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Iceland - Part 2

(…apparently you are allowed to end a sentence with a preposition, like with, of, and to. I didn’t know I was allowed to do this. Cool Stuff…)

We got up really early the next day. I think it was around 6:00 am (2:00 am New Jersey time). Mark wanted to see a man-made hot spring that was supposed to be about 20 minutes from where we were staying. We both crawled out of the tent. It was still dark and the temperature outside was around 35 degrees. We exchanged jokes about jumping into water this early in the morning and outside in near freezing temperatures. We packed our bathing suits with us. We didn’t wear them to the hot spring. Mark had been seeing other influencers post about this hot spring on social media and really wanted a picture in front of it. It’s supposed to be really far off the road and is nowhere near as popular as the Blue Lagoon or some places close to Reykjavik. 

So we take all our valuables with us, leave the tent behind and get in the car. I danced around with the three pedals on the floor for a little while and eventually got us moving further southeast on the ring road.

The speed limit on the ring road is 90 km/h. For the entire trip, I had no idea how fast that actually was; the car speedometer was in km/h so I just matched the numbers. If you’re curious, that translates to 55 mph. It felt pretty quick in the little Hyundai i10 that we were driving, but it was not fast enough for everybody around us. We got passed pretty frequently. I wasn’t about to get a speeding ticket in another country that I wasn’t familiar with. 

There was a tricky thing about this hot spring. It didn’t really have an address to add into the GPS. Mark put in something close, and followed instructions on the internet that other people had posted. But we weren’t very sure where we were going. There was a point where we had to turn down a long dirt road. This long dirt road had seen better days. There were so many bumps and holes in the road, that it really felt like we were off roading. Our car, being small and stiff, was bouncing all over the place. I thought we were going to bottom out a couple times. At one point, Mark rolled down the passenger window and said we might need to pull over so he could throw up. 

The road felt like it went on forever, but we finally pulled up to a small parking lot with two or three cars. Mark seemed confident this was where we needed to be, but I didn’t see a hot spring anywhere. He explained to me that it was about a 30 minute trip by foot to get to the hot spring from where we parked. I trusted him, so we grabbed our backpacks and started our walk down a sketchy, unmarked path.

Keep in mind there were no trees where we were. There were only mountains and streams around us. The fact that we weren’t surrounded by trees at least made it easier to see where we were going and where we came from. 

So we walked for about half an hour, talking about life. We discussed how surreal it was that we were actually doing this. We talked a little about other things that we wanted to do on this trip. But as we started digging into the rest of our time in Iceland, we turned around a corner and saw the hot spring.

Now, this hot spring ended up getting clarified for me real quick. It technically wasn’t a hot spring. It was a man-made pool built into the side of the mountain and it had a pipe in the side of it that was pumping hot water into the pool from the ground. The hot water that was coming into the pool was from geothermal activity, but it definitely looked nothing like the Blue Lagoon.

We were the only people at the pool (which was our goal in getting up early, because Mark wanted a shot by himself sitting next to the water). I reached down and felt the water. It didn’t feel very warm. It was warmer than the air outside, but it was no hot tub (which is what I expected it to feel like). I walked closer to the pipe that was pumping in the hot water and I put my hand in the water, hoping it would feel warmer on this side of the pool. It definitely felt warmer, but not by much. Was I expecting too much? This was all natural heat, so that part was definitely cool.

So Mark and I decided to change into our bathing suits. As seen in the photo, there was a small building with rooms to change. This building was super sketchy. The rooms were really dirty and gross. I had a hard time changing my clothes, while trying not to let them touch the ground. There were also no locks on the doors, and while I didn’t expect anybody to come barging in at 7 in the morning in the middle of nowhere, I wondered what it would have been like if the pool was busy.

So there we were, standing in the middle of nowhere, in our bathing suits. The cold 40 degree weather hitting our half naked bodies at 7:00 in the morning. I was not comfortable at all. I’m pretty sure Mark was second guessing everything at this point. We looked down at the water. It looked dark and muddy. I put one foot in the cold water and immediately decided I didn’t want to go in. I was still excited we were there, but I knew if I got out of the water, I would be even colder than I currently was. I couldn’t bring myself to be that uncomfortable. Mark went halfway into the water and decided the same thing. Instead, we took a couple photos like the one pictured above, and started heading out. 

Next up on the list was Skógafoss. Measuring in at a height of around 200 feet, it’s one of Iceland’s tallest waterfalls. Not only is the height intense, but the width of the waterfall is about 82 feet, which makes it look totally massive. It wasn’t very far from where we currently were. This was another waterfall that both of us had seen all over social media, and apparently so has everybody else. When we arrived, it was packed. This, I think, was one of our biggest missed opportunities on the trip. When we arrived at Skógafoss, we technically didn’t make it to the parking lot in front of the waterfall. We saw it from a distance, a good way away from where everybody else had been. We were both so tired from the lack of sleep and discouraged from the hot spring, that I think we reached a limit where we needed to reset for a little. So while we didn’t get any epic photos up close to the waterfall, I still snapped a bunch from a distance.

We were both getting tired so I asked Mark about getting lunch. The day before, we went through a small town that was about an hour away from our camp site. It was the same town that had our restaurant from the night before. I asked if he was in the mood for anything in particular. He told me he wanted to get KFC from a shopping center in town. 

Whenever I visit another country (or even another state), I’m all about trying food that is unique to where I’m traveling, however, I’ve made exceptions here and there. In Paris once, late at night, I got McDonald’s chicken nuggets; these exceptions are in addition to trying local foods. If I had a dollar for every croissant and macaroon I enjoyed in Paris, my trip could have been paid for (or at least my Airbnb!). But getting back to the story, I wasn’t too sure where else we could get food and I know there was a lot we still wanted to accomplish on this day, so I agreed.

After long stretches of empty road, we finally arrived at the small town. I pulled into the small shopping center’s parking lot and we walked up to KFC. As we walked in, I noticed it was pretty quiet. There were a few people sitting in chairs, eating. It’s a KFC; pretty standard stuff. However, there was one thing I didn’t really think about before coming here: all the items on the menu weren’t written in English. When we looked up at the menu, there were pictures of the items and words in a different language, along with the price, which was obviously not in US dollars.

Before coming on the trip, I naturally looked up languages spoken in Iceland. Apparently English is very commonly spoken. Some articles I had read explained that English was a second language to most citizens. Icelandic is apparently the official language of the country, and Dutch is also very common.

The night before, at the restaurant, the waitress spoke English well. I started getting anxious though, when the customer in front of me in line started speaking to the employee in another language. This was my first real time being out of the country and in another country that primarily spoke a different language. I didn’t really know what to expect. Who would have thought ordering food at KFC would get me anxious. 

It was our turn to order. The employee looked up and smiled at me, greeting me in a different language. I smiled back and did all I could do; I said hello. The employee immediately switched to English and greeted me, asking what I’d like to order. It turned out to be a lot easier than I expected.

So we ordered our food and walked over to the drink fountain to fill our empty cups. I don’t remember exactly what was available to drink, but I do know there were soda options that I didn’t see back at home. So I poured one of the new sodas; I had to be adventurous in some way. This was the best I could do at a KFC. 

We talked about what we wanted to accomplish for the rest of the day. Mark wanted to explore some cliffs on the coast, by the ocean. He also mentioned that there was a plane wreck on a beach somewhere and it might be fun to check that out. I thought both of those sounded like great ideas, so after we finished our food, we were off again.

It was another hour or two of driving when we came upon a really nice outlook by the beach. It was a great vantage point to see the coast from high up. There was only one catch: driving up the side of a cliff with no guard rails, in a manual transmission car. 

So, up we climbed. I won’t go into details here. All I will say, is I had a car in front of me that came to a complete stop every time somebody was coming the other way. I also had a car that tailgated me the entire drive up the cliff. If there was any moment I hated myself for getting a car with a manual transmission, this was it. For those of you who don’t know much about manual transmissions, when you are stopped and try accelerating up a hill, the car rolls backwards first before you apply enough gas. I thought my fingers melted into the steering wheel by the time I got out of the car.

Once the car was parked, everything got a little smoother. Mark and I took photos of each other wearing clothing from our sponsored companies. We soaked in the dark, hazy views of Iceland. There was a point where Mark and I walked up to a roped off area that said we couldn’t cross it. Now, I’m not one to break rules, but Mark pointed out there were other people who had crossed the rope. I looked ahead and did see a lot of people taking pictures past the rope. The picture below shows that area.

I really didn’t feel comfortable not following the rules in another country, so I told Mark I didn’t want to and that he could cross, and I’d stay back. I stood there for a while after he crossed the rope contemplating whether or not I should just follow him. The last place I really wanted to get in trouble was in a different country. I thought about it some more and finally did the unthinkable: I crossed the rope. 

We took a bunch of photos here. It was very pretty. The picture below ended up being one of the photos I took from this illegal vantage point. It was getting a little late so we decided to pack everything up and start heading out.

We discussed going to see the plane wreck on the beach, but as we looked into it, we decided to skip it. It was about an hour drive to get to the location and once we parked the car, it was a 2+ mile walk one way to get to the wreck. After everything we had done all day, we decided to call it and unwind. Not seeing this plane wreck was another one of those things I wish I would have just toughed out and experienced. If you Google search “Iceland plane wreck” you’ll find lots of really cool photos.

We decided to have dinner at the place we had dinner the night before. I got a burger again and it was just as delicious as the night before. Mark and I went back to the campground and talked about the future of our trip. We only had two more full days left. I felt like he was starting to get tired of the camping life. We had camped before that year, and he is definitely more of a hotel guy. We had discussed earlier on that we would get a hotel in Reykjavik on the last night to explore the city and shower before getting on the plane to come home. 

As we talked a little bit more, we came to the conclusion that we would spend the next two nights in Reykjavik and then leave. I was just hoping that there would be enough things to do in Reykjavik to keep our attention for two days. As we relaxed and talked about how the rest of our day went, the sun started setting. Little did I know, the scariest part of the day hadn’t even started yet.

It was dark now and we were camping right next to two waterfalls. Because we knew this would be our last night here, we thought it would be a fun idea to take photos of Seljalandsfoss at night. There were a lot of people there throughout the day, so getting a photo without anybody in the shot was impossible. We had the luxury of being so close to it, much longer after everybody left for the day. So in the darkness, we packed some things and trekked over to the waterfall. 

The waterfall has one faint light shining on it. Aside from that one light, the surrounding area is shrouded in complete darkness. Mark and I used our phones as flashlights, which really only lit up about 3-4 feet in front of us. I took my camera out, mounted it on my tripod, and took some long exposure shots. The picture below is one of them.

I wasn’t really satisfied with these photos. They were very standard looking, so I told Mark I wanted to get behind the waterfall and take some photos from there. Going behind Seljalandsfoss meant we had to walk up a long, dark path. So we did exactly what you’re thinking: we held our phones out in front of us and started walking. It was then that we started hearing noises.

There were groaning noises from the darkness. First they started small and far away, and then started sounding like they were coming closer. In front of the light shining on the waterfall, I noticed some sheep. Mark and I laughed. We thought something really scary was making the sounds. We weren’t afraid of sheep. 

So we pressed on. As we got further down the path, the sheep stopped and started staring at us. Mark was a little hesitant. I told him they would move away once we got closer. I couldn’t have been more wrong. They watched us the whole time as we approached., but now they were starting to walk towards us, like we were in their territory and they weren’t backing down. Mark and I stopped, not sure what to do next.

It was at this time where we started hearing the sounds again. However, the sounds weren’t coming from in front of us; they were coming from all around us now. We looked around with our phone flashlights and saw sheep surrounding us from every angle, and they were all closing in. 

We were both freaking out. I didn’t know anything about sheep. I didn’t know if they would really attack us. I could try and outrun one sheep, but not 20 or 30. Would they chase us back to the campground? To the car? We looked around for a spot where we could back away and saw an opening. We slowly and carefully backed up, shining our lights everywhere we could to see where the sheep were standing. Being that the light only illuminated a few feet in front of us, we wouldn’t be able to see a sheep running at us until the last second. 

After what felt like forever, we were slowly able to back away. I didn’t get my epic picture behind the waterfall, but I did get a story to tell. And that meant more to me than a photo. I was ready to call it quits and get some rest. We got back in the tent and before I fell asleep in the sleeping bag, I tried processing the whole day.

We started off dipping into a man-made pool in the middle of nowhere. We saw one of the coolest waterfalls, but from a distance. We ate Kentucky Fried Chicken in Iceland. We almost died driving up the side of a cliff in a car that I probably shouldn’t have rented. I broke the law and crossed a boundary that I shouldn’t have crossed. And ended the night almost getting attacked by a herd of sheep. 

I was having all the mixed feelings. I made some mistakes along the way. There were things I wish I had done differently. A part of me thought it was adventurous to get a car I struggled to drive, but another part of me thought it was a stupid and reckless decision. Another part of me wondered if I would regret not seeing Skógafoss up close or seeing that plane crash on the beach. 

I learned a lot from these moments and now, having the opportunity to look back on those things, it’s an interesting perspective. I really grew to hate that car. I was stressed every time I got in the driver’s seat. Mark could endlessly attest that I was so stressed out from driving. But I wouldn’t change that experience looking back. And it’s the same reason I regret not seeing that plane and not getting closer to Skógafoss. 

In the moment, when you’re exploring, you get tired and worn out. There are points where you just want to rest and relax. You want a little bit of normalcy or a break from it all. But those moments, when you’re tired and worn down, they don’t last with time. You forget all about those things later on down the road. What lasts are all those memories; those moments when you’re excited or scared. You’re out there getting perspective. You’re seeing the world from a new angle. 

So I learned a lot from these two days in Iceland. I learned that I need to push myself, even if I’m scared; even if I’m tired. No adventure is without the two. I remember laying down on the cold hard ground, wondering if the next two days would be anything compared to these last two. And while they weren’t the same, they were definitely an adventure nonetheless. 

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