I've been in a vicious cycle of typing and deleting because I can't seem to find the right words to articulate my travelling experience in/to (? help) Iceland. Where do I begin? How do I begin?
How about with a disclaimer : Iceland broke whatever preconceived stereotypes I had of nature's beauty?
I'm one of those people who associate nature's beauty with lush, green foliage. And I've always factorised good weather into my judgment of whether or not a place is beautiful. I remember going to Ireland with sky-high hopes to see Cliffs of Moher, but returning disappointed because the weather was awful the day I visited the cliffs. I know for a fact that the place is gorgeous - photos of its glorious green against the blue sky and golden sun flare galore on the internet are strong enough evidence to testify to its beauty - but I just... caught it on a bad day. This explains why I think it's of vital importance to check the weather forecast before I set out to take photos, I'm dangerously borderline dogmatic about it.
But Iceland, man, Iceland challenged and made me revise & expand my definition of nature's beauty. Iceland's beauty is otherworldly. It's like a different kind of beauty, one that I've never seen before elsewhere but one that left me at a complete loss for words.
So let's go from the beginning. What made me go to Iceland?
I've always wanted to go to Iceland, it's every photographer's dream place I dare say, but not wanting enough to actually plan for a real excursion. Some of my friends have been to Iceland before, and a tale that has been told and retold and reiterated is that it cost them a bomb. And often I get bombarded with like a thousand of Iceland photos at the same time on social media because everybody goes during the peak holiday season - winter & Easter breaks. So it's a question of balance for me because a) I'm a cheapskate, and b) I don't tolerate crowds very well, but hey c) I'm a sucker for nature's beauty. The balance never tilted to c), unfortunately, so a trip to Iceland never came to fruition.
Until Sal found really cheap flight deals to Iceland. And Sal's & Ulfah's reading weeks coincided. And it's early November i.e. off-peak season. I don't have any reading weeks but I really wanted to go travel with Ulfah since she's already in her final year. The question then shifted to If not now, then when?. So I deployed my persetankan je policy and said Yes and keyed in my bank details to purchase the flight tickets. This was in October, so technically we had less than a month before the trip. For someone who has very little room for spontaneity in life, this was a mad whim for me. Luckily, there's an abundance of travel tips and road trip routes on the internet at our disposal, like this one. And like I said,
I know Iceland's stunning. I've read about it and seen photos of it enough to know that much is true. So I expected surreal landscapes and breathtaking views, but at the back of my mind was this constant reminder that the weather could go wrong, so I settled with slightly lowered expectations, but expectations nonetheless.
But boy, no amount of research could have prepared me for what's really in store. Not only did Iceland exceed my lowered expectations, Iceland shot right up my original ones.
So the four of us - Ulfah, Sal, Bilah, and I - flew to Keflavik, Iceland. As soon as we arrived, we went to get the car we rented from a company called FairCar and spent the first night sleeping in the car.
How was that? Well, not the most luxurious thing in the world. It was freezing. I had 5 layers of clothing on and then snuggled down in my sleeping bag. It was one of the scanty times that I was glad of my petite perks, as I didn't have much trouble finding a good position to sleep given the paucity of space. Ulfah struggled in the driver's seat because of the steering wheel and whatnot. She also had to wake up every hour or so to turn on the engine for 15-20 minutes so that we don't die from carbon monoxide poisoning.
I'm not sure about my friends, but I didn't mind sleeping in the car. I was able to drift into deep sleep easily, and after 2-3 hours of slumber, I suddenly awoke to this view,
it was impossible to get back to sleep afterwards. I even woke the rest of them up because I couldn't contain my excitement alone. The vast night sky was clear and studded with the splendour of stars and constellations. Not pictured here, but we saw the constellation whose shape is like a gayung and we thought long and hard to remember the name we learnt from Kajian Tempatan hahaha (it's Ursa Major, by the way). But good God, subhanallah, what a view to behold!! I felt myself shrinking, in awe of His power & magnificence, and in shame to think that I've walked the face of Earth with so much pride & arrogance when in reality I'm just a minuscule dot in His universe.
And then I saw something in the distance that I suspected was the aurora borealis, but Sal said it looked like clouds. But I took a photo anyway. One photo. It didn't look like much on the camera screen, so I brushed it off. Only when I was back in London and editing the photo on my laptop did I realise that
IT WAS, IN FACT, THE AURORA BOREALIS. THE NORTHERN LIGHTS. You might want to turn your screen brightness to the max to see it. My photography skills (or rather, lack thereof) didn't capture it very well as you can tell and I am honestly embarrassed to show this crappy picture of the aurora borealis because it just highlights how rubbish my photography skills are but guys, I saw the northern lights!!! It was very faint but I saw it!! Alhamdulillah!
We then continued our journey to the Þingvellir National Park, accompanied by paddle pop-tinted sunrise.
Like I mentioned earlier, I had no issues with sleeping in the car, but my main concern was whether or not there's a proper washroom. I am, unfortunately, quite the finicky type where my Korean skin care and dental hygiene and bowel movements are concerned. Thankfully, the national park provided clean washrooms at ISK200 per person. Parking was ISK500 for one whole day.
Being a massive stretch of barren, treeless land, Þingvellir National Park is definitely not what I'd typically expect a national park to be. This is the place where Iceland was run from by the first Nordic people who migrated to the country. There's also a diving spot somewhere in the national park, where the European and American tectonic plates meet. Or something like that. I don't know. Sal was trying to explain this but sorry I is no speaking geology. The water is super clear there, we could see salmons swimming in the stream! Oh and fyi guys salmons are not orange on the outside. Or is that a well known fact that everyone knows except me?!
|L-R : Me, Ulfah, Sal, Bilah|
|Icelandic Prime Minister's summer residence then|
That place reeked of sulfur it's almost incapacitating. It's like someone just got back from a kenduri kahwin and had too many telur rebus... But it's a good place for flatulence! Hahaha. And then Ulfah looked at me in horror and exclaimed, "It was YOU all along?!". Kuang asam.
|The Strokkur geyser erupts every 6-10 minutes (I think). Fellow Oh Mak Kau sufferers, you have been warned ok prepare yourselves|
After Geysir was Gullfoss! We had lunch in the car on our way there, and by lunch, I mean Pringles and Mars and fruits, all of which were packed from London. Everything's unbelievably expensive in Iceland. Like, mental. A loaf of bread is ISK600-700, that's roughly £4-5. But I suppose that's understandable since Iceland doesn't really produce anything, the food is all imported. The dual engine that drives their economy consists of fisheries and tourism if I'm not mistaken. So yeah, in that sense, Iceland is pretty expensive, for someone who's not willing to spend more than £2 on bread (i.e. me). So if you were to ask me if Iceland is expensive, my answer is it's relative to your baseline spending habits really. And it's also contingent upon your travelling priorities. If you're adventurous on food then you may wish to allocate more money on Icelandic fresh seafood and meat, if you love pretty apartments then maybe you'll spend more on Airbnb or hotel. If you're like me, your money will most likely be spent mainly on fuel. And 2 fridge magnets for your mother.
So, Gullfoss. Oh, and anything that ends with -foss is a waterfall. The name Gullfoss literally translates into Golden Waterfall, and we happened to go there during the golden hour of the day. Hehe.
Gullfoss is... monstrous, and there's a fascinating story behind it.
Back then, some foreign investors had plans to utilise its power and turn it into a hydroelectric power plant, so they sought to buy it from the man who owned it. The man's daughter deplored the idea so much to the point that she even threatened to throw herself into the waterfall, so her father pulled out of the deal.
I only have one thing to say : You go, girl. I mean, wow, I aspire to reach that level of drama in life. If it weren't for her, none of us would be able to witness just how spectacular this waterfall is in 2016!!
|I know what you're thinking but that thing was broken even before I sat on the rope okay. Even if it broke after, it's not me ok, it's the 5 layers of clothing!|
The sun took a bow, the day drew its curtains, night-time took over. We kicked back in an apartment in Hvolsvöllur, where we had long showers, washed our hair, cooked some rice & mackerel that we brought from London, and had a good night sleep under the duvet.
The next day came around and we found ourselves drenched whilst marvelling at the beauty that is Seljalandsfoss. Dilwale fans, assemble!!
I have absolutely no idea how Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol made it look romantic in Dilwale, man. When I went closer to the waterfall I got annoyed with the mist spraying all over my face and my camera lens, distorting most of my photos, so I had to continuously rub my gloves all over the lens. A small towel would have been useful. And then when I walked behind the waterfall, I just got drenched... Um, nope, not romantic. At all. Hahah. The weather was overcast that morning, so I didn't get the lighting that I was hoping for from behind the waterfall, but that's okay because I still thought it's glorious, even in a gloomy weather. Ridiculously picturesque it's annoying.
I don't know how to properly describe this, but Seljalandsfoss to me is like the waterfall epitome of grace. It flowed like satin, and its whooshing noise was unlike the clamour that Gullfoss sounded like, it was more... gentle? And more feminine, if you will.
|Nak ber-Gerua tapi... Takpelah haha|
|When in doubt about how to pose for the camera....|
We drove a little bit more to get to Skógafoss, which is my faaaaaavourite waterfall of all three that I was fortunate to see.
A lot of people went all the way to the top, but I climbed a little over half way up because I think I liked the view better from that point. Kajol & Shah Rukh Khan were very elegant when they leaned against that thingy at that point, while I, on the other hand, had to flex my knees most of the time to lower my centre of gravity and prayed to God that I don't slip & fall over because the path was muddy, definitely not ideal for a klutz like me. But hey, anything for a good view!!
|FAV. This is the view that I was talking about!!|
|Uhh another FAV|
It's inexplicable as to why I'm so fascinated by Skógafoss, there's just something mysteriously intriguing about it.
|There's something about Skógafoss|
I didn't want to leave Skógafoss, I really didn't, but I had to. And I did so with a heart so heavy it fell off from the pericardium and hit the ground and shattered into pieces T.T
But the view along the way to the next destination was like a meticulous suturing bringing the pieces back together and tied off with a ribbon, plus a kiss on top.
|What I did as a co-driver, very helpful hehe|
|At this point I was inundated by the beauty all around me, I started panicking because I didn't know where to look. Subhanallah.|
|Me & Ulfah trying to reenact Chanyeol & Sehun's part in Monster hahaha|
Iceland isn't just famous for its waterfalls, it also boasts glaciers! And Jökulsárlón is arguably the BEST place to see them. Glaciers are large blocks of ice that could potentially induce a sudden craving for ABC. Or maybe just me. Damn it. Should've brought some sirap and susu manis along, boleh bukak gerai hahaha.
|Ye siapa nak ABC sila belok kanan|
Just a short drive from Jökulsárlón is the Diamond Beach, where ice blocks adorn the black beach.
We slept in the car again that night, parked just outside a fuel station in Vik. There's a washroom there so I was alright. It rained all night and well into the next morning, and the whole of the following day actually. We were bummed about it because we were planning to go to the DC-3 plane wreck spot at Sólheimasandur during sunrise, but the rain showed no sign of stopping. We settled with just the Black Sand Beach, Reynisfjara for that morning.
Confession : I'd take a bright sunny morning over a rainy one any day, but not that day.
We were at the southernmost part of Iceland, the waves of Atlantic Ocean crashing on the black sand shore relentlessly. I took it all in. The rain. The seabirds circling above my head. The trolls standing unshaken. It was quiet and loud. It was both beautifully eerie and eerily beautiful, I don't know how else to explain this.
|Ulfah's red umbrella came in handy - for practical and aesthetic purposes|
|Those rocks are believed to be trolls frozen in time|
And just like that, my trip to Iceland came to an end.
I was heartbroken.
Because I am, honest to God, in love with Iceland. I loved how quiet it is, I loved how beautiful it is. I was constantly thinking of What Ifs in my head. What if I didn't do Medicine? What if I decided to pursue photography and lived in Iceland as a photographer who runs photography courses & tours? What if my life was an endless chase for aurora borealis instead of patient's blood results? What if I lived a life to the soundtrack of waves instead of ambulance sirens?
I was seriously keen on the idea of building a life in Iceland, until I came up with a few reasons not to.
First, no rice. Wth. No rice no life, because I'm Asian through and through.
Second, living in Iceland is equivalent to living inside waterproof boots, something I don't think I can ever come to terms with. Waterproof boots... Ugh. They make me look even shorter than I actually am... And they just... You know... Make me look unattractive, which is going to put a strain on my search for a Korean man to fall in love with me & be willing to move to Iceland for me.
Third, driving in Iceland. I can't comment much on this since I didn't drive, but Ulfah did, and I think we both agreed that driving on the right side of the road is weird. As a codriver, the scope of my job was to constantly remind Ulfah to get back to the right side of the road. And to warn her if she's going too far right. And to make sure the car headlights are turned on at all times, day and night, because that's how things roll in Iceland. And to not get distracted by surreal views around us. And to sing along to whatever song is being played, which is one of the best things about the trip.
Whenever Ulfah drove and I was the codriver, we turned the road trip into our own carpool karaoke sesh. We jammed to just about all kinds of songs there are out there - English, Malay, Korean, including Chenbaekxi's new album that we both are obsessed with!! (My favourite is Juliet. And Rhythm After Summer. Hey Mama as well. Actually, I can't decide which one is my favourite, I love all of them except The One) Proper fun times. I'm extremely glad that I decided to go to Iceland with Ulfah, because now I'm 100% sure, confirm.com.my, that Ulfah isn't just a person I'm happy to talk to and confide in and live with, but also someone I can comfortably travel with. She ticks so many boxes I feel like there's no need for any other friends hahaha. To many more travel adventures with Ulfah in the future, inshaAllah.
Iceland, if anything, is like nature putting on a big erratic show of its forces. It's moody, it's hormonal but, it's beautiful still. I felt humbled throughout the whole trip by God's great creations. It's astounding to think how 310, 000 Icelandic inhabitants can coexist with mother nature. It just struck me that it's actually possible to live our lives without compromising her. What I'm trying to say is I see a lot of nature being stripped off of the planet in the name of technological advancement, but it shouldn't be that way, it shouldn't be either us or her. Our progress can go hand in hand with her well being.
This trip also reminded me to be very very very very grateful to have had the chance to witness, feel, and experience Iceland with my very own senses. I know to a lot of people, Iceland is nothing more than a scene from Dilwale, a place that they can only imagine of going to but not actually go, due to various reasons like financial constraints, etc. I'm fortunate and absolutely grateful to be studying in a country that is relatively convenient to travel to wonderful places like Iceland, a privilege I know is not shared by many. If at any point of this post, or any of my posts really, I came across sounding like a total show off, I wish to clarify that I don't intend to, I only mean to share my raw experience, so I'm truly sorry if it rubs anyone off the wrong way.
So, thank you, God, for the opportunity.
Thank you, Iceland, for being on another level of beautiful unattainable by any other places I've been to. Though I think Iceland could do with more, umm, easily pronounceable names.... Haha I'm joking!
Thank you, Sal, Bilah, and Ulfah for making this trip so fun that it's now saved in my memory as best_travelling_experience_ever_like_THE_best_like_sumpah.pdf. I wouldn't have had it any other way, including, yes, that time we tak sedar diri and drove up a dangerous path that's only meant for 4WDs hahaha.
|It was so scary ok, Ulfah & I decided to get out of the car, watched Sal gostan the car from the outside|
|Please, I beg of you, ignore the fact that I was having a bad hijab day|
Thank you, Ulfah, for convincing me to join this trip and for everything lah senang cerita (not gonna bore all of you with vomit-inducing sappy paragraph about gratitude), but especially for the fun Dilwale references throughout the trip.
|Neither of us wanted to be Shah Rukh Khan, so we're both Kajols|
|Back at it again with our Kajol poses haha|
Thank you, Shahirah in October 2016, for bringing that persetankan je policy into effect. I know the policy doesn't always yield positive results hahah, but this time it did, alhamdulillah.
And of course, thank you, Zorro, for being the most loyal companion and for enduring the extreme weathers without dying on me!!! Love you Zorro!!
|My unwashed morning face & Zorro|
Would I go back to Iceland? Definitely, with a tripod, better photography skills, and loads of hand & foot warmers, inshaAllah.