Trip of a Lifetime! (Part 1)

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(Preface: I probably should have written this either during my time in Iceland or shortly after I got back from Iceland, because everything I’m saying will be based off of memory and not really “in the moment”. With that being said, I won’t be able to remember everything exactly (luckily I have pictures to help out with remembering exactly what we did and when we did it), but I shall try my best! Be sure to check back for the next part!)

Way back in January, New Years day to be exact, I was awoken by a phone  call pretty early in the morning. After having to pry my eyes open with wrenches due to the alcohol consumed the night before, I noticed it was a call from my Aunt. Now, given the state I was in and time of the morning it was, I most likely would have ducked the phone call. But, for some reason I answered it, and I’m so glad I did.

“How would you like to go to Iceland?”

Wait, WHAT?!?! I think I found something that wakes you up easier and faster than coffee: ask people life-altering questions. After a brief conversation with my Aunt, my girlfriend and I were one step closer to a trip of a lifetime. A string of emails back and forth between my Aunt and me over the next couple of weeks resulted in my girlfriend and I booking our flight to a country we never would have thought of going to: Iceland.

Six months go by and our dream vacation is right around the corner. Now, I’ve only been out of the country once, and that was to the Azores two summers ago, so I’m nowhere near the traveling veteran my girlfriend is having lived the first half of her life in Paraguay. Traveling internationally to me has been slightly tainted by living off of my dad’s and brother-in-law’s clothing for three days while in the Azores. Can you guess what happens next? Yup, you got it. We arrive at Keflavík International Airport to find out our luggage was never transferred to our flight in Toronto. No matter what you tell me, I’m placing the blame on the Air Canada lady at BWI Airport who repeated THREE TIMES our luggage would arrive at our final destination. Anyways, our trip wasn’t starting off the way we planned, but we were too sleep deprived to really care (plus, our luggage was flown on the next flight over, so we got it the following day).

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(Our cottage in the valley.)

Day 1 – Arrival Day

After finding out our luggage didn’t make it, we we’re off in our rental car to explore the south-western coast of Iceland. (Speaking of rental car, it was good that our luggage didn’t make it, because we had just enough room for six people and the luggage that did make it.) The weather that day wasn’t very welcoming (rainy and 45 degrees), but it was pretty typical for that time of year in Iceland.

Too be honest, there wasn’t very much to see along the south-western coast. Apart from the fact that it was so hazy, the land surrounding the roads was nothing but volcanic rock fields with the occasional jagged trenches. We made our way around the land similar to the way the vikings did around the year 1000: Mapquest. While fighting sleep deprivation, I couldn’t help but notice how eerie the area was. We probably saw three cars the whole time we were exploring, and every residential area we past through was a complete ghost town.

We made a couple of pitstops along the coast at some scenic viewpoints and at some natural hot springs before arriving at an Icelandic grocery store. It’s always fun going to foreign grocery stores and seeing what it is they have in stock (I say that like I’ve been to so many of them). Apart from the typical Icelandic brands they had, they also carried things like Lucky Charms and Mountain Dew.

There isn’t much to go off on the ride to our cottage, because the whole drive felt like a dream. As a matter of fact, my uncle who was driving admitted to dreaming while he was driving, which we all thought was hilarious. After finally making it to our cottage, we fought off sleep as long as we could in an attempt to salvage our sleep schedule. Let me tell you, it was one pathetic fight. Once my head hit the pillow, I was asleep. It was 5:30pm.

(Side note: we were in Iceland during the summer equinox, so it never got dark. Each night our room progressively got darker as we put blankets and towels in front of it to sleep.)

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(Stokkur Geyser erupting from atop of a mountain)

Day 2 – Haukadalur Valley and Gullfoss

After 15 hours of sleep the smell of pancakes filled the cottage, leading us out of bed. We figured since the previous day was such a struggle, we would explore the area surrounding to cottage. Finally getting our luggage back, everyone got dressed for the day and we took the shortest drive of our trip down the road to Haukadalur Valley to see the geysers.

A steady drizzle of rain and fog filled the air. Combine that with a cool, brisk wind, we were deep in the true Icelandic experience. Upon arrival to the geyser fields, the scent of sulphur filled the air, which, by the way, isn’t the greatest of smells. The steam from the boiling water waiting to erupt caused visibility to be even more obstructed, but we were able to get an up-close-and-personal look at some of the eruptions, as seen below.

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After being on the ground for a few eruptions, we decided it was time to hike up the mountain that overlooked the geysers. The mountain we climbed up looked tiny from a distance compared to the surrounding mountain ranges, but when you’re at the bottom of it you’d think otherwise. It took us 30-minutes to hike to the top and get a great view of the geysers and the valley where our cottage was, which seemed a little long, but steady drizzle caused the ground beneath us to be slick with mud.

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Hiking down was just as challenging as hiking up, but once we were safely back down we cleaned our shoes in the runoff of water from the geysers, which was probably frowned upon (oh well, we’re American, what do you expect?) and headed off to see what is said to be the largest waterfall in Europe: Gullfoss (translated – Golden Falls).

Gullfoss got its name because on a sunny day, the water tumbling down the three tiered, staircase falls truly appears to be golden. Unfortunately for us, the weather was very gray, but the sight was beautiful nonetheless. The roar of the water approaching the falls then free falling some 34 meters down to the bottom was almost as mesmerizing as the sights of the falls itself.

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(Gullfoss on a clearer day of our trip)

Our time at Gullfoss came to an end and we decided to call it a day. The little activity we did over the course of the day seemed extreme due jet lag. We drove back towards the cabin, ate some dinner, and wound the night down with a relaxing hot tub session and Icelandic beer. Ahhhhh, what a great night that was.

Overall, the first two days were amazing, sleep deprivation or not. As stated before, I never thought I would have gotten a chance to travel to Iceland, but thanks to my family I was able to do exactly that. From the moment we landed in Iceland to the end of day two, I already knew this trip would be life-changing. Be sure to check back soon to see what we did the next couple of days!