Iceland's Natural Wonder
I instantly felt revived as we dipped into the turquoise waters pooled between dark black lava rock
Never have we experienced such a dramatic change in climate and culture as when we flew from Rio de Janeiro to Reykjavik, Iceland. After six weeks in the tropics, we pulled out our parkas and stepped into the arctic.
At 66° north of the equator, Reykjavik is the northernmost capital in the world and the biggest city in Iceland. It's home to almost two thirds of Iceland's 310,000 inhabitants, and a base for most travelers to the region.
Iceland is a very cool place, and the word is getting around. For years, it's been the vacation spot of choice for celebrities, who enjoy the beautiful scenery and the low-pro treatment they get from locals. Hollywood has caught on and has now used Iceland in a number of recent films: from Game of Thrones to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
Glaciers & Geysers
For everyday travelers, the draw has been adventure tourism. Reykjavik is close to glaciers, fjords, volcanos, geysers, horse trails, natural parks, and plenty of rivers for fly-fishing. Those who want to go deeper will find plenty of options in the north and east of the country, where the population drops and the quality of nature soars.
We were keen to hit the outdoors, but there was just one problem – I was deadly ill. I'd contracted some bug in South America and fought it off for a week before finally succumbing to exhaustion after two back-to-back red-eye flights from Rio to Reykjavik. My first order of business was not to climb a volcano, but to climb into bed and sleep.
We stayed downtown at a trendy hostel called Kex Hostel, a former factory converted into four stories of hotel rooms atop a public bar and restaurant on the ground floor. The latter hosted music shows, visual art performances, and film screenings, and was popular with locals. It was a good place to rest, relax and ask locals for advice on how to spend our week.
The Blue Lagoon
The next day, we began by heading straight for the Blue Lagoon, the most famous geothermal pool in the world and a symbol often associated with Iceland. I instantly felt revived as we dipped into the opaque turquoise-grey waters pooled between dark black lava rock. We learned that the waters held three important medicinal components: silica, which strengthens the skin; algae, an anti-aging agent; and a mixture of minerals that balance the skin.
Dropping in on the President
On our way back to Reykjavik, we decided to test a rumor we'd heard – that Iceland was such a friendly country that it was possible to knock on the president's home and ask to come in. Sure enough, we drove up to his unassuming residence (which had no guards or security cameras), parked in his driveway and rang the doorbell. His assistant let us know that he was not in, but gave us his phone number to set up an appointment!
Although our meeting didn't work out (he was leaving Iceland the next day) we decided to try one of Icelander's favorite dishes, and the most unappetizing to outsiders: singed sheep's head. Locals recommend we start with the eyeball, then the tongue. We also tried fermented shark meat, an...um...acquired taste that Alex thought tasted like cleaning fluid, but I described as a pungent French cheese. Forty minutes later, we'd managed to finish enough for etiquette’s sake and left the restaurant, content with having tried both dishes once – and one time only.
The Golden Circle
The following morning we traded Reykjavik for the countryside. After a forty minute drive through lava fields we arrived at our first destination: the entrance to an underground lava tube. Iceland was entirely formed from volcanic activity and so the island is crisscrossed in underground lava tubes in addition to volcanos and geothermal pools.
Next we went snorkeling in Silfra Lake in Pingvellir National Park, a glacial-fed lake that sits right above the tectonic rift between the North American and Eurasian Plates. Visibility was over 150 meters deep, but with a temperature of only 2°C, we couldn't spend more than fifteen minutes diving before we were dreaming of Californian weather!
To complete the so-called “Golden Circle” of Icelandic natural wonders, we went to Gullfoss waterfall, and the Geysir geyser, from which we get the English word. After that, Alex went on to go snowmobiling across a glacier to finish the week's adventure activities.
Roadtrippin' Through the Fjords
We rounded up the week by renting a car from RE:D Car Rentals and going on a road trip around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula to check out small fishing towns and to see Snæfellsjökull, the setting of Jules Verne's novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth. Although we weren't able to find the entrance to the center of the earth as described by Verne, the trip gave us a great opportunity to escape Reykjavik and soak up the small town life of the fjords.
By the time we got back to the capitol, it was time for one more soak in a geothermal pool, a couple of pints in the town, then off to the airport to fly to destination number eight – a bit closer to the My Guide Headquarters!
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