ICELAND: THE COUNTRY OF FIRE AND ICE

By Natasha Azevedo
Contributing Writer

This is the first article in our 2015 Week of Photo Journals: Changing Perspectives. Check back each day this week to see more beautiful photography and travel accounts from UC San Diego students. Click on the images in the article to view the photos up close.

One week after my arrival in Iceland, I had already: jumped off a 30-foot cliff into Iceland’s most dangerous river; rafted through the rapids of Hvíta; caught a geyser erupting near Þingvellir National Park; rode an Icelandic horse through lava fields; and photographed three separate waterfalls on the south coast. For two months I was fortunate enough to work as a photojournalist and marketing intern for Arctic Adventures, one of Iceland’s main tourism companies. I’m still quite confused on how I ended up there, but my penchant for hopping on planes alone gave me another summer of incredible solo adventures, making Iceland one of my favorite countries thus far.

Þórsmörk Valley

Þórsmörk Valley

As the company’s summer photographer, I primarily conducted my work across Iceland’s incredible landscapes, shooting out in the field about four times per week. This first photo was taken on a nine-hour hike through Þórsmörk, known as the Valley of Thor (as in Thor from Marvel’s Avengers). Rightfully named, there was nothing but thunder and hail for a six-hour vertical climb until the skies cleared for 10 magical minutes and this rainbow emerged.

Skogafoss

Skogafoss

One of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls for international tourists, Skogafoss is truly a sight to see. Iceland doesn’t believe in fencing off the wilderness, partly due to the constant shifts in the environment. You’ll catch glimpses of Icelanders and tourists alike swimming in nearby pools, or even jumping off the smaller waterfalls in the north.

Landmannalaugar

Landmannalaugar

Easily one of my favorite places in Iceland, Landmannalaugar is a jewel of the highlands. This photograph captures the natural hot springs that emerge in the region, where geothermal activity makes springs like these a Jacuzzi for hikers taking day trips.

Skaftafell Glacier Lagoon

Skaftafell Glacier Beach

Skaftafell Glacier Lagoon and Beach

Skaftafell is a key location for volcanic activity in Iceland, largely situated near Vatnajökull Glacier. After hiking Skaftafell’s glaciers for a few hours with a group of Japanese tourists, I accompanied a guide to the famous glacier lagoon. As glacier chunks melt, a small river carries the pieces to a beach on the opposite side of the lagoon. With only 20 minutes left before I had to board a ship, I sprinted over to the beach to capture the beautiful simplicity of these giant glacier pieces.

Laugavegur Trail

Laugavegur Trail

Laugavegur Trail

Laugavegur Trail

Laugavegur Trail

One week of my stay was dedicated to embarking on one of National Geographic’s Dream Treks: the Laugavegur trail. The 36-mile trek was brutally breathtaking: my legs turned orange and green from crossing glacial rivers on foot, several hours were characterized by thick fog and hail, and the ground constantly changed from snow to ice to mud. While the trek transported me into a different world, where herds of horses galloped by and picturesque valleys emerged at every turn, travelers should be cautioned to take a guide, as memorials dot the landscape to remember solo nature enthusiasts who could not prevail against the harsh weather conditions.

Gulfoss Flows

Gulfoss Flows

Day trips to famous waterfalls were some of my favorite days throughout the summer, when I could stare at beautiful falls such as Gulfoss. Gulfoss is the iconic destination in Iceland’s Golden Circle, the most popular area for tourists each summer.

Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss

If you’ve ever searched “Iceland” on Google Images, Seljalandsfoss will be the first waterfall to appear. One can walk all the way around the waterfall, as a cave lets you go beneath the falls. Icelandic parents often tell their young children that trolls are in the cave in order to deter them from getting too close; mythical legends of trolls and fairies are fun tales that Icelanders enjoy. Seljalandsfoss is one of hundreds of waterfalls that scatter the south coast. As you drive along the main highway, one can easily observe six waterfalls cascading from the cliffs along the road in merely 10 minutes.

Skaftafell’s Glacier

Skaftafell’s Glacier

Throughout my internship, I was able to photograph and pursue a myriad of activities including cliff jumping, ATV-ing, snowmobiling, whale watching, kayaking, snorkeling, and one of my ultimate favorites: glacier climbing. I spent four hours on this particular glacier, yet had the opportunity to get comfortable in crampons on a few other glaciers across the country. Towards the end of my stay, I helped photograph a music video for the Icelandic band Árstíðir on top of Langjökull, making some of my favorite memories of Iceland on glaciers.

Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir is an almost reverent spot for many Icelanders, as the first parliament was established here. One can also find Silfra in the park, a fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates where I snorkeled in melted glacial water. Very cold.

Harpa

Harpa

I spent an inordinate amount of time in Iceland’s wilderness, feeling kind of like the female version of the film “Into the Wild”. It can get pretty lonely in lava fields and volcanic valleys, so occasionally checking in with civilization was nice. Because my apartment was based in Reykjavik, I spent a few evenings per week exploring the city. One of my favorite locations? Harpa, the famous concert hall along the shore. The building is a bit controversial as the government used taxpayer’s money to finish the hall during the recession, but the staff at Harpa is wonderful: you can roam the hallways in a wedding gown or muddy boots and a filthy jacket… all visitors are welcome.

Guido Van Helten's Graffiti

Guido Van Helten’s Graffiti

One of the best aspects of Reykjavik, besides its eclectic collection of cafes, colorful rooftops, or constant music festivals, is the way in which you can stumble upon beautiful street art at any corner. This particular photo captures the graffiti of Guido Van Helten, an Australian artist who was constantly arrested for tagging in Melbourne before pursuing a visual arts degree in Brisbane and re-defining graffiti through commissioned works throughout the world.

All images by Natasha Azevedo, Prospect Contributing Writer

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