Everyone I know who’s traveled there comes back raving about how beautiful it is, and it’s true. Pictures don’t do it justice, though I’ve posted a few of my favorites. You can see that it’s stunning, but it’s hard to convey just how primordial the landscape feels.
Iceland is located at the juncture of the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans atop the Reykjanes Ridge, a portion of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge which separates the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. In geological terms, it’s a very young country; according to one guide, the last Ice Age uncovered it a mere eleven thousand years ago. It’s volcanically active and rife with geothermal activity.
There’s a very visceral sense of the immense geological forces that shaped the land, that thrust the basalt mountains out of the ocean. The landscape is incredibly varied. During a three hour drive along the south coast, I named twenty-one different types of landscape ranging from sheer-faced black cliffs and green steppes to lupine meadows and lichen-covered lava fields. Vast stretches are uninhabited. Long ribbons of waterfalls cascade from the cliffs.
And then there are the glaciers! Vatnajökull, which covers eight percent of the island, is the largest ice cap in Europe. (Okay, that’s what our guide said; according to Wikipedia, it’s the largest by volume and the second largest by area. At any rate, it’s big.) On the third day of the trip, we went on an excursion that hiked up the face of one of its outlet glaciers using crampons and ice-axes. Not knowing what to expect, none of us were prepared for it to be quite so… steep. And arduous. Also terrifying, exhilarating, and breathtaking.
Later in the trip, we ventured into Jökulsárlón, the lagoon where the glacier meets the Atlantic Ocean and luminous blue icebergs drift out to sea. As our Zodiac boat approached the glacial wall (at a safe distance, of course), there was a massive cracking sound. Pieces of ice crumbled and fell, and then one enormous chunk broke loose. It plunged into the sea and surfaced like a whale breaching, deep blue due to centuries of compaction forcing out the air within the ice.
We had just seen the glacier calving an iceberg, and it was a powerful, beautiful and incredible thing to witness. It brought tears to my eyes. When asked how often an event of that magnitude happens, our taciturn Icelandic boat pilot said, “Not often.”
Those were two of my favorite moments, and vivid reminders of the ways in which travel informs my worldbuilding. Of course there were more, many centered around food, fellowship, waterfalls and geothermal pools, but perhaps I’ll save those for another day.
And now, back to summer! Feel free to stop by the Tattoo Gallery on your way out for a new addition!