(ICELAND) Memorable Moments of Insignificance

My next three days in Iceland would see me join a photographer in a trip that was designed to explore Iceland beyond the day trip extensions of Reykjavik, pick up some landscape photography tips and capture Iceland best I could with my camera.


Choosing to spend three days with a total stranger is always a risk, especially when a lot of that time is spent in the enclosed confines of a jeep.  However I immediately felt at ease with my photography guide, an English man who had moved to Iceland nearly a decade ago with his local girlfriend.  It was interesting to hear about the experiences of an ex pat in this country and we had some interesting conversations during our drives.  It was also great to travel with a photographer who was happy to start early and finish late as we chased optimal light conditions and was happy to stay in a location as long as I wanted to get the shot I was after.

“If you don’t like the weather in Iceland, wait fifteen minutes”.  I repeated this to myself constantly during our three days as I witnessed incredibly extreme and changeable weather.  It became almost predictably changeable as we experienced periods of sunshine, light rain, heavy rain, hail, sleet and snow.  Every time the weather changed so did the surrounding countryside which was quite attractive and appealing to someone with a camera in hand.

Our first day involved driving from Reykjavik to Hale farm in the Jokulsarlon Lagoon area and I was blown away by the diversity of the region. I stopped at waterfalls, walked along the black sand beach at the bottom of a cliff as I looked out at rock formations in the sea, drove through the town of Vik, discovered that the moss covered lava fields feel like a bouncy castle to walk on, felt insignificant as I looked up at the surrounding mountains and glaciers,  ‘oohed and ahhed’ at the little lambs and foals that stood at the side of their parents, admired the Skaftafell National Park, relaxed in my room on a farm that overlooked the sea, and best of all I experienced by first view of the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.  Jokulsarlon was the main reason I had wanted to head east and there is always a danger of something you are looking forward to not meeting expectations.  This didn’t just meet expectations, it exceeded it.

Nothing can prepare you for the sight of icebergs floating on crystal blue water at the bottom of a glacier.  Occasionally a seal would pop its head up to take a look around as it swam past one of the chunks of ice and the sound of birds enjoying their playground only added to the experience.  And just when I thought I’d seen it all, my eyes followed the water to where it met the ocean, only to see chucks of ice on the shore, providing a wall for crashing waves.  I’m Australian – our beaches have seaweed and shells on the shore!  This was quite a surreal sight.

I’m a relatively reserved person when it comes to exhibiting feelings of excitement but I found myself shouting “wow” a few times and being completely blown away with what I was seeing.  And my reaction was not limited to that first sighting of the lagoon.  I saw it again at sunset, I saw it the next morning, I saw it later in the day on a boat trip further into the collection of water, ice, seals and birdlife, and it looked different every time.  The light at different times in the day created a variety of reflection, colours and shapes on the water and yet again, I mainly had the lagoon to myself.  It was such a peaceful, relaxing and magical place.

One of my favourite moments when travelling are those when everything just falls into place and what I refer to as “memorable moments of insignificance”.  If you asked me to describe what was so special about standing on my own in the cold, looking out at chunks of ice floating on the water, I couldn’t do it.  It was just an enjoyable second of being completely in the moment.

That’s what it feels like when things go right.  But what happens when things go wrong?

The weather forecast for our second day was a bright morning with a rainy afternoon, so we started early to capture some shots of the surreal image of ice on the beach in addition to enjoying more time at the lagoon.  We returned to the peaceful farm for lunch, which consisted of a ham and cheese sandwich and bottle of coke purchased from a service station that was the only place in miles to sell food (not an uncommon occurrence in countryside Iceland), before heading further east to Hofn.  More lava fields, more volcanoes, more waterfalls, and a stop on the coast at a spot that I felt epitomised the word “rugged”.  Feeling inspired by natural wonders surrounding me, I finally returned to the jeep as wet as someone standing in ankle deep ocean deserves to be, and covered with the light snow that had started to fall.  As we turned around to head back to the farm where we would be staying for our second night, I learned that weather forecasters in Iceland are sometimes as inaccurate as those back home as the ‘rain’ became ‘heavy snow’.  It was quite surreal to drive back through white skies and snow-covered land that had earlier been bright blue and different shades of grey, brown and red.

Although the snow storm created a great opportunity to capture some different images, I was a little disappointed that it was probably ruining the opportunity to return to the lagoon for sunset.  Any hope I had of it clearing was destroyed by the owner of the farm bringing me dinner in the ‘restaurant’ (a small room that served fish and lamb farmed on the property) and saying to me “it’s just like Xmas isn’t it”!  She said this was very rare for May and resembled a winter storm.

“If you don’t like the weather in Iceland, wait fifteen minutes”.  Ok, it was more than fifteen minutes but sure enough, around 8pm the skies cleared and our sunset shoot at the lagoon was back on the agenda.

Instead of recapturing the ‘memorable moment of insignificance’ that had been the highlight of the previous evening’s shoot at the lagoon, I had an ‘unforgettable moment of complete stupidity’.  Losing concentration as I placed my camera bag on the ground, I turned back around and carelessly fell against the leg of my tripod.  The next moment was one of those slow motion scenes where your camera starts falling into a glacier lagoon and you reach out to it only to grab empty air, screaming “noooooo”.  A second later I pulled my Canon DSLR with my wide angle lens out of the lagoon to see the “ERR” sign flashing at me and realising that I had saved up to come to one of the most expensive countries in the world on a photography holiday and less than half way into it, I had destroyed my camera.

Ok so no one died, there are starving people in Africa, there is a war in Syria, Greece is on the verge of bankruptcy, and there are worse things that could have happened.  But at that moment I didn’t care and there was nothing worse that could have happened.

So what do you do when something goes wrong when you are travelling?  You have two options – you can sulk, get angry, get frustrated and upset and let it ruin your experience or you can get over it, move on and refuse to let it destroy your hard-earned holiday.  I did both!

I let myself sulk for the evening, thanking modern technology for the wifi access that provided me with well-needed sympathy from friends on facebook and then I went to bed depressed.  I woke up the next morning refusing to let it ruin my holiday, was relieved that I was in a country where I could find a replacement unlike the destinations I usually head to when I travel, and as a bonus, my photography guide lent me his professional equipment for the day.  I ignored the bashing my credit card was about to take and congratulated myself on contributing to the ailing Icelandic economy.


A Holiday moment and back on the tourist path

After an incredible few days exploring South and East Iceland, I was ready to break my week up with a ‘holiday’ day.  My day of relaxation started with a late lie in, followed by a short walk to an amazing bakery near the hotel for the world’s best (and most expensive) chocolate donuts and chocolate chip cooks.  After a late lunch in a café that felt quite upscale compared to the service station ham and cheese sandwich stops of the last few days, I visited the Tourist Information store to claim back the tax from my camera purchase.  I am sure most people do not come to Iceland to spend significant amounts of money on imported goods inflated by taxes, so I was not surprised by the response of the girl behind the desk of “oh my god, did you buy a house here?!”  I dutifully laughed along with her before explaining what had happened.  They sympathised with me by telling me the story of a photographer who had been shooting a waterfall and reached out to grab his tripod that had been blown over by the wind and kept falling…into the waterfall and to his death.  Not surprisingly, that story did put things into perspective…

The highlight of my day was a 90 minute hot stone massage which was nothing short of luxury and the perfect ‘holiday relaxation’ treat.  Ah yes, life was good again

One of the things I find appealing about Iceland is its ability to provide a unique travelling experience to both those on a weekend break and those with more time on their hands.  The most popular day trip for visitors to Reykjavik and one of the reasons a weekend trip is an enjoyable break in Iceland, is the Golden Circle.  This route follows part of the Ring Road and contains a number of ‘must see’ sights such as the tectonic plate boundaries in Thingvellir, the wide and powerful Gullfoss waterfall and the Strokkur geyser that shoots hot water into the air every 3-5 minutes.  I was re-joined by Asi, my guide from a few days earlier, on a day tour that I had to myself.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable day and the highlight by far was snowmobiling on the Langjokull Glacier.  Asi and I joined another group of five guys on a stag weekend, who were full of bravado and big talk as we were getting ready, only for one of them to turn into Driving Miss Daisy on the snow!  As we drove out of the glacier we stopped to see a group of Greenland Huskies who were very playful and adorable as they had a rest from leading sleds around the glacier.

Although my time in Iceland was drawing to a close, I still had two days left and one of them was with my photography guide for a day trip to the Snaefellsness Peninsula, which provided a stark contrast to our trip earlier in the week, but scenery that was just as stunning.  Fjords, volcanic peaks, stormy coast and sea cliffs, space-like lava fields and a gushing waterfall created a great canvas of photographic opportunity and even the rain was on our side as it seemed to start and stop in tune with our jeep.

There was only one more thing on my ‘to do’ list for this particularly trip and its location made it an obvious pit-stop on the way to the airport – the famous blue lagoon.  Icelandic efficiency was at its best again as I received a wrist band from reception that allowed me to enter the change rooms, open and close my locker, follow local customs by taking a shower before putting on my bathing suit and walking outside into 3 degrees celcius, submerge myself into the 35 degree celcius water, order a drink at the water bar, go back in for some lunch, return my wrist band and pay for everything on my way out!

As I headed to the airport I felt quite sad that my nine days in Iceland was over but felt incredibly lucky that it had felt much longer than that.  Iceland was a country that exceeded my expectations.  I’d had my memorable moments of insignificance, I had survived my unforgettable moment of complete stupidity, I had shared my experiences with some great locals and other friendly travellers and had also enjoyed some peaceful moments of solitude.  I had learned more about the country and I made time for my relaxing holiday moment.  I was inspired by some beautiful parts of the countryside and (hopefully) returned with some great photos and some better photography skills.

And of course, I returned with a new camera!



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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

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