I woke up to an unfamiliar voice in the dark. "Wake up!" He said. "We're 40 minutes late." Who was talking to me? Where was I? Then the pounding headache reminded me the bad decisions I made the night before that seemed otherwise at the time. I was laying on a single bed at the Loft hostel in Reykjavik, Iceland. One of my roommates, Eric, was urging me to get up. 5 newly acquainted friends including Eric and I agreed to meet up at 9am and drive along the Golden Circle and check out the landscape. It was the most popular and accessible tour route in Iceland that anyone can visit without a technical guide .
I was this close to flaking on them.
No joke, I haven't drank like that in ages. But the conditions were perfect. It was a Saturday night. It was the first day of vacation for the majority of us in the group. And we were in effin Reykjavik! No matter how much we were all in denial and tried to keep our alcohol in check, it was just a matter of time before we all turned up and drank like Vikings.
Within the first 5 minutes of leaving the city in a jam packed tiny car, I knew I made the right decision. It was Eric (American) at the helm. Darcy (Australian living in London) riding shotgun. Andrew (Australian), Amy (English) and I (American) sat in the back. Our first stop was the humongous Pingvellir national park. It is where the European and American tectonic plates meet. Every year they move away from each other slowly but surely causing hundreds of little earthquakes every week. Next thing you know, the whole world is a big Iceland. It is also where the first parliament was ever held- whatever that means. I didn't see any offices or houses so I'm assuming the Vikings just stood in a circle in the snow and wrestled. Whoever pins down their opponent gets their bill passed into law. But don't quote me on that.
The vast terrain of flat lands and mountains covered in white was enough visual stimulation for me that coffee was a secondary thought. It was beautiful. I hardly get to see such a grandiose backdrop in New York city that I was glad to take full advantage of the day trip we planned. Additionally, Eric's excellent taste in music complimented the scenery quite well; like watching a movie. Next time I make a travel video blog, I'm gonna hit him up to be my sound editor.
Half an hour later, we saw the sun rise from the east. Around this time of winter, the sun rises and doesn't travel that high from the horizon. Staying on an angle, it cuts through a thicker portion of the atmosphere giving us a picture perfect haze on pause that only sunsets in smog-filled cities are made of. #nofilter
Not long after that, I fell in love. Misty was her name. Eric saw a patch of horses and we decided to stop the car and greet them. One of the good things about renting a car is that we can stop wherever and for however long we want. It has been said that Icelandic horses can feel the energy you emit and that they choose to greet you and not the other way around. With their shorter than normal legs, fatter bellies and voluptuous long mane how can one attract anything less than adoration? Misty broke off from the group and came towards me. We had a short but happy relationship. I petted her. We took selfies together. And in the end, our split was mutual. We had to go drive. She lost interest.
The Geysir was our next stop. It is the grand daddy of them all. All other geysers are named after it. In Icelandic, it's pronounced 'gay-zer.' Of course, being a traveler, I try to pronounce the best I can to give respect to the language. One of the guys in our car, Andrew, has this thick Australian accent. He kept calling it 'geezer.' And I kept thinking "what did he just call me? He don't know me!" I just had to remind myself that it was the accent.;)
The temperature dropped. We might have been higher up in elevation. But it was later during the day and confused my precious dehydrated head. Nonetheless, we got out of the car bundled up as much as possible and proceeded to walk towards the pungent smell of sulfur. At first, I thought somebody in the car ate waaay too many egg salad sandwiches. But when we got out, I realized they sold an abundance of egg salad sandwiches at the rest stop and permeated the air. jk.
The smell of sulfur is prominent in Iceland because the country is heated by volcanoes and geothermal hot springs. It becomes very prominent when you come across volcanoes and geysers.
The pavement and walkways were iced over while the abundance of steaming brooks and small geysers were roped off to warn us to stay back for dangers of getting burned. Iceland has been known to be the land of fire and ice. If the geothermal activity in the area doesn't indicate that, I don't know what does.
It was a gorgeous day for a tour. The sun was out and proud. Its light was getting refracted in certain spots with the help of the steam coming out from the geysers. And the smell of sulfur waned after a while. As we walked inside the sight, we saw the big geyser from far away spew out an explosion of hot steaming water. From asking people that previously arrived before us, the big guy performs every eight to nine minutes... How reliable.... So we ended up camping right in front of it with gopro stick in one hand, iphone on the other and my canon dslr around my neck. I could not be more touristy if I wanted. We waited patiently. The cold started seeping in through my $50 gloves from REI. I should've bought the $200 ones. Wait. Who spends $200 on gloves? Who spends $50 on gloves? I still can't decide if it was just really cold and the gloves were built for lighter weather or if I just had bad circulation, OR, if I was just a loser and got tricked into buying $50 gloves. I digress. These are questions no one will ever get to answered unless I buy the $200 ones.
The Geysir finally gave us a matinee show. Unfortunately, our expectations were higher than its performance. Nonetheless, we caught it at the right time. Eric asked a stranger to take a picture of us in front of the hole where the Geysir was to spew. She took the photo just at the right time when the geyser shot out the hot steaming water. We were all shocked by the explosion and the camera caught us looking back at the geyser. I love a good candid photo! Alas, Eric has the memory card to this picture and is currently travelling the world without access to a computer. Update will follow.
After warming up at the rest stop with some traditional Icelandic meat soup (with rice because they're obviously descended from Asian cultures) we were back on the road. We stopped a couple more times to take in some more of the beautiful scenery.
We saw a village of 4 houses and a church in the middle of nowhere. Darcy, one of my trip mates, asked if it's technically a village if there's a church. I never really questioned it. But I guess it makes sense. A church symbolizes a community.
Our next stop was the show stopper Gullfoss. I didn't realize how massive it was until we got there. Sure, I'll go check out some waterfalls. But I was pleasantly thrown aback from its sheer size. As we were walking towards the sound of rushing water, it slowly but surely revealed itself the closer we approached. The moment we started walking down the stairs a good half a mile away, I was in awe of its beauty and power. I heard stories of how people wanted to use the raw energy of a lot of the waterfalls in Iceland and convert it into electricity. In the end, good decisions were made to preserve the beauty of the landscapes. Now, we get to enjoy it naturally sans technology.
Once we were right next to it, the low angle of the sun highlighted the hues of blue and red in the mist of the waterfalls while the loud noise of the water dropping into the river raged on like an angry ogre. We stayed for a good chunk of time taking pictures from different angles. Of course I was very careful. I was surrounded by cliffs and my acrophobia was in full force. I definitely was trying to keep my cool on the exterior but I was for sure going bat shit on the inside.
It's been a long day at this point and we were still hungover from the night before. But we had one last stop. Andrew had heard about a Secret Lagoon in the Golden Circle area. I, for one, was all about it and so were my tour mates. A little detour here and a little stop to say hi to more horses made the hour long ride there bearable. At one point, I thought I dropped my phone by the horses and would have to turn back around. Thankfully, it just fell on the side of my seat. It wasn't a far fetched idea. Those horses were so pretty, I wouldn't be surprised if we turned back around and they were taking selfies with my phone.
When we arrived at the Secret Lagoon, it dawned on me that it wasn't that much of a secret. There was an entrance to the lagoon and they charged 2,800 kr. to dive in, 500 kr. for a towel and 500 kr. for a swimsuit. And just an FYI it is 130.66 kroner to the American dollar. Nevertheless, I was more than happy to take part in washing away some of the alcohol that was seeping through my skin. Besides, I heard the nature of these geothermal lagoons in Iceland have healing capabilities. I've always believed that plugging into mother earth was beneficial for one's health.
The process of insertion was insane. A mandatory shower was fully enforced beforehand. Once you leave the locker room, there is a 20 step walkway to the lagoon. It was 20 degrees outside and picture me being drenched. Fortunately, one wall on the left lined the walkway protecting me from the wind. My comfort was short lived because as soon as the wall ended, I was blasted full force. In less than a second, my body started shaking profusely. I thought I was going to turn into a frozen statue. Once I got to the edge of the lagoon, I dipped myself one foot at a time. My lower body sunk into the hot springs and confused my brain even more. Because I was freezing on top, my legs couldn't tell if the water I was dipping myself into was cold or hot. Finally, I immersed myself totally in the water and felt one of the most enlivening experience I've had to date. Triggering my body to switch from survival mode immediately to relaxation was out of this world amazing. It definitely cured my hangover.
Once inside the body of water, the stress from whatever dark crevice in my mind about the daily grind in my regular life started to blur and disappear. I was left to enjoy the delight of my company and the quiet murmurs of the tiny waves. Amy and Andrew stayed inside and used the wifi. Eric, Darcy and I agreed to stay in the water forever.... mentally and emotionally at least. But we did take our time. Neither one of them had any intention of putting a time constraint on our dip. And in doing so, we relaxed, conversed and got to know each other a little bit better. I love meeting people and peeling back all the layers that reveal just a little bit more sheen to their personality and character.
That's what's amazing about travel. It's not just the destination that attracts me. Don't get me wrong, I love a white sand beach and a good margarita. But it's also about the culture. It's the food(more on that later). It's the music. And it's about the people I meet. They contribute to a well rounded experience; a reminder that the world doesn't revolve around me.... no matter what the selfie below may depict.
And just like that, it was time to head back to Reykjavik. Our fingers were pruned up, but our spirits were serene. It was a perfect ending to the day. And as we drove off just minutes after the hangovers have settled, we started telling our wildest drunken stories getting us ready to MAYBE drink again later on that night. After all, we have come full 'Golden' circle.