“What are these bugs called?” Liam asked as we flipped over each mushroom we picked to blow off the tiny mites that burrowed deep into the folds of the underside of the mushroom cap. “Probably blow mites,” I replied assuredly, not knowing or caring the scientific name for these aggravating little bugs. At the exposure to light, the mites wriggled out from between the folds and with our gusts of breath, floated to the ground below.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many American flags in my life. It must be illegal not to display one in Maine”, my boyfriend said, as we drove into Bar Harbor, passing dozens of lobster shacks, cottages, and yes, endless American flags.
We were on a 5 day road trip through Maine. Our journey started in Boston, where we flew in from New York, rented a car, and drove two hours north to Portland, Maine. Never having been north of Boston, and being generally clueless about the Northeast, I wanted to take advantage of the ample vacation time around the 4th to relax but also visit somewhere new. Maine, to me, was a mystery land that beyond lobster and Acadia National Park I knew very little about.
Spring in the Smoky Mountains was calling my name. We were coming off a long, brutal winter, capped off by two blizzards in late March & early April — the New York winter I was gravely warned about was wearing on my patience.
I decided I wanted to head south, to North Carolina, a state I had grown up visiting but had not experienced in over a decade. My boyfriend and I booked a long weekend in Asheville, NC in late April. What began as a desperate escape of the elements turned into a completely rejuvenating, true vacation — the kind where there’s a meticulous itinerary that isn’t followed, dinner reservations that are pushed back several times, and lazy conversations about what hike to do are had while sipping beer in a hammock.
The challenge of Iceland is being able to squeeze in as many cultural excursions as natural ones. The days were so jam-packed with activities that prioritization is important here - no matter how long you have there will always be another natural wonder you didn’t quite get to.
On Day 3, we headed out early from our Airbnb and made our first stop at Skogafoss waterfall. The drive to the falls was nothing short of spectacular. To the left a wall of cliffs lined the road, with seabirds diving through streams of water barreling off the top. To our right, the North Atlantic, grey and foggy.
Every person I talked to prior to leaving for Iceland had the same conclusion; it feels and looks like what being on Mars would feel and look like. Otherworldly, to be specific.
Those people were exactly right but verbal descriptions or even pictures don’t do it justice. Iceland is unlike any place I’ve ever been, unique to its core in terrain, language and metropolitan spaces. The weather is so dubious I wonder if meteorologists just spin a wheel and go to broadcast, knowing whatever they hit will surely come that day. You can drive for miles without seeing other headlights then stumble upon a lone restaurant in tiny town with a 20 minute wait. The ups and downs were constant, keeping us on our toes and in a perpetual state of excitement for what greeted us ahead.
In late February, we took the red eye from New York and landed at Keflavik Airport at 5am, stocked up on alcohol, and rented our car. We set off for our first hike and venture into the Icelandic wilderness, braving the elements and seeking a storied series of hot springs, heated by volcanic lava below the earth’s surface.