Iceland Land of Fire and Ice Impressions of a First-Time Traveller

Back in 2015, I guided a private client to Iceland on their first experience with the land of fire and ice. By their own admission, they were a beginner photographer, but keen to experience the country firsthand. Yesterday I received the following eloquently crafted correspondence on their impressions of Iceland that they have generously allowed me to publish.

An all-pervading stink of sulfur filled the air. Standing in the Hverir thermal region I saw white steam billowing from fissures in the stony ground. 

It was mid-week of my expedition to explore the wilds of Iceland with my private guide Joshua Holko in our truck with its 36-inch wheels, the two of us had left Reykjavik and traveled through the Highlands taking the Sprengisandur route, the Highlands’ longest and loneliest track. We had crossed bleak desert moors, forded many rivers fed by glacial melt water from the icecaps seen in the distance, and endured the windswept black tephra sand as it coated everything in grit. We were now based in Reykjahlid, with our accommodation a cabin, set on a black lava field. 

Starkly beautiful, the Hverir thermal area is an astonishing landscape of sputtering mud pots, weird lava formations, steaming fumaroles, volcanic craters, and the ever-pervasive smell of sulfur. Mother Earth has many faces and surely this must be one of her harshest. I could detect no faunal life in the immediate area. No insects buzzed, hummed, crawled, or flew nearby. No flowers or foliage added color or perfume to the landscape but in some places, a touch of texture was added by an algae bloom. My main impression of this remote landscape was underpinned by the smell of gas and the heat emanating from the ground beneath my feet. I could sense the raw power of nature and how insignificant we humans can feel when in a situation such as this. 

Wandering this landscape requires care and respect for the force of nature. Geysers of boiling water spray into the air and grey mud holes bubble and hiss a warning of DANGER. As I watched and listened to this hubble and bubble I wondered at the geothermal power locked under the surface. The steaming water is piped into homes for heating and washing. It is also used for warming greenhouses to produce food in a country where six months of the year is cold and dark.

I had felt so excited when the chance came for me to explore this remote part of the world and now it felt somewhat unreal to acknowledge I was here! Always attracted to visiting somewhere different, Iceland offered so many unique opportunities for adventure with its extremes of heat and cold, its magnificent unspoiled landscape, Icelandic ponies, poppies, and puffins, and the magnificent spectacle of the Aurora Borealis. Visiting in August meant seeing the Aurora was not on the agenda, however, there was plenty of time to view the sights as the nights were very short indeed, with barely any darkness at all. (That can be a trap for novices as one has to ensure one goes to bed!) I also felt very grateful that I could share this special time with my guide as so much of his time is spent on photographic expeditions in polar regions. This was his world of expertise, and he was sharing it with me. What better guide could I have for a visit to The Land of Fire and Ice?

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