ICELAND Part 1: Reykjavik and Droning Waterfalls

This has been a year of taking my dream trips.  Iceland always topped my list of places I'd wanted to travel to.  When I had some how managed to travel all the way to Antarctica in March of this year, Iceland seemed extremely affordable and easy to plan in comparison (Very low airfares to Iceland are regularly offered on the new Icelandic WOW Air).  This May I planned an 11 day Iceland visit as part of a Europe trip to visit a friend in Stockholm and Budapest, and booked a series of one-way air tickets with a stop and stay in 4+ destinations for the combined cost of about $1000 (Los Angeles>Stockholm>Budapest>Reykjavik>Toronto-Buffalo>Los Angeles).  My boyfriend Jason flew to Budapest to join me for a day there before embarking on our Iceland ring road adventure.  Once in Iceland we kept costs low by renting a camper van (for a discounted off-season price since the peak season doesn't begin until June), and we purchased groceries and cooked most of our meals from the back of our van.



Like every trip to Iceland, ours began in Reykjavik, Iceland's largest city (and only city that actually somewhat resembles a city).  

Nearly ten years ago when browsing photos on Flickr I came across images of the houses and buildings in Reykjavik and was struck by their geometry and colors.  I wasn't able to afford to travel very far at that time, so I instead traveled through online image searches, and I was so enamored by the images of Reykjavik that I created a drawing from one.  I was interning at a screen printing shop at the time and turned the line drawing into a colorful screen print.



In Reykjavik we ate famous hot dogs, visited a flea market, and took a trip up to the top of Hallgrímskirkja church to see my long awaited Reykjavik city view.  Once up in the church I didn't quite recall the exact view of the houses I had drawn, but now that I compare I can see them on the bottom right of my image below (the colors in my screen print are different from the actual houses).


A good friend back in Los Angeles had introduced us to a few of his Icelandic friends on Facebook, which we just happened to run into on the street taking part in a small protest.  The Icelanders were protesting their government's involvement in the Panama Papers scandal.  Kristjan and Sindri were holding homemade signs, one was the shape of Iceland with a banana which he explained "This is Iceland, this is a banana... We are living in a banana republic. "  I forget their explanation for the other sign which had something to do with a toilet plunger metaphor.  Following some chants and walks around the tiny city hall the protest was over and we went with Kristjan and Sindri to meet their friends for many rounds of beer at a local pub in the town square... about 50 meters from the city hall.  Reykjavik is small, downtown Reykjavik is tiny.  We learned that hanging out with friends and drinking countless beers is how the Icelandic survive the long winters, and its also how they celebrate the spring, enjoy the summer, and welcome fall.

That night we parked our van in a campground right in town and in the morning we stocked our cooler with groceries from our favorite Icelandic grocery store; BONUS and picked up a few necessities at IKEA before leaving the city behind for the open road.


Ring Road Roadtrip!

It took no more than 30 minutes of driving outside of Reykjavik to bring us to an otherworldly place.  The landscape reminded me quite a bit of Antarctica, and so I fired up my drone to check out the view from the sky- something I was unable to do when I was in Antarctica, but found to be entirely acceptable in Iceland.



We connected with the popular Golden Circle route and stopped at Geysir, a geyser that errupts from the ground every few minutes. After a few photos and Snapchat videos of the geyser we continued along hoping to catch the Gulfoss waterfall before sunset.  



Along the road we saw a sign that read "SHEEP HOUSE" and were too curious to not stop.  The long driveway past many frolicking sheep brought us to a small family farm with a wool clothing shop attached to what we assumed to be the sheep house.  We peeked in and saw several sheep with their tiny baby lambs.  A friendly woman came in to greet us and we were chatting when she suddenly jumped into the stalls and alerted us that one of the sheep was about to give birth.  The pregnant sheep was having difficulty, the not yet born lamb was positioned incorrectly with just its head peeking out. Without hesitation the woman reached into the sheep's birth canal and repositioned the lamb, pulling its legs out ahead of its head.  The mother heaved and the lamb plopped out onto the floor.  We feared the baby lamb wasn't alive, it wasn't moving.  The woman shook it and slowly it started to move.  The mother sheep nosed and cleaned the lamb and we watched as it miraculously became stronger within minutes starting to stand and attempt its first steps.  

In the time we were at the sheep house the mother birthed a second lamb, and we eagerly awaited the her third.  The woman told us that she had done an ultrasound on each of the mothers and this one was to have three.  After some time waiting for the last lamb we decided it was time that we continued on, by that time it was at least 8pm, although the light out had us feeling like it was only 5.  We browsed the selection of lovely wool sweaters and slippers made onsite by the wool from the sheep at the farm, but as much as I wanted to buy one I couldn't justify a $200 heavy wool sweater (since I live in LA where I would never use it).





We had spent too much time at the sheep house, by the time we made it to Gulfoss the sun was already too low and the waterfall already completely shaded.  But regardless of the time of day it was an incredible sight. 


Secret Lagoon


Our chilly first day out exploring Iceland ended with a much needed hot soak in the pool of Secret Lagoon.  The lagoon closes at 10pm but the couple working at the desk allowed us some extra time (we had the whole pool to ourselves!). Even in May the evening light was brighter than anywhere I had seen at 10 o'clock. 



Haifoss waterfall

Probably my favorite waterfall on this trip to Iceland was Haifoss.  This impressive 120 meter falls took a bit of effort to travel to in the soggy month of May.  The road to the Haifoss was muddy, flooded and snowy in places, and at one point the road was so rocky and uneven that it took a good 15 minutes of slow, careful steering while Jason stood outside instructing me which way to turn the wheels.  We were rewarded when we arrived with the view of the canyon and two separate waterfalls plummeting into giant sheets of ice and snow.

The falls was a perfect place to fly my drone, we were completely alone until a helicopter came racing up through the canyon, flying extremely low and fast.  I was nervous for a moment until I saw the passengers waving to us... they were enjoying a daredevil helicopter tour of the area.



The desert-like landscape surrounding Thjofafoss made me feel transported back to Argentinan Patagonia, or possibly Mars.  The volcano Hekla can be seen in the distance.  This was another waterfall off of the main circuit, we hadn't seen another person or car for many miles.  I sat on the edge of the falls and flew my drone.



By sunset of day two of our roadtrip we arrived at Seljalandsfoss, one of Iceland's best known waterfalls.  I shot one of my "dronies" here and we camped the night at the campground just down the road from the falls.  The campground had nice facilities and a kitchen where we cooked our dinner before returning to our van to sleep.


Visited May 2016

Photos by Renee Lusano and Jason MacDonald