Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Arriving in Iceland was something like landing on another planet – vast open spaces of lava rock, covered in greenish lichen and moss, endless skies, and the Atlantic Ocean on one side... then suddenly there’s the airport! It is about an hour’s ride by flybus from the Keflavik international airport to the country’s capital, Reykjavik. Reykjavik holds about 2/3 of the country’s population, the entire of Iceland which is a mere 310,000 people, and is surrounded by volcanic mountains. It is heated by underground thermal springs, which makes it a common sight to see steam rising all around and within the city from shunts, and pipelines zigzagging among the lava fields. It is the land of the midnight sun; days are long midsummer, which gives the evenings a surreal quality of colour from a slowly setting sun.

Shortly after my arrival, I took off on an evening tour of the famous Golden Circle. This took me to see the multi-faceted Gullfoss (golden) waterfall, the Þingvellir National Park, where the Icelandic parliament Alþingi was established in 930 AD and is one of the world UNESCO heritage sites. Also the location where the North American and Eurasian continental plates meet... which also means that Iceland gets its fair share of earthquakes each year! Finally, we stopped at a geothermal area with geysers that explode every few minutes up to several metres high.

The next day, I went on a Icelandic horse excursion. They gave me a little chestnut to ride, of which I felt rather big sitting on, compared to 16.3 hand Sweet Melody. They split the riders into two groups: the “fast group,” and “the slow group.” Naturally, being one for speed... plus an experienced rider, I chose the “fast group,” which meant we went along for the most part at a gait specific to the Icelandic horse, the tölt. The tölt, (if you sit properly) is quite smooth, and fun to ride. After some jostling, I found my seat, and enjoyed speeding along on my little horse among a herd of probably 15 other riders in the mountainous area covered with lava and tundra plants. At one point, we gave the horses a rest and walked a short distance to the edge of a gorge that had an unexpected little waterfall.

After my horse riding tour, I continued on to the Blue Lagoon, to enjoy a beer while lounging in its warm geothermal seawater. The water is quite an usual colour; very light blue, and contains silica and minerals, which coat the surrounding lava rock. It was common to see freakishly white faced people (which included myself) slowly wading around, since there are poolside vats with ladles, that contain free-for-all mud masks made of silica, minerals and algae.

I joined day excursion to Þórsmörk (Thor’s Woodland), a nature reserve shielded on three sides by glaciers and mountains. Along the way, we came across a big herd of both riderless and mounted horses, freely making their way alongside the road, which was magical. Our group took a short hike to a scenic outcrop of volcanic rock in the nature reserve, that looked over the valley – we made it back just in time as clouds quickly rolled in and it started to hail (which is ironic, given that Thor is the God of Thunder). Sure enough, the storm passed as quickly as it came, but it gave our group enough time to enjoy a hot chocolate in the picnic shelter before carrying on. The tour bus was a rickety old thing, converted from an old truck, with big wheels to manage the rough roads and stream-crossings. We stopped at the lush Seljalandsfoss waterfall (one of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen, complete with mist rainbows) and a hike into the gorge of Stakkholtsgjá, which involved multiple crossings of its glacial melt river. (yes, I had to Google the names again).

I spent my last morning exploring the pretty city of Reykjavik, with its many coffee shops and downward slope towards the harbour, before catching the flybus to the airport, driving past several of the many modern sculptures of the city and lichen-covered lava fields beyond. Luckily, it was a clear day, and I got some great views of Greenland as we flew over it on my way home... to Canada.

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