Things in Iceland didn’t quite go to plan.
Our original itinerary involved us driving from Thingvellir National Park in the Southwest, across the South where the glacial lagoons were towards the east, up the East and to the Northern city of Akureyri where we could then catch a flight to see the Holuhraun eruption. It has been my dream to see live, flowing lava, and I could not think of a better opportunity to do this than with the Barbadunga volcano.
We were met with winds of up to 100km/h on our first night, almost leaving us stranded with a trailer embedded in the snow and without accommodation. Thankfully our guide, Oli, is extremely experienced, and miraculously managed to get us to our cabin safely. However, these winds of 100km/h kept with us throughout our journey across the South. We were on the way to our hotel at Hof when we had to pass by an area that was not shielded by the mountains, and there we received the full onslaught and brunt of the wind. It was so strong that our trailer was swaying dangerously at the back, as we sat silently in the car, transfixed at the gusts on snow that at times, covered the windscreen entirely, such that we could barely see beyond a metre of the road ahead of us. It was absolutely terrifying yet exhilarating. I looked at my parents several times, and they had their hands clasped and eyes closed. Later my dad told us, “I thought that was our last ride.”
The spate of bad weather stayed with us and even preceded us, such that Oli came to us on Wednesday morning, in the middle of our trip, with the bad news that it was simply impossible to continue on our planned itinerary because we would be stuck in the east and then in the North and probably would not be able to fly back to Reykjavik (which turned out to be true because our intended flight was later cancelled). We accepted this with disappointment but without hesitation. Admittedly, having to change plans and forgo something I really wanted to do was hard for me to stomach at first. The city rat in me is simply not used to being stopped by the weather.
But in Iceland, one thing is for sure, you’re operating on Mother Nature’s terms, not yours.
In this vastly desolate landscape, you get a sense of how small, futile and insignificant man is. It’s one of the few places on earth where you can fully comprehend how the inconquerability of man forces him to concede to nature’s greatest forces.
It turns out though, that this was Mother Nature’s way of showing us that the only way to truly appreciate the beauty of her personal canvas was to take it slow. (Again, something I struggle with at times.) Our change of plans forced us to dally around Jokulsarlon and enjoy the beautiful landscape of the South, and in doing so, we were granted front row seats to one of Nature’s finest shows. In Iceland, snow doesn’t just simply fall, wind doesn’t just blow, the night sky doesn’t simply exist with stagnant stars. Instead, the waterfalls swirl and twirl in a most magnificent way, the aurora pirouettes ever so gracefully and shyly across the night sky, stretching, yawning, disappearing and then suddenly presenting itself in full glory. The whirling winds pick up the snow and whisk them across the landscape dramatically, almost like dry ice across a red carpet. Everything dances, moving at its own rhythm and pace and magically, in its own beautiful way. And ever so often, this dance would be accompanied by the melancholic, high-pitched song of the wind – an eerie, otherworldly tune that was honestly quite befitting of the surroundings.
And it was because of the change in plans, that we had the opportunity to tread on majestic glaciers and play among ice-bergs, watch the sun put up spectacular shows every time it rose and set, and even spend a night with some amazing people after a serendipitous meeting in a hot-tub, where we rolled in the snow with our swimsuits, learned how to capture the aurora and celebrated a proposal under the Milky Way.
Funnily enough, these turned out to be the best memories of our trip.
Ultimately, am I disappointed that we didn’t manage to catch the eruption? Without a doubt, yes. But I realise that Iceland has given me so much more magic than I could have imagined, and that we would have missed out on so much more had we proceeded with rushing through our original itinerary.
Mother Nature knows best indeed. And, I suspect, it’s probably the hidden people’s way of ensuring we come back again.