Driving from Reykjavik to Snaelfelness, what first knocked me in the head was the color and topographical differences between the coast and the mountains of Iceland. Being a native New Yorker, it felt like if all of Manhattan's skyscrapers were located directly on the waterfront, but instead of skyscrapers, they were mountains. Huge, rising long-dormant volcanoes just surging out of the coastline, creating a barrier wall between the crashing waves of the North Atlantic Sea and the interior of the country. Giant monsters of landmass, surging up from the tiny one-lane two-way highways that ribbon this island, only 40,000 square miles big, only 325,000 people strong, but what people and what history.
Staring up at these mountains, clotted with fields of heather and bizarre permutations of lava rock, the softest moss and the squishiest tastiesty, finger-stainiest blueberries, any opportunity to turn off the highway and just ramble in pockets of uninterrupted Icelandic nature was a revelation of how nature should be. Was a flashback to primal living, to sourcing off what the oceans and the forests could provide. So we did just that. We turned off the tiny one-lane two-way highway and parked in some dusty pebbly spot, walked not even ten minutes inland and discovered a pocket of Iceland that seemed to be created just for us. Staying off the historic and endanged volcano land, and treading lightly through the moss and over to a depression in the earth, we found a spot that was perfect for pictures: there was a huge jaggedy rock piece coming straight up out of the earth, like a headboard for the world's most comfortable bed, and spread out surrounding this volcano rock was acres and acres of soft, pliant, squishy comfy moss and grass. And blueberries! Thousands and thousands of blueberries! So tiny, so infinitely small, but everywhere, millions of sweet, tart, awesome blueberries. You better believe that inbetween the photoshoot of bride and groom we had a blueberry feast!!
There is a tunnel underneath one of Iceland's many fjords, a tunnel built (if memory serves me) in the 1970s. Which is also when the government of Iceland fully completed its ring road, connecting the entire island by one continuous highway. In the 70s. And this tunnel was one of the last pieces needed building in order to complete the circle. It took hours off the commute over the local volcanos. Local volcanos. A completed national highway that's less than 50 years old. Fjords. So we went into this 5-or-so mile long tunnel under a fjord, and this tunnel just keep going anf going and going. One lane in each direction. A couple of turn-off spots, in case of mechanical failure, but its just one lane for five miles, under the Icelandic fjords. As mundane as this drive was, it still felt like transporation into another realm.
Icelandic people are all gorgeous. There's no getting around this. They are ruggedly handsome or wind-swept and beautiful. The men all have beards and awesome woolen sweaters. The women all have sharp blue or gray-blue eyes and wear tight pants. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that out of all the Scandinavian countries and all the Scandinavian people, Icelandic language is the closest to the language that the Vikings used. Or maybe this has something to do with the fact that it's a remote island nation with 325,000 people, and purportedly one of the greatest examples of real estate trolling in history (who wants to live on a land of Ice? I'd much rather live in a land of Green!) Or maybe (honestly, probably) maybe its because so many of Icelanders are related, there's an app to let you know if you are related to the person you are currently going out with. But Icelanders are gorgeous. And you know it. And they know it. And honestly, this works in your favor as a bride and/or groom, in that you know you'll never be as handsome / rugged / beautiful / mysterious as them. So it'll only increase your love and passion for your partner!
On Day Two of our whipsaw Iceland tour, we heard about a hot river. A stream that steamed. That hissed. That didn't exactly boil or bubble, but a body of water that came out from the earth at about 78 degrees farenheit (?) and the steam floated langoriously up to the clouds and heavens. The only way to get to this hot river was by driving an endless zig-zag across hillocks and ditches, off-road and with no other cars anywhere in sight, sound or mind. No GPS and our phones were well off the grid. Look – there's a radio tower! Look – there's another radio tower! Nope, still no signal and no other people. But by going old school (maps! Word of mouth!) and our trusty local Icelandic friend, we made it to a dusty pebble-strewn semi-parking spot with a constructiom sign posted, stating that this was the back-entrance to an Icelandic National Park, famously known for a sulfuric “hot” river, in which the sulfur gas streams pouring out of fissures in the earth naturally heated the river, so that for the half-mile or so of the river streaming at ground level, the temperature came close to a comfortable bath. Bingo! No matter that one of our photographers had lost her shoes at the previous shoot – along the black sand beaches on the southern coast. Hot River here we come!
A hour of hiking soon followed. Our shoeless friend hopped amongst the rocks and soft mossy patches of earth. The rest of us skipped ahead to see if there was any river in our foreseeable futures. Negative. Instead of hot rivers, there were hills, and dales, and moss, and pebbles, and stones, and rocks, and boulders, and more moss, and dirt, and dust, and grass, more rocks, and certainly no river. Occasionally a sulfur jet stream, hissing stinkily out of the side of a rocky outcropping. But our local friend, a true tour guide who's father is a historian and government promoter, knew this to be the path to the hot river. No matter that she had never taken this route before, but rather her Aunt had told her this was the shortcut to the hot river, whereas the main route, the front door if you will, was a three-plus hour meandering narrative to the destination. Our hour-long jaunt was the shortcut. Our shoeless friend was not impressed, nor was she relieved. She was skeptical and dubious. Her stockinged feet were cold and in pain. So the groom, like the gentleman he was and would always be, offered our shoeless photographer his oversized dress shoes. She accepted, and things were a bit easier.
And then, after cresting a hill, with a path wide enough to just about fit a Jeep, descending about 45 degrees and traveling a vertical distance of what felt like a fifteen story building, first thing no doubt, is we smelled it. Rotten eggs. Second thing we noticed was the thin, yellowish-gray plumes of smoke drifting lazily into the sky, like a shimmering ghost-white sheet, paper thin and stretched the length of the visible river. We saw backpackers and tents pitched on the grassy hillocks. We saw Europeans and South Americans splashing in the far off far far distance. And we had found it. So we carefully and gingerly stepped our way down into the valley, down the dirt road, past a fence with two dozen sheep leisurely munching on Icelandic grass. Over a 2x4 wooden plank bridge and made our way through grassy fields to the changing stations (wooden walls pitched at 90 degree angles for the semblance of privacy) in order to step, carefully, gingerly, slowly but surely, into an amazing, incredible, unbelieveable, steaming, vaporous, awesome, smelly hot river.
An hour later, we hiked back to the Jeep. And it was worth every step. Even for our shoeless photographer.