My favorite way to travel is to land in a new country with no plans whatsoever, improvising as we go. That's what we did in Iceland.
I've always wanted to go to Iceland, probably because it's remote and I perceived it to be a weird place. With clever routing you can go there for free any time you book a flight between Europe and the East Coast.
Knowing what happens when we don't plan, we rented a small station wagon, thinking that the three of us-- Todd, Christophe, and myself-- could sleep in it if necessary. Without so much as heading to Reykjavik to connect to the internet and get our bearings, we headed off to the countryside.
Our rough plan was to circle the island. We didn't know what was out there for us to see or do, but we figured that we could figure it out on the way. And if we conquered the whole island, we surely wouldn't miss anything major.
A brochure in the airport splashed around pictures of Blue Lagoon, a beautiful hot springs resort whose source is the runoff from a nearby geothermal power plant. Forget clean coal-- you know you have clean power when you can bathe in the byproduct.
True to the glossy pictures, Blue Lagoon was amazing-- an easy must-do for anyone visiting Iceland. The water is a opaque milky blue, a color I'd never seen in water before, but was assured it was natural. The surrounding area is lava rocks as far as the eye can see, covered in neon green moss. Tubs of white mineral face mask are scattered around the edges of the large blue pool. Between the bizarre landscape and the whitefaced bathers, you get the distinct impression that you're taking a bath on Neptune with a bunch of human-like aliens. It's relaxing.
After Blue Lagoon we headed east, counterclockwise around the island. We took roads at random, and something as small as a column of steam over a mountain was enough to distract us by hours from our route. During one of these detours we found ourselves perched on lava rock hill, looking down at fishermen fishing in the midnight sun. It never gets dark in Iceland during the summer-- only dim.
The scenery is beautiful, and seems to totally transform every couple hundred miles. Driving through a Martian lava rock landscape leads you to lush green fields bordered by the ocean on one side and green cliffs with dozens of waterfalls on the other. Before you know it you're driving past inlets with icebergs floating through them, with the glaciers off in the distance. Half an hour later you're crossing through freezing snowy mountain, which yield to pastoral farms filled with nothing but lambs and tiny Icelandic horses.
For a day or two we did little but drive around, stopping every hour or so to take pictures that did little justice to the scenery. It's almost reassuring when the pictures come out poorly, though, as if it justifies going to see it in person. Every night we'd pull over at midnight to document what the midnight sun looked like.
Sleeping in the car worked better than we expected. We left the diesel engine running at night for heat, and with a sleep mask or scarf around your face, you could nearly convince yourself that it was actually night time.
After completing notable life achievements like eating at the northernmost Dominos Pizza in the world (YOU try finding healthy food up there), we finally arrived at Reykjavik. We stayed at a great hostel, called Kex, and walked around the city. Maybe it was the contrast to the road trip, but the city seemed a bit boring to me. We did find a great vegetarian place to eat, though, so I was happy to take a few days to catch up on work and eat healthy food.
If you're going to Europe, take a few days to stop in Iceland. Visit the blue lagoon (and any of the other many hot springs around the country), drive around the countryside a bit, and get back on your way. I'll be back next time I'm headed to Europe, too.
I had a great trip, but it's good to be back to getting work done in SF.
Almeria turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Our crew, which has grown to nine or so as we've made friends aboard the ship, woke up dutifully at 8 in the morning in order to be the first off the ship. Back when I was in the land of plentiful internet, also known as the US, I had scribbled down a few notes for each port. All I had for Almeria was "Cabo de Gatas - World Heritage site. Beach."
And so our taxis headed towards Cabo de Gatas, thirty minutes east of the port, and dropped us off with promises to return at four thirty, just in time to take us back to our ship.
My recollection from reading a month before was that Cabo de Gatas was some sort of jungle that you hiked through until you finally arrived at a beach. I remembered incorrectly-- it was an unassuming beach with cactus-studded desert behind it, the beautiful blue Mediterranean in front of it, and a tall outcropping of volcanic rock to the side. Firsthand research indicates that beautiful locals go there to tan topless.
We were out on one of our Saturday jaunts with no particular place to go, when I spotted an intriguing feature on the map. (This is why I prefer maps to GPS, which doesn't give the big picture view of the territory to the left and right of your current trajectory.) #icelandsecret
There seemed to be a bridge or road or some sort of connection to an offshore island off Route 1 northeast of Reykjavik in a town called Grafarvogur.
Now some might argue that if there's a road, it can't be an island. But if it's a causeway that's under water at high tide, I respectfully insist that it is, at least some of the time, surrounded by water, the very definition of an island. And this distinction is essential to my assertion that we actually did what the title of this post says we did. The causeway is a rough, lava-strewn strip with a rocky beach on either side, but it was passable at low tide.
The second "island" in the title refers to the fact that Iceland is an island. There should be no quibbling about that.