48 Hours in Iceland by Tina Rafowitz

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Essays, travels

Time is our enemy. We have fewer than 48 hours to conquer Iceland. And we plan to do it with gusto. We are strong, fit and prepared to see all that we can of this enchanting island.

With our two-day itinerary in hand, my husband Ivan and I embark on the six- hour flight from Minneapolis to Reykjavik. By flying through the night, I have perfectly planned the timing of my sleep. Best laid plans. I do not sleep, rather, I eat my way through the air.

We land at 8 AM Icelandic time, only to discover that our rental car is not available until noon. We have 9 AM tickets to the infamous Blue Lagoon which we hear is touristy but a must-see. Lucky for me Ivan is persistent and knows how to drive a stick shift. Soon we find ourselves navigating through streets with unpronounceable names composed of copious consonants and very few vowels. Thank God for GPS.

The Blue Lagoon does not disappoint. The moment we enter this geothermal spa we are transported to paradise. We apply the mud facial from the lava field in which the spa is located and sip on our sparkling libation, one of the perks, along with a robe and slippers, included in the hefty ticket price. We are relaxed…a bit too relaxed considering our agenda for the day. But we rally and leave this blissful sanctuary, heading next to the erupting hot springs Geyser (from which we learn all geysers worldwide have come to be named). Having never seen Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park, it is quite the treat to await each much-anticipated eruption, all the while trying to precisely time our Instagram photos.

Then we are off to grab a quick bite. But bites are expensive in Iceland. And not just a littlepricey. A cup of coffee runs about $8 and a cup of soup will set you back $15-$20. After our light yet uber pricey lunch, we set off for the renowned Gullfoss waterfalls. Our GPS is proving to be a most useful tool. As sleepy as I am by now, I cannot get any shuteye. Ivan needs me to navigate considering the street names do not coincide with the GPS names.

The lush green hills and valleys provide the perfect backdrop for the free roaming sheep and horses. We notice that there are no fences. We are immersed in the breathtaking landscape when Ivan suddenly slams on the brake to avoid a crossing black sheep. We hear a sharp thud. I assume the worst. We are now sheep murderers. But fear not, the thump was caused by not downshifting properly. All sheep are safe and sound, and we later learn that sheet outnumber humans in Iceland nearly two to one.

We arrive at the Gullfoss, and our first view of the cascading waterfalls is spectacular. They are considered a part of Iceland’s Golden Circle. Gullfoss translates as “Golden Falls,” and was so named because the high sediment content of glacial water makes it glow gold in the sunlight as it roars over the rocky edges.The mist from the falls creates rainbow prisms in every direction. We are truly thankful for the privilege to be able to travel and see such beauty in the world.

Exhaustion is setting in so we decide to make the two-hour trek to our hotel in South Iceland. We are pleased that we chose to rent a car rather than go by bus, allowing us to stop and get up close and personal with the grazing sheep and horses, the many roadside falls and the overall surrounding topography. We arrive at the rustic (and did I mention pricey?) hotel and decide to have an early dinner there before heading to bed for our much-needed sleep. We dine on a gourmet meal of lobster bisque, salmon tartare and filet of lamb, excited for the next day’s glacier walk.

“What time is it?” Ivan exclaims from the shade-darkened room. Travel in June means that it stays light out for most of the evening hours in Iceland. I check my cell and realize that we have missed the hotel’s “complimentary” breakfast. We have slept 12 hours solid! We quickly dress as it is fast approaching noon and we do notwant to miss the much-anticipated glacier hike. As we check out, we ask the hotel concierge for a simple sandwich or something “to go” so we will be fueled for our hike. She hastily replies that while they cannot help us with lunch food, there is a little restaurant at the base of the glacier at which we can grab a bite.

No such luck. We arrive at the Solheimajokulll glacier, in the small town of Vik, to learn that not only is there no longer a restaurant there, but we need reservations to go on the glacier walk. And crampons. And helmets. And a guide. We had anticipated forging our way on our own. Fortunately the guides agree that we can join the last group hike at 2 PM. They direct us to a café up the road to grab a sandwich. With our sleep issue conquered, food is next on our agenda.

The café is indeed quite close. But we notice several large tour buses and as we enter, we observe four very long cafeteria style lines. I am now getting “hangry” and I beg Ivan to find the shortest line and quickest takeout item. It turns out that there is no short, quick route to food here, and I check my watch every two minutes while we wait for our ham, cheese and mustard sandwich order. A sweet brown mustard named pylsusinnep is used abundantly on all sandwiches and on the famous Icelandic hot dogs.

Our sandwiches finally arrive and we race to the car. We agree that I will eat while Ivan drives since he is unable to cram the mustardy sandwich into his mouth while steering and shifting. I give him a few bites of mine and we screech into the hiking office parking lot. Ivan stays in the car to eat while I walk in just as the 2 PM group is putting on their helmets and getting ready to head out. “Oh wait, please,” I beg, “is it too late for my husband and I to join you?” “Well we were just going over the safety rules and getting ready to head out,” replies the tall bearded guide. The two couples in the group look at me and then each other, clearly miffed by my tardiness and boldness. “Where isyour husband?” asks the guide. “Oh, he’s finishing his sandwich in the car,” I announce, quickly realizing how frivolous this must sound. “Oh, you don’t understand, he hasn’t eaten in over 15 hours,” I add.

The guide glances at the two couples and they all nod concurring that, yes, they will wait if we hurry up. I grab Ivan from the car as he is devouring the remains of his sandwich and we race to put on our gear, wiping the mustard off each other’s faces and profusely thanking our group for allowing us to join this last hike of the day. We are sweating from all of the rushing about and feeling a bit unsettled.

We step out onto the glacier and all worries subside. We are dwarfed by the spectacular surroundings marked by rugged and majestic rock formations. We learn that a glacier is a persistent body of dense ice that is constantly moving under its own weight. It forms where the accumulation of snow exceeds its ablation over many years, often centuries. Because of the constant movement, a guide is indeed necessary as the constant shifts have caused numerous deaths over the years.

We listen as the guide teaches us how to properly use the walking poles and ice picks. Walking up the glacier is fairly simple with the crampons, and we soon master the art of walking like a nine months pregnant woman when going down the glacier, carefully placing the poles behind us. We encounter a stream of crystal clear water and take turns planking over it, lapping up the only commodity that is truly free in Iceland. We engage with the two other couples, one from Mexico City and the other from the Czech Republic. They are lovely hiking companions, and we are all game when offered the opportunity to extend the hike by another hour in order to tour one of the many glacial caves. We have no worries about darkness setting in as it will remain light most of the evening. The four-hour drive back to the airport hotel allows us time to digest this fascinating adventure.

We slept, we ate, and we conquered Iceland in 48 hours. Mission accomplished.

 

BIO: Tina Rafowitz is a freelance writer in Minnesota. Tina mostly writes creative nonfiction. She is an avid traveler who loves family and fun. trafowitz@gmail.com facebook.com/tina.charlesrafowitz @tinabina50

 

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Sarah Leamy, MFA, is an award-winning author of both travel books and novels as well as a photographer, presenter, and a bit of a wanderer. She has lived in England, Germany, Spain, Guatemala and the Southwest of the US. She is the founder and editor of Wanderlust, a travel journal publishing international travel writing, photos and trip reports. Find out more at www.sarahleamy.com

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