My first day in Iceland was like the first day of school in 8th grade. New, exciting, terrifying, and a little embarrassing all at the same time. Showing up to the airport was easy. Going through security was simple; after all, I’ve done it a thousand times now. Boarding the plane was like biting my nails or picking a scab: a habit.
In truth, the weight of what I was doing—traveling alone to a foreign country, entering an entirely new territory without any aid or comfort—didn’t hit me until I was almost there. My seatmates were from Iceland. The man next to me, Throstir, had given me tips about traveling safely. He told me about the Iceland 112 app, which is like a techy version of a trail register—it’s designed to alert authorities if you don’t check back in according to plan. The knowledge that Iceland had a specific app for lost travelers was the first real sign that I might be in way over my head.
Then the sun was coming up and we were flying over Greenland. That was incredible in itself, and I’m upset that I wasn’t able to get better pictures.
Then I was in the airport in Keflavik, getting off the plane, promising to text Throstir if I needed any help (I didn’t). I wandered around, making a few mistakes like trying to buy alcohol in the departures section and then exiting the arrivals section before making any purchases, buying expensive water, getting lost, and trying desperately to contact the rental car company to pick me up.
After a short mix-up, I was in the back of a van and heading to get a sweet new ride and truly start my adventure.
“I definitely should have thought it through, but I didn’t.”
Before I left, I wrote up a flexible itinerary for David that I’d promised to follow as closely as I could. My only planned stop for the day was the Secret Lagoon in Flúðir, though I took a few incredible detours along the way to take in the sheer beauty of the place.
Iceland is very different from anywhere I’ve ever been. Coming from Washington, AKA “The Evergreen State”, I was used to endless forests and a limited line of sight. As an ignorant traveler, the first question I asked was “where are all the trees?” The answer from my new and very knowledgeable friend was that trees have a difficult time to grow due to the wind and loose soil from volcanic ash. According to the New York Times, this is correct. However, Iceland used to be home to lush forests prior to Viking settlement on the island.
After the deforestation by initial settlers, wind erosion, unstable volcanic ash, and animal grazing have further prevented natural reforestation—and kept me from seeing my lovely trees.
My whining aside, Iceland is incredible. Rock formations and cliffs seemingly pop out of nowhere. Hundreds of shades of green cover black volcanic rock while white bluffs crash onto shores and plains alike.
And then there are the hot springs and geysers, which brings me to my first major destination.
The Secret Lagoon is less populated than its better-known alternative, The Blue Lagoon, which made it an easy choice to go there. It is also free so, you know, I had to.
The pool itself is incredible and was a nice way to relax after a long second flight from Minneapolis to Keflavik with an additional 2 hours of driving after. The crumbled changing house, located across the pool from a much newer guest shop, was a stark example of how the most beautiful parts of Iceland have been adapted to boost the economy. The Secret Lagoon itself has been a public swimming pool since 1891 and sitting in its relaxing waters, you can almost feel the history there.
After trying to meditate and relaxing as best I could, I headed in to shower. In truth, I didn’t take a swimsuit because I thought a sports bra and some boy shorts would be enough. They were, but it meant that I didn’t have any underwear to wear after I’d showered (my first mistake). I also forgot to bring a towel, which meant drying myself off on my fleece sweatshirt, which was the only thing I had to wear after.
I definitely should have thought it through, but I didn’t. And that lack of foresight had me practically waddling to my car uncomfortably with my arms crossed over my chest to protect me from the wind. I’m pretty sure a lady laughed at me as I left. I also got yelled at for trying to wear shoes in the locker room. Incredibly frustrated and embarrassed, I threw my wet underwear in the back of my rental and drove to a nearby campground called Arnes to remind myself why I was there at all.
I crashed in my tent, embarrassed, nervous, and regretting my decision to travel alone. (Don’t worry, I later changed my mind on this front). For whatever reason, maybe it was lack of sleep leading up to the trip, poor sleep on the flight over, almost constant anxiety since I’d arrived, or the sweet sound of rain pattering lightly on my tent, I passed out, hard.