Prior to the most exciting trip of my lifetime, the South African rand dropped drastically, and my life’s savings went from abundance to not much at all. Daunted by one of the world’s most expensive countries – I frantically searched the net for alternatives for all my travel arrangements. Luckily for me, a week prior I had not booked a thing, despite my month’s worth of planning that had gone into this trip. Tour Prices were hellishly expensive and on average R2500 – R5000 per day to get in a decent amount of activities. I did not have this kind of money on hand.
I gave up quickly looking for alternatives when the net (for the first) served me little purpose. Information for all these remote locations I planned to visit wasn’t readily available and bus routes to these locations were closed off during these extreme winter months. I realized at that moment how untouched this spectacular place was, and I felt both nervous and excited to explore it.
So, I decided to wing it and crossed the seas with this mindset – “If you don’t know where you going – any road will get you there”. 46 countries of Sola traveling down, this should be a piece of cake.
I arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland after a 30-hour flight from South Africa. You could get here in a little under 16 hours on direct flights, however, I opted for the cheaper latter. Long waits at airports meant extra time to meet new people from all corners of the world.
I arrived early evening at The Capital Inn on a night’s board of R280 in a 10-bed dorm. I was welcomed by 2 Moroccan ex-pats (Taha & Walid), One guy from Switzerland (Steven), A South Korean (Kate), A Slovenian girl (Sanja), a British guy (Ben), One American (Gia) & one French girl (Martine). 90 % of solo like-minded travelers looking for their own adventures who were destined to meet. Life-long friendships were forged as meaningful stories and experiences began to be shared.
As the days went on, we encountered a few other people that added to our story. Evenings were spent in the Capital Crowd basement where we cooked our communal dinners and took pleasure in sharing and dancing to our favorite songs from our hometowns. We created unique memories whilst we joined in the celebration and taught each other how to sing Happy Birthday in our home tongues, amongst other rare words we learned from these favorite gypsies. This is rather fun to do, and a first-time experience for all of us. The Happy Birthday song is a universal language we all speak, yet sounds so unique and different amongst all these cultures. I would like to challenge you to try this on your next trip and send me a video recording of all the people you meet on your journey singing this in their home tongue. Let’s start our own cappella group of Happy Birthday Songs.
We formed a diverse team with a pool of travel expertise that collectively made our experiences. We were so tight that Taha created a private Facebook group – Capital Crowd 1012, to post our unique and crazy pictures from our trip. It’s private because it got pretty crazy most nights while everyone expressed his or her individuality.
Drinking in Iceland is a no-go, and can be rarely afforded. Import prices and taxes make it one of the most expensive countries in the world to have a drink in. To put it into perspective, a bottle of Amarula in South Africa would cost around R89 a bottle, and in Iceland over R1200. An R50 bottle of wine from Stellenbosch would cost an average of R400. A pint of beer would cost you anything from R98.00. And that is their local beers – Viking & Polar Beer.
I would highly recommend buying as many drinks as you are allowed at their airports duty-free prior to flying into the country.
Drinks aside, the people you will meet in Iceland, will keep you entertained for hours.
Most nights, as 11 pm approached we suited and geared up for our evenings ahead in Iceland’s extreme weather conditions to chase the northern lights. 9 of us filled our 2 rented cars and headed to mountainous locations out of sight of city lights. Usually, our journeys out of Reykjavik lasted 45 min to an hour but offered the best-untouched views of the northern lights. We stayed out till 4 in the morning most nights.
Steven and Gia were the best coordinators in establishing visibility of the Aurora Borealis and had a good understanding of the factors involved in viewing these like hPa numbers and cloud cover types; lower, middle & high clouds. I took one look at Vendur – Iceland’s preferred website for measuring activity and my lack of a geological understanding and degree thereof was to my disadvantage. My knowledge extended thus far “Does 4 mean we can see the lights?”.
Have a look at this in your effort to understand me on this:
By night 3, we all became pros & tour operators by acquiring Gia & Stevens’s understanding of the Auroras – To the point that I ran my own Northern Lights tours in Northern Norway – a country I was yet to visit. Only on arriving, did I realize I had learned so much from these two incredible jet setters.
Photos that will inspire you to travel to Iceland.
I like to refer to Iceland as the postcard country, and when you see some of the images below you will understand why. There is something charming about traveling to a country that is more than 80% uninhibited, although most will be daunted by its lack of civilization. I quite liked the idea of having 9 days of peace and quiet, whilst being spellbound by this country’s astonishing natural beauty.
Whilst locals can make for a better traveling experience, it didn’t seem to bother me that I didn’t bump into any. Over 60 percent of the country’s population of 330 000 people live in the Capital City of Reykjavik. I spent most of my time along the West Coast and the South Coast.
I found contentment in the silence Iceland offers while I forged a deep connection with nature. Its ever-changing weather created some of the most dramatic scenes I have ever witnessed in a land of fire and ice. To give you an idea: on a visit to the Reykjanes Peninsula, I experienced 3 snow storms and sunsets in a period of 30min. Similarly, at the Skogafoss waterfall, I experienced a hail storm, a rainbow, and a gorgeous sunset. So if you are looking to capture that perfect shot, it’s a good idea to wait it out for a little.
Each day offered another opportunity to photograph something new, so no planning was necessary for the trip. I just rented a car and drove, and with only 5 hours of daylight, I managed to rake up a fair amount of photographs in a short amount of time.
There are only a few moments in life that take your breath away.
The 24 January 2016 was one of them.
Here’s the story:
I visited Iceland with the intention of seeing the northern lights on my Dad’s Birthday who passed away on the 5th February 3 years back. This would be the 3rd birthday that I would not have seen him. This entire trip around the artic was dedicated to him. He loved Christmas (My birthday to) and one of my favorite holidays celebrated with him. I delayed my birthday and opted for a white one across Iceland, Finland, Norway & Sweden. On the 23rd of January at 10:30 pm, I and a group of amazing gypsies I had met divided ourselves between two rental cars with a mission in mind – to view the Aurora Borealis.
None of us had experience in this, except for our few practice nights prior to this and without any luck. I mentioned to the crowd my possible emotions around witnessing this for the first time and explained my personal reasons surrounding this trip. I knew there was a small chance of viewing them and high cloud cover reduced our visibility. The rain posed a serious problem as well.
The power of BELIEF
I have always heard individual accounts of their experiences viewing the northern lights for the first time. Most mentioned it meant something to them on a deep spiritual level, however I could not comprehend the experience until I experienced it myself.
When the clock struck 12pm on the 24th January – the clouds cleared and the Auroras put on an incredible display as if it was my Dad sharing his presence. I either believed it into existence, or it was God’s way of restoring my faith in this principle that anything is possible if you only just believed. Either way, it was INCREDIBLE!
Instantly, tears filled my eyes and I was left speechless! Steven earlier mentioned in my previous posts, appreciates the finer things in life, came running to me yelling, “ It’s your dad, it’s your dad”. I was drawn to him on meeting, by his intense appreciation of the “smaller things” that offer this life meaning. Jess gently rubbed my back, and we all sat in silence and took it all in.
These are the few images I managed to get in through the tears. Not my usual quality of images I put forth, having my eyesight slighting impaired, by the water streaming from them.
I will be forever grateful to the individuals that I shared this with on such a deep level, and for eternity it will remain embedded into my heart and memory.
I originally decided to visit Iceland because I had never previously met anyone from that part of the world. I yearned to know what they looked like, what their English accent sounded like, and get a feel of the personality and culture behind the Icelandic.
Jess (my travel friend from France) and I hit the streets of Reykjavik – Iceland’s largest city and were amused by how humorous this culture actually is. The signage throughout the city kept us entertained for a good few hours, and I thought I would share some of the funniest ones we came across.
Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital and largest city, and one of the smallest capital cities in the world.
Usually, I am not a big fan of spending time in a country’s cities, especially not those where countless adventure activities beckon in surreal and untouched landscapes. Reykjavik city, however, was a little bit different and comes in second to New York on my list of favorite cities in the world. It is probably the peaceful stress-free city life of the Icelandics that first drew me in, coupled with its myriad of marvels for just about everyone who visits. It is a city rich in historical sites, humorous signposts that adorn shopkeepers’ windows, a city where artists from all art forms flock together, and a city that is home to an abundance of untouched natural landscapes.
I have put together this photoblog of some of the things myself and Jess saw on our day on foot in Reykjavik. I never imagined that graffiti could bring a city so alive, and be done so elegantly.
Have you visited a place here that I have forgotten about?
The word Thingvelier (spelled Þingvellir in Icelandic) was derived from the Icelandic words – “Ping” meaning parliament and “velar” meaning plans. It was originally the base of Europe’s first Parliament. Referred to as Alpingi, this institution was a place where ideas were discussed, disputes were settled, and where criminals were convicted.
Disturbingly, women found guilty of adultery or infanticide were drowned in the Drekkingarhylur pool. During the 17th century, nine men were burnt at the stake in Brennugja after being found guilty of witchcraft.
Dramatic fissures in the ground show a continental drift between North America and Europe that occurs at an unbelievable rate of 1mm to 18mm each year. Iceland is the only inhabited island in the world where tectonic plate movements are visible, which makes Iceland a truly incredible country to explore.
Aside from its historical interest, Thingvellir holds a special place for nature lovers especially in the summertime when you can do some incredible hikes across the 9,270ha plain. Use your best judgment when encountering the many spectacular fissures as the rocks over the edge can be very unstable.
Over 10 000 years the valley’s appearance has been shaped by the sinking of the Earth’s crust. Canyons have formed, and in one part you can experience Silfra – a naturally formed lake that is popular with divers. Filled with glacier water, the lake is considered one of the clearest bodies of water on earth with a 100-meter clear visibility underwater.
Thingvelir National Park is a mere 30-minute drive from Reykjavik and falls as part of the famous Golden Circle. You can either rent a car and do a self-drive – or book one of these amazing guided tours.
You might be saving a little on the self-drive, but you will be missing out on the wealth of knowledge available from true locals.
There is just something so mystical about Iceland, an unspoken force that grabs a hold of your travel soul and refuses to let go. The allure is just so strong. It is a country with a unique personality that I am yet to come across in other parts of the world.
4. The Icelandic language remains unchanged over the last 1000 years. A bible found in the Skogar folk museum from the early 1500s can still be read.
5. The whole country is the size of the American state of Ohio.
6. Iceland has the longest working week in Europe – 43,5 hours per week.
7. There are no surnames or family names in Iceland. Their last names are made up of their
father’s or mother’s first name with the addition of –dottir (daughter) or – son. This is still
part of the Nordic naming system.
8. Iceland is home to Europe’s first Parliament.
9. It has no strip clubs following a ban in 2010.
10. Iceland had the first democratically elected female and openly gay Prime Minister.
11. It is the last place on earth to be settled by humans.
12. First names not previously used in Iceland must be approved by the Icelandic Naming
13. It is illegal to own a pet snake, lizard, or turtle.
14. 10% of Iceland’s population would have published a book in its lifetime. Who wouldn’t feel
inspired in the land of fire and ice?
15. Looking through a telephone directory you will notice that Icelander’s first names are
18. Iceland is amongst the safest countries in the world with a very low crime rate.
19. You can go hiking during the midnight sun with 24 hours of daylight.
20. Icelandic horses are direct descendants of the horses brought in by early Viking