Fire & Ice

Formed by a boundary between two tectonic plates, Iceland is known for its natural beauty. The volcanoes and glaciers have shaped the landscape and continue to do so. Even though I live in the capital city of Reykjavik, the northernmost world capital by latitude, the real natural beauty begins just outside the city limits.

This past weekend, I tagged along with a group who was leaving the city to explore the countryside. The drive was harrowing through snow, ice and rain, the road lacking streetlights and guardrails. However, the views were well worth it. The entire landscape showed evidence of extreme geologic processes: both by fire and ice, volcanoes and glaciers.

We went first to the Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon, where giant chunks of floating blue ice reside in a still body of water. After that, we spent the night in a cottage in Vík, a village in southern Iceland. On our way back to Reykjavik in the morning, we visited the Reynisfjara black sand beach, where tectonic activity was evident. Volcanic rocks were everywhere in the form of sheets, blocks, boulders, fine-grained sand and smooth, tumbled stones. Although it rained most of the time, it was a great first adventure outside of the city.

Reykjavík itself is unique, and it definitely does not have a “big city feel.” Its center is full of vibrant restaurants, pubs, grocery stores and famous hot dog stands. Iceland is known for its yogurt, Skyr, as well as its fish. During my first week, I tried a piece of traditional fermented shark meat, hákarl. Greenland sharks are the closest to the island, and their skin is full of natural antifreeze because they swim in such cold waters. Since the shark skin is toxic to humans, it is left to ferment before it can be eaten, though it still smells pungent, similar to chlorine bleach.

Overall, Iceland is a unique place, its landscape changing by the minute and by the mile. Its culture has been hard to grasp, since the city is always full of tourists from all over the world. However, I am beginning to understand Icelandic customs and pronounce the sounds of the Icelandic language.