May 19, 2017
“Are you sure?” The man at the rental car agency asks as he eyes us skeptically. Under his beard he might be smiling or not. Either way I’m sure he didn’t expect this conundrum at 7am on a Thursday.
Let me give you some context: First off, we’re in ICELAND! All six of us are fresh off the plane from Boston, fueled by a few hours of sleep and months of anticipation. We’re standing in an alley between garage storage spaces and a small storefront. Looking at the agent from the rental car company who is in turn looking at us, our monstrous backpacks, and the comparably small Toyota land cruiser we are hoping to drive off with.
Indeed, his doubts are not unmerited. We are six averaged size humans with six above average backpacks expecting to pack ourselves into a car with six seats, one of which folds out of the trunk, further usurping the already inadequate storage space.
Little does he know the depth of our determination.
Before any second doubts can be voiced we quickly begin packing bags and people Tetris style. One person, three bags in the trunk, three people, two bags in the middle, and two people, one bag in the front. Vroom vroom.
We’re off, driving across a Pleistocene era lava field, that vaguely resembles another planet, feeling like we just got away with something.
The road cuts through the jagged black plain, skirts the city of Rekjavic, and dives between towering buttes frosted with white stone. After winding up the steep valley we crest the top of the plateau onto a flat grassy tundra rimmed with distant mountains. The Langjokull glacier rises up from the southwestern horizon, an iridescent white against the vibrant blue sky.
Only a few miles down the road is Þingvellir national park, a small contingent of the vein of geothermal tumult that runs through Iceland. Its pronounced THing-wet-llir with the Þ letter making a th sound and the v sounding like a w. (learning these pronunciation rules came in handy later.)
Hidden by miles and tons of water that make it painfully difficult and almost impossible to visit, the mid-oceanic ridge system has an enigmatic quality. Iceland is the only place in the world where this immense mountain chain breaks the surface. And, we’re about to SEE IT!
You only need to meander a few yards down a sandy foot path before seeing grey rocky walls crusted with lichen and ripped apart with a cleavage pattern like broken sourdough bread. The water that fills some of these cracks is an icy blue and cold to the touch. I am surprised by how calm it looks.
Walking through a section of the valley sheer rock walls on either side feels more like appreciating an ancient relic than battling with aggravated forces of earth’s inner mantle. Its almost peaceful, the stream that falls to the valley floor gurgles comfortingly, trying to assure visitors that this area is past its younger, turbulent years, at least for now.
Driving away from the valley tiredness begins to set in. Turns out excitement is not as sustaining as perhaps food or sleep. I nap in the passenger’s seat, the map open on my lap and my head lolling from side to side on my shoulders. Outside the car, rocks, grass and sheep pass us by. A dot of steam sits on the horizon ahead of us.
The OG is a bubbling spewing caldron so famous it only needs one name, Geysir. This is the first, the Geysir all others are named after, hence the title: Original Geysir.
If the rift valley is calm the geysir field is the opposite. Boiling hot and sulfur smelling water fans out over the tan colored hillside and steam clouds the air. Although the OG
hasn’t graced fans with a scorching concert in decades, several geysir neighbors are more than obliging. Providing timely spectacles every few minutes or so. Spectators crowd around the rope barriers standing close enough to be baptized in lukewarm spray.
Pulling up to the campsite at 4pm bedraggled and hopping for a nap the site manager informs us we cannot check in to the campsite until 6pm. *sigh.* Unfazed by our tiredness, she gamely suggests checking out a local thermal bath. It’s supposed to be relatively unknown, and peaceful and why not?
Tired but not disheartened, we forge onward seeking a sort of mecca.
Thus far, we’ve been driving on a route called the golden circle, a loop of roadways that pass through Iceland’s more well visited sites. Now, we’ve reached the part where the well traveled, two lane highway becomes gravel. A gravel highway, for some reason is hard for me to wrap my head around.
Bumbling down the gravel highway unsure of the speed limit and what exactly to look for we eventually wind toward a hill and stumble into a few cars parked by a fence. One woman packing up her car to leave assures us, this is the place, and it is perfect.
Rolling, wheat golden hills meet in a sloping green valley. A lazy river seeps from a crack in the hillside and a quaint wood hut boasts a trash can and privacy accommodations for changing.
The water in the pools, created by terraced rock dams, feels like sunshine on your skin. It smells like a spa, looks like a computer background, and brings with it a meditative quality that makes you want to move slow and be leisurly. We change into our swimsuits and slip in, because it would be wrong to do anything else.
Blissful minutes turn into hours. I bask, then swim, and chat with a few locals till the urge to move strikes again.
Last adventure of the day is a ginormous waterfall. Which flows down a stairway though a river hewn crack in the earth. Phalanx after phalanx of water marches mercilessly over rocky stairs while changing direction almost 90 degrees. There is a constant rainbow, where the water reaches forward to graze against a sheer cliff spewing up buckets of fine, ice cold mist to refract the sun’s rays. Skirting the edges of this waterfall feels like walking into a steam room, but super cold.
After the meditative release of the thermal pool I become lost in the consistent, soothing crash of water and spray, mesmerized by the power of it all. Standing above this massive spectacle I could look at it for hours.
Squeezing back into our now dusty travel cruiser it’s finally time to make dinner and settle down for the night.
Until next time.