Iceland- Days 1 & 2
I arrived at Reykjavik Airport in a daze, almost an unrecognizable zombie. Dain and I had stayed up all night to catch our early flight after two sleepless nights in a hostel (our official last hostel stay ever, by the way). Truth be told, I wasn't sure Dain was going to be alright to drive! And we had a big day planned for our first time in Iceland.
The first stop was an easy one: the famous Blue Lagoon natural hot springs spa just a couple minutes' drive from the airport. My sister Hannah was with me, also extremely tired from traveling, and although we mainly wanted to sleep in the car we figured we could pull it together for a relaxing soak. Driving into the spa was our first look at Iceland's surreal landscape; the landscape consisted of chunks of volcanic rock covered in moss as far as you could see. It was like we were on the moon. The spa itself is crowded, but sleek and luxurious. There's a swim-up bar, a nice cafe and restaurant, and the locker rooms provide lotion and conditioner to protect your hair from the sulfuric water, as it tends to make hair brittle and frizzy.
The air was brisk and the water was warm but not hot, maybe around 95*. The pools were filled with people but the complex is big so you're never really too close to anyone. We all really got a kick out of the mud mask station, where you can swim up, grab a handful of clay mask, and go to town. We took turns smearing the clay on each others' faces and eventually every inch of visible skin. Between the masks and the therapeutic water, my skin felt unbelievably soft. I guess the hype is real!
After about an hour in the pools, 3 mud masks, and a a delicious Icelandic seafood lunch later, we were back on the road. My mom had planned for us to sight-see along the way but Dain was so exhausted that he all but bugged for us to check into the hotel. I had to trick him a little bit to visit one of the sights we wouldn't be able to backtrack to, Kerid. Kerid is a crater lake formed 3,000 years ago in the sunken crater of a formerly active volcano. Kerid is the northernmost crater and begins a chain of seven former volcanoes across lava fields in this region. We didn't know it, but apparently it's heated by geothermal activity and you can swim in it. So many regrets!
We hiked around the rim, enjoying the fresh breezy air and abundant sunlight, before heading into the crater to see the lake up close.
The drive to our apartment in Vik, about two hours away, was essentially a mission to get Dain a place to nap. We didn't stop but I don't think we needed to to enjoy the scenery. To our right, the coast, and to our left, a giant cliff face streaming with waterfalls everywhere we looked. It's a magical time of year when Europe's biggest glacier melts and cascades into graceful white waterfalls before calmly creeping into lagoons, and eventually the ocean.
Day 2 might have unanimously been our favorite day of the trip, although there are definitely some tough contenders I'm excited to share later. We began the day backtracking a bit to one of the waterfalls we'd missed the day before, Skogafoss.
It's the tallest waterfall in Iceland. We took the stairs up to the top, which were a lot harder than they looked from the ground! It's about ninety meters of vertical hiking before you get to a lookout point right on the edge of the falls.
The trail follows the falls a few kilometers back, and the scenery kept getting more and more beautiful around every turn. The grass was lush and green, the glacier water wound itself into additional smaller waterfalls and canyons, and daring sheep scaled the mountainside. The extremely high winds were a downside, especially when Dain got way too close to the edge (as he often does), but no one could bear to turn back and leave such a wonderful place.
Before we go any further, I should mentioned we were told it's very easy to get lost in Iceland. Apparently, Google Maps doesn't work well and you have to rely on GPS coordinates to find your way. Well, I personally think this is a lie propagated by the rental car companies, because there is literally one road in Iceland! It's called the Ring Road, a two-lane highway that encircles the country around the coast. There are other main roads that cut inland but they're easy to find and we never had a problem with Google Maps. Even when it looked like we'd have to navigate around a town, when we arrived in said town, it was so small that we could actually see every building and turned off navigation. We expected the worst, and felt so silly once we actually started driving!
Reynisfjara, or the black sand beach, was the next spot to explore. Hannah was expecting a typical beach with soft sand and sunbathers, but this beach was more of a scenic coastal hike more than anything. On your left, there are massive caves made of basalt towers that you can climb on- think of Devil's Postpile in California or Giant's Causeway in Ireland. The beach is covered in beautiful black pebbles and stretches for about ten miles. It was a wonderful day to visit thanks to the clear skies and sunshine.
Exploring the basalt structures is the most unique activity here. It's incredible that so many of the columns are so visible, and the more you walk around the more astounded you are that nature can produce places that look like this. In some places, the columns line up like Leggos, perfectly fitted to each other and straight in line like soldiers. In others, they appear to rain down like scattered light through a prism but are strangely just as structurally sound. Unlike the other places I mentioned, you're totally free to climb all over these columns, although the go pretty high!
Far away on the eastern end of the beach, an interesting rock formation caught our eye. We drove a precarious route up gravel-strewn hills to reach Dyrholaey, a look-out point over the ocean and this beautiful rock formation below. A few years ago, an Icelandic daredevil pilot actually flew through this hole in the rock- twice! Between the high winds and unpredictable surf, he had to time it just right. I promise the hole is not large enough for me to be in that plane- what an amazing feat.
Nearby are where the puffins roost, and we watched them sleeping all poofed up into their feathers, hopping around, and flying into the ocean to feed. They're much smaller than I thought they'd be but just as precious. Dain has the best photos buried somewhere on his camera, so I'll update when we get those downloaded.