To be alive
The first time I started fantasizing about Iceland was when I became an ecstatically happy owner of Debut by Björk over 20 years ago. The sounds she produced and her lyrics transported me to the vastness of the space I would dream of visiting Iceland.
And I remember being transfixed by photos in Is(Not), a photo album about Iceland. The portrait of a bearded, blue-eyed Icelander against a wall of dried fish. An elderly woman standing in the middle of a heather field, her long hair blown by a gust of wind. A couple holding each other close in a pool whose color was murky turquoise. And a freckled horse in the middle of nowhere.
Years later I found myself listening to Ásgeir’s Going Home on repeat while I booked flights and our camper van with Rent.is. Now was time to plan our trip.
My buddy, Irek, who had never been on a road trip before, and I sat with a laminated photocopy of a map of Iceland and highlighted all the must-sees. And the only adjectives I wrote down next to the names of the places were ‘beautiful’ and ‘gorgeous.’ And beautiful and gorgeous they were indeed! As soon as we’d landed and rented our mini camper, we drove straight to the Blue Lagoon. It was the first time we realized that what we’d heard about the siege of Iceland was very true. The parking lot was full of cars, rented campers and buses. A massive queue at the reception. No chance of soaking in the most famous lagoon on the island. So we booked our stay at the lagoon at the very end of the our Icelandic adventure. Little did we know how much more hot water pools we would be soaking in.
We headed south east. Funny how little it takes to appreciate that #YouAreAlive, especially when you are on the road. The crackling sound on the radio, the sight of bare mountain slopes on the left hand side and the sea on the right. Pit stops in the blowing wind. Recognizing the key word foss.
The first foss we saw was Seljalandsfoss. Rather inconspicuous, thin-looking waterfall. But amazingly powerful and one you can have access to from all sides. We spent our first night at a campsite around 200m away from the waterfall. The next morning we were determined to soak in some hot water. We’d heard stories and seen pictures of Seljavallalaug. We parked the camper and set off to find the hot pool. We were lucky enough to be accompanied by a local dog that must have been used to showing tourists the way. One of the best experiences ever. We were sitting in the hot pool in the rain, surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks. And we couldn’t believe it was real. Magic was happening there and then. And we were lucky enough to be there on our own. So skinny dipping was kind of a must. We felt #WeAreAlive.
The next stop was Skógafoss. Another stunner. Crowds of solo tourists, couples, families, school kids on the coolest school trips ever who were equally desperate to see the waterfall, hear it and get soaking wet standing close to it. And then the romantic plane wreck located 40mins away from the main road on foot. A dream location for many couples who come to Iceland for their elopement sessions. You walk and what you see is open space.
Just the flat land around, some volcanoes in a distance. Black gravel everywhere. No sign of a tree or or even a bush. But you just keep walking because you don’t want to miss the iconic wreck. The moment you get there, you can’t stop taking pictures of the wreck. Why not just stand back for a moment, put the camera away, soak in the atmosphere of the place, the wind, the rain, the black sand? Remember what brought you here? Curiosity, right? You are curious because #YouAreAlive.
We got even more curious to visit the Vik area. After Dýrhólaey we headed for the Reynisfjara Beach. ‘OMG’ shouted at the top of your voice would not do this place any justice. It has to be visited, touched, taken pictures of, walked down on, admired and remembered. A quick 10-minute visit is just a teaser. Stay there. Take as many pics as you want. But then again, be present. #BeAlive.
Skaftefell Visitors Centre by the Vatnajökull National Park turned out to be a perfect spot to spend the night after such an intense day. The only thing we needed was a shower. The next day we explored the area: we got very close to Skaftafellsjökull glacier and admired ice formations sticking out of ponds around it. We saw Svartifoss, my top favorite Icelandic waterfall (those basalt lava columns are just mind-blowing, the way they look but also how they are formed), and then Sjónarnípa viewpoint from which we could admire the glacier from above. What a hike! And none of that had been planned. The cherry on top of the cake was Diamond Beach, another inconspicuous-looking place. But when we got closer to the pieces of ice lying on the black sand beach, I couldn’t stop looking at them. I absolutely love days full of such wonderful sights, unplanned hikes, and beauty around. I absolutely love feeling #Alive.
After driving for hours down the winding ring road, admiring, getting tired, and then admiring the fjords again, we finally got to Berunes Hostel. The next morning we enjoyed the long breakfast of Polish sausages we’d smuggled into the country a cup of aromatic moka coffee. We were heading for the north and the Mývatn area.
We stopped by an industrial complex to get some snacks for the road and another gem appeared before our eyes. This time human-made. The original, colorful graffiti on the wall of the Fish Factory Creative Center of Stöðvarfjörður looked even better against the backdrop of the barren mountains.
It took us a few hours to get the Mývatn Nature Baths, but it was worth every single kilometer. Soaking in the hot pools, sipping on cold beer, and letting snowflakes melt on our warm faces was special. I know people like to compare places, vote for the best hot pools ever, decide if the Mývatn Baths are much better than the Blue Lagoon or not. I would say: do both if you have the time, the money or the energy. Just do it. How often do you go to Iceland? How often do you soak in hot pools, especially when it is snowing? Well, just do it.
And Vogafjós Cafe. We just wanted to ask if we could park our camper. But lured by the coziness of the cafe interior, we stayed for dinner. As I was waiting for Irek inside, I was just looking around, checking out other guests. It took me a while (maybe 5 minutes) to notice that one part of the cafe had windows overlooking a cowshed. Sometimes, it is easy to miss something if you do not expect to see it. Another cool lesson learnt in such surprising surroundings. The lamb shank and the local fish were delicious. Again, we went to sleep in our camper super tired and super happy #ToBeAlive.
Next on our itinerary was the Snæfellsnes peninsula, but to get there we had to drive along the northern part of the country. So, on the way there, we stopped at Sæberg hostel whose main attraction was… a little hot pool. Finally we had a chance to talk to other tourists, exchange OMGs and WOWs about the places we’d visited. Irek loved it so much that he got up early in the morning to be able to have a hot bath for a couple of hours before we left.
I didn’t even have time to dry my hair when we stopped for another hot pool experience. This time it was tiny little pool called Gvendarlaug in Bjarnarfjörður.
Crossing the highlands in order to get to the Snæfellsnes peninsula was no mean feat considering the fact that we were driving our mini camper, not a massive 4×4 Camper with 2-meter-high wheels. The roads were covered with snow and ice in places and it was both quite scary and exhilarating to be driving in the northern west. Unfortunately we had to skip the fjords and head for the Snæfellsnes peninsula straightaway. We wanted to get to Rif and the Freezer hostel before the end of the day.
We stopped for a quick dinner in Ólafsvik and then drove to our destination. What a treat again. The hostel was not only as a hostel, but also a cultural center, a gig venue, a place where creativity was more than welcome. The local artist-in-residence gave us all the tips about the peninsula which we followed the next day. I must say it was one of my favorite places in the whole country. Rock formations, a volcano crater, open spaces, lonesome hills, the Freezer – this intensity of visual experiences is something I love when travelling.
One week into our trip we felt like we’d seen enough. We were slightly tired of driving, overloaded with the landscape and its rawness. But when we got to þingvellir National Park, we felt the blood rushing again. Yes, seeing the geysir area was brilliant. But what made the biggest impression on us was the rift of the earth’s crust. I couldn’t believe I was walking between two tectonic plates. It almost felt like walking on the moon. We felt like little kids who were up to something naughty. We couldn’t see any path leading down to one of the biggest rifts. But we were so tempted to go. So we did. It was so quiet you could almost hear the snow falling. #Magic.
Of course, we couldn’t help visiting another hot pool, called Gamla Laugin, one of the oldest pools in Iceland. Not as commercial as the other lagoons we visited in Iceland, but equally brilliant. And a geysir that erupts every 10 minutes is definitely a bonus.
The last day of our trip was all about Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon. The Icelandic capital has got a familiar feel of a Scandinavian city. Somewhere between a little provincial town and a city with the most important institutions in the country, universities, biggest churches, biggest museums, galleries, restaurants, most expensive properties and the highest number of people. My highlights were: the best kebab in town located next to a very cute-looking bakery, with very cute-looking bakers inside, Harpa inside, or rather all the shadows the interior offers, and last but not least, the street art of the city. I wouldn’t mind going back to the city to be able to explore it more!
Last on our list was the Blue Lagoon we’d been waiting for since the first day we got there. We’d seen other hot pools but we were very excited about going and having our last hot bath in Iceland. It was the biggest, the most crowded, yet breathtakingly beautiful. I couldn’t stop looking at the silhouettes of people hugged by steam rising from the lagoon water, their faces covered with mud masks. People holding selfie sticks and talking to their friends and families on Skype, taking pictures, having drinks, soaking and enjoy the ultimate Icelandic experience.
What a ride it was! Our rent.is mini camper was our home for 8 days. It took us where we wanted to go, it protected us against the strong winds, snow and rain. And cold. It was comfy, it was safe. It was perfect. Our Icelandic trip was perfect. And we remembered how it feels to be kids again, to gaze at things in amazement, to notice how the landscape changes, to really taste the food you eat, to feel awake after a shot of coffee savoured in the open air, to feel snowflakes melt on your face.
Read more: This is our Iceland story
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