April 12, 2016 – Toronto

Dear world,

I am writing from our little apartment on the Danforth, with a cat fast asleep on (yes, on top of) my right arm and Dario curled up on my other side.

We flew home last night after two final days of once-in-a-lifetime moments and take-your-breath-away views, and enough fresh air to leave my cheeks a little sun burnt and wind swept.

We woke up early Sunday morning and had breakfast together before Dario headed off to pick up our rental car. I stayed back at the apartment to pack lunches for the day and write a little bit.

After about an hour, Dario burst through the door and we set out in a little red Suzuki, which I dubbed “Bjorn.”

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We drove out of the city and onto Route 1, also known in Iceland as the “Ring Road” because it circles around the island.

The road takes you out of the city and up through a mountain pass, which is still snowy at this time of year, then down towards the ocean.

We turned off at a roundabout in the little town of Hveragerdi, the same place where we’d stopped for coffee on our Golden Circle tour, and Dario turned up towards the mountains.

A few minutes later we hit a short stretch of gravel road and pulled over into a parking lot at the base of the peaks.

Reykjadalur Hike

From there, we hiked for just over an hour up into the mountains. The first stretch took us upwards past bubbling geothermal pools and streams with steam rising off of them.

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It’s still early spring in Iceland and most of the grasses are yellow after spending the winter smothered by snow. But on the edges of the volcano-warmed creeks, the grass was green and healthy.

Large patches of snow and ice lingered near the top of the mountain, slowly melting away in the sunshine. This left much of the trail muddy and wet and we slipped and squelched our way to our destination.

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Near the end of the hike there was a series of steaming hot springs, creating such thick, sulphuric clouds that we couldn’t see more than a metre or two ahead of us.

But once we cleared that section we were greeted with a warm little stream, ringed by a simple wooden boardwalk where hikers could eat their lunch before dipping into the water.

Hot springs

There was a tour group just packing up when we arrived, so we decided to venture further upstream where it was quieter and more secluded.

We picked a relatively dry patch of grass near a picturesque bend in the stream and ate our sandwiches and bananas, and then stripped down to our bathing suits, shivering in the mountain air.

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I hopped down to the water, eager to soak off the goosebumps rippling along my limbs, and dipped a foot in, then immediately pulled it back. It was scalding hot!

Dario took the plunge and sat down in the water, grimacing as his skin adjusted to the burning hot stream, and then yelling an optimistic “Well…it’s not that bad if you keep your feet above the surface.”

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DCIM100GOPRO

I took my time and eased into the stream, and once I was sitting shoulder-deep it did feel sort of relaxing.

We spent a few minutes sitting like that, then stood up to feel the deliciously cold breeze against our heated skin.

After a couple times going through that routine, however, we’d just about had enough and headed back towards our stuff, feeling a little disappointed that we hadn’t been able to enjoy the hot water long enough to bathe in it the way the hikers down by the boardwalk had.

We grabbed our bags and clothing and walked back towards the dock, which was quieter now that the tour group had left, and decided to give the water one more try.

I eased my foot in, hesitantly, and then realized just how stupid we’d been. It wasn’t until that moment that I noticed a small creek of cold water running intersecting with the large hot stream, making the designated swimming water the perfect warm-bath temperature.

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I called Dario over and he hopped in and we spent a blissful stretch of time floating in the warm current, the sun on our closed eyelids.

So, lesson of the day: stick to the marked swimming areas.

I could have stayed in the water all afternoon, but we had more adventuring to do so we pulled ourselves out into the chilly air and hastily got dressed and hiked back down to where Bjorn was parked.

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The ocean at Thorlakshofn

We drove back through Hveragerdi and when we hit the main roundabout we decided to take the road towards the ocean.

This led us down a long, empty stretch of highway flanked by farm fields leading out to the water on one side and dark cliffs on the other.

We had no set destination, only the vague idea that we’d like to get closer to the water, so we made a couple more turns in that direction and ended up in a small town called Thorlakshofn.

We drove out past some farms, then pulled Bjorn over onto a little patch of gravel and hopped out and walked towards the water. We scrambled over some black volcanic rock and then, suddenly, the view gave way to a large stretch of black sand and rock and the ocean waves pounding at its base.

And we were the only two souls in sight.

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We stood for a moment, spellbound by the view and the crashing waves and the feeling of the salt air and sunshine stinging our cheeks, and I thought, “This is one of those moments…”

One of those moments when you realize why you travel. Because the world is so huge and beautiful and we are so small. And because there’s something about the fact that I will never see or feel or know it all that makes me want to explore and experience everything I can.

We hopped over tide pools and I scooped up a handful of black sand just to feel this place in my fingers, and then we walked back to the car and drove back to Reykjavik and made dinner and drank a couple beers and lay down in bed, feeling exhausted in that satisfying way you feel after a day of fresh air and exercise and happiness.

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What was supposed to be a half-hour nap turned into a three-hour slumber and we woke up just after midnight. I rolled over and whispered, “Oh no…”

We’d planned to head out at 9:30 to try and spot the Northern Lights while we still had the car. Despite the late hour, we got up, rubbed our eyes, and decided to give it a go.

Night drive

We drove through the empty streets, trying to get away from the city lights in the hope of spotting the Aurora. First we drove south, towards the airport, but the road was bordered by bright street lights so we turned around and drove back to Route 1.

We could make out clouds overhead and didn’t see any stars, but we hoped for a lucky break in the cover.

As we left the city behind us, however, there were no Northern Lights to be seen.

We drove in the direction of the mountains, into the blackest night I’ve ever experienced. I knew that, somewhere not too far ahead of us, there were towering, snow-capped peaks, but I couldn’t see anything beyond Bjorn’s high beams.

Eventually we turned around, sleepy and satisfied that at least we’d tried instead of just going back to sleep. Back at the apartment we packed our bags and went back to bed for four hours, before our alarms went off and we rose for our final day away.

April 11, 2016 – Blue Lagoon

We ate some breakfast and then Dario dropped me and our luggage off at the bus station while he went to return the car.

I sat and read an interesting magazine article about Syrian refugees arriving in Iceland (After public pressure the country has agreed to raise its refugee quota and welcomed a family of eight in February.) We actually flew in with a family that we believed were refugees. The mother and father had a new baby and a young son, and an Icelandic woman was travelling with them and kept asking if they were okay and if they knew where to go on the plane, etc.

Dario soon arrived at the bus station and we bought a sandwich for later and then boarded our bus to the Blue Lagoon, which is in a lava field between Reykjavik and the airport.

The Blue Lagoon is possibly Iceland’s most famous attraction, and for good reason. The lagoon is filled with milky-blue salt water that filters up through hot volcanic rock to create large, steaming pools in the middle of the moss-covered lava fields.

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Bacteria doesn’t grow in the unique mineral content of the water, and the pools naturally regenerate every 40 hours, so chlorine isn’t necessary to keep the swimming areas clean. What is present in the water is large quantities of ashy-silicone, which is gathered into large tubs so that guests can use it for natural face masks.

The facility also has steam rooms and saunas heated by  geothermal activity.

We spent more than two hours bathing in the steaming water, sauna-hopping, and slathering silicone on each others’ laughing faces.

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DCIM100GOPRO

By the end our muscles and limbs were loose and we both felt fresh and content (and about ready for a long nap.)

Instead, we dried off and ate our sandwich and then boarded our bus to the airport, where we breezed through security and then killed time finding out exactly how much food we could buy with our leftover Icelandic kronas (two sandwiches, one water, a Fanta, and a small can of Pringles).

And now, we are home. Back to reality, but also not quite.

I have only three days here in Toronto to pack my suitcases and get ready for the next big adventure: moving to Vancouver.

For today, however, Dario and I are taking it easy and enjoying the feeling of being home.

We spent the morning lazing around, sleeping off our jet lag, eating oatmeal in bed, and talking about the incredible trip we’ve had and all the new experiences and information we’ve gained…and about how lucky we are to be able to look forward to more exploring and adventures in the future.

Lots of love,

Emily

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