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Hardhome: Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 8. One of my favorite scenes from the series takes place at the very end of this episode. John Snow has his first encounter with the Night King in a memorable scene as he escapes the snowy shores of the free-folk settlement.
As he stares deeply into the the icy blue eyes of the Night King, the desolate frozen landscape is overrun by a deluge of Whitewalkers, just scrambling into every inch of available space, climbing upon each other, gnawing away at everything that comes their way, raising a hair splitting deathly roar.
As we stood at Reynisfjara Beach in South Central Iceland on a fine Monday morning, we felt somewhat like John Snow. Every second, a new bus of tourists would come in and rashly park into any available inch of space without consideration for fellow tourists and cars.
Throngs of tourists would pour out like a swarm of White Walkers onto the beach. And before they could take a step forward into the already teeming black sand paradise, a new bus would thrust itself in, bringing with it more and more White Walkers.
There was no end to it. People with 4 cameras and 2 tripods. People with selfie sticks and drones. Pairs of 2, to groups of 4, and 10, walking Borg-like across the beach. In strollers and wheelchairs. With every language spoken under the sun. There was much confusion, much chaos, much exhiliration, and much cacaphony.
Whether it was Geysir, or the rift where the North American and European Plates separate, or the numerous black beaches and thundering waterfalls – the story was the same everywhere we went. We would wait for the rains to start pouring for the tourists to thin out, but even so, it is very hard to stop the onslaught of a time-bound tourist bus.
When news outlets talk about Iceland being overrun by tourists, they are talking about South Central Iceland. The Wow Air travelers, and the Iceland Air 3 day stopovers. The Blue Lagoon enthusiasts, and the Continental Rift explorers.
If there is one thing we learned on this trip, its that one could completely skip this part of Iceland between the airport, Rejkyavik and Vik. The Golden Circle is simply not worth it, and is the least interesting part of Iceland.
If you want ear-drum-piercing waterfalls, check out Dettifoss. If you want geysirs and hot springs, head to Myvatn. If you want to see the North American and European tectonic plates collide, go deeper into Iceland – or quickly rush it in the Golden Circle.
All this crowded misery was exponentially complicated by the fact that it rained straight for next three days. Incessantly. A few drizzle breaks here and there, but no respite. All the rainbow pictures we had in mind, against the sepvcatular waterfalls were all moot. Frustration, cold, wet, muddy, slippery.
But as with every crowded place, if you pick the right time and right location, you do sometimes hit the sweet spot.
Our Moment of Zen for this entire stretch came between 11pm and 1am on a Tuesday night after hard rain showers, when we took the 50 minute long (each way) trek into the black-pebble eternity leading to the crashed DC-3. That tree-less alien landscape, where one could walk indefinitely across the horizon-kissing midnight sun, and then coming across the crash-landed plane in the middle of nowhere was an experience one could never forget.
What was even better, was that our trip was about to get 10X better, and we didn’t even know it.