Despite the name, there is only a relatively small area in Iceland that is covered in ice. For the most part, the small Island nation is covered with picturesque, lush, and rolling pastures. And being at 64 degrees north latitude, in the summer month Iceland sees almost 24 hours of sunlight a day!
Known for its sweaters, volcanoes, and Bjork, I, like most, knew very little about Iceland. It was a comedy of errors as I attempted to navigate through morning rush hour traffic in downtown Reykjavik, having not slept on the red eye flight out of Toronto the night before. I could not read the street names fast enough off my map, while trying not to stall my standard transmission VW Caddy - an aptly named car as it is only slightly larger than an actual golf cart. Only a few foreign words were directed at me as I drove down the same one-way street, in the wrong direction, for the second time. Once I had my bearings, and was settled into my guesthouse, it was time to explore beautiful and historic Reykjavik.
Not many nation capital cities in the world can you enjoy a meal in a down town brasserie, with an ocean front patio, and then walk to the airport in five minutes! Being a huge patio fan, I soaked up the midnight sun in the main town square. Each brasserie's patio expanded onto the street, and soon, blended into one that completely filled and blocked both the street and sidewalks. As the evening sun got low, stacks of beautiful hand crafted Icelandic wool blankets were provided. Brio is a local German style Pilsner, which took first place at the World Cup of Beers. Not only putting Icelandic brewers on the world stage, but stealing the coveted crown from the favored German breweries. Local Icelanders were keen to have this tourist sample the pride of the island.
The next morning, I was eager to continue exploring this fascinating country. I had heard about the numerous hot springs and volcanically heated swimming areas on this part of the Island. The one that caught my attention was the hot river Varma, near the town of Hveragerdi. Only a short drive from Reykjavik, I parked the Caddy on the side of a dusty side road, and followed my partially translated directions:
“Park at Km 4, walk towards mountain, don’t walk where it is hot.”
Flocks of sheep and Icelandic horses lined the edges of the pastures on the rolling hills as I set out along a well-worn foot trail. The ground was warm to the touch, and geothermal activity was all around me. Geysers, steam vents, and boiling mud literally lined both sides of the trail. Every few hundred metres was a rusted out wellhead, which was fitted to a series of pipes that provided the town with unlimited hot water, and hydro electricity. The trail rolling pasture gave way to a narrow valley, and the trail became rough. I soon came across the Varma River. The trail crosses the river here for the first time, and I wanted to jump in to the warm flowing water. Instead I kept hiking to the headwaters. The river flows directly out from the side of a mountain, where the water is too hot to touch. It then descends through a series of rapids and pools. Each pool is slightly cooler than the previous. I found the hottest pool that I could bare, and jumped on in! I soaked in the pure, natural river water as long as I could, constantly taking in the amazing and unique scenery. Volcanic rock out crops, rolling pastures, all lit by the arctic sun.
Iceland had impressed me thus far. It is, and continues to be one of my favorite places to travel. It was time to head back to Reykjavik where I enjoyed some more Brio, local lamb, and great company on a historic patio. A perfect end, to a perfect day. And I was just getting started… Stay tuned for more great adventures from Iceland in Ruskay's Adventure Blog.