In the fourth and final installment of his Icelandic chronicles, lomographer Andrea Russo opens up about their continuous exploration of the country’s unique and majestic landscape, shares his thoughts on Iceland being a vital source of inspiration and creativity for its artists, and hints on returning to the place that has captured his heart.
Heading west after the terrific aurora borealis show in Holmur.
We noticed the bright blue glacier tongue of Svínafellsjökull from the ring road on the fifth day while it was getting dark. On our way back we decided to see all the things we missed on the outward journey, and there we went. We reached the glacier terminus through a ridiculously irregular dirt track. The sky turned cloudy and the atmosphere very moody. We followed an icy path which ran along the overhang to get to the scenic point. As usual, there were no fences nor nets to save you from falling straight into the frozen glacier lagoon, so we – mostly me and my stupid flat soles – had to pay a bit extra attention.
Later on the same day, we decided to ignore the ranger who told us we were not equipped enough to reach Svartifoss, a noteworthy waterfall surrounded by black hexagonal lava columns. We hiked uphill through a woods (the first one we bumped into since we landed), which might have easily been inhabited by Elves for how magical it looked and sounded, and we followed several sheer narrow and slippery paths utterly covered in fresh snow. After about one hour walk, we reached the “black waterfall.” Another image that will be stuck forever in my mind (but not on my film considering that my LC-A started shooting, for reasons unknown, one picture out of 10 and missed Svartifoss completely). A dramatic, threatening purple sky was behind our shoulders, a clear sign that a huge storm was about to come.
The five hours that took us to drive back to Skogar were probably the reason why, in my life, I won’t ever be afraid of driving in whatsoever weather conditions. Pitch dark, the snow on the street was lifted and moved by the wind in a way that it made us feel like we were drifting through a rough sea, whirlwinds were suddenly appearing in front of us, strong airstreams were pushing my car in the wrong lane, the snow was falling so heavily to cross my eyes and give me headache… Low is not enough to describe how bad the visibility was because of the fog (which I believed couldn’t coexist with strong winds… But everything can happen in Iceland, apparently).
Worn out by this never-ending journey, we finally arrived (late) at the guest house which, to our surprise, was exactly as good as we needed it to be. The following morning we enjoyed the hippie vibes of the house, along with a typical breakfast, and we had the chance to chat a little bit with our hosts, a retired fisherman and his wife, a journalist. I shyly asked him about the abandoned airplane that we couldn’t find a few days before and he rapturously told us how to locate it (that’s when we realized we had followed the wrong river). With the coordinates set in our GPS, finding the wrecked United States DC Navy plane turned out to be a piece of cake. We got to the black beach where the remains are in time for sunrise.
Following our hosts’ advice, we went to the other side of the mountains in Vik, opposite to the shore we had already been to. When we saw the basalt columnar formations at the bottom of the cliffs we realised we had missed, without even knowing, one of the most famous sites in Iceland. We walked on the black sand while violent waves were hitting the sea stacks in the mist.
Quick stop at Seljalandsfoss, in time to climb some crazy frozen steps, see the waterfall from the top, and understand that we might have easily died by slipping if we hadn’t crawled our way back. By doing this we offered a proper show to the first people we met in a long time. Good timing.
After another nerve-wracking journey through a blizzard on a mountain pass, we reached Reykjanes Peninsula and our last destination: the Blue Lagoon. Located in a lava field, this geothermal spa is a main tourist attraction and its world known for the milky blue shades of its water (due to the high mineral concentration). “Damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” as James, our couch surfing host in Reykjavik, said when asked about it. We’re not normally big fans of crowded touristy places; however, we thought it was not a bad idea to end our holiday with some relaxing time. And it was worth it.
It doesn’t take long to find out why it’s so easy for Icelandic artists and musicians to be inspired by their country: its colors, its vastness compared to how little you are, its wildness, and terrific beauty. Iceland is a vital part in every aspect of its inhabitants’ life, and not just the casual place where they were born.
I left a tiny piece of me there, and sooner or later, I’ll go back to pick it up.
Jörð + Vatn, “earth and water,” are all around you.