Within hours of landing in Reykjavik, my travel companion and I rented a car and drove south. We wanted to save our city wandering for the end since since we would return to Reykjavik to fly out. Iceland’s roads swing between perfectly surfaced and empty, and impassable unless you have four-wheel drive and a whole lot of time on your hands. We didn’t know about the second kind of road yet, and off we zoomed down the lovely ring road that circumnavigates the country. For someone who loves to drive as much as I do, it was a joy, despite the darkening sky and the lashing rain that would sweep over us for the next two days.
While we drove day and night our whole trip, we must have stopped every five minutes. It’s impossible not to, especially if you’re a photographer and you’re traveling with a filmmaker. Within half an hour of leaving Reykjavik, we had pulled over on a horse trail, illegally as we were to find, and run joyfully into the incredible moss-covered black rock landscape. I wonder if Icelanders have multiple words for moss. I was overcome with all the hues and textures, so much green and springy.
Iceland has an amazing number of waterfalls—we saw them randomly all over Southern Iceland, and only one of those was actually on our itinerary (Gullfoss). The others (Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss) were just off the side of the road. Can you imagine? You’re driving along a black tar road that disappears into the horizon, and through the rain, far ahead, faint but sure, there’s a vertical band of white against the black and green mountains. It’s a river, a sparkling misty wonder, roaring over the top of a mountain, crashing down into volcanic earth.
Gullfoss (Golden Falls) is one of the many wonders of Iceland. The river Hvítá plunges in two stages into a deep deep crevice in southwest Iceland. What’s startling is that the crevice is obscured until you come right up to it, and so while you’re approaching, it looks as if this huge river just ends suddenly.
Getting to Gullfoss was a bit of a driving hazard. Just an hour away from the falls, the road suddenly became a gravel path which drastically slowed our progress, and we ended up missing the sunset, which would probably have been pretty spectacular over the falls. That said, a towering twilit waterfall is nothing to scoff at.
In the tiny town of Stokkseyri we tried to visit a ghost museum, which was unfortunately closed, but we did get to walk along the town’s rain-blasted rocky coastline, which featured our first glimpse of a turf house, as well as an abandoned, angular seaside house. I’m still curious as to who lived there and why they left. And in a tiny gift shop full of handmade wool hats and gloves (Icelandic sheep and wool are ubiquitous), I discovered an addictive Icelandic snack—peppery multigrain sesame seed crackers (Kex?).
Along the road to Gulfoss, and in the town of Geysir (from where we get the English word geyser—and what beautiful steamy landscape), we got to commune with carved wooden people: men and women sculpted into logs and painted up all lovely. I’m not sure of their significance in Icelandic culture, but they were striking figures to encounter.
And we got going on our nightly habit of fancy fish dinner. Throughout Iceland, we eschewed the ubiquitous mutton dishes (we’re both pescatarian), as well as hákarl, a fermented/rotted shark dish that is apparently a delicacy. However, our ling fish dish at Hotel Geysir was delicate and flavorful and rich, and I highly recommend Hotel Geysir’s delicious homemade bread. Yum.
Abeer Hoque is a Nigerian born Bangladeshi American writer and photographer. See more at olivewitch.com.