ICELAND, MY WORST NIGHTMARE

Transformed

Iceland stole my heart.

Iceland is unique, complex and intriguing. A geologically active island, it transforms and evolves in real time, boasting volcanoes, geysers, geothermal springs, black sand beaches, mossy lava fields, mountains, glaciers, lakes, fjords, and the enchanting aurora borealis. Captivated, I booked a 14-day trip for December 2014, including a 7-day photo tour with the talented photographer Iurie Belegurschi. The excitement was palpable. I felt like a child eagerly awaiting Christmas morning.

And with that excitement, my trip to Iceland started with an “Oh shit” moment.

 .  .  .

THE BITTER COLD

My first rude awakening hit me, no pun intended, when I got smacked in the face by the cruel bitter wind, upon leaving the Reykjavík airport.  On day 2, I threw up violently as if my inner organs wanted to meet me face to face. The cold had made its way into my bones and no amount of clothing or blankets could bring warmth to my body. It was too late.

As I lay in bed, crying and craving for warmth, I wondered when and where my brain had gone on vacation while I decided to book at trip to Iceland in wintertime! Who does that anyway when you have the freedom to pick any place on the planet! And the smack down continued – snowstorm, zero visibility and ferocious winds. It was impossible to keep your eyes open as snowflakes hit your eyes like daggers. Wind gusts were strong enough to take you flying.

And then, our photo tour began. I wore three-quarters of my suitcase every day to stay sufficiently warm; still, sometimes even that was not enough to avoid the chill, freezing fingers and toes. While carrying heavy photo equipment, our photo group hiked in heavy snow, ice and slush while it was raining, snowing or clear conditions when we got lucky. We faced gentle to screaming bitter winds and other uncooperative weather elements, while simultaneously attempting to take quality photos. This was no picnic. It was hard work, and we needed a relaxing vacation after this trip!

 .  .  .

CHANGING THE LENS

On day 3 of the photo tour, facing adverse conditions, I asked myself if I would return to Iceland in December. Surprisingly, the answer was an unequivocal yes! The turning point came when I traded my “Oh shit” lens for the badass “OMFG” lens.

And what I experienced through the new lens was beyond breathtakingly mesmerizing! We saw stunning waterfalls wrapped around by snow and icicles like music in motion. We saw stretches of lava fields covered in blankets of pure white snow, giant mountains, Icelandic horses and sheep, seals relaxing on glacier chunks at close distance, geothermal pools, geyser eruptions, in-water massage at the Blue Lagoon and so much more.

My most memorable memories center around Jökulsárlón, my favorite place in Iceland. On the one hand, there was the stunning Black Sand Beach with chunks of carefully carved ice rocks in different shapes and sizes strewn across the beach everywhere. And on the other hand, was the serene Glacier Lagoon. At the Black Sand Beach, when the sun hit the ice blocks, ice turned into fire. It was as if the sunlight breathed life into the ice blocks and awakened them. It was simply captivating!

Stunning Black Sand Beach at Jökulsárlón, Iceland. 

THE EXPERIENCES

While it was terrific photographing this place during sunset time with clear conditions, I honestly had more fun photographing when the weather conditions were miserable. A forecasted clear morning turned into grey skies, which kept the sun in hiding. Then, it started snowing with fairly disruptive winds. Not ideal conditions to do anything let alone photography.

But just picture this for a second – ice glacier chunks on the beach lit up in piercing blue, crashing waves, and gentle snow showers kissing the black sand. Where on earth do you get to witness such incredible combinations! Simply mind blowing!

Nothing mattered at this moment in time. It didn’t matter if I walked away with incredible shots or not. Now, it was about the challenge of trying to get a good shot while truly enjoying the anomaly of weather conditions and geological structures. It was exhilarating!

With not much civilization around the Glacier Lagoon, the dark skies allowed you to experience the dancing Aurora Borealis and Milky Way in all its glory. Pitch dark and the entire sky was just lit up with stars and dancing green lights. The stars seemed closer and much brighter, creating a surreal experience. It felt like I was at an IMAX theater and the sky was just within arm’s reach. In that moment, I felt so close and connected to the universe!

I witnessed a shooting star like never before. Typically, they happen faster than you can blink. In Iceland, the shooting star streaked the sky and eventually faded away in slow motion. I had enough time to scream out shooting star, so my fellow photographers were able to join in on the experience with me, as the star continued to streak.

Spectacular Aurora Borealis at Jökulsárlón, Iceland. 

I later learned that the reason for the long duration of the event was because the northern hemisphere tilts about as far away from the sun as it can during that time of year. Standing at the top of the tilted axis prolonged my view of the “show.” It was unreal and truly unforgettable.

With deflated tires on a tough rugged van, we drove through a vast snowfield to reach the elusive ice cave. My eyes could not comprehend and process the beauty I was witnessing. It was as if an artist had painstakingly sculpted every curve of the ice cave to perfection and symmetry. The ice walls were clear and smooth to touch. Water had frozen in time. And then, as the sun rose in a distance, the sunrays gently kissed parts of the ice cave. The snow-covered floor started to shimmer in gold and the ice walls lit up like Cinderella in a piercingly pure, glacier blue gown.

REFLECTIONS

I reflected on my experiences and mindset during and after the trip. I came to realize that it would have been very easy to focus on being upset about how uncooperative the weather was during our travels and photography sessions. Or how I fell in the ocean as the waves took me down in the frigid cold water. Or be consumed by frustration when the bed sheet at one of the hotels had hair on it; and it wasn’t mine. Disgusting, I know! At another hotel, I showered for 4 nights in sulphur stinking hot water. But none of these petty things mattered anymore.

My seemingly frozen travel nightmare had transformed into my most memorable and favorite trips of ALL time! The transformation began as soon as I was able to relieve myself of the burden of fear, preconceived notions and other countless self-imposed limiting thoughts. I was able to free myself to experience Iceland and life to its fullest. It allowed me to be present in body, mind and spirit, and more so, because I was out of my comfort zone. I was able to inhale every breath of that entire experience. I was alive with every pore of my being!

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Photo credit: Iurie Belegurschi. Ice Cave in Jökulsárlón, Iceland.

We live in times when our attitude and outlook on life needs a serious overhaul. We are experts at complaining and have unrealistic expectations that everything in life must go perfectly, especially our vacations. We are not perfect, and neither is life. And therein lies the beauty!

In a world obsessed with perfection and unrealistic expectations, my journey taught me the importance of changing perspectives. I traded the “Oh shit” lens for the “OMFG” lens, unveiling and experiencing an Iceland that captured my heart and soul like no other.

Published: February 4, 2015

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