[Pun definitely intended]
Ísland, in Icelandic, means “land of ice”. Which is why it makes sense that Ísland is called Iceland in English. However, it does not have the same name in Spanish, my mother tongue. We call it Islandia, which is just a “spanishification” (yes, I just made that word up) of the name, and means nothing. That’s why I decided to call it Hielolandia (in spanish: hielo=ice) since it definitely makes more sense. By the way, if you want to read this article in Spanish, just follow this link.
Iceland is one of those places where I had always wanted to go. However, for some reason, I always ended up choosing a different (and more mainstream) destination and forgot about that lonely island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Without even leaving Europe, and only 4 hours or so away by plane, I decided to put Iceland on the top of my “must-see” list, and I want to go back as soon as possible.
I didn’t know what to expect before getting there. For some reason I was expecting to see a white, snow-covered place, but it turned out to be green and black. During my eight days in the country, in the middle of August, I only saw the sun once; with an average temperature of 50º F. Anyway, those two weeks that I spent in the country were more exciting than one month laying on the beach. Here’s a summary of what I think are must-sees:
Don’t worry about spotting them because they are everywhere. Any geologist can explain this a hundred times better than what I am about to say: but what everyone knows is that Iceland is an island formed by volcanic eruptions. Iceland grows with every volcanic eruption that happens close to the ocean. But what surprised me at first (even though it makes sense) is that, although having tons of lava approaching your house is terrifying, (and the ash! remember what happened in 2011?), what they fear the most during a volcanic eruption are the floods, since the volcanos are buried under meters of snow.
Although scary and destructive when burning, cold and dry lava forms some picturesque landscapes in Iceland, especially when this dry lava is covered by plants:
Volcanos, geysers and waterfalls
While we were driving, we spotted a “small” volcano on one of the sides of the road. Its sides didn’t look very steep so we decided to drive by and see if we could get to the top, and why not, inside of it. Turns out that it was an old volcano, that hasn’t been active in over 3,000 years and it is definitely safe (at least I hoped so!).
For some reason, that was one of the most exciting parts of my trip. The idea of being able to just drive by an old volcano and walk inside of it, without it being crowded by hundreds of tourists taking pictures (like me) was pretty unbelievable. Furthermore, there was no one around us, everything was in complete silence except for the very few cars driving on the main road.
As you can imagine, Iceland’s geothermal activity is very powerful. One of the mandatory visits in Iceland are the geysers. More specifically, the “geysir” (the word geyser actually comes from this), one of the highest geysers in the world (ranked 7th) but at the same time it’s one of the geysers that erupts most frequently, between every 7 and 10 minutes, which allows you to see it in action several times.
I tried to take a picture with my phone of the exact moment when the bubble bursts and the water is ejected. However, all I could do was photograph four different eruptions in four different stages, so you can see the sequence:
Bla Lonio (or Blue Lagoon) is another example of thermal water. Much more convenient and human-friendly, though, with a spa and bar included:
Much colder water, but not any less spectacular, were the waterfalls that you can find all across the southwest coastline of Iceland. My favorite ones were the Gulfoss Waterfalls:
Walking between two continents
It might not look as cool or impressive as any of the pictures I have shown so far, but this was definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip.
Due to its geographical location, Iceland is located right in the middle of the American and European continents, and the crack between the two tectonic plates drifting apart from each other is easily visible and walkable. This crack goes across the country, which makes it easy to spot in several points across the island. In Thingvellir, for example, it forms a valley:
In other places, such as the so-called Bridge Between Continents, you can walk through the fault:
Iceland has civilization, too
I almost forgot about Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland and home to over half of the Icelandic population. It means something like “misty bay”, a name given by the first vikings to arrive to the island, due to its geothermal activity. Despite of being a tiny city for being a country capital (the northernmost one in the world!) it’s full of restaurants, cafes, pubs and stores.
One of the things that I liked the most about the Icelandic people (besides the fact that all of them were very nice and helpful) is the fact that everyone speaks perfect (almost native) English. I am used to travelling around Europe and coming across people who speak very good English, which is helpful for someone like me who only speaks two languages, but Iceland is on a whole different level. Apparently it is because they barely have any TV channels, and they have traditionally watched the BBC, since the UK is the closest country to Iceland.
Every time I visit a new city I always ask myself: Would I live in here?. Absolutely. Why not? It has been rated the safest country in the world for many years in a row, everyone speaks english, it has an international airport, and the only thing I would have to get used to is living in constant night during winter…
And last, but not least, the best part of my Icelandic trip: the glaciers. First, Mýrdalsjökull, where I got to walk overtop of it, ice pick and helmet included. This glacier is very close to the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Sound familiar? No? Remember that volcano that erupted in 2010 and its ashes forced the entire European airspace to close? Yeah, that one. That eruption was so massive that by the time I went there in 2013 there were still ashes all over the glacier. They said that the entire glacier turned black after the eruption, and I must say, I bet it looked pretty cool.
But the glaciers had something even cooler waiting for us: Icebergs! (see what I did there? Sorry about that). A whole lake full of icebergs waiting to swim their way to the open ocean. And those that don’t end up making it to the ocean get stuck on a beach, leaving a beach full of icebergs.
Even though I wrote over a thousand words in this article, I think its sufficient to say these pictures speak for themselves. I would guess that I have made my point clear so far but I’ll repeat it again: GO. TO. ICELAND. It has definitely been one of the most spectacular places I have ever been, and I am already thinking of going back!
Bless! (bye! in Icelandic)