Iceland: Otherworldly Isle of Fire & Ice

Iceland: Otherworldly Isle of Fire & Ice

[CW Note: Oh. Uh. Hi there. This is awkward. It seems I haven’t updated this blog in 2 months now. It’s not you, it’s me – I’ve been in the middle of pehaps the densest and most rewarding part of my travel itinerary, and I’ve just been having too much damn fun to write. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Commence catch-up mode…]

After a while, the places start to blur together. This museum and that restaurant, this park and that art gallery. A trendy new bar down the street? …Neat. The eager backpacker next to you is gushing about the fantastic view of the skyline they just read about, and you can’t help but feel a tinge of shame when you feign a level of excitement that doesn’t quite feel genuine. ‘Been there, done that’. It’s been 8 months on the road no; surely it’s ok to feel a bit jaded – but you start to bum yourself out as the feeling of familiarity and ingrained patterns bubbles to the surface, amidst a year intended to smash any sense of routine familiarity to pieces.

But there’s a solution to this (admittedly rather privileged) case of the travel blues. When you find yourself comfortable, the only prescription is to relentlessly dismantle every routine, unraveling the very comfort blanket that warms you, and jump headfirst into the depths of the unknown. Here’s a hint: if ever you aspire to find a surefire gateway to such a place – a panacea for predictability – the best place to look is outside. Flee the safety of your living room (or hostel dorm) and return from whence you came: to open azure skies, to the earthy musk of soil, to the summit of a mountain, to the saline ocean breeze.

The beauty in this regimen is that you can find it right in your backyard, and it needn’t cost you a dime. That’s a practical, reasonable approach, though, and 2018 for me is an experiment in the ridiculous, the aspirational, the outrageous, the over-the-top. So in the face of this urban drag, I did the only thing I knew that would shake my routine to the core: I flew to Iceland, rented a car, and drove myself around the entire perimeter of the island with a tent, a sleeping bag, and a healthy thirst for adventure. As one does. 

Wonderfully Weird: Magical Reykjavík

Despite Iceland’s presence as an isolated, frozen entity floating at the northernmost part of the world, you might be tempted to think that it must be, deep down, just like the rest of the world in some way. At the very least, you might say, surely its capital city Reykjavík (the northernmost capital in the world!) bears some commonalities with the rest of the planet. But then, you’d be so hilariously wrong. Iceland is weird. Rekjavík is weird. And I love them for it.

This is a country that believes, whole-heartedly, in elves. A country whose 330,000 inhabitants (yes, in the entire country) are so closely related that they have specialized dating apps to keep them from accidentally inbreeding. A country that has waged one war, ever, if you can even call it that: Þorskastríðið (The Cod War) – a dispute with the UK over fishing grounds. And Reykjavík? Well, Reykjavík has its own penis museum. In 2010 they elected a comedian as mayor who literally made a campaign promise not to fulfil any of his campaign promises. Reykjavík has neither a Starbucks nor a McDonalds (though let’s be honest, they’re likely much better off for it).

The point is, Iceland is a quaint place, and Reykjavík embodies this loveable brand of weird in a perfectly microcosmic sense – which made it a terrifically fun little city to launch my trip from. 

The city’s got some real funky architecture with a distinctly Icelandic style.

The surrounding scenery’s not bad, either.

Most of you know by now that I’m a sucker for great street art, and Reykjavík has got a TON of it.

There are also plenty of opportunities to see the notoriously cheeky and light-hearted Icelandic sense of humor

But while they may be a bunch of jokers, Icelanders are deadly serious about coffee and music

Also, the world’s most beautiful cat apparently lives there.

While I loved Reykjavík to pieces and found myself positively charmed to death by it, its true purpose was to act as a launchpad for my circumnavigation of the entire island by car. 

You see, this is a tremendously special country. 80% of Iceland is actually uninhabited – this is pure, raw, glorious nature at its finest. Because it’s one of the youngest landmasses in the world, it’s a bit of a geothermal drama queen: this is the home of 130(!) volcanoes, incredibly deep fjords and glaciers, countless waterfalls, geysers, black sand beaches, and steaming lava fields. It’s actually growing by a handful of centimeters each year, as a pair of tectonic plates literally rip a seam into it. So needless to say… there’s no place quite like it. 

Road Sweet Road

Iceland is the 18th largest island in the world, but it’s only roughly the size of Ohio or Kentucky.

And it’s served by only one main highway artery: Highway 1, often referred to as the Ring Road. Why’s it called this? Simple.

If you’re a normal human being, you think “Ok, so what?”… but if you’re like me, you think one thing and one thing only: “Road trip!” And so road trip, I did. 

Meet my only companions for my 8-day, 35-hour drive around this incredible country: a tiny but dependable Toyota Yaris and an equally small-but-adequate tent, both of which protected me from the elements and helped me get around some of the planet’s most breathtaking landscapes.

While lodging is incredibly sparse and expensive, campsites are unbelievably ample and ceaselessly beautiful. After all, in a country this beautiful, you might as well spend as much time outside as you can manage. And thanks to Iceland’s proximity to the arctic circle, I’d have until well after 10 PM each night (that’s what time I took the tent photo above) to enjoy its splendor in glorious sunshine before the temps dropped.

After a tremendous amount of planning and research, I decided on a gameplan that would take me to the footstep of some of Iceland’s most incredible sights. A lot of backpackers before me have created a lot of incredibly helpful resources, like the map below, that proved invaluable in my planning.

My days would consist of early rises and hours and hours of incredibly liberating driving through JAW-DROPPING landscapes, with only music, podcasts, or my silent reflective mind to keep me company – it was the most rejuvenating, refreshing, and peaceful experience I’d had in a very long time – a vacation for the soul. 

My drives would be peppered with faily frequent stops for hikes, photo ops, any number of incredible natural phenomena, and more than a few gas station hot dogs (Icelanders love these, and since food here is INSAAAANELY expensive, they’re part of the staple diet for travelers here).

Without Further Ado: Iceland

Rather than bore you with minute details of each area where I stopped, I think perhaps the best way is to just show you a photographic retrospective of what I saw, in roughly the order I experienced it. Because let’s be honest, my words couldn’t possibly begin to describe the insane beauty of this place anyway – might as well just give the people what they want. Here goes…

In summary, Iceland was boring and ugly and I couldn’t wait to leave to go somewhere that was actually interesting or at least mildly pretty to look at. Heh.

This was one of the most expensive countries I visited all year, and boy was it by far one of the most logistically challenging in the sense that it required a lot of planning – but goodness was it every bit as rewarding. I really think this country is the closest you can get to stepping foot on another planet whilst still technically on ours. 

These insane landscapes were the absolute perfect place to do some thinking while enjoying the crisp air and the restorative power of nature – which was perfect, because my next destination was about to turn the party dial to 11/10. More on that shortly (not in 2 months, I swear… bis später! 😉)

Hope you enjoyed the photos! Feel free to drop any questions about locations, etc. in the comments – figured I’d expedite the posting of this one with a slightly looser format.

4 thoughts on “Iceland: Otherworldly Isle of Fire & Ice

  1. Wow I had not heard about this part of your trip. The landscape is breathtaking. Every time I see more of these images, I wonder how big this book is going to need to be that houses all of this artwork in the end. 🙂 Love you and counting down the weeks till you’re home. – Mom

  2. Was just wondering the other day if the new post alerts were going to my junk folder. Iceland has been on my list for a while. This just makes the case stronger. Looks amazing!

  3. Chris, I was just thinking that I haven’t seen any of your blogs lately, then here one is from you.
    I enjoyed reading all your adventures. You have a awsome
    way to Express how you see the world,and how you feel while exploring..thank you for sharing
    your year long adventure..Truly blessed you are .

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