Back in early 2020 Marie and I had several international trips planned, including one to Iceland and Greenland and another to Ireland, Portugal, and Italy. COVID torpedoed those plans, of course, and not until this year did it feel right to try again. Our idea was to travel for most of June, with stops in Denver, Kansas City, Iceland, Greenland, and Ireland.
So in early June we packed up our car and drove from Silver Gate to Denver, where my mom had graciously agreed to watch our little Maltese. It pains me to share that Thunder, our Border Collie, was diagnosed with cancer last year, and his health deteriorated to the point that we made the agonizing decision to say goodbye to him in May, just two weeks before what would have been his 14th birthday. Thunder was irrepressible and deeply endearing and we miss him terribly.
From Denver we drove to Kansas City, where Kevin – a friend since high school – had been kind enough to invite us to his daughter’s wedding. We were honored to be included, and it was awesome to catch up with Kevin, his family, and other long-time friends. We were only in town for one full day but managed to fit in meals at two of the city’s best BBQ places (Joe’s and Jack Stack).
After the wedding Marie and I returned to Denver, where our flight to Iceland left the following day. It felt strange to be in an airport again. It was my first time on a plane in over two years.
I’d been to Iceland once before, more than a decade ago, but for Marie it was all new. We planned to rent a car and drive counter-clockwise along the Ring Road that circumnavigates the country. On my first visit I particularly liked southern Iceland, so we’d spend more time there and then move pretty quickly through the north.
Practically every tourist in Iceland visits the The Blue Lagoon, a famous geothermal spa with luminous turquoise water, and we made the obligatory stop right after leaving the airport. It was still early on a cold, windy morning, and we almost froze on the short walk from the showers to the hot springs.
After one night battling jet lag in Reykjavik we ventured out on the Ring Road. Our first stop was Seljalandsfoss, a scenic waterfall with a trail that lets you walk all the way behind it.
From there we drove on to Skogafoss, my favorite waterfall in a country full of waterfalls. Skogafoss may not be the biggest or tallest or most unusual, but something about its no-nonsense setting and style strikes me as majestic.
We hiked up to a viewing platform at the top of Skogafoss and found that the trail continues along the Skoga River for many miles. We kept going for over an hour, rewarded regularly with what seemed like an endless supply of unique waterfalls and beautiful scenery. The relatively warm, sunny weather provided a nice break from the clouds and rain that followed us for most of the trip.
We slept that night at a hotel right next to Skogafoss, which made it easy to return for more rounds of photographs in different kinds of light. Stupidly I’d forgotten to bring neutral-density filters for my camera, which would have let me get waterfall photos with more smoothly-flowing water.
Driving from Skogafoss to our next stop – the glacier lagoon Jokulsarlon – I spotted a bird on the highway and pumped the brakes to make sure it had enough time to fly away. Except it never even tried to fly away. THUMP. “And now I’ve just killed a bird,” I said to Marie. It makes me feel bad to smash a bug, let alone a bird. Ugh, what an unfortunate way to discover that we don’t have a Seinfeldian “deal” with the birds in Iceland.
The surreal landscape at Jokulsarlon helped distract me from my guilt over the poor, oddly passive bird. Icebergs in various shades of blue – some pale and striped with volcanic ash, others ultramarine and almost glowing – floated serenely in the lagoon as they waited to be funneled down a narrow channel to the sea.
We spent two nights near Jokulsarlon. I hoped for a window of good weather but the sun never cooperated. On our second morning I woke up at 4am for some early photos and had the entire glacier lagoon to myself. In June it never gets very dark in Iceland.
Later that day Marie and I moved from Jokulsarlon to nearby Diamond Beach, where icebergs from Jokulsarlon spill into the ocean and wash up on the coast’s black sand.
We’d visited Diamond Beach the day before but found it iceberg-free (thanks to water flowing back into the lagoon at high tide). While we were returning to our car on a path of rough stones Marie announced, “The ground is lava!”, invoking a kid’s game that required us to hop across the rocks and avoid the sand. I was out in front when I heard a thud and a yell behind me. Marie had taken a spill and sliced a good chunk of skin off of her right palm. “The ground isn’t lava any more,” she said.
Up until that point our trip had gone about as smoothly as we could have hoped, but the bird incident and Marie’s wipe-out turned out to be signs that our luck was beginning to change…