Loud Water

My trip last week showed me what people mean when they say that Iceland is like a different planet. My trip this week to Vík showed me what people mean when they say that Iceland is the most beautiful country in the world.

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The purple star is where I live, and the blue circle indicates where I’ve been on a previous trip. The red circles are the places I’m writing about now. The map will update as my travel log does.

So, as you can see, we drove down to the town of Vík, stopping at two waterfalls along the way to a beautiful black sand beach. It was about a two and a half hour drive from Reykjavik and intermittently rainy the whole day, so really just your classic Iceland. Finally, I thought, the weather I was promised.

Our first stop was at Seljalandsfoss, so named because it’s part of the Seljalands River. It’s a 60 meter (or 200 foot for the folks back home) drop with a trail leading behind the waterfall, allowing visitors a thrilling 360º view and delightfully uneven distribution of drenched hair. On the plus side, I know my waterproof jacket works.

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The literal tons of falling water mixed with the wind and the fact that it was raining outside anyway meant that none of us got around the falls dry, but I don’t think we were bothered. I wasn’t, at least. I mean, no one decides to walk behind a waterfall thinking they’ll stay dry. We did it for the view.

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And also for the profile pic.

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The thing about waterfalls is that the water falls in sheets. I always imagine a consistent, scripted descent into the pool below, but that’s not the case. Iceland is a wild place, and its water isn’t contained by the type of idyllic projections you find in your average Romanticist painting. It drowns out its borders with a roar and gusts of crystal-clear water, masks its surroundings with a fine, camera-threatening mist, and becomes a landscape that, while breathtaking, is not comfortable. I think Iceland tries to scare its inhabitants. There are those who admire its beauty and go home, and there are those who take on its challenge and farm sheep for a thousand years in the midst of geographical chaos.

Skógafoss (named for, you guessed it, the Skóga River) proved me right– even on the technicalities, since there was a handful of sheep grazing on the hill next to the falls.

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After seeing Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss seemed almost delicate. Stay with me here– Seljanlandsfoss is tall, but Skógafoss is just as tall and much, much wider.

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It’s a behemoth.

There’s no trail to get behind Skógafoss, but there are some stairs to get to the top. 427 stairs, to be exact. My group agreed about a quarter of the way up to ignore how out of breath everyone was from the climb and instead enjoyed the view from on high.

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Quite happily and unexpectedly (for me, at least), there was a trail that followed along the river for much farther than we actually walked– which was a pretty good distance. The trail cuts through some grazing land for sheep and provides amazing views of the river, which only gets more and more beautiful as you go on.

I literally could not– still can’t, honestly– believe how beautiful the world can be. I’ve seen pictures and watched movies, but they can’t show you how the constant roar of the water cuts in and out depending on where you’re standing or how vitalizing the air is when you can’t tell if the water is mist from the waterfall or rain. I know I shouldn’t tell you that since you’re seeing pictures instead of the real thing, but I want you to see it for yourself and I’m not here to lie to you. I never wanted to hurt you.

This “do no harm” attitude extended to my cyborg baby (with my coat zipped over my camera, it kind of looked like I was pregnant with a very lumpy, angular baby) as well, especially when posing for particularly precarious shots. Every time I stood near the edge of the falls I worried about dropping my camera, even though it was around my neck and if my camera fell in, that means I also fell in. I have my priorities straight.

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I could hear my dad’s voice as I walked out: “Now that’s close enough, take two steps back and look from there.”

The final stop on our trip was the black sand beach in Vík. I knew we had made the right choice to come, because when we pulled into the parking lot we immediately made a friend.

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He shared my Cheerios, but was too tired to walk down to the beach with us, so we let him chill with the promise that if no one had taken him home by the time we got back, Reykjavik would be his new home and we would drive him there. He’s a very good dog, which is why someone presumably did pick him up and take him to a well-deserved dinner and rub-down. He wasn’t there when we got back. I’m happy for him, but sad for me.

The path from the parking lot to the beach doesn’t look terribly long. But it is deceptive. Classic Iceland. I read a book once where the main character dies, and in the epilogue he wakes up on a beach at night and starts walking toward the water, but he never gets any closer. That’s what I felt like.

But after what felt like two days, we did eventually make it to the site of a plane crash. The plane is still there, and no one died in the accident, which I feel is important to point out since there were kids climbing around inside and aspiring Insta models standing on top of it. I got one picture before a tourist walked into my frame.

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A pretty good one, considering.

Then I gave up on the plane and started walking again to the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I have always been drawn to the ocean, and I still had never seen it quite like this.

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The wind was cold and clean. The waves were monstrous; they roared in a way that was nearly tactile, like the sound was woven into the fabric of the place. Watching the purpose with which they moved, I could almost feel the moon’s gravity pulling me along in endless rhythm with the water. Some part of me became quite convinced that I was created to stand on this beach and watch the ocean rock back and forth.

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I was happy to do so.

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