×

Bobcat’s Tail: A natural good time in Iceland

  • The author’s son, Ben, photographs the lava-landscape in the Westfjords, a remote region of northwestern Iceland. —Photo by Eric Aldrich

  • Gullfoss, meaning golden falls, is one of Iceland’s main tourist attractions. You may recognize the scene from an album cover by Echo and the Bunnymen. Or not. There wasn’t a soul there one morning in mid-April —Photo by Eric Aldrich


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

If you’ve ever thought about visiting Iceland – that lonely island between Greenland and Norway – don’t think about it too much. Make plans and go.

You’ll love it.

After dreaming about it for years, I recently toured the island-country for a week with my family. It’s an incredible place, full of waterfalls, geothermal springs, puffins, other-worldly mountains and glaciers, spectacular coastlines, and of course, ever-lasting Viking sagas. And you may have heard about Reykjavik and its robust life of music, literature and all things art.

To encourage your Icelandic impulses, here are a few things to whet your appetite.

The volcanic landscape

The first thing you’ll notice, whether you land in Keflavik or the nearby capital of Reykjavik, is the barren, treeless landscape.

You’ll see a long, flat, jagged vista of black lava rock, covered in velvety green moss and grass.

That strange landscape will stretch all the way out to mountains and volcanoes, some of which are active, but most are dormant.

Stand in a few right places in Iceland and you’re actually standing on the edge of North America and Eurasian tectonic plates, drifting apart at roughly 1 centimeter a year. And along this Mid-Atlantic Ridge, there tends to be more geothermal action, where you can see geysers, mud-pots and hot springs. It’s where Icelanders get their love of pools and “hot pots.” All this geothermal action provides Iceland with one of its top energy sources for the nation’s 332,000 citizens.

Not surprisingly, there are few trees on this rocky, lava landscape.

Occasionally, you’ll see a gully with a small clump of spruce or alder-like bushes, usually with a sign proudly describing the partners that made this forest possible. They say that if you get lost in a forest in Iceland, just stand up.

The wind

You’ll also notice the wind. It’s a constant in Iceland. And as you get closer to the ocean, especially in the north and west, the windier it gets. With few trees and long expanses of lava plains, there’s nothing to stop the wind.

The sea

It’s never far and it’s as much a part of the fabric of Iceland as the Norsemen who braved it when they first reached the island’s lava shores before the year 1000.You’ll see lots of fishing villages and processing facilities, pumping out 40 percent of the country’s exports.

The waterfalls

There are thousands in Iceland, from little-noticed beauties to spectacular falls like Gullfoss (meaning “golden falls”), where the river disappears into the faults of the land. We hiked an hour into Glymer Falls, where silver streams cascade 198 meters, making it Iceland’s second-highest falls.

The horses

They are a ubiquitous sight in Iceland, standing together in the worst of weather in the open plain, somehow tolerating it in good humor. These hardy horses are 13 or 14 hands, have a short and stout neck and even have their own gait, suited for the rough terrain.

The people

Icelanders are very friendly, easy-going and welcoming of tourists, who triple the native population in the summers. Nearly all speak English, though the accents can be thick as you get further away from Reykjavik. Try learning a little Icelandic if you want, but it’s said to be among the most challenging languages of all to learn. Make plans and go. You’ll love it.

Eric Aldrich writes from his home in Hancock. he can be reached at ericadine@gmail.com.