An Icelandic Story

‚I’ve got a rental car and so far I’m just by myself. If you want to you can come over and join me.‘

Initially I only wanted to tell Daniel Ernst that I absolutely loved his way of taking photos. Little did I know that 48 hours later I’d be booking my flight to Iceland.

So there I was, 25 years old, missing travelling big time after two times in New Zealand and working part-time in a bakery. I was far from happy and I’d had enough! So when Daniel told me he would be flying to Iceland that Summer I joked ‚Oh great, just dump all your stuff and put me in your backpack instead.‘ When he replied that he’d be happy for me to tag along I didn’t think twice. Next day at work I asked for a two-week-holiday in August. The day after I booked my flight. I had a real good laugh because I couldn’t believe it.

My Mum couldn’t and didn’t want to believe it either: ‚Maike, what if it’s a scam? What if he’s never picking you up from the airport? What if you get there and are met by an old, creepy guy?‘ When she suggested me being thrown into a crevasse I had to stop myself from laughing out loud. I told her I’d be fine and that it wasn’t the first time I’d be traveling with a complete stranger and that so far I had managed to survive 16 months in a country on the other side of the world all by myself. I don’t think that made things easier for her (‚Don’t tell your Grandma about it!‘) but she knew I would go regardless.

Mum did calm down a wee bit after I talked to Daniel on the phone while he was already in Iceland. I assured her that he didn’t sound like a 70-year-old man who waits for single girls to arrive in Iceland and that he seemed like a decent and absolutely nice guy.

As the weeks passed I was getting more and more excited for the trip to start and when the day finally arrived I couldn’t contain my happiness: two bread-and-cake-free-weeks, no more waking up at 4am to go to work PLUS I’d be exchanging the German Summer for an Icelandic one! Bliss.

Summer in Iceland is pretty cool and for someone who is not very heat-resistant that’s what a good Summer should be like. 15°C tops during the day, no sweating, woollen beanies, comfy sweaters – you have to admit, that’s pretty cozy! So are the nights. Temperatures can drop to 5°C but when you’re cuddled into your sleeping bag you get toasty real quick, even outside in a tent.

Daniel picked my exhausted self up at Keflavik airport late the night I arrived but the moment we walked out of the building into the rain and the cold air I felt something huge lifting off my shoulders and for the next two weeks not a single thought about work would cross my mind, nor the ever occurring question people tend to ask me: ‚Maike, when will you finally do something reasonable with your life?“

If travelling is not reasonable – what is?

The two of us had planned to follow the Ring Road which winds along the outline of Iceland, exploring the Western parts of the nordic island first and camping along the way. I remember waking up after our first night in the tent and opening up the flap and I didn’t know wether to cry or laugh out of pure joy. To the left there was the North Atlantic Ocean, right ahead mountains were looking down upon us, void of trees but rocky and clad in moss, and to the right there was my first Icelandic waterfall. This one was gorgeous alright, but the waterfalls that would follow, and Iceland has an abundance of them, would outshine even that one.

If someone had considered me back then I would have named Iceland ‚Greenland‘ and saved the other one for our world’s largest island. Iceland is very green indeed as a result of the mild climate all year round. That dominant colour though is not because of trees – the lack of trees is something you will definitely notice after a couple of days on the road. There’s shrubs, moss and lichen but trees are sparse. Which makes for impressive wide open spaces where you can see for miles and miles. Iceland is also sparsely inhabited. Sometimes you feel so isolated it makes you wonder wether there’s actually people living there.

The inland is mostly covered in sandy soil, giving the landscape an almost desert like appearance and adding to the feeling of isolation. Then there’s rugged coastlines where strong gusts of wind try to blow you off your feet, tumbling waterfalls which deafen all other sounds and vast glaciers, which I thought were the most impressive feature. One thing that stands out though is that some of the mountains are quite different. They look like someone had wielded a saber and cut them off straight at the top, creating smooth plateaus instead of peaks. Even though it was only the end of August there were specks of snow everywhere as it only melts at low altitude because of the relatively cold Summers. Despite that you never really have to get cold in Iceland. As I said, the climate is generally pretty mild plus there’s some real good geothermal activity going on in Iceland. You’re never far from the next natural hot pool to warm your limbs.

Those two weeks stand out like nothing much else did in 2015. Time seemed to be passing more slowly in Iceland and I felt so alive like I hadn’t done in a while. Some things stand out above all others though:

Swimming in a fiord.

One morning Daniel and me woke up real early and we both felt like having a shower. So without further ado we stripped down to our underwear and waded into the ice-cold waters of the fiord. My toes turned into icicles, my heart skipped a few beats and my breath came in sharp gasps but I also felt about 10 years younger. Out of the water our bodies started steaming as the drops on our skin evaporated in the morning air and even though I had just immersed myself in 8°C waters I felt warm. Plus nothing in the world could have made me feel so wide awake.

The Glaciers.

It’s the feeling of blissful insignificance that makes this experience so special. Some places just make you realise what a tiny place you occupy in this world and that nature is so much stronger and way more significant than every single one of us. I can only tell you to spend time in a place like this at least once in your life. Be it among glaciers, mountains or trees all of which have been there ages before we were born. Daniel and me set up camp for one night at the shores of one of the glacier lagoons down by Iceland’s South Coast. We were the only ones there for miles and there were no sounds whatsoever. It felt like nature was observing our every move with watchful eyes. (by the way, the glaciers you see from the road are actually only arms of the massive glacier that is Vatnajökull.)

Falling asleep to the roaring of Skogafoss.

You might think that the thunderous roaring of Skogafoss will keep you awake for hours but funnily enough it is actually quite soothing, the constant rumble of water plunging down sheer rock faces. If it hadn’t been for the rain that started pelting down during the night it would have been as peaceful as sleeping at home in your bed and we probably would have kept our tent set up right there, a few 100 metres from the base of the waterfall, for a couple more days. But as we didn’t want to drown in heavy rain we had to seek refuge in an Airbnb close by where we were greeted with hot tea and got to enjoy a three-course-breakfast the next morning.

Glymurfoss and Dynjandifoss.

These two beasts are my favourite icelandic waterfalls. Renowned Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss are pretty impressive, too but they also get higher numbers of visitors. Dynjandi and Glymurfoss lie hidden in the Western regions and only make sense to seek out if you have more than just a week in Iceland.

To get to Glymurfoss you need to go on a little hike before you can actually see it. And even then it’s hard to grasp the full size of the waterfall as it is almost always partially hidden by the narrow ravine the water winds it’s way through after tumbling down, resembling a thin, silver ribbon someone had dropped. I am convinced that goblins and fairies dwell there on rocky outcrops – there’s just something enchanting about the place.

With Dynjandi you don’t have to look around corners to make out it’s full appearance. It becomes clear quite quickly what you’re up against. When you pull into the parking lot and open the door of your car you will hear it’s mighty roar, growing ever louder the closer you get to the first and biggest drop: Standing there, where gallons of water plummet over the edge every second, splashing your face with spray will rid your brain of every thought you might have had beforehand and your field of vision will comprise of nothing else but waterfall.

My feet are itching to go back to Iceland and explore some more. I already have a new bucket list which needs tackling so I hope it won’t be too long until I can immerse myself again in Iceland’s beautiful solitude.

PS: Go ahead and check out Daniel Ernst website and his instagram. He’s handsdown one of my favourite photographers out there and the pictures he takes are a real treat for the eyes.

And if you haven’t had enough of Icelandic photos, here are some more…

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