Chapter 4: Iceland – The land of Fire and Ice

After more than a year of hiatus, I am finally back on wordpress, with a goal of reviving my travel blog once again. That 5 months of exchange in Europe back in 2014 was really a blast for me. In fact it was such as blast that it became a calm after the storm. I did not feel like traveling at all in 2015. For once, I just wanted to enjoy the most satisfying simple pleasures of life home has to offer.

Almost 2 years after a life-changing experience, I am hungry for more excitement in my life once more. As the saying goes, life is a dreary continuum made bearable by those moments of excitement. It is called feeling alive.

Now, lets go back in time, and relive the memories in 2014 that were not documented in this blog. Yes, Iceland. Iceland, as the name suggests, lies near the Arctic Circle. It is a place that I never imagined i would go to. It is a place defined by dramatic volcanoes, breathtaking waterfalls, picturesque scenery of beaches, and relatively muscular and cute horses. From its majestic rivers, to amazing geysers, the landscapes are vast and out of this world.

I was greeted with a snowstorm at the airport once I touched down. The winds were howling, and the snow was accumulating fast on the ground. I was excited about what this stunning country has to offer.

I took a tour with my friend (driving did not work for us as we are tropical beings, and we just do not know how to drive in snowstorms), and the first visit was the Geysir, a famous geyser in Haukadalsvegur, Iceland that erupts every few minutes, shooting water up to 70m into the air.

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Next, we visited Gulfoss. Gulfoss is a waterfall located in the canyon of Hvítá river in southwest Iceland. The water is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull. The water plummets down 32 meters in two stages into a rugged canyon which walls reach up to 70 meters in height. It was quite a long walk along the sides of the river to the end where we could have a great view of the entire canyon. But it was really worth it as the view was really amazing.

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We then traveled to Pingvillir, which offers spectacular views of the fault line between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site because it is the location of Iceland’s first parliament. It is the symbolic heart of Iceland, and interestingly, this parliament is also one of the oldest in the world. This place is important to the Icelanders because it is the birthplace of their sense of national identity. Their oral and literary traditions began at this particular place, and their growing sense of pride and fight for independence that eventually led to the freedom of its citizens.

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The very next day, the gloomy weather gave way to very clear skies. That was the end of the snowstorm. It also meant that there was going to be a very high chance of seeing the Northern Lights. But first, we headed further south to the Sólheimajökull glacier, which is a part of the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap. We were part of this tour which provided all the equipment needed for the glacier walk. It was not a very tough climb, but it was not easy either, due to the intense cold and strong winds. We walked through several varied landscapes along the way, passing through amazing ice sculptures formed over the past hundreds of thousands of years, and experienced wonderful scenery of crevasse, sink holes and ice ridges. We were also brought to the end of the glacier, where our guide pointed to us where the glacier once about 10 years ago, and where it was today. It was almost 2km apart. It just hit upon me suddenly that global warming and climate change is real, and it is happening right before us as we speak. It is alarming indeed.

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The next day, we visited Skógafoss, a waterfall situated on the Skógá River in the south of Iceland at the cliffs of the former coastline. It really looked like a wall of white satin threaded with silver. Amazing sight indeed. 

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The other waterfall that we visited was Seljalandsfoss.

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And here comes the most amazing thing in this post.

Yes. Northern Lights.

We traveled far away from the city center to try to catch the Northern Lights. The locals said that night we had a very high chance of catching it, and we were really hopeful. The previous trip to Rovaniemi in Finland was fruitless. We had to succeed this time.

And yes, it was indeed one of the strongest ones of the year, and we even caught the rare sightings of the pinkish lights. It was biting cold that night, as we huddled in the cold, with no fire to keep ourselves warm. I wore 2 layers of socks, but my toes felt numb. But these did not bother me at all. The Northern Lights did, and it was a spectacular night.

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The photos are not the best out there, as I did not have any tripod stand or amazing DSLRs to capture the lights. But you get the idea.

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The last day was spent at the Bleak, a stretch of black beaches on the Southern Coast. The tour guide warned us about the strong winds and currents of the sea. But the tourists just ran towards the beach like little kids.

Over the alien-looking cliffs that formed over thousands of years of erosion, gave way to the blackest sand I had ever seen in my life. The sand were as black as caviar. Sand that looked like the ashes from the depths of space. The beach is not a beach you would imagine in your head, lush tropical sandy beaches, blue skies and crystal clear water. No, this was from another planet. It was so gloomy, and yet alluring at the same time. The grey waves crashed onto the shores, and the turbulent waters churned and emitted thunderous noises that made it hard for anyone to speak to one another at shoulder’s length.

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There was a lone island in the distance that tried to make itself known amidst the dense fog surrounding the entire bay. Waves constantly crash against its shores, but it stood majestically still against time.

I spent another good 15 minutes standing, looking and admiring at the bizarre rock formations, which looked like blackened gigantic Macdonalds fries.

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And then I stood near the edge of the water, and looked at the crashing waves before me. I seldom talk about how travel changed my life. Of all my travels, very few of them had really made a huge impact on me, nor were they very life-changing moments, or enlightening periods which made me find and discover a new me. But I could say that experience in Iceland has embodied my perpetual state of mind. Gloom was beautiful. Cold never felt so warm. Every scenery, every view was like at the edge of this world. Somehow, it made me appreciate the world we live in, the vastness of nature, and its beauty to behold.

I never did want to leave Iceland. It felt like a dream. And reality hit upon me that somewhere out there, there is going to be another place that is as amazing, or probably way more exotic than Iceland, and it is just waiting for me to discover it.

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