Trip Report: Stuck in an Icelandic Storm (Part 1)

I’m currently in the midst of isolation out in West Texas at my parents house. Most of my work is now done from home and I can’t help but feel a bit introspective and reminiscent of my travels over the last two years. Never will I ever take travel for granted. Whether it be a trip to the grocery store without worrying about contracting a virus or stepping on a plane to head to an exotic destination.

I haven’t had the chance to write or really Vlog much about my experiences because life got in the way, but I’m starting to find a little more time now because I don’t have to go out at all. I was just thinking today over breakfast that the last time I was on house arrest for so long was when I went to Iceland in May of 2018. Despite being stuck inside for 4 out of the 6 days, some of my finest memories are from that trip. I thought I would share some of those memories here now and write a lot less about the unspeakable. You know something to help you forget about the present and delve in the past and dream of the future……

Iceland was actually the last leg of our cousins only European adventure. We had already spent 3 days in Slovenia, 4 days in Venice (after which my sister and I left for Iceland), and 1 day in the UK. As a photographer, Europe can be a joy and a nightmare in the summer, the sun sets really late and the sun rises ridiculously early. On top of this my 2 year old niece was on a sleep schedule of her own. So as you read this trip report imagine a person that has slept no more than 3 hours a night for over two weeks.

Day 1: London to Reykjavik and An Insane Icelandic Sunset

Our flight from London to Reykjavik left Heathrow at 7 am, which meant we had to get to the airport around 5 am, return the rental car, and check out bags in. This pretty much meant we wouldn’t be getting much sleep the previous night because we had to get up at 3 am to catch the flight. Not the smartest flight choice, but it was the cheapest.

We flew British Airways on this leg and the flight pretty much went by without an event. We arrived in Reykjavik picked up our rental car and then realized that it was only 11 am (check in for our Airbnb was at 3). Instead of resting my eyes in a parking lot, I did the only logical thing a sleepless person would do, drive around Iceland looking for landscapes to photograph.

On the way from Keflavik Airport I noticed that there was this area called Reykjanesfólkvangur on the way to Reykjavik with beautiful volcanic landscapes I hadn’t seen photographed very often. Without much research I turned right and headed down that road. Something we immediately noticed were the plumes of smoke coming up from craters along the side of the road. This entire area looks very much like a landscape from Mars: barren, red, and full of volcanic craters. 

While driving through the area, I saw an enormous lake called Kleifarvatn. Since it was incredibly windy, the waves here were absolutely insane for a lake. You could tell where the wave action was hitting the shoreline with the ripples in the rocks. I somehow battled the elements and captured this minimalist image of the shoreline and part of the area surrounding this crater lake.

Kleifarvatn, Iceland

I drove further along the lake and eventually pulled over at this beautiful overlook where I also decided to take a nap. After a 20 minute long nap, I got up to the sight of some fleeting sunlight falling on the tarns, hills, or rather wetlands surrounding the lake.

It was still a bit windy so I immediately hopped back in the car for shelter. The time was probably around noon and I got a text saying our Airbnb was ready earlier than expected. Thank goodness, I didn’t know how much longer I could keep this charade of wakefulness up.

We stopped by a local supermarket on the way back to Reykjavik and bought all our essentials: pasta, milk, cereal, bread, yogurt, chocolate, and potatoes. Prices were about 30-40% more than what you would find in the US, but the stores they were extremely well stocked and reasonably priced for what is considered to be one of the most expensive countries in the world.

In case you are wondering we stayed at this studio apartment in Reykjavik which cost $100 per night all in. We could’ve used Hilton points to stay at a hotel, but we needed a place to do our laundry and the kitchen would also help us save some money by not eating out. I apologize for not taking images of the apartment. We were exhausted by the time we got back and just fell asleep.

We woke up several hours later to a much more pleasant weather forecast, so we headed out to the waterfalls of Iceland Southern Iceland. Our game plan was to spend the entire night photographing and exploring the area. Summer in Iceland means light is exceptional for large swats of time overnight.

First Stop: Seljalandfoss

We left Reykjavik at around 9 pm so we arrived just in time to catch sunset at Seljalandfoss. Seljalandfoss is an hour and 45 minutes from the Icelandic capital and the landscape throughout the drive isn’t the exotic Iceland you see on posters. It’s mostly just farmland and small towns as you escape the island’s more “densely” populated region.

However, the landscape quickly changes just before arriving at Seljalandfoss, which is located just off the main road. My impression of Iceland instantly changed. I was forever biased by the sight of the most magnificent display of light and colors that we had ever seen in our lives. The most puzzling part about the entire ordeal was that my sister and I were the only ones at this waterfall after sunset. Every other photographer just left as soon as the sun went down below the horizon. However, I knew as soon as I saw the cloud formations that this would be a special sunset. I scrambled up some rocks near the waterfall for a better view of the area. And low and behold, the sky exploded in color:

The magnificent light also lasted for a really long time so I was able to capture a wide panorama from on top of those rocks:

Panorama of the the Seljalandfoss area at sunset on my first day in Iceland. It’s almost as if my trip was completed by this one shot.

And just because I hadn’t gotten the shot from beneath the waterfall, I went did a 259 second exposure of that as well:

Second Stop: Skogafoss

We stayed at Seljalandfoss until the light completely faded in the west. Soon after we made our way to the next waterfall on the road to the Vatnajökull National Park, Skogafoss. The parking lot at Skogafoss was full, but the blue hour light didn’t seem to interest the many campers staying in the parking lot overnight. Again there was no one by the waterfall.

 

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As requested @odellda, a waterfall photo, though not at sunset. Time to reminesce or dream about Iceland

A post shared by Teja Pamganamamula (@pvtejasvi) on

It was at Skogafoss that we started seeing the weather turn for the worse. Just as I was getting in the car, the wind started picking up and clouds snuffed out whatever blue hour light was left. We pressed on to the Solheimsandur Plane Wreck and Vik thinking the weather would improve. Little did I know that this was pretty much the end of all good weather in Iceland as far as we were concerned.

Along the way I saw this glacier along the side of the road, which looked beautiful in the ambient light.

We arrived in Vik to what I would call gale force winds. Just as I was pulling up to Reynisfjara (the black sand beach with iconic rock formations), our car was hit with some serious winds rocking it from side to side. Hearing the waves crashing against the shore, I turned the car right back around and started driving back to Reykjavik. It’s not that I didn’t want to stay, but the sounds of the waves and the wind completely scared my sister.

It turned out that this was a great decision because the police were closing several of the roads in the area just as we were headed to Reykjavik. It was certainly odd to see this happen during the summer months when snow isn’t a big issue. Anyway the drive back to Reykjavik was fairly uneventful. I did stop by Skogafoss one more time in hopes of maybe catching some light from a sunrise, but it turns out light would be nonexistent throughout the rest of the Iceland trip.


Summary:

This was pretty much the only good weather day throughout our 5.5 day Iceland Trip. If you had told me that I would go to Iceland to see just that one sunset, I would be completely fine with it. That sunset at Seljalandfoss is a memory that will be hard to forget. And in case you are wondering or didn’t read the above, I took all of the images in this report with my Sony A7R3. So go ahead and checkout my Instagram if you want to see more from my travels.

What are some of your most memorable travel experiences? I would love to hear about them…..

 

TRIP REPORT INDEX

 

Iceland Day 1: The Most Incredible Sunset I’ve Ever Seen

Iceland Day 2: A Storm is Coming

Iceland Day 3-5: Iceland on House Arrest

Iceland Day 6: Pingvellir/Thingvellir, Whatever it’s called.

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