When asked about where my favourite places of travel have been, I don’t hesitate in naming France as my numero uno. Second is always a bit more difficult, but after the NC500, Scotland has held that spot for awhile. Third may be Japan, where I went snowboarding a few years ago. However, there’s some new and unlikely competition in the mix now – Iceland.
I’ve just returned from Reykjavik after a weekend so great that I’ve already planned out what I’d like to do on my next trip back! The island of Iceland may seem remote with its 365,000-odd population, but MAN it is so beautiful and different to anywhere I’ve ever been. And whilst I haven’t spent enough time there to name it in my top 3 (yet), it definitely takes out top spot for friendliest people. The Viking descendants are an absolutely lovely, chatty and helpful bunch!
Even though I only spent 2.5 days there, I’m compelled to break up my recount into a few posts, as this isn’t a place that I wanna skim over.
I arrived at midnight on Friday feeling pretty beat. As everything in Iceland is very spread out, I’d booked an airbnb room with a family in Keflavik near the airport. As it turns out, they were super awesome, interesting people – the mother, Brynhildur, was a philosopher-turned-school principal, and the father, Sigurinhi, a chess teacher! We had a great chat for a few hours on Saturday about all things Iceland – education, politics, food, language and customs. Thankfully, I was forewarned that the bus to town only comes once an hour (and once every 2 hours at lunch!) so I was able to leave on time, otherwise we probably could’ve chatted all day.
I checked into my hotel in the next town and was met with similarly warm hospitality at Hotel Hafnarfjordur (which I still can’t pronounce). Btw – this is a really well price hotel, which features as one of the pick up points for many popular tours, so I’d highly recommend it if you’re not planning to hire a car!
I was soon picked up by the most bubbly, enthusiastic car transfer driver, before joining a group of locals and tourists to hike to a volcano and go inside!
I was really excited to be out in the barren, untouched, volcanic lands, and I’m glad to say the experience lived up to my expectation. What I love is that the Icelandics are very protective of their unique environment, so one can rest easy knowing that tourism isn’t at a detrimental cost to the ecosystem.
After journeying an hour out of Reykjavik by bus, we arrived at the edge of a vast lava field, which we were to hike through. The lava field itself was incredible. Amongst all the old lava rocks, we passed volcanoes that had last erupted back when the Vikings inhabited the lands!!
Additionally, we encountered a deep, massive crack in the ground – significantly, this was the spot where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and it was surreal, standing between 2 tectonic plates at the same time. And interesting fact; due to the movements of these plates, Iceland is actually very slowly splitting apart.
After the hike through the field and up the Thrihnukagigur Volcano, we got geared up and harnessed in, to board the little steel elevator that would take us on the 120m descent into the magma chamber – where hot lava once burst through more than 4000 years ago. The special thing with this particular volcano is that the magma didn’t flow back into the chamber and so it has remained hollow, allowing curious souls like me to venture inside thousands of years later.
So despite having a bit of a fear of heights, the journey into the volcano was an exhilarating one. Being 5″, I feel small pretty frequently, but standing on a little steel platform entering the dark abyss of a volcano made me feel like an ant!
Once we stopped descending, it was freezing cold as one would expect. It was slippery, wet and rocky in there so it was a mission to clamber around. Pictures don’t do it justice, but the walls and rocks in there are absolutely incredible – you can see exactly where the fiery lava once shot up (indicated by smooth red sections), where gas explosions happened (blackened holes) amongst many more events. It was thousands of years of geological activity in such an untampered form, which really helps you appreciate the complexity of the environment!
After exploring the cave, making a huge effort not to drop anything into the cracks (no chance of recovering lost items there), we ascended back into the outside world and got awesome views of the setting sun. We were then treated to a comforting bowl of Icelandic meat soup (DELICIOUS, and not cos I was cold and hungry), before heading back into town. Despite best efforts to catch up on some reading and writing, I fell asleep like a baby.
The tour offered by Inside the Volcano was such a unique experience that I really recommend. It didn’t come cheap, but cmon – how often can one say they’ve journeyed to the centre of the earth! You can’t put a price tag on those bragging rights 😉