Some people still ask me if I have a few geysers on my terrace. Or if, on my roof, one could find black, basalt columns. In a way, I can understand why they get them mixed up: both countries are nordic republics, similar names and so on and so forth. I’m sure, though, that on my HIbernia, toponymy sounds a lot easier: no Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen, no Dagur Bergþóruson Eggertsson, on my island. Another shared, unavoidable feature is how indigestible financial cracks have descended upon both countries in the recent years. I went to Iceland in September 2006, on my way up to Greenland. I hope you will like my story.
You think enormous ploughs drew those gigantic cuts while your plane starts its descend onto Reykjavík. Icelandic earth’s crust and its seas behave pretty much like an accordion. My first seismic dance occured on my second day when, after I hired a jeep in the capital, I started to drive around the Golden Circle. When the jeep started shaking, one fragile and a bit inept thought arose in my mind: everything is going to explode here. Therefore, in a very ratonal and calm way, I screamed, and jammed on the breaks. I proceeded then to run out of my vehicle, which now stood there all alone, like in a movie, with all its doors open, in the middle of the road. It didn’t matter too much anyhow, as for the prevous 2 hours I hadn’t met any cars. I wouldn’t be causing any car crashes.
I remember I ran for a while, as if I was looking for someone, to tell them “Hiya, everything is going to explode, here – just came around to tell you!”.Then I saw the rock, rolling down, on the side of the mountain and I figured out that the ground was shaking. When it stopped, after a few seconds, I went back to my jeep, and I took a photo of that stone. I know now that I should have moved my vehicle closer to it: in this way its frightening dimensions would have been easier to image.
While driving on the Golden Circle, it occurred to me that one major detail was missing: trees. Icelandic government used to pay those brave romantics who decided to plant a tree. It didn’t matter where: in their garden, in the middle of their living room, in one of those challenging crack which would then eat it, digest it and get it to sprout again, possibly on the other side of Earth, roughly in a remote area of your choice in New Zealand.
The nearest landmark to the capital on the Golden Circle route is the site of the first parliament on earth: Þingvellir. Unfortunately, this park didn’t choose a comfortable seat, as it is situated on top of the line where the two continental plates of North America and Europe meet. They don’t seem to get along too much as they are slowly moving apart widening Iceland by 1.5 cm a year.
Half an hour from Þingvellir, another thought occurs to you: tons of eggs must have gone rotten around here. Sulphur equals geysers, and you’d expect to see alarming episodes of natural devastation, as nature is the one power that both church and state have to respect. Sadly, Geysir, that used to shoot 70m into the air, does nothing more now that a gurgle. Sadly, you come to realize that Nature needs Viagra too, as for years Icelanders poured masses of soap powder into the orifice to make it perform but in the end they gave up. Strokkur doesn’t encourage Geysir‘s performance: like a hormonal teenager, it spurts to a height of around 20m every 4-6 minutes. No help needed, thank you very much. Earth shakes, as this eccentric water detonation comes closer to you.
The best piece of advice you could be given in Iceland is not to touch the area around a geyser: an average of seven tourists are scalded every week over the summer months, mostly for putting their hands in the surrounding water pools to test the temperature. Hospital reports show how the ambition to become a fillet steak doesn’t pay off in Iceland.
A place where Nature roars is to be found another 10km along the road to the north in Gullfoss waterfalls.Their combined drop is 32m. You get enveloped in a thick, multicoloured fog. Nature’s roar shakes you from within as you stand on top of the canyon that these perennial streams have created over the centuries.