For an avid traveller, there should exist a bucket list of destinations that you have to visit during your lifetime. Mine included places such as Mongolia, Namibia, Siberia, and Iceland –the latter, I managed to visit some time ago. Ever since I laid my eyes on astonishing pictures of the Icelandic countryside and its grand natural environment, I set my heart on undertaking this journey sooner rather than later. It skyrocketed to the top of my hit list and all I needed to do was form a travelling band of companions willing to go on a journey with me. Fortunately, I successfully gathered seven of my friends and our dream trip to Iceland was set in motion.
We chose to depart in mid-October because of three reasons: it’s considered off-season, the harsh winter hasn’t enveloped the nation yet, and our dates coincided with a new moon –to increase our chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis. I would be lying if I told you that the Aurora wasn’t one of the main reasons for visiting Iceland. Seeing it was another bucket list type of thing I’ve always dreamed of for as long as I can remember.
I planned a nine-day itinerary that would take us to almost every corner of the country, including the seldom-visited Westfjords of Iceland. Upon arrival in Reykjavik, we wasted no time and quickly settled into our new surroundings. We chose to skip Reykjavik as our first destination and stayed somewhere closer to the famous Blue Lagoon. Arguably the most well-known destination in Iceland, the Blue Lagoon is a big body of heated water that’s tinted blue due to the water’s mineral contents. By the standards of most tourist landmarks, there wasn’t that many people at the lagoon. It was crowded, but not overbearingly stuffy. Little did we know that it would be our last encounter with this many people gathered in one place.
Over the next two days, we would make our way through Iceland’s southern coast –a route that’s often included in most itineraries and for good reason too. The southern coast is a collection of every natural wonder one could imagine. From waterfalls, mountains, to eye-popping black beaches. The waterfall of Gullfoss was our first stop. Set in a huge canyon, the waterfall’s might literally takes your breath away. Gullfoss wasn’t the only waterfall to be found in the south, as there were about two to three more. The one that astonished me the most was Seljalandfoss. Located a bit further east, the waterfall stunningly drops down into a pool of water from high above a steep cliff. The most unique thing about this place? You can walk behind the waterfall through a slippery and somewhat dangerous pathway.
After the southern coast, we turned north and drove along Iceland’s eastern coast. Though not as dramatic as the south, there were a few portions of the drive that awed us. But it was at the south-east that we were able to live our dreams of witnessing the Aurora Borealis. During a stay-over at the tiny town of Höfn, our dinner was abruptly cut short after one of my friends spotted green lights in the clear night sky. Prior to that, all of us would constantly monitor space weather reports and we hoped we could see the northern lights on that night because the sun’s activity were considered high. Lo and behold, there it was staring down at us. After imagining seeing it with my own eyes, words cannot describe the emotions I felt as the waves of light glided through the sky. I would actually categorise it as a spiritual experience, one that made me feel little, yet at the same time, awed by nature’s capabilities. Mission accomplished.
Continuing with the journey, we drove to Iceland’s second biggest city of Akureyri in the north. It’s worth noting that the northern coast is mostly inaccessible due to the lack of paved roads, so we had to stick with the main road that circles around Iceland. We spent three more nights in three different cities along the way before arriving at the Wesfjords. This particular area was probably the roughest and most untamed portion of the journey. There’s only one road that leads up to the city of Ísafjörður –the Westfjords’ main town- and it winded up and down mountainsides, bays, and coastlines. Upon leaving Ísafjörður, we felt a little cheeky and decided to take the mountain pass to our next destination of Stykkishólmur, only to be turned back by a blizzard. Most of the Westfjords are strictly off limits once winter rolls along because the roads will be blanketed by snow and we had just gotten a preview.
Upon arrival in Stykkishólmur, we knew very well that our journey was coming to an end as it was the last stop before going back to Reykjavik. To be honest, I could have written more pages about my Icelandic adventure. But simply put, Iceland had too many highlights. I haven’t even touched on Eyjafjallajökull (the volcano that erupted in 2010 and made famous by the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”), Myvatn Nature Baths (another blue-coloured hot springs), Goðafoss, or Jökulsárlón (a stunning glacier lagoon). In conclusion, it truly was an adventure of a lifetime. Imageries from Iceland –especially the northern lights- still linger in my head on a regular basis, far more often than any other destinations I’ve been fortunate to visit. If lady luck would shine on me, I would take the journey all over again. (HARIO PRIAMBODHO)