Destinations, Europe

Saving Graces

July 26, 2015 • By

Every now and then my curiosity leads me astray. As a single woman traveler, I tend to balance hiring private guides with booking group tours, as I am the annoying American who likes to ask all the questions. As a teachers pet, I sat in the front row and raised my hand with fury because of course, I knew all the answers. It’s the same concept here. I want to learn as much as possible during my travel and local guides are a great resource.

My South Shore adventure with 15 other tourists in a minibus aided by our guide, a Scottish transplant took me to the southeastern part of Iceland. We departed Reykjavik hugging the coastline through wind and rain to Seljalandsfoss waterfall where the sun radiated through the clouds and revealed a rainbow at a series of waterfalls. I fought my way through the swarming flies to survey the landscape. This area is ripe for farming and fields of green give way to volcanic mountains many still active in the area. It’s a tourist’s paradise for hiking and a photographer’s dream for nature shots.

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When our steady guide announced we were approaching the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano, people feverishly rummaged through their bags for cameras. Eyjafjallajökull gained worldwide fame in 2010 not for the damage it caused to the area but for the problematic ash cloud carried by the jet stream from Iceland to Europe. The thick gray smoke hovered over Europe’s airspace from the United Kingdom to Germany cancelling thousands of flights between April and August 2010. You can just hear the Europeans saying, “those damn Icelanders and their volcanoes again.” The wind tried to scare my fellow tourists from snapping a piece of history but we persevered for bragging rights. Next time Eyjafjallajökull erupts we can help pronounce that %$&*% volcano from the news.

It’s quite a picturesque scene with ice caped mountains thrusting through the clouds with this quaint active family farm sitting at the foundation of the range. The enormity of the volcano reminded me of the biblical story David versus Goliath. At any point, a lava flow or even mild eruption could decimate this farm and take with it surrounding communities. Nature’s force is ever present.

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Erupted in 2010 and family farm

While many of my fellow tourists participated in the horseback riding activity near Eyjafjallajökull, I value my insides remaining intact and I opted for a solo visit to the Skógafoss waterfall. My strong desire to stretch my legs for two hours and to twirl with the sky above me and this beautiful land at my feet got the best of me and I darted down a hiking path without much sense of my surroundings. The sun warmed the temperatures and I lost track of time as I stepped higher and higher and deeper along a path I predicted would lead to the waterfalls.

Eventually, I realized the trail would take me way off the beaten path and I retreated to find myself trapped in a farm. I noticed a distant “house” across the field and I stepped carefully but with purpose on the freshly plowed land as I came to the conclusion I was trapped by barbwire fence as far as I could see. To make matters worse, I glanced at my phone and my 2:00 PM tour rendezvous time was fast approaching. I walked deeper into the farm and realized all was not lost. The waterfall to my right and a wooden cabin of some sort to my left I trotted to the source of activity–more tourists. I followed the fence hoping for an exit, scanning ahead seeing no opening and then as panic ensued I noticed something that resembled a gate. Was it a mirage? Moving at the pace of a light jog, I spotted a ladder hanging atop the jagged wire fence providing me with an escape. That’s right just a 3-step ladder perched on the fence granting me freedom. I surveyed the probability of falling and moved quickly hurdling myself to the other side. I moved away from the scene turning my back to the farm but then something caused me to pause.  I turned around glared at the ladder and thought to myself,

“I really do get myself into ridiculous situations.”


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The Ladder for the Farm

Skógafoss waterfall  is more beautiful than Seljalandsfoss. I suppose it’s the contrast of the black volcanic sand, blue skies, intermittent clouds, gushing water and rainbows but it was a heavier flow of water and the mist hung longer in the air before evaporating. Mountains of varying degree surround the falls and again the lime and emerald green color grass accented the farms.  Making haste with my visit, I ran (literally) back to my group with time to check out the guest shop. Thankfully, those darn horses went rogue and the riders delayed from returning in a timely manner.

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Skógafoss waterfall South Shore

Back in the bus, the skies opened up giving way to pouring rain and dangerous wind. When we arrived to the black sand beach and Reynisfjara, our guide recommended ducking into a ball if the gusts knocked us off balance. I informed him I was hardly worried about hitting the deck but more concerned I would be picked up, carried and dropped into the freezing temperatures of the Atlantic. He assured me the puffins (birds) survive therefore, I should feared not.  Keeping in mind Iceland is an island and this is the south coast next stop United Kingdom, Norway or Ireland but most certainly death I sank my feet into the black sand wet but soft and sinking and enjoyed the view. With roaring, misting waves, dark skies and severe winds, the beauty of the mountainside contrasting with the pounding of the water created a gloomy and mysterious setting.

Drenched and fighting negative thoughts, I most enjoyed a rain reprieve and a visit to Sólheimajökull, the shrinking glacier slopping down from Mýrdalsjökull, the fourth largest glacier in Iceland. It’s blue like a raspberry Popsicle but with ash crevices from the 2010 volcanic eruption making it look “dirty.” It’s retreating at a relatively fast pace but there have been times in its history that the glacier expanded as recently as the 1990s. It is estimated the glacier advanced approximately 1,900 years ago and it could potentially vanish in as little as 100-200 years from now. Special tours grant groups the ability to hike on the glacier if people are interested. I passed as the winds swept through my core and kicked me in every direction as evidence of my blowing hair.

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Shrinking Glacier, South Shore


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