An Icelandic Adventure: Where Fairies Come From

A Little Longer, Trips
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Seljavallalaug – Iceland’s Oldest Pool
We were awake early and snuck by throngs of tourists to steal breakfast from the hotel we didn’t stay at.  With at least a bit of Skyr and some pickled herring in our stomachs we got in the car to find the fabled hot spring swimming pool, Iceland’s oldest, Seljavallalaug.
The dirt road we decided would bring us to the trailhead, ended up being the right one on our too small map and when we got out of the car there was still a bite to the air as the sun hadn’t made it around to where we were yet.  The scenery was a construction site, rocky with a bit of water flowing through and a seemingly uncaring man wearing an Icelandic wool sweater operating a front end loader, still this had to be the spot.  There were two guys on enduro bikes, who had come from the same place we wanted to head to and they assured us we were in the right spot but that the pool was having some maintenance done by a few local volunteers that pressure wash it once a year.
We made our decision to walk in and check it out regardless of construction, or not; after all those guys could be lying, trying to keep tourists like us away from their local swim spot, hope is a curious thing.  As we turned to find the path in, an old Black Lab comes up to say hi, she is greying around the mouth and friendly as can be with quite a bit of slobber to go around.  Immediately after introducing herself, she is on the trail beckoning us to follow and so we we’re off following our doggy guide to the oldest pool in Iceland.
Rocky black construction, gave way to rich vibrant green hillsides and cliffs surrounding the valley we were walking through and the trickle of water we had seen in the flat before the trail turned into a river.  The morning was still and the air still cold, but this place was almost spiritual; calm and borderline solemn, justifying Icelandic folklore of fairies and trolls.  Our four legged tour guide took us up and down hillsides, knowing every which way to get around obstacles and as we approached a medium sized creek crossing, noticed our struggle and brought us lower to an easier place to get across.
Growing closer, the ground emitting the scent of sulfur and steam that only comes from the geothermal, we rounded a corner to see the old pool; built into the hillside, some of the concrete crumbling but still there, and three men in oil gear pressure washing as we’d been told.  The pool was empty and we both felt the pang of disappointment despite knowing this prior to our walk in.  We took a photo or two, gave the guys a wave and with that followed our friend back to the car, over obstacles, creek crossings, and appreciating every bit of the sun now warming our cold faces and the glowing green hillside behind us.

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This post was featured in Volume 1: Issue 2 of Lay Off The Iodine’s Analog Companion.
All photos in this post taken on Canon AE-1 on 35mm film.

An Icelandic Adventure: A World of Ice


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A bit further along and you find the landscape begins to change; lush greens and waterfalls give way to black and in the distance almost inching towards you, your first glimpse of a glacial tongue.  Skaftafell is Iceland’s premiere glacial national park and since ice accounts for about twenty percent of the island’s surface – a huge portion – this ice is not to be ignored, and Skaftafell is a great, albeit crowded, place to kick off.
A quick stroll brings you from vibrant brush and floor to the forefront of Falljökull glacial tongue, and the lagoon it melts into.  It’s immensity, at one time creeping towards us, now recedes, continually gaining momentum and disappearing faster and faster as time trudges forward and our kind does little to reverse the mistakes we’ve made that have brought us to this point.  A conversation for another day.
The chunks bobbing in the lagoon range from baseball size and crystal clear to car size and blue, to pure white and the size of a bus, all from the same place and all ever so slowly getting smaller to feed the lagoon.
As you take this all in, reflect on scale, time, politics, etc… the whipping wind coming off the ice chills you to the bone and through layer and layer you begin to feel it; noticeably fifteen or twenty degrees cooler and somehow fresher than the rest of the air, a bit more pure, a bit more free. Or maybe it’s just cold and that’s how you justify it.  Regardless it’s time to get back to the car.

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Photos in this post taken on Canon Rebel SL1

An Icelandic Adventure: The Ring Road’s Not-So-Secret Treasures

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Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss, and the Road There
Now sometimes you have to go to great lengths and distances to be able to find what you are looking for, be it solitude, beauty, immensity, challenge, adventure, etc… Sometimes, it’s right under your nose, right off the road and you knew it, or you didn’t.  These places, these things, sometimes they are crowded by throngs of tourists, but sometimes, sometimes they are yours and yours alone for that moment.
Iceland is gaining ground in the tourism industry, just about every person we ran into before and after was going, had been, or knew someone who was going or had been; this doesn’t detract from an adventure.  Folks say that if it’s crowded, it isn’t worth it or at the very least imply this, we ourselves have done so and it is a constant struggle to not be negative in this way.  Yes, Iceland is busy, there are loads of people around most corners, but it doesn’t take away from the validity of beauty, immensity, challenge, adventure of these sights; they are popular for good reason.
Many things we saw on our trip were right off the ring road, Iceland’s main drag that loops around the island, and they were all gorgeous.  Waterfalls more powerful than you can dream, so strong and rushing down so fast that you can feel their immensity in the blast of mist that hits your face as you approach.  They are surrounded by lush green whose contrast illuminates just how impressive and otherworldly they are.
To every gorgeous waterfall though, there are everyday sites right off the road where, if you pull over, get out, and take a look; you can find the same impressive beauty, the same history, the same country.  So yes, in the end, some places are busy and some places are unknown and under-appreciated, a huge amount right off the road, but they’re all worth your time even if you need to say “excuse me” to get through (or “pardon me” for trespassing).

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Photos in this post taken on Canon Rebel SL1

An Icelandic Adventure: Reykjadalur Hot Springs


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Reykjadalur – 4 miles in and out
Just a few minutes off the Ring Road and a 2 mile hike in you’ll find Reykjadalur, a natural hot spring fed creek, prime for a leisurely soak.  The hike is gorgeous, up, up, up into the hills and then meandering through valley, the greenest of scenery, past bubbling mud pots and steaming holes in the ground ripe with the eggy sulfuric scent that would send some running; all the while the Icelandic sheep just stare, as if to say, “we’re annoyed, but don’t care enough to say something.”
For sure, this place is popular, but not like it should be, not like it would be here in the states.  We arrive and stroll down the boardwalk pathway to the top of the stream, where, we correctly assume it’d be hottest. Past the Germans, the French, the locals, and of course other Americans; but it’s different than being at other sites surrounded by the same folks, there’s a camaraderie here that isn’t found with the folks using pervert lenses at the waterfalls.
We soak, trying different spots high up and down low on the stream, the natural temperature adjustment; to get up and move.  This place is magical, deep green hills, sheep grazing, blue skies and the sun kissing us the whole time.  No wonder the Icelandic folklore centers on elves, fairies, and trolls; why wouldn’t it, the magic of this country is palpable and this is only our first day.

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Photos taken on Canon Rebel SL1 and GoPro Hero4.