About 8 years ago I saw a picture on the internet that immediately stopped me in my tracks and took me away from my usual half focused skimming of mindless celebrity gossip. A picture so beautiful that it reduced me to a mouth open gaze reminiscent of my 13 year old self staring at pictures of Joey McIntyre. It was a picture of the Blue Lagoon Spa. Immediately I investigated. Iceland?! It’s in Iceland. Damn it. I’ll never go. And just like Joey McIntyre, it will have to only exist in my dreams.
Except not too long ago I realized that I was an adult and I can actually make this dream a reality. Slowly my girl gang assembled and signed on for this adventure. Six LA girls had their plane tickets and were ready to ditch Southern California for the wild beauty of Iceland.
Image: Sarah, Missy, Jessica, Rachel, Farah & Myself
As we were descending into Keflavik airport, just outside of Reykjavik, I thought that we clearly got on the wrong plane and this one some how took us to Mars. The topography was so different than anything I have seen before. It hit me. The years of anticipation for this trip and the reality of it happening was more than I could handle. I was really here. Every time Sarah looked at a waterfall or an Icelandic horse, she jokingly announced that she needed a Xanax. I got it. The beauty was overwhelming. Landing and taking in the aerial view of what was to come was only the first time I found it hard to breath. There were many more times that followed.
The first installment of our 3 part series of this fantastic voyage focuses on what I’ll classify as adventure.
BUDGET ALERT: There are organized excursions from several different companies that offer trips to all of the popular destinations. They can run pretty expensive. We opted to rent a van and explore on our own. Personally, I thought this was the best decision for us. We weren’t in a huge group and we were on our own schedule. This allowed us to make impromptu stops and follow tips for off the beaten path gems. Plus, my share of the rental for the week was less than just one organized excursion. I’m sure there are many benefits to the tours, but for me who always seems to be on a budget, I was more than interested in saving the money. And it made for some hilarious stories!
In what may seem rather run of the mill for traditional adventurers, renting an 11 seater Mercedes van and hitting the open road proved to be quite rewarding for us girls. But give us a break, all of our modern day conveniences that we rely so heavily on were taken away. There was no cell reception and no wifi while driving which meant we had to read…MAPS! So, with relics in hand we hit the road and over the course of our week stay, we were not disappointed.
These horses are unique to Iceland. They are everywhere and loved attention and affection from people. We have barely even made it out of Reykjavik and we are already rewarded. We often stopped on the side of the road for some horsey hugs and kisses. This dream was quickly turning into a fairy tale where we were six princesses and the country was put on the earth just for our pleasure. Obviously I know that this is ridiculous but it is exactly how you are made to feel. Not because we are entitled, but because we embraced all that was offered and as a result we were embraced right back.
SELJALANDSFOSS WATERFALL . I’m sure I can speak for everyone here; we were in total awe of what was in front of us. The sun was shining and everything looked like a dream. Middle Earth, Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park. You name the fantasy movie, we felt like we were in it.
This is one of the very few waterfalls that you can walk behind. Even my loquacious friend Farah stopped talking for a minute to reflect. I was stunned into silence. My eyes and brain had a hard time taking in what I was looking at. The colors, the sounds, the sheer size of the land. And beyond the waterfall the horizon seemed to go on forever.
Oh, and to top things off, there was a rainbow. Le sigh.
Even though it was a mere hour and a half later, the weather changed dramatically as we pulled up to the black sand beaches of Vik. It started to pour and the wind was whipping. This, we found out, is not an uncommon occurrence.
This was the coldest I have been in a while (turns out my Zara jacket was not waterproof #illprepared) but it was so cool, eerie and surreal. As the artistry collided with the atmosphere I found myself short of breath again. I was really here. These four words constantly crept into my brain and instantly I would feel at ease. I was really here. I could not believe it.
But, here’s what it looks like when the suns out. THERE WAS A CAVE AND I MISSED IT?!?
The weather cleared up and we decided to go ahead to our next stop and I am so glad that we did. It was my favorite part of the trip. We hit up Seljavallalaug Geothermal Pool.
You have to do a short, pretty easy hike to get to the pool.
5 Hair and Make Up artists and 1 producer put on all the warm things they own and made the trek. I would like to mention that this is at 9:30 pm. This is when I realized that we never had to be on a schedule and it didn’t matter when we did things. The sun never went down. Not being on a schedule was one of the biggest gifts Iceland gave me.
Before enjoying the pool you must change out of your 12 layers of “warmies” and into your bathing suit. These are the changing rooms. I was equal parts hysterical laughing, completely scared and enchanted by the quaint history of all things Iceland. I wasn’t here to question anything, I was really just up for everything.
Seljavallaug is a man made pool constructed in 1923 but the hot water that runs into it is completely natural. We floated, we laughed, we reflected. If anything was reminding me that I was in another world it was Seljavallaug. Even though it was summer the mountains remained snow capped and their enormous presence dwarfed us in this little man made haven. I closed my eyes and opened them again. I was really here.
Next up on the itinerary was The Golden Cirlcle. The Golden Circle is a popular route that covers a part of South Iceland, starting in Reykjavik and looping back around. Even though the sun does not set, it is a very full day in the car so there were a few landmarks that we missed. I have every intention of going back for many reasons, this being one small part.
Stop one was Þingvellir National Park.
Þingvellir is significant as one of the most popular tourist destinations, but is also known for it’s historical, cultural and geological importance. The park offers the unique ability of being able to walk between two continents. You can clearly see the continental drift in the cracks in the North America and Europe’s plates that traverse the park.
If you are an avid scuba diver (we are not) I highly suggest diving in The Silfra fissure. Although we did not dive, we admired from atop. It is the clearest water in the world, with visibility over 100 meters. I had to see it to believe it. It was breathtaking and incomprehensible. I have never seen anything like it. It looked as if it was a super realistic computer generated under world.
I mentioned earlier that I felt like I was landing on Mars. The landscape around Silfra is covered by a sponge-like moss that we were actually bouncing on. Well, if I felt like I was looking at Mars before, now I was for sure walking on it.
Leaving Þingvellir and on our way to Gulfoss Waterfall we stopped at this fantastic farm to table restaurant, Farmhotel Efstidalur.
Farmhotel Efstidalur is a family owned and operated hotel, restaurant and creamery. Everything on the menu (except the fish) comes direct from their grounds straight to us. We had a great lunch and a cone of their famous ice cream. But what really caught our hearts were their animals. Cows, horses, chickens and dogs so friendly they could have been the farm’s hosts.
We made a quick stop at Geysir, or as it is sometimes known, The Great Geysir. (FUN FACT: Geysir was the first of it’s kind to ever be described in print.)
Our last destination was Gulfoss Waterfall. Gullfoss is a waterfall located in the canyon of Hvítá river in southwest Iceland. It was a huge force of nature that once again reminded us how insignificant and powerless the human race may be.
Each section, landmark, park, road, person, horse were all unique. But what remained the same throughout was an onset feeling of inner peace that overtook me from head to toe. Everyday was exciting and hilarious, I was with five fantastic ladies after all. But there was something that I can’t seem to put into words that happened. Although this was a group trip, there were many times I felt compelled to (happily) stay to myself and be silent. This past year in my real life was hard. It was marked with tragedy and this wore heavy on me. Iceland cast its spell and that spell demanded that I stop, think, listen and feel. I’m sure this last sentence has induced many an eye to roll, and prior to this trip mine would be doing the same to a sentiment so dripping in emotion. But there was an inexplicable magic there that forced me to step outside the sadness and look in. And it wasn’t just me. I saw it in all the girls as well. Weaknesses turned into strengths, fears into independence, and the unfamiliar turned into adventure.
Iceland is steeped in customs and folklore. There is a long tradition of respecting nature and the elements. Their land is said to be protected by trolls, mythical beings and the legendary Icelandic Elves. We graciously respected the land of this little island country and the elves gave it back to us in spades.