We started the morning of Day 10 to heart-shaped traffic lights and Skyr, an Icelandic yogurt that has a texture in between American yogurt and Greek yogurt. We tried to test all the flavors they offered at the grocery store throughout our trip, and I think we got pretty close? Maybe? Ben was a big fan of the chocolate, but I personally liked the fruity flavors like the apple one I tried later on.
Our first stop was Goðafoss – the waterfall of the gods. It is said that when the lawmaker of the country made Christianity the official religion of Iceland in the year 1000, he threw his statues of Norse gods into this waterfall. The path to the waterfall was iced over, so we kept walking along what we thought was the path before we looked down and realized we were standing on a frozen portion of the river that feeds into the falls. Terrifying, but hey, how cool is it to say we walked on a waterfall? Ben crushed my excitement by making the point that we did this in Southeast Asia too, but that’s a story for another time.
As we continued on our way, the wide-open landscape of Iceland decided to tease us with this view of central Iceland, home to the Krafla lava fields and volcanic craters like Askja and Viti where you can bathe in the geothermally heated crater lakes. Sadly, many of the roads getting there are F-roads (meaning you’re required to have a four-wheel drive) and any roads that weren’t were closed off for the winter. Lake Mývatn is also a cool sight to see in this area, but for us it was covered in snow, so it looked much like the rest of the landscape and we didn’t bother to stop (they do have a great nature bath spa here if that’s your thing).
We still got our fair share of jumping into random holes in the ground at our next stop, though, a set of lava caves in Northeast Iceland. The first was Grjótagjá, the cave made famous from Game of Thrones. Getting in requires climbing down a pile of rocks through a rotten-egg scented cloud (it’s so true that you get used to the sulfur smell that plagues a good portion of Iceland) into what basically looks like a black abyss. Once inside, though, the light streams through the entrances and you can actually see the full view of the thermal spring inside the cave. Sadly, you are no longer allowed to bathe here because volcanic activity in the 70s made the water too hot (we tested it and it wasn’t bad, but we decided not to do any more rule-breaking).
The next cave, Stóragjá, required a short walk to find the entrance. There are a few openings you can go through, but the main one involves squeezing yourself through a crack between two rock walls and dipping straight into the water. We stared skeptically between the entrance and the snow that had just started drifting down, debating the worth of jumping in before we decided to just go for it. When else were we going to strip in the snow to jump into a thermally heated cave pool? I only managed to snap a picture of the entrance with my camera because I was too scared to risk it in the cave. Instead, we had to rely on Li’s knock-off GoPro for other pictures (please ignore the sad quality of the photos).
Before we moved along, I made Li and Ben find a pull-out on the side of the road so we could take in this cool view just past the caves. On one side of the road was a large group of thermal springs made of the frosty blue mineral water so famous in Icelandic pools. On the other side, the steam billowed up through dips in the ground as it started snowing again. Basically sums up winter in Iceland in one go.
It kept snowing as we were driving until it got to a point where we really couldn’t see the road at all in certain areas. Magical and terrifying all at the same time. Since there was barely anybody else on the road, we stopped in a flat area to run out of the car into the crazy winds to snap some quick photos. Don’t try this at home, friends. It was probably one of our worse ideas but at least no cars showed up.
Our last major stop for the day was Egilsstaðir, the largest town in East Iceland. East Iceland is made up of a lot of fjords, making the drive a pretty winding one, although not as terrifying as I’ve heard others say it is. All of the towns are artsy little villages built by the fjords, similar to this one, but smaller. In fact, art seems to be such a big thing in this part of Iceland that it has its own art school despite having only 2,000 inhabitants.
With that, we were headed off to to our AirBnB in the little village of Stöðvarfjörður, and we managed to arrive just in time to catch this great sunset right next door. Of course, Li just had to get into my shot. Go figure. At least the tidal pools still look good. Plus, we got to explore them a little before we froze to death and found some baby shrimp and other unidentifiable creatures.
What better way to round off a long day of travel with face masks, right? I somehow managed to convince these two to try them because the cold weather and wind was killing my face (seriously, if you’re travelling somewhere cold, face masks feel like heaven, especially when you’re tired). They both said they were just kind of refreshing and acted unimpressed, but they kept the masks on longer than I did, so I’ll take that as a win on my end.