The Land of Fire & Ice
Iceland is quite tame when compared to Greenland. Hot water below its crust is harnessed for geothermal energy. Its capital, Reykjavik, is a hip, posh town of 123,000. And its people are mostly Scandinavian in appearance. They speak Icelandic which is a Germanic derivative that has more in common with Norwegian than any other linguistic root.
But its natural landscape is still quite spectacular even while being mostly treeless. We got to view powerful waterfalls, some of which are tapped for hydroelectric energy.
There are geyser fields that rival Yellowstone.
And while the country’s numerous volcanoes are currently dormant, Icelanders are well aware that the next big blow may change their way of life forever. The last incident was in 2010 when Eyjafjallajökull, a 5,466 ft (1,666 m) high cone in southern Iceland, blew its top. Huge amounts of ash blanketed northern Europe and disrupted airplane traffic for weeks. Experts think that the next fiery culprit may be the badass Bárðarbunga with a caldera stretching 6 miles (10km) wide. In the meantime, the business of fishing, aluminum production and tourism march on, fueling this modern northern country.
We spent a few days in Reykjavik, walking its streets, sampling its excellent craft beers and cruising its wonderful museums. It is a rich city with great social services and high taxes. The bus system is thorough. Residents swim in geothermal heated pools and soak in warm springs. Life is good. And it is very expensive. A beer costs $12, a cheeseburger 25 bucks. So it is not a place to linger for long.
I was most impressed with ÞingvellirNational Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is the only place in the world that the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a geological convergence of tectonic plates, can be seen. I walk on a wooden boardwalk through a compact rift valley with cliffs towering 45 feet (12 m) on each side. To the left was the European tectonic plate. To the right, the North American plate. And as an exclamation point, the stunning Öxarárfoss waterfall pierces one of the cliffs mid-trail. People hang out here and soak in the vibes. It must have been a spiritual place of power and wonder for the ancients. I rest on a smooth, round rock and listen to the cascading water. That flows south intoLake Þingvallavatn where people actually snorkel and dive in thick, head-to-toe dry suits in 37°F (3°C) water. That is unimaginable for this Caribbean scuba boy. I smell the crisp air and contemplated the forces below my feet at Þingvellir, plate meeting plate, the uplifting and sinking continents. Powerful stuff in this wonderful land of fire and ice.