Another year is drawing to an end and it gives us a chance to reflect upon the 12 months; the journey that brought us to where we find ourselves now, and much has changed for us all.
This year started with a milestone birthday for Mr Nomad so in keeping with the Nomadic Family Unit traditions, we embarked upon an adventure to a foreign jurisdiction and as Mr Nomad is a keen photographer, we went in search of the elusive Northen Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis in the hope that more magnificent memories could be captured.
We arrived at Keflavik Airport in Reykjavik in Iceland to a snowy white very frozen landscape. Visibility was poor and the whiteness was blinding but the distinct absence of the sun meant that the use of sunglasses would feel ridiculous. Stepping off the plane was almost torturous as the cold air caught our breath, burning our lungs. Mr Nomad and I were more used to warmer expeditions in sunnier climes, but this was a totally different experience. Those first tentative steps were a startlingly cooler welcome to the land seemingly more of ice than of fire. We came to realise that there was also a lack of daylight hours, with darkness reigning supreme for some 20 hours a day.
This Nordic Island nation can be found in Iceland just south of the Arctic circle in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic Ocean. It is the 18th largest island in the world but is the most sparsely populated country in Europe, with a population of only around 361,313. The lack of people was very noticeable but a pleasant change to the hum drum and busyness of home. The island consists of a plateau characterised by sand and lava fields, mountains and glaciers and forms part of the mid-Atlantic ridge, a ridge along which the oceanic crust spreads and forms a new oceanic crust. The ridge itself marks the boundary between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The landscape may have been freezing but it was epic in its proportions and spectacular. We had never seen anything like it previously and it certainly seemed like being on another planet.
Iceland runs almost completely on renewable energy with a widespread availability of geothermal power and the harnessing of many rivers and waterfalls for hydroelectricity with most of its residents having access to inexpensive hot water, heating and electricity. The area is highly geologically active with many volcanoes, and this was where its reputation for fire seemed to emanate from, in contradiction to the ice and snow to be seen everywhere we looked.
We were only in Iceland for a matter of days but we couldn’t wait to explore this desolate other worldly place. Our quest for adventure took us on a Golden Circle tour which included a trip into Thingvellir National Park which is to be located in an active volcanic area, on part of the Atlantic Ocean ridge and quite frankly, epitomised the history of Iceland. In days gone by, it formed an area where the kinsfolk held a national assembly, and we were able to walk between the two continents of North America and Europe. It is an area best defined as a major rift, producing dramatic fissures and cliffs, demonstrating inter-continental drift and although the weather was grim and the outlook decidedly bleak, it was fascinating all the same. The wind was bitter, and my eyes watered in protest, but the craggy landscape was breathtaking.
Part of this trip took us to an iconic water fall known as Gullfoss. This translates to the Golden waterfall as the water reflects the sunlight, giving it a golden hue. I must admit that the sunlight was hit and miss and certainly added no warmth to the place, and this golden hue for what the waterfall is so famous for did not make itself known. That said, a glorious rainbow was apparent which added a romanticism to the area. In volume, it is the largest waterfall in Europe and it is located in the canyon of the Hvita river in Southwest Iceland. There are 2 tiers of falls and their total standing together at a height of 32 metres. Although rather cold, it was a spectacular waterfall and much time was spent here in admiration for the power of nature.
We moved on and went to visit another powerful and natural phenomenon of geysers. Mr Nomad and I had not previously witnessed such magnificent and fascinating features and it was fantastic to visit the erupting geysers in Haukadalur Valley, particularly Geysir, the oldest in the world and to witness the exhilaration of Strokkur, a geyser erupting every 8 – 10 minutes.
This land was striking in its contradictions – the icy frozen landscape covered in snow, yet the boiling hot geysers bubbling away and with a stench of Sulphur, erupting into steaming and scorching life. There was something very exciting about trying to predict each time the geyser exploded into the atmosphere, and much fun was had.
Aside from ice, the fire that Iceland is famous for comes in the form of its many volcanoes. Mr Nomad and I have a real fascination with volcanoes (Mr Nomad proposed to me on a volcano in Indonesia) so to get close to active volcanoes was a real thrill and not to be missed.
On 21st March 2010, a volcano in Eyjafjallalokull erupted and the volcanic clouds of ash brought travel disruption across Europe and then on 21st May 2011, Grimsvotn volcano erupted. This is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes and much more powerful than the 2010 eruption although the latter eruption was more in the minds of most tourists given the cancellation of many a holiday.
The volcano that excited Mr Nomad and I was Fagradalsfjall, which erupted on 19th March 2021. This volcano had been dormant for 6000 years and only being some 40 kilometres from Reykjavik was a sight to behold when a fissure vent opened up and it started spewing lava into the air. It was effusive and continued to emit fresh lava spontaneously until 18th September 2021. The people of Iceland travelled to witness this great phenomenon as it lit up the skyline with its seething anger.
Fargradalsfjall is also a name for a wider volcanic system covering an area of around 5 kilometres wide and 16 kilometres long and the area is well known for eruptive fissures, cones and lava fields between the Svartseng and Krysuvik systems with its highest summit being Langholl.
When Mr Nomad and I visited Iceland some 4 months after the last lava spout, we were able to walk on the lava fields created by this magnificent natural wonder, and whilst the risk to life had long gone, there were significant cracks in the black hardened lava offering a fascinating insight into the formation of magma and the differing layers of rock and there were still the wisps of smoke, and ash hanging in the atmosphere. Again, what was striking was the contrast in this epic land of ice and fire. Mr Nomad had wanted to hike up the nearest mountain to attempt to get high enough to peer into the volcanic crater, but this was not something I relished or shared his enthusiasm for, with the bitter wind blasting in my face, the snow and hail driving down upon us, taking away my joy at having been on a lava field only minutes before.The Northern Lights had eluded us so far, as the weather had not let up and the cloud cover had proved impossible to see anything, so given that the trip was for Mr Nomad’s big birthday, up the mountain we went despite my protestations.
The adventure in Iceland included a trip to the world-renowned Blue Lagoon. This is a geothermal spa within volcanic earth and once more, highlighted the contrast in this mystical land. Some 2000 metres within the earth, ocean water and fresh water converge in a tectonic realm of searing heat and extreme pressure, creating geothermal sea water. Drawn to the surface through geothermal extraction wells, the water in the Blue Lagoon emerged enriched with silica, algae and minerals and made for the best most luxurious experience in a naturally hot but soothing bath. Again, it was in direct contrast to the blizzarding conditions that were abound as we applied a silica mud mask and sampled an alcoholic beverage at the poolside bar. The water is supposedly ‘healing, rejuvenating, [with] nourishing abilities’ and this certainly applied. It was wonderfully relaxing with the warmth enveloping us, offering some recovery from the frostbitten days preceding.
This crazy land of fire and ice had been somewhat lacking in colour and the Northern Lights had failed to materialise but a stroll into a town for waffles one evening had provided some sparkle in the form of the rainbow road. This was a glimmer of love, a sign of joy and diversity in a land which although bleak and at times, challenging, was surreal and epic in its proportions.
It had been a very different experience to trips that Mr Nomad and I had previously been on but so magnificently worthwhile.
We never did get to see the Northern Lights but memories were made, and our adventures will continue.
Leave a Reply