Iceland Exceeds My Expectations
So often I’ve had high expectations of a country’s natural environment, and I’ve been so disappointed because places are littered with rubbish and full of tourists (admittedly, I’m one of them). But Iceland was one of the few countries that exceeded all my expectations.
I can’t remember if I had ever heard anything bad about Iceland from anyone. As such, I was immediately drawn to its magical spell of nature. I’ve traveled to many countries, but I’ve rarely felt as alive as I did in Iceland. Nature surprised me every day, and in the end I couldn’t stop being amazed by this little island.
I would like to write more about my concerns about climate change in this post. Since nature in Iceland was so special and pretty untouched, I actually cried when I had to leave the country. But step by step…
Yes, I rented a car when I was in Iceland. Felix (my super freediving buddy whom I met last year in Bali) and I drove on the Ring Road around Iceland for almost three weeks. I did it clockwise, which I preferred, since I could concentrate more on the West Fjords and Snæfellsnes Island.
Explore Around Iceland
My priority was escaping the tourists. I like the Golden Circle near Reykjavik, but on some days the tourist mob is just too much for me.
I honestly have to admit that after crossing the Atlantic I didn’t feel good being surrounded by the crowd in any cities. As soon as I am in big cities for more than a few hours or far away from nature, respectively mountains or the ocean, I start to panic slightly. Hence, crowded places make me quite nervous lately and I get headaches easily when surrounded by lots of people. I wonder if it’s because I spent some quiet Vipassana time on the Atlantic for ten weeks.
I am happier being on social media less and just getting lost in nature. Maybe for some of you it sounds like I romanticize nature, but this is exactly how I feel now. I am peaceful and calm inside when I am hiking in the mountains or swimming in the middle of the ocean. Iceland has this sublime energy which truly filled me with lots of endless joy (occasions dreaded by my friends who had to hike with me every single day!)
Snæfellsnes and West Fjords
If anyone needs an itinerary for a trip to Iceland, here is mine (spread over three weeks):
First I drove to Snæfellsnes peninsula, which is like a small version of Iceland. If you only have a few days to visit Iceland, I recommend you visit this peninsula, which has all the attractions of the country scattered around.
West Fjords: Ísafjörður, a city built on a sandbank in the middle of the fjord.
Dýrafjörður (fjord), Dynjandi Waterfall, Látrabjarg cliff (there you can observe puffins on a clear day).
A charming city called Akureyri, kind of the capital of the north.
Close by, there is this touristy waterfall, Godafoss. But my secret for you–my favourite waterfall–is in the highlands. Its name is Aldeyjarfoss.
East Fjords And The Highlands
East Fjords: Lake Mývatn, the Dimmuborgir lava field, Jökulsárgljúfur National Park with the waterfall Dettifoss waterfall and the Ásbyrgi canyon.
The very famous Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is in the south.
Skaftafell nature reserve, which is part of Vatnajökull National Park with Svartifoss waterfall. The same day I hiked to the Kristínartindar volcanic mountain and the beautiful Sjónarnípa viewpoint in the national park.
Highlands: If you have a four wheel drive, don’t miss Landmannalaugar.
I highly recommend doing some hikes in the following mountains: Brennisteinsalda, Bláhnúkur and Stútur.
South And The Golden Circle
The south with the two famous waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss (next to it is the famous and terrific Fimmvörðuháls trail).
My favourite city is Vík. There you can hike the local mountain, cape Dyrholaey, where I finally spotted and observed puffins. Close by is Reynisfjara lava beach (infamous for strong waves and currents, where in recent years some tourists drowned and were taken by those unforgiving waves while they tried to take some selfies). Have a look at the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in the area.
A hike in Thakgil and climbing Mount Sker (749m).
Last but not least, a stop at the Golden Circle with geysers and a geothermal valley with the name Haukadalur. Nearby you can visit the waterfall Gulfoss.
On my final day in Iceland, I went to the natural Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River (in Hveragerði). I visited the Blue Lagoon–yes it is quite touristy, but I do think it is worth it.
Go with the flow in Iceland
In my opinion, the best way to explore Iceland is either to drive or bike around the Ring Road. There is so much to see, you just can’t stop being amazed at how incredibly impressive the nature in Iceland is. I actually fell head over heels in love with Iceland. I am even already thinking about when I will come back next.
In July, there are 24 hours of daylight. Since I love mountains, trekking and hiking, it was ideal to hike regardless of the time of day. Sometimes I was still hiking even at midnight!
The fresh air, the few people and tourists were more than energizing for me. I felt like I was in a rehabilitation center far away from all the mundane stress of city life. The nature around me gave me a lot of strength. Every day I actually felt as if I could uproot trees all day long.
Facts and impressions about Iceland
Most Icelanders are extremely helpful, communicative, and friendly. I also had no problems hitchhiking (I just wanted to try it out). Many are not only very friendly, but also quite approachable, kind of different from in Scandinavia or countries further north. I haven’t been able to learn Icelandic in such a short time, but I’ve learned that Icelanders don’t have a “please” in their vocabulary! For example, you would just say “pass me the butter”, “do the laundry”, and so on. Interesting right?
Another fact: we had to stop the car so often because sheep and lambs roam freely everywhere. There are enough meadows for all the sheep on the island, no problems of overgrazing.
Iceland’s Weather, Military And Crisis
You also have to be lucky with the weather. If I go again, I won’t rely much on the weather forecast; the weather can change very quickly. In the first week, I had rainy weather for three consecutive days. It was barely possible to do anything.
Also, I didn’t know that Iceland was deep in a financial crisis back in 2008-2011; it is unbelievable how they got out. Today it is one of the most expensive countries to travel to.
To be honest, you should expect to spend at least 100 euros per day in expenses. The country also has no military. I am not surprised: with only around 360,000 inhabitants, I’m not sure whether it would even be worth maintaining a military.
Vik – A Special Place
In the beautiful southern city of Vik, I had the chance to meet great people in a guesthouse. I got to know more about the culture and habits of people in Iceland. One issue which surprised me was that most Icelanders drink a lot of alcohol at the weekend and in the winter. Whether it’s true? It remains to be seen. But I had such a great time there and felt infinitely happy. At the end of the day, it’s those little paths that you share with other people while traveling that makes life worth living, I guess.
Now we get to the most important topic I must write about.
This wonderful island gushes with waterfalls. The nature here is as untouched as I have rarely seen in my whole life.
I am impressed by how much the tourists and locals pay attention to nature and don’t pollute the environment (but what would normally be the case if it weren’t corona time?) I rarely had to collect rubbish anywhere like I usually do in other countries when I am hiking. Also, believe it or not, I had never seen and used such clean Dixi toilets in my life.
All the pictures of the nature and waterfalls I’m posting in this blog post may not even do justice to a tenth of the true beauty of Iceland.
But I feel truly bad and desperate when I think about the fact that we are running into a climate catastrophe. I haven’t spent summer in Europe for years, and I felt that it was never as hot as it was this year.
Additionally, at my work in Antarctica, the highest temperature ever was recorded in February
(20.75 °C (69.3 °F) at Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Station on 9 February 2020, beating by more than 2°C the previous record of 18.3 °C (64.9 °F) at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, only days earlier on 6 February 2020. (Source Wikipedia: Climate of Antarctica))
Glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising. When I talked to the Icelandic locals, they told me how climate breakdown affects the glaciers in Iceland. Indeed, Europe’s largest glaciers are in Iceland, and the ice caps respond quickly to changes in temperature. Since the start of the millennium, the mass loss of the outlet glaciers of Vatnajökull is among the highest in the world.
What About The Future
In the future, I reckon the gap between rich and poor will be even greater when the rich move to inhabit cooler areas and the poor struggle with the impacts of climate. From an economic point of view, it will cause more damage than trying to achieve negative CO2 emissions in the next few decades.
In Iceland, there is even a very interesting pilot project which combines direct air capture with mineralization. To put it more simply, the system pumps greenhouse gas 400 to 800 meters deep into the subsoil, which is permeated by hydrothermal springs. Down there, a chemical reaction with porous basalt rock takes place that converts the CO2 into carbonate into solid rock within less than two years.
Sometimes selfishly, I am afraid that I will never experience and see this beautiful and untouched nature in Iceland again. I am scared of growing older in a world with more climate disasters in my lifetime, and the associated social problems of humanity which have caused them. I do not want to see children growing up in a world which doesn’t have four European seasons or Arctic animals or who cannot see and feel nature the way I experienced it in Iceland.
We are running into the greatest catastrophe of the 21st century, but many governments still don’t want to deal with climate change and actively make greater changes. Whoever thinks climate change is only a problem of industrialized countries is wrong. Unfortunately, who in the end will suffer more from it? If our planet is warmed by just one more degree?
My biggest nightmare comes true when I think about people dying in greater numbers as they struggle with rising temperatures. The ecosystem will collapse and a third of all life on earth will face extinction. When plants stop growing and don’t absorb carbon dioxide very well, making global warming worse.
My five-minute showers or constant use of public transport are still not enough to change course,who I am kidding. I don’t want to be hypocritical–I travel a lot. I must admit that I am far away from making a big change and that I am not doing enough for our environment at the moment. But it is important to me to consciously think about what and how I can shape my everyday life in order to give Earth a little break. Just like when I escape the crowds to Iceland to give myself a break.
It is happening now, and if there is no immediate action I can only dream of Iceland’s beautiful nature in the future. I am most afraid that other people and future generations may never see and experience the Icelandic nature…
So what can we do?
Talk to your friends and family about climate change and how everyone can contribute to slightly changes in their daily lives. Voicing your concerns and use your social media platform to inform others about what is happening right now.
Also many utilities now list other ways to support renewable sources on their websites, have a look at your electric bills. Save water when you brush your teeth, turn off the tap or take shorter showers.
Buy regional food and eat actually the food you buy (maybe even less meat).
Why hitting the gym when you can walk the stairs, using the public transportation or biking to your work? Some electronics use energy even when they’re not charging, hence unplugged devices and pull the plug.
We still have the chance to change the course, but it has to happen NOW.
And I am sure everyone can contribute little things in their daily lives to give our Planet Earth a break for a while and to slow down climate change.
Iceland and Felix – thank you very much for a wonderful, unforgettable time.