ICELAND: Land of Fire and Ice- PART TWO

PART TWO: The last half

(More info to come shortly on this day and the next, but this is all I can tell you right now. Part of the reason I was there was to shoot and write a feature for a new food magazine coming out this month called DIRT by Dig Inn. I will edit this with more information once the magazine drops because I don't want to ruin anything).

The following day was my first day all alone and one of the best experiences of my life. I had two places to cover and I headed to the first one. It was around 2hrs to the North East of Rekjavik, more towards the center of Iceland. What I can tell you is this: mountains, geothermal hot springs and spa, and earth baking of the best Rugbrød on this planet. I will admit: the drive there it hit me. I cried. It was so breathtakingly gorgeous that I actually cried. WARNING: ABOUT TO GET CHEESY. I had to drive into the mountains where the scenery was completely untouched. I have never seen anything that miraculous ever with my own eyeballs. It hit me like a ton of bricks to my chest. For so many years I have been pushing and pushing and working my ass off and struggling and sacrificing and it all lead up to that point. I made it. I was in Iceland. I was adventuring through one of the top places on Earth I ever wanted to visit, my first time getting a passport stamp. I was there, I was driving, and I was driving to a photography job. I did it. And I did it all on my own. Throughout the island there are set up picnic areas when the scenery gets just too beautiful that you can pull over to appreciate it. So I did, and I cried. I had never been proud of myself ever before in my life and at that moment I was extremely proud. I took a mild detour about 30min out of the way to see the great geyser in Geysir. The smell of sulphur was over bearing, but I fell in love with the smell by the end of my trip. Weird, I know. Once you visit you will understand. The ground was painted with bright colors from the mineral rich water spewing out of the earth at extremely hot temperatures. The giant geyser would erupt about every 6min or less, unlike the geysers in America that erupt a few times a day at most. After being ooh'ed and ahhh'ed by the many bubbling and erupting holes straight from the Earth I headed to my job destination and lived in paradise for a few hours before heading home to go skate and coach the Roller Derby Iceland team! They were so welcoming and worked so hard the entire practice, it was so impressive.  

My adventures of Earthcooking continued the next day. Again, I can't say much right now, but just know it was bad-ass. This spot only took me about 45min to get to and had me at the very top of the mountains. I was in a village that was filled with extra geothermal activity. The steam was billowing from the Earth what looked like 100ft high and competing with the mountains to meet the clouds. The restaurant harnessed this energy to cook with. Cooking straight from volcanic energy. My whole day was practically spent covering this restaurant and village. I got back and hung out in my room while working on the photos. I needed a quiet night in after all of this excitement the past few days.
 

In hindsight, I am really happy that I decided to lay low the night prior to my last full day in Iceland. On my last day I started with my new morning ritual of grabbing a coffee, an Icelandic bagel topped with butter, cheese and jam while soaking up the free wifi at Kaffitár to map out my day on my phones GPS. (PRO TIP: They have free refills and the coffee is really good. They have two varieties of origin for you to choose from, such as Guatemalan, Kenyan, Columbian, Brazilian, Sumatra, and more. Yes, I said free refills of single origin beans). There was a lot of things I did not get to go to that I really wanted to that are tourist 'must see' areas, such as Gullfoss, Thingvellir National Park, or Jökulsárlón (which will have to wait until my next trip there), but there was one thing I had to see and I would not compromise on: A Black Sand Beach. Iceland is nothing but crazy volcanic activity right under your feet on the ground and the island was built by volcanoes. In fact, there are active volcanoes on the island that erupted only a few years ago and the land is considered 'young' in science terms and continues to grow. All of the ground is black, the rocks are black, and the beaches are black. It really earns it's nick name of the 'Land of Fire and Ice' and I had to see the black sand for myself. It really fits my aesthetic. I did not really know where I was going, I just knew that the day prior while at the volcanic restaurant I saw photos on the wall of Vik. Giant black rocks sticking out of the ocean on a black sand beach and thought 'I will go there'. It took me about 4hrs to get there, mostly because I kept making stops to take photos to convince my brain that indeed the insane landscape I was seeing was real. For the first bit I drove through a lot of mountains and snow, as I had seen on my other drives, but the further south I went the snow started to melt and the Earth started to peek through. Most of the mountains I had seen up until that point were black and covered in snow. The mountains popping up around the South turned form black to brown and seemed to explode out of the ground independently of being in a cluster. I felt like I was in a fairytale land passing large waterfalls being swarmed by birds and trickling streams weaving through golden grass. It. Was. Unreal.
 

After stopping many, many times to basically pinch myself to make sure I was not dreaming, I got closer to Vik and made a few more 4 legged furry friends along the way. THE HORSES ARE ALSO SO METAL. They have long, whimsical hair and smaller, fluffier bodies than the horses in the U.S. Most of the wildlife there roams free, with no fences or large stretches without fences. You could walk up to the horses, sheep, or cows and say hi. They all seemed so happy, and who could blame them? I would be loving life too if this was my home. Now, this is where the story gets a little tricky and where a big portion of the time it took to get there gets taken. As I was about 15min outside of Vik, I got to the very top of a mountain and decided to pull over to capture it on camera. WORST IDEA I HAD ALL DAY. As I pulled over, what I thought was ground next to the road was actually knee-deep snow. My car sunk. My tires would not catch any ground. I was stuck at the top of the mountain with my car in knee-deep snow and no way out. The road was not a main road and all of the cars nearby were turning the opposite direction. There was no way I was getting out alone so I turned my phone off of 'airplane mode' and dialed 9-1-1.... but there was a problem. I was not in America, that is the emergency number only for the United States. I frantically searched my car for any sort of information or a makeshift shovel that could be useful to get me out of this situation and saw a pamphlet my airbnb host let me borrow that I forgot to bring back into the house. THANK GOODNESS. (PRO TIP: The Iceland emergency number is 1-1-2. WRITE THAT DOWN). I called and got connected to the police who were sending out a tow truck. Not 3 seconds after hanging up with the police a family in an SUV passed me and immediately stopped in middle of the road. He had a shovel and rope and without even saying 'hello', the driver jumped out of the SUV and started shoveling away at my tires. He tied the rope to my car and drug me out of the snow. No sooner than he arrived, he gave me a smile and wave, then left. I now refer to him as my Nordic snow angel. Whoever you are, if you are reading this: THANK YOU SO MUCH. Needless to say, I did not get any photos on top of the mountain and focused on getting my heart rate down so I did not pass out.

I continued on my drive down the mountain and into Vik. Along the horizon I could see black sharp rocks jetting upward into the sky. I was there. The side of the road turned into sand and I pulled off into the first beach I passed. It was magic. Pure magic. The sea sounded like it was laughing as it rushed back from land into itself over the black sand and rocks. I went about 5 seconds on the beach before giving into my urge to grab a handful of the surprisingly soft sand. The sun was setting and in the best position giving everything a warm feel. I stood on the beach staring at the ocean for probably an hour letting my mind wander wherever it pleased as the wind tossed my hair around. If I could be there every day I would be set for eternity. I stayed until the sun disappeared behind the cliffs and fell into the sea. I couldn't have been more at peace.

When I got back to Reykjavik I wanted to stop into The Lebowski Bar one last time and stuff my face with that veggie burger and a special edition bottle of an Icelandic Imperial Stout (that I really wish I had gotten a photo of to remember the name of it). I got in some good conversation with the bartender who happened to just move there from Williamsburg, Brooklyn and an Icelandic farmer who sat next to me. I learned a bit on how Iceland sources their food and the upkeep of the farms, my favorite kind of small talk. From a day packed full of adventure and (not really) near death experiences I left to go back to my room around 1am. On my way to my car I heard some metal music being played off in the distance and followed it. It was live, and I had to see it. One of my "I wish this would happen to me" moments was to see a Scandinavian metal show but I knew that was probably impossible, until my ears were being lured up the street. I weaved through a few alleys, up a random staircase in between two buildings, and ended up in an attic watching a Scandinavian metal show and had a Viking beer in my hands. The bands were amazing and one of them was from NYC. There's something about heavy guitars and Íslenska being screamed into your face. EPIC. I stayed until the last band then headed back home. The following day I had to leave so I got up early, got my bagel and coffee from Kaffitár, walked around downtown a little bit, then headed to Keflavik to get my flight home. I landed back in Boston around 5pm and was so sad to be back. I knew I would find my way back to Iceland though, somehow. I am happy to say that in September of this year, I will be back for 8 days shooting for a travel company and I literally CAN NOT WAIT.