar, and coupled with the evil grin on the waitress’s face made me regret the decision even before the jar was opened. The waitress calmly settled the jar onto the table, slowly lifted the two air seals, and dashed outside the room with the speed of me running away from my responsibilities, and we immediately knew why. The entire room instantly reeked of a corpse decomposed in a swimming pool. (do not ask me why I know the smell of a corpse decomposed in a pool) I am pretty sure it is how it feels like to drink bleach while snorting cocaine with brick powder that has passed its expiration date. The fact that it is even existent shocked me profoundly, let alone it is edible. But fuck, I paid 1000 kroner for this, and I would hate to let it go to waste. Also, it would be a great way to end my single, miserable life if I die from food poisoning of a shark! (and it is easier than drinking bleach) I pinched my nose, and swallowed the jelly-like cube. The rest of the story can be found in my Strange Food List, since it is so traumatic that I do not want to write it twice…
the whale steak
And what is Iceland without a glacier experience? And if Young is gonna get close to a glacier, why not get ONTO the glacier? We reached the foot of the glacier Sólheimajökull, and we promptly changed our footwear into iceshoes by installing blades beneath. The hike up was quite pleasant, but there was danger lurking everywhere. The ice was melting at a soul-crushing speed and a lot of new ice holes form every day, and they go DEEP. If one falls in, there is no way to rescue, and he will be pronounced missing but everyone knows he is either dead or doomed. The ice was still slippery even with iceshoes and nobody can take a long waterslide down to the bottom of the hill. Thus, we used our pickaxes with extreme caution, and made sure nobody turns into a strawberry in this giant melting smoothie.
RIP Young’s dreams and aspirations
What is interesting is that there are a lot of black holes of ice. Because the notorious volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010, (the mouthful one that killed one week of European traffic, remember?) a lot of volcanic ash was deposited on the glacier. Since the black ash absorbs much more heat than white snow, the ice melts much faster than the ice not covered by ash, thus leaving a hole and many gaps on the glacier. Also worth noting that this glacier, like many others I have visited, are retreating at a ridiculous speed. Before the turn of the millenium, it was still directly reaching the sea, but by the time I was visiting, the highway was between the two, with a few hundred meters of distance to spare. The effect of global warming may not be significant in places we live in, but in polar regions like this, the warming is much more than we experience in tropical, temporal or subpolar places, and the impact of warming is much heavier because they have a lot of ice that can melt!
Another place that we visited was the place that looked like giant cliff formations in the southwest. It was quite a marvel to look at since the drop directly into the crashing sea was coupled by howling wind trying to push you off the edge. Also, they are all used as bird cliffs as well.
me standing on top of a sea cliff
We also visited a local restaurant by the sea for some local seafood. The sunset there was probably what made me believe this place should have never existed on Earth.
sunset in Iceland
At night one day, we also went into the wild to witness the mysterious aurora borealis. Just as the sun’s rays disappeared from the horizons, the elegant green light started appearing, then twisting, turning, churning, meandering, wiggling, swirling… just like a fresh bowl of noodle soup bubbling under the tender fire. Words will never justify its beauty, and no normal camera, given that it can withstand the -20°C weather, can catch this kind of amazement, so I will just leave it like this. If there is one thing that you have to experience in person, this will be it.
a blurred picture of aurora borealis
Private Jeep Tour
I am not paid by Nissan I promise!
We had a free day before we leave, so why not go for something fun~? We decided to do a private jeep tour which takes us to the northern parts of the country. We had an absolute blast. We started with Þingviler National Park. The park was situated between the American tectonic plate and Eurasia tectonic plate. It was also the place of the oldest parliament in the world, with Vikings coming to discuss the issues of this island starting 957AD. Of course some may argue that talking about the plundering of the year and the public execution of the criminals do not exactly constitute a parliament. The historic and geological significance surely deserve to be awarded the protection of a national park.
Þingviller National Park
And we continued to drive up north, and we started to go into unchartered territories. We first entered a road that clearly says “Ófært” (impassable) on it. It is barely a road. To call it a road is stretching it a bit too far, the same as calling me decent looking.
The Impassable road!?
We then completely lost the trace of road, as dirt road turned into pebble path, and pebble path turned into ice surface.
the road gets narrower and narrower, just like life
driving on ice
And before we knew it, we had to stop and start releasing air from the tires: this reduces the pressure within the tire, making it much softer, thus having a much bigger surface area in contact with the ice. We finallhy reached the notorious Langjögull, the enormous glacier that covered the volcano Eyjafjallajökull, which killed a week of European air traffic during its furious eruption. Before we realized it, we were surrounded by ice, and it is not sitting in a skating ring that kind of surrounded, EVERYTHING we saw was ice, nothing else. Just blue blue sky, blinding sun, and ice. We had lunch up there, and I can say it is very cool. (HAHAHAHAHAHA) Too bad I did not get a SIM card, otherwise if I turn on my phone, it would be the only chance of me to do Netflix and CHILL. (MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA get it? because I am a miserable lonely bastard who will be alone forever? hahahahaha I am so lonely someone plz halp)
live from the driver’s seat!
It was impossible to know which direction we were driving since it was white everywhere, so GPS was crucial. When one jeep fell into the snow and was unable to proceed, the other uses ropes to pull it out. If that didn’t work, everyone got off, one to reduce the weight, two so that people can help push. After lunch, we continued heading north, but before long, the other car radioed in a distress call. THEIR RIGHT REAR TIRE FELL OFF!!! the stress the harsh Icelandic nature put on the vehicles was harsh even for these jeeps! We had no choice but to cram everyone into one jeep. It was a long way down the glacier, but luckily nothing too serious happened before we reached the help outside the glacier. The entire drive through this giant piece of ice took a solid 3 hours.
Kingdom of ice
After the backup jeep solved the problem, we continued to what can be best described as impossible. We quickly arrived in an area that used to have a large amount of geological activities. Volcanic eruption, water erosion, glaciation, and simply magic made the terrain unbelieveably, um, uh, unbelieveable. (if that were you you will run out of words okay?) We first explored a lava cave. The hot lava left a lot of space in between as it cooled down, making enormous caves dragging kilometers. The one we explored was said to be at least 13 kilometers underground, because nobody had found a true end of this cave! However, we were not able to go too deep due to some places being extremely dangerous, and also time was limitimg. However, the next stop blew us away. The waterfall Huanfrossar sounds very uninteresting at first, but its unique structure completely wowed us. The waterfall ain’t your normal waterfall. It is from water coming from underground directly into a flowing river. This is all thanks to the numerous holes in the porous volcanic rockbed. The water of glacier melt is special, as it contains tiny rock particles that were grinded down by the glacial advanvement, making it a milky blue color. See for yourself.
this is just way too beautiful to exist in this world
After that, we took one last peek into the beautiful Hraunfossar, and we quickly disappeared into the Northwestern fjords. The drive back was uneventful and spectacular at the same time. We simply saw incredible incredible scenery, and absolutely stunning landscapes. The true beauty of Iceland does not lie within those stopping touristy sites, (though even the most touristy things cannot compare with Le Louvre or Times Square) it lies on the road, on the boat, on the go.
on the road
Return and Epilogue
After a few days of fun, we had to return back to the less magical reality. We had a blast in all of these beautiful beautiful places. We took Icelandair back to Seattle, which was followed by a 3 hour drive. The journey was over, but the heart stayed…
The road itself
My (lasting) impression of Iceland is firstly, it is incredibly beautiful. The waterfalls, the grand church, the sunset, the glaciers, the incredible volcanic formations… Secondly, it was EXTREMELY windy. In aviation classes later, I found out there was always a strong low pressure above the island called Icelandic Low, which explained why wind was consistently over level 8 in almost every place along the coast that we had been to. Thirdly, it was expensive. A sandwich costs 800kr/7 dollars, a coke is 500kr/4 dollars, and a simple meal will set you back 3000kr/25 dollars with a breeze. Fourthly, everyone was SO friendly. In a country that has fewer people than a village in India, they treat visiters like family.
What I found out about this place is that it is absolutely on top 3, if not the best, of countries I have visited. The scenery is simply out of this world, as no country I have been to so far can even come close to what Iceland has. However, it is definitely not for the fainthearted. The wind is constantly typhoon level, the prices cause heart attacks, the coldness can only be matched by my broken heart, and the best sceneries usually require a 4WD, a pair of good snowshoes, and a strong will to survive. Despite all that, I found it hard not to come back, as all the potential death is worth it. It casts a special spell on you that works wonders. It makes you miss it every day, for the rest of your life. This is a country that you have to train every day to fully enjoy, and trust me, you should, and you will.
hiya~! thanks for reading! hope you enjoyed it~! why not try some other reads? I recommend you WeeakendInTokyo for some more craziness, or EuroHuop15/16 for some other European countries! Comment below to share your thoughts~!