So it’s spring 2017. I find myself in Dublin, Ireland. The closest I'd ever been to... ICELAND. After staring at my roundtrip flight to Reykjavik sit on my computer screen for an hour, I take a deep breath and hit complete booking. I hadn't intended to go alone, but with all my travel buddies unavailable, it was a trip I couldn't... wouldn’t pass up.
With school and an internship on my plate, I summoned up 3 days to spend in the Land of Fire and Ice. Brief, but I was going to make the most of it. My being gravitates toward outdoor adventures, making one Google image search of Iceland lead to me believe I was heading to heaven. At this point I’d become quite comfortable researching and staying in hostels around Western Europe. I booked a bed in a 16-bed dorm at a highly-rated hostel called Oddsson. It was adjacent to the ocean, the Greenland Sea, (yes please) and in walking distance to downtown Reykjavik.
Upon arrival and after a quick and easy flight on WOW airlines, I grabbed a bus ticket from the airport to Reykjavik. The bus made several stops at some weller-known hotels and accommodations. Luckily the Oddsson was on it - the last stop mind you, but it took me there!
Weeks prior I had decided that my limited time would be best spent by investing in local guide-led tours to see as much as possible. No, I didn’t sign up to see the infamous Blue Lagoon, but I DID do Secret Lagoon as part of a Golden Circle Tour. Hot springs scatter this country far and wide. In addition to the Golden Circle + Secret Lagoon tour, I signed up for Arctic Adventures “Black & Blue Tour” - aka exploring lava caves and snorkeling in glacier water at the Silfra fissure. Whaaaat!!
Upon arriving at the hostel, I made myself at home on the 3rd floor, nestled in with 16 other roomies, most of whom seemed to be out. My bottom bunk had fresh white sheets, a built in light, a privacy curtain, and - in the event of a major snoring incident - earplugs. I checked out the common space which had a large open kitchen equip with all necessary cooking utensils, a few tables to gather around, and a small deck with a hot tub which boasted a small view of the Greenland Sea. It's a beautiful thing to see people from all corners of the world casually coming and going, not minding anyone else in a way that never offends, never invades, but poses approachable welcome.
I took a stroll down by the sea wall, not really needing to do anything other than watch the energy pass through the waves and toss seaweed in the air as they crashed. I walked until I found a grocery store and picked up some things for meals. I didn't eat out once actually. In fact, the only beverage I bought was a "happy hour" beer... $8. #Steal. Not. That's me rounding to $8... Iceland's currency is the Icelandic króna!
The next day I was off to see the Golden Circle which consists of three major stops - Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir hot spring area. Thingvellir is home to a rift valley caused by the drifting apart of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. You quite literally walk between them and it was an incredible site to see. Upon arrival at the Gullfoss waterfall it was rainy sideways. No, it was pouring ALL ways. The wind was whipping, and after deciding I didn't care how soaked I got, I was faced with the realization that it pelted by eyeballs to even glance at the falls. Luckily I snapped these during a letup that lasted perhaps 60 seconds. Regardless, it was a reminder of how powerful and evident mother nature is.
Geysir, referred to as simply this because it was the first geyser known to modern Europeans, is part of a highly active geothermal area. Fun fact - all geysers, sprouting hot springs, are named after Iceland's Geysir. Steam floats about the entire area and every few minutes, we were gifted with a sprout of water 100 ft. in the air. Knowing no one on the tour was fine by me. Being in the presence of such majestic wonders was filling in a way that's hard to describe. Secret Lagoon was the last stop on the tour. I changed into my bathing suit, bought myself a glass of wine, and stepped into the most glorious and magical natural hot spring. I hunted down some floaties and proceeded to to bob and sip for an hour.
That night I cooked some pasta, chatted with some floaters at the hostel, and hit the sack. At the time I was reading a book titled, Marching Powder, suggested to me by a good friend I'd met abroad, and I lost myself in that until I fell asleep. The next morning I was picked up at my hostel by another Arctic Adventures bus. Myself and three couples (LOL) set out to go caving in caves that had formed by Iceland's underground lava tubes. I was fascinated to learn that they had been created by massive eruptions and rivers of lava. When the top layers of lava cooled, it created a crust over what became an underground river off lava that eventually left carved tubes in its place. Our local guide was incredible - challenging us to climb through small spaces, having us close our eyes to hear the constant drop of water, and telling us cave legends in the dark.
The second leg of the trip took us to the Silfra fissure, the only place in the entire world to snorkel in between tectonic plates. The water here is unbelievably clear. It comes from a nearby glacier, taking 50 - 100 years to arrive in Silfra and purifying through the rugged volcanic rock on its
way. Yes, this sounds incredible and it WAS, but it did come at the price of freezing temperatures and wetsuit head pieces that nearly squeezed my eyeballs out. The wetsuit allowed me to float and with just a tap of my flipper I was moving forward, staring hundreds of feet down below.
There is no wildlife, but rather beautiful rock formations and the purest blue color. But guys, my face was crying it was so smushed. I was in a two layer wetsuit - one dry, fluffed layer under an extremely insulated waterproof layer. Every second was worth it though for an experience so unique and irreplaceable. One that I had with strangers, myself, and nature.
My flight home was at 6:30am the next morning. I had purchased a bus ticket to return to the airport, but soon found myself discarding it in favor of a ride from a new acquaintance. Actually, two American acquaintances - one in the military, another entering med-school. We had met in the hostel and while hanging out in the hot tub, looking at the stars, they asked if I would want to join their hunt for the northern lights that night. After filling the two of them in on my flight situation, the med-student with a rental car insisted that he drop me off.
Off we went driving around a dark, desolated, yet magical island. Did you know Of Monsters and Men was an Icelandic band?! I didn't, and upon my realization, the blasting of it in the background began. Small talk with strangers vanished. The music and sky full of more stars than I'll likely ever see again took center stage. We didn't see the northern lights that night. It didn't matter though. I'll see them someday, but I may never stay out until 3:30am star-gazing peacefully in Iceland with people I'll never see again. The morning ended with an airport drop-off, short but heartfelt "have a great life"s and a 2-hour nap on the airport floor before my flight back to Dublin.