Friday, 30 August 2013

Iceland I,

Iceland town snow

"On earth's part all days start beautifully patiently it revolves and revolves with its trees and oceans and lakes deserts and volcanoes the two of us and the rest of you and all the animals" 
Pétur Gunnarsson 

Greeting you at the Keflavik airport, this quote really captures the essence of Iceland. It's a highly misconceived place, and people often speak of Iceland as a massive piece of ice block - cold and abandoned. But there's definitely more to that naive perception, for it's unspoken charms and God created landscapes really take your breath away even as the winds blow straight from the Arctic circle.

Icelanders speak English with a disarming charm. But when it comes to speaking their native language, I've read in travel journals that they have a soft expression in Icelandic - "haa.." expressed to display an enthusiastic yet subtle agreement. A travel writer describes it as a 'soft wordless gasp built into their language', and the silence after each short reverberation seems like the sound of breath being taken away: as if the sound of wonder is central to being Icelandic (credits to Bill haydes). I love this view, because it speaks of Iceland's haunting beauty and it's quirky charms all in the name of a breathless haa.

Ice picking our way through on the glacier walk on Sólheimajökull Glacier was quite the dream. Although we were guided through the labyrinth of a glacier tongue extending down from the fourth biggest glacier in Iceland, the cold winds and the sudden mild blizzard didn't help. The architecture was majestic, but it was slightly daunting to be enveloped by tall mountain ranges in the distance. You feel like you're buried in a whiteout, surrendering to God's amazing creations. Writing doesn't do it justice, so let these pictures do the talking.

Iceland ice picking

Iceland ice picking Sólheimajökull Glacier

Iceland ice picking Sólheimajökull Glacier

Ice picking iceland glacier walk

Ice picking iceland glacier walk

Ice picking iceland glacier walk

Ice picking iceland glacier walk

Ice picking iceland glacier walk

Ice picking iceland glacier walk

Ice picking iceland glacier walk

Ice picking iceland glacier walk

Ice picking iceland glacier walk

Ice picking iceland glacier walk

Ice picking iceland glacier walk

Driving out of Reykavik (Rey-kya-vik) armed only with maps and a GPS was one of the best scenic road trips I ever had, combing through the extensively unspoiled nature. We took the Golden circle route in South Iceland initially, covering about 300km looping from the main city district into central Iceland - this got us through Pingvellir national park (a UNESCO world heritage site), lunch at Gullfoss waterfall (translated as 'golden falls') which was one of the most painful lunches I had as I couldn't feel my hands, much less savour my ham sandwich, and Haukadalur, an active geothermal valley which had Strokkur and Geysir geysers. Driving up North, we explored Pingvellir, Glymur and the Hvalfjordour region, and stopped by small towns like Akranes, Borgarnes and Hellnar, just to poke our noses into how countryside Nordic life is like. Some of our leisure drives also found us looking out for Kerið crater and 101 other waterfalls including Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss along a coastal drive. Others found us mounting random hills (okay, mostly the guys) and walking on thin ice.

The main roads are smooth to drive on, and some roads and sidewalks branching out from Reykavik are heated by geothermal energy to melt ice (not that we even realized, but we read about it). But if you steer off the beaten path, you may find yourself well in several inches of snow or gravel.

Iceland driving mountains

Iceland house

Skógafoss waterfall iceland

Skógafoss waterfall iceland

Iceland town houses

Skógafoss waterfall iceland

Skógafoss waterfall iceland

Iceland roads

Iceland mountain

Skógafoss waterfall iceland

Skógafoss waterfall iceland

Skógafoss waterfall iceland

Driving on iceland roads

Iceland frozen lake

Iceland frozen lake

Iceland frozen lake

Iceland frozen lake

Iceland Geysir

Iceland Geysir

Iceland Geysir

Iceland Gulfoss waterfall

iceland sunset

iceland sunset

One of the things I love about the countryside is that there are hardly any flashy billboards or advertisements, neither are there proper signages to where you are. The above was taken on top of what we thought was Kerið, a volcanic crater lake. Another car had stopped by to park, equally puzzled - "Kerið crater?" We were getting quite tired by then because (apparently) the maps showed that it was really near by, so we climbed out of the car and mounted some hill with a crater-lookalike dent in the center. Contented with our discovery, I picked up a small volcanic rock which chipped off its parent block, and we headed back down with the sun setting on our backs. It's a gorgeous view of the gradients in the sky, so no regrets.

We found that the actual crater was barely a kilometre away.

iceland sunset

Even with a mere population of 300,000, icelanders have this affinity to look out for each other - sometimes we see this quality sadly being stripped down in bigger cities. Here's our car living up to it's name (sadcars.com slogan: don't be sad, be wild), with the engine catching fire and smoking and having it to be towed away in one of the dark highways. We only had coke and rum in both cars, so the instinct of the passengers in the other car was to throw coke to simmer the engine...which later then caramelized. But Icelanders are so nice! Half of us headed down to a nearby diner to grab water to help put out the fire. It was closing but the lady kindly waited for us to buy some hot tea for warmth (and gave us at least 3 cups of hot water for the rest) and freshen ourselves up. Some old man even offered to tow us along to the city, which we politely declined. He gave us his tow rope though and told us to "leave it at the bench by the diner" after we were done.

Iceland tow car

God-blessed memories ♥ 

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