It can get lonely, starting with rolling out of bed early to stand underneath geothermally heated water pouring out of a shower head that fills the bathroom with the scent of sulfur. Hours on the road through the deepest twilight skies and sunrise passing another pair of headlights perhaps only every half hour present ample opportunity for feelings of isolation, or better said - iceolation. But more common than water tumbling over cliffs are these guys, always eager to trot over for some good morning pats to erase any feelings of lonliness. For us both.
The benefit to staying on the outskirts of Reykjavík were nothing I needed to be talked into. I was a twenty minute drive through a dozen round-a-bouts from every constantly chaotic, loud, and crowded moment Iceland Airwaves had brought to the downtown core. It also meant leaving Þingvellir National Park after sunset to make the pasta dinner back home we'd been having every evening three weeks strong now didn't eat too badly into nightfall, being less than a kilometre from the round-a-bout that connects my guesthouse on highway 1 to road 36 through the park.
Auroral activity was being listed as heightened on each of the eight apps I was checking on my phone, and I couldn't wait to spend the night waiting and wondering if the elusive girl would come play. And excited as I was to be photographing them in such a unique place, it was nothing compared to the thrill I felt for a young French couple all the way here for four nights from Strasbourg seeing them for the first time in their lives. The lights began to glow softly, eventually exploding into quickly weaving greens with purple outlines. Worth it, again.
Upstream or downstream is usually an easy choice for me. Downstream, as often as I can, because it just feels better going with the flow. But for these 14 kilometres of foot wide 'paths' up a constantly waterfalling river ultimately crashing down into Skógafoss, you couldn't beat going upstream. Not that we had a choice, beginning from the bottom of 377 stairs to get us above Skógafoss itself. If we had brought a tent, the wind wasn't bringing a wind chill of well below freezing, and we were here anytime outside of the middle of winter, we would have spent days up here, hiking and camping all the way to the glacier some ten kilometres further. But the wind beat us down, nightfall caught up with us all too quickly, again, and we retreated for another night soaking our bodies in an outdoor hot tub, all part of the best guesthouse in the world right below.
"Do you like hiking? We could go for a nice hike." "I'd love that, I love going for hikes."
Hikes. NOT SEVENTEEN KILOMETRE TORTURE TESTS ALONG THE SIDE OF THE EXACT SAME GLACIER THAT TRIED TO SWALLOW ME WHOLE THE LAST TIME I STEPPED FOOT ON IT A YEAR AGO.
It began innocently enough. Neither of us actually knew what we were getting ourselves into, we just knew that beginning at the crack of dawn (again 10am), we had less than eight hours of half decent daylight we could play with, which isn't a lot of time for two photographers in the most ruggedly beautiful country on this planet, and at least one of them, a little out of 'limited daylight, 17 kilometre hike' shape. But straddling the side of a muddy stream, or marked trail as the information centre below called it, we climbed, and pretended to stop for photos when we were out of breath, legitimately out of breath, not just out of breath because we were looking down on glacial carved mountains with bright blue ice cutting through them. There was no moment on the trip that felt anything like standing over Skaftafellsjökull from nearly straight above it at the highest point we could see. It made us laugh out loud - words weren't forming. It was unbelievable beauty, it smacked you in the face as you looked across the glacier to a waterfall extending down pouring onto the ice from the mountain hovering over it.
Beating total darkness back to the parking lot outside the visitor centre by mere minutes, it was back to our gorgeous guesthouse for the night, where I met my second favourite lady of the trip (we're talking about Sigga, the owner of the Skogar Guesthouse), whose photo I promise you'll soon see over on a blog that belongs to the better photographer of the trip (we're talking about Morgan now). Relaxing our tired bodies in the outdoor hot tub, we wasted away for hours in conversation of long distance relationships, solar energy, and the northern lights with our new best friends from Mexico/Germany. A more perfect unwinding we couldn't have imagined.