A Tale Of Two Icelands
After several days of truly miserable rain, wind and generally awful weather, we lucked out into a truly incredible last day on the island.
We packed up all of our stuff, started reloading our suitcases for the return journey, and hit the road.
And what a road it was. Our last full day on Iceland was also our best weather day.
One of my primary rules about road trips is to never backtrack unless absolutely necessary. After all, why see the same thing you already saw? In this part of the world, backtracking is a requirement since there’s basically one ring road around the entire island. So if you take it one way, you have to take it back the other way. Unless you do the entire loop, which we could not.
In our case though, it was hardly backtracking. On our way east and south, we were trapped in a relentless, merciless monsoon. We literally could not see anything around us that was more that a few thousand feet off the road. Going back, was like traveling through an entirely different country.
There were mountains, cliffs, and distant volcanoes that we hadn’t seen on the way out, at all. One of my primary missions for this trip was to see Mount Hekla, the real-life inspiration for Mount Doom. And on our way to Vik, it was just… non-existent. On our way back, we were in its shadow for almost the entire drive.
We stopped at two really great waterfalls called Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss. Both were very easy to approach – just a short walk from the parking lot. The Seljalandsfoss waterfall had the added bonus of being in front of a cave that you could walk through behind the waterfall. But that was a major league splash zone, and with a full day of driving ahead of us, no one was in any mood to get soaked again, especially since the sun was out.
As always keep in mind that ease of access means lots of crowds, even on a remote island like Iceland.
After stopping a few times to capture images of Mount Hekla from a few different angles, we went to the Kerid crater and took a short hike around the rim. This was incredible because the inside of the crater is full of turquoise colored water, and the views from the rim itself were amazing. And the hike up, around, and down was really easy – but just be warned, it’s very very windy at the top.
From Kerid, it was time to gun it to the Reykjanes peninsula where we had a quick stop at the Seltún Geothermal Area that also included some gaseous, sulphur-smelling, fumaroles. I thought this was a cool place, but there were no geysers… so it was just reeking steam, which Jacob… did not approve of. So we hopped into the car for a very stressful 20 kilometer drive to the nearest gas station after our awful car’s gas gauge suddenly went from about a quarter tank to nearly empty.
DEFINITELY more on THAT later.
We were down to just two last stops – first a quick trip to a liquor store to pick up some kosher wine for kiddush that night, which was a success! Recently Iceland starting importing Israeli wines, and they have them at a lot of stores across the country. Just check the website to make sure they’re in stock at the one you’re going to. Also – pro tip – liquor stores in Iceland are not everywhere, and they’re only open at somewhat random hours so make sure you plan ahead!
Our final stop on the road was a bridge that spanned the Continental divide between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Even though we had already been to the continental divide earlier in the trip, I preferred this location. For starters we were there alone, as opposed to being mobbed by people at Thingvellir. I also thought the landscape here was really crazy looking – bare brown soil, and huge boulders that had been split in half by earthquakes. It was very Mordor-looking. It was also by the sea, where we could see some mysterious cube-looking structure far off the coast.
Finally, I’m a sucker for signs that mark unique locations, and since the bridge noted where the divide was, you could stand on two different continents at the same time.
Then, finally, our final day on the road came to an end.
After a week in Iceland, we hadn’t really gotten to seen a sunset because even when the rain stopped at night the clouds were still dominant. And no auroras either – so this was our last chance to see either. We’d struck out already on seeing lava flows since the volcano stopped erupting days before we arrived, and whiffed on our drive around the Snaefellsnes peninsula because the rain was a disaster. But we had gotten to see everything else we wanted, even if it took until the last day to see Hekla.
However, seeing the Aurora Borealis was the absolute number 1 thing we had been hoping to see when we booked our trip. Our experience seeing the phenomenon in Alaska five years prior was amazing, but very short. I’d been staying up every night in Iceland until around midnight, but clouds were in the way each night.
After doing kiddush at sundown, we put Jacob to bed and I went down to watch the sun sink into the ocean. Looking at the cloudless sky I walked down towards the sea, I was hoping that this would finally be the night I woke up Ariel to see the light show.