“We all love photography, but we love our lives more.”
Our 14 year old pleading, umm, screaming the phrase at her dad who was just about to park at the side of a mud road climbing at a 20 degree incline, and seemingly about to take a landslide down what seemed like 2000 feet of vertical drop down a narrow gorge with a river at its bottom.
It was absolutely sunny at 10pm in the evening, when we started our drive back out from the tiny town of Djupivogur on the eastern tip of the island, after filling up on gas. We had to reach Egilsstaðir for our stay that night. A drive of 2 hours straight if we hugged the coast on the Icelandic Highway 1.
But we are tech-idiots, and the reliance on Google Maps overshadows common sense or foresight. Google suggested taking Road 939 that cuts through the winding waste-of-a-time that Highway 1 would be. It would save us a whopping 30 mins, dropping the drive down to 90 mins.
As they say, the only thing constant in life is change. One of those hr-marketing-feel-good-kumbaya phrases that make you pause while you avoid a nasty taste in your mouth. But, as applied to Iceland, the only thing constant is the ever changing weather. And the fact that apart from Highway 1, don’t trust the reliability and availability of any other roads.
Within 10 mins, we were climbing up a steep gravel road which quickly turned from a 2-car width to a 1-car width. Within the next 2 mins, there were what seemed like hurricane speed winds. And then gray clouds. 15 minutes into our drive, we couldn’t see anything as the gravel road twisted and turned into a sloshy mud road, still climbing away at a 1-car wide 20 degree incline.
We had to stop, and inch slowly upwards. Those 30 mins of savings were rapidly converting to 30 mins extra time. And just as suddenly as it had appeared, the rains stopped. The sky was filled with patchy gray puffs, and the pre-midnight Icelandic sun pushed glowing orange-blue-pink-turqoise hues photons into our eyes.
We were on that mud road, high above a deep river gorge. There were snow-kissed mountains to the left and right of us, with each ridge sporting a gushing waterfall down to the river below. There were hundreds of these waterfalls, as if competing for the best display. And the sun sprinkling them with deep orange pixie dust.
I wanted to stop.
And the yelling happened.
And I couldn’t.
We kept on going, not capturing a single image of the most fantastic landscape in the most fabulous light we had seen. There were sheep scurrying around happily on the muddy road in front of us. We were worse than sheepish.
All of this was a precursor for what was about to come. Northern Iceland is as remote as it gets. Tree-less wind-swept lava-colored landscapes. There were points along the road where the Wright brothers would have succeeded on attempt one – continuous gusts of wind with nothing in sight to bump into. Mud-scaped roads to reach a town where Puffins camped out. The brown-blue-green palettes of old volcanic craters. The simultaneous solitude and ear-shattering thunder of massive waterfalls such as Godafoss and Detifoss. The sulphur-tinged turquoise lakes around Myvatn. And barely any humans.
It all came together for us near the town of Husavik, probably the northern-most point of this planet where we have stood at. With the pink and blue skirting midnight sun, everything that lay ahead us was the Arctic. Well, nearly the Arctic.