14 September, 2017

black sand, dancing skies

The Lyft driver was horrified.

"You're going where?" she said. "To do...what?"

Iceland, we said. To climb a waterfall and walk the black beach at Reynisfjara and hike Thingvellir
Thingvellir, site of the Althing
and ride horses. No tour buses, no sitting in hot springs, no fancy dinners. Rain gear, good boots, lots of layers, wool socks. Maybe the aurora borealis, if we were lucky. Probably not a lot of beer. Certainly not a lot of people. 340K on the whole island! Long stretches of nothing and no one. Lots of sheep and horses. Silence, I said wistfully. Maybe somewhere I can't hear any cars.

"Have fun," the Lyft driver wished us. But she sounded doubtful. (Her upcoming vacation, a weekend in Denver, was to be spent drinking and partying and otherwise not exerting herself one more iota than necessary. I do not judge this, but I also do not want it.)

Maybe it's that Nous and I are not good at vacations. We haven't been on one that lasted more than a day (visiting family does not count) for 15 years. Perhaps we could've offered that as excuse to the Lyft driver--we don't know how to relax in long stretches. And also, to us, hiking is relaxing. Seeing new landscapes is relaxing. Nous getting some quality time with his camera is relaxing.

We got our wishes. All of them.

I mean: we went to Iceland in September and did not need our rain pants. It rained exactly twice: the afternoon we arrived, and on the return from Reynisfjara.

Glymur, in Hvalfjordur
Which meant, when we went up the Glymur waterfall trail, it was sunny, and our (very enthusiastic) guide decided to take the long way, which involved crossing a glacial river twice, barefoot. No tour buses. You can't see Glymur from the road. You have to earn it.

No lie: I felt pretty badass, afterwards. And I was also very glad of my wool socks (one of my earliest pairs) which prevented blisters from lingering damp and sandy bits that stuck to me after the river crossings.

We saw the aurora borealis that night, of which I have no pictures, because I was too busy watching them. They looked like  bands of silver and the faintest hints of green. Like ghosts moving on the vaults of the sky.

And then, finally, Reynisfjara, which was my Must See from the very first time I saw a photo. We drove out of Reykjavik, past farms of sheep and Icelandic horses, past Eyjafjallajökull (capped in clouds, quiet, brooding), past a parade of waterfalls fed by the glaciers.

There is something about this long stretch of black sand, studded with rocks, ringed with basalt columns on one side and crashing grey sea on the other. Just listen to it. I wish I could share the rest: the wind, the cold salty tang of the sea, the grit of the sand. But this will have to do.