Iceland Travel LogThe land of fire, ice and...hot dogs?
A Quick(ish) Intro:
2020-2021 has been, well...a bit of a shit show for everyone. I hadn't been on a plane in about 15 months, easily the longest stretch in maybe a couple of decades for me. I've been used to traveling quite a bit and chose to be cautious and do my part during covid and stay home until I was fully vaccinated. I kept an eye on countries and locations that were opening up to fully vaxxed travelers (in my humble opinion, I think everything should be closed to non-vaccinated travelers, if you haven't been poked yet - GO GET VACCINATED!!!).
I figured Hawaii was going to be my first foray back into the world. I have enough points for a free flight, it's not far, I had been quite a few times in '18 and '19 and wanted to get back over to the Big Island and Kaua'i again. Then, this volcano, Fagradalsfjall started erupting in Iceland. I saw the first pictures and videos of it in March. I kept tabs on the eruption, but never had a thought of going to see it because I wasn't vaccinated and didn't really consider it within the realm of possibility. I got my first shot in March but wouldn't be 2 weeks post 2nd shot until April 17th (still waiting for that microchip to kick in and get my 5G signal...). Fast forward to the end of April, and I was fully vaccinated and itching to go somewhere. Like many, I needed a change from the abnormal and unhealthy ways that we all had to live over the last year plus. I had a random thought that I should go to Iceland for a few days to see this volcano. I hadn't seen an active eruption at any point in my life until a few summers ago in Hawaii. When I saw Kilauea erupt I became fascinated by it, I'd never seen or experienced anything like it in my travels to 42 different countries so far.
Anyway, during the last days of April, I start randomly poking around looking at flights. I still have points stashed away in a few different spots and quickly realized I could fly over for free - hurdle number one, done. I had seen pictures of Iceland for years and knew the names of different places solely from social media, but I hadn't actually researched the country yet and didn't know where all these places of interest were in relation to each other geographically. I created a custom google map and started plotting out different spots that I'd like to see. My original plan was going over for maybe 4 or 5 days, spending a few of those at the volcano and then hitting a few waterfalls that were close by and then coming back home. I can't travel anywhere abroad for 4 or 5 days, who am I kidding? The trip quickly expanded, as it tends to do when I'm planning, and within 24 hours I had planned out a 12 day (including travel days) whirlwind, maximizing trip to see as much as I could in my limited time there. With a place like Iceland, I try to see as much as I can the first go around expecting that I'll come back again at some point in the future. Within 2 days, I planned it, booked it, thought "oh fuck did I really just do that" then scrambled to find enough warm clothes that still fit me and hopped on a plane 2 days later. Here's what I saw and experienced...
Day 1 (May 4th, 2021)
Making my way to Iceland
When anyone travels, no matter how much of a perfectionist you are, and how detail oriented you are, something is going to get forgotten, go wrong, get messed up, etc. I hadn't traveled in so long that something was bound to get forgotten on this trip. The night before I flew out, I realized that my global entry had expired a few weeks prior - damnit! For some reason I thought I had another year on it, I thought wrong, I blame covid and how it seemed to bend and alter time in weird ways. Ultimately, not a big deal, but I haven't traveled without Global Entry / Precheck in a LONG time, and it's helpful when traveling with a lot of photo equipment and electronics, but the reality hit me that I was going to have to navigate security like a "normal" person for the first time in ages. When I figured out it expired, I went online right away and applied for a renewal hoping that maybe it would just auto renew on the spot - no such luck. It looked like it could be a 6 month wait for a new interview and then processing time, meh, oh well, wasn't happening on this trip. If I would have realized it was expiring, I could have applied for a renewal before the expiration date and would have gotten an additional 18 months to use it while a renewal was being processed - lesson learned - putting that date in my calendar next time! Anyway, enough about my Global Entry failures.
Today was tale of two flights. The first domestic flight on JetBlue from LAX to JFK was, well, less than stellar. I'm going to try REALLY hard not to have this spiral into a rant against America, American culture, society, etc (try, not guarantee - going to try to keep this about Iceland). Domestic terminals at both LAX and JFK were crowded, with a significant amount people not wearing masks inside. Should I have expected this? Probably. Did I hope people would be, well, just better people in general? Yes. On my flight from LA to NY, the guy next to me didn’t wear a mask the whole flight and he played music on his phone…WITHOUT headphones…on a plane…WTF dude? The girl across the aisle, Kylie… how do I know her name was Kylie? Well, she had it screened on her mask in all caps, which she wore as an eye mask leaving her mouth and nose exposed the whole flight. The JetBlue flight attendants either didn't care, or were told to make general announcements and let things slide to avoid creating conflict, because they served plenty of people who didn't have masks on and didn't say a thing. I tried to bury my frustration by watching the Dodger game on the flight, we got destroyed and Kershaw got pulled after 1 inning, the shortest / worst start of his career. So the trip was off to a rocking start!
When I landed at JFK, I went and got my bag from baggage claim and opted for a quick 5 min walk from T4 to T5 - that would give me a few minutes outside and a 5 min break from wearing my mask in what otherwise would have been about 19 hours straight of having it on. When I walked into the international terminal at JFK it was a ghost town. Very few people around the ticketing / check-in counters. My second flight was on Delta, they were really good about covid safety at the check in counter. They asked me here for my vax documents, verified them and then made a note on my boarding pass that I was good to go. After passing through security, I quickly discovered there were virtually no restaurants open. I grabbed some snacks and waited to board. The gate agents made an announcement that everyone needed to come up to the counter at the gate for a second verification of vax documents. Some at the gate complained about it, I thought it was great that they were being so thorough with making sure everyone had what they needed for arrival in Iceland before letting them board the plane. This flight was much more enjoyable and comfortable than the JetBlue domestic leg. Mostly everyone was fully vaxxed, polite, respectful, and kept their damn masks on. I fly Delta now and again, but I haven't flown with them that often. They're definitely creeping up my list of preferred airlines, especially as far as US airlines are concerned (spoiler - US carriers suck, they suck really badly in comparison to other carriers abroad especially). I struggle to sleep on flights no matter how tired I am or how severely I try to drug myself, so I passed the time with watching Bad Boys and Back to the Future. I didn't know what to expect as far as food service went on the flights with covid, but Delta seemed to operate a full service and they had decent food too, a little chicken marsala dish and some Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream!
Day 2 (May 5th, 2021)
Touching down on the world's 18th largest island and Fagradalsfjall experience #1
On the approach to the airport, the pilot got on the PA system and mentioned we could see the volcano as we were landing. Everyone instantly woke up and got excited, I imagine just about everyone on the plane was making the trek at least in part to see the volcano. The eruption was kinda far off, but we could see the cloud of smoke coming up from where it was, exciting! I landed in Iceland around 7:45am. My flight was the only flight coming in that day, or at least that morning apparently. The airport was completely empty except for our arriving flight. I give them (Iceland) credit, they were perfectly organized at the airport in regards to covid era arrivals. Before leaving home, I had been sent a link to an Icelandic website where I could fill in all my personal info (general travel info and also covid declarations about vaccination, etc) which then translated into me receiving a simple bar code that I had on my phone and also had printed out just in case. They checked my temp when I got off the plane, then herded everyone to another line where they verified vax docs again. Then went to another counter where they scanned the barcode to bring up my info and declarations and verified vax docs yet again. There were signs instructing us to download Iceland's official covid app, which held all your personal info stored in that bar code and also served as a contact tracing app. Man I love the logic and implementation of common sense here, and you know what, I didn't once feel like my "precious freedoms" were being infringed upon.
Next up, the double covid test swab! As I'm inching closer to the collection of little covid test rooms, I hear people sneezing, gagging, whining, overall just having a tough time. I'm thinking, come on people, it's just a covid test, this is easy stuff. After all, I've taken one of these things EVERY DAMN WEEK for the last year. When I'm a few spots away from entering a covid cubicle for my turn, I see how deep these testers are going with the nasal swab. I've had some deep swabs over the past year, but this looked next level deep. I stepped into my cubicle, met a friendly, but stern Icelandic fellow dressed in a medical gown. I handed him my barcode and docs, he scanned my info, scanned a couple of vials, then had me sit down. Now, here's the thing about the Icelandic language - it's rooted in German, so it has a bit of a rough / harsh undertone to it and when the Icelandic people speak English they kind of sound like the bad guys from a Die Hard movie. So here's this guy, sounding like he's getting ready to drive a dump truck full of gold bars through tunnels in NY as a part of some elaborate evil heist, gently caressing the back of my head while saying "don't run away, don't fight it, don't run", it was uh, the most interesting covid test I've received to date. First, he swabbed my tonsils, then the nose swab, and sure enough, it was easily the deepest nose swab I've had and he was very slow and deliberate about it. People that complain about the nose swab being deep here in the US need to travel to Iceland then realize they haven't even begun to understand the meaning of deep.
Alright, so, you've now been reading for a half hour and I haven't even left the airport yet, let's get you through the arrival BS and onto the good stuff. After the testing there was one final check in point. If you had a hotel pre-booked you were allowed to leave the airport and go quarantine there until the test results came in (if you were fully vaccinated). If you weren't fully vaccinated, you had a 5 day quarantine after your initial test results and then round two with the Die Hard crew. I picked up my rental car and headed for my hotel just outside Reykjavik - Hotel Viking. Sounds exciting, but alas the only excitement was figuring out if I could fit my bags in the room and still have the ability to close the door. While I waited out the test results, I re-arranged my stuff a bit and I planned the volcano excursion. I hadn’t slept yet (flight left LA day before at 10am, then got to NY at 6, left NY at 10:30 at night) so luckily I got an hour nap in during this time too and then I got cleared on my covid test and headed for the volcano. Iceland is great about working with people to see this amazing natural phenomenon, they have a website that's updated daily with volcano conditions, weather conditions, parking and hiking info (safetravel.is).
It took about 40 mins to drive out to the parking site for the volcano. When I got there, it had been erupting for about 6 weeks or so, and (from what I was told, still need to verify this) it’s been about 300 years since it last erupted. Over the last 6 weeks the eruption site has expectedly changed, the lava flows have changed, the fissures have changed, that's part of the beauty of this experience. It's something a bit different everyday. The eruption site isn't far from Reykjavik, but also kinda out in the middle of nowhere, but I guess most of Iceland is out in the middle of nowhere. You can see the plume of smoke from Reykjavik, and at night the glow of the volcano becomes part of the skyline from the right angle. I was really impressed with how officials in Iceland have dealt with the volcano and made it accessible here and allowed people to have this incredible experience. If this happened in America, they’d regulate the hell out of it and block it off and make it as hard as possible for people to enjoy it. Here, they did the opposite. They know people want to go see this spectacle of nature and they work really hard to make it as easy and safe as possible to do so. They bulldozed some old lava fields off the side of the highway and created gravel roads and temp parking lots. At first I wasn’t sure if my little low-to-the-ground, 2WD Kia Rio was going to make it down the gravel road to the parking lot. It was bumpy as hell, but it ended up handling it just fine. I parked, got out of the car and went, oh holy shit it’s cold and windy as hell, so I layered up and brought extra layers with in my backpack. I had my backpack with all my photo gear and drone so about 20-30lbs worth of stuff in there. I hit the trail and hiked out to the eruption site.
The hike was about 3 miles which took roughly an hour and a half the first time I did it, I stopped to enjoy the views and take my time, the future treks on the trail went faster. The hike was tiring, but really not bad and definitely worth it! There was a half mile to 3/4 mile stretch where you gained about 1000 ft in elevation, over two separate inclines - the path was just loose rock, gravel and old lava so it wasn’t the easiest if you didn't have poles or great shoes / balance. I started off cold in the parking lot and was sweating my ass off after the first two inclines with all the layers on. I ended up getting out to the volcano around maybe 6:30’ish in the evening. My first views were from a pretty good distance away, but at this point any signs of tiredness melted away, all of the bullshit of the last 15 months disappeared, my frustration with Americans / American culture and society didn't exist anymore because it didn't matter in the moment. This is exactly what I was looking for, a change, something different than the bullshit of the last year plus. After my first views, I finished off the last bit of the trail and got as close to the erupting fissure and lava flows as I safely could. After experiencing the Hawaiian eruption from a helicopter and a boat, this was an entirely different animal being able to hike up and walk around an eruption site and get this damn close to a live, active volcano. There's truly nothing like it. It's one of the only instances where new Earth is being created. In most places on the planet, we're destroying the planet or nature is eroding it away, here, the opposite is happening. The power, the heat, the majesty of it all, it's hard to describe. When magma hits the surface and then gets referred to as lava, it's about 2000 degrees F. Think about how hot you'd be standing in the sun on a 100 degree day, or how hot it is when you open up the oven or bbq when they're at 400-500 F. 2000F is just a completely different ballgame. You feel this heat from so far away, it's such an incredible feeling and leaves you feeling a bit smaller than you did before you found yourself in the presence of something so naturally powerful...and hot!
The sun didn’t set until after 10 so it was still broad daylight. I hadn’t picked up a camera in almost 2 years at this point, so I was just slightly rusty - (sarcasm here, I had to really think about what I was doing but some of it came back pretty quickly) but started trying to take some shots anyway. In going back through the shots from the first night, it's amazing how bad they were. The wind was so strong and I was trying to use my long zoom lens and the wind was shaking it like crazy and making the pictures blurry, especially with less light towards the end. I needed to speed up my shutter speed to compensate, I needed to move around and get better angles, use different lenses, etc. I didn't shoot well at all that first night. In retrospect, I'm a little disappointed in "wasting" an opportunity to get better shots, but the experience of seeing the volcano and the eruption far outweighs the disappointment - maybe I'll have to go back! I almost left right before it got dark, because I didn’t wanna hike down the trail in the dark. I started walking partway back, then I stopped and said fuck it, I'm only going back because I'm cold and tired. I haven't slept in a day, but I'm here, this is exactly why I came, if I go back now I'm going to regret it. I reached in my backpack, put on an extra couple of layers and stayed for the show as it got dark - and holy shit it was definitely worth it! The wind at the site that night was pretty strong, but I saw a guy pull out his drone and put it up and it survived. I ended up doing the same and about 10 other people followed suit pretty quickly. It was like a mini airport down at the bottom of the hill we were watching from, we had drones taking off and landing constantly for over an hour. This wouldn't have happened at home, the airspace restrictions would have been put in place, no drone signs would have been put up, and the world would have not been getting the type of amazing images and video that people are cranking out from the volcano. Putting up the drone that night was my saving grace, I was able to get a few shots. I still found myself massively underwhelmed with a lot of the shots I came back with. My hands were shaking as I flew the drone because they were so cold, so the video was a little herky-jerky, and I was so tired that my brain just wasn't firing on all cylinders and I missed a lot of creative opportunities that I could have nailed with both photos and videos.
Anyway, I still got a few images worth sharing. The Icelandic government had these safety people out there in hazmat / space suits with respirators on and these little machines that tested the air for poisonous gas - they beeped if the gas hit a certain level….there was a lot of beeping and a lot of the safety crew telling people to move around in different directions. When they came over to where the drone crew was standing they told us we needed to move because the poisonous gas level was too high, and that if we were there for more than 15 minutes we could get really sick and start to feel some adverse effects. Well, I had been there for over an hour, so I got a little worried that I was going to start feeling the effects of the gas, but I ended up being fine. I asked one of the safety people if I had to worry about long term effects and they said don’t worry about it, that generally I’d just feel something right away if I was going to feel it and that not everyone has a bad reaction to it but that it was still a good idea to move and play it safe, so I moved up the hill and watched a little more from up there before starting the hike back down. I survived the hike back down in the dark! It really wasn't a big deal, as long as you go slow it's just fine to do it at night. The biggest issue was that I was exhausted from lack of sleep and didn't have the best balance. I had a headlamp and took it slow. The vast majority of the people out there were locals, some of them were like mountain goats with night vision. They handled the trail with ease and almost none of them used headlamps at night, one crazy lady was running down the mountain in the dark like she was out for a jog! They also didn’t seemed too fazed by the 30 degree (F) temps and 30mph winds. I made it back to the hotel around 1am, my body clock was all screwed up and still hadn’t slept since leaving home other than my 1 hour power nap while waiting for test results. Given that, my plan probably seems insane, but when I travel, especially on my own, I tend to push myself a bit. My plan was to sleep for about 2 hours then leave at 3am to drive an hour and 45 mins each way out to see a waterfall (Gulfoss) I forgot to plan time for, I hit the bed and then…
Phone Snaps & Camera / Drone Images From Day 2
Day 3 (May 6th, 2021)
Exploring Reykjavik, Icelandic Hotdog #1 and Volcano Hike #2!
I slept through my alarm and completely botched my insane all nighter plan to go see Gulfoss for sunrise. I ended up sleeping 10 hours and woke up at 11am, guess I needed it! I figured I’d go check out Reykjavik, since I wanted to explore it anyway and see what it was all about. I started off with the big famous church (Hallgrimskirkja) in the middle of town, it has an elevator to a lookout deck at the top with 360 degree views of the city. I was the only person there and had the observation deck all to myself, which would become a theme for this trip. After that, I took a little self guided walking tour around the main parts of the city - the downtown area isn’t all that big, it’s nice though and has a mix of the feel of a modern European city and also elements of an old fishing village with certain buildings and colors mixed throughout. Apparently this is the northernmost capital city in the world, and Europe's westernmost capital city. There’s about 217k people that live in the general Reykjavik area and only about 357k in the entire country, less than Long Beach (456k)! There was an area where all the street names were norse gods, I snapped one of the name that means Thor. They had a rainbow pattern painted on one of the main streets, I know that culturally Iceland is supposed to be a little more progressive and accepting than many other places in the world - especially certain parts of America (really trying hard not to go off on a tangent here). Apparently they’ve been ahead of the curve on women’s rights and equality, and it looks like they’re very LBGTQ friendly too, good on you Iceland!
After exploring on foot for a few hours, I finally went in search of the famed Icelandic hot dog. I had done some googling to find the best rated dog in town and asked some locals and they concurred. There was no one around when I got to the tiny little stand - everything is pretty empty because of covid. Tourists were few and far between, and there were some locals around, some but not a ton and I'm told the city is typically much more lively than how I experienced it. The hot dog place is a little red stand off the side of downtown by the harbor. It’s got a few tables around it so you can grab a dog and eat outside. The tables have little hot dog holders which was very cool. There were 4 total items on the menu - the dog, soda, a candy bar of some sort and chocolate milk, that was it. The Icelandic hot dog itself is apparently made mostly from lamb, so it has a bit of a different taste - I gotta say, it’s a tasty dog and for me, the taste beats an American hot dog. I also didn’t feel gross afterward and didn’t find myself burping up horrible hot dog tastes for the next day like I would with a dog back home. You can get it with fried onions, fresh onions, some apple ketchup, some fancy mayo and mustard. I opted for just the plain dog with the fried onions underneath it. It was about 5 bucks, which felt cheap for Iceland. I went back to walking around and exploring the city for a few more hours. I tried to find some fish and chips to try next - I had looked up what the best rated places were but they had all gone out of business because of covid. The number one place I found was being replaced by a chicken place, so I couldn’t be too mad about it given my affinity for chicken - I saw guys replacing the sign out front as I walked up. I ended up walking into a restaurant and asking if they served fish and chips, the owner said no, but told me about a place that I guess was voted best by locals, it was a little trailer down by the waterfront. It didn’t open until 6pm, so I explored town a little more first and found a gallery of a famous Icelandic photographer and spent some time in there looking at all his work - beautiful stuff! I drove back to my hotel, packed up my stuff for volcano excursion number 2, then about an hour later I headed back into town and went for some fish and chips. It was a little red trailer down by the waterfront near some of the museums and docks for the fishing boats, it was called fish and chips Vagninn and it was pretty damn good! After I finished up, I drove about an hour out to the volcano site.
Volcano hike #2 was much the same as number 1. Though I noticed that they brought out a giant earth digger and re-made part of the trail in less than 24 hours. Again, I found myself very impressed by how they do things in Iceland. The trail work partially flattened out the first of the two steep areas near the beginning of the hike, not totally flat, but the changes made the grade much more do-able, especially for the average person - you didn’t feel like you were going to fall off the side of a cliff at certain parts anymore. It still didn’t fix the hardest / most steep part of the hike, but the change definitely helped. I got out to the volcano and had a better idea of how I wanted to shoot it tonight, even though it was more windy tonight than the previous night I was able to handle it better after getting my bearings the night before. I stayed a little later tonight than I did the first time. The volcano was the main reason why I randomly booked this trip and I wanted to soak it all in knowing that I probably wasn’t going to do the hike again on the last night of the trip before my flight home. I took time to just sit and enjoy the show in-between taking pics and videos with my regular camera and again with the drone. I'll never get used to an experience like this, and I'm happy about that. It's not something that will ever become routine or reach the point of - oh I've done that and I don't need to do it again. I could make that hike and watch the eruption everyday and not get tired of it (well maybe the hike, but not the eruption). I made it back down in the dark without falling off the cliff again! I got back to the hotel a little after 2am from this volcano excursion. I decided to try my all-nighter Gulfoss plan again since I had slept for so long the previous night. This time I stayed up for an hour and transferred photos, took a shower, and then headed out around 3am to drive to Gulfoss.
Phone Snaps & Camera / Drone Images From Day 3
Day 4 (May 7th, 2021)
The All-Nighter and The Clutch Vik Add-on
Did I really just pull an all-nighter after hiking a freaking volcano? Yep.
The all nighter was worth it, I drove an hour and 45 mins, driving part of what's known as the Golden Circle which is home to some very beautiful areas just outside of Reykjavik. I got out to the waterfall around 4:40am, just before sunrise, but it was already very bright. I had a really beautiful, famous waterfall - Gullfoss all to myself. This was one of the most unique aspects to this trip, having these special places that would normally be packed with tourists all to myself. Part of it is because I was getting to a lot of these places at odd hours of the day; unless you're a photographer, nature lover, insomniac or just crazy - you're probably not going and hanging out at a waterfall before 5am when it's freezing cold outside. Having so many of these places to myself on this trip is probably never going to happen for me in Iceland, or really anywhere else again, score 1 point for a major benefit of a worldwide pandemic! When I got out of the car the wind was howling and there were tiny snow flurries floating around, they didn’t stick but it was fitting given how cold it was! I stayed at Gullfoss for a few hours taking pics. After knocking off some of the rust of my 2 year photography hiatus at the volcano, this started to feel like old times again and I spent waaaay too much time in the same area taking way too many photos of roughly the same scene as the light changed, I enjoyed it though. I even got back to my questionable ways of hopping safety railings (those are just suggestions anyway right?) and got a little closer than I should have to some nice life altering drop-offs. After the sun came up a rainbow came out that dropped straight into the canyon below the falls, it was pretty amazing. Gullfoss is a very powerful, very beautiful, stunning waterfall. On one side of the viewing platform you can take in a wide cascade, that cascade flows together to create the major brink of the falls that ends up being the most sought after view for photography and probably just for most in general. When the falls plunge down into the canyon and the water makes its way off into the distance down the perfectly carved canyon, its stunning. After finishing up with photos, I relaxed for a few minutes and enjoyed the views without a camera before heading back into Reykjavik.
I somehow managed to stay awake for the hour and 45 min drive back and got back to the hotel around 9:00am. When I got back to the hotel and my key didn’t work, and they felt bad so they gave me an upgraded room because no one else was there. The last thing I wanted to do at this point was pack up my bags that had predictably exploded over the last couple of days and switch rooms, but I figured screw it, I’ll take the bigger room and enjoy it (remember, the first one was so tiny I could barely fit my stuff inside and still close the door). I finally got some sleep in! I ended up sleeping until about 1pm, got up, went back into Reykjavik for lunch. It was time for hot dog number 2 - I had to make sure the first one wasn't a fluke! It wasn't, it was delicious again. At this point, I made a spontaneous decision that I had been mulling over throughout the day so far. I had another night booked in Reykjavik. I could stay and go for a 3rd volcano hike again tonight and then try to pull another crazy all nighter where I drove 2 hours each way to go get to another famous waterfall at a decent time for photos, or I could abandon the hotel reservation I had for tonight and start driving east / south towards Vik which would give me time to see more places that I hadn't really planned enough time for in my very rushed trip planning. I made the decision to bail on my last night here in Reykjavik and head for Vik. I left town, went back to the hotel, packed up my stuff and headed towards Vik along the southern coast.
Vik is close by to two really famous waterfalls (Skogafoss & Seljalandsfoss), also a potential area for puffin spotting and a famous black sand beach. In retrospect, bailing early was a great decision - it worked out really well. The drive from Reykjavik to where I was staying outside of Vik was about 2 and a half hours. So far, other than wind, I had great weather. Along the drive it rained, hailed and snowed - this is what Iceland was supposed to be like right?! If you don't like the weather, wait 5 mins and it'll change! I ended up getting to my little guest house for the night around 7pm. The lodging was on a farm out in the country, but also very close to the beach. I absolutely loved this guesthouse (called the Farmhouse Lodge - I highly recommend it for anyone staying in the area). The rooms were light and bright, new, but the whole place still had that homey guest house / B&B country feel to it. I checked in, set my bags down and quickly left again and went down to a black sand beach (Reynisfjara) that was about 10 mins away. Some of Game of Thrones was filmed here apparently - the black sand beach and cave entrance were the beach and entrance below Dragonstone on the show. I took a few pics and then went over to go check out an overlook where you could apparently see some of the famous Icelandic Puffins. The road gets closed at 7pm though to go up to the overlook so I had to wait until the next day. Now about 8:45pm, I headed for one of those famous waterfalls - Seljalandsfoss. I had seen pictures of this waterfall for years, it's always interesting visiting a highly photographed and shared location in person after seeing it online so many times. I try to visit without any expectations, knowing full well that what I've seen in pictures is probably going to make it seem a little underwhelming in person if you go into the visit with expectations. I enjoyed Seljalandsfoss, it's really close to a parking lot, and for some reason they installed a few lights that point at the waterfall to light it up a bit, I didn't think those were necessary, but it's such a unique waterfall in that you can actually walk behind it, that the rest didn't matter. I shot sunset there and left the falls around 10:30pm. I was pretty exhausted at this point after the late night volcano hike, all nighter and short nap (did I really just do all this stuff in the same day???) I got back to the guest house around 11:30pm. I tried to sleep but failed, I don’t know why I couldn’t sleep but I just tossed and turned and I was just completely exhausted. Wanting to maximize and not miss a thing, I dragged myself out of bed at 3am to start the next day…
Phone Snaps & Camera / Drone Images From Day 4
Day 5 (May 8th, 2021)
More Vik Exploration, Driving the South Coast to Höfn and HOLY SHIT IS THAT JOKUSARLON?!?!?!
Thoroughly exhausted, I somehow got out of bed to go visit another well known waterfall - Skogafoss for sunrise. It was a quick 15 min drive down the road, but man was I fucking cranky this morning - good thing I was by myself! I wasn't in a good mood, in my head, questioning why I was running at this hectic pace trying to take all these photos because I don’t even take photos anymore. I started questioning why I was even taking this trip, what I was doing, etc. I got to the waterfall, parked, got out and man it was really cold, if I took my gloves off for more than a minute or two my hands just hurt. There were snow flurries again, and biting cold wind. It’s pretty crazy, I had this famous, easily accessible waterfall all to myself just like the morning before. Anyway, being in my mood, exhausted and being cold, I was in a haze trying to setup and figure out how to compose pictures of Skogafoss. I don't think my brain was really firing on all of it's creative cylinders this morning so I didn't get exactly what I wanted and feel like I definitely left some shorts on the table here. I finally got a little bit of color in the sky and snapped some shots, moved around and changed up my compositions and snapped a few more. I kept dropping lens caps in the freezing cold water and accidentally stepping off of rocks into the cold water, which, as you guessed, absolutely made my mood better.
After I finished up taking pics, I walked up a staircase that was next to the waterfall and looked out at the landscape, holy shit it was gorgeous. I kinda chilled out, told myself I was here to have fun and do something different / new and enjoy this beautiful place after over a year of being stuck at home. The whole point of the trip was to break out of the covid funk and just do something different, I didn't come here with taking photos being the purpose. That was just something I was doing to enjoy the experience. I no longer had to try to take photos to make money with them, or use them to sell trips, this was just purely for fun. If I wasn't going to enjoy it, then I was going to stop taking pictures and running myself into the ground, and that's the deal I made with myself right then and there. That kinda relaxed me a little bit and took the pressure off which was needed. It definitely changed my mood and I relaxed, maybe I was just so overtired that I stopped caring, who knows, but it helped! I went back to my guesthouse afterwards and got back around 7am, did laundry and slept til 1pm. The laundry was clutch because when I hiked the volcano I ended up with 6 layers on up top and everything got sweaty after the first 2 days! Now I had a full suitcase of fresh clean clothes going forward. Another covid benefit - no one cared how long I stayed in my room the next day which was such a life saver for me given this weird sleeping schedule I had gotten myself into. I was able to be up late, up early, then sleep during the morning and leave a few hours after when checkout would have normally been. I talked to the owners of the guest house a little bit, an older couple in their 70’s maybe. We talked about what covid was like for them here in Iceland, how they’ve been vaccinated and how about 1/3 of the population here has been vaccinated so far and where I was from, etc. After that, I thanked them, packed the car and left and went across the highway to that nature preserve (Dyrhólaey) that was closed off the night before. I didn’t see any puffins unfortunately, but I did a few small walks and got some scenic views of the surrounding area and the GOT beach. After the hikes I went back down to the GOT beach (Reynisfjara) and took more pics, then left there around 4pm.
I was leaving a lot later in the day than I planned, but it didn't matter. I didn't have a schedule to keep, if I missed a sunset shoot or sunrise shoot I no longer cared now. I got to do other things besides photography and wasn’t forcing it so I felt a lot better about things. A couple minutes down the road from the beach was the main town that I had stayed by for the night - Vik. It’s tiny, only 318 people total in the town! I drove through the main area just to see what it was like, nothing too eventful but I saw an open restaurant with no one inside so I popped in and had a late lunch. Besides the hot dogs and fish and chips, this was really the first "actual" meal I had in Iceland. I had been surviving off of protein & greens shakes, protein bars and trail mix pretty heavily. I opted to try the lamb soup, it was loaded up with veggies and braised lamb in a lamb broth, it was pretty damn tasty! Everything is a bit more expensive in Iceland, gas was north of 8 bucks a gallon. The bowl of soup was $19 USD, but they at least gave you refill. After lunch, I hit the road again and drove for a little over 3 hours to my next stop in Höfn, which is on the south eastern coast of Iceland and a gateway to the largest national park in Europe - Vatnajökull.
The drive was really scenic, I passed by multiple mountain ranges with glaciers - it rained, it snowed, it hailed - so far I'm getting all the less than ideal weather when I've been in the car, that works out well! There were a few tiny towns along the way with maybe 5-10 houses per town, one even had a big waterfall running right behind the houses, must be a very boring, quiet place to live but also beautiful and peaceful. The place I stayed at this night, and for the next couple of nights is in-between two main attractions I wanted to visit and take pics of. Vestrahorn, a cool mountain that some people call batman mountain, and a glacial lagoon and black sand beach called Jökulsárlón. Jökulsárlón is a lagoon that sits below a massive ice field (collection of glaciers) and is apparently the biggest ice field in the world outside of Antarctica or the North Pole. Basically the glaciers break apart and drop massive icebergs into the lagoon that can be the size of houses, they slowly melt and float down a channel that runs directly into a black sand beach. Once the icebergs hit the ocean, the currents wash them up onto the beach and it looks like there’s a bunch of diamonds hanging out on the black sand, it’s absolutely gorgeous. This is a spot I have really badly wanted to visit for a long time. It's another one of those places I've seen so many times in pictures but had no idea what to expect when seeing it in person.
I was about an hour outside of my guesthouse for the night when I caught the bright, glacial blue color out of the corner of my eye. I saw the tip of an iceberg sitting in a body of water. It caught me by surprise, I hadn't seen any signs for a while and incorrectly thought I had booked a guest house closer to where Jökulsárlón was. I thought wow, are there multiple glacial lagoons in this area? Then quickly realized, fuck, i didn't book a guest house that was close to this place, I booked one that was an hour away. That's going to make being here for sunrise and sunset a massive pain in the ass and further stretch my limited sleep already. I pulled over into the lot for the glacier lagoon and thought about whether I wanted to just stay here until sunset which was still a few hours away, or go and find my guest house, check in, drop my stuff off and come back out right away. I opted to go find the guest house and just do some extra back and forth with the driving. I got to the guest house at 8pm, checked in, drop my stuff off, then booked it back to the glacier area by 9pm for a 10pm sunset. I'm still waiting to see if I got nailed by a speed camera in this area, and if I did, I probably have about 29 tickets coming my way, I drove this stretch a lot over the course of 3 days and probably never drove the speed limit (which by the way is very slow - 90km or about 54mph).
I got lucky and made it just in time as the sky was blowing up and the light was getting really nice. There’s basically 4 spots you can park in and explore from - 2 on the lagoon side and 2 on the beach side. If you park on the wrong side of the channel, you have to drive around because you can’t walk across or swim across (who would want to anyway??). At first I parked in the wrong spot and ended up on the wrong side of the channel from where the icebergs were on the beach, so I got back in the car and drove around, parked, and full out sprinted for about 5 mins in the sand with all my heavy photo gear on my back, but I got there just in time to start firing off pics before the sun dropped and the light disappeared, it was pretty damn amazing. The area looked different than I imagined it might have before visiting, but not in a bad way. I had high hopes for this spot and it definitely lived up to the hype. I managed to find a really nice iceberg down the beach a bit (that’s why I sprinted) and I took pics for a while and then went and sat on it and enjoyed the views from my iceberg couch for a minute! I wrapped up shooting around 10:30pm, I was beaming, I was so damn happy (what a change from yesterday, or actually, that was actually this was actually still the same day). I’ve had a few moments like this when traveling where everything just kinda lines up perfectly, I was on cloud 9. In the end, I enjoyed the moment and felt really grateful for taking the trip and getting to see these beautiful places. After the hour drive back to my guesthouse (Seljavellir - another one I highly recommend), I got back in around 11:30pm. I somehow wasn’t tired, so I backed up photos, cleaned up my camera gear which was full of dirt, then finally tried to go to bed around 12:30am. Again, I couldn’t really sleep and tossed and turned but decided to get up at 2:45am to head out for sunrise, this one didn't feel like an obligation, I felt excited to get out there today.
Phone Snaps & Camera / Drone Images From Day 5
Day 6 (May 9th, 2021)
Vestrahorn, Exploring Höfn, Slowing Down a Bit
I hit the road by 3:15 this morning and decided I was going to try Vestrahorn for sunrise. I did some research on it and it was supposed to be a sunrise spot, when I got there I realized that this time of year, it’s probably better at sunset, or even just mid afternoon. But I was there, it was early, and surprise surprise, freezing cold again! Fuck it, I was up, I was there, I was staying. To get there, you have to drive on someone's private land. There's a little cafe and guest house setup with a credit card machine on the outside, you pay, get a barcode and then enter a private road through a boom gate by scanning the bar code. Pretty impressive considering that it feels like this place is out in the middle of nowhere (the town of Höfn near by is home to about 2,500 people, so it's not totally isolated). It was also kinda weird that this beautifully scenic spot is on some person's private land and isn’t a national park. I spent a bit of time out at Vestrahorn this morning, it was crazy windy this morning, I tried to get some pics but don’t think many really worked out. I left Vestrahorn and drove back to my guesthouse, it only took about 15-20 mins, I got in around 7am. I went to bed around 8am, got up at 2pm, relaxed and then went and explored the little town here - Höfn. It’s a fishing town and tourist town known for lobster, horseback riding and visiting nearby glaciers and the beauty of the largest national park in Iceland, and I believe in all of Europe? I’ve only had lobster one other time in my life, on a trip to Mexico at some point not to long after college, so it's been a while. When I travel somewhere, if a place is known for a certain type of food, I like to try to give it a shot. A lot of the restaurants aren't open because of covid, they are either temporarily shut or they didn't survive. For the restaurants that are open, they tended to have limited hours and often weren't open when I was looking to eat, given the weird time schedule I was running on. I settled for more fish and chips for lunch, pretty tasty stuff again. Oddly enough, the fish and chips and lobster meals are around the same price - guess they catch a ton of lobster around here for it to be that cheap in comparison. I popped into a local gas station and took some photos of the random stuff they sell, I always get a kick out of the different types of snacks they have in other places around the world. They had a little charging station outside for electric cars - I’ve seen a ton of electric cars on the roads in Iceland, more on average than I’d see back at home. I saw some random drink in can and had no clue what it was but I looked like it might have some vitamins in it? Decided to give it a whirl and it was alright. After exploring town and grabbing food, I headed back to the guest house to go get all my gear together to go take pics tonight.
I went back into Höfn before going out to shoot sunset, I figured if this is a lobster haven, I really needed to try some lobster. I found one open restaurant that was serving some at the time, I went and got some lobster tempura with some fries. Damn it was delicious! I might not wait so long before my next lobster experience. I went over to Vestrahorn originally for sunset, it started to look like the clouds were going to completely cover the mountain though. This is the part of photography that gets dicey, fun, aggravating, etc. Trying to look at the weather and guess what it’s going to do and put yourself in a spot to get the best photos possible. My best guess was that Vestrahorn wasn’t going to have the best conditions tonight, but that the glacier lagoon looked like it was setup to blow up with amazing light. I took a couple of pics and then decided to try to race over to the glacier lagoon that’s about an hour away. On the drive over the sky went nuts with color and I caught the tail end of it when I got to the glacier lagoon, kinda missed the best part of it but Vestrahorn got totally blocked up with clouds and didn't have great light, so things kinda worked out. When I was at the glacier lagoon I finally ran into another photographer for the first time on the trip (outside of the volcano), a guy about my age from Israel. We talked covid, vaccinations, photography, Iceland. Apparently this was his 5th trip and the last time he came, he was here in winter for 35 days straight and saw the aurora 5 times! That's still up at the top of my bucket list, I still need to see the northern lights in person. I've had chances in the Canadian Rockies several times before but the clouds didn't cooperate. After wrapping up at the lagoon, I got back to my guest house around 11pm, I really wanted to try to sleep before getting up at 2:30am to drive an hour back out to the glacier lagoon / diamond beach for sunrise. I took an allergy pill because those normally make me pretty sleepy - once in a while they do the opposite though and give me a jolt of energy though for a few hours before making me sleepy and that’s exactly what happened this time.
Phone Snaps & Camera / Drone Images From Day 6
Day 7 (May 10th, 2021)
More Mountains, Diamonds, Insomnia & a Ton of Bacon
I ended up being wired from the allergy pill and didn’t sleep at all. I packed up and left at 2:30am, drove an hour to Jökulsárlón. I stopped at the lagoon side first, no one was there, the conditions didn't seem like they were going to line up for a great sunrise shoot on this side but I wanted to fly the drone really quickly and snap a few shots. I put it up and got a quick video and some pics, then jumped in the car and drove across the channel and across the street for a sunrise session with the diamonds.
It was an interesting scene out there in the morning. The waves come crashing in at different angles and they toss the icebergs around on the beach like they’re little toys. Some of the icebergs are tiny, some are the size of a couch or a small car, but they all tend to be sharp! You have to be careful because when a powerful wave hits, all the sudden you can get side swiped by an iceberg you didn’t see coming on the other side of you. This was a challenging place to try to take pictures of well. I tried for a few hours and think I got a few shots I liked, but the challenge of the constantly changing scene, rogue waves and iceberg dodging made for an interesting morning, especially on zero sleep. After finishing up on the beach around 6am, I drove an hour back to my guest house. By now the drowsy part of my allergy pill experience started to kick in. I got in, set my stuff down and I crashed out hard. Next thing I knew I woke up and it was 2pm. When people come to Iceland over the height of summer for serious photography, they tend to sleep during the day and stay up all night because it’s light 24 hours and the better light is at night, that’s kinda what I’ve been doing. Anyway, after I got up at 2 in went into town to go get some food. I went back to the place I got fish and chips from the day prior and got some bacon and eggs with toast. I made some egg sandwiches and had a crazy amount of bacon - no joke they must have given me an entire pack, they gave me 9 pieces of bacon! I figured I probably shouldn’t eat it all, but who the heck throws bacon away? I ate it all. It was glorious, it was delicious, it was also by far the saltiest bacon I’ve ever had in my life. I went back to my guesthouse for a bit, cleaned up my photo gear and reorganized my bags a bit, then made the short drive back to Vestrahorn for some afternoon and sunset shooting. These last few days have been pretty much all about taking photos, but this was a specific area that I knew I wanted to do that in, and I didn’t want to book any of the expensive day tours to go walk on a glacier or go horseback riding, I’ve done all that before in Alaska and Canada and didn’t feel the need to do it again here. The conditions weren’t great for photos, I snapped a few pre sunset but then went back in the car for warmth, the wind was ripping right through me tonight even with the layers, it was damn cold! I waited around until almost 9:30, then drove 15 mins back to the guest house crossing my fingers for some sleep tonight!
Phone Snaps & Camera / Drone Images From Day 7
Day 8 (May 11th, 2021)
The Last Dance with the Diamonds, Long, Scenic Drives & the Best Meal of the Trip
Well... I didn’t sleep. I was awake from sunset through sunrise again. Oh well. I left around 2:40am and headed back out to the diamond beach at Jökulsárlón. The waves were pretty rough again today and moving in a bunch of different directions as they crashed, so it was chaotic again with icebergs being tossed every which way. It was fun and challenging again and I think I got a few decent shots, I've gone through a few of them but still have a lot more to make my way through. I got to the beach around 3:40am and stayed until about 6am, and on this visit I definitely got a little wet which wasn’t the most fun at that time of day when it was 28 F and windy out, but what are you gonna do?! After I got back to the guest house at 7am I crashed hard. Walking up to my room that I had been at for the past 3 days now, I realized that I could see 5 massive glaciers in the distance from my front door. After spending a few days in such a beautiful place, you start to take all of the insane natural beauty for granted.
Today I had the longest drive of the trip thus far, going from the southeast all the way up the east coast and then cutting across the northern part of the country to the middle of the northern area near Mývatn. The drive was stunning again, along the East I was still close to the ocean and there were scenic peaks and little farms here and there as there were across the south. I stopped a few times to take some pictures and just enjoy the scenery, it's the kind of scenery that makes you feel small, it's hard to beat! At one point, google maps told me to continue straight onto a dirt / gravel road - which isn’t totally unusual since I’ve been on a bunch here. The app said if I stayed on the paved highway it would be 40 mins longer so I followed the map and took the gravel / dirt road. The road quickly went uphill steeply and all the sudden everything around me was covered in snow. The road was fine at first, then I realized my dirt road had some slushy snow and ice - the drive became a little bit stressful in my little 2WD Kia. I had a few little slides, but took it slowly and made it through the pass just fine. There was gorgeous scenery along the way and it was nice to drive through a bit of a winter scene.
I stopped really quickly for gas in the largest town (Egilsstaðir) I’ve seen since Reykjavík (which isn’t saying much) and I grabbed a bacon wrapped hot dog from the gas station (not as good as the dogs in Reykjavík.) From there I went inland and up in elevation for another few hours. I was surrounded by a beautiful black and white landscape for this portion of the drive. I was driving through old lava fields made up of black lava rock dappled with white snow, it was absolutely stunning, but also very barren. A few hours later I made it to my home for the night, Mývatn. There’s a massive lake here and it’s a geothermal area which sulphuric vents, mud pots and natural hot springs - some of the features make it a bit Yellowstone'esque but the views were different. The area has a couple of volcanos close by, and the most recent eruption here was 2014. Things were pretty quiet up here, and that's saying something given how quiet and isolating the trip has been so far! I went and checked into my guest house for the night, a little cabin near the lake shore. The place (Dimmuborgir Guesthouse) is run by an older couple. They have the main building where I assumed they lived, which also had the reception area. They usually offered freshly caught and smoked trout out back but didn't have any when I was there. They had a collection of pictures throughout reception of the local volcanos and their eruptions. The complex was made up of a collection of cabins, some smaller and some larger. The cabins were basic, but clean and nice and they had the best blackout drapes of the trip! There were two dogs on site too, one a really old, totally apathetic golden who was totally disinterested in any sort of human contact. There was also a border collie who was maybe 8 or 9 and she was friendlier and came up to see who I was and what I was doing when I pulled in.
The whole Mývatn area is pretty beautiful (shocker!). All around the lake you can see the lava flows from 2014, you can tell they are more recent than what I’ve been driving through around other areas of the country because there are much larger chunks of lava rock that haven't broken down and eroded away yet. I’m amazed by how the entire island is volcanic, I thought it was just certain parts but it’s literally volcanic soil everywhere. Without the snow, it would still be scenic here, but I think you would really feel the desolation. Around the lake are little farms with guest houses. Some are fancier than others, they all seem to have some sort of freshly cultivated home made food. Unfortunately, things tend to close early here, with the early closures and covid, pretty much all of my food options were shut. I googled and drove around and tried 5 different places - all closed. I tried a home made ice cream place, closed! Damn. There was one place that looked really delicious, straight from farm to table, but more expensive. After striking out everywhere including the “cheap” pizza place, I figured I’d at least go see I’d this place was open so my dinner didn’t consist of trail mix and protein bars. It was open, it was called Vogafjos, I said screw it, I’m gonna treat myself to a good meal! Oh man, the food was unbelievably delicious! I had lamb with fresh salad and perfectly roasted potatoes, and finally had my first Icelandic beer, a local porter. The beer was fine, pretty good, but the food was top notch. I finished it off with homemade bread ice cream 🤤 🤤 🤤. The ice cream and whip cream was homemade on the farm, it wasn't too sweet, they didn't add a ton of sugar into it, but it was really, really good. The bread was also local and homemade, they call it geysir bread. They cooked it underground using the natural heat under the Earth, very cool! They bread was pretty dense, and also sticky, but it tasted great. I'm pretty sure the meal was more expensive than my guesthouse for the night, I didn't care, it was worth it, I wish I would have had more time there, I would have eaten a second meal there without hesitating! This was exactly the type of meal that you want when you travel somewhere - something awesome, delicious, local. The dining room was beautiful, big panoramic windows that looked out at the lake and volcanos. They had windows on the side where you could get up close and personal with the cows in an indoor barn. Man, great experience, great meal.
After dinner, which wrapped up around 8:30pm, I drove 5 mins back to my guesthouse, grabbed my photo gear and headed for a shoot at Godafoss - waterfall of the gods. It’s a horseshoe shaped falls kinda like the Canadian side of Niagara - just smaller. I shot there for a while, then drove about 40 mins back to the guesthouse and got back around 11:30pm. My goal was to really try to get to sleep tonight, I was completely willing to skip a sunrise shoot in a trade off for sleep.
Phone Snaps & Camera / Drone Images From Day 8
Day 9 (May 12th, 2021)
Waterfalls, Too Much Driving, Snæfellsnes & Kirkjufell
Surprise surprise, I struggled to sleep again! I still opted not to get up for sunrise. I finally did fall asleep around 3am and woke up again at 6am without an alarm and was awake enough that I figured I'd get up and get moving, knowing that I had a long day in front of me today. With the route I had planned, I had almost 9 hours of drive time planned for today. I got up, packed up and I left the guest house around 7:15am and back tracked about an hour East to go see Dettifoss - the most powerful waterfall in Europe! Once you leave the main highway, there are two roads you can take. One is paved and easy and goes to the more touristy side. The other is a gravel road and goes to a less touristy side - so of course I decided to try the less touristy route, even though I haven’t been seeing anyone anywhere thus far on the trip. When I looked it up ahead of time, it looked like the non-touristy side had a better setup for photos too. I started down the gravel road, after seeing a bunch of info online about how bad the road was, especially for 2WD cars, I thought it was really nice and not a bad road at all. Though at this point when I evaluate roads, I compare everything to Namibia, they've got some, uh, really rough roads there and I navigated those over the course of a couple of trips. So now when I'm traveling and I see a questionable road, I ask, is this worse than Namibia? If the answer is no, I probably end up trying it. Maybe not the best way to make my driving decisions in isolated areas of the world, but so far it's worked out! Back to the drive - bout 20 mins in on the gravel road, there was a gate that was partially blocking the road and it said road closed, continue at your own risk, if you get stuck, it’s very expensive to have someone come get you out. I probably should have just stopped there and turned around, but I thought, ah screw it, let’s go a little further and see how bad it actually is. I went another 10 mins or so down the road, I went slowly and it seemed fine, I just had to navigate pot holes and the occasional bigger rock in the road. Eventually though it started to get muddy and slushy. I got out and walked it a bit to see how bad it was, and the mud was pretty damn thick. There was no way I was going to drive through it and not get stuck with my little Kia. I turned around, went back to the main road and then took the paved road down. When I got there, no one else was in the parking lot. I had the most powerful waterfall in Europe to myself. There was a little bit of a hike in, I wouldn't even call it a hike, more of a nice leisurely walk with some ice and rocky areas to navigate - not bad. Once getting to the waterfall, there were random view points along the way. The time of day wasn’t great with the sun angle for photos though. I took a few, pulled out the drone and took a few, and then wandered down the path a bit and looked at a few different angles. There was another path that led further up the canyon to another waterfall called Selfoss, I looked up the canyon though and didn’t see any water coming down, and there was only a tiny bit of spray off in the distance so I didn’t go see Selfoss and instead made my way back to the parking lot. I ran into some other photographers who were just arriving when I got back to the parking lot and talked to them for a few mins, they were from San Diego and traveling around the country in the opposite direction that I was. We chatted about things we had each seen so far on our routes, talked the volcano, quickly figured out we were all on the same side of the anti Trumper / GOP coin, laughed a bit at how ridiculous America is in certain respects and then went on our separate ways.
I left Dettifoss around 10am, from here the plan was to drive back to the guest house, pick up the rest of my stuff, check out and hit the road. I hadn’t fully committed to the marathon 9 hour driving day at this point, but I knew that was probably what I was going to end up doing. I hadn't booked a place for the night at this point. I was either going to stop half way between Dettifoss and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula or go all the way to Snæfellsnes. From Dettifoss, it’s about a 7 hour drive to Snaefellsnes without stops, and I was planning on making a few and making a detour along the way as well. Ultimately, I decided I’d rather spend 2 nights in the same place, especially when that place is as gorgeous as the Snæfellsnes than split and only go part way and then have another drive the next day and less time in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. I went back to the guest house, loaded up, checked out and started the drive. I stopped at Godafoss again on the way out and took a quick walk down to the bottom of the waterfall this time, I hadn't gone down to water level the previous night for sunset. I got a few more shots, then took off and made my way towards Akureyri, which I think is the second biggest city in Iceland possibly - there's about 18k people that live there. I stopped quickly for gas, and drove through a random place for lunch where I got a burger and fries. For fast food, it wasn’t bad, they seasoned the burger and the fries with some random reddish seasoning, it was pretty good and made the cheap fast food taste a little bit better. From Akureyri, I drove about 3 hours to my next stop. The landscape changed quite a bit from the area surrounding Mývatn. I went from what felt like a higher elevation and the lava fields to drives through scenic valleys surrounded by majestic peaks and accompanied by braided rivers down below. The next stop I was making was my detour, I went to go see this big rock that was about an hour off the main highway along the west coast, it’s called the Hvisteur seastack. I’ve seen a bunch of photos of it and it looked pretty cool so I wanted to make the detour. I drove down some gravel country side roads to get to it, I really liked the beauty and isolation of the detour route. When I got to Hvisteur, I took some photos from a viewpoint up top, but decided not to hike down to the ocean level to get better photos. The walk down looked really shady and steep, I was exhausted, kinda short on time and it was really cold and windy. I settled for my shots up top then went back to the car and committed to finishing off the long drive by booking a hotel for the next two nights in the peninsula, canceling the hotel that I had booked for 1 night there previously.
This last stretch of the drive, I was flat out exhausted, I was having trouble not dozing off. I stopped once at a gas station to fill up, and on the last stretch I started eating all the candy that I had to stay awake. I had picked up a big pack of random gummy candy from duty free on the way in (don't ask me why, it was a random, no sleep impulsive decision). I came to discover throughout the trip that a lot of the Icelandic candy seemed to have black licorice flavors, and I hate, I mean really find black licorice disgusting. I ended up filling the door pocket of my rental car with a ton of black licorice candy I didn't want to eat over the course of the trip. Ultimately, my afternoon candy binge worked, I kinda perked up for the last bit of the drive and managed to stay awake. The last hour was really scenic once I hit the peninsula, gorgeous mountains on one side that flanked a beautiful winding valley with the ocean on the far side. I passed through little towns on the way and finally made it to my home for the next couple of nights - Arnarstapi. It was a really small town with 1 hotel, a campsite, 1 gas pump, 1 other little restaurant and some local houses. The hotel looked pretty modern and was setup pretty close to the cliffs which overlooked a nice walking area by the ocean where you could bird watch, there was also this beautiful rock arch right off the path down by the ocean. The views from here were absolutely stunning, especially with the snow capped mountains and quaint farms off in the distance. I got into the hotel around 8:15pm, like a few other rural places there was no one around to check me in. I called a number listed on the door and they walked me through getting to a lockbox, getting my key and checking in. The room was basic, but new and nice. I dropped my stuff, relaxed for a few mins, and then headed out completely exhausted at about 8:45pm to drive about 40 mins to my sunset spot for the night - Kirkjufell! Kirkjufell is a really well known mountain, one of the most photographed mountains in the world and definitely the most photographed in Iceland. It’s been in GOT, every landscape photographer who has been to Iceland has a Kirfjufell shot in their portfolio, so this was one of the spots I was really looking forward to on the trip. I arrived around 9:20pm, and low and behold, I had the damn place all to myself! I really didn't expect to have this spot to myself, even with what I had experienced so far on the trip. The sky was setting up to absolutely blow up, I was excited and got a big rush of energy. I walked around and explored the different compositions with waterfalls cascading down in the foreground and the beautiful mountain in the background. The light quickly faded though as I waited for sunset which was at about 10:40pm. The sky didn’t blow up, but I got some shots and prepped for shooting tomorrow morning at sunrise. I drove back and got to the hotel just before midnight. I put my stuff down, crashed pretty quickly.
Phone Snaps & Camera / Drone Images From Day 9
Day 10 (May 13th, 2021)
Snæfellsnes Exploration, More Kirkjufell & Deliciously Tasty Fish and Chips
I got up at 2:45am and left by 3:15, drove 40 mins back to Kirkjufell. Again, it looked like the sky was going to blow up. The drive from the hotel to Kirkjufell was stunning. First along the valley by my hotel, then over this mountain pass with snow covered peaks and beautiful views of the distant coast line. The last part was along the coastline of the peninsula and it was just full of winding roads and and stunning views. I got to Kirkjufell and setup for sunrise, the sky was so, so close to going nuts, but the sun was blocked out by clouds at the horizon, damn! So far 0 for 2 with getting color at Kirfjufell, but I was going to have 2 more chances if I wanted. I left around 6:30am, got back to the hotel around 7:15am. I was tired, but couldn’t sleep right away. I backed up photos, cleaned up my gear a bit, and then went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast which started at 8am. I walked in and one couple was eating in the corner, no staff were around. Eventually someone showed up and she didn’t really speak any English. I tried to ask what was available for breakfast and she disappeared and came back with a big plate that had a bagel, quarter of a banana, tiny apple, 1 piece of ham, 1 piece of salami, a hard boiled egg, some cheese, 2 tomato slices, 2 cucumber slices and some weird granola concoction and a mini donut! I wasn't really excited by about half the things on the plate, but I said screw it and paid for it, it was way too expensive for what it was, but the donut and bagel sold me along with the apple and banana. I had most of what was on the plate and a few glasses of OJ, then went back to the room and slept for a few hours.
I woke up and it was raining, so I hungout in the room and relaxed a bit. When the rain stopped, I went out and did the cliff side walk by the hotel and took some pictures of the rock arch. After that, I got in the car and left to explore the peninsula around 2pm. I was out for about 5 and a half hours, drove a loop around the peninsula making little sightseeing stops along the way at scenic viewpoints and in little towns. I found a random waterfall I hadn’t heard off and took one of my favorite shots of the trip with some gorgeous light and nice stacking of peaks behind it. I finally stopped and got a shot of some Icelandic horses too, which I had been meaning to do for the whole trip! I could have just stayed out and waited at Kirkjufell for sunset, but I wanted to go to the little restaurant that was across the street from my hotel and try their fish and chips. I had checked with them earlier in the day and they said they were going to close by about 8pm. I got there around 7:30, the fish and chips were really, really damn good, maybe in the running for the best I've ever had? They had fresh fish that was caught earlier that day, they cooked it up perfectly, the fries were delicious and I had a beer with them and finished off the meal with a hot chocolate to go. I went back out to Kirkjufell for try number 3. Again, on the drive out I was setup for the sky to go bonkers with color. It started to get a little color about 45 mins before sunset, but alas it got blocked up again at the end, 0 for 3 so far at Kirkjufell with one try left in the morning if I could drag my ass out of bed. I got back to the hotel around 11:30, had a lot of trouble falling asleep and maybe slept for about an hour.
Phone Snaps & Camera / Drone Images From Day 10
Day 11 (May 14th, 2021)
A farewell to Kirkjufell, My Old Friend Covid Testing, WTF is This Crazy Tunnel, Hot Dogs, Waffles, Socialism and The Blue Lagoon
I woke up 2:50am. I turned my alarm off and fell asleep for a half hour and woke up again at 3:20am and said oh fuck! I was supposed to leave at 3:15am to get to Kirkjufell in time for the sunrise. I got ready really fast and bolted out the door, I drove a little fast slowing down in the spots where I thought the speed cameras were. I made it at 4:12am, sunrise was at 4:14. Normally the color would have started long before then, but, sticking with my personal Kirkjufell theme, the sky was blocked up. I was setup for it to blow up for the 4th time, and for the 4th time in a row I got skunked! There was one other photographer out there this morning, a random older guy from Germany and we talked photography, Iceland, covid, etc. I left a little after 6am after taking a few shots. I got hit by a snow storm on the pass on the drive back, it led to some gorgeous light so I stopped and took a few shots. I hit the hotel right after 7, packed up, and left the hotel around 7:30am to drive to Reykjavik.
I was running off of 1 hour of sleep and was pretty tired. I had an 11am covid test appointment setup in Reykjavik and almost a 3 hour drive to that appointment site. I had to make sure I didn't miss it, because I was flying out that next day and needed to get the results of the test in time to be able to check in for my flight at the airport. I was tired on the drive but it was scenic, as per usual with Iceland. As I was getting closer to Reykjavik, I was looking at where the road was going, looking at google maps and thinking, this is weird, it seems like this road is going to turn and take me away from the direction I need to be heading in for Reykjavik. The only way I'm going to get there by going in this direction is going to be by swimming across that big body of water right there, and that's when I figured out I was about to take a tunnel under that big open bit of water. The tunnel ended up being about 6km long, it was pretty cool to drive in and a little disorienting at times too. I've driven in tunnels that go underwater plenty of times, especially going in and out of NY, but those are pretty short tunnels that are mostly flat while you're in them. This tunnel had you descend, seemingly endlessly - as I'm starting the drive through it I'm thinking wow, I'm probably going to hit the core of the Earth here in the next 5 mins, I just keep going down further and further, and it got to the point where I started to question whether I was driving uphill or downhill, I could see it both ways. Anyway, that was a fun little experience.
I made it to Reykjavik early and I got into the covid testing center around 10am. This wasn't as convenient as pulling up to a big empty parking lot in my car like I do at home, but it was well organized and it wasn’t crowded. I walked up to a big building, I showed my bar code, got a couple of vials handed to me with my info attached to them, took the vials down the hall to a small room with a bunch of people in hospital gowns. They had everyone that was getting tested crammed together into a small, dingy room, I wasn’t a fan of that scene. Again I got a double test, mouth and then holy hell level deep in the nose again - cue the memories of the airport arrival test with the Die Hard villan accents. I finished the tests, the guy administering them looked at me and in his Die Hard accent asked if I wanted a tissue, I laughed a little bit and I think he was confused as to why I was laughing. Everyone else getting tested was struggling, eyes watering, sneezing, not having a good time. I laughed and said "nah", he looked at me and his look essentially said "you know you're going to want that tissue, it's ok, you can just take it" but I didn't need it. Somehow being tired made me impervious to the deep nasal swab and I didn't sneeze, have watery eyes or struggle at all. He gave me a quick head nod out of respect and showed me the door. I drove about a half hour to my hotel for the last night - back to the Hotel Viking again. They gave me an upgraded bigger room this time since they recognized me from before, it was the same lady at the front desk. I backed up photos, at this point my bags kinda exploded, and I took a nap from about 11:30am to 2pm. I got up, went into town and slammed down my last 2 hot dogs of the trip from the same hotdog stand I tried early on in the trip. 2 dogs was definitely a mistake, I should have only done one. Then, since I wasn't uncomfortably full and feeling gross enough, I found a food truck called the Waffle Wagon and got a warm Belgian waffle with chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream and caramel. It wasn't open when I first got there so I couldn't even chalk it up to an impulse decision, I waited around for a half hour while my stomach rumbled more and more from the hot dogs. As soon as I got my waffle I started walking back towards the car, I hear an obnoxious American accent spewing senseless bullshit about socialism, here we go...here we go. Do I engage, do I risk ruining my waffle? This idiot was complaining about having to quarantine for 5 hours in a foreign country during a pandemic. He felt entitled to do whatever he wanted since he was vaccinated, and claimed that him being asked to quarantine for 5 hours showed the drawbacks of socialism. He was bitching to other Americans about it, I couldn't completely hold back. I fired off a few choice words at him as I walked by, which caught him off guard. He said a few things back and I told him I wasn't going to let a trumper ruin my waffle, without stopping I took a bite, it was glorious, oh man was it delicious. The dude was still trying to yammer on at me about some bullshit, I tuned him out and kept walking and enjoyed my waffle and my self inflicted massive stomachache that was already in motion.
After my excursion to town, I went back to the hotel and booked a ticket to go to the Blue Lagoon to finish out the trip in relaxation. It’s a natural thermal hot spring, but they built this really nice, well designed complex around it. It’s touristy so at first I wasn’t even gonna go, but it was a really cool and relaxing experience. It was raining when I first got there, and I was there with the last time slot of the day, but the place was empty so it was so nice. I think there are usually hundreds of people there each hour and there were about 30 other people there when I was there. I hung out in the hot springs for a couple hours, swam around, had a beer, it felt great to finally slow down and relax. With the rain hitting the hot springs, there was a lot of steam. I could hangout and not see another person if I really wanted to. If this place was packed, I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it as much, but my experience was great! When I pulled out of there and back onto the highway to go back to the hotel, the sun was setting and I got one final glimpse of the volcano erupting over a ridge from a distance, it was a nice send off. On the way back to the hotel I picked up a pepperoni pizza to go since it was about 11pm at this point and not much was open. I went back and ate my pizza, took about an hour to re-pack everything and then laid in bed. I was tired but couldn’t go to sleep, I think I finally fell asleep about 1am.
Phone Snaps & Camera / Drone Images From Day 11
Day 12 (May 15th, 2021)
I woke up around 6:15am today, it felt nice to get a decent chunk of sleep in! I left around 7:30am to go to the airport, dropped off my rental car at 8 and went and checked in for my flight. Delta was good about emailing multiple times before the flight to remind everyone about the testing restrictions and needing to have proof of a negative test result within 72 hours of the flight taking off. When I walked into the terminal, Delta had agents there asking a bunch of random security questions - assuming this was a bunch of unnecessary bs mandated by the fact that the flight was going to the US. I asked the person who was peppering me about the history of my life if anyone actually showed up without their covid test results, she pointed to a group of people standing right next to me and said, yep, those 5 people right there. I didn't end up seeing those people at the gate later, so I'm guessing they got turned away and weren't allowed to fly, which is good. If you can't pay attention to the requirements and can't take a test, then you don't fly, simple as that. My flight was the only flight taking off around then, so the airport was pretty empty. Most things were closed. I spent a little bit of time wandering around duty free and picked up a bottle of Icelandic Gin to take home. After that, I found a quiet area and sat by myself and went through emails before boarding the flight to JFK. On this flight, I ended up getting my own row to myself! I setup my laptop and hard drive and edited a few photos, it felt good to do that again. After a couple hours of that I got tired of it, so I stopped and watched the Big Lebowski. While I was editing they brought food around, had some tasty chicken and a couple of glasses of red wine. It was a very, comfortable, enjoyable flight. Everyone kept their masks on and was very respectful again, very similar to the Delta leg from JFK to KEF on the way over.
I landed at JFK about 12:50p local time. Luckily my global entry got magically reinstated while I was in Iceland and I avoided the massive line for people without Global Entry and breezed right through. From the time I got off the plane, it took me just less than 10 mins to get through customs and grab my bag and head outside. I’ve never had a bag come off of a plane so fast in my life, not even when I was business class on other flights, it was incredible. I took the air train over to the next terminal, went through security, changed clothes (since it was a bit warmer here than it was in Iceland when I left), grabbed a smoothie and got ready to board the last leg home. JetBlue again, I was crossing my fingers hoping that they would be better about mandating mask compliance on the way home than they were on the way out. That was wishful thinking. JetBlue was awful again and had clearly made the decision to pander to the idiots not wanting to wear masks and basically say too fucking bad to those of us who cared about doing our part and keeping masks on to try to keep everyone safe. Well JetBlue, we're done for now. Your flight attendants served the two people next to me throughout the entire flight while those two didn't wear masks. They were hardly alone, plenty of people on the flight weren't wearing them. Step up and do your jobs right, stop trying to avoid conflict, enforce the mask wearing. You left it up to me to bring it up and engage in the conflict. I'll find other airlines to fly from now on. Delta is looking a hell of a lot better than you guys right now. Anyway, enough of the rant.
I wasn’t sure what this trip was going to do for me or if it would help or change anything. In the early going of the trip, it felt like things were much of the same mentally for me and I was worried that while the trip wouldn’t be a waste, that it wasn’t going to help change things and shake life up post lockdown as I had hoped. By the time I got to the end of the trip, I felt myself feeling like I was back out on the road again like I used to be when I was busy working, I was running at a fast pace, my mind has changed a bit and I definitely feel less stuck in general. Iceland is an unbelievably beautiful country. I'm glad I finally got over not wanting to visit in person after seeing so much of the country through social media - spending the last 2 years off social media probably helped with that too. I'm ready to go back. I'd love to go back now and shoot the volcano again and get better shots than I did the first go around. I'd love to go back in the middle of summer and experience the midnight sun, have great photography opportunities with sunsets that blend into sunrises. Going back in winter is high on my list too, being able to see the northern lights over some of these amazing places in the country would be unreal. Iceland has definitely earned it's spot near the top of favorite places I've been. It's hard for anything to fully beat out the southern part of Africa for me, Iceland is up there in that mix. If you haven't been, figure out how to go! Go and give yourself at least 2 weeks. Do more than Reykjavik and the Golden Circle. I had a very rushed trip, I saw a lot, but left so much on the table to explore in future trips as well. Those future trips will hopefully happen sooner rather than later!