I had no idea what to expect. As my travels had led me from one context to another, and as my free time was spent primarily in documenting the recent past, I was increasingly relying on research made months previously to prepare me for what was to come. As far as the logistics were concerned, I knew what I had to do: go west. And given the circuitous ring road which (Highway 1) which follows the coastline around the entire island, this involved going south and then west, and then south again, and then northwest, then north, and then finally straight west. I had no specific plan for where I would stay Friday night, and assumed I would camp somewhere using the tent I had obtained in Switzerland. Saturday night I had a hostel in Grundarfjödur, on the far western peninsula of Snæfelsnes. By 10 am Sunday morning, the rental car had to be dropped off in Keflavik, 3 hours to the southwest of Grundarfjödur. My flight departed in the late afternoon, and I planned on spending the rest of my time catching up on writing and documentation.
I arrived early at the Europcar rental center in Egilstaðir, around 9:30am, but the staff completed the paperwork for me anyways. They gave me a VW Golf instead of the Hyundai i10 which had been my initial reservation, but charged me the same price, even though it was bigger. I didn’t complain. This made it much easier to fit my bicycle inside. We lowered the back seats, took off the front wheel, and I had at last at my disposal a weatherproof box in which to travel. This was indeed luxury.
Photography quickly became a tortuous pleasure in Iceland. I heard the constant refrain in my mind, “There’s too much, there’s just too much,” accompanied by the feeling of futility in trying to convey anything but a fleeting impression to anyone who couldn’t share the experience with me. I felt as though I had found an entirely new world, a whole planet, whose landscape changed upon the hour as I drove through wildly diverse terrain of all colors and contours. If I had thought Alaska was a place of wonder and natural beauty, Iceland was even more phenomenal, if that could be possible.
Volcanic rock covered with strange gray-green moss in an arid environment, glaciers surrounded by desert scrub, black pyramids of dust and pulverized scree which flaunted their inaccessible heights in linear simplicity. Out of the fog and mist and green mountains riddled with waterfalls, I came down a threadlike, winding road into the wildest prairie, flanked by coppery red walls of rock. The clouds parted as the sea winds blew them back, and a glittering cobalt mirror, first a ribbon and then a glassy surface extending to the horizon, kissed the black sands of the coast and the waves came again and again to the shore.
Driving through Iceland, torn by the desire to veer off down every trail or gravel road, and to continue covering the vast distance dividing me from my destination, I was conscious of a most surreal sensation of being inside the pages of the very National Geographic magazines which had absorbed me as a child. Everywhere I looked I saw completely new terrain, unfamiliar plants, the ubiquitous Icelandic sheep, and wild colors. Iceland is blue and green and black and red and white, all within the same sweep of one’s gaze. And each hue has a spectrum, so that the green of the grass is both light and dark and all greens in between, and this contrasts with the violent red of the mountains behind the grass, which shatters itself against the uncompromising blue of the heavens. It is enough beauty to stop your heart, but then you have to keep going. And Iceland keeps coming. And it’s all movement and color and light and sun and then there is the sea, where icebergs from Vatnajökul break off and float off on their own futile journeys towards the sea, where they slowly melt in the sun and condense into mist.