As a friend and I began our Icelandic vacation, we drove towards Reykjavik early in the morning in July, and found a parking spot near a bakery. Our first morning was a sleepy morning, and we sat in a cozy window seat and watched the passers-by. This was our first day in a new country, and our introduction to Icelandic chai tea, something we still crave today.
Iceland was also the inaugural stamp in my new passport. I hadn’t left the US since I was a young girl, when my family and I spent years living on a Caribbean island. After that, I bookmarked travel websites, and planned imaginary trips, explored online guidebooks, all from a hospital bed in Boston, where I awaited new lungs. Three years after a double-lung transplant, and two years into my journey as a Smith student, I found myself aboard the flight, unable to sleep, peering out of the window at Greenland, its ice sheets illuminated by the midnight sun. I was a bit nervous, and tired, and acutely aware that I had finally made it somewhere far different than any place I’d traveled to before.
During our ten-day trip, we drove along the southern coast as far as Stokksnes, a beach set next to the mountain Vestrahorn with dozens of mounds of black sand with tufts of sea grass growing atop them, before we left the southern coast and began our trek to the north, where we visited Akureyri, Husavik, and a small fishing town on the far northern coast, Siglufjordur, accessible via a tunneled road leading through a mountain. In each town, we chatted with locals and tourists, stopped for sheep who would occasionally dart into the road, and saw views and vistas unlike anything I’d ever seen before.
However, before we traveled north, we compiled a comically long list of the places we had to see along the southern coast, on our way to Stokksnes. Surely it was all doable, we thought, as the midnight sun meant our long drive back to Reykjavik would be mostly illuminated. “Who needs to sleep on vacation?” we repeatedly asked each other, more emphatically after we left the eastern coast late at night, and realized how very far we had left to drive. That night, we drove through the midnight sunset, and were still driving when the sun rose four hours later.
Included on our list was Vatnajokull, a large ice sheet, along with Jokulsarlon, a glacier lagoon, and a messily scrawled note that said “icebergs!” We found them on the beach across the road from the lagoon, where large chunks of ice had broken off and landed on the shore. We had also written Seljavallalaug, a hot springs pool that had been reopened after a volcanic eruption temporarily closed the original pool. We were intrigued.
The turnoff, located directly off the main Ring Road, yet unlabeled and nondescript, led us to a deeply grooved, gravel road where we parked and continued on foot. Unsure if we were even in the correct location, we began to walk alongside a small river back into a valley, surrounded by lush, green hills, rocky and pointed on top, with small trickling waterfalls winding down them towards us. We hiked up a short hill, realized we should be hiking down, and backtracked, continued over a rickety wooden footbridge, partially broken in the middle, but nonetheless sufficient, over black sand, and into the river at points, our shoes submerged in the cold mountain runoff. Then, around a small bend, nestled in the valley, we came across a handful of people floating and chatting and enjoying the warm water on the cool, cloudy day. There were locals and tourists swimming together, smiling at us as we approached and reached our hands in to test the water.
Renu Linberg is an Ada Comstock Scholar majoring in English. A Massachusetts native, she’s lived around the country and on an island. She enjoys tea, exploring, cozy bookshops, and writing short stories. She hopes to teach one day, somewhere warm, preferably another island.by