Holy Mother Nature

I was going to write about how we drove the entire ring road of Iceland: What roads we took, what places we saw and how even the last supermarket at the edge of the world readily sells chia seeds. But on arrival, the car rental guy advised us to be careful when opening the doors: “they might break off”. So yes, this is about our trio around Iceland, but less about its details and much more about the power of mother nature.

Sylt is an island in the North of Germany. As the name suggests, it is practically in Danish waters – so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the weather can be all kinds of awful. Expect relentless winds in winter and rain at any time of the year. Sure, there’s also a lot of sunshine, but with the weather being so unpredictable, locals have coined a clever marketing slogan: “Sylt ist bei jedem Wetter schön”. It translates to “Sylt is beautiful no matter the weather” – a lesson in German practicality, if there ever was one.

Last year’s trip to Iceland had been unreal: Crisp blue skies and not a drop of rain. This time, it started out differently: Periods of sunshine were interlaced with fog, rain and wind. When we woke up on our first morning there, the winds were so strong that I pushed the blinds aside to see if our rental car had flipped over and tumbled away. It hadn’t – and so we set out on our trip, with the storm whistling along the windshield as we drove South. Whenever we left the car on our the first day, the wind pushed us across the barren landscape. You could jump into the air and be blown away, just as though you were Neil Armstrong and hopping across the moon. We went down to the ocean where white waves crashed upon black rocks and talking was almost impossible. It was brutal – and incredibly fun: Never had I experienced such natural forces in action, never had I felt like I was standing in a black and white picture.

White waves in Vik

Max

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You can’t fly to a rock in the mid-Atlantic in November and expect everlasting sunshine. That I nevertheless did, shows how far I tend to stray from German practicality. The truth is that you can’t fly to a rock in the mid-Atlantic in November and complain. You have to let it all go.

The questions everyone asks when they hear about Iceland is whether it is too cold. Yes – and no. You are going to need a big coat and thick shoes but you don’t have to go overboard and sport neon-colored survival gear, as our fellow German tourists like to do. It is a different kind of cold, a crisp and dry cold that envelops without being a bother. And either way, one is much too distracted by the surroundings to notice. On several occasions, we found ourselves stopping the car on misty mountain overpasses and snowed-in lava fields where we took photos without even putting our coats on. Likewise, we braved the rain as we stood by a stream in which glacier pieces floated towards the sea. It was getting dark and you could hear the sound of raindrops falling on your hood – but we were too fascinated by the surreal blue glow each ice block emitted to really noticed. I hardly noticed the sky any more when I excitedly climbed down some cliffs to watch the tide run across perfectly round pebbles that sounded like a swarm of insects whenever a wave pulled them back.

A few days into the trip, Max leaned on the roof of the car and sighed: “Holy mother nature”. Going to Iceland means being in the elements. It means ignoring the occasional mist and the grey, shrugging when a side road is blocked due to being snowed in – because the alternative will have something new in store. In fact, locals have a saying as well, one they print on obnoxious T-shirts for sale in Reykjavik: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes”.

Sometimes the slogans on such shirts are actually true.

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When the sun finally comes out and the mist clears, it reveals a different kind of beauty. Suddenly you can see snow-covered mountains in the distance, dramatic clouds above you and just how endless the roads really are. Iceland never feels quite real, no matter if you are experiencing it from inside of a cloud of rain or on a piece of sun-drenched, grassy tundra. Ultimately, it is nature in its most pure form: wild, untamed and unpredictable.

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